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Friday, July 22, 2011

Legislators introduce bill to resuscitate PACE program for green upgrades to homes

The PACE program, which made installations of energy-efficient solar panels, insulation and water conservation systems more affordable for homeowners, has been stalled by a technical roadblock.

Brad Bartz of ABC Solar carries a solar panel to be used with a pump for a jacuzzi at a home in Palos Verdes Estates in November 2009. (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times / July 21, 2011)

A government program that helped homeowners finance and install green upgrades before a technical roadblock stalled it last year may be resuscitated by Congress.

A group of legislators introduced a bill Wednesday to jump-start the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as PACE. The program made installations of energy-efficient solar panels, insulation and water conservation systems more affordable.

More than half of the country had approved some version of the program in which local governments provided funding for home improvements. Homeowners paid back the funds in installments through surcharges on their annual property taxes.

But the Federal Housing Finance Agency balked at a component of the program, saying that in case of a foreclosure on the property the PACE funds would have to be paid back before the mortgage.

The housing authority, which oversees mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, warned last summer that PACE posed "unusual and difficult" financial risks for lenders. The lenders in turn told homeowners that participating in the program could be a violation of their mortgage terms and could be grounds for foreclosure.

Since then most governments have backed away from the program.

But the PACE Protection Act from Reps. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), Dan Lungren (R-Gold River) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) would force the housing finance agency to rescind its warning. To mitigate the potential risks of homeowner defaults, the trio worked in more stringent standards for PACE applicants, such as lowering the scope of green improvements relative to property size.

"We've tried everything to work with them, but they're just being stubborn," Thompson said of the housing finance agency. "It's come down to introducing legislation, which is not the route we wanted to go."

The agency said in a statement that it was willing to offer input on PACE-related legislation. However, it said it "continues to have concerns with the first lien created by certain PACE programs and the absence of effective consumer protections."

The program helped create construction jobs in Sonoma County when the housing industry was free-falling elsewhere, said Thompson, who represents the region.

The nearly 2,500 PACE projects on the books helped generate income and tax revenue for municipalities — about $60,000 per home, according to a new study from advocacy group PACENow. Owners of retrofitted homes also generally had lower mortgage default rates.

"Not only do you get the lower utility rates and contributing to saving on energy costs, it's really done wonders to put people to work," Thompson said. "It's a huge answer to the question of how we solve this energy problem."

Other financing options have begun to spread as PACE struggles to find its footing.

Lease programs from installers such as SolarCity and Sun Run eliminate the upfront costs of solar panels. A company called One Block Off the Grid, which arranges group deals for solar installations and offered a Groupon special last year, announced a nationwide discount this week.

Sponsors of the new bill say the wider array of options will increase rather than hinder demand for PACE by making energy efficiency seem more affordable.

Apple updates the MacBook Air, axes the white MacBook

Apple updated its thin-and-light MacBook Air laptops on Wednesday, alongside the much anticipated release of Mac OS X Lion, while also unceremoniously discontinuing its white entry-level MacBook line.

The new MacBook Air notebook computers, which lack optical drives (another example of Apple pushing users toward a disc-free future), gain speedier Intel processors -- ranging from the 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5 chip in the lower-end 11-inch-screen model, to the dual-core 1.8GHz Core i7. The i5 and i7 processors are known for being pretty powerful, with variations of this chip line running in Apple's MacBook Pros and iMac computers.

A backlit keyboard and a Thunderbolt port have also been added to the Airs in this refresh. Thunderbolt ports are capable of transferring data at a rate of 10 gigabits per second, much faster than USB 2.0, which transfers data at about 480 megabits per second. But, as of now, there aren't a lot of external hard drives or cameras and other items that utilize the ports due to the cost of implementing the technology -- a Thunderbolt cable itself sells for $49.

Despite the changes, the price range for the MacBook Air is staying the same; from $999 to $1,699.

MC207_AV1 And it just might be that $999 price point of the 11-inch base MacBook Air that is responsible for Apple killing off the much beloved white polycarbonate MacBook laptop. Though we don't know for sure if that's the reasoning -- as of Tuesday morning, Apple officials weren't available for comment on why the white MacBook is getting the axe.

Without any notice, the white MacBook (which also started at $999 and had a 13-inch screen) was yanked from Apple's lineup and online store. Some old refurbished models of the MacBook are still available from Apple online, but new models are done.

The move to discontinue the polycarbonate MacBook will leave Apple, for the first time since 2001's introduction of the iBook G3, without a solid-white laptop for sale. A stroll across just about any U.S. college campus in the last decade was a testament to the massive popularity of Apple's entry-level laptops, which makes this move a bit surprising.

