Archive for July 7th, 2011

July 7, 2011

Facebook adds in Skype video chat

 Mark Zuckerberg: “This type of thing is only possible because of the social infrastructure that already exists”

Facebook has announced a partnership with Skype to add video chat to the social networking site.


The move is likely to be seen as a shot across the bow of Google, which recently launched a Facebook rival, Google+, also featuring video calling.


This is not the first time Facebook and Skype have teamed up – they already share some instant messaging tools.


Skype is in the process of being bought by Microsoft, which is a major shareholder in Facebook.


The new video-call service was launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who also revealed that the site now had more than 750 million users.


However, he said that the total number of active users was no longer a useful measure of the site’s success.


Instead, the amount of sharing – of photographs, videos and web links – was a better indication of how people engaged with the site, explained Mr Zuckerberg.

One to one

At launch, Facebook’s video chat service will only be able to connect two users face-to-face, whereas Google’s system allows group video calls, known as Hangouts.

Continue reading the main story Maggie Shiels Technology reporter, Silicon Valley

Coming hard on the heels of Google+, Facebook’s Skype offering is likely to be compared to its rival’s Hangout feature. That product allows up to ten people to chat at any one time, while the Facebook/Skype video chat feature facilitates just one-on-one video chatting.


Skype did hint that there will be added features in future, but Google has stolen the lion’s share of the headlines and Facebook will not enjoy being seen as following in its footsteps.


At the launch in California, Mark Zuckerberg was reluctant to get involved in a tit for tat comparison but he did say that he saw such products as part of the narrative that in future companies which have not traditionally looked at social networking will be layering it on top of all their products.

Mr Zuckerberg said that it was likely that other “premium” Skype functions would be added in future.


He also appeared to offer a back-handed compliment to Google+, saying that its creation was a vindication of Facebook’s vision for the social web.


Industry analysts welcomed the announcement.


“Advertisers love anything that keeps users on Facebook for longer and that is something Facebook has been brilliant at – keeping people engaged with the platform for increasingly longer periods of time,” Susan Etlinger of the Altimeter Group told BBC News.


“It stands to reason that the longer you are on Facebook, the happier advertisers will be.”


In California, Skype chief executive Tony Bates welcomed the partnership, calling it a “long-term relationship” that could benefit both companies.


At one point he had to correct Mr Zuckerberg on the subject of Skype’s ownership, reminding him that the Microsoft deal was not yet complete and still had to be cleared by regulators.


The tie-in was announced a week after Google announced its own social networking service, Google+.


“The two companies built these products separately and independently over a number of months but they will be compared directly,” said Ben Parr, editor-at-large of social media blog Mashable.com.


“They are going to be in more heated competition in the next year or so and you are going to hear a lot about who is going to win the social networking war – how does Google catch up, how does Facebook respond. This story isn’t going away.”

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July 7, 2011

First synthetic organ transplant

By Michelle Roberts Health reporter, BBC News, in Stockholm Synthetic windpipe The replacement windpipe was grown in the lab Surgeons in Sweden have carried out the world’s first synthetic organ transplant.


Scientists in London created an artificial windpipe which was then coated in stem cells from the patient.


Crucially, the technique does not need a donor, and there is no risk of the organ being rejected. The surgeons stress a windpipe can also be made within days.


The 36-year-old cancer patient is doing well a month after the operation.


Professor Paolo Macchiarini from Italy led the pioneering surgery, which took place at the Karolinska University Hospital.


In an interview with the BBC, he said he now hopes to use the technique to treat a nine-month-old child in Korea who was born with a malformed windpipe or trachea.


Professor Macchiarini already has 10 other windpipe transplants under his belt – most notably the world’s first tissue-engineered tracheal transplant in 2008 on 30-year-old Spanish woman Claudia Costillo – but all required a donor.

Indistinguishable

The key to the latest technique is modelling a structure or scaffold that is an exact replica of the patient’s own windpipe, removing the need for a donor organ.


