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Friday, February 27, 2009

Wedding Bells For Google And Twitter?

Could Google be eyeing Twitter as an acquisition?

That possibility's got the blogosphere all "a-twitter," pardon the pun. Earlier this week, Google activated its Twitter account and all Tweets broke loose. As of Friday morning, Google had more than 26,000 followers.

The speculation is that, in a move similar to its purchase of YouTube, Google is interested in buying Twitter. Now, Google didn't buy YouTube for its video capability—or at least not primarily. Google acquired YouTube in large part for its search tools. And it has paid off. Last summer, ComScore reported that YouTube's search traffic for August surpassed Yahoo's, which dropped some 5 percent in traffic from July.

Twitter, too, has enormous search potential—just take into account its roughly 3 million visitors a month. All those eyeballs make a huge potential customer base. And that's something that Twitter hasn't been able to capitalize on: The site has not (yet) turned its popularity into profits.

Twitter has become a phenomenon in recent months, with users responding to a simple question: "What are you doing?" That's not too far afield from the Facebook prompt: "Username is " Coincidentally, Facebook recently offered $500 million for Twitter, an offer that was rejected.

Twitter users log into the free service from their computers or cell phones to share thoughts, or "tweets." Subjects can be personal or businesslike. Corporations increasingly are using the service as a way to keep in touch with their customer base. Considered a "microblogging" site, it shares many social networking attributes and users can follow what other people tweet about in their network posts.

Recent reports said Twitter founders are looking at taking an "initial stab at making money" by April. By then we'll know whether that plan includes Google. Stay a-Twitter.


Jennifer Bosavage


UK Hooked On Coffee And Facebook

Coffee, chocolate and social networking site Facebook are the most common addictions among Britain's under-30s, a study has revealed.

Some 3,000 young people were asked which substances and habits they spent the most money on, those they had previously attempted to cut down on or give up, and the modern impulses ruling lives in 2009.

Coffee topped the list of their 10 most common modern addictions, followed by chocolate consumption and then Facebook in third place.

They replaced common vices of drugs, sex and cigarettes - which did not even make the top 10.

Vanity was a more traditional popular vice, with beauty products scooping fourth place.



Walk This Way: Man's First Footprints

Photo by: Ho New/REUTERS

Scientists have discovered footprints in northern Kenya that prove human beings have been walking our walk for at least 1.5 million years.

Footprints found in Kenya that resemble those left in wet sand by beachgoers today show that 1.5 million years ago a human ancestor walked the way we do today with anatomically modern feet.

The footprints belonged to a Homo ergaster, one of the earliest ancestors of modern humans, believed to have lived throughout southern and eastern Africa. Scientists have been digging in northern Kenya, near the Turkana basin, looking for fossils and other clues to how human beings evolved.

Matthew Bennett, a professor of environmental and geographical sciences at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom, was the lead scientist on the excavation team. The discovery of the footprints is an exciting breakthrough, he said.

"It's filling in a real gap in our knowledge about when people developed a modern foot anatomy," Bennett told ABC News. "It brings back the age of when essentially a modern footprint was in operation."


Maureen Dowd: Why are my tax dollars going to Sheryl Crow?

The entertainment Web site TMZ broke the story that Northern Trust of Chicago, which got $1.5 billion in bailout money and then laid off 450 workers, flew hundreds of clients and employees to Los Angeles last week and treated them to four days of posh hotel rooms, salmon and filet-mignon dinners, music concerts, a PGA golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club with Mercedes shuttle rides and Tiffany swag bags

Talk about being teed off.

The economy is croaking and bankers are still partying at a golf tournament here on our dime.

It's a good argument for nationalization, or better yet, internationalization. Outsource the jobs of these perfidious, oblivious bank executives to Bangalore; Bollywood bashes have to cost less than Hollywood ones.

The entertainment Web site TMZ broke the story Tuesday that Northern Trust of Chicago, which got $1.5 billion in bailout money and then laid off 450 workers, flew hundreds of clients and employees to Los Angeles last week and treated them to four days of posh hotel rooms, salmon and filet-mignon dinners, music concerts, a PGA golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club with Mercedes shuttle rides and Tiffany swag bags.

"A rep from the PGA told us Northern Trust wrote one big, fat check in order to sponsor the event," TMZ reported.

