Michael Dell Taking Charge Once Again

David Litterick

New York

Dell chief executive Kevin Rollins has paid the price for the company's woeful recent performance and has quit the personal computer manufacturer as it was forced to post a fresh profits warning.

Mr Rollins will step down immediately to be replaced by founder Michael Dell, who already serves as the computer maker's chairman.

His resignation comes after a disastrous year for Dell, which issued two other profits warnings, was forced to recall more than 4m laptops because of battery problems, lost its market leadership to Hewlett-Packard and was hit with an SEC investigation into its accounting which is still continuing.

Just last month, Mr Rollins insisted the company was back on track, but even then he warned investors to expect more shocks. "The market is looking for absolutes that are not always possible," he said. The picture appears not to have improved, with the company warning last night that fourth quarter profits and earnings would miss estimates.

However, investors preferred to focus on his departure, sending the shares up 5pc in after-hours trading. Mr Rollins had long been criticised for failing to deliver a strategic vision for the group in the face of a resurgent HP.

Although billed as a resignation, it is understood Mr Rollins' departure came at the urging of directors, who had lost patience with his performance since being granted the chief executive's job by Mr Dell in 2004.

"The board believes that Michael's vision and leadership are critical to building Dell's leadership in the technology industry for the long term," said director Samuel Nunn. "There is no better person to run Dell at this time than the man who created the Direct Model and who has built this company over the last 23 years."

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MEMS for Viewing Faraway Galaxies

Brittany Sauser

Technology Review

Efforts to peer deep into the early universe are important to understanding its formation, but this requires the gathering of very faint infrared light--which is difficult because nearer, brighter objects overwhelm the signals of darker objects that are farther away. Now engineers at NASA have designed a highly sensitive device with 62,000 micrometer-scale shutters that allow scientists to choose objects they wish to study and block light from other objects.

The new microshutter system is destined for the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2013. It starts with a piece of specially made silicon that includes a 38-by-38-millimeter area of shutters that sit atop a camera, called the Near Infrared Spectrograph, being built by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Scientists will guide the opening and closing of the microshutters by first examining images taken from an infrared camera onboard the telescope, says Harvey Moseley, the microshutter principal investigator. Scientists viewing the images will select the distant objects they want to spectrograph. A computer system with a digital map will coordinate the opening and closing of the shutters. "It's a bit like driving west into the sunset, and you pull the visor down on your car," says Moseley. "You remove a lot of light from your detection system [field of view], and it vastly improves sensitivity. This is the motivation behind the microshutters--eliminating all unnecessary light."

The microshutters will allow scientists to peer farther into space than ever before by completely blocking the signals of bright objects. "The goal is to observe these very early galaxies and get an idea of all the processes that allowed these galaxies formation," says Moseley. "Further, we hope to get a better picture of how you get from a messy universe with small irregular galaxies to the rather large spiral galaxies of today's universe."

The effort was forged by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center using micromechanical technology to manufacture the microshutter subsystem. The tiny shutters, or "trapdoors," were made of silicon nitride and attached to the silicon wafer by hinges, explains Murzy Jhabvala, chief engineer of Goddard Instrument Technology and Systems Division.

Moseley's team designed the shutters to open and close in response to a magnetic field. The researchers deposited magnetic material on the surface of the shutters and placed a magnet underneath to open them. Removing the magnet allows the shutters to spring closed again. To keep them open, engineers apply a voltage--a positive voltage on the shutter itself and a negative voltage on the back wall. Metallic layers serve as electrodes on the front and back of the array.

"The positive and negative voltage keeps the shutter open, and when the magnet moves away the shutter will stay open," says Jhabvala, "and then we let the voltage go on to those shutters we want to let close. In this way, we can specifically open or close any one or hundred of the shutters we want, known as random access addressing."

Microshutters compete with an alternate approach called micromirrors. This approach uses an array of tiles; by tilting the tiles' "mirrors," light is deflected, says Jhabvala. "While this is very good technology developed for projection television systems, one of our key requirements is to completely block all light. There cannot be any leakage that will corrupt the signal. The mirrors are only deflecting the light somewhere else, leaving the possibility that light could get back into the system." The shutters completely block it, he says.

In the next six to nine months, before the microshutters are shipped to the ESA, engineers will continue fine-tuning the device. But so far it has done well; the technology has shown that it can survive the rigors of launch into space, and it works fine in the cold temperature (−388 °F).

While it's too soon to say if this high-end space MEMS will ever be commercialized, Moseley says the advantages of absolute control of light could have relevance to medical imaging and other imaging applications. "The capability this technology offers is great. If lots of people could get it, lots of people would want it. But to make it useful for other technical imaging applications … we need to be able to scale these up to a larger size."

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10 million Chinese cultural Relics Have Been Lost Overseas

Chinese experts estimated that more than 10 million Chinese cultural relics have been lost overseas, Monday's overseas edition of the People's Daily reported.
  Most of the cultural relics were robbed and illegally shipped out of China during the war times before the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Culture Relics Society said.
  The newspaper said about 1.67 million pieces of Chinese relics were housed in more than 200 museums in 47 countries, accounting for just 10 percent of all lost Chinese cultural relics.
  "But those in the hands of private collectors are ten times higher," the newspaper quoted the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as saying.
  The lost treasures were said to cover wide range of categories, including painting, calligraphy, bronze wares, porcelain, oracle bone inscriptions and ancient books and records.
  The newspaper said most of the relics were currently owned by museums or private collectors in the United States, Europe, Japan and Southeast Asian countries.
  There are more than 23,000 pieces of Chinese culture relics in the British Museum, most of which were robbed or purchased for pennies more than 100 years ago.
  Experts said that the major method to recover the national treasures were to buy them back. In some cases, private collectors donated the relics to the government. Besides, government can also resort to official channels to demand the return of relics.
  In 2003, a priceless bronze pig's head dating from the imperial Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was returned to its home in Beijing after it was removed by invading Anglo-French Allied forces over 140 years ago.
  Macao entrepreneur Stanley Ho donated 6 million yuan (about US$722, 892) to buy back the sculpture from a US art collector and then the sculpture was donated to the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
  Although to buy-back is the most feasible way to recover the lost treasures, limited funding is always a big headache, the newspaper quoted Zhang Yongnian, director of China's Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Fund, as saying.
  In recent years, the Chinese government has improved efforts to retrieve the precious cultural relics lost overseas. It has launched a national project on the recovery of the treasures and set up a database collecting relevant information.
  The Chinese government has signed the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and signed bilateral protocols with countries including Peru and Italy on this matter.
  The government is also seeking international cooperation to retrieve the relics by liaising closely with the International Criminal Police Organization and the World Customs Organization.

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Bomb-sniffing robots on way to troops in Iraq

W. David Gardner

U.S. troops deployed in Iraq will soon receive help in the form of explosive-detection robots, which can sniff out deadly improvised explosive devices, more commonly known as IEDs. More than 100 PackBot robots provided by iRobot Corp. will be fitted with the sniffing technology, the firm reported Monday.

The PackBots are being fitted with ICx Technologies' explosive-vapor detection know-how called ICx Fido.

"The Fido payload is highly sensitive and, combined with PackBot, makes a formidable and mobile explosive-detection robot that removes the human operator from harm's way," said Joel Roark, a general manager at ICx Technologies. "The digital, modular architecture of iRobot's PackBot enabled rapid and easy integration of the Fido payload."

The robots are funded through a $16.58 million order from the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command for the Robotic Systems Joint Project office at Redstone Arsenal. iRobot said the technology already has been successfully tested in Iraq.

The PackBot has a 7-foot dexterous arm that can reach through vehicle windows to destroy IEDs. More than 800 PackBot robots have been delivered to military and civilian users. The robots have been credited with saving soldiers' lives, according to iRobot.

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Ultra-Tough Nanotech Materials

Kevin Bullis

Researchers have used clay nanoparticles to modify a polymer material, making it 20 times stiffer, 4 times tougher, and able to withstand temperatures that are more than twice as hot. The new materials could eventually be used in rugged lightweight fabrics, less-bulky packing materials, and much lighter car parts.

The work is part of a growing effort to design materials with nanoscale structures that mimic those found in nature, such as those in ultra-strong seashells. (See "Silicon and Sun.") In the current work, researchers at MIT's program in polymer science and technology greatly improved the properties of an elastic polyurethane used in biomedical applications by dispersing tiny clay particles throughout it.

The elastic polyurethane is ordinarily made of two types of polymers, one hard and crystalline, the other a soft, tangled polymer. The researchers developed a method for reinforcing the rigid structures with thin, flat, nanoscale clay platelets. The clay nanoparticles link the hard polymer chains into a continuous network running throughout the soft polymer.