To do this he enlisted the help of UK experts who were given 3D scans of the 36-year-old African patient, Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene. The geology student currently lives in Iceland where he is studying for a PhD.


Using these images, the scientists at University College London were able to craft a perfect copy of Mr Beyene’s trachea and two main bronchi out of glass.


This was then flown to Sweden and soaked in a solution of stem cells taken from the patient’s bone marrow.


After two days, the millions of holes in the porous windpipe had been seeded with the patient’ own tissue.


Dr Alex Seifalian and his team used this fragile structure to create a replacement for the patient, whose own windpipe was ravaged by an inoperable tumour.


Despite aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the cancer had grown to the size of a golf ball and was blocking his breathing. Without a transplant he would have died.


During a 12-hour operation Professor Macchiarini removed all of the tumour and the diseased windpipe and replaced it with the tailor-made replica.


The bone marrow cells and lining cells taken from his nose, which were also implanted during the operation, are able to divide and grow, turning the inert windpipe scaffold into an organ indistinguishable from a normal healthy one.


And, importantly, Mr Beyene’s body will accept it as its own, meaning he will not need to take the strong anti-rejection drugs that other transplant patients have to.


Professor Macchiarini said this was the real breakthrough.


“Thanks to nanotechnology, this new branch of regenerative medicine, we are now able to produce a custom-made windpipe within two days or one week.


“This is a synthetic windpipe. The beauty of this is you can have it immediately. There is no delay. This technique does not rely on a human donation.”


He said many other organs could be repaired or replaced in the same way.


A month on from his operation, Mr Beyene is still looking weak, but well.


Sitting up in his hospital bed, he said: “I was very scared, very scared about the operation. But it was live or die.”


He says he is looking forward to getting back to Iceland to finish his studies and then returning to his home in Eritrea where he will be reunited with his wife and young family, and meet his new three-month-old child.


He says he is eternally grateful to the medical team that has saved his life.

July 7, 2011

Bank returns call centres to UK

 Santander Santander says it is moving its call centres back to the UK to improve customer satisfaction Santander has said it is bringing all of its call centres back to the UK from India following complaints.


Chief executive Ana Botin told the BBC customers had said it was “the most important factor in terms of the satisfaction with the bank”.


It is taking on 500 staff for new phone centres and has 25 million customers and 1,300 branches in the UK.


The bank acquired Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and parts of Bradford & Bingley in 2008.


Commenting on the call centre move, Ms Botin said: “This is what our customers have told us is the most important factor in terms of the satisfaction with the bank, and we have listened to them and decided to bring all of our retail call centres back from India.”


BBC personal finance correspondent Simon Gompertz said Spanish bank Santander had one of the worst complaints records in the industry last year.


Our correspondent also said there was a trend for banks and other companies to bring call centres back to the UK, although many are now moving administration work to cheaper countries instead.

‘Attrition’

On Tuesday, telecommunications company New Call Telecom announced that it was moving one of its call centres from India to Lancashire, in a move that is expected to bring 100 jobs to the area.


New Call Telecom transferred its business to Mumbai three years ago, but increased costs has prompted it to move to Burnley.


The company highlighted a growing trend in India for prices to increase in real estate, salaries and accommodation.


In September 2010, Santander said it was creating 400 call centre jobs in the UK following rapid growth in its business.


Liverpool got 200 of the call centre jobs, with 100 in both Leicester and Glasgow.

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July 7, 2011

Weather may delay space history

Shuttle (AP) Atlantis prepares to make the final launch in the US space shuttle programme Nasa is entering the final stages of preparation for its last ever shuttle mission, but it is keeping a very careful eye on the Florida sky.


The weather over the Space Coast was atrocious on Thursday, with torrential rain falling on the Atlantis orbiter on its pad.


A huge lightning bolt hit the ground close by at one point.


