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Archive for March, 2011

Most people in Britain are unwilling to get involved in their community despite wanting to engage more with local issues, new research suggests.

While 69% of people said they were interested in how things worked in their area and 51% felt getting involved could make a difference, only one in 10 said they were certain to do so in the next two years. This is according to a Hansard Society survey of over 1,200 people in England, Scotland and Wales.

Those most likely to put themselves forward were parents aged under 45 and from a high-income group. Respondents were more likely to volunteer if they felt strongly about an issue and believed it was directly relevant to them.

The government’s flagship Big Society policy seeks to increase volunteering. Prime Minister David Cameron has described his idea, which seeks to mobilise community-led initiatives in a range of areas, as his “mission”.

Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government Programme, believes that to have any chance of success the Big Society must be seen as non political.

“A clear focus on the local and personal is where the Big Society has the biggest chance of succeeding. The concept needs to avoid political associations, focus on the local and personal and emphasise community rather than society,” she said.

The survey also found that just over one in four people were happy with what Parliament was doing – a 6% fall on last year – while less than one in three agreed that Parliament was “working for you and me” – a decline of 8%.

Distrust with politicians is not exactly a surprise, given the expenses scandal and the current round of public sector cuts.

But David Cameron will be worried that 90% of people do not seem to be enthused by his flagship idea. The failure of the Big Society notion would be a real blow to the Prime Minister.

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The internet now accounts for a quarter of all advertising spending in the UK.

New figures show that the value of online advertising grew by 12.8% in 2010, breaking through the £4 billion barrier.

Facebook has made big advances in the last year in attracting advertisers. With figures showing that UK internet users spend 25% of their online time on social networks, advertisers are keen to tap into this audience.

Online video advertising also nearly doubled in 2010, with £54m spent on adverts that appeared before, during or after video clips.

Mobile advertising raced ahead too, with finance, telecoms and consumer brands trying to reach audiences on the move.

Search advertising, still dominated by Google, remains the biggest earner, although growth in this more mature business was just 8%.

Overall the figures collated by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the accountants PwC found that online advertising spending grew three times as rapidly as in 2009.

It also outpaced the rest of the advertising market, which has recovered after dipping during the recession.
Guy Phillipson, the chief executive of the IAB, said: “Major brands restored their advertising budgets in 2010 and online was a big winner.”

In contrast the amount of advertising money spent in the print media is decreasing, with magazines and regional newspapers seeing revenues continue to fall. Classified advertising, once a key element in regional newspaper revenues, has now nearly all migrated online.

It is no surprise to see that advertisers are following consumers in moving from newspapers and magazines to the online marketplace.

And as circulation figures for national newspapers continue to drop it may not be too long until the downward spiral caused by falling income and falling readership causes titles to go to the wall.

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Total global music sales fell by almost $1.5bn (£930m) last year. But in many countries the sales of digital music continued to grow.

And the UK lost its position as the third largest music market after “physical” sales of CDs collapsed by almost a fifth.

The world’s largest markets, the US and Japan, fared especially badly last year accounting for 57% of the total global decline in trade revenues.

In the US, overall sales fell by 10% with physical sales down 20% to just over $2bn and digital sales saw 1.2% growth to $2bn. Japan saw an overall market decline of 8.3%.

Overall UK sales were $1.38bn, down some $170m or 11% year on year, thanks to a 19.2% fall in physical sales to $920m. Sales through digital channels boomed by 19.6% to $347m.

In Europe digital revenue growth increased by an impressive 21.6% with most countries – including Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands – seeing double digit increases.

Of the major markets ranking in the top 20 by size, just three saw year on year sales increases with Korea up 11.7%, India up 16.5% and Mexico up 0.9%.

“The demand for new music seems as insatiable and diverse as ever, and record companies continue to meet it,” said Frances Moore, chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. “But they are operating at only a fraction of their potential because of a difficult environment dominated by piracy.”

The recording industry may blame digital piracy for the drop in sales, but perhaps some of the overall fall is due to new ways of releasing music. Many bands now choose to release albums themselves, or offer download only deals, cutting out the record company, and are therefore not counted in the industry sales totals.