The result is a material that has properties that are typically hard to combine: stiffness and stretchiness. In the past, others have found ways to make the material stiffer, but that came with a trade-off, says lead researcher Gareth McKinley, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. In previous attempts, a material made seven times stiffer "became more brittle--it snapped," he says. McKinley has made the material stronger still--23 times stronger--without making it brittle. "We are able to make it both stronger as well as keeping it nice and stretchy," he says.

Since the new material is stiff, it takes a significant amount of energy to deform it. But even once the material starts to deform, it doesn't break. Instead, it absorbs yet more energy as it stretches. Indeed, the nano-reinforced material will absorb as much as four times the amount of energy as the original material without breaking.

The greater toughness means that much less material can be used--as much as 75 percent less. Thin sheets of the material, while being resistant to tearing, would be flexible enough to serve as packaging, such as for the military's meals-ready-to-eat (MREs), McKinley says. The material could also be spun into fibers to make flexible yet tear-resistant fabrics.

The new material is also resistant to heat: the clay particles "improve the high-temperature strength of these polymers immensely," McKinley says. The original polyurethane starts to soften at around 100 °C, losing its stiffness and breaking easily. But the new material is heat resistant to 200 degrees, which means it could be used in applications such as the hood of a car. Because the materials are light, the fuel savings "could potentially be very large," McKinley says.

While Evangelos Manias, a professor of materials science and engineering at Pennsylvania State University, says that the new material is impressive, he cautions that the process limits the ways the material can be used. If it is heated too much while being incorporated into a product, the clay particles might clump together, causing the enhanced properties to be lost.

Manias says that even more significant than the new material is the process used to make it. It's been difficult to uniformly disperse nanoparticles such as the clays throughout polymers because they have incompatible chemical properties: the clay attracts water, while the polymers repel it. The problem is made more challenging in this case because the clay nanoparticles must connect only with the hard segments of the polyurethane and not with the soft, stretchy polymer mesh. Otherwise the material will lose its stretchiness.

To make it possible to locate the clay nanoparticles at just the right places, McKinley and his colleagues at MIT developed a system that uses two solvents, one to disperse the clay nanoparticles and the other to dissolve the polymer. These two solvents are then mixed until the suspended nanoparticles are spread evenly throughout the dissolved polymer. The solvent that dissolved the polymer is then evaporated, leaving behind a tangle of polymer that traps the clay particles. Because this method does not chemically alter the nanoparticles, as has been done in other approaches, the particles retain a chemical affinity to the rigid structures within the polyurethane, which causes them to connect to these and not to the soft parts of the structure.

Manias says that this process could apply to a wide variety of systems, using different nanoparticles, such as nanotubes, to make even more remarkable materials. "The most important thing is that this can be applied more broadly than just polyurethane," he says. "There are whole fields of science where this can be applied."

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Organic LEDs Shine Invisibly

Prachi Patel-Predd

Researchers at the University of Southern California have designed a phosphorescent dye molecule that emits near-infrared light and have used it to make long-lasting organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).

The diodes could be used to make a cheap and flexible near-infrared (NIR) display that would be unreadable to the naked eye but could be read with night-vision goggles. Such a display could be integrated into a soldier's uniform or a device that could be stashed in a pocket, allowing soldiers to read communications at night without being spotted by enemy snipers.

These organic LEDs could also be converted into the infrared-detector diodes that make night vision possible. Infrared detectors are essentially the reverse of LEDs, converting light into an electric current. Warm objects emit infrared radiation, which has wavelengths longer than near-infrared radiation and is also invisible to the human eye. Just as the light detectors in cameras sense visible light, infrared sensors made of inorganic semiconductors detect infrared light in the night-vision goggles and cameras used by the military, police, border security agents, and firefighters. But detectors based on OLEDs would offer an important benefit: because the thin organic polymers that make up these diodes can be deposited on a variety of substrates, including bendable plastic, organic IR detectors could be flexible enough to incorporate into a helmet visor.

"Flexibility is very beneficial … next-generation displays are all going to be on flexible substrates," says Mark Thompson, a chemistry professor at the University of Southern California, who led the research. Organic LEDs are the crucial technology for flexible displays, because they are easy and cheap to pattern on bendable substrates, he says. They are already being used in camera and cell-phone displays, and they hold tremendous promise for future large-area computer and television screens.

Research in organic LEDs has largely focused on visible-light applications; no one has previously made an organic LED that efficiently emits NIR light. Thompson and his colleagues at Princeton University and Universal Display Corporation, a company based in Ewing, NJ, described their organic LED online in Angewandte Chemie on January 9.

Organic LEDs that emit invisible NIR wavelengths could be used to make displays that you do not want everyone to see. "For covert military applications, night-vision displays will be very important, and these diodes would be key to that," says Ghassan Jabbour, an optical-sciences professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who developed the first NIR-emitting organic molecules.

The secret to the new LED is a specially designed phosphorescent dye molecule that the researchers use in the emissive layer sandwiched between the device's two electrodes. Typically, organic LEDs contain an emissive layer that is doped with fluorescent dyes. The electrodes inject negative electrons and positive "holes" into the layer, where the charged particles combine and excite the dye molecules. When the molecules return to their unexcited state, they emit photons. The new phosphorescent molecules emit very efficiently in the NIR region. They also emit light for a longer time than fluorescent dyes, increasing the lifetime of the device--a traditional weak point for organic materials.

The device emits at wavelengths close to 800 nanometers, which is right at the border of the visible and near-infrared spectrum, and boasts an efficiency of more than six percent, which is at least 60 times that of other NIR-emitting devices reported in the past. Right now, it runs for 1,000 hours at its maximum brightness. But at the lower brightness levels required in displays, "we're talking at least a million hours," Thompson says. By comparison, red or green organic LEDs have lifetimes of 100,000 hours, he says.

Gareth Redmond, who studies nanoscale organic photodetectors at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland, calls the work a breakthrough toward NIR emission in organic material. Redmond says that the new organic LED shows "really good performance in terms of efficiency and lifetime which hasn't been achieved before."

Thompson and his colleagues plan to make other phosphorescent dye complexes that emit light at wavelengths longer than 800 nanometers, pushing deeper into the IR region. Then, Thompson says, it would be possible to "flip" the organic LED, converting it into an organic IR detector for a night-vision helmet visor. This would require modifying the device structure or tweaking the organic materials, but he says the conversion would be easy because LEDs and photodetectors are "cousins" with essentially the same diode structure but reverse functions--an LED converts electric current into light while a detector does the opposite.

But it is too early to say when such an organic IR detector would be available. It's not just that the jury is still out, he says; "the jury hasn't even been formed."

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Cheaper Natural Gas from Coal

Peter Fairley

In the second half of the 20th century, oil- and natural gas-burning furnaces drove coal out of the home-heating business across North America. But if Great Point Energy--a Boston-area startup with a low-cost process for converting coal into pipeline-grade natural gas--has its way, coal may start keeping us toasty again before long.

Great Point Energy of Cambridge, MA, says its process is cheaper and more reliable than drilling for new natural gas or importing liquefied natural gas from the same unstable regions. "We can take coal out of the ground and put it in a natural-gas pipeline for less than the cost of new natural-gas drilling and exploration activities," says CEO Andrew Perlman.

Traditional coal-to-methane plants like the 1970s-era Dakota Gasification plant in Beulah, ND, and new plants envisioned by General Electric (GE) and ConocoPhillips are costly because they require a series of chemical plants operating at a wide range of conditions. In these plants, cryogenic equipment operating just a few degrees above absolute zero feeds pure oxygen to the gasifier, where coal baked to up to 2,500 ºF breaks down into a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called syngas. From there, the syngas is subsequently catalytically transformed into high-grade methane in a separate reactor.

In contrast, Great Point compresses the process into one single, efficient reactor by moving the catalysts into the gasifier itself. The key is a proprietary, recyclable catalyst developed in house with help from gasification and catalysis experts at Southern Illinois University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Tennessee, among others. The catalyst (which Perlman cagily describes as "a formulation of abundant low-cost metals") lowers the amount of heat required to gasify coal and simultaneously transforms the gasified coal into methane. In fact, the heat released in the syngas-to-methane step is sufficient to sustain the gasification, eliminating the need to fire up the reactions with purified oxygen. "It's perfectly heat balanced," says Perlman.

On the strength of lab-scale demonstrations with its catalyst, Perlman and his partners have picked up $37 million from venture-capital firms Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Advanced Technology Ventures to test their catalyst in a pilot plant. Rather than building a pilot plant from scratch, Great Point accelerated the process by leasing one from the utility-supported Gas Technology Institute at Des Plaines, IL. Perlman says Great Point ran the plant's 14-inch-in-diameter, 60-foot-high gasifier for a week in November with the firm's proprietary catalyst, converting Illinois Powder River Basin low-sulfur coal into between 13,000 and 14,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day. He anticipates that a second run this spring will give him and his partners the data they need to take the next step: designing a larger but still precommercial plant that he expects to have operating by 2009. Subsequent testing at Des Plaines will evaluate the catalysts with dirtier yet more energetic petroleum coke, a byproduct that the average refinery generates at the rate of 5,000 to 10,000 tons per day--more than enough to fuel a commercial-scale synthetic-gas plant.