Weather forecasters say conditions do not look good for Atlantis getting away on time at 1126 (1526 GMT) on Friday.


“For launch our main concern is still having showers and thunderstorms in the area, so with that we still have a 70% chance of KSC weather prohibiting launch,” said shuttle meteorologist Kathy Winters.


The assessment will be a worry for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been hoping to go down to the Cape Canaveral area to watch the ascent.


Their journey could be wasted. Nasa launch managers are mindful of the impact the big crowds could have on their workers’ ability to do their jobs.


If they call off Friday’s launch close to lift-off, it is likely another attempt will not be made until Sunday.


“If we get into a scenario where we scrub very late in the count, in order to provide crew rest we may elect to go 48 hours to give our teams time to get home and back to work,” said Jeff Spaulding, Nasa test director.


“With the amount of [spectators] we are expecting – upwards of half-a-million to three-quarters-of-a-million folks in the general area – getting home is going to be very challenging.”


Four astronauts will ride Atlantis to orbit – Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Crowds prepare for launch (Reuters) Some of the most dedicated fans started to camp out early for the launch

The primary task of their 12-day sortie is to deliver more than 3.5 tonnes (8,000lb) of supplies to the International Space Station.


A third of the load is food and it will ensure the platform has a year’s worth of consumables aboard to sustain its residents.


Friday’s ascent would be the 135th and last in the 30-year orbiter programme.


Nasa is committed to retiring its shuttles because the vehicles are too costly to maintain.


The agency believes a more affordable approach to getting astronauts to the ISS can be achieved by contracting out their transport to private companies.


The first of these commercial carriers is expected to enter service sometime in the middle of the decade.

Shuttle (Reuters) Heavy rain swept in over the Cape on Thursday. Friday’s forecast is not good Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

July 7, 2011

EastEnders’ Pat to leave BBC soap

GMT Actress Pam St Clement, who has played Pat Evans for more than 25 years, is to leave EastEnders later this year, the BBC has announced.


The 69-year-old, who is one of the longest-serving stars of the BBC One soap, said leaving the show would be like “a bereavement”.


Pat, known for her dangly earrings and bright make-up, first appeared in 1986.


During her colourful years on the show, the character remarried several times and went to prison.


“I have enjoyed 25-and-a-half wonderful years in EastEnders creating the character of Pat, but feel it’s time to hang up her earrings,” St Clement said.


“Leaving the EastEnders family will be akin to a bereavement. But I’m looking forward to the other work and life opportunities that I will have the time to pursue.”


Pat’s most famous storylines in the show have included her rocky relationships with Frank Butcher (Mike Reid), and with her step-daughter Janine (Charlie Brooks).


She also endured a sometimes strained friendship with Peggy Mitchell, who was played by Barbara Windsor.


It has not been disclosed how the character will exit the soap, although Bryan Kirkwood, executive producer of the programme, said the departure would be “fitting”.


John Yorke, controller of BBC drama production, said: “It’s always a sad day when one of our stars leaves EastEnders, but when those stars are as important as Pam St Clement and the character as iconic as Pat Butcher, the blow is doubly hard.”


He added that Pat had been “integral” to the programme’s success and her earrings had become “part of British culture”.


“For most actors that would be legacy enough. The fact that Pam is also a total professional, an endless champion of the programme and a joy to work with is an added bonus.”

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July 7, 2011

Pakistan ‘behind reporter’s murder’

 Saleem Shahzad Saleem Shahzad had complained of ISI threats Pakistan “sanctioned” the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, the highest-ranking officer in the US military, Admiral Mike Mullen, has said.


But he said he could not confirm if the country’s powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, was involved.


The Pakistani government called the statement “extremely irresponsible”. The ISI has denied any involvement.


Mr Shahzad was kidnapped near his home in Islamabad in May. His body was found two days later in Punjab province.


At the time, many in the Pakistani media blamed the Pakistani intelligence agency for the murder, despite its denial.


