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October 21, 2009

Surveillance 'totally unwarranted'

Suspected of sending children to an out-of-distrct school, state collected a surveillance report and the family's telephone billing records.

"As far as I'm concerned, they're within their rights to scrutinize all applications, but the way they went about it was totally unwarranted.

International / Europe
Constant Surveillance Rankles Britons
Published: October 25, 2009

A local government's investigation of a British family over a girl's school application raised concerns about the usage of a 2000 surveillance law.

October 20, 2009

Bay Area by NYT

NYT launches microsite (blog) for Bay Areans.

Usefully, it tracks all SFO related publish items in one place.

October 19, 2009

I am mayor of the Internet: FourSquare

Other companies, like BrightKite, Loopt and Google Latitude, are also offering services aimed at helping friends find each other on the go. But Foursquare has attracted more attention than the others, in part because it incorporates elements of gaming and social competition.

The system awards points and virtual badges to players depending on how often they go out and which places they visit. Users who frequent a particular place enough times are crowned "mayor" of that particular location.

Technology / Internet
Face-to-Face Socializing Starts With a Mobile Post
Published: October 19, 2009
A social networking service where the operative question is not "what are you doing?" but "where are you going?"

October 18, 2009


For example, contestants in Netflix's competition to improve its recommendation software received a training data set containing the movie preferences of more than 480,000 customers who had, as they say in the trade, been "de-identified." But as part of a privacy experiment, a pair of computer scientists at the University of Texas at Austin decided to see if it was possible to re-identify those unnamed movie fans.

By comparing the film preferences of some anonymous Netflix customers with personal profiles on imdb.com, the Internet movie database, the researchers said they easily re-identified some people because they had posted their e-mail addresses or other distinguishing information online.

Vitaly Shmatikov, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the "de-anonymization" study, says the researchers were able to analyze users' public postings and connect that to their Netflix preferences -- including how a person may have rated films with controversial themes. Those are choices a person may or may not want to make public, Mr. Shmatikov said.

Steve Swasey, a Netflix spokesman, disputed the study's conclusions, saying the customers were not re-identifiable because Netflix had altered the data set before sending it to contestants.

"There is no way with certainty that anyone could link a Netflix member with the data Netflix has disclosed by linking it with any publicly available data," he said. "The anonymity of the information is comparable to the strictest federal standards for anonymizing personal health information."

The clinical information systems market in the United States has sales of $8 billion to $10 billion annually, and about 5 percent of that comes from data and analysis, according to estimates by George Hill, an analyst at Leerink Swann, a health care investment bank.

But by 2020, when a vast majority of American health providers are expected to have electronic health systems, the data mining component alone could generate sales of up to $5 billion, Mr. Hill said. Demand for the data is likely to be robust. Policy makers and hospitals will want to dig into it to analyze physician practices and glean information about patient health trends.

Big players like the Cerner Corporation, which maintains electronic health systems for 8,000 clients, including large hospitals and retail clinics, and smaller players like Practice Fusion, which offers its Web-based health record systems free to health care providers, say they make use of patient data collected from their clients.

A spokeswoman for Cerner, whose Web site promotes its "data mining of our vast warehouse of electronic health records," said the company shares de-identified patient data with researchers or drug companies looking for patients to participate in clinical trials. The patient records are "double scrubbed," she said, explaining that the company removes personal data like names and addresses before it runs a search using a numbered code for each patient.

In 1997, for example, a researcher identified the medical records of William Weld, then the governor of Massachusetts, by correlating birthdays, ZIP codes and gender in voter registration rolls and information published by the state's government insurance commission.

When 2+2 Equals a Privacy Question
Published: October 18, 2009
Some privacy advocates wonder whether rules for electronic records offer enough protection.

October 17, 2009

Whitopian migration results from tempting pulls as much as alarming pushes

When those pop-up lists beckon you from your Web browser ("Retire in Style: Fifteen Hotspots!"), or those snappy guidebooks flirt with you from the bookstore shelves (America's 25 Best Places to Live!), ever notice how white they are?
Whitopian migration results from tempting pulls as much as alarming pushes. The places luring so many white Americans are revealing. The five towns posting the largest white growth rates between 2000 and 2004 -- St. George, Utah; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Bend, Oregon; Prescott, Arizona; and Greeley, Colorado -- were already overwhelmingly white. Certainly whiter than the places that new arrivals left behind and whiter than the country in general. We know why white folks are pushed from big cites and their inner-ring suburbs. The Whitopian pull includes economic opportunity, more house for your dollar, a yearning for the countryside, and a nostalgic charm.