But if Apple no longer sees a need for disc drives in its entry level notebooks, which the MacBook Air now seems to be, the MacBook must have made a lot less sense to Steve Jobs and other Cupertino execs. Now, every Apple laptop (and desktop for that matter) is clad in silver aluminum.

Those looking at a laptop and also wanting a disc drive can either pair a MacBook Air with a portable disc drive for an extra $79, buy a pricier MacBook Pro laptop, or look to one of the many Apple competitors.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fake Apple Stores popping up in China

Products get knocked off all the time -- designer bags, Oscar-night dresses, watches. But entire stores? That's something new. Which is why the Internet is going crazy over a blogger's report that three fake Apple stores have popped up in her neighborhood in Kunming, China.

In a post dated Wednesday on the blog BirdAbroad, the citizen reporter (an employee of an international public health organization) said she was initially duped by the quality of the fake Apple store. It had the iconic clean wood interior, the Apple branded posters on the walls, the employees with those tell-tale blue polo shirts and chunky name tags hanging around their necks. The store appeared to sell real Apple products.


Her husband bet it was a fake, she bet it wasn't. When they got home they looked online and found that Apple doesn't have any stores in Kunming. A few days later she walked down the street and bumped into two more Apple store knock-offs!

In retrospect, she writes, some things felt off in the store. The stairs were poorly constructed and the name tags didn't have actual names on them, just the word "staff." She also notes the walls weren't painted correctly, and the sign in front was wrong:

"Apple never writes 'Apple Store' on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit," she wrote.


BirdAbroad, who does not use her real name on her blog and asked that we not use it either, had to do some fancy maneuvering to be allowed to take photos in the store.

"I … may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures," she wrote.

She also said the employees definitely believed they were working for the real Apple company.

Citizen journalism lives!

Auto cucumbered' text messages gone wrong. Oops, that's 'auto corrected'

What with all the walking and texting, dining and texting, and talking and texting that goes on, it's no wonder that communication sometimes breaks down.

Throw in auto correct, and you're guaranteed some jaw-dropping mishaps. That's probably why the blog "Damn You, Auto Correct," which collects text exchanges gone wrong, has proved so popular. Since launching in October, it's garnered almost 300 million page views.

Here are some gems randomly selected from the archives:

Exchange #1: We need to talk

"Be warned: I'm dumping you when I get home tonight."

"Fine with me. I was just thinking we could use some time apart."

"...JENNA??? I got autocorrected. I mean to write jumping you not dumping you. And you're telling me you want to break up?"

"Well this is awkward."

Exchange #2: Shocking News

"I've got to tell you something. Are you sitting down?"

"I am actually. What's up mom?"

"Your brother was adopted!"

"What??? What are you talking about? Why are you telling me this over a text? Call me."

"Oh this damn phone. I wrote accepted and the phone changed it. He got accepted to Yale!"

Exchange #3: Dangerous dealings

"Hey Taliban. Does someone your size usually wear an xl shirt?"

" correct! I typed "tallman"

"Well now we're on a FBI watch list. Thanks."

Exchange #4: Now that's a bad date

"So how was the date last night bro"

"...first date we went to dinner and then walked her home. then i killed her in the woods outside her house and left"

"Killing her seems a bit harsh. Did she order the lobster and filet mignon at dinner or something?"


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tokyo stocks flat, BOJ's ETF buying helps mood

(Reuters) - Japanese stocks were flat on Wednesday as investors, emboldened by the central bank's purchases of exchange-traded funds, hunted for bargains, offsetting worries about euro zone debt woes that have led to renewed strength in the yen.

The Bank of Japan purchased 22.1 billion yen ($275 million) in Japanese ETFs the previous day, part of its asset-buying scheme to support the economy, and it has typically bought whenever the Nikkei stock average falls more than 1 percent, as it did on Tuesday.

"A further sell-off seems to have stopped for now," said Yumi Nishimura, a senior market analyst at Daiwa Securities, adding that the central bank's move was reassuring to investors.

As European debt woes mounted, the dollar briefly plunged below 79.00 yen for the first time since mid-March, before recovering to around 79.40 yen. The euro stood at 111.37 yen after dropping 1.4 percent to 110.98 yen.

"People are now used to seeing the dollar dipping below 80 yen, but the question is whether this strong yen trend is temporary or is it one that will last for a while," said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities.

"If it lasts for a week, the Nikkei may fall toward 9,500."

The benchmark Nikkei .N225 was flat at 9,926.81 at the midday break after rising as high as 9,973.23, while the broader Topix index .TOPX added 0.2 percent to 858.92.

Moody's cut Ireland's credit rating to junk on Tuesday, warning that the debt-laden country would likely need a second bailout, while European officials, for the first time, refused to rule out default by Greece.

