Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Twitter Attempts to Filter Tweets - featuring a new Twitter home page shares a small sampling of popular tweets -

Reading - Twitter Attempts to Filter Tweets - featuring a new Twitter home page shares a small sampling of popular tweets -

As it’s grown, Twitter has tried to make sense of its overwhelming stream with features like trending topics — keywords that a lot of people are already currently tweeting about — and a suggested user list — a troubled effort that underwent revisions after charges of favoritism. Now, for the first time, the company is recommending individual tweets, by harnessing the power of its user base to algorithmically show which ones are interesting. The new Top Tweets account, which will be featured on a new Twitter home page that’s currently being tested, shares a small sampling of popular tweets.

Twitter spokesperson Sean Garrett gave us some more detail on the signals Top Tweets takes into account.

This algorithm looks at all kinds of interactions with Tweets including retweets, favorites, and more to identify the Tweets with the highest velocity beyond expectations. One thing to note is this is intended to highlight Tweets from all users and doesn’t favor those with large follower counts.

Most of the tweets that Top Tweets has retweeted (say that 10 times fast!) had already been retweeted by other users more than 100 times (though I did see onewith only 47). That means it may not be particularly timely, since it retweets only after many others have done so.

The algorithm, of course, favors updates from celebrities. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a Wizard of Oz personally picking tweets behind the algorithmic curtain, since one of the launch-day Top Tweets is from the off-color account “bieberbangedus.” Top Tweets also picked a recent update from the lovable Canadian teen himself, an automated location status from the unmanned spacecraft Voyager 2, some words of wisdom the Dalai Lama and a deal from PriceGrabber.

There do seem to be two Top Tweets streams: one, of the account’s favorites, adds about 10 new tweets per hour. Then the account seems to pare those down and retweet every few hours. Of course, all that could change.

Top Tweets is current following “everyone!” on Twitter and has about 1,000 followers of its own. Existing users may find plenty of value in subscribing to the account and getting a sort of crowdsourced TMZ (after all, some real celebrities tweet way too much; a digest is a helpful feature). Twitter said in a blog post that the feature was created with new users in mind, in order to make Twitter more accessible to them.

With the new design, we’re intentionally featuring more dynamic content on the front page, revealing a sample of who’s here, what folks are tweeting about, and the big topics that they’re discussing. The homepage now features a set of algorithmically-selected top tweets that automatically appear every few seconds…People who internalize the value of Twitter understand the power of this simple medium. But it hasn’t been easy to make that value transparent or obvious for curious folks coming to Twitter for the first time.
Read more -http://gigaom.com/2010/03/30/twitter-finally-attempts-to-filter-tweets/

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Central Banks Stashing Away Gold at Brisk Pace - now possess 18 percent of all gold ever mined -

Reading - Central Banks Stashing Away Gold at Brisk Pace - now possess 18 percent of all gold ever mined -

Central banks around the world added 425.4 metric tons of gold to their reserves last year, the biggest increase since 1964, according to the World Gold Council.

That represents a 1.4 percent gain to put their holdings at 30,116.9 tons in total. The increase was the first since 1988.

Central banks in India, Russia and China were among those boosting their gold reserves last year, as the precious metal jumped 24 percent, hitting a record of $1,226 an ounce in December.

Central banks now possess 18 percent of all gold ever mined.

“There’s clearly been a renaissance of gold in central bankers’ minds,” Nick Moore, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland, told Bloomberg.

“It’s not just been central banks taking on gold, but a general shift for physical gold in the investment sector.”

Many are now singing gold’s praises, with the precious metal up about 3 percent so far this year.

“Gold is quietly, at the edge, becoming the world’s second reservable currency, supplanting the euro and rivaling the dollar,” money manager Dennis Gartman wrote in his Gartman Letter, obtained by Bloomberg.

“The trend shall continue months, if not years, into the future.”

David Skarica, editor of The Gold Stock Adviser, tells Moneynews.com that central banks will continue to buy gold.

“The next lot sold by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) will go to China’s central bank,” he said. “The IMF has a supply overhang.”