Meanwhile, Perlman says he is searching for a coal mine or refinery in the western United States to site Great Point's first plants. The idea is to produce natural gas close to oil producers who need the synthetic-gas plant's largest byproduct: carbon dioxide. Dakota Gasification has blazed this trail. Its synthetic-gas plant converts 18,000 tons of lignite coal into 170 million cubic feet of synthetic natural gas per day--enough to heat 2,500 homes for a year. But it also sells its CO2 to the aging oil fields of southeastern Saskatchewan, in the process burying more CO2 in a year than 100,000 cars release in their operational lifetime. (See "Carbon Dioxide for Sale.") "Our CO2, instead of being a liability, is actually a saleable byproduct," says Perlman, who estimates that oil producers in the west are willing to pay $20 to $40 per ton of CO2. That said, Perlman has not factored revenue from CO2 into his business plan. What is clear is the potential for coal. "The U.S. has 3 percent of the world's natural gas but 26 percent of the coal," he says. "Wyoming's coal could supply U.S. natural-gas needs for 100 years."

And natural-gas distributors are eager for the gas. Evansville, IN-based utility Vectren, which supplies gas and power to more than one million customers in Indiana and Ohio, has signed a 30-year deal to pay roughly $5 to $6 per million BTUs for synthetic gas from the $1.5 billion plant that GE hopes to build in Indiana. Vectren spokesman Mike Roeder acknowledges that there is a risk that the gas price could fall in the future, but he says the security of supply is worth it. "Reasonably priced gas for our consumers has not been an option for our customers for at least the past five years," he says. "So we have a very strong interest in the project moving forward."

The attraction is clear: gasification of coal offers a fixed-price alternative to the volatility of natural-gas markets. Indiana officials estimate that GE's synthetic-gas plant would deliver natural gas at $5 to $6 per million BTUs--well below the current price of $7.50 to $8.50 per million BTUs. Projecting that natural-gas prices will remain high, the officials estimate that GE's plant would save consumers more than $3.7 billion over the next 30 years. Therein lies the challenge in financing these plants: no one wants to be left on the hook if the natural-gas price crashes, as it did in the 1980s and '90s. Great Point Energy's simpler conversion process offers a safer bet, says Perlman, because it should deliver pipeline-quality gas from coal for less than $3 per million BTUs.

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Stop Using Credit Report As A Criterion In Hiring

Ben Arnoldy

Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Lisa Bailey worked for five months at Harvard University as a temp entering donations into a database. When the university made the job a salaried position, Ms. Bailey, who is black, saw a chance to lift herself out of dead-end jobs.

Bailey's superiors encouraged her to apply, she says, but turned her down after discovering her bad credit history.

Bailey, with her lawyer, has lodged a complaint against Harvard charging racial discrimination. The reason: Studies show that minorities are more likely to have bad credit, but credit problems have not been shown to negatively affect job performance.

Some privacy and minority advocates are now seeing credit as a civil rights issue as minorities start to fight employers and insurers who base decisions on credit histories. Their effort could slow the near doubling in credit checks by employers in the past decade, which impacts millions of Americans who are struggling with debt.

"It's definitely a civil rights issue because of the growing use of credit reports and credit scores for hiring, renting an apartment, insurance, and the fact that people of color have not been integrated into the credit scoring system as much as traditional, white, middle-class America," says Evan Hendricks, author of "Credit Scores & Credit Reports: How the System Really Works, What You Can Do."

In a 2004 study involving 2 million people, the Texas Department of Insurance found that blacks have an average credit score roughly 10 percent to 35 percent worse than whites; Hispanics have scores 5 percent to 25 percent worse than whites.

Credit checks are a growing factor in hiring, with 35 percent of employers checking applicants' credit in 2003, up from 19 percent in 1996, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Typically credit reports are done if a person is going to deal with money, says John Dooney, a manager of strategic research at SHRM.

A case for considering credit

Employers should look at credit only for jobs where the information is relevant, says Lester Rosen, president of Employment Screening Resources, a national background screening firm in California. He cites a few examples:

• For jobs handling money, people may have the motive to steal if their debts surpass their salary.

• For jobs requiring travel, bad credit could bar applicants from renting cars or buying tickets.

• For jobs managing money, the report can offer some clues on how applicants manage their own.

Particularly in that last scenario, he cautions employers to be circumspect since blemishes might be errors or beyond the person's control, such as sudden medical expenses. Legally, employers must receive written permission from applicants to do a credit check, and must give those denied because of credit a chance to respond.

Mr. Rosen defends the careful consideration of credit in the hiring process. "If Harvard hired a person and did not use a credit report and the person embezzled, what would the headline be?" he asks.

So far, there's a lack of data supporting a relationship between bad credit and theft by employees. In perhaps the only study published on the subject, Jerry Palmer and Laura Koppes at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond in 2003 found no correlation between employee credit reports and negative performance or termination for dishonesty.

Antidiscrimination laws bar a hiring practice that disadvantage minorities – even inadvertently – unless a company can prove it's related to measuring a person's capability to do a job. Bailey's lawyer, Piper Hoffman, has taken on several cases in which companies used credit as a factor in the hiring process. In one 2004 case, she says, an employee's lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson resulted in a settlement that changed the way the company used credit in its hiring practices.

"In the larger picture, we're hoping to get Harvard and other employers to stop using credit as a criterion in hiring," Ms. Hoffman says.

Bailey lodged her complaint in November with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which reviews all such cases before any lawsuits can be filed. Agency officials say there's anecdotal evidence these cases are on the rise.

"Employers seem to be assuming that somebody with a poor credit history is more likely to steal, and I don't think there's any kind of evidence that supports that," says Dianna Johnston, assistant legal counsel with the EEOC. "To the extent that the employer has done an in-depth look and found other indices of dishonesty, they would be on more solid ground."

In a statement, Harvard noted that a "relatively small percentage" of jobs at the university require a credit check.

"The university conducts credit history reviews for employment purposes as required by credit card issuers, as well as to fulfill our fiduciary and data privacy responsibilities," says the statement. "Those responsibilities include protecting the private credit card data of our students, faculty, parents, and alumni."

Bailey says that if Harvard was concerned she might steal, the university should have looked at criminal records instead. "I was a cashier for many years and I've never been rich and I've never stolen money," she says.

She ran into credit-card debt she couldn't pay back when she spent some time unemployed. Harvard, she says, offered to reconsider if she could clear up her report in one week.

"The only way I can get it cleaned up in seven days is if I have money, so there was no way," says Bailey.

Catch-22 for poor people

Ernest Haffner, an attorney adviser with the EEOC, notes that employers who screen for credit are setting up a Catch-22 for poor people: They need jobs to get good credit, but employers won't hire them because they don't have it.

The racial component to credit histories has been challenged in the insurance arena, too. The Texas Department of Insurance study found a relationship between credit scores and claims filed.

However, a class-action lawsuit against Allstate has just been settled, which resulted in the company changing the way they evaluate credit reports, says Wendy Harrison, a Phoenix-based lawyer who brought the case.

"What we've argued in our [insurance] cases is that you can adjust for [racial bias]," Ms. Harrison says, who has also handled cases of credit screening by employers.

Employers, however, are probably not relying on a number rating that can be adjusted, since, according to Rosen, agencies only give them specialty reports that don't include a score. Harvard says their report had no score.

As for Bailey, she still wants the Harvard job, and says there would be "no hard feelings." But first she wants to change the system for herself and others. "I hope I win. It might be beneficial to other people, too," she says.bb

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How to Change Jobs Without Changing Employers

A bad boss. Boredom. A lack of opportunity. Each of these factors can prompt you to want to change jobs. But what if you're loathe to leave an employer you love?

The answer is simple, but the process may not be: Try to arrange a transfer to another position. Follow these steps to make sure you don't make a misstep when making your move.

Don't Jump the Gun

It's no secret that breaking into a particular industry may require you to accept one position and ultimately transfer to another that will put you on your intended career track. Employers are well aware of this, but typically an employee is expected to remain in a job for a minimum of six months to two years. Find out what your employer's expectation or policy is and honor it.

Investigate Your Opportunities

Many large companies prefer to promote from within and will keep a comprehensive internal job board. Consult it regularly to determine if there are positions that interest you and whether or not you're qualified for them.

If you're desperate to transfer but there aren't openings you're qualified for, find out if there are any hard-to-fill positions that your employer may be more than willing to train you for.

Follow in Someone Else's Footsteps

Sure, some people like to boldly go where no man or woman has been, but it's so much easier to follow in someone else's footsteps, particularly where a transfer is concerned.