Most whites are not drawn to a place explicitly because it teems with other white people. Rather, the place's very whiteness implies other perceived qualities. Americans associate a homogeneous white neighborhood with higher property values, friendliness, orderliness, cleanliness, safety, and comfort. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are subconsciously inseparable from race and class in many whites' minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits. And, if a neighborhood is known to have those traits, many whites presume -- without giving it a thought -- that the neighborhood will be majority white.

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America (Hardcover)
by Rich Benjamin (Author)

October 16, 2009

Dell Latitude Z has usefull features

The Dell Latitude Z's real magic lies elsewhere.

For example, most laptops require brute force and crunching noises before making their way into docking stations. But not the Latitude Z.

It glides onto a shiny, thin platform that fuels the laptop via an inductive charging mechanism much like you would find with a fancy toothbrush that recharges on a stand. The platform then uses wireless communications to link with a small, rectangular docking station that handles a connection to the office network and monitor.

So, the executive looking to impress can buy a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard and then plop the Latitude Z onto the platform, revealing a one-cord (power) wonder. `

But the most impressive feature on the Latitude Z may be the ability to check e-mail, calendar and contact information and to browse the Web via an instant-on software package.

The software fires up the moment you open the laptop and connects right to a wireless network without Windows.

(Under the hood, it's Linux running on top of an ARM chip on a mini-motherboard that provides this quick access feature. You're basically talking about most of the components needed to run an iPhone being hitched to a large battery. So, the computer can run in instant-on mode for days.)

October 15, 2009

Consumers buy more PCs than businesses

Consumers now buy more PCs than businesses do, and their wants and desires for better-looking devices have invaded the cubicle. The current breed of consumer has shown an ability to turn something like the Apple iPhone into an overnight sensation, then demand that companies embrace it. Google, meanwhile, uses its influential Web search and YouTube properties to introduce people to its e-mail, document and Web browser software, and Facebook now provides inspiration to business software makers.

For Google, winning over consumers is crucial to its strategy of infiltrating corporations and deflating Microsoft's core businesses. "We are the next generation," says Dave Girouard, the president of Google's business products division. "The big difference in technology here is the pace of innovation."

Forecast for Microsoft: Partly Cloudy
Published: October 18, 2009
From health care systems to cellphones, the C.E.O. Steven A. Ballmer wants Microsoft "to invent everything that's important on the planet."

October 14, 2009

Ireland and Iceland for holidays: Bargains, now !

The reason why tour prices have virtually collapsed to Ireland and Iceland? Economic. The banking systems, the currency, the incomes, and assets of the populations, have plummeted, impoverishing large numbers of people. Since these local residents can no longer afford to travel, their national airlines have hit hard times and are responding with unprecedented low prices.

Most round-trip airfares to Iceland from either New York or Boston are currently as little as $324. From November 1 to March 31, air-and-land packages to Reykjavik are easily had for $469 (round-trip air and two nights with breakfast at good three-star hotels) per person. Low exchange rates for the Icelandic currency mean ultra-low costs for sightseeing, thermal bathing, nightlife. Go to www.icelandair.us for details.

Ireland does even better. Go to the Aer Lingus Vacation Store (www.aerlingusvacationstore.com) and you'll find air-and-land packages to Dublin or Shannon, consisting of round-trip air and a car for one week with unlimited mileage, selling in November through March 10 for $399 per person from either New York or Boston, $449 from Chicago, $699 from San Francisco. Prices go up by only $70 in April, but remain at $699 from San Francisco.

-- Arthur Frommer


October 13, 2009

Foreclosures go upmarket

The market can also expect heavy losses among Option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), a product that allowed negative amortization by letting borrowers choose to pay only the minimum monthly payment. Fitch Ratings expects significant payment shocks over the next several years as a wave of Option-ARMs recast from the minimum amount to a fully amortizing principle and interest payment. These recasts are expected to drive substantial losses among the Option-ARM sector.

"Several of our investors have questioned the current loss severity in light of negative amortization and home price decline," researchers wrote in the report. "Our analysis suggests that option ARM loss severity will likely range between 60% and 70% provided home prices have stabilized."

WSJ: Foreclosures Grow in Housing Market's Top Tiers

October 12, 2009

Foreclosure until 2014 ?

Wells Fargo researchers said investors can instead look for a return to longer-run measures. Existing home sales excluding foreclosures are likely to cap at around 3m units annually. foreclosure sales are likely to contribute 1m transactions to total sales, with a peak in foreclosure rates likely to occur in mid- to late-2010 between 1.8m and 2m units.

"Overall, our forecast implies a total of 7.2 million foreclosure units by 2014," researchers wrote. "Although the foreclosure inventory will likely dampen home price appreciation, we believe most of the home price damage due to foreclosure inventory is done and that home prices will likely remain stable over the period."