Northern No Trust had a lavish dinner at the Ritz Carlton on Wednesday with a concert by Chicago (at a $100,000 fee); rented a private hangar at the Santa Monica Airport on Thursday for another big dinner with a gig by Earth, Wind & Fire, and closed down the House of Blues on Sunset Strip on Saturday (at a cost of $50,000) for a dinner and serenade by Sheryl Crow.

In the ignoble tradition of rockers who sing for huge sums to sketchy people when we're not looking, Crow — in her stint as a federal employee — warbled these lyrics to the oblivious revelers:


Northern Untrustworthy even offered junketeers the chance to attend a seminar on the credit crunch where they could no doubt learn that the U.S. government is just the latest way to finance your deals and keep your office swathed in $87,000 area rugs.

In what is now an established idiotic ritual of rationalization, the bank put out a letter noting that it "did not seek the government's investment" even though it took it, and that it had raised $3 million for the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce Charity Foundation and other nonprofits. They riposted that they have a contract to do it every year for five years; but this isn't every year.

The bank cloaks itself in a philanthropic glow while wasting our money, acting like the American Cancer Society when in fact it's a cancer on American society.

It asserted that it earned an operating net income of $641 million last year and acted as though it did Americans a favor by taking federal cash.

I would ask Northern No Trust: If you're totally solvent, why are you taking my tax dollars? If you're not totally solvent, why are you giving my tax dollars to Sheryl Crow?

Coming in a moment when skeptical and angry Americans watched AIG, Citigroup, General Motors and Chrysler — firms that had already been given a federal steroid injection — get back in line for more billions, the golf scandal was just one more sign that the bailed-out rich are different from you and me: Their appetites are unquenchable and their culture is uneducable.

President Obama served them notice on Tuesday night in his congressional address, saying: "This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over."

But will they notice?

John "Antique Commode" Thain had to be ordered by a judge to tell New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigators which Merrill Lynch employees got those $3.6 billion in bonuses that Thain illicitly shoved through as his firm was failing and being taken over by Bank of America with the help of a $45 billion bailout. Kenneth Lewis, the Bank of America CEO, made the absurd assertion to Congress that his bank had "no authority" to stop the bonuses, even though he knew about them beforehand.

"They find out they're $7 billion off on the estimate of losses for the fourth quarter and they never think maybe we should go back and adjust these bonuses?" Cuomo told me, as Thain was finally responding to investigators on Tuesday at the New York attorney general's office.

"He refused to answer questions on the basis that 'the Bank of America didn't want me to.' You can take the Fifth Amendment or you can answer questions. But there's no Bank of America privilege. The Bank of America doesn't substitute for the Constitution. And who's the Bank of America, by the way?"

He gets incensed about how ingrained, indoctrinated and insensitive the ex-masters of the universe are. "They think of themselves as kings and queens," he said. And they're not ready to abdicate.

Maureen Dowd is a regular columnist for The New York Times.



Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wanted: Motivation, hope for unemployed


'Insourcing' is latest trend as recession spooks consumers into cutting back

The economic downturn is forcing America's households to learn a tough lesson: how to fend for themselves.

Sales of starter sewing kits have shot up by 30 percent at Wal-Mart as families forgo the tailor. Landscaping companies have suffered a 7 percent drop in revenue over the past year. Procter & Gamble said that it has noticed more questions from customers about how to dye their hair at home to match salon coloring.

The recession has had a powerful effect on the American state of mind. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday shows Americans have grown increasingly insecure about their finances since mid-September, as fears about making mortgage payments have spread and more believe the economy is in a long-term, serious decline.

These feelings have helped set off a change in behavior so pronounced marketers and businesses have coined a name for it. They call it "insourcing": doing yourself what you once gladly paid others to do.

Two-thirds of those responding to the new poll said they've cut back on spending, including nearly a third who have pulled back "sharply." Americans across income groups said they are opening their wallets less often these days.

"There are many of us that have been spending money that we can't afford to spend and have taken on habits that we had no business taking on," said Paco Underhill, who studies consumer behavior and wrote the book "Why We Buy." "Those time-based trade-offs actually are some of the easiest forms of economizing that a person can do."


Spending on pet services, for example, is expected to grow 6 percent this year after jumping as much as 40 percent earlier in the decade, according to an industry trade group. A report by SBI, a market research firm, shows the number of landscaping firms dwindled by 5,600, or 3.3 percent, last year. And an analysis of a range of services companies compiled by research firm Sageworks showed sales growth slowed to 4 percent last year, the lowest level in at least six years.