An inquiry set up by the government to investigate the killing began work last month.


“I have not seen anything that would disabuse that report that the government knew about this,” Adm Mullen told journalists in Washington on Thursday.


“It was sanctioned by the government, yeah,” he said.


Adm Mullen added that he did not have a “string of evidence” linking the death to the ISI.

Downward spiral

Pakistan had set up an independent commission into the killing and Adm Mullen’s statement would not help that investigation, a government spokesman said. This point was repeated by Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.


“Any evidence that our American friends have should be shared with that commission,” Mr Haqqani told the New York Times newspaper.


“We are as interested in getting to the bottom of this matter as anyone else in the world, given our concern about human rights,” he said.


Nevertheless, correspondents say, the remarks will further worsen ties between Washington and its ally, Islamabad.


The relationship has been on a downward spiral for many months. Tensions worsened after the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden by US commandos in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.


Last month Adm Mullen publicly acknowledged that there would be substantial cuts to US military numbers in Pakistan.


He said that US-Pakistan ties needed time to heal but added that it would be dangerous to abandon Islamabad.


“I think the worst thing we could do would be cut them off,” he said. If that happened, he said, “10 years from now, 20 years from now, we go back and it’s much more intense and it’s much more dangerous”.


Adm Mullen steps down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later this year.

Journalist ‘danger’

Mr Shahzad, who worked for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International, had made a career writing about various Islamist militant networks operating in Pakistan.


Shortly before his death he had written an article about al-Qaeda infiltration in Pakistan’s navy.


He reported that the militant group was behind a recent deadly assault on the Mehran base in Karachi because talks had failed over the release of several naval personnel arrested on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda affiliates.


Human rights groups have called Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world for journalists to operate, saying they were under threat from Islamist militants but also Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies.

July 7, 2011

Liverpool complete Adam signing

Charlie Adam Adam scored at Anfield last season in a superb captain’s display for Blackpool Liverpool have completed the signing of midfielder Charlie Adam from Blackpool.

The Scot, 25, signed a contract on Thursday after successfully completing a medical, the club’s official website said. The length of the contract or the fee have not yet been disclosed.

“I am absolutely delighted to be here,” Adam told Liverpoolfc.tv.

“It has been a long process but now I can’t wait to get started and hopefully this will be a successful period in my career and in the club’s history.”

He added: “Liverpool is a massive club with terrific players and a terrific manager.

“I see this as the perfect development for me to come here, play with such wonderful players and hopefully help the team to win trophies, because that’s the most important thing.

“I’m delighted to be able to walk out on the same pitch as some of the players here.

“There are good players at the club, top, top players who I want to learn from. I want to become a better player and hopefully bring something to the team.

“Hopefully we can have a successful period because it’s been missing now for a couple of years.

“At the end of the day you get judged on trophies and as a footballer you want to win as many as you can.

Continue reading the main story
Charlie Adam is going to a club with better players and he will get more of the ball. He will be a shrewd signing for Liverpool.

BBC Sport pundit Mark Lawrenson

“This club has had a lot of success over the years, so let’s get back to doing that.”

In the January transfer window the Reds had two bids – the second worth £6.5m – rejected by the Seasiders, who were reportedly holding out for £9m.

But Liverpool reopened talks at the end of the season for a player who had only 12 months left on his contract.

Adam, who was on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award last season, joined Blackpool from Scottish Premier League club Rangers for £500,000 in 2009.

The Scottish champions will now receive an additional cash windfall as they are due 10% of any sell-on fee.

Adam was close to joining Tottenham before time ran out in the January transfer window earlier this year.

He becomes boss Kenny Dalglish’s second signing since they finished sixth in the Premier League last season.

Another midfielder, Jordan Henderson, arrived from Sunderland in June for a reported £20m.

Roma’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alexander Doni could complete a move to Liverpool in the next 24 hours, according to his agent Ovidio Colucci.

The clubs reached agreement over Doni’s transfer last month but the keeper could not agree personal terms.