Ask around and find a few folks who have transferred to different positions and ask them for advice about dealing with your boss, your human resources representative, and the transition.

Find Your Replacement

Your supervisor may not be amenable to a transfer because she values your knowledge and work -- and she dreads the process of trying to fill your shoes.

As soon as you know you're serious about transferring, start scouting around the company for someone who may be interested in your position. Tap your extended network as well. If there's talent waiting in the wings, your boss will be more supportive of you moving on and up.

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Accomplishments Are the New Responsibilities

Dana Mattioli

Listing your job responsibilities on a resume may get you on an employer's job-candidate roster, but if you note some solid accomplishments as well, you may be able to make the jump onto a recruiter's short list. Terry Gallagher, president of Battalia Winston International, a New York-based executive search firm, says he places "three times as much value on results versus responsibilities on a resume."

But while touting your successes may be a winning strategy, figuring out what to include and how to convey it can be a challenge, say professional resume writers.

To make your resume easy to read, keep the chronological format and integrate your accomplishments into each job listing, experts advise. Executive resumes longer than one page should also highlight selected accomplishments at the beginning, says Martin Weitzman, president of Gilbert Resumes in Englishtown, N.J.

Stumped when it comes to identifying your accomplishments? Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. Ditch the modesty.

"The resume is absolutely no time to be humble," says Heather Eagar, owner of ResumeLines.com, a reviewer of resume-writing services.

Judy Rosemarin, president of Sense-Able Strategies Inc., a New York executive-coaching firm, recalls that a client from the banking industry froze and began perspiring after being asked to write down her accomplishments. "Where is that talented executive I was just talking to?" Ms. Rosemarin says she asked. In response, the client explained she was uncomfortable bragging.

Remember that you are a solution to the hiring manager's problem, advises Ms. Rosemarin. If you are uncomfortable, think of your list of accomplishments as sharing instead of bragging, she says.

2. Review a performance checklist.

Ask yourself the following questions about each of your previous jobs:

* What was your impact on your division, company and group?
* What would not have happened if you hadn't been there?
* What are you proudest of during your time with the company?

"Sometimes we are so busy working we don't realize how good we are," says Margaret Flynn, a career and communications consultant in Staten Island, N.Y. She also recommends enlisting the help of family, friends and former colleagues who may remember accomplishments that have slipped your mind.

One good source can be a spouse or friend who heard about your complaints and successes on a regular basis. Ask him or her what you bragged about or were proud of at work, says Deb Dib, president of Advantage Resumes in Medford, N.Y. You can also ask colleagues and vendors for their input. Ms. Dib suggests saying something like, "We had a great working relationship. What did you like best about working with me?"

3. Use job evaluations.

Dig through your old annual reviews and take note of what your supervisors praised you for, says Mr. Weitzman. Accomplishments may be listed on the evaluation. Reading some of the strengths that supervisors identified may help you think about how you used those strengths to meet goals.

When Joyce Irene de los Reyes, 26 years old, updated her resume, her first draft listed only her responsibilities. "When I went back and read my resume, I asked myself if there was anything that would make an interviewer look twice, and I wasn't satisfied," Ms. de los Reyes says. She used the written recommendations she received from each of her jobs to develop a list of accomplishments and recently landed a position as a technical support analyst for a software company in New Brunswick, N.J.

Haven't kept your old reviews? Call human resources at your previous employer and ask for them, suggests Mr. Weitzman. Depending on the company's policy, it may be possible to get them released.

Letters of recommendation and company newsletters in which employees were recognized by management may serve the same purpose, says Ms. Dib.

4. Measure your results.

Think about your performance, and apply numbers where possible, using percentages, dollar signs and time quantifiers, advises Ms. Rosemarin.

If you have increased profitability or decreased costs, list these accomplishments, says Mr. Weitzman. If you exceeded a goal, note the original goal. If you didn't hit your target, don't mention it, but use the number you did attain, he says. "Saving $100 million is still an accomplishment, even if the goal was $200 million," says Mr. Weitzman.

Time is a variable some job hunters may overlook. A simple way to incorporate it is to apply a time frame to projects that you completed ahead of schedule, says Ms. Rosemarin. For example: "Completed project three months before projected plans."

5. Cite recognition.

If your employer has recognized you with an award, cite it on your resume. Give an indication of the award's criteria so the recruiter can see why you were selected and what you accomplished.

If you were chosen to receive additional training or head special projects, these can also be considered accomplishments, says Ms. Rosemarin.

But make sure any award you cite is based on merit. "An award for working 20 years with the company," Mr. Weitzman notes, "just means you sat there for 20 years and is not an accomplishment."

Email your comments to dana.mattioli@wsj.com .

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YouTube ad plans 'to control content'

Josephine Moulds

YouTube's plans to share advertising revenues with the people who upload videos to its site may prepare the way for it to exact greater commercial control over content, say commentators.

Chief executive of YouTube, Chad Hurley, said at Davos this weekend that the company is working on a system to allow users to be paid for their content.

At present YouTube subscribers do not receive any royalties but they do not have to give the site exclusive rights to their videos.

Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, said on his blog Rough Type: "I would bet that. . . at some point in the not-too-distant future, YouTube will demand an exclusive license in return for payment.

"If we assume. . . that a relatively small number of videos and video producers will receive a disproportionate percentage of views and generate a disproportionate amount of ad revenues, then 'locking up' that content and those producers will become increasingly important in the years ahead.

"Controlling the 'stars' will be as critical to YouTube as it is to any media business."

YouTube could not be reached for comment.

The site was bought by Google for $1.65bn dollars (£840m) in November last year despite having no proven revenue model. The new system, due to be launched in the next couple of months, is seen as a way of increasing the amount of advertising on the site without alienating its users.

Mr Carr said: "To justify the huge amount of money Google paid for the site, YouTube needs to begin incorporating ads into videos on a large scale. By sharing a fraction of the resulting revenues with its members, it makes the expansion of advertising feel like a gregarious move, aimed at benefiting 'the community' rather than exploiting it."

Only users who own the full copyright of the videos they are uploading are eligible for a share of the revenues. For those videos that include other material, such as a copyrighted backing track, YouTube is developing a fingerprinting system to identify the music people are using in their videos.

Mr Hurley said: "When this music is identified the labels will be notified, they'll have the ability to claim that content and generate revenue against that piece of video, and the user has a free and legal way to be creative and use these works."

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What to expect from Microsoft's Vista

Benjamin J. Romano

Seattle Times technology reporter

The task is daunting: Make a product that works with tens of thousands of devices and software programs, and will be used by perhaps 800 million people or more. Anticipate their needs and wants now and years in the future. Prepare to be attacked by haters and hackers.

Oh, yeah, and get ready to rake in billions of dollars in profit.

More than five years after Microsoft started on the road to building the next version of the Windows computer-operating system, it's finally ready to give Vista to the masses.

The company is planning a launch celebration in New York City on Monday before Vista and Office 2007, Microsoft's other leading product, go on sale Tuesday. A few retailers are staying open late to accommodate those enthusiasts who want to be the first to get their hands on them, though it's hard to imagine the kind of craziness that surrounded earlier Windows launches.

Millions of software testers have been tinkering with Vista and it was released to large-business customers in November.

Eventually Vista will be on board virtually every new PC sold. Windows expert Brian Livingston expects 400 million people -- college students and seniors and everyone in between -- to be using the software within 24 months.

Here's a look at some of what's inside.


Microsoft is giving top billing to Vista's new look, easier searching, improved performance and security -- an area where Vista's predecessor, Windows XP, fell on its face.

"Vista is more secure than Windows XP. It's harder for a hacker to infect your PC from a distance. That alone is a benefit that makes Vista worth purchasing the next time you buy a PC," said Seattle-based Livingston, co-author of "Windows Vista Secrets," a comprehensive guide to the software.

Notice he said "the next time you buy a PC." Many experts aren't suggesting average users should buy Windows Vista for their existing computer. You have to make sure your box has the capability to run Vista and, if not, add things like a powerful graphics card.

While it will go smoothly for most, the risk of an installation headache isn't worth the reward of Vista versus an up-to-date copy of XP, Livingston said.

"There's no compelling reason to install Vista over XP," he said. Conversely, he sees no reason to buy a new PC that's still running XP -- which will be difficult to do before long anyway.

Microsoft's developers focused on security from the outset, consequently Vista is more secure. Time will tell as the software is distributed to millions of users and subsequently attacked by hackers.

Specific features, such as spyware and virus protection, firewall, user account and parental controls, and automatic security updates, are centralized in the Security Center. Using pop-up messages, the system alerts users of security issues, such as when software is trying to install itself. Some users have complained about the frequent pop-ups, which ask for permission on activities as basic as registering your copy of Vista with Microsoft. The alerts can be turned off.