"So much of it comes down to perception," said Gordon Miller, executive director of the National Cosmetology Association, a trade group. "Do I perceive the service that I'm getting as an added pampering, or do I need it?"

Miller said his members report clients stretching the time between appointments. Professional Consultants & Resources, a beauty consulting company, estimated the salon industry continued to grow last year, but at 2.8 percent, a historic low. Susan Gustafson, president of Ratner Cos., which owns national chain Hair Cuttery, said more clients are showing up for just a trim, coloring their hair at home.

Many are adjusting their behavior even though their financial circumstances are unchanged, motivated by fear over the future of the economy.

Extended recession?

Overall, 70 percent of Americans anticipate a downturn lasting well into 2010 or longer, according to the Post-ABC News poll. More than a third see it lasting two or more years. Those who see an extended recession are more likely to say they've pared back their typical buying habits.

Take Chris and Mary Poleto of Haymarket, whose income is stable but who are trying to chip away at credit card bills.

Within one week, Mary changed the bulb in the headlight of her Mercedes, cutting out a $120 trip to the mechanic. The couple made a cake for their 11-year-old daughter's birthday party instead of spending $50 at the local bakery. And Chris, who works in a management job, picked up some cans of paint from the Sears in Fair Oaks to help a friend redecorate — seven hours of work but a savings of roughly $1,000.

"We really had to look at the equation to build in additional efficiencies," Chris Poleto said.

Consumers are weighing similar decisions across sectors. Paola Domenge, 34, of Potomac canceled her lawn service last year and now mulches the yard and trims the wisteria herself, saving as much as $500 a month — even before she was laid off from her marketing job about a month ago and started a bakery. Alina Zhukovskaya, 28, of Arlington dismissed her personal trainer to save $60 a week.

Camilla Bozzoli, 66, of the District decided $50 was too much to pay a tailor to dye one of her favorite, but well-worn dresses. Instead, she pulled out a bucket, gloves and a wooden spoon and did the job herself. "Fifty dollars is almost the price of a new outfit," she said. "It makes me feel good not only because of saving money, but as a philosophy of life not to waste."

'The new coffee spot'

Advertising agency Peterson Milla Hooks, which produces commercials for Target, noticed the insourcing trend last summer as gas prices began to rise. Thomas Nowak, agency director, likened consumers' response to the financial crisis to the stages of grief: First there was denial and anger. PMH wanted to help Target move them toward the final stage of acceptance. "People say, 'You know what? This is the new normal, and we need to make the best of it,' " he said.

PMH created a series of ads dubbed New Day for Target that depicted an $11.88 yoga ball as "the new gym," a $29.99 espresso maker as "the new coffee spot" and $1.97 glass cleaner as "the new car wash."

Sewing products manufacturer Prym Consumer USA was surprised when sales of its basic sewing kit — a needle, thread and a few buttons costing $1.12 — began to rise six months ago at Wal-Mart stores. Typically, sales remain stable, said Laura Mooney, director of marketing for Prym. Sewing kit sales are now up 30 percent. Sales of its popular fabric adhesive Liquid Stitch, which costs $2.93, have skyrocketed more than 50 percent.

Wal-Mart said sales of herb gardens and tomato and pepper seeds are up, an indication that shoppers are trying to save money by growing their own food, spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said. In Wal-Mart's auto department, sales of oil, filters, grease and funnels have also risen as more people opt to be their own mechanic.

Underhill, the retail consultant, predicts consumers' newfound self-sufficiency will last even after the recession is a distant memory. "Americans have always taken some pride in doing things for themselves," he said.

But there may be limits.

Brenda Waller, 42, of Herndon said her consulting firm has frozen salaries, and she's worried about the future. She has called off the lawn care service for the coming summer and asked the woman who does her nails to cut them extra short — so the manicure will last longer. And no more pedicures. But she is holding on to DoodyCalls, a company that cleans up after her pets in the yard. Founder Jacob D'Aniello said his Charlottesville-based company grew by 21 percent last year.

"The only time I really felt we'd be in trouble," he said, "is if everybody woke up one morning and decided they liked picking up dog poop."



U.S. jobless claims tally tops 5 million mark

New evidence recession increasingly forcing employers to cut jobs

New jobless claims rose more than expected last week and the number of laid-off Americans continuing to receive unemployment benefits topped 5.1 million, fresh evidence the recession is increasingly forcing employers to shed jobs.