And of course there is a recession, meaning less disposable income for many people.

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The Rustock botnet, which sent up to 30 billion spam messages per day, has been closed down. And investigators think it might have been run by just two or three people.

A lengthy project involving FireEye, Microsoft, Pfizer and others culminated earlier this month with simultaneous raids on data centres in seven US cities. They seized 96 servers that had acted as the command and control system for the botnet.

Rustock was made up of about one million hijacked PCs and employed a series of tricks to hide itself from scrutiny for several years. Since the raids on the network’s hardware, global spam levels have dropped and remain relatively low.

Rustock evaded capture for years because of the clever way it was controlled. Victims were snared when they visited websites seeded with booby trapped adverts and links.

Once PCs were compromised, updates were regularly sent to them using custom written encryption. Those downloads contained the spam engine that despatched billions of ads for fake pharmaceuticals.

Updates to PCs in Rustock were also disguised to look like comments in discussion boards, making them hard to spot by security software which typically looks for common signs of malware.

Alex Lanstein, a senior engineer at security firm FireEye, which helped with the investigation, said that the character of the code inside the Rustock malware and the way the giant network was run suggested that it was operated by a small team.

Lanstein said hard drives from the servers had been handed over to a forensic firm that will scour them for clues as to the identity of the network’s controllers.

Hosting costs for the C&C systems ran to about $10,000 (£6,211) per month, he said. It is hard to estimate how much money the operators of Rustock had made, said Lanstein, but it was likely to be a huge figure.

And it does not appear that attempts will be made to re-establish the giant network.

“When you are a programmer and you realise that you have the full force of the Microsoft legal department pointed directly at you, then you might say to yourself it’s time to try something else,” he said.

I’m sure we can all live without ads for pharmaceuticals and the other staples of the spammers world. The worrying thing is that they make so much – which means that many people must have been replying to these spurious adverts and sending their money.

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MPs’ expenses are to be increased by up to £4m – under new rules to make the scheme more family friendly.

An additional 31 Honourable Members representing seats around London, such as Guildford and Milton Keynes, among others, will be able to request a second home allowance and claim for up to a maximum of £19,900 a year for those claiming London rent.

Before 2010, only 25 inner London MPs were not entitled to the full second homes allowance. The number will stand at 97 after these changes are implemented.

Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), said, “It is not in the public interest if they (MPs) are concerned where they are going to spend the night if the House is sitting late, or feel they are going to have to sleep in their office.”

And MPs with children would be able to claim more for travel and accommodation and would see a “modest uplift” in their staffing budget, Sir Ian said.

MPs with children under the age of five are currently able to claim for flats big enough for their children to live with them. This will now be extended to those with children aged up to sixteen or eighteen if they are in full time education.

But IPSA has rejected arguments that MPs should again be able to claim mortgage payments rather than rent for second homes and that travel in first class should be funded by the taxpayer.

MPs will also be allowed to use dedicated credit cards to pay for more of their expenses, and IPSA will pay their biggest bills upfront to prevent financial hardship and stop thousands of pounds flowing through their personal accounts

No. 10 said the prime minister welcomed what it said was a “significant step” towards a “more family-friendly” system.

“He agrees that the system established by IPSA was not perfect and welcomes the steps they have taken towards addressing some of the problems of the current scheme,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

Some relaxing of the rules to the new scheme was perhaps inevitable after many MPs’ complaints, with some even stopping claiming expenses at all because of perceived difficulties.

The old system was abused and had to be reformed. Perhaps these changes will move us closer to a system that allows MPs to do their jobs but isn’t open to the excesses that occurred in the past.

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A new internet domain has been established .The .xxx domain will be used for, you’ve guessed it, pornography sites.

The domain, to be known as Dot Triple X, was approved by the international Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which administers millions of internet addresses.It had been pending since 2003 and was resisted by the Bush government but progressed without opposition from the Obama administration.

Dot Triple-X will be managed by the online address registering company ICM Registry, which has long fought for a legitimate domain set aside for sexually explicit material on the net.

Already more than 230,000 pornographic websites have reserved an address in anticipation of the approval of the domain name. The first .xxx websites are expected to be live by June or July of this year.

Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry, said, “For the first time, there will be a clearly defined web address for adult entertainment, further out of the reach of minors and as free as possible from fraud or computer viruses.”

Use of the domain name is voluntary and is designed to shut out child porn and incorporate heightened security barriers, making it harder for children to stumble on sexual content online.

Now, I’ve been told that it’s not too difficult to find pornography on the web at present. But surely giving an obvious domain name to porn will make it even easier?

Whatever new security barriers come with the Dot Triple-X domain had better be pretty strong, or they will simply become a challenge to those who are seeking something specific to view.

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In a clash of the IT titans, Apple is suing Amazon in a bid to stop the online giant from using the name Appstore.

“It will confuse and mislead customers,” said Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet, who believes that the name is too similar to its own App Store.

Apple also said that it had contacted Amazon three times to demand it stop using the name. Amazon has so far declined to comment.

And Apple is seeking to trademark the App Store name in the United States, a decision which, according to court papers, is still being considered by a trademark trial and appeals board

Microsoft, which is also looking to move into the apps marketplace with its new line of Windows phones, has asked officials to block the Apple trademark bid.

“An app store is an app store,” Russell Pangborn, Microsoft’s associate general counsel said in January. “Like shoe store or
toy store, it is a generic term that is commonly used by companies, governments and individuals that offer apps. The term ‘app store’ should continue to be available for use by all without fear of reprisal by Apple.”

Amazon’s Appstore has been accepting submissions since the beginning of the year, and the company has launched a dedicated blog to help developers. Like Apple, Amazon will curate the apps on offer and will hope that its trusted brand will give it an edge as the market for mobile applications widens.

For developers, access to Amazon’s tens of millions of customers worldwide offers the potential for huge revenues.

Another IT giant Google already offers its own store – Android Market – with over 200,000 applications available to download, but submissions to Amazon’s store will be standards-checked prior to being added.

The issue will probably take quite some sorting out. IT companies are no strangers to lengthy legal battles, especially when the stakes are so high.

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After one final First Minister’s Questions and the tying up of some loose ends, the dissolution of the third Scottish Parliament took place yesterday.

Twenty of the current roll of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) will not be seeking re-election. And there may be yet others for whom the election on 5 May results in the end of their time in Parliament.

Presiding Officer Alex Ferguson is standing down from his role after four years of taking charge over the business of the parliament. But he will be seeking to return to the chamber as a Tory MSP.

All parties now go into an election campaign that will run for six weeks. Alex Salmond’s SNP will be bidding for a second term in office, while Iain Gray will be hoping to lead Labour back into government.

For the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, led by Tavish Scott and Annabel Goldie respectively, the hope will be that the unpopularity of their parties’ Westminster coalition does not translate into poor results.

Labour holds a lead in most opinion polls at present, but the position could change dramatically during the election campaign.

There are some big names among those who will not be returning to Holyrood. Former First Minister Jack McConnell heads the list, along with another former Labour leader Wendy Alexander.

Others to leave the Labour benches include several who have held ministerial roles. Margaret Curran and Cathy Jamieson have already secured Westminster seats while Rhona Brankin and Peter Peacock are leaving politics, George Foulkes meanwhile will spend his time in the House of Lords.

Depute Presiding Officer Trish Godman is another not to be seeking re-election along with back bencher Marilyn Glenn.

Several big names will be bowing out from the SNP’s ranks. Jim Mather, Alastair Morgan and veteran nationalist Andrew Welsh have all held senior positions in government. And from the back benches Christopher Harvie and Ian McKee will also be leaving.

For the Liberal Democrats, John Farquhar Monroe and Jamie Stone will not seek re-election, while Nicol Stephen is another who has a seat in the House of Lords

From the Conservative benches, veterans Bill Aitken and Ted Brocklebank will be leaving Holyrood.

And the former Green Party leader Robin Harper completes the list of those standing down.

So there will be many new faces when the fourth Scottish Parliament convenes. But we will not know who will sit on the Government benches until the results of May’s elections are known – and possibly longer if no one party gains a majority of the seats.