“We just have to ratify certain details with Roma,” said Collucci. “If the deal is completed, Doni will join Liverpool on a free transfer and will sign a two-year contract.”

July 7, 2011

Hollywood’s role in South Sudan’s independence

By Leslie Goffe BBC News, New York Young Sudanese girls in traditional dress participate in a march organised by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Juba on 5 July The Republic of South Sudan will soon be the world’s newest nation.


Its independence on Saturday will be celebrated in the United States by Republicans and by Democrats alike, and by Christian conservatives alongside Hollywood liberals.


All have been vocal advocates in the US for an end to war in Sudan that has taken millions of lives and resulted in accusations of genocide.


These advocates include actors Don Cheadle and George Clooney, known to some in the US as “Mr Sudan”.


Mr Clooney, convinced by activist friends to use his star power to draw attention to the crisis in Sudan, led a rally in Washington and delivered a speech on Sudan at the United Nations in 2006.


“Everyone feels like this is one issue they can all be on the same side on, and there aren’t many of those,” Mr Clooney said in an interview.


On the other side, are evangelical Christians determined to stop what they claimed was the persecution and killing of Christians by Muslims from northern Sudan.


Evangelical churches began building hospitals, schools and churches in the mostly animist and Christian south in the 1990s.


Under pressure


In 2004, evangelical groups pressed then-President George W Bush – himself a born-again Christian – to send troops to Sudan.


The president did not go that far but he did impose tough economic sanctions on Sudan and press the Khartoum government to negotiate a peace deal with rebels in the south that was signed in 2005.

George Clooney in Juba in January 2011 George Clooney was in South Sudan for January’s independence referendum

But did the lobbying and campaigning by evangelicals and Hollywood celebrities make a difference?


A member of the Bush administration, the former ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, thinks so.


“South Sudan captured the public’s imagination more than has happened elsewhere in Africa because Christians in Sudan used their grapevine to let Christians in America know that Muslims were persecuting them.”


It reminded people, says Mr Campbell, “of the persecution of the Jews in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.” Mr Campbell says the role celebrities played was important, too.


“Celebrities made all of this known, in their way, to ordinary people and made it part of the conversation to people who would otherwise not pay much attention to what was happening overseas.”


Enoch Awejok, an official at South Sudan’s embassy in Washington, also believes the lobbying and campaigning made a difference.


“Without George Clooney and the churches, the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] would not have occurred,” he says.


“And they still have an effective role to play in resolving the outstanding issues in Sudan.”


Cool cause

Continue reading the main story
I just wish people would be more open to learn about things instead of looking at because a celebrity is involved and all of a sudden people want to be involved”

End Quote Mari Malek Southern Sudan Initiatives Sudanese expatriates in the United States have campaigned for their country, too.


But New York-based fashion model Mari Malek, born in southern Sudan, founder of the charity Southern Sudan Initiatives, worries that without the involvement of celebrities many Americans would not have been interested in Sudan, at all.


“I just wish people would be more open to learn about things instead of looking at because a celebrity is involved and all of a sudden people want to be involved,” says Ms Malek.


“I think people should be more open-minded instead of looking at it as a cool thing.”


Sudan became “cool” to Americans looking for a cause to support in 2003 when the film Lost Boys of Sudan was released.


This was a documentary about the remarkable story of the hundreds of Sudanese boys who fled the civil war, walked for weeks to Ethiopia, where their refugee camps were attacked, forcing them to flee to Kenya, before they were finally allowed into the US.


The film helped make the plight of the people of Sudan known and make it a cause many Americans wanted to be involved in.


Ger Duany is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. An actor who lives now in Harlem, in New York City, Duany was featured in the Hollywood film I Heart Huckabees.


Duany says he made sure to lobby and tell his co-stars on the film – Dustin Hoffman and Mark Wahlberg – what he faced in Sudan.