The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time requests for unemployment benefits jumped to 667,000 from the previous week's figure of 631,000. Analysts had expected a slight drop in claims.

The 667,000 new claims are the most since October 1982, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.

The number of people receiving unemployment insurance for more than one week also increased more than expected to 5.1 million. That's the fifth straight week the figure has set a new record-high on data going back to 1967, and compared with only about 2.8 million people a year ago.

As a proportion of the work force, the number of people continuing to receive benefits has reached its highest point since July 1983.

An additional 1.4 million people were receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year, as of Feb. 7, the latest data available. That brings the total number of jobless benefit recipients to roughly 6.5 million.

The increase in continuing claims is an indication that many newly laid off workers are having difficulty finding jobs.

Economists consider jobless claims a timely, if volatile, indicator of the health of the labor markets and broader economy. A year ago, initial claims stood at about 359,000.

The labor market has deteriorated rapidly in recent months. Employers cut a net total of nearly 600,000 jobs in January, the highest monthly tally since 1974, sending the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent.

More job losses were announced this week. The NFL said Wednesday that commissioner Roger Goodell has taken a 20 percent pay cut and the league dropped 169 jobs through buyouts, layoffs and other reductions. Spartanburg, S.C.-based textile maker Milliken & Co. said it would cut 650 jobs at facilities worldwide, while jeweler Zale Corp. said it will close 115 stores and eliminate 245 positions.

On Monday, troubled flash memory maker Spansion Inc. said it will lay off about 3,000 employees and computer chip maker Micron Technology Inc. announced it will slash as many as 2,000 workers by the end of August.


Twitter Fever Strikes


Friday, February 20, 2009

Winners and Losers: Rock Star Brothers

For brothers, it's even worse. You're either the "cool" brother or the "other" brother. There's no way around it.

And if your brother is a rock star? Not pretty. The only thing worse is being the brother of a President (see Billy Carter, Roger Clinton, and President Obama's weed-smoking Kenyan half-brother).

Even when you're lucky enough to share a band, if you're the "other" brother, at best you'll be considered unobtrusive wallpaper (is anyone looking at Angus' older brother, Malcolm, during an AC/DC concert?), and at worst, everyone is waiting for your cool brother to ditch the band and make a solo record.

Sure, there are the odd lightning-strikes-twice exceptions. Noel and Liam Gallagher are equally obnoxious and equally ego-fuelled. It's hard to imagine the Everly Brothers as the Everly Brother, and the Kinks would be nothing without Ray and Dave Davies pissing each other off over the years.

But that's the extent of the rock brothers with equal talent billing. For everyone else, there just isn't enough musical mojo to go around. There are winners and losers. Here are some of the biggest winners and their less-fortunate siblings.

The Who's songwriter, guitar god, and visionary is a rock legend. He's been given every conceivable award and had his songs live on TV crime shows, Broadway, and "Guitar Hero." Any self-respecting rock fan or budding rock star must kiss his guitar pick at some point.

Pete's younger brother released three solo albums that were met with less fanfare than say... a solo Pete Townshend album. In 2004 he formed the band Casbah Club with dudes from the Jam and Big Country. Oh, and there's his day job: playing second guitar on Who tours.

He's arguably one of the most influential rock singers and frontmen of the 20th century. He made chicken dancing look cool, and he dares you to tell him it's not OK to sing "Satisfaction" to his grave.

Chris has a group of his own called Chris Jagger's Atcha! Blues Band. In 2007 Chris' brother did join Atcha! for a cover of the Stones' "Dead Flowers" at a local pub. Apparently, it didn't help bookings. On his website, Chris says he "enjoys spending as much time as possible outdoors, looking after animals, and creating a garden with 'anything you can eat.'" No tour dates listed.

Although one could debate about how much of a winner Eddie is these days, he's rightfully claimed his spot as one of the most influential guitarists of his generation — even if he does have bad luck with lead singers.

When the Van Halen kids were growing up, Eddie played drums while Alex played guitar. Maybe he actually plays guitar better than Eddie. Rumor has it that Alex has become an ordained minister so he can preside over his brother's wedding. Hopefully, it will lead to a new career that doesn't involve a gong.

Personally, I like my Bacon on the screen more than on the concert stage. Still, there's no denying that the younger Bacon brother has rock star charisma. Plus, how can you NOT be cool when everyone in Hollywood is only six degrees of separation away from you?