Investors fear the crisis could overtake the bigger European economies of Spain and Italy, though some Tokyo-based fund managers were hopeful that the impact on domestic equities would be limited.

"While such global economic fears remain, there are hopes for strong earnings for the April-June quarter, so the Tokyo market may not fall sharply this month," said Naoki Fujiwara, a fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management.

Chip-related shares slipped after Microchip Technology Inc (MCHP.O) tumbled 12 percent on Tuesday, a day after the chipmaker cut its first-quarter outlook hurt by lower automotive production and weakness in consumer and computing end markets.

Advantest Corp (6857.T) shed 0.9 percent to 1,515 yen in active trade, while Tokyo Electron (8035.T) fell below its 25-day moving average, losing 1.1 percent to 4,320 yen. Tokyo Seimitsu (7729.T) dropped 2.2 percent to 1,495 yen.

But some exporters rose on bargain hunting, with Toshiba Corp (6502.T) rising 1.0 percent to 416 yen and Sony Corp (6758.T) adding 0.3 percent to 2,143 yen.

Shares of Mitsui & Co (8031.T) made their biggest daily gain in the last three weeks, adding 2.3 percent to 1,435 yen, after the trading house said it would launch a rival offer for Singapore port operator Portek International (PKIL.SI), outbidding Philippines' International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICT.PS).

Shares in mobile social gaming company DeNA (2432.T) gained 2.0 percent to 3,765 yen after Morgan Stanley Mitsubishi UFJ Securities hiked the firm's rating to "overweight" from "equal weight," citing its overseas expansion and attractive valuations.

Halle Berry wins stay away order against intruder

(Reuters) - A judge on Tuesday granted Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry on a stay away order against a man who she said intruded on her Los Angeles property three times in recent days, before police arrested him.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carol Boas Goodson issued a temporary order directing Richard A. Franco, 27, to stay 100 yards from Berry and her young daughter.

Franco, who has a history of violence, theft and drug offenses, was found to have a book with "nonsensical ramblings" and Berry's name in his handwriting, the actress said in court papers posted at

Franco first approached Berry's home on Saturday, when she was talking to her manager and saw through a glass door that Franco -- whom she does not know -- was in the gated back yard, the papers state. Berry's manager yelled at Franco and he left, she stated.

The actress further said that on Sunday, she went to her kitchen to get a Diet Coke and noticed Franco was on the other side of a glass door, less than a foot away.

"Panicking and in fear of my life, I turned my body and quickly hit the deadbolt lock on the glass door," Berry said in the court papers.

She said she ran upstairs to call police. That evening, arrangements were made to have armed security officers at Berry's home, and as a result on Monday, Franco was caught when he returned.

"This person has invaded and trampled upon the most fundamental sense of security I have and I am extremely frightened of him and what he might do to me or those I love," Berry said in her court papers.

Franco was booked on suspicion of stalking, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said on its website that Franco is being held in jail, and that his bail has been set at $150,000.

Berry, 44, won an Oscar for her role in the 2001 drama "Monster's Ball." She also starred in the movies "X-Men," "X2" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," and in 2008 she was named Esquire Magazine's "sexiest woman alive."

Obama warns on debt, deal elusive after talks

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama warned on Tuesday that elderly Americans could suffer first from a debt default, raising pressure on lawmakers as prospects for a deal to lift the debt ceiling appeared far from reach.

The president and congressional leaders met at the White House for the third time in as many days, working to break a logjam over taxes and spending cuts before August 2. when the Treasury says it will run out of money to pay all of the country's bills.

Obama, who has said he would meet every day this week, will convene more debt talks on Wednesday at 4 p.m. EDT.

Republicans have balked at raising the debt limit without a deficit-cutting deal, but their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, proposed a backup plan that would give Obama the option of raising the ceiling while avoiding spending cuts.

McConnell's complicated maneuver would also allow Republicans to duck a politically painful debt limit vote.

As politicians sparred, business leaders pressed Washington to act swiftly to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling or risk derailing a sputtering economic recovery and endangering the global financial system.

Obama told CBS television in an interview that checks to recipients of the Social Security retirement program may not go out in early August if he and congressional leaders do not hammer out an agreement.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue," Obama said, according to excerpts of the interview released before its broadcast.

"There may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Obama said. He said veterans checks and disability benefits could also be affected without a deal.

Obama's warning that senior citizens -- an active voting group -- could suffer first if a deal was not reached could give lawmakers a nudge ahead of 2012 elections.

Reacting to Obama's comments, House Speaker John Boehner questioned whether Social Security checks would be cut off, asserting that the Treasury can prioritize payments.

"I think it's way too early to be making some type of veiled threats like that," Boehner said on Fox News.