Eye candy

Carl Von Papp is one of the millions of people who have made Vista and Office "two of the most tested products in history," according to Microsoft.

Testing software is old hat for the Bellevue Community College computer-science instructor and leader of special-interest groups focused on small business and laptop computing.

"I beta-tested DOS 1.0," he said, referring to the Microsoft operating system that debuted in 1981.

Van Papp's take on Vista, which he's been running on several machines for the better part of a year: It's an incremental step bigger in some ways -- specifically appearance and security -- than in others.

"I remember when Windows came out how it changed DOS," he said. "Every version seemed to make it a little easier to use the computer for the average person. In that respect, every version has been a step up, I think."

Van Papp at first dismissed Vista's good looks -- including translucent window edges and thumbnail images of files and open windows that show what they actually contain -- as mere window dressing.

"In the beginning I thought, who needs it?" he said. "But I have found psychologically that this eye candy makes the computer easier to use and more fun to use. I don't mind sitting there doing heavy work."


When travel consultant Beatrice Farrar writes up a proposal for a cruise or tour, she's careful about how she names the file and where she saves it -- skills she's learned in Seniors Training Seniors computer classes sponsored by the Seattle Human Services Department.

"OK, where is it?" she asks. "When you do a file, you save it and it goes in a folder, but you've got to label it so when you go back and look for it, you'll find it."

Microsoft has put more tools in Vista designed to help sort through the growing digital haystack of photos, music, videos, e-mails and other documents accumulating on computers.

The idea is you can find the proverbial needle as long as you remember something about it, like a keyword or the date it was created. The ability to search across a computer's desktop has been available as an add-on from Microsoft competitors for Windows XP. In Vista, search boxes will appear in the Start menu and other windows.

Farrar, 74, said that was a feature she could see herself using.


Microsoft has added a bunch of things it says will improve performance and keep it from degrading over time.

There's also a new power-saving sleep mode -- a combination of the old Standby and Hibernate modes in XP. But sleep is one of six choices Vista gives you for exiting a Windows session. The smorgasbord has drawn some criticism.

Improvements elsewhere might save users other headaches.

The software code underlying the improvements in Vista's appearance will also keep it from crashing during graphics-heavy tasks, provided the computer it's running on has the right hardware.

"The graphics in Vista have been rewritten so that video that a program is displaying is much less likely to crash the operating system, even if it does something wrong," said Livingston, who also edits WindowsSecrets.com. "This makes Vista more stable than XP, and people always complain that it crashes."

Seattle University freshman Amanda Martinez can relate. She said she watches more video on her computer now than she does on television.

"They play shows that you missed 24 hours, all week long," she said. "So you can go anytime you want, whenever you have an hour free."

But she's frustrated because to keep things running smoothly, it seems as if she's constantly downloading security updates and other software fixes.

"It's annoying because you'll be in the middle of something and then have to turn off the computer because the whole thing freezes," said Martinez, a forensic psychology major.

Yes, Microsoft's trying to make that easier too -- at least for its software -- through Windows Update. In this central location you can find out what updates you've downloaded, find out what's available and control automatic updates for fixes related to security.


Computer expert that he is, Livingston offered a surprising answer when asked for one of his favorite features in the new operating system.

"I want to buy Windows Vista just to get the chess game," he said.

Mahjong is another addition to the lineup of games that come with the software.

The chess game takes full advantage of Vista's graphics capabilities, rendering a sharp, realistic 3-D board and pieces. The skill of the computer opponent can be set on one of 10 levels, so no more "being crushed in a four-move checkmate," he said.

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NASA marks anniversary of Apollo deaths

Associated Press Writer

It was supposed to be a routine launch pad test. But from the Apollo 1 command module at Pad 34 came a panicked voice saying, "Fire in the cockpit."

Exactly 40 years later, the three Apollo astronauts who were killed in that flash fire were remembered Saturday for paving the way for later astronauts to be able to travel to the moon. The deaths of Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee forced NASA to take pause in its space race with the Soviet Union and make design and safety changes that were critical to the agency's later successes.

"I can assure you if we had not had that fire and rebuilt the command module ... we could not have done the Apollo program successfully," said retired astronaut John Young, who flew in Gemini 3 with Grissom in 1965. "So we owe a lot to Gus, and Rog and Ed. They made it possible for the rest of us to do the almost impossible."

The memorial service at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex marked the start of a solemn week for NASA — Sunday is the 21st anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident, and Thursday makes four years since the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

Chaffee's widow, Martha, and White's son, Edward III, along with NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, laid a wreath at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial, a tall granite-finished wall engraved with the names of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia astronauts and seven other astronauts killed in accidents.

Chaffee, 69, remembered feeding her two children hot dogs for dinner that night in 1967 and knowing something was wrong when astronaut Michael Collins showed up at her home to tell her about the accident.

"My first reaction was, 'What could have happened? He's not flying,'" Martha Chaffee recalled before the ceremony.

NASA also hadn't considered the countdown drill hazardous, anticipating accidents only in space. Fire rescue and medical teams were not at the launch pad. No procedures had been developed for the type of emergency the Apollo 1 crew faced. The work levels around the spacecraft contained steps, sliding doors and sharp turns that hindered emergency responses.

An investigation said the fire most likely started in an area near the floor around some wires between the oxygen panel and the environmental control system. The 100 percent oxygen environment made it highly combustible and internal pressure made it impossible for the astronauts to open the command module's inner hatch.

The astronauts died from inhaling toxic gases.

Before his death, Grissom, the second astronaut in space, had been so disappointed with problems in the new spacecraft that at one point he hung a lemon over it, said Lowell Grissom, the astronaut's younger brother.

After the tragedy, the command module's hatch was changed so it opened outward, flammable materials in the cabin were replaced, wiring problems were fixed and a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen replaced the all oxygen atmosphere.

Apollo 1's legacy contributed to the safety culture at NASA and the successful lunar landings, said Edward White III, whose father conducted the first U.S. spacewalk in 1965.

"The safety that came out of Apollo 1 is still here today," he said.

Describing it as "one of the most significant relics in the history of the space program," Lowell Grissom urged that the Apollo 1 spacecraft be moved from a warehouse in Virginia to the launch pad where the astronauts perished.

"As we remember their deaths ... let us renew our dedication to the quest for which they died, reaching for the stars for all mankind," Grissom said.

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Builders Look for Housing To Recover in 2007

John Spence

Homebuyers have been backing out of sales contracts and forfeiting their down payments during the housing slowdown, but cancellation rates should steady in the first quarter and taper off later in 2007, said the chief executive of one of the nation's largest home builders Thursday.

"Cancellations are likely to stabilize and stay level this quarter, and then decrease," said Ara Hovnanian during a Web cast of a real estate conference sponsored by Deutsche Bank in New York, adding cancellations should get back to "normalcy in a quarter or two."

The Hovnanian CEO said many cancellations are for older contracts signed when the market was booming and home prices were rising. He said one way the company is avoiding cancellations is to negotiate with buyers at the closing table.

"We don't like to do it, but it can prevent cancellations," Hovnanian said.

Home builders have been reporting surging cancellation rates driven higher by sagging consumer confidence and difficulty in selling existing homes.

When asked to pick an indicator he's looking at to spot a potential bottom for housing, Hovnanian said "we're watching [home] resale listings, which is something we never used to focus on."

Home builders face an inventory glut sparked by overbuilding and speculative demand drying up, but are hoping the spring selling season can jumpstart a recovery in 2007.

"The time between Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl is a slow time, so it's difficult to gauge anything," Hovnanian said. "We're waiting to see if things stabilize."

Meanwhile, Toll Brothers Inc. Chief Financial Officer Joel Rassman said the speed of various markets' recoveries will depend on the amount of "speculative" building and the use of incentives.

Home builders have ramped up concessions to buyers such as appliance upgrades and financing breaks in order to move homes in inventory. For example, Lennar Corp. earlier this week said sales incentives offered to homebuyers averaged $47,300 per home in the fourth quarter, up from $10,600 the previous year.

Rassman said buyers are putting off home purchases because they think the house may end up being cheaper soon. The CFO said the luxury builder is closely watching buyer traffic at its communities and reservation deposits to get a handle on where the market is heading. It also conducts "soft" interviews during home tours to see if people are "real buyers" or what the company calls "tire-kickers."

If local housing markets and economies bounce back, there could be some consolidation in the home-building business, especially with larger public companies snapping up smaller private competitors, Rassman said.

"There was no [spring] selling season last year, and if it happens again a lot of the smaller private builders won't be around the next selling season," he said.

Email your comments to rjeditor@dowjones.com.

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24 reasons to get a passport

Joey Slinger

Everybody flying into the U.S. needs a passport now, and that definitely includes us foreigners who are residents of the Relatively Peaceable Dominion.