The market can also expect heavy losses among Option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), a product that allowed negative amortization by letting borrowers choose to pay only the minimum monthly payment. Fitch Ratings expects significant payment shocks over the next several years as a wave of Option-ARMs recast from the minimum amount to a fully amortizing principle and interest payment. These recasts are expected to drive substantial losses among the Option-ARM sector.

"Several of our investors have questioned the current loss severity in light of negative amortization and home price decline," researchers wrote in the report. "Our analysis suggests that option ARM loss severity will likely range between 60% and 70% provided home prices have stabilized."

Wells Sees 60-70% Loss Severity in Option-ARMs
October 9, 2009 4:28 PM CST

October 11, 2009

Buycott ?

One set are free-enterprise champions who argue that politicizing consumption distorts prices and spurs overproduction while imposing arbitrary conditions on producers -- like insisting that developing-world farmers enroll their children in school -- that might sound good to Westerners but ignore complex local realities.

Insisting on the noblest production methods conflicts, these critics say, with the very function of markets: to bring the most goods to the most people as cheaply as possible.

Another group of critics doesn't deny political consumption's power. Rather, they bemoan that citizenship has come to this.

Citizenship, for them, is about voting, marching, writing -- about being involved. In the modern age, they say, we have begun to turn inward, bowl alone, shirk our public duties. And now comes this cheap (in the moral, if not economic, sense) way to participate just a little, assuage guilt just a little, involve ourselves just a little in AIDS and trade, feel just a little of activism's thrill.

In an article last year in The Lancet, the British medical journal, the scholars Colleen O'Manique and Ronald Labonte strongly condemned RED, the marketing campaign for iPods and other products whose purchase helps to finance the battle against H.I.V./AIDS in Africa.

"Be wary of the 21st century's new noblesse oblige that replaces the efficiency of tax-funded programs and transfers in improving health equity with a consumption-driven 'charitainment' model," they wrote.

October 10, 2009

Green and Greener in Suburban Towns

The town of Babylon, NY, came up with an offer she couldn't refuse: if she and her husband, Carlos, paid $250 for an energy audit, the town would finance the recommended upgrades. The couple would repay the town at a monthly rate below the savings on their utility bill. The audit, done this month, found that by insulating walls, basement and attic, at a cost of $6,879, the Williamses could save about $1,300 a year.

"It's an excellent deal," said Mrs. Williams, 42, a New York City correction officer. "With the bills and the mortgage, sometimes it's hard to do this at one time." New York City and other major urban centers have ambitious, high-profile environmental programs. But it turns out that throughout the suburbs, towns like Babylon, on Long Island, are exploring and adopting a wide variety of innovative ways to save energy, protect their residents' health and reduce pollution.

And there is only so much change the towns can impose. Requiring that homes be built smaller would greatly shrink the carbon footprint of buildings, but even environmentalists agree this is not realistic.

"There would be no political support to work on that side of the equation," Mr. DeLuca said.

There are other obstacles to going green. Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said villages, wary of changing their character, often resist increasing building density even if that means forcing development to go elsewhere and contributing to suburban sprawl. And poor suburbs are less likely than affluent ones to join the movement, she said.

"There are no real resources, and it's unlikely that you'd have the kind of galvanizing leadership in these communities to take on climate issues," Ms. Bystryn said. "Leaders usually advocate for affordable housing and things like that."

But even wealthier areas need financial incentives in order to draw participants like Mrs. Williams. So far more than 200 homes have been audited, with potential savings of close to $1,000 a year each on average.

The town pays for the program, now a pilot, with $2 million from its solid waste reserve fund. New state and federal laws, and millions of dollars in federal stimulus grants, have also helped spur such initiatives.

"This is a program that helps the environment, helps homeowners save money, creates local jobs, reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and it's at no cost to taxpayers," said Steve Bellone, Babylon's town supervisor.

Mr. Levy, of Hofstra, noted that the fragmented government on Long Island, with its many towns and special districts, often means competition for development projects or government grants -- and that the quest to go green has created healthier rivalries.

"All the town supervisors want to be known as the leanest and greenest," he said.

Mr. Bellone said he strongly believed that sustainability was a matter of survival.

"Over time, residents are going to demand it, and housing stock and commercial stock that are green are going to be more valuable," he said. "This positions Babylon to be a prosperous community for the long term."

A version of this article appeared in print on October 11, 2009, on page MB1 of the New York edition.

Science / Environment
Green and Greener in Suburban Towns
Published: October 11, 2009
Although big cities often get attention for high-profile environmental efforts, towns and villages are looking for ways to conserve energy and use land wisely.

October 6, 2009

Hovnanian on cheap design

Even among competitors, he gained a reputation as a builder of bare-bones homes who kept prices low. In the early 1980s, for example, the typical Hovnanian condominium residence was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom dwelling that cost about $30,000. In his developments, Mr. Hovnanian kept prices down by omitting the amenities, like swimming pools and community buildings, that other builders used to attract buyers.

"There are limited recreation facilities going in because people have little time for socialization," Mr. Hovnanian told The New York Times in 1983, explaining his philosophy.

By 1989, his company had sold more than 30,000 condominiums and other residences in states stretching from New Hampshire to Florida. The projects were so popular that they sometimes sold out over a weekend. Mr. Hovnanian also operated a finance company that made loans to buyers, who sometimes bought more than one residence, including some as investments.

Since then, the company has built more than 200,000 other homes. And in recent years, it has expanded its portfolio to include the construction of medium-price homes, luxury homes and retirement communities with recreational facilities.

Kevork S. Hovnanian, Construction Company Founder, Dies at 86
Published: September 26, 2009
An immigrant from Iraq, Mr. Hovnanian helped start a family company that operates in 18 states and is among the largest builders of residences in the country.

October 5, 2009

Lunch in the Washington Village

Washington is small enough -- and single-mindedly obsessed enough with its interlacing business of governing, lawyering, lobbying and journalism -- for power to concentrate in just a few places, rather than dispersing across the length and breadth of, say, a New York or London. Our company-townies -- the mighty and the not-so-mighty -- are herders.

See the Secret Service guys at Old Ebbitt Grill (convenient to the White House); the administration's youngsters at Oya; low-level Hill staffers at Tortilla Coast; the older society crowd at Cafe Milano (Dick Cheney and his SUV entourage stopped by for a private-room meal and a bottle of the good stuff earlier this month); and so on. Few places in town, though, seem to have been embraced with such distilled dedication as by the lobbyists nesting at Tosca.

Another of Tosca's unwritten rules is: Always call ahead. Still, there are moments when one is spontaneously overcome by cravings for a salad of radicchio and Bartlett pears with imported gorgonzola cheese terrine and toasted walnuts.

Lunch at the 'Power Section'
Unbound From K Street, Lobbyists Expand Waistlines, Horizons Into Favored

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 20, 2009

October 4, 2009

Low-income housing in New Orleans stokes long-simmering tensions

James Perry, executive director of the housing center and a candidate for mayor of New Orleans, said class animosity might be at the root of much of this anger, though discrimination against the poor is not a violation of the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal to discriminate against minorities, however, and given that a disproportionate number of those who need affordable housing in the area are black, he said, these arguments almost inevitably involve race.

Housing Battle Reveals Post-Katrina Tensions
Published: October 4, 2009
Anger over low-income housing in a New Orleans suburb has stoked long-simmering class and racial tensions.

October 1, 2009

decent food and drink where we can get a seat right away and actually be able to hear each other talk

Dear Concierge:

I would like to know where to go for drinks and snacks -- maybe a hotel bar or comfy wine bar -- with a friend whose younger sister is in the hospital. In other words, somewhere with decent food and drink where we can get a seat right away and actually be able to hear each other talk. -- S.B.

Dear S.B.:

A friend in deed. A hotel bar or lobby is a good idea crying-wise. Uptown, the lobby lounges at the Four Seasons are discreet and the tables are generously spaced. (The Carlyle wins for actual drinks and snacks, but Bemelmans is too noisy and the public spaces too face-to-face.) If you can swing it financially, the St. Regis is lovely for afternoon tea (with Champagne) in the Astor Court, or just sit in one of the little rooms off the lobby and pretend you're a guest; if you time it right, the King Cole Bar's martinis are quite soothing -- otherwise there's a wine bar at Adour. If your friend's sense of humor is intact, the bar at the top of the Hilton on 42nd Street is a place where no one knows your name ... unless you work at The Times.

Bar Centrale, 324 West 46th Street; (212) 581-3130
Bowery Hotel, 335 Bowery; (212) 505-1300
Centovini, 25 West Houston Street; (212) 219-2113
Desnuda, 122 East 7th Street; (212) 254-3515
Four Seasons, 57 East 57th Street; (212) 758-5700
Gottino, 52 Greenwich Avenue; (212) 633-2590
Hilton Times Square Hotel, 234 West 42nd Street; (212) 840-8222
Mercer Hotel, 147 Mercer Street; (212) 965-3800
Saks, 611 Fifth Avenue; (212) 753-4000
Smyth Tribeca, 85 West Broadway; (212) 587-7000
St. Regis, 2 East 55th Street; (800) 759-7550
Turks and Frogs, 323 West 11th Street; (212) 691-8875.