Seniors punished Democrats last year for including Medicare cuts in their healthcare package and then turned on Republicans in a special New York election this year over a Republican plan to overhaul the government healthcare program for the elderly.

It also evoked memories of the debt limit crisis of 1996 when Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin warned he would not be able to send out Social Security pension checks the next month if the ceiling were not raised. The Republican-controlled House immediately voted to allow the government to issue more debt to make those payments.


Failure to seal a deal by August 2 could spook investors globally, causing interest rates to surge and stock prices to plummet, putting the United States at risk of another recession, Treasury officials and economists have warned.

As he laid out his debt-limit backup plan, McConnell said a "real solution" to the U.S. debt problem was unlikely while Obama was in office.

Obama, in the CBS interview, chalked that up to "partisan politics," and White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was important to stay focused on a "unique opportunity to come to agreement on significant, balanced deficit reduction."

Carney also welcomed what the White House saw as a recognition by McConnell "that defaulting on America's past due bills is not an option."

A Democratic official close to the negotiations said Obama made a similar point about the McConnell plan during Tuesday's nearly two-hour meeting with congressional leaders.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that after two tense meetings that focused on process, Obama sought to tone down the rancor and refocus the discussion on the substance of the deficit-reduction proposals.

McConnell's idea would allow only one-third of Congress -- presumably Democrats -- to raise the debt ceiling. Under the proposal, Congress would reject Obama's debt-limit request, and Obama would veto the rejection. If Congress failed to muster the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto, the debt limit would effectively be lifted by the amount Obama requested.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has warned of catastrophic consequences if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, held firm on Tuesday to vows that the United States would not default. "Failure is not an option," he said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, mentioned as a possible successor to Geithner, also weighed in on the debate, saying a default would damage the U.S. credibility around the world.

Thailand's Shinawatras: From clan to dynasty

Yingluck Shinawatra is Thaksin's youngest sister and is expected to become Thailand's next prime minister

He was Thailand's prime minister for five years, his brother-in-law has served as prime minister, his youngest sister is expected to become the next prime minister - Thaksin Shinawatra once again seems to have broken the mould of Thai politics, writes Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

On 3 July the Pheu Thai party won 265 seats in Thailand's 500-member assembly. The party's figurehead in the election was Yingluck Shinawatra - so raising the profile even higher of the powerful Shinawatra family.

Thaksin Shinawatra lives in exile in Dubai to avoid going to jail for a corruption conviction, but his sister's convincing victory is bound to throw more scrutiny on his time in office during the 2000s.

In Thailand's structurally polarised climate, Yingluck may just be what the Thais need - if both Thaksin and his adversaries allow it.

Since constitutional rule was introduced in place of absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had military and civilian leaders from the same cliques or coalitions, but rarely from the same immediate family.

The one exception was the Pramoj brothers - Seni and Kukrit - who alternated as leaders in the turbulent politics of the mid-1970s.

But they belonged to two distinctly different parties and stood apart on the political spectrum.

Not so in the case of the 44-year-old Yingluck and her controversial brother. They are made from the same mould, hailing from the Sankhampaeng district of Chiang Mai, a favourite tourist destination in northern Thailand.

Thaksin is the eldest son among 10 children of Lert and Yindee Shinawatra, descendents of Chinese immigrants who toiled in the town in various entrepreneurial pursuits during the 1950s-60s.

Before Mr Lert's career peaked in 1969, when he earned a seat in parliament, he endured topsy-turvy times as a businessman.

Thaksin, a schoolboy in the 1950s, looked after his father's small coffee shop in a wooden shophouse, the top floor being their home.

Where his father went, Thaksin followed.

Political clan

These efforts in the face of hard times became the stuff of legend in Thaksin's meteoric rise from a police officer-cum-struggling businessman who eventually hit the jackpot with a telecommunications monopoly and stock-market fortune.

Until recently, Ms Yingluck's story was little more than a footnote.

A generation apart, Thaksin was a paternalistic sibling - and as Thaksin's star brightened, Ms Yingluck increasingly gravitated into its orbit.

Yingluck Shinawatra shakes hands with supporters after a rally on 1 July 2011 in Bangkok Yingluck pressed the flesh and connected with Pheu Thai's grassroots on the campaign trail

Ms Yingluck followed in her big brother's footsteps by heading to the US for her postgraduate studies. She went to Kentucky State University, just up the road from Eastern Kentucky University, where Thaksin completed a criminal justice degree.

Universities in Kentucky state were popular with Thai students, particularly police officers, as they offered a ready network of friends and family.

After her return to Bangkok in the early 1990s, Yingluck was thrust into the family business, which had just listed on the stock market.