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Top US commander McChrystal admits failure to cut civilian deaths - arbitrary firing from convoys and checkpoints -

Reading - Top US commander McChrystal admits failure to cut civilian deaths - arbitrary firing from convoys and checkpoints -

The top US commander in Afghanistan has acknowledged his forces failure to reduce civilian casualties, as the US-led alliance faces Afghan anger over high civilian death.

General Stanley McChrystal admitted in a videoconference late on Friday that so far many civilians have fallen victim to arbitrary firing from convoys and checkpoints in Afghanistan.

"We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," the top general said.

Since assuming power last year, McChrystal has sought to reduce the killing of civilians through tougher rules.

United Nations human rights researchers say the new directives have led to a 28 percent reduction in such casualties. Nevertheless, despite McChrystal's efforts, such indiscriminate shootings have not stopped.

According to military officials at least 30 innocent Afghans have been killed and 80 others wounded in shootings carried out by US-led troops since last summer.

Other tallies put the civilian death toll much higher, as the military estimate does not include shootings carried out by private security firms.

This failure to curb civilian casualties has led to growing resentment among war-weary Afghans, turning them firmly against the occupying Western forces.

The issue has already deeply undermined American and NATO relations with Afghanistan.

More than 121,000 US and NATO troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan under McChrystal's command. The number is set to rise to 150,000 by August.

The almost-9-year-long US-led invasion was allegedly aimed at destroying militancy and arresting top militant leaders including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin laden but to no avail.

U.S. must stop spying on WikiLeaks - WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile acts by security organization -

Reading - U.S. must stop spying on WikiLeaks - WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile acts by security organization -

Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile acts by security organizations. In the developing world, these range from the appalling assassination of two related human rights lawyers in Nairobi last March (an armed attack on my compound there in 2007 is still unattributed) to an unsuccessful mass attack by Chinese computers on our servers in Stockholm, after we published photos of murders in Tibet. In the West this has ranged from the overt, the head of Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, threatening to prosecute us unless we removed a report on CIA activity in Kosovo, to the covert, to an ambush by a "James Bond" character in a Luxembourg car park, an event that ended with a mere "we think it would be in your interest to...".

Developing world violence aside, we've become used to the level of security service interest in us and have established procedures to ignore that interest.

But the increase in surveillance activities this last month, in a time when we are barely publishing due to fundraising, are excessive. Some of the new interest is related to a film exposing a U.S. massacre we will release at the U.S. National Press Club on April 5.

The spying includes attempted covert following, photographing, filming and the overt detention & questioning of a WikiLeaks' volunteer in Iceland on Monday night.

I, and others were in Iceland to advise Icelandic parliamentarians on the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a new package of laws designed to protect investigative journalists and internet services from spying and censorship. As such, the spying has an extra poignancy.

The possible triggers:

  • our ongoing work on a classified film revealing civilian casualties occurring under the command of the U.S, general, David Petraeus.
  • our release of a classified 32 page US intelligence report on how to fatally marginalize WikiLeaks (expose our sources, destroy our reputation for integrity, hack us).
  • our release of a classified cable from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik reporting on contact between the U.S. and the U.K. over billions of euros in claimed loan guarantees.
  • pending releases related to the collapse of the Icelandic banks and Icelandic "oligarchs".

We have discovered half a dozen attempts at covert surveillance in Reykjavik both by native English speakers and Icelanders. On the occasions where these individuals were approached, they ran away. One had marked police equipment and the license plates for another suspicious vehicle track back to the Icelandic private VIP bodyguard firm Terr. What does that mean? We don't know. But as you will see, other events are clear.

U.S. sources told Icelandic state media's deputy head of news, that the State Department was aggressively investigating a leak from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. I was seen at a private U.S Embassy party at the Ambassador's residence, late last year and it is known I had contact with Embassy staff, after.

On Thursday March 18, 2010, I took the 2.15 PM flight out of Reykjavik to Copenhagen--on the way to speak at the SKUP investigative journalism conference in Norway. After receiving a tip, we obtained airline records for the flight concerned. Two individuals, recorded as brandishing diplomatic credentials checked in for my flight at 12:03 and 12:06 under the name of "US State Department". The two are not recorded as having any luggage.

Iceland doesn't have a separate security service. It folds its intelligence function into its police forces, leading to an uneasy overlap of policing and intelligence functions and values.

On Monday 22, March, at approximately 8.30pm, a WikiLeaks volunteer, a minor, was detained by Icelandic police on a wholly insignificant matter. Police then took the opportunity to hold the youth over night, without charge--a highly unusual act in Iceland. The next day, during the course of interrogation, the volunteer was shown covert photos of me outside the Reykjavik restaurant "Icelandic Fish & Chips", where a WikiLeaks production meeting took place on Wednesday March 17--the day before individuals operating under the name of the U.S. State Department boarded my flight to Copenhagen.

Our production meeting used a discreet, closed, backroom, because we were working on the analysis of a classified U.S. military video showing civilian kills by U.S. pilots. During the interrogation, a specific reference was made by police to the video---which could not have been understood from that day's exterior surveillance alone. Another specific reference was made to "important", but unnamed Icelandic figures. References were also made to the names of two senior journalists at the production meeting.

Who are the Icelandic security services loyal to in their values? The new government of April 2009, the old pro-Iraq war government of the Independence party, or perhaps to their personal relationships with peers from another country who have them on a permanent intelligence information drip?

Only a few years ago, Icelandic airspace was used for CIA rendition flights. Why did the CIA think that this was acceptable? In a classified U.S. profile on the former Icelandic Ambassador to the United States, obtained by WikiLeaks, the Ambassador is praised for helping to quell publicity of the CIA's activities.

Often when a bold new government arises, bureaucratic institutions remain loyal to the old regime and it can take time to change the guard. Former regime loyalists must be discovered, dissuaded and removed. But for the security services, that first vital step, discovery, is awry. Congenitally scared of the light, such services hide their activities; if it is not known what security services are doing, then it is surely impossible to know who they are doing it for.

Our plans to release the video on April 5 proceed.

We have asked relevant authorities in the Unites States and Iceland to explain. If these countries are to be treated as legitimate states, they need to start obeying the rule of law. Now.

Read more -http://wikileaks.org/

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Extra-judicial killings - CIA chief admits 666 terrorism suspects, including 177 civilians, killed by USA -

Reading - Extra-judicial killings - CIA chief admits 666 terrorism suspects, including 177 civilians, killed by USA -

CIA Chief Leon Panetta has said the US counter terrorism polices in Pakistan are legal and highly effective and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.

In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency’s long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view.

“Any time you make decisions on life and death, I don’t take that lightly. That’s a serious decision,” he said. “And yet, I also feel very comfortable with making those decisions because I know I’m dealing with people who threaten the safety of this country and are prepared to attack us at any moment.”

Panetta had personally authorized the Drone strike that killed Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud at his fatiehr in law’s home on August 5, 2009, according to a senior intelligence official who described the sequence of events.

Since 2009, as many as 666 terrorism suspects, including at least 20 senior figures, have been killed by missiles fired from unmanned aircraft flying over Pakistan, according to figures compiled by the New America Foundation as of mid-March. According to the foundation, 177 civilians may also have been killed in the airstrikes since 2009.

Intelligence officials say their count of noncombatants killed is much lower and noted that on Aug. 5 only Mehsud and his wife were killed, despite reports that other family members and bodyguards died in the attack.

Panetta authorizes every strike, sometimes reversing his decision or reauthorizing a target if the situation on the ground changes, according to current and former senior intelligence officials.

After weathering a number of storms on Capitol Hill, including a face-off with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the California Democrat accused the CIA of lying, Panetta has studiously cultivated his old colleagues, holding informal get-togethers with the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Another former senior intelligence official, who served under Bush, commends Panetta for his aggression but noted that the current successes are built upon agreements made with Pakistan in the final year of the previous administration. The Obama administration has “been operating along the same continuum,” the former official said.

In the interview, Panetta said he recognized that the administration’s strategy entailed risk. “You can’t just conduct the kind of aggressive operations we are conducting against the enemy and not expect that they are not going to try to retaliate,” he said. —INP

Puke: China recycles cooking oil... from raw sewage - tainted 1 out of every 10 meals cooked in the China -

Reading - Puke: China recycles cooking oil... from raw sewage - tainted 1 out of every 10 meals cooked in the China -

Chinese cooking oil siphoned from restaurants' waste tanks and stripped out of raw sewage is being resold on the cheap and has for years tainted approximately one out of every ten meals cooked in the eastern nation, according to a recent study.

The revelation, first noted by state media, sent Chinese health inspectors into a snit as they scrambled to reassure the public that the claims were being investigated.

"He Dongping, a professor at the Wuhan Polytechnic University, has been studying the problem for seven years," newspaper Epoch Times noted. "According to China Youth Daily, he found that China recycles an estimated two million to three million tons of waste oil per year. Combining that figure with the estimated 22.5 million tons of total vegetable oil and animal fat consumed by the Chinese per year, it is estimated that 10 percent is returning to people’s dining tables."

The only apparent difference between the toxic sewage oil and normal oil is the remarkable price difference, with the tainted cooking stock selling for approximately half the price of its legitimate competitor.

"In addition to an effective method of detection having yet to be found, the difficulty is compounded once the illegal oil has been blended into ordinary ones," state media China Daily reported. The 'illegal cooking oil' is usually made from discarded kitchen waste that has been refined [after being sieved out of raw sewage]. Although it looks clean and clear, it actually contains toxic substances, including 'aflatoxin', which can cause cancer."

"Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi in/on foods and feeds,"according to Cornell University. "They are probably the best known and most intensively researched mycotoxins in the world. Aflatoxins have been associated with various diseases, such as aflatoxicosis, in livestock, domestic animals and humans throughout the world. The occurence of aflatoxins is influenced by certain environmental factors; hence the extent of contamination will vary with geographic location, agricultural and agronomic practices, and the susceptibility of commodities to fungal invasion during preharvest, storage, and/or processing periods."

The state-run China Daily news agency encourages consumers to be suspicious, recommending that buyers "taste" the cancer-causing substance before making a purchase.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified aflatoxin B1 has a confirmed carcinogen in humans.

China's State Food and Drug Administration has vowed to close down any eatery found using tainted cooking oil.

This most recent food safety scandal comes on the heels of a devastating episode in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese infants were poisoned in 2008 by the chemical melamine, which had been used as a spacing ingredient in baby formula.

China consumes over 22 million tons of cooking oil each year, according to the study.

Read more -http://www.blacklistednews.com/news-7933-0-6-6--.html

Dallas-Fort Worth commercial foreclosure filings top $1 billion - in APRIL 2010 -

Reading - Dallas-Fort Worth commercial foreclosure filings top $1 billion - in APRIL 2010 -

Commercial property foreclosure filings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area top $1 billion for the upcoming April sales.

That's much higher than commercial foreclosure posting totals in recent months.

"It's certainly the highest we've seen in this cycle," George Roddy of Foreclosure Listing Service said Monday.

The Addison-based foreclosure-tracking firm counts 333 D-FW commercial properties scheduled for auction by lenders next month.

During the last few months, the auction totals have averaged about 250.

Among the properties set for sale next month are the Element Hotel inIrving, with $13.1 million in debt, and the Firewheel Distribution Center in Garland, with $13.1 million in debt, according to Foreclosure Listing Service.

Part of Allen's Star Creek development on State Highway 121, with about $15 million in debt, also made the April foreclosure list.

The biggest current foreclosure posting is still the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas, with $183 million.

Although the 400-acre resort has been facing auction for several months, owner BentleyForbes and its lenders have reached a "standstill agreement" while debt negotiations continue.

BentleyForbes officials said earlier this month that they "expect that a resolution will be reached in the near future."

But it's not unusual for a mortgage holder to continue posting a property for foreclosure while talks go on.

Not all properties listed for foreclosure each month are actually sold by the lender. Many times, the borrower reaches a new mortgage agreement or delays the forced sale.

In 2009, the number of commercial properties posted for foreclosure in Dallas-Fort Worth jumped almost 27 percent. More than 2,400 properties, including offices, warehouses, shopping centers, hotels, apartments and commercial land, were posted for foreclosure last year.

It's no wonder that Dallas-Fort Worth's commercial property foreclosures are spiking.

A new report by First American CoreLogic says that D-FW led the nation in commercial mortgage maturities in February. More than $4 billion of about $20 billion in U.S. commercial property loans that came due in February were on properties in North Texas, the researchers found.

The Houston area was second, with almost $3 billion in maturing commercial mortgages.

With lenders still keeping a tight rein on real estate debt, it's often impossible for borrowers to extend or refinance commercial property loans.

Read more -http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/032310dnbuscommercial.3b4450f.html

Top Ten List - What Makes a Guy 'Undateable'? -

Reading - Top Ten List - What Makes a Guy 'Undateable'? -

OK, this also made "Undateable"'s list, but we feel the need to reiterate, as it was the first Tourette's-like exclamation out of our mouths. Even if you're European. With a god-like body. You can't get away with wearing the bottom half of a bikini on a beach. The same effects it has on your man sack, boys, the Speedo has on a girl's libido.

Mr. Have You Met My Chest? In other words, the guy who stubbornly (and regretfully) refuses to ever button his two top buttons. The fact remains: However smooth or hairy, bare chests are tacky. You're not in GQ, and nobody wants to see those curlicues God gave you -- especially at a restaurant.

Super-Dirty Baseball Caps: Yeah, we get that it's your lucky hat. All we're saying is, hose it down every once in a while. Otherwise, we assume your head smells. And you can imagine where we go from there. Besides, all you have to do is stick the stinking thing in the dishwasher. (You're welcome.)

Bad Spellers:
We solemnly swear it's impossible to swoon when a guy doesn't know the difference between "definitely" and "defiantly." In fact, when one of our former dates said he was "defiantly" looking forward to seeing us on the night that would have been date three, he didn't so much as get to first base.

Tween Texters: Guess what? The same way 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, 90 percent of how far we're going to go with you has already been decided by the time we arrive at a date, and a lot of that depends on your ability to communicate. Listen: Use words. If u text us 2 meet up 2 nite, we'll assume you're in eighth grade, and, dude, that ain't legal.

Guys Who Order Salads: Thing is, we're having the ribs -- and if you have no appetite at dinner, we can only imagine what you'll be like in bed.

Guys Who Wear Rings: Class ring, my-ass ring. This is just not attractive. In fact, a dude with brass knuckles would come closer to depantsing us than any guy who adorns any of his digits with anything but a wedding ring. Though those have occasionally been known to get us hot.

Guys Who Can't Grow a Mustache: Just give it up. It's the rare man who can pull off facial hair to begin with, and being in the running means you have to be able to grow it in the first place. Besides, that patchy little thing above your upper lip looks like a Chia Pet that didn't take. Just not hot.

Shiny, Pointy Shoes: The Wicked Witch of the West called: She wants her footwear back! This we plain can't figure out. Do dudes in these shoes think they're Don Corleone? Or that we'll think they're high rollers? Thing is, we're girls -- we know what feet are shaped like, and that silhouette isn't doing you, or our inner lust-o-meter, any favors.

Men Who Don't Like Animals: C'mon, a brine shrimp? How about a lizard? You must like something. But the bottom line is, if you're not feeling the love for something as undyingly loyal as a dog, we flat-out don't trust you.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tony Blair's fight to keep his oil cash secret: Former PM's deals are revealed earnings since 2007 - £20million -

Reading - Tony Blair's fight to keep his oil cash secret: Former PM's deals are revealed earnings since 2007 - £20million -

Tony Blair waged an extraordinary two-year battle to keep secret a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq.

The former Prime Minister tried to keep the public in the dark over his dealings with South Korean oil firm UI Energy Corporation.

Mr Blair - who has made at least £20million since leaving Downing Street in June 2007 - also went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq's neighbour Kuwait.

In an unprecedented move, he persuaded the committee which vets the jobs of former ministers to keep details of both deals from the public for 20 months, claiming it was commercially sensitive. The deals emerged yesterday when the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments finally lost patience with Mr Blair and decided to ignore his objections and publish the details.

News of the secret deals fuelled fresh accusations that Mr Blair is 'cashing in on his contacts' from the controversial Iraq war in what one MP called 'revolving door politics at its worst'.

They will increase concerns that Mr Blair is using his role as the West's Middle East envoy for personal gain.

The revelations also shed fresh light on his astonishing earnings, which include lucrative after-dinner speaking, consultancies with banks and foreign governments, a generous advance for his forthcoming memoirs, as well as the pension and other perks he enjoys as a former Prime Minister.

The full extent of his income is cloaked in secrecy because he has constructed a complex web of shadowy companies and partnerships which let him avoid publishing full accounts detailing all the money from his commercial ventures.

Critics also point out that a large proportion of his earnings comes from patrons in America and the Middle East - a clear benefit from forging a close alliance with George Bush during his invasion of Iraq.

Last night Tory MP Douglas Carswell said of Mr Blair's links to UI Energy Corporation: 'This doesn't just look bad, it stinks.

'It seems that the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been in the pay of a very big foreign oil corporation and we have been kept in the dark about it.

'Even now we do not know what he was paid or what the company got out of it. We need that information now.

'This is revolving door politics at its worst. It's not as if Mr Blair has even stepped back from politics, because he is still politically active in the Middle East.

'I'm afraid I have no confidence at all in the committee that vets these appointments. It's no good telling us these deals may be commercially sensitive - we are talking about the appointment of our former Prime Minister and the public interest, rather than any commercial interests, must come first.'

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: 'These revelations show that our former Prime Minister is for sale - he is driven by making as much money as possible.

'I think many people will find it deeply insensitive that he is apparently cashing in on his contacts from the Iraq war to make money for himself.'

The committee said yesterday that Mr Blair had taken a paid job advising a consortium of investors led by UI Energy in August 2008. The exact nature of the deal is unknown, but UI Energy is one of the biggest investors in Iraq's oil-rich Kurdistan region, which became semi-autonomous in the wake of the Iraq war.

Mr Blair's fee has not been disclosed but is likely to have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The secrecy is particularly odd because UI Energy is fond of boasting of its foreign political advisers, who include the former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke and several prominent American politicians.

Mr Blair successfully persuaded the committee that the appointment was 'market sensitive' and could not be made public.

The committee agreed to suspend its normal practice and keep the deals secret for three months. Mr Blair then asked for a further extension.

When this ran out last year the committee repeatedly 'chased' Mr Blair about the issue without hearing anything. Eventually the committee's chairman, former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Lang, reviewed the papers and ordered the deal to be made public, along with a separate deal with Kuwait which had been kept secret at the request of the Kuwaiti government.

The decision to keep the deals secret will fuel concerns about the effectiveness of the committee, which has been repeatedly criticised for its failure to halt the revolving door between politics and industry.

The committee is supposed to ease public concerns about former public servants using their contacts for private gain.

Ministers have to have all jobs vetted within two years of leaving office. But the committee is packed with former politicians and Whitehall grandees and is thought never to have banned a former minister or senior civil servant from taking up a lucrative job in the private sector.

Earlier this month the Government quietly rejected calls for the committee to be beefed up with more figures from outside the world of politics.

Gordon Brown has so far refused to answer questions about whether Mr Blair's arrangements breach his responsibilities under the ministerial code.

Mr Blair's office did not respond to calls yesterday.

Read more -http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1259030/Blairs-fight-oil-cash-secret-Former-PMs-deals-revealed-earnings-2007-reach-20million.html#