When you're the lesser-known half of a side project, things are not looking so good. Yes, Michael has a long and respected career scoring a boatload of PBS movies. So what? His brother is Kevin Bacon. He just can't compete.

Oasis' lead singer and songwriter-guitarist are rock god brothers-in-arms, always ready for a pint, a brawl, and a grandiose statement more outrageous than the last. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are keeping rock's unruly heritage alive.

And then there's Paul, the third Gallagher brother. "There's a third Gallagher brother? " you ask? Yes. "Is he the Scottish football player?" No. "COO of Forbes magazine?" Wrong guy. "A distant cousin to actor Peter Gallagher?" Nope. Noel and Liam's older brother is the author of "Brothers: From Childhood to Oasis" and a screenplay writer. 'Nuff said.

As the angst-ridden frontman of Radiohead, Thom Yorke possesses a beautifully tortured voice and has pushed the boundaries of how pop music is made and sold. He's one of the singular artists who come around once every so often, inspiring legions of fans and budding musicians alike.

Thom's younger brother had a late '90s band called the Unbelievable Truth (named after the Hal Hartley cult film). They disbanded after three albums, and Andy released a solo record, "Simple," in 2008. Needless to say, he stands in a big shadow.

I know, there are really no winners in the Jackson family — only freakish stories. Still, if you have to put one on top, it's gotta be the King of Pop. Despite Bubbles, the Elephant Man, questionable underage slumber parties, and going out one too many times in his pajamas, Jacko's musical legacy is undeniable.

Could you name Tito in a Jackson 5 photo? Hint: he's the guitar player. According to his website, he's soon announcing dates for his blues band and putting the finishing touches on a solo album. Wanna bet if it hits stores before Michael's comeback?

He's Paul McCartney for chrissakes! A knighted Beatle. He wrote every song you know. There's no bigger winner in rock.

Paul's younger brother did not want to capitalize on his famous surname while performing in the early '60s, so he invented the stage name "Mike McGear." After some moderate U.K. hits (including one with Wings as his backing band —ditch the family name but use the brother's band?), Mike turned full time to photography. Among his published works? Beatles pictures. Lots of Beatles pictures.

Although he hasn't had the chart success of his half-brother, John and Yoko's only kid has the artistic cred that can only come from a lifetime of hanging with New York hipsters and being... well... John and Yoko's only kid. He's the poster child for indie-music cool chic, hanging with Rufus Wainwright, Cibo Matto, and every other artist with a lower Manhattan zip code.

Even though he gets points for having a Beatles song written for him ("Hey Jude") and having two Top 10 hits in the '80s, Julian stills comes up short in the sibling coolness department. Aside from his well-publicized battles with stepmom Yoko, his cover of the Fab Four's "When I'm Sixty-Four" number for an Allstate Insurance commercial didn't help his case.



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sir Mick praises British music

Sir Mick Jagger thinks British music is the best it has ever been.

The Rolling Stones frontman - who has dominated charts worldwide for more than four decades - paid tribute to Coldplay, Duffy, Adele and Radiohead after their success at the Grammy Awards last week.

The 65-year-old rocker said: "With British acts doing so well at the Grammys this year it's proving to be a great period for homegrown talent right now.

"And what is so refreshing is the different styles that have been recognised - Coldplay, Duffy, Adele and Radiohead make up an eclectic bunch, proving there's a lot of fresh British talent out there."

Mick is particularly pleased the new crop of successful British acts have worked hard to achieve recognition in the US.

He added: "I like that these acts have paid their dues in the way we had to. There is certainly an upsurge of diverse Brit acts breaking through in the US and overseas - good to see it. Long may it continue."

The first British invasion of the American music charts was led by The Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the 60s.

Nu Wave and electro acts including Duran Duran and Culture Club enjoyed success in the 80s.


Ringo to join Paul at Radio City Music Hall in April

It has been reported today by the Transcendental Meditation Technique blog that it is confirmed that Ringo Starr will be joining Paul McCartney as one of the featured performers at the historic benefit concert to be held at Radio City Music Hall on April 4, 2009.

It is now also being rumored that Mike Love of the Beach Boys might also be appearing.

This concert will be a once in a lifetime event whose purpose is to provide financial support to the David Lynch Foundation's international initiative to teach one million children the Transcendental Meditation technique, and create perpetual peace and prosperity for all. Paul and Ringo will appear with a host of other famous musicians and friends including Donovan, Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow and Paul Horn.

Details on how to order tickets can be found at the David Lynch Foundation website.