Some of her other siblings and in-laws had a hand in the Shin Corp telecommunications umbrella, but Thaksin hired "professionals" for key management positions.

Ms Yingluck was cutting her teeth in business just as Thaksin began dabbling in politics, but she stayed out of the political limelight even after his political career sky-rocketed in the late 1990s.

The most political of Thaksin's siblings was Yaowapa Wongsawat, who led a northern faction of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.

Thaksin was deposed in a military coup in September 2006, but continued to organise the largest parties in parliament with the help of his relatives.

During Thaksin's initial post-coup fight-back under the People's Power Party in 2007-08, Ms Yaowapa's husband, Somchai Wongsawat, became a short-lived prime minister.

But the party was dissolved and its leading politicians banned by the judiciary.

People's Power was succeeded by Pheu Thai, which fell into disarray after the opposing Democrat Party was propelled to office with the help of the army and the courts in December 2008.

Pheu Thai lacked leadership and policy direction, and was wracked by factionalism.

A tall order

As the election approached this year, the only person untainted and politically viable enough to put a stop to Pheu Thai's internal squabbling was Yingluck.

She was looking after what was left of the family business after Shin Corp was sold in January 2006.

Thaksin had never before hinted at deploying her in the field; but she has worked well for him.

She has the qualities of youth, femininity, novelty and business acumen.

Her campaign stuck to well-laid plans. She pressed the flesh and connected with Pheu Thai's grassroots.

Unlike her brother, Yingluck is not easily flustered. Her political instincts, energy and appetite have held up so far.

But her problem will be that she is surrounded by her brother's men, beset by his circumstances, driven by his policy ideas, and without a support base of her own.

Even if Yingluck can carve out some space beyond Thaksin for her own rule, she will be hard-pressed to placate his powerful adversaries in the establishment that includes much of the military, bureaucracy, judiciary, Privy Council, middle class and intelligentsia.

They may not be able to win the vote but they can, as seen in the recent past, keep her tenure shorter than intended.

Yingluck faces a tall order but she should be given a chance in view of Thailand's imperative of compromise over the logic of further conflict.

Apple files patent complaint against phone maker HTC

Apple has accused the smartphone maker HTC of infringing its patents, in the latest phase of the legal battle between phone and tablet PC makers.

Apple has filed a complaint against the US International Trade Commission (ITC) seeking an inquiry by the panel into the matter.

The news comes just weeks after Apple and Samsung accused each other of copying designs and technology.

HTC is the world's third-biggest mobile phone maker, by stock market value.

However, HTC has denied Apple's allegations.

"HTC is dismayed that Apple has resorted to competition in the courts rather than the market place," said Grace Lei, HTC's general counsel.

Growing rivalry

The launch of products such as iPhone and iPad saw Apple become one of the market leaders in the global smartphone market, and the biggest seller of tablet PCs.

Apple's success in quickly securing a large slice of the market, with fashionable products enjoying good demand from consumers, prompted several rivals to launch their own gadgets hoping to win a share of the fast-growing market.

However, that resulted in relations between Apple and its rivals souring as the competition grew.

Last year the American technology company filed a similar complaint against HTC accusing it of infringing as many as 20 of its patents.

That prompted HTC to launch a counter attack, claiming that Apple was guilty of infringing patents held by the Taiwanese company.

HTC went to the extent of seeking a ban on sales of iPhones, iPads and iPods in the United States.

Drugs war strains Mexico's forensic investigators

Walk past the modern facilities of Mexico City's forensic headquarters and it is hard to imagine that the building hosts one of the grimmest aspects of Mexico's war on drugs.

Inside are dozens of unidentified corpses - most believed to be the victims of the drug gang violence that has engulfed parts of this country.

They were found in clandestine graves in the north of the country - a macabre twist to the bloodletting that has seen some 40,000 people killed since late 2006.

Some mortuaries in the violence hot spots - mostly in the north near the US border - have been overwhelmed by the discovery of hundreds of corpses.

"We only have facilities to deal with 20 bodies," Dr Jose Gutierrez Silva, head of the forensic service in the city of Durango told the BBC.

"We had to hire two trucks that are specially fitted to hold corpses."

Tortured victims

To date, some 250 bodies have been found in several mass graves in the state of Durango.

Julian Miglierini visits Mexico City's Forensic Medical Service

It has been a similar story in the north-eastern state of Tamaulipas, where more than 190 bodies were unearthed earlier this year near the town of San Fernando.

That is why many bodies have been brought to the capital.

At Mexico City's Forensic Medical Service (Semefo), work continues to try to give a name to the victims stored in temperature-controlled vaults behind two heavy metal doors.

The hope is that a positive identification means a body can be handed over to grieving relatives.

Mexican officials say the number of forensic staff employed at a national level is now 1,500 - up from 454 a decade ago.

At the beginning of July, a new forensics laboratory was inaugurated in Mexico City, while the main university, UNAM, is set to introduce a new degree course next year to train people in forensic science.

But the expansion of the forensic service will take time - while the victims keep turning up.

"We support states in the north of the country by receiving these bodies because they don't have facilities to keep them for long," says Dr Macario Susano Pompeyo, technical director of Semefo.

"And since they keep on finding bodies, that makes their work more difficult."

About 120 of the Tamaulipas bodies, some mutilated and bearing the signs of torture, were moved to Mexico City.

So far, less than a quarter of the corpses has been formally identified. None of the victims, Dr Pompeyo says, had any links with criminal groups.

"They were migrants making their way to cross the border with the US," he says.

That could explain why few families come looking for their loved ones.

"Many of them do not even know if their relative is missing or dead," says Dr Pompeyo.

Missing or murdered?

That is not the case of Maximo Bazaldua, who believes his brother-in-law Rafael, could be among the bodies at the Semefo facilities.

The last time he heard from him, in March 2010, Rafael was on a bus on his way to the US.

Mortuary workers transport a coffin to be buried along with other unidentified bodies found recently in mass burials, at the cemetery Valle de los Sabinos in Durango 3 June, 2011. Limited storage means some unidentified victims have already had to be reburied

Over the phone, he told his family that the bus he was on had been stopped in Tamaulipas at a supposed checkpoint near San Fernando.

Mr Bazaldua's efforts to find his brother-in-law have so far been unsuccessful.

The search involves dealing with different departments, a lot of bureaucracy and costs money travelling to and from Tamaulipas.

"We're about to give up," he says.

Rafael seems set, for the foreseeable future at least, to remain on the list of some 6,000 people who have gone missing in Mexico since 2006, according to human rights groups.

As for the bodies in Semefo's vaults, their destiny contains a grim irony.

If in about a year, no relative has claimed them, they will be buried again in mass graves.

Harry Potter: How do you end a movie franchise?

As the final Harry Potter film arrives in cinemas, its producers and directors explain how they steered the world's most successful film franchise to its conclusion. But what does studio Warner Bros have lined up after Potter?

There is a chapter in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows novel called The Seven Potters.

Any book about making of the Harry Potter movies is likely to contain a chapter entitled The Three Davids.

Producers David Barron and David Heyman, and director David Yates have been the triumvirate in creative control of the Harry Potter franchise for the final four films.

Now, as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 hits cinemas worldwide, they are adjusting to life without JK Rowling's boy wizard.

David Barron, David Yates and David Heyman attend the New York premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 David Barron, David Yates and David Heyman at the New York premiere of Deathly Hallows Part 2

"It's been an unbelievable journey," says Heyman, whose Heyday Films production company has made the Potter films from day one, with Warner Bros providing the financial muscle.

"I've been doing this for 12 years solid and it's been the gift of all gifts," Heyman adds. "For a producer, that's such stability."

The franchise has conjured up more than $6.4bn (£4bn) worldwide, making it the highest grossing film series, ahead of James Bond and Star Wars.

Industry commentators have observed the Potter films' distinctive tone is a product of Warner Bros decision to defer control of the production to a small British team.

Heyman admits the success of the first film in 2001 made that relationship easier.

"Warners in general are quite tough, as all studios are, before you get to the starting line. Then they let you make the film as long as you work within the budget.

"They have been respectful of us and allowed us to make the films we have. One of my sadnesses is that I will never have it so good again."

Producer David Heyman hugs actress Emma Watson Last week's world premiere in London was an emotional time Linkfor the cast

He praises the studio's strategy of giving creative control to directors like Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban) and Christopher Nolan (Batman series).

"They are a film-maker's studio. People with a point of view - that's what they tend to like."

Heyman, who worked in LA during the 1980s for Warner Bros and United Artists, set up Heyday Films in the UK in 1996, and secured the rights to Harry Potter the following year.

Apart from the Harry Potter films, Heyman's producing credits include Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey, science-fiction thriller I Am Legend, with Will Smith, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

He is currently producing Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, with Cuaron directing.

"I'm not easing into unemployment yet," says Heyman. "I view it not as the end but the end of the beginning."

Start Quote

I view it not as the end but the end of the beginning.”

David Heyman

Deathly Hallows director David Yates describes Heyman as the "guardian" of JK Rowling's boy wizard on the big screen.

"When I started on Order of the Phoenix, there were areas that David was very sensitive about. We would haggle and negotiate about what I could and couldn't do.

"It got subsequently easier as we built up a relationship of trust over the films until it got to the point where he left me more on my own towards the end."

Producer David Barron, says Yates, would keep him in line on the budget.

"We were a good team and they were always my first audience. I like having something to bounce against. It's healthy.

"You see some directors who become very successful surrounded by people who only say, 'Yes' - and then the standard of the work goes down."

The Merseyside-born director won his first Bafta for BBC period drama The Way We Live Now. In 2003, he directed the drama series State of Play, and the following year Sex Traffic, for which he won another Bafta.

Cauldron of cash

Yates, who directed the last four of the eight Potter films, admits he might go through "a bit of a dip" now the films are over.

Guardian film critic Jason Solomons gives his verdict on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

"It's been physically and mentally hard to do four films back to back, but it's been fun."

Having been a cauldron of cash for 10 years, how is the end of the Potter films likely to affect Warner Bros?

Producer David Barron is no doubt the studio will survive the loss of its top earner.

"I'm sure they'd like it if there was another one, but they've got plenty of material that I think will be very audience friendly."

He names Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Killer and Tim Burton's Dark Shadows among the candidates.

Also on Warner Bros list of releases for 2012 are Clash of the Titans 2; Clint Eastwood's J Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio; Superman: Man of Steel - and the first of Peter Jackson's Hobbit films.

While Barron doesn't envisage any more Potter novels from JK Rowling - "I think it's a full-stop for her" - he does see the "three Davids" working together again.

"I'd like to make a great psychological thriller, or a Western - if it's good character-driven material we'd all be interested I think."

Barron and Heyman have recently produced thriller Page Eight, written and directed by David Hare and starring Potter regulars Ralph Fiennes and Michael Gambon.

Heyman points out that while the Potter films are finished, the franchise is very much alive.

"They are already talking about where the DVD launch is going to be, and Warners will find a way to repackage in every which way the ultimate collection.

"And I'm sure there will be Potter conventions..."

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is out on 15 July

Phone hacking: Tories join call over BSkyB bid

The Conservatives and Lib Dems are set to back a Labour motion urging Rupert Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB.

They will call on Mr Murdoch's News Corporation to do so in the "public interest" while alleged phone hacking at the News of the World is probed.

Prime Minister David Cameron is also set to detail the terms of a public inquiry into the hacking scandal.

In a Commons statement, he is expected to outline the remit of the judicial probe and possibly who will head it.

Labour says the unanimous support of MPs for News Corporation to pull out of a bid for the broadcaster will send a "clear message" to Mr Murdoch.

It comes after Mr Cameron met Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband at Downing Street to discuss the hacking scandal on Tuesday.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson is believed to have updated the three men on the current state of the police inquiry into hacking claims when he visited No 10.

'Broad scope'

The prime minister has conceded the need for a judge-led public inquiry into what took place at the News of the World, flaws in the initial police investigation and allegations of improper links between police and the newspapers.

He has also argued for a separate inquiry into the relationship between politicians and the press and the future of newspaper regulation.

Mr Miliband has urged him to go further, to start a single probe immediately - rather than awaiting the outcome of the police investigation - and for its terms of reference to be as wide as possible.

Start Quote

It is very important that we all come together in the national interest, send that message and hopefully Mr Murdoch will listen to the wishes of the House of Commons”

Ivan Lewis Shadow Culture Secretary

BBC political correspondent Vicki Young said Labour believed they had got everything they wanted out of Tuesday's meeting as both sides sought to appear on the front foot over the scandal.

Mr Cameron's statement is likely to follow prime minister's questions - which is set to be dominated by the issue - and precede an opposition day debate on News Corp's planned takeover of BSkyB.

Following fresh revelations about alleged malpractice at News International - News Corp's UK newspaper arm - Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt referred the company's bid to acquire the 61% of shares it does not already own in BSkyB to the Competition Commission.

But MPs want News Corp to pre-empt the regulator's inquiry - and Mr Hunt's final decision on whether to approve the deal - by agreeing to withdraw the bid.

'National interest'

Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis said he welcomed the backing of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats for his party's motion.

Although the vote will not have an effect on the regulatory process, he said the support of all MPs would ramp up the pressure on Mr Murdoch to reconsider his position.

"The public will not understand it if the BSkyB deal were to go ahead without all the criminal matters that are currently under investigation being resolved," he said.

"It is very important that we all come together in the national interest, send that message and hopefully Mr Murdoch will listen to the wishes of the House of Commons."

Mr Lewis rejected suggestions Labour was pursuing a vendetta against News International - which switched its support from Labour to the Tories before the last election.

"This is not just about News International," he added. "It is also an issue that other newspapers in this country have to be honest about and have to come clean about."

The prime minister is also due to meet the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler - whose mobile phone was allegedly hacked into after her disappearance.