Before long, everybody entering the U.S. by any means – land, sea, or through the tunnel at Windsor – will need passports.

This is one security measure our neighbours are very serious about, and we should be pleased to go along with them, because they're scared silly.

It's kind of sweet, the faith Americans have in a passport.

They're not jaded like those Brits who take it for granted that every passenger landing at Heathrow with a passport from any country you can think of in the European Union is a Russian spy who is looking for a former Russian spy they can poison.

Mind you, don't automatically assume that a valid passport, even a valid Canadian passport, is the be-all and end-all when it comes to reaping the benefits of U.S. hospitality if you happen to be a foreigner, even a foreigner from Canada, who has a suspicious-sounding name, or worships a suspicious-sounding deity, or has a suspicious-looking suntan, because there are limits to even American faith.

And whatever you do, don't tell them about websites like The ID Shop's which markets fake passports "strictly on a first come first served basis due to our limited supplies at times." It will upset them just when their new passport regulations are making them slightly less upset. Whether The ID Shop's passports are as good as the ones for sale on the Danforth, I have no idea. And whether the Russian spies flocking to London buy their passports in bars or online, I don't know either.

The last time Americans were scared almost this silly was when Ronald Reagan pointed out that the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were only a two-day drive from the Texas border. Since then, the Sandinistas have become the democratically elected government and can save themselves a tedious motor trip by flying to the U.S. and entering on valid Nicaraguan passports.

Just how scared – "silly" may not be the word – Americans have become since 9/11 isn't something we can easily appreciate. It could be they're this way because, as a result of their limited access to news, they've never heard of terrorists attacking any other country.

A week ago this newspaper ran a story about yet another concerned group that believes the graphic images in video games and on TV are turning children into psychopaths. Worrying about children is all well and good, but an older demographic might present a greater danger, since it is often even better armed and in charge of entire nations.

Consider the "CSI effect." This is already a documented problem in criminal trials. Juries expect the authorities to solve crimes as efficiently, swiftly and beyond all doubt (reasonable or otherwise) as the TV CSI investigators, and get irritated when they don't.

Now consider this: The other morning I came downstairs to have the member of the household whose task it is to remain au courant shout, ashen-faced, "They set off a nuke in L.A.! Can you believe it?!''

I couldn't! I plotzed! Had the U.S. nuked Iran in response?!

Only slowly did I realize – it was early in the morning – that she was recounting the previous evening's season premiere of 24.

So add to the "CSI effect" the "Jack effect" after the agent who must track down the bombers in one day without going to the bathroom. When does he have time? Talk about holding your all for the cause.

A republic, possibly including its president, that gets its news from 24 is going to believe this is the actual situation it, and its president, faces. And the clock is ticking.

No wonder they're scared – maybe "loopy" is a better word than "silly."

And if they haven't seen anything about the attack on Los Angeles in the mainstream media, it's obviously because since 9/11 the mainstream media have been joined in an unholy conspiracy to suppress the truth.

To which, as a) a paid employee of that mainstream media, and b) one operating in another, and suspect, country, I can only say, "Guilty."

Why else would I spend so much time writing critically about Stephen Harper, the only unquestioning friend George W. Bush has left in the free, God-fearing world? Do you think I would do such a thing – apart from for the money – if the terrorists hadn't kidnapped my family and are holding them in – wait! Was that a phone ringing?

I'm waiting for a call.

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Ontario,s Minimum Wage Still Struggling To $10

staff reporters

It's time to take the politics out of setting the minimum wage by striking a commission to review the rate annually and possibly link increases to inflation, says Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.

Tory said he opposes the NDP's push to boost the minimum wage to $10 hourly but agreed the current level, rising to $8 next week, is too low.

Finance Minister Greg Sorbara told the Toronto Star that Ontario's "working poor" will get help from the province in the months ahead but shouldn't expect the minimum wage to rise to $10.

Tory called for any changes to the minimum wage to be made after consultations with business and social justice groups

"We clearly need a better process than one where, once in a while when a government feels like it, they decide to adjust the minimum wage," he said.

Asked if minimum wage should be linked to inflation, Tory replied "I'm not closed-minded to that" but stressed that any increases have to be measured against their impact on the broader economy.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton agreed with Tory that minimum wage should be linked to inflation but said his idea of a commission to review the rate annually is "an attempt to avoid the issue" of a $10 minimum wage.

"It's not a living wage, it doesn't need any more bureaucratic processes or study, it needs action," Hampton said.

Both Tory and Sorbara have warned that suddenly increasing the minimum wage to $10 would force some employers to cut staff. The government has predicted, based on recent economic studies, that up to 66,000 jobs could be lost if it were raised to that amount.

The finance ministry says the government has not commissioned or released any studies of its own on the impact of raising the minimum wage. Officials said yesterday they arrived at the job loss figures after reviewing recent Canadian studies in academic journals that found a 10 per cent increase in real wages can result in job losses ranging from 1 per cent to 4 per cent, with a median figure of 2.5 per cent. The finance officials then estimated a jump in the minimum wage to $10 would cause job losses of between 21,000 and 66,000.

A range of economists and social policy experts contacted by the Star yesterday agreed an overnight $2 hike to the minimum wage would shake up the job market in Ontario, but they weren't aware of any studies that back up the government's job-loss projections.

"There's no question there would be some impact on employment levels, particularly with such a big increase," said social policy consultant Richard Shillington, a statistician who worked on a 2006 Toronto task force on income security for low-income adults.

"But a lot of that would be what I call `sticker shock,' among employers," he said, referring to a similar reaction consumers have to sudden price hikes. "The question would be to determine the true impact."

Since economists are split on how the minimum wage affects jobs, Shillington and others say the way to settle the issue would be to strike an independent body to monitor the impact.

The government has released no information to show that last year's 30-cent increase in the minimum wage to $7.75 from $7.45 caused any job losses, Shillington said.

So instead of a modest 25-cent increase to $8 next week, Shillington thinks the government should try a 50-cent hike and use the commission to monitor what happens to jobs.

Douglas Peters, former chief economist for TD Bank, also doubted the province's dire job-loss projections.

"How do you affect the job numbers that accurately? You have to put an awful lot of assumptions into the calculation," Peters said yesterday.

Like Shillington, he also likes the idea of a commission to track the impact of minimum wage hikes and thinks a 50-cent increase this year would be a good start with annual 50-cent increases after that.

The Liberals have already boosted the minimum wage 17 per cent in a series of small raises since taking power in 2003 after the previous Conservative government froze the rate at $6.85 for eight years. There has been no discernible economic fall-out from those increases.

"We are looking at a more comprehensive approach to helping out Ontario's working poor and that includes adjustments to the minimum wage based on a variety of factors, including economic growth and rates of inflation," Sorbara said.

Simply raising the minimum wage on its own will be of "scant help" to the working poor but Sorbara declined to discuss specifics, emphasizing any changes would have to come in a provincial budget this spring.

Sorbara is unlikely to take action until after federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduces his budget on March 20.

Sources say there could be measures in the federal budget to assist low-wage earners, such as an adjustment of the threshold for paying income taxes.

If Ottawa moves in that direction, Queen's Park will almost certainly follow suit.

Proponents of the $10 minimum wage note that just 29 per cent of low-wage jobs are in small business with the rest at fast-food chains, major retailers and other big employers with deeper pockets in an era of growing corporate profits.

Tory's promise for a minimum wage review commission, possibly including welfare rates, came in a speech to the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, which supports a $10 minimum wage on the basis that income is a key determinant of good health.

His change in tack from opposing the $10 minimum wage could force Liberals to be more flexible on the issue with a provincial election looming in nine months, said association executive director Doris Grinspun.

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Smaller Is Better, Say Makers Of Ultraportable PCs. OQO, Samsung, Sony, & Others Test Out

Wade Roush

If you're itching to upgrade to Windows Vista, the new Microsoft operating system to be launched Monday, January 29, chances are you'll need a new computer, given Vista's hefty hardware requirements. And when you think about spending $1,000 or more on that computer, chances are, you're picturing a desktop or a laptop--not a half-kilogram device with a screen smaller than a piece of toast.

But engineers at San Francisco-based OQO (pronounced "oh-kyoo-oh") think 2007 might be the year when U.S. computer buyers come to think of diminutive "ultramobile PCs" as practical alternatives to the personal computer's beefier desktop and laptop manifestations. Their new OQO 02, launched January 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is 14 centimeters wide, 8 centimeters high, and 3 centimeters thick--small enough to toss in a purse or a large pocket. Yet it's a full Windows Vista-capable computer, with a 1.5-gigahertz processor, an 800-by-480-pixel touch screen, a slide-out keyboard, and three kinds of wireless connectivity.

"If you're a mobile professional, you need to be connected to the Web and access applications as part of your daily life--so your computer needs to be small enough and light enough that you're willing to take it with you when you leave your desk," says Bob Rosin, vice president of marketing at OQO. Laptops don't meet that standard, Rosin argues. "If your computer weighs five pounds and requires a briefcase, that's very different from something you could throw in your jacket pocket."

The company's previous product, the OQO 01, held the title of "world's smallest Windows PC" for two years and attracted business customers who needed small PCs for field inspections and similar mobile activities. But as a general personal-computing device, the OQO 01 was met with mixed reviews and sluggish sales. The new model includes many upgrades recommended by OQO 01 owners, such as a brighter screen, a better keyboard, more-powerful batteries, and a docking station with an optical disk drive, according to Rosin.

Even with such improvements, it's not clear whether U.S. mobile professionals--OQO's initial target market--will be attracted to sub-notebook-sized PCs. The OQO 02 belongs to a new generation of small Windows computers, including ultramobile PCs such as the Samsung Q1, that can run the same software as Windows desktops and laptops but are designed to be used from a sofa, conference room, or airplane seat. Miniaturized PCs have proved popular in Japan, where consumers have shown a willingness to pay extra for high-powered devices in small packages. But the gadgets are still largely untested in the United States, where they're often criticized for their slow performance, their tiny or nonexistent keyboards, and their high prices. (At $1,000 to $2,000, the devices often cost more than laptops of equivalent power.)

Some consumer-electronics watchers say OQO and other companies are beginning to overcome the basic problems that make small PCs tricky to use. For example, U.S. users don't like to type or write on touch screens, so some manufacturers are including real keyboards with improved tactile feedback, while others are simplifying onscreen interfaces so that users can get more things done with fewer gestures and clicks.

"The original version of the OQO had a lot of gotchas," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group of San Jose, CA, which advises companies on personal technology products. "It was incredibly small, but it was also painfully slow. The new one is a decent machine. I had Vista up and running on it pretty fast, and it performed just fine."

Better performance was one of three specific goals emerging from complaints lodged by users of the OQO 01, according to Rosin and Jihye Whang, OQO's director of product management. "It needed to really feel like a notebook computer," says Rosin. "It had to be a full Windows Vista device, and it had to run applications in a really snappy way, without hesitation." The OQO 02 runs standard Windows programs from the Firefox browser to Adobe Photoshop, and it has enough processing power to run two 1,920-by-1,200-pixel external displays when plugged into its docking station.

Users also pleaded for better ways of connecting to the Internet, says Whang. The OQO 01 could connect only at Wi-Fi hot spots or via a Bluetooth connection with a networked mobile phone. The OQO 02 includes faster 802.11g Wi-Fi circuitry and can also connect to Sprint's EV-DO network, a broadband data service available in most of the same locations where Sprint operates its PCS phone network. EV-DO carries data at 400 to 700 kilobits per second--not as fast as home DSL or cable Internet connections, but much faster than previous generations of cellular data networks. "We're getting closer and closer to true broadband speeds," says Whang.

Finally, users demanded a better screen and keyboard. The five-inch-diagonal touch screen is six times brighter than its predecessor, says Whang, and it incorporates a few new tricks, such as the ability to zoom in on an area of detail and to scroll vertically or horizontally with the brush of a finger along the screen's border, eliminating the need for a mechanical thumbwheel like those on many PDAs. The 58 keys on the OQO 02's redesigned keyboard stick up higher than the OQO 01's keys, giving thumb typists more tactile feedback to confirm that they've struck a key. The keyboard is also backlit for nighttime operation.

The OQO 02's keyboard is indeed "much more usable this time," in Rob Enderle's estimation. And while the device is slightly larger and heavier than the OQO 01, carrying it is "still a hell of a lot easier than lugging a laptop around," he says.

But in the lighter-than-a-laptop category, the OQO 02 could face competition from other handheld devices, such as Sony's Vaio UX Micro PC, Nokia's N800 Internet tablet, and Motion Computing's LS800 Tablet PC, as well as an entirely new category of handhelds, the so-called Ultra-Mobile PCs, or UMPCs. Samsung, Medion, Asus, and several other manufacturers have begun to produce these book-size devices, which look like small tablet PCs and are all based on a reference design unveiled by Microsoft in 2006 under the name Origami. The devices have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and are operated solely via a touch screen (although at least one UMPC includes a slide-out keyboard similar to OQO's). So far, they've been marketed not as office appliances but as entertainment devices enabling users to browse the Web and access videos, music, and photos.

The first group of UMPCs shipped with a plain Windows Tablet PC operating system. But at the Consumer Electronics Show, the company introduced the Origami Experience, a new user interface for Vista-based UMPCs that does away with the traditional desktop environment in favor of a single menu that scrolls both horizontally and vertically, letting users navigate quickly to their media files without a stylus or keyboard. Reviewers are calling the Origami Experience "speedy," "intuitive," "helpful," and "sexy"--terms not often associated with Windows devices. This suggests that the UMPC may have a shot at attracting the same kinds of consumers who shell out for the indisputably sexy Apple iPod.

At OQO, Rosin and Whang say they're not worried about going up against the UMPCs. "We see the OQO 02 as a productivity tool," says Rosin. "The businessperson may want to have some personal stuff on their mobile PC, but our focus is really on the professional user, not on the teenager on the couch wanting to browse the Web with a tablet-type device."

Nor is OQO concerned about Apple's forthcoming iPhone, which is descended from the video iPod but will mimic many of the functions of a full PC, via an advanced touch-screen interface that early reviewers have greeted as potentially revolutionary. "The iPhone is probably the best thing that's ever happened to us," says Rosin. "Everyone is now thinking, ‘We need more than just voice on a cell phone,' and ‘We need more than just audio on small devices.' So there's a lot of interest in this category, and we think that's a good thing for OQO."

The OQO 02 and the other small PCs hitting the market this year do have a few common weaknesses. One is battery life. It's getting longer--four hours in the case of the OQO 02 and three hours for the Samsung Q1--but it's still not long enough to keep a businessperson busy for the duration of a transcontinental flight. OQO's devices and the UMPCs "need a minimum of 8 hours of battery life to succeed,"writes Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting firm based in Campbell, CA.

And the screens and keyboards on the new devices, while improving, are still impractically small for some users, especially older users with less-than-perfect vision or dexterity. "My 28-year-old son can use the OQO 02 just fine," Bajarin says. "But for old guys like me with bad eyes and fat thumbs, it's really tough."

But Bajarin's biggest concern relates to manufacturers' marketing strategy rather than to mechanics. He believes consumers will start buying ultraportable PCs only when they're shown to have a compelling application--say, browsing the Web and controlling the TV, set-top box, DVR, and stereo system from the sofa. But as long as ultraportable PCs are marketed as general-purpose devices, software writers won't be inspired to write the killer app that makes the devices take off, he argues.

"With a device of this size, if you take the PC mentality and say, 'Let it be all things to all people,' it will fail," Bajarin says. "But if you say, 'It's a platform for application-specific solutions,' then you're more likely to get it right."

Enderle, however, believes PCs could find a market even without further tweaking or new software. With its faster processor and full Windows capability, OQO's device, in particular, could appeal to "folks for whom a smart phone isn't really enough and a laptop is too much," he says. "That's still a niche group--but it could be a pretty good-sized niche."

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The Art of Influencing Up

Marshall Goldsmith

BusinessWeek Online

The best ideas don't matter if no one pays attention. Here's how you can improve the odds of your boss taking your suggestions

"Great wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless data."—Peter Drucker

Knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does. My guess is that you, like most of my readers, are a knowledge worker. Many knowledge workers (especially those with technical backgrounds) have years of education and experience that enable them to come up with great ideas.

Yet this same group has almost no training in how to "influence up" and ensure that their great ideas actually get accepted. Great ideas that are never implemented don't make much of an impact on the organization.

The guidelines listed below are intended to help you do a better job of influencing your upper management. They won't always ensure your success, but they will definitely improve your odds!

•Take responsibility. Think like a salesperson—not a technician.

In many ways, influencing up is similar to selling products or services to external customers. They don't have to buy—you have to sell!

Any good salesperson takes responsibility for achieving results. No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products. When making your pitch, treat upper managers like great salespeople treat their customers.

While the importance of taking responsibility may seem obvious in external sales, an amazing number of people in large corporations spend countless hours blaming management for not buying their ideas, as opposed to blaming themselves for not selling those ideas. If more time were spent on developing our ability to present ideas and less on blaming management, a lot more might get accomplished.

•Focus on the big picture—not just what's in it for you.

An effective salesperson would never say to a customer: "You need to buy this product, because if you don't, I won't achieve my objectives!"

Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers. They don't expect buyers to relate to their needs. In the same way, effective "upward influencers" relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.

When influencing up, focus on the impact of the decision on the overall corporation. In most cases, the needs of the unit and the needs of the corporation are directly connected. In some cases, this connection isn't so obvious. Don't assume that executives will automatically make the connection between the benefit to your unit and significant, positive impact for the larger corporation.

•Strive to win the big battles. Don't waste your energy and psychological capital on trivial points.

An executive's time is very limited. Do a thorough analysis of your ideas before challenging the system. Don't waste time on issues that will only have a negligible impact on results. Focus on issues that will make a real difference. Be willing to lose on small points.

Be especially sensitive to the need to win trivial, nonbusiness arguments on things like restaurants, sports teams, or cars. People become more annoyed with us for having to be "right" on trivia than our need to be right on important business points. You are paid to do what makes a difference and to win on important issues. You are not paid to win arguments on the relative quality of athletic teams.

•Present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of your ideas. Don't just sell benefits.

Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea. Acknowledge the fact that someone else's cause may have to be sacrificed in order to have your plan implemented.

By getting ready for a realistic discussion of costs, you can prepare for objections to your idea before they occur. You can acknowledge the sacrifice that someone else may have to make and point out how the benefits of your plan outweigh the costs.

•Realize that your upper managers are just as "human" as you are. Don't say, "I am amazed that someone at this level…"

It is realistic to expect upper managers to be competent; it is unrealistic to expect them to be better than normal humans. Is there anything in the history of the human species indicating that when people achieve high levels of status, power, and money they become instantly wise and logical (or even sane)?

How many times have we thought: "I would assume someone at this level…" followed by "should know what is happening," "should be more logical," "wouldn't make that kind of mistake," or "would never engage in such inappropriate behavior"?

Even the best of leaders are human. We all make mistakes. When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than on judging them.

•Make a positive difference. Don't just try to "win" or "be right."

We can easily become more focused on what others are doing wrong than on how we can make things better. An important guideline in influencing up is to always remember your goal—to make a positive difference for the organization.

Corporations are different from academic institutions. In a university the goal may be sharing ideas, not having an impact on the world. In faculty meetings, hours of acrimonious debate on obscure topics can be perfectly normal.

In a corporation, sharing ideas without having an impact is worse than useless. It is a waste of the stockholders' money and a distraction from serving customers.

When I was interviewed in the Harvard Business Review, I was asked: "What is the most common area for improvement for the leaders that you meet?" My answer was "winning too much."

Focus on making a difference. The more other people can "be right" or "win" with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.

In summary, think of the years that you have spent perfecting your craft. Think of all of the knowledge that you have accumulated. Think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization.

How much energy have you invested in acquiring all of this knowledge? How much energy have you invested in learning to present this knowledge so that you can make a real difference? My hope is that by making a small investment in learning how to influence up, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your organization—and the future of your career.

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7 Steps Of Mega Adsense Earners

Andrew Daum

The Google AdSense program is like finding money in the street.

Kids in High School are making thousands of dollars a month with Adsense... Housewives, Retiree's, Mom and Pop's who've never made a dime on the Internet have created full time incomes by simply placing AdSense Ads on their web site or blog.

Then you have the "Super AdSense" earners. We have all heard of them... the Elite few who are on track to make half a million dollars a year or more promoting AdSense sites.

Do not be mistaken though... these people are not building like your Mom and Pop's do. They have systems in place that create sites for them... people who build sites for them... they have outsourced and automated many of the tedious tasks such as posting to blogs and searching for keywords.

While most people cannot emulate everything these Super AdSense earners do... many of them you can.

Here are 7 Required Steps you can implement today to copy their success.

1) Starting today... treat your AdSense business like it is a REAL business and track what you do.

Begin tracking what you are doing that works... as well as what you are doing that does not work. This will keep you from making the same mistakes over and over, and you can repeat the steps that have worked in the past. As simple as this step seems... most people do not know the reason(s) to their success or failure.

2) Utilize the latest tools and software available.

The Super AdSense earners are not any smarter than your average person. I know many people think they are... but for the most part, they are regular non techie people.

They are smarter in one respect though... they use the latest tools available to them to automate most of the tasks involved with researching and creating sites. They use the latest keyword, site creation and search engine optimization tools available. The tools they use are their secret weapons.

3) Quit chasing the Mega Dollar keywords.

You cannot compete with the search engine experts who create sites for the $80 payout keywords. You may get lucky every now and then... but in the long run, you are better off building sites for the low to mid range payout keywords. The competition is less, and your chance of success is much higher over the long term.

4) Choose broad niches and break it down.

Choose a broad subject as your main theme (lets use computers for an example). From there... break it down into as many sub niches as possible.

Using Computers as the example... you could build sub niches/sites like laptop computers, computer hard drives, computer keyboards, etc, etc. You could literally build hundreds of sites around one major theme and stay totally focused. Once you have exhausted every possible sub niche of that major theme... choose another main theme and repeat the process.


Keep your sites easy to navigate and forget the fancy graphics that distract your visitors attention. Unless you are just building AdSense sites for the fun of it and to impress your friends... the purpose of having the site is to have people click on one of the ads, right? Then keep the site layout simple... dump the scrolling banners, dancing chickens and colored scroll bars... they are distractions.

6) What is the purpose of your web site?

Your web site cannot be everything to everybody. If you have a full fledged ecommerce site, with products for sale... links to other products, it is not a good site for AdSense. If the primary focus of the site is to sell products... let it do that.

Do not distract or confuse your visitor with to many options or choices. The best AdSense sites are AdSense only content sites that sell nothing. They are sites that "Tell"... not "Sell."

7) Be consistent.

This is not one of those deals where you build one site and you are done. Refer back to Step #4. You must continuously build in order to be successful.

Think of it as planting a crop that you will harvest in a month or two, and the sites you build are seeds. Once the seeds have grown and matured... you will reap the harvest. The more seeds you plant... the larger the harvest.

To sum it up... utilize the tools available to automate as much of the process of building sites - doing research and building keyword lists as you can. This alone will help keep you organized and on track. Be consistent in building... treat it like the business it is and you will reap the rewards of your harvest.

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The 10 Biggest Interview Killers

Joe Turner

When you're on a romantic dinner date, you try to avoid "mood killers" -- talking with a mouth full of food, cursing an ex-lover, or complaining about a foot ailment. During a job interview, you have to avoid similar spoilers if you want to make a good impression.

Here are 10 of the most common "advantage killers" and how you can steer clear of them during your next job interview.

1. Not knowing your aim. Too often candidates think their purpose in an interview is simply to ask for a job. Your goals are to demonstrate how you are a good fit for the organization, and to assess whether the job is really right for you.

2. Being too needy. Neediness is probably the No. 1 advantage-killer in an interview. Remind yourself before walking in the door: you do not need this job. You do need food, you do need air, and you do need water. Keep things in perspective.

3. Lousy nonverbal communication. This is about demonstrating confidence. Your first impression makes the difference. When you enter the interview room, stand up straight, make eye contact, and offer a strong handshake with your interviewer. If necessary, jot their name on your notepad as soon as you seat yourself. Do the same for any other individual you are meeting with.

4. Compromising your position. You should always participate in the interview as an equal, not a subordinate, of the person conducting the interview. Often this is a subtle matter of self-perception, so remind yourself before the interview.

5. Falling into the answers-only rut. An interview is a conversation. Don't just answer their questions. That's why you've prepared stories to highlight your accomplishments, which will be your moments to shine. When you do answer any questions, make sure that you answer immediately and follow up with a question of your own, if at all possible.

6. Rambling. Telling your interviewer more than they need to know could be fatal. Your stories should be 60 to 90 seconds long and they should have a relevant point. Focus, focus, focus. Stick with your rehearsed stories, your research, and the questions you need to ask. Don't fill up the silence with unnecessary talk.

7. Being overly familiar. A good interviewer will be skilled enough to put you at ease within the first 10 minutes of the interview. That doesn't mean that they have become your best friend. Don't let your guard down. You're there to interview them and get answers to your questions. Treat this from start to finish as the professional business meeting that it is.

8. Making incorrect assumptions. Points are not deducted at the interview for asking questions when you don't understand something. Don't guess at what your interviewer means. Effective interviewing is all about collecting information in real time, taking good notes, and responding only to the actual facts you've collected. If you find yourself making assumptions or guessing about something that was said, stop and ask for clarification before you answer.

9. Getting emotional. At times the interviewer may hit a nerve or consciously try to provoke you into an "outburst." Don't fall for it. Clear your mind of any fears or expectations, so you can maintain a calm, open-minded perspective at all times. When emotions enter into an interview, failure follows.
10. Not asking specific questions. You want to find out more about what this job is really about and whether you want it. Arrive with a list of several prepared questions about the company, the position, and the people who work there. Ask questions that begin with "what," "how," and "why." Avoid simple yes/no questions. Get your interviewer talking as much as possible, then take notes. Most interviewers are unimpressed by someone who has no questions.

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