 

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Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, is the most powerful man in the footballing world. Blatter, who is now 75, has been in charge of the game’s governing body since June 1998.

But he will face his first challenge since 2002 when Mohamed Bin Hammam, President of the Asian Football Confederation, stands against him in May.

When he announced his candidacy, Bin Hammam vowed to increase the world governing body’s decision making power and to spread its wealth.

The Qatari said that much of FIFA’s administration was too bureaucratic and promised to decentralise if voted in, adding that he would also expand the Executive Committee to give more people a greater say in decision making.

Bin Hammam made clear he would support the introduction of goal-line technology if his bid for the top job was successful and said he would be in favour of introducing two more officials behind the goals, as has been trialled in European matches.

Bin Hammam also believes that FIFA needs to be more transparent following allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar. Two executive committee members were suspended, while four other officials were sanctioned.

“It’s reasonable and logical to vote openly – it happens in other organisations, why shouldn’t it happen in FIFA?” he asked.

It is difficult to tell how much chance Bin Hammam has of succeeding in the election. The votes will come from the various footballing bodies that make up FIFA – and among many there is a desire for change.

But Blatter is a shrewd political operator. He worked for FIFA for over 20 years before becoming its President and is adept at getting his own way – although there have long been allegations that he uses bribery and corruption. He is seeking one last four year term in charge and says he would then retire.

Any moves towards making the administration of football more transparent are to be welcomed, at whatever level they take place.

A change at the very top may just be the catalyst for action further down the structures of football. We all know where more transparency is needed, don’t we?

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The sixth Glasgow derby of the season ended in extra time disappointment for Neil Lennon’s Celtic as Rangers took the League Cup.

After the media created hype following the last game at Celtic Park, the microscope was trained onto the behaviour of players and management teams alike. But there were to be no major flare ups.

The team news was interesting as always. Scott Brown and Mark Wilson returned for Celtic after Scottish Cup suspensions and Thomas Rogne was restored to the centre of defence. Otherwise the team was along the usual lines.

Rangers played with only four at the back, but because of Foster being cup tied and injury to Bartley rather than a tactical switch. It says much about the threadbare nature of Walter Smith’s squad that a loan youngster who has played only nine games was apparently such a major loss.

The game started at the normal frantic pace on a pitch that was rutted and in poor condition. Celtic still tried to play passing football, while Rangers were content to punt the ball towards Lafferty.

Neither side could create early chances though, and the first controversy came on 15 minutes. Mark Wilson broke into the box and was brought down by Papac but referee Craig Thomson waved play on.

Scott Brown had a headed chance shortly afterwards, his diving effort missing the target. Celtic were taking control it seemed, but there was to be a twist.

A long ball fell to Davis who drove at the Celtic defence before shooting low and in off the post to put Rangers ahead after 23 minutes.

But Celtic were only to be behind for seven minutes. They poured forward looking for the equaliser and a Samaras flick from a left wing Izaguirre cross was headed into the net by Joe Ledley.

And more controversy was not far away. Jelavic broke into the Celtic box before falling to the ground in theatrical style. Referee Thomson appeared to award a penalty before changing his mind and booking the striker for diving.

So at half time the tie was locked at 1 – 1.

The second half was a tense affair with neither side able to control the game and few chances. Celtic pushed for a late winner and Ledley came close to winning it with five minutes left but shot straight at the keeper when the ball fell to him from a corner. But the match was to go to extra time.

Forster produced a very fine save on 96 minutes to keep a deflected free kick out. But two minutes later Rangers were ahead again. A free kick was awarded when Weiss fell down off the ball and the Jelavic raced through the defence to score off the same post that had aided the first goal.

Celtic pressed forward but could not find the chance that could have taken the game to the drama of penalties, a Hooper shot deflected just over being the best effort. There was still time for Diouf to pick up yet another Rangers yellow card for cheating, and for Izaguirre to see red for taking Weiss out as he broke free.

Overall it was a disappointing Celtic performance the team never quite hitting the highs that they are capable of. The management team now has a big job to do to lift the team for the upcoming league matches with the outcome of the title race still undecided.

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