'Clearing names'
Sir Paul Stephenson leaving No 10 The Met's most senior officer visited Downing Street on Tuesday

The Commons Culture Committee has asked Mr Murdoch - who is in London to oversee the crisis, his son James and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to appear before it next Tuesday to answer questions about the News of the World's closure and the firm's internal inquiry.

Tory MP Louise Mensch, a member of the committee, said the Murdochs should show "leadership and courage" by agreeing to appear at the hearing.

Doing so would enable them to "clear their name and clear the name of their company", she told the BBC News Channel.

But she said it was naive to believe questionable practices were "confined" to News International.

"My concern is News Corporation does not become the bogeyman for what I believe is an industry-wide problem. This is widespread across British tabloids and has gone on for far too long."

News International has said it will "fully co-operate" with the committee but has not yet confirmed who, if anyone, will attend.

'Serious consequences'

Meanwhile, the Sun has defended itself against allegations it accessed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's family medical records without his knowledge.

The paper, published by News International, said information that Mr Brown's son Fraser had cystic fibrosis came from a member of the public whose own child also had the condition.

The Sun has released a video of the man it says was the source of the story. The man's face is not revealed and his voice disguised to protect his identity.

In the US, Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller called for an investigation into whether phone hacking targeted any American citizens.

He said the authorities should consider whether journalists working for News Corp had broken US law.;

News Corp has announced plans to buy back $5bn (£3.2bn) of its shares in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

News Corp shares have fallen 14% since 4 July, wiping about $5bn off the company's value.

The group said in a statement it would increase an existing buy-back programme of about $1.8bn to $5bn.

NASA's Final Space Shuttle Flight Lifts Off From Cape Canaveral

In this handout provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the STS-135 crew (L-R), Sandra Magnus, mission specialist, Rex Walheim, mission specialist, Doug Hurley, pilot, and Chris Ferguson, commander, ride in the Astrovan to launch pad 39A to board space shuttle Atlantis on July 8, 2011 at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Ross/NASA via Getty Images)

A NASA Emergency Response Team member, looks out while flying near the Vehicle Assembly Building before the launch of space shuttle Atlantis July 8, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

Devotees Mutilate Themselves At Phuket Vegetarian Festival

A devotee of the Chinese shrine of Sapam, pierces his cheeks with swords during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival on October 10, 2010 in Phuket, Thailand. Ritual Vegetarianism in Phuket Island traces it roots back to the early 1800's. The festival begins on the first evening of the ninth lunar month and lasts for nine days. Participants in the festival perform acts of body piercing as a means of shifting evil spirits from individuals onto themselves and bring the community good luck. (Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Contrail “Contrails (short for “condensation trails”)

“Contrails (short for “condensation trails”) or vapour trails are artificial clouds that are the visible trails of condensed water vapour made by the exhaust of aircraft engines. As the hot exhaust gases cool in the surrounding air they may precipitate a cloud of microscopic water droplets or, if the air is cold enough, tiny ice crystals.

The wingtip vortices which trail from the wingtips and wing flaps of aircraft are sometimes partly visible due to condensation in the cores of the vortices. Each vortex is a mass of spinning air and the air pressure at the centre of the vortex is very low. These wingtip vortices are not the same as contrails. Depending on atmospheric conditions, contrails may be visible for only a few seconds or minutes, or may persist for many hours which may affect climate”. – Wikipedia
The Eurofighter Typhoon military jet flies during a demonstration at the 46th Paris Air Show June 13, 2005 in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

An aircraft flies through London skies leaving a vapour trail on February 2, 2007 in London, England. When burning its fuel, planes release exhaust fumes which contain, among others, water vapour and impurities. When these gases come into contact with the cold air, the significant temperature difference causes the water on the impurities to condense and turn to ice. Aircraft exhaust fumes have been attributed to climate change. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

An airplane leaves a vapor trail as it flies on February 4, 2007 above Hanover, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

An airplane leaves a vapor trail as it flies in front of he moon on January 17, 2007 above Hanover, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

A Warbirds T6 trainer casts his shadow on a team members smoke trail during the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow on April 23, 2008 in Wanaka, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

The Red Arrows go through one of their aerobatic displays as Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Moore, the first ever female Red Arrows pilot takes to the air for the media during the launch of the 2010 team line-up at RAF Scampton on November 12, 2009 in Lincoln, England. Flight Lieutenant Moore, from Lincolnshire, makes history by becoming the first female Red Arrow pilot. Earlier in her RAF career, the 31-year-old served as a Qualified Flying Instructor, teaching students to fly the advanced fast jet trainer at RAF Valley, before flying the Tornado GR4 on operations in Iraq. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Three T6 Texan, Skywriting «Oi» perform during the Red Bull Air Race Day on May 9, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for Red Bull Air Race)


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