All you need to know about South Sudan’s independence


“I spoke to a lot of guys and they were very supportive people, Mark Wahlberg mostly, but I think in a way more could have been done. We are not free,” says Duany, who plans on being in South Sudan to celebrate its official independence on 9 July.


South Sudan has enjoyed a lot of support in the United States.


But now that it is about to achieve its independence some are concerned that Americans who campaigned and lobbied on its behalf, will find some other “cool” cause to occupy them.


If this does happen, says Ms Malek, then Sudanese expatriates in the US will do whatever they have to to ensure their new country is not forgotten.


“I think that the new generation of South Sudan people who migrated here to the USA are going to keep the momentum going,” she says.


“So, with or without the celebrities, I think we are strong enough to keep pushing the momentum.”


As for Mr Campbell, the former Bush administration ambassador to Nigeria, he says Americans will be content to turn their attention elsewhere if after 9 July, boundary lines between north and south are respected and there is agreement on how the oil revenue will be divided up.


If, however, says Mr Campbell, “we see the kind of bloodshed we have seen over the past several weeks then I don’t think American attention or interest in Sudan and South Sudan will dissipate, at all.”

July 7, 2011

More Olympic tickets go on sale

Volleyball players Some 40,000 tickets for volleyball are still available People who obtained tickets for the 2012 Olympics in the initial first round ballot are getting an opportunity to buy seats for more events.


Some 1.5 million tickets for football, 40,000 for volleyball and 8,000 for freestyle wrestling are available.


They are being sold on a first-come first-served basis in a process which finishes at 1800 BST on 17 July.


Some 700,000 people can buy tickets. Another 150,000 people ordered tickets in an earlier “second chance” phase.


Those tickets went to people unsuccessful in the initial first round ballot.


In total more than 3.5 million Olympic tickets have now been sold, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) says.


The available tickets for football, volleyball and freestyle wrestling cover 58 sessions and 130 price categories. All other sports have no availability.


The football tickets include men’s and women’s matches at Wembley Stadium, London; City of Coventry Stadium; Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; Hampden Park, Glasgow; St James’ Park, Newcastle; and Old Trafford, Manchester.

Football made up the bulk of the tickets available in the second-chance sale as the matches are played in large venues.


The volleyball tickets are for men’s and women’s sessions based at Earls Court, while the freestyle wrestling is taking place at Excel in east London.


Another major round of ticket sales will take place in early 2012.


A full list of available sessions and price categories have been published on the official 2012 website.


Some UK residents are finding tickets are still available from the national Olympic committees of other participating countries in the European European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association area.


Locog says people should be aware of bogus websites when searching for tickets from overseas sources and urged them to use the London 2012 website checker to verify the sellers are genuine.


On Thursday London 2012 chairman Lord Coe urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to return any unwanted tickets after “phenomenal and unprecedented” demand in the UK.

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July 7, 2011

Remember When Brooke Shields Ruined the Tonys for Everyone?

There she was, award-winning singer-actress Neil Patrick Harris, doing her darndest to make the Tony Awards interesting — you’ll get ‘em next time, sister — sweating and belting her way through a song about how Broadway is not just for the gays anymore — meanwhile, that bird won’t fly, mostly because its weighed down my eight pounds of sequins — when she soft-shoed her way over to a still stunning and statuesque Brooke Shields, who Suddenly forgot her lines. Way to babble, Brooke.


Remember When Brooke Shields Ruined the Tonys for Everyone?


Now, I know you didn’t watch the Tonys — even I tuned out after growing tired of waiting for Patti Lupone to rip out Kristin Chenoweth‘s weave, but since this is the future, Brooke’s blunder is a moment that will live on forever and ever. Or at least till something with a cat doing something ornery and cute overtakes the Interwebs…in about 5 seconds.


Check out the video below, and if you can’t bear to sit through the entire opening musical number — but Harris does give her all, Liza bless her — skip to 3:11 to see Shields stun and stumble: