Monday, October 31, 2005

Washington Pays Tribute to Rosa Parks

WASHINGTON - President Bush, members of Congress and ordinary Americans paid tribute to Rosa Parks under the soaring dome of the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday, honoring the woman whose defiant act on a city bus challenged segregation in the South and inspired the civil rights movement.

Parks, a former seamstress, became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda, sharing an honor bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and other national leaders. Bush and congressional leaders paused to lay wreaths by her casket, while members of a university choir greeted her with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Rep. John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., in whose Detroit congressional office Parks worked, said the ceremony and public viewing showed "the legacy of Rosa Parks is more than just a success for the civil rights movement or for African-Americans. It means it's a national honor."

"She was a citizen in the best sense of the word," said Sen. Tom Harkin (news, bio, voting record), D-Iowa. "She caused things to happen in our society that made us a better, more caring, more just society."

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Outside the Capitol, as flags flew at half-staff, thousands of people awaited the chance to pay their respects, some arriving before noon. Some carried signs that read, "Thank you, Rosa Parks."

The crowd cheered loudly when the motorcade, led by Parks' hearse and a vintage D.C. Metro bus, arrived. Her casket was carried from the hearse by a military honor guard while Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., stood with family members and friends outside the steps leading up to the Capitol and prayed.

Senate chaplain Barry Black, bowing his head in prayer, said Parks' courage "ignited a movement that aroused our national conscience" and served as an example of the "power of fateful, small acts."

Bush, who did not speak during the brief ceremony, issued a proclamation Sunday ordering the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over all public buildings on Wednesday, the day of Parks' funeral and burial in Detroit.

The president and first lady Laura Bush were joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., temporary House majority leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and other members of Congress.

Fred Allen, 59, who grew up in segregated Halls, Tenn., brought his 20-year-old son to help him understand the civil rights era.

"He has no idea what it was like to grow up in the South, where you had to hold your head down," Allen said.

Robert Cunningham, 65, caught a flight from Atlanta with his wife, daughter and four grandchildren so they could pay their last respects. When they learned Friday night that Parks' body would lie in honor in the Capitol, Cunningham's wife said, "We have to go."

"She started the movement," Cunningham said of Parks, staring at the West facade of the Capitol. "She was the mother of the civil rights movement by simply saying, 'I'm tired of giving up my seat.'"

Parks, who died last Monday, was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Among those who supported her was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the 381-day boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., bus system that helped initiate the modern civil rights movement.

At St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Montgomery on Sunday, where Parks had been lying in honor at the church since Saturday, an overflow crowd including Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice celebrated her life.

"I was here when Rosa Parks started and I just wanted to be here when she departed," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rice said she and others who grew up in Alabama during the height of Parks' activism might not have realized her impact on their lives, "but I can honestly say that without Mrs. Parks, I probably would not be standing here today as secretary of state."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley credited Parks with inspiring protests against social injustice around the world.

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"I firmly believe God puts different people in different parts of history so great things can happen," Riley said. "I think Rosa Parks is one of those people."

Lowery and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the best way for blacks to carry on Parks' legacy would be to push Congress to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which they said would be in jeopardy when it comes up for review in 2007.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was a year old at the time of Parks' arrest, said when he arrived in Montgomery for the memorial, he thought about "how if she had just moved her seat, how history might of changed."

Sharpton, a New York City activist, said national leaders such as Rice and former Secretary of State
Colin Powell would have never reached their posts without Parks' symbolic act. Rice would be struggling in a racially charged Birmingham and "Colin Powell would be sitting in a segregated Army barracks," Sharpton preached to the cheering audience.

Johnnie Carr, a 94-year-old veteran of the bus boycott, said Parks was her childhood friend, a woman who "gave every ounce of her devotion" to fighting racial inequality.

"We have accomplished a lot, we've come a long way, but believe me, we have a long way to go," Carr said.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Mars to Swing Close to Earth This Weekend

LOS ANGELES - Mars is ready for another close-up. For the second time in nearly 60,000 years, the Red Planet will swing unusually close to Earth this weekend, appearing as a yellow twinkle in the night sky.

Mars' latest rendezvous will not match its record-breaking approach to Earth in 2003, when it hovered from 35 million miles away. But more skygazers this time around can glimpse the fourth rock from the sun because it will glow above the horizon.

"This is the best we're going to see Mars, so we should strike the iron while it is hot," said Kelly Beatty, executive editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.

On Saturday, Mars' orbit will bring it 43.1 million miles away from Earth, with its closest pass scheduled for 11:25 p.m. EDT. The two planets — normally separated by about 140 million miles — will not be this close again until 2018.

Mars will still seem small to the naked eye, appearing about the size of a penny seen from 620 feet away. The rust-colored planet will be at its brightest this weekend, and no celestial body in that part of the sky will be as luminous, Beatty said.

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Most backyard telescopes will see Mars as a small, brilliant ball. Observers with more powerful instruments might be able to discern details on the planet's surface, including its southern ice cap and white clouds.

The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope will train its eyes on Mars during the passing, snapping close-ups as it did in 2003.

Internet Use Up, but So Is User Concern

WASHINGTON - Computer and Internet use is up, but so are concerns about identity theft and other online dangers. Fifty-five percent of American households had access to the Internet at home in 2003, more than triple the percentage in 1997, according to a report released Thursday by the
Census Bureau.

Internet usage increased with education, income and the presence of school-age children at home, the report found. It was lowest among adults who have not graduated from high school.

School-age children are most likely to use home computers to play games or do school work. Adults are most likely to use home computers for e-mail, to search for information about products and services, and to read news, weather and sports information.

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The report is based on data from the bureau's October 2003 Current Population Survey, the country's primary source of labor statistics. It is the bureau's latest information on computer and Internet use, though it is two years old and experts say Americans' computer habits are quickly evolving.

"We actually think the (Internet) penetration in households is higher," said Greg Stuart, president and CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau, which helps online companies increase revenue.

A report this year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 68 percent of adults use the Internet, up from 63 percent last year. It found that 22 percent of American adults have never used the Internet.

Susannah Fox, who worked on the Pew report, said age and education were the strongest predictors of whether someone uses the Internet. Young adults were the most likely to use the Internet, with a big drop-off among people 70 and older.

Advertisers are taking advantage of increased Internet use, said Stuart, who expects Internet advertising revenue to reach nearly $12 billion this year, more than double the amount from five years ago.

But even as Internet access increases, computer users are being more careful about sharing personal information online.

A survey released this week by Consumer Reports Webwatch found that 86 percent of computer users have changed their online behavior in some way because of concerns about identity theft. A little more than half stopped giving out personal information on the Web, while 25 percent said they stopped making online purchases.

The Consumer Reports survey of 1,501 adult Internet users was done in May and June and has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

"The consumers are becoming more educated," said Clint Kreitner, president and CEO of the Center for Internet Security. "At the same time, the nature of the criminal activity on the Internet is increasing."

The Census report found that 32 percent of adult Internet users purchased products or services online, up from 2 percent in 1997.

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Kreitner said it is safe for online shoppers to provide companies with their credit card numbers, as long as the site is protected by encryption software.

"Putting your credit card number on an encrypted site is much safer than giving it to a waiter and letting it out of your sight," Kreitner said.

Among the Census Bureau's findings on computer and Internet use:

_Since 2000, rates of computer use have become more uniform across the country. Computers are most prevalent in the West, where 59 percent of households have them. They are least prevalent in the South, where 52 percent of households have them.

_Alaska, New Hampshire and Colorado have the highest rates of Internet use; Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana have the lowest.

_Women are slightly more likely than men to use a computer at home, reversing a historical trend.

_Fifty-six percent of working adults used a computer at work, and 42 percent used the Internet on the job.

_Among those without access to the Internet, 39 percent said they don't need it or are not interested, while 23 percent said the costs are too high.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Microsoft to Start Online Book Searches

SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. is diving into the business of offering online searches of books and other writings, and says its approach aims to avoid the legal tussles met by rival Google Inc.

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The Redmond-based software giant said Tuesday that it will sidestep hot-button copyright issues for now by initially focusing mainly on books, academic materials and other publications that are in the public domain.

Microsoft plans to initially work with an industry organization called the Open Content Alliance to let users search about 150,000 pieces of published material. A test version of the product is promised for next year.

The alliance, whose participants also include top Internet portal Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news), is working to make books and other offline content available online without raising the ire of publishers and authors.

Danielle Tiedt, a general manager of search content acquisition with Microsoft's MSN online unit, said the company also is working with publishers and libraries on ways to eventually make more copyright material available for online searches.

She said Microsoft is looking at several options, including models where users would be charged to access the content.

Microsoft said it has no plans right now to have targeted ads located in the search results, but the company cautioned that it was still working out the details of its business model.

"I think about the 150,000 books as a test," Tiedt said.

Rival Google has taken a markedly different approach, with plans to index millions of copyright books from three major university libraries — Harvard, Stanford and Michigan — unless the copyright holder notifies the company which volumes should be excluded.

The Association of American Publishers, representing five publishers, and The Authors Guild, which includes about 8,000 writers, have both sued the search engine giant over the plans.

Google has defended the effort as necessary to its goal of helping people find information — and insists that its scanning effort is protected under fair use law because of restrictions placed on how much of any single book could be read.

Responding to Microsoft's plans to offer its own book search, Google said in a statement that it "welcomes efforts to make information accessible to the world."

Tiedt said Microsoft is coming at book search from a different angle in part because the software maker itself is so often the target of copyright infringement. Pirated versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system are widely available in developing countries for only a few dollars.

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Microsoft's approach has the potential to backfire, however, if Google ends up having more content available or begins offering ways to search content for free while Microsoft pursues a model that requires people to pay for it.

Microsoft acknowledges it is far behind Google.

Tiedt said she expects it will take years — and require a substantial investment — to solidify the MSN product, working out all the complex issues around searching through books and other materials online.

"This is not a money-maker for the company," Tiedt said. "This is very much a strategic bet for search overall."

The effort marks Microsoft's latest effort to play catch-up with Google on various search technologies ranging from basic Internet search to localized queries.

But Google remains by the search leader by far, accounting for 45.1 percent of all U.S. Internet searches in September, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings. Microsoft's MSN Search ranked third, accounting for 11.7 percent of U.S. searches during the same period.

U.S. Military Deaths Reach 2,000 in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The American military death toll in the
Iraq war reached 2,000 Tuesday with the announcements of three more deaths, including an Army sergeant who died of wounds at a military hospital in Texas and two Marines killed last week in fighting west of Baghdad.

The 2,000 mark was reached amid growing doubts among the American public about the Iraq conflict, launched in March 2003 to destroy
Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. None was ever found.


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In Washington, the U.S. Senate observed a moment of silence in honor of the fallen 2,000. "We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, for their valor, for their strength, for their commitment to our country," said Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Critics of the war also acknowledged the sacrifice, even as they questioned the policies of those who lead it.

"Our armed forces are serving ably in Iraq under enormously difficult circumstances, and the policy of our government must be worthy of their sacrifice. Unfortunately, it is not, and the American people know it," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), the Massachusetts Democrat.

Sen. Robert Byrd (news, bio, voting record), a veteran Democrat from West Virginia, said Americans should expect "many more losses to come."

"More than 135,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. They did not ask to be sent to war, but each day, they carry out their duty while risking their lives. It is only reasonable that the American people, and their elected representatives, ask more questions about what the future holds in Iraq," Byrd said.

President Bush warned the U.S. public to brace for more casualties in the fight against "as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced, unconstrained by any notion of common humanity and by the rules of warfare."

"No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead," Bush said in a speech Tuesday before the Joint Armed Forces Officers' Wives' luncheon in Washington.

As a sign of those challenges, one of Iraq's most ruthless terror groups — al-Qaida in Iraq — claimed responsibility for Monday's suicide attacks against hotels housing Western journalists and contractors in Baghdad, as well as suicide bombings Tuesday in northern Iraq.

In the latest casualty reports, the
Pentagon said Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas, died Saturday in San Antonio of wounds suffered Oct. 17 in a blast in Samarra, a city 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two unidentified Marines in fighting last week in a village 25 miles west of Baghdad. Those announcements brought the U.S. death toll to 2,000, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

It was unclear who was the 2,000th service member to die in Iraq since the U.S. military often delays death announcements until families are notified. On Monday, for example, the U.S. command announced that an unidentified Marine was killed in action the day before — after the deaths of the three service members reported Tuesday.

In an e-mail statement to Baghdad-based journalists, command spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said media attention on the 2,000 figure was misguided and "set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

He described the grim statistic as an "artificial mark on the wall" and urged news organizations to focus more on the accomplishments of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

For example, Iraqi officials announced Tuesday that voters had approved a new constitution in the Oct. 15 referendum, laying the foundation for constitutional, democratic Iraqi government after decades of Saddam's tyranny.

"I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq," Boylan wrote. "The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone."

Boylan said the 2,000th service member to die in Iraq "is just as important as the first that died and will be just as important as the last to die in this war against terrorism and to ensure freedom for a people who have not known freedom in over two generations."

He complained that the true milestones of the war were "rarely covered or discussed," including the troops who had volunteered to serve, the families of those that have been deployed for a year or more, and the Iraqis who have sought at great risk to restore normalcy to their country.

"Celebrate the daily milestones, the accomplishments they have secured and look to the future of a free and democratic Iraq and to the day that all of our troops return home to the heroes welcome they deserve," Boylan wrote.

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In the latest fighting, U.S. and Iraqi troops raided insurgent safe houses Tuesday northwest of Qaim, a tense town near the Syrian border along a major infiltration route for foreign fighters. At one safe house, where women and children were also staying, an exchange of fire detonated an insurgent's suicide vest, causing the roof to collapse, a U.S. statement said.

"The women and children were rescued from the rubble and treated by medical personnel," the statement added. U.S. aircraft then destroyed three buildings after the survivors were taken to a safe area, the statement said.

Elsewhere, suicide car bombs exploded Tuesday in the generally peaceful Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah, killing 12 people. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility in an Internet statement.

The group also said it was behind the three suicide car bombs aimed at the Palestine and Sheraton hotels in Baghdad. Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal said 17 people were killed — mostly hotel guards and passers-by — in Monday's attack, which involved bombers driving two cars and a cement truck.

The U.S. soldier who shot and killed the truck driver said he initially had a hard time seeing the truck drive through the breach that the first car explosion had created in the concrete wall.

"Once the dust and the debris settled down, I noticed the truck had already breached through our perimeter," Spc. Darrell Green told CNN American Morning. "He backed up and then pulled forward. As he was doing that, I engaged in machine gun and took out the driver. If he had made it through, he could have done a lot more damage, a lot more casualties than what actually happened."

In a Web posting, al-Qaida in Iraq said it carried out the hotel attack to target a "dirty harbor of intelligence agents and private American, British and Australian security companies." The hotel complex houses offices of the AP and other media organizations.

Also Tuesday, insurgents killed six Iraqis — a 7-year-old boy, two Iraqi soldiers and three policemen — and wounded 45 others in a series of attacks in Baghdad.

A video posted on an Islamic extremist Web site showed a U.S. soldier being shot in Iraq while guarding an armored vehicle. The militant Islamic Army in Iraq said one of its snipers killed the soldier in Baghdad on Monday, but the U.S. military said it could not verify the authenticity of the claim.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wilma Kills 6 in Fla.; 6M Without Power

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Hurricane Wilma knifed through Florida with winds up to 125 mph Monday, shattering windows in skyscrapers, peeling away roofs and knocking out power to 6 million people, with still a month left to go in the busiest Atlantic storm season on record.

At least six deaths were blamed on the hurricane in Florida, bringing the toll from the storm's march through the tropics to 25.

After a slow, weeklong journey that saw it pound Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula for two days, Wilma made a mercifully swift seven-hour dash across lower Florida, from its southwestern corner to heavily populated Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast.

"We have been huddled in the living room trying to stay away from the windows. It got pretty violent there for a while," said 25-year-old Eddie Kenny, who was at his parents' home in Plantation near Fort Lauderdale. "We have trees down all over the place and two fences have been totally demolished, crushed, gone."

The insurance industry estimated insured losses in Florida at anywhere from $2 billion to $9 billion. Officials said it was the most damaging storm to hit the Fort Lauderdale area since 1950.

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The 21st storm of the 2005 season — and the eighth hurricane to hit Florida in 15 months — howled ashore around daybreak just south of Marco Island as a Category 3, cutting electricity to the entire Florida Keys. A tidal surge of up to 9 feet swamped parts of Key West in chest-high water, and U.S. 1, the only highway to the mainland, was flooded.

"A bunch of us that are the old-time Key Westers are kind of waking up this morning, going, `Well, maybe I should have paid a little more attention,'" said restaurant owner Amy Culver-Aversa, among the 90 percent of Key West residents who chose to ignore the fourth mandatory evacuation order this year.

As it moved across the state, Wilma weakened to a Category 2 with winds of 105 mph. But it was still powerful enough to flatten trees, flood streets, break water mains, knock down signs, turn debris into missiles and light up the sky with the blue-green flash of popping transformers.

By early afternoon, Wilma had swirled out into the open Atlantic, back up to 115-mph Category 3 strength but on a course unlikely to have much effect on the East Coast. Forecasters said it would stay well offshore.

Wilma brought 8 inches of rain to Miami-Dade County, nearly 6 1/2 to Naples and 3 to Fort Lauderdale. The flooding could well have been worse if the storm had lingered over the state instead of racing straight through,
National Hurricane Center meteorologist Mark McInerney said.

"There's really no good scenario for a hurricane. Just a lesser of two evils," he said.

More than one-third of the state's residents lost power. Florida Power & Light, the state's biggest utility, said it could take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.

The storm's reach was so great that it blacked out homes and businesses as far north as Daytona Beach, an eight-hour drive north from Key West. Also, a tornado spun off by the storm damaged an apartment complex near Melbourne on the east coast, 200 miles from where Wilma came ashore.

"Everything is put on hold," said Carrie Carlton, 29, a medical assistant who waited in line for the one working pay phone at a Fort Lauderdale convenience store. "What's really frustrating is you can't get in touch with anyone, either. ... People are hungry, and when you get hungry, you get" angry.

In Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Miami Beach, countless windows were blown out of high-rises. Along downtown Miami's Brickell Avenue, broken glass from skyscrapers littered streets and sidewalks. Broken water mains in the Fort Lauderdale area prompted advisories to boil water, and a ruptured main in downtown Miami sprayed water 15 feet in the air.

The Broward County Courthouse and the 14-story school board office complex looked like bombed-out buildings. All three of South Florida's major airports — Miami International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Palm Beach — were closed at least until Tuesday.

The Miami Police Department building lost some letters on its sign.

"It was a wild and crazy night," Lt. Bill Schwartz said. "This building, built in 1976, shook like it was 1876."

In Weston, near Fort Lauderdale, Kim DuBois sat in her darkened house with her two children and husband, with the only light coming from the battery-powered pumpkin lantern they bought for Halloween.

"I could hear tiles coming off the roof," she said. "There are trees on cars and flooding at the end of our street."

In the snowbird enclave Marco Island, where only about 3,000 of the 15,000 residents were believed to have stayed for the storm, the streets were littered with damaged street signs, roofing shingles, awnings and fences.

The storm impressed even amateur hurricane chaser Josh Morgerman. A marketing executive from Los Angeles, Morgerman flew to Tampa on Saturday to meet the storm, left Naples as the eye passed and drove to Everglades City.

"It was very serene and there were birds flying," a wet and shivering Morgerman said. "And then when we got here and got out of the car, it was like a rocket went off."

A man in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs died when a tree fell on him. A woman in rural Collier County died when her roof collapsed on her or a tree fell on her roof. In Palm Beach County, a man went to move his van and was killed when debris smashed him into the windshield.

Also, an 83-year-old St. Johns County woman died in a weekend car crash while evacuating. A man in Collier County had a fatal heart attack while walking in the storm. An 82-year-old woman in Boynton Beach died after a sliding glass door in her living room fell on her as she looked out.

Wilma also killed at least six people in Mexico and 13 others in Jamaica and Haiti as it made is way across the Caribbean.

In Cuba, rescuers used scuba gear, inflatable rafts and amphibious vehicles to pull nearly 250 people from their flooded homes in Havana after Wilma sent huge waves crashing into the capital city and swamped neighborhoods up to four blocks inland with 3 feet of water.

In Cancun, Mexico, troops and federal police moved in to control looting at stores and shopping centers ripped open by the hurricane, and hunger and frustration mounted among Mexicans and stranded tourists. President
Vicente Fox announced plans to start evacuating some 30,000 frazzled tourists.

Wilma's arrival in Florida came five days after it astounded forecasters with terrifying Category 5 winds of 175 mph. At one point, it was the most intense storm — as measured by internal barometric pressure — on record in the Atlantic basin.

Wilma shared space in the Atlantic with Tropical Depression Alpha, which became the record-breaking 22nd named storm of the 2005 season. Alpha, which drenched Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Sunday, was not considered a threat to the United States.

President Bush, bitterly criticized for a sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, signed a disaster declaration for hurricane-damaged areas and promised swift action to help Wilma's victims. The
Federal Emergency Management Agency was prepared to send in dozens of military helicopters and 13.2 million ready-to-eat meals.

"We have prepositioned food, medicine, communications equipment, urban search-and-rescue teams," he said. "We will work closely with local and state authorities to respond to this hurricane."

National Guard units airlifted 12 patients from a Key West hospital, and other units were prepared to deliver food, water and other supplies to the Keys.

For a change, lack of air conditioning was not an immediate concern in the aftermath of a hurricane. The strong cold front that pushed Wilma through Florida was expected to send the wind-chill factor into the 40s Tuesday morning.

Monday, October 24, 2005

New Web Software a Challenge to Microsoft

NEW YORK - A quiet revolution is transforming life on the Internet: New, agile software now lets people quickly check flight options, see stock prices fluctuate and better manage their online photos and e-mail.

Such tools make computing less of a chore because they sit on distant Web servers and run over standard browsers. Users thus don't have to worry about installing software or moving data when they switch computers.

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And that could bode ill for Microsoft Corp. and its flagship Office suite, which packs together word processing, spreadsheets and other applications.

The threat comes in large part from Ajax, a set of Web development tools that speeds up Web applications by summoning snippets of data as needed instead of pulling entire Web pages over and over.

"It definitely supports a Microsoft exit strategy," said Alexei White, a product manager at Ajax developer eBusiness Applications Ltd. "I don't think it can be a full replacement, but you could provide scaled-down alternatives to most Office products that will be sufficient for some users."

Ironically, Microsoft invented Ajax in the late 90s and has used it for years to power an online version of its popular Outlook e-mail program.

Ajax's resurgence in recent months is thanks partly to its innovative use by Google Inc. to fundamentally change online mapping. Before, maps were static: Click on a left arrow, wait a few seconds as the Web page reloads and see the map shift slightly to the left. Repeat. Repeat again.

"It's slow. It's frustrating," said frequent map user Fred Wagner, a petroleum engineer in Houston. "We're all getting spoiled with wanting things to happen."

So he sticks with Google Maps these days. There, he can drag the map over any which way and watch new areas fill in instantly. He can zoom in quickly using an Ajax slider.

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"Everybody went, `Ooooh, how did they do that?'" said Steve Yen, who runs a company developing an Ajax spreadsheet called Num Sum. "It turns out the technology's been there for awhile."

Jesse James Garrett, an Adaptive Path LLC usability strategist who publicly coined the term `Ajax' 10 days after Google Maps launched in February, said such examples "convinced a lot of Web designers to take another look at something they may have previously dismissed as experimental."

Also contributing are faster Internet connections, more powerful computers and better browsers able to handle Ajax, which is short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

Consider e-mail.

Until recently, Web mail meant sending forms back and forth online. Check an item to delete and hit a button. A remote mail server receives instructions and responds with an entirely new page, which is missing only the one deleted item.

Enter Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) and an interface it is testing using technology from an Ajax pioneer it bought, Oddpost. Delete an item this time, and Ajax reconfigures the page immediately without waiting for a response.

Open a message to read, and the browser fetches only the message's body — it already has the subject line and other header information and doesn't have to waste time duplicating that data.

Yahoo also is developing an Ajax tool that instantly updates flight options as travelers narrow their choices of airports, airlines and travel times.

This summer, Time Warner Inc.'s America Online Inc. started using Ajax to let users rearrange, display and switch photo albums with fewer clicks.

And last week, Dow Jones & Co.'s MarketWatch began embedding news articles with stock quotes updated several times a second, blinking green and red as prices fluctuate.

"A Web page takes longer to load than that," said Jamie Thingelstad, MarketWatch's chief technology officer. "Your computer would just be hung."

Microsoft, which uses Ajax in a new map offering and an upcoming Hotmail upgrade, is even starting to build new tools to promote Ajax development — even as it pushes a next-generation alternative.

The alternative technology, known as XAML, will permit even richer applications over browsers. Alas, unlike Ajax, it will run only on Microsoft's Windows computers — no Macs, no

Startups, meantime, are embracing Ajax for Office-like tools. Such applications won't replace Office but could find a niche — parents collaborating in a soccer league could jointly update a Num Sum spreadsheet with scores, while users too poor to buy Office or students always on the go could compose a letter from anywhere using Writely word processor.

Scott Guthrie, who oversees the Microsoft Ajax tools called Atlas, believes Ajax has a future but not one at odds with Microsoft's.

"Ultimately when you want to write a word processing document or manage a large spreadsheet, you are going to want the capabilities ... that are very difficult to provide on the Web today," Guthrie said.

Computer-intensive applications like Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop image editor and high-end games won't come to browsers anytime soon.

Even Google had to create desktop mapping software, called Google Earth and requiring a download, to permit 3-D and advanced features.

"Ajax cannot do everything," said Bret Taylor, who oversees Google's mapping products. "Web applications have a way to go."

Other limitations are intentional. For security reasons, a browser cannot seamlessly access files or other programs on a computer. And, of course, Web applications require a persistent Internet connection — making work difficult on airplanes.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen also worries that loss of productivity — a minute here, a minute there, multiplied by thousands of employees — will offset any savings in installation costs.

"When you do a lot of transactions, you want something that's optimized for the transaction, not something optimized for information browsing," he said.

Among other criticisms, developer tools for Ajax aren't as mature as those for one of its chief rivals, Macromedia Inc.'s Flash. And many Ajax programs don't work well beyond Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox browsers.

Yet Web-based applications are increasingly appealing at a time separate computers for home, work and travel are common and people get used to sharing calendars and other data with friends and relatives.

Ajax can make those experiences richer.

"There's a lot of power sitting on that Web browser ... that people are just tapping into," said White of eBusiness Applications. Web developers "are beginning to push its limits in terms of creative uses and new applications."

Rain Pounds Key West As Wilma Nears Fla.

KEY WEST, Fla. - Hurricane Wilma accelerated Sunday toward Florida and got stronger along the way, threatening the storm-beleaguered state with 115-mph winds and raising concerns about thousands of Keys residents who defied mandatory evacuation orders.

Forecasters said Wilma could intensify as it approached Florida, and they were correct: The storm regained Category 3 status Sunday evening, in large part because the system hadn't been affected by wind shear officials hoped would impede Wilma's path and reduce its intensity.

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Landfall was expected by daybreak, probably near the state's southwest corner. Yet with the strongest winds on the storm's right side, officials feared a strong storm surge could cause widespread problems in the Keys.

"They're going to be in deep trouble," warned Billy Wagner, the senior Monroe County emergency management director.

Wilma's outer bands of gusty winds and rain began lashing the Keys and southwest Florida on Sunday night. At least three tornadoes were reported in the southern half of the state, including one not far from the
Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. And 31 counties — covering more than half the state's population — were under a tornado watch that extended through Monday morning.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hurricane Wilma Tears Into Mexican Resorts

CANCUN, Mexico - Hurricane Wilma tore into Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coastline on Friday with torrential rains and shrieking winds, filling streets with water, shattered glass and debris as thousands of tourists hunkered down in hotel ballrooms and emergency shelters.

Packing winds of 140 mph, the storm shattered windows and downed trees that crushed cars on the island of Cozumel, a popular cruise-ship stop. Pay phones jutted from floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.

The fearsome Category 4 storm, which killed 13 people in Haiti and Jamaica, was expected to pummel the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula for two days, sparking fears of catastrophic damage. It is forecast to sideswipe Cuba before bearing down on Florida on Monday.

"Tin roofing is flying through the air everywhere. Palm trees are falling down. Signs are in the air and cables are snapping," Julio Torres told The Associated Press by telephone from the Red Cross office in Cozumel.

"Not even emergency vehicles have been able to go out on the streets, because the winds are too strong."
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Officials said damage assessment teams couldn't reach Cozumel until late Saturday, at the earliest. But Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu, whose state includes Cancun, said the storm had caused "great destruction."

National Hurricane Center in Miami said Wilma officially made landfall about 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. EDT), with the center of the storm's eye hitting Cozumel. Seven hours later, the storm finally reached the Yucatan Peninsula, coming ashore between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos, about 11 miles from Cozumel.

The wind bent palm trees and the surf washed away tiki huts on hotel beaches. Power was cut early Friday to most parts of Cancun — a standard safety precaution.

Shop windows were shattered, cars were crushed under fallen trees and pay phones jutted from waist-deep floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.

"I never in my life wanted to live through something like this," said cook Guadalupe Santiago, 27, as howling winds shattered windows and rocked the hotel where she had taken shelter. "There are no words" to describe it, she said.

Officials loaded more than 1,000 people into buses and vans after a downtown cultural center being used as a temporary shelter suddenly became uninhabitable, Cancun Red Cross director Ricardo Portugal said without elaborating.

At the same time, Wilma's outer bands pounded western Cuba, where the government evacuated nearly 370,000 people. Forecasters said Wilma could bring more than 3 feet of rain to parts of Cuba.

Waves of up to 21 feet crashed on the extreme westernmost tip of Cuba and heavy rains cut off several small communities. About 7,000 residents were evacuated from the coastal fishing village of La Coloma in Cuba's southern Pinar del Rio province.

"We thought we'd be spending a lot less time here," Maria Elena Torre said at a shelter set up inside a Cuban boarding school. "Now we have no idea how long we'll be here."

Civil defense official Adolfo Nilo Moreno said the 725 evacuees at the school were likely to remain in place until Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Luckily, we have enough food for four months," primarily rice, chicken, bread and milk, he said

Friday, October 21, 2005

Cancun Evacuates As Wilma Grows, Nears

CANCUN, Mexico - Desperate tourists jockeyed for flights out of Cancun on Thursday as officials hauled thousands of visitors from luxury hotels to emergency shelters ahead of Hurricane Wilma, which forecasters said was growing stronger. Cuba evacuated more than 200,000 people.

The hurricane, which killed at least 13 people in the Caribbean, was expected to hit Cancun and sideswipe Cuba early Friday. Forecasters said it would then swing around to the northeast and charge Sunday at hurricane-weary Florida, where Gov.
Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency.

Briefly the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, Wilma remained a dangerous Category 4 hurricane and was gaining strength. Its 240 150 mph winds made it more powerful than Hurricane Katrina at the time it plowed into the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, killing more than 1,200 people.

National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm's wobbly center was roughly 135 miles southeast of Cozumel, a popular vacation island where the storm was likely to hit first before heading to Cancun. While many were evacuated from the island, a few had stayed.

"This is getting very powerful, very threatening," Mexican President
Vicente Fox said. Hundreds of schools in the Yucatan peninsula were ordered closed Thursday and Friday, and many were turned into shelters.

The Cancun airport was packed Thursday. Lines of hundreds waiting for flights wound past queues of dozens seeking rental cars, taxis or automatic teller machines.

Some airlines had already started canceling flights by midday.

A canceled U.S. Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was sending Matt Williams and his friend Jeff Davidson, both of Westfield, N.J., back to their hotel in Playa del Carmen south of Cancun. There, they faced a night in a ballroom-turned-emergency-shelter.


"You see the lines. I don't want to stand there for two hours and then decide what to do," said Williams, 26.

Increasingly high winds bent palm trees and strong waves gobbled Cancun's white-sand beaches. Officials loaded tourists onto buses after rousting them out of a string of luxury hotels lining the precarious strip between the Caribbean and the Nichupte Lagoon. By Thursday afternoon, the normally busy tourist zone was deserted.

Some, like 30-year-old Carlos Porta of Barcelona, Spain, were handed plastic bags with a pillow and blanket.

"From a luxury hotel to a shelter. It makes you angry. But what can you do?" he said. "It's just bad luck."

Mayor Francisco Antonio Alor said 20,000 tourists remained in the city Thursday, down from 35,000 the day before. He said he hoped most would be able to fly out on charters, but about 270 shelters in the area were being readied for those who were stuck.

"It's important that the people understand they should leave for their own security," he said. "It is important that they understand the situation is very dangerous."

Early Wednesday, Wilma became the most intense hurricane recorded in the Atlantic. The storm's 882 millibars of pressure broke the record low of 888 set by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Lower pressure brings faster winds.

Quintana Roo state officials urged the evacuation of nearby islands, and ferries carried throngs to the mainland. But not all agreed to flee.

Asked by telephone if she was leaving Cozumel's Hotel Aguilar where she works, Maite Soberanis replied: "Not for anything. We're in the center of the island. We're protected. We are very secure."

In Cuba, whose tip is just 220 130 miles east of Cancun, civil defense officials said 220,000 people had been evacuated by midday Thursday, most from low-lying areas in the island's west.

Another 14,500 students at boarding schools in rural Havana Province surrounding the nation's capital were sent home to their families.

"We do what is necessary to prevent any problems," said Yahany Canoua, 6 months pregnant as she was waiting to board an evacuation bus in La Colma, a fishing village on Cuba's southwestern coast. Evacuees crowded the buses with children, pet dogs and plastic bags of food.

With Florida the following target, Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Wilma's slowing pace could drag the storm down to a Category 3 or less before it hits Florida's southwest coast Sunday.

Officials on Wednesday began clearing tourists out of the exposed Florida Keys, but postponed evacuation of residents until at least Friday.

Across Florida's southwest coast, people put up shutters, bought canned goods and bottled water and waited in ever-growing lines at gas stations.

Starting with its early stages as a tropical depression over the weekend, Wilma has caused floods and landslides that killed at least 12 people in Haiti and one in Jamaica, according to officials there.

Honduras, raked by the storm's outer bands on Wednesday, escaped with no reports of significant damage, according to Juan Jose Reyes, spokesman for the national emergency committee.

In Belize, a nation south of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, officials canceled cruise ship visits and tourists were evacuated from islands offshore.

A few miles south of Cancun in Playa del Carmen, executives at the Occidental Grand Flamenco Xcaret gathered customers on Wednesday evening to warn that they might have to be moved to a shelter at the hotel convention center.

Tourists, many clutching drinks and still wearing swimming trunks or suits, groaned audibly when they were told that bars would be closed and smoking banned in the shelters.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Publishers sue Google over copyright dispute

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Five major publishers filed suit against Google Inc. (Nasdaq:GOOG - news) on Wednesday, seeking to block plans to scan copyrighted works without permission and derail Google's push to make many of the world's great books searchable online.

The complaint, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, names as plaintiffs McGraw-Hill Cos. Inc. (NYSE:MHP - news), Pearson Plc's (PSON.L) Pearson Education and Penguin Group (USA) units, Viacom Inc.'s (NYSE:VIAB - news) Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons Inc. (NYSE:JWA - news).

The suit seeks a declaration that Google infringes on the publishers' copyrights when the Web search leader scans entire books without permission of copyright owners.

"If Google can make...copies, then anyone can," Patricia Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, said in a phone interview. "Anybody could go into a library and start making digital copies of anything," she said.

Legal experts say the dispute between Google and the publishing industry is shaping up as a new front in the battle over digital duplication of media, including music, movies and now books.

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At issue are rights of copyright holders versus the public's "fair use" interest in being free to use limited portions of books for commentary or review, for what resembles a kind of full-text, searchable card catalog, analysts say.

"Creating an easy-to-use index of books is fair use under copyright law and supports the purpose of copyright: to increase the awareness and sales of books, directly benefiting copyright holders," said David Drummond, Google's attorney.

"This short-sighted attempt to block Google Print works counter to the interests of not just the world's readers, but also the world's authors and publishers," the general counsel said.

The Association of American Publishers, which orchestrated the lawsuit against Google, said in a statement that it took the action after lengthy talks broke down last week over the copyright implications of the Google Print Library Project.

The publishers' legal action aims to keep Google from setting a precedent that would open the door for anyone to digitally duplicate books and use them as they please, said Schroeder, a former U.S. congresswoman from Colorado.

In September, the Authors Guild and U.S. writers Herbert Mitgang, Betty Miles and Daniel Hoffman filed a separate lawsuit against Google that made similar allegations.

The Authors Guild filing is a class-action lawsuit that seeks damages. The new suit seeks a declaratory judgment that Google is committing copyright infringement by scanning books.
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Google, which is working with five of the world's great libraries to digitize their collections, stopped scanning copyrighted books in August in the face of a growing outcry from publishers. But it plans to resume doing so next month.

Google's plan to have libraries scan the full text of books goes far beyond the analogy of creating a digital version of a card catalog, Schroeder added. "If Google wants a card catalog they can scan the book's front page for full bibliographic data."

Supporters of the Google Print project say the scanning of the full text of the books is necessary to create a searchable catalog of the books located within the five libraries' collections. Google says it has no plans to make full copies of copyrighted works available without their owners' permission.

"We haven't changed our position in support of the project," said James Hilton, interim head of the university library at the University of Michigan. "Users of Google Print will see a snippet of a few lines of text."

"They will see information about how to find an in-copyright work, either through a bookstore, a publisher or (the closest) library," Hilton said. But the full text will not be available online," he stressed.

Google operates a parallel program with major academic, technical and trade publishers to allow readers to search the text of copyrighted books on publisher-controlled Web pages that show several pages of adjoining text and feature links to publisher and other retail outlets for purchasing the books.