How much time of both the school employees and the parents were literally WASTED over this "issue"? Whoever decided to make this into an issue should be fired. I would seriously laugh at the principle if they called me in for this and then pull my kid out of the school. How can a school that lacks basic common sense teach my child?

Boy Disciplined For Taking Tiny ‘Gun’ To School

Posted by on Feb 4th, 2010 and filed under Weird.  Pinging is currently not allowed.

 

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Patrick Timoney is 9 years old. Wednesday was his first day back at school, PS 52 on Staten Island, after the principal saw him Tuesday during lunch playing with some Lego figures and a toy gun, a very little toy gun. The parents were called to school. Patrick was crying.

“We didn’t know we had a problem until the principal called at around noon to let me know that Patrick had brought something to school. His Legos and apparently a tiny toy gun,” mother Laura Timoney said.

“We just had them out because me and my friends like to bring Legos to school and show each other. Then the principal found them and she saw the toy gun, which is a few inches long,” Patrick said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The principal reported that the student brought in a 2-inch toy gun, which is not permitted in the school. She called the parents and held a conference with the parent and the student. The issue has been resolved. The child will not be bringing the toy gun into school.”

Patrick’s father knows about guns. He is a retired police officer with 20 years on the job.

“Again, these rules are in place for a reason and we support that 100 percent,” Pat Timoney said. “It’s a two-inch gun, all right? I mean you have to squint to even see if it looks like a weapon. She went a little overboard with this.”

The Timoneys hope that now that they have made a point, that things can get back to normal for their boy at PS 52.

The parents are also upset that the principal made their son write a statement, without them being present.


Read more: Boy Disciplined For Taking Tiny ‘Gun’ To School | Naples News

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Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson made some more headlines on cable TV Wednesday night, telling former Vice President Dick Cheney to "STFU."

That's an internet acronym used for "shut the f--- up." Grayson was responding to Cheney's criticism of President Obama's patriotism on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews." (Watch video below)

Grayson also took aim at former President Bush after the subject of President Obama's bow to the emperor of Japan came up.

"I remember Bush Jr. kissing (Saudi) Prince Abdullah on the cheek and then holding his hand for an extended period of time," Grayson said. "Maybe if he had let him get to second base then gas would only be a dollar a gallon."

Andy Sere from the National Republican Congressional Committee quickly responded. "The foul mouthed man-child from Orlando is at it again, taking to the airwaves to bring shame to struggling Central Florida families who want jobs, not nut-jobs. But speaking of bases, Alan Grayson's constituents surely find themselves wishing his parents had never gotten past first."

How can they extend the benefits when they have no money? Eventually these people getting unemployment are going to have to get off their ass and take a job that they may think is "beneath them".Getting unemployment for 99 weeks is MORE than enough time to find a job, even if it's a crappy job at Walmart. Enough is enough.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, it just seems to me that 2 years is a very long time and should be a sufficient time to find employment. Or am I out of line?

 

(12-08) 16:28 PST -- Nearly 600,000 jobless Californians could run out of unemployment benefits by April unless Congress extends a series of special assistance measures that expire at the end of December, says the National Employment Law Project.

The 65 percent federal subsidy for Cobra benefits will also expire at year's end, said the Law Project and allied groups at a press conference Monday in Washington.

Law Project chief Christine Owens said that nearly half of those now enrolled in the health insurance program could lose coverage unless the Cobra subsidy is reauthorized and extended.

Unemployment benefits normally last a maximum of 26 weeks and laid-off workers typically pay for continuing their old employment-based health insurance under Cobra.

But under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the Obama stimulus plan, Congress allocated $40 billion to make unemployment benefits available for up to 79 weeks, and another $25 billion to subsidize Cobra.

Lawmakers recently added up to 20 weeks of unemployment checks, for a total of 99 weeks of benefits in California.

But those provisions expire at the end of December, and the groups holding Monday's press conference said that by the end of March, about 3 million Americans are projected to exhaust their benefits as the unemployment coverage maximum reverts to 26 weeks.

Making 99 weeks of unemployment benefits available throughout 2010 would cost about $85 billion, and extending the Cobra subsidy could be another $25 billion decision, said a Capitol Hill source.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to extend both programs before the end of the year. New bills H.R. 4183 and S. 2381 would address jobless benefits.

 

The Surge to Impose Online Sales Taxes

The Surge to Impose Online Sales Taxes

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As states and Congress move to make e-tailers collect sales taxes, Overstock.com and eBay oppose them while Amazon.com calls for uniformity

Amazon tax fever is spreading. In the months since a New York State law took effect that imposes sales taxes on products promoted through Web sites based in the state, other governments have moved to get in on the action, and online retailers aren’t happy.

Last year, New York became the first state to pass legislation requiring large Web-based retailers, including Amazon.com (AMZN) and Overstock.com (OSTK), to collect state sales taxes on products promoted through affiliated state-based Web sites. Cash-strapped states across the country are mulling similar legislation and a federal online-sales tax bill that may be introduced in Congress could be signed into law as early as this year.

The growing impetus for taxes on online goods has touched off a flurry of lobbying activity and lawsuits from online retailers hoping to defeat legislation that would take away some of the price advantage they enjoy over brick-and-mortar retailers. “”We’ll do everything in our power to assist our sellers so they are not harmed,” says Tod Cohen, deputy general counsel and vice-president for government relations at eBay (EBAY). “We want to make sure than small businesses aren’t strangled in their cribs.”

State Sales tax collections are down

States and local governments hope sales taxes would help them recoup part of the revenue lost amid a recession that has diminished property values and crimped demand for items sold in stores. In the fourth quarter, state sales tax collections dropped 4%, the steepest decline in 50 years, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. Online sales taxes could help states generate at least $52 billion in added revenue over the next six years, according to an Apr. 13 study conducted by three University of Tennessee professors. Requiring virtual stores to collect taxes, even in parts of the country where they don’t have physical operations, would also place e-tailers on a more even footing with brick-and-mortar stores such as Wal-Mart (WMT), which collect sales taxes on in-store as well as online purchases.

Companies that sell products over the Internet say the taxes would hamper growth. “The introduction and passage of an Internet tax bill would have adverse effects on e-commerce,” George Askew, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus , wrote in a recent note. After New York’s law was passed, Overstock.com says it had to terminate agreements with some 3,400 Web sites that once promoted the closeout retailer in the Empire State.

Overstock ceased operating in New York altogether, says the company’s president, Jonathan E. Johnson III. After losing a court battle seeking to repeal the law, Overstock plans to file an appeal in the coming weeks, Johnson says. “These states are signing up for a lawsuit, or for businesses to pull out of their states,” he says.

Cover the E-Tailers collection costs?

Overstock, along with eBay, is leading the charge against efforts on Capitol Hill that favor online sales taxes. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Representative Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) are expected to introduce a bill aimed at overturning Quill vs. North Dakota, a 1992 Supreme Court case that concluded states can only require retailers to collect state taxes in territories where they have offices or stores. If passed, the legislation could require all but the smallest retailers to collect sales taxes in the 23 states that are part of the so-called Streamlined Sales Tax Project, which unifies states that have agreed to simplify their sales tax laws. The number of states in the Project is expected to rise rapidly in the coming months.

Under the bill, which is still being drafted, the states would compensate e-tailers for the cost of collecting taxes, and would agree not to prosecute them for tax errors, removing much of the liability, says Neal Osten, federal affairs counsel at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is helping to draft the bill. Stifel analysts are skeptical that the bill will pass, though they believe it will make more headway in the current Democratic-controlled Congress. “The effort appears to have a somewhat better chance than in prior Congresses,” Blair Levin, managing director at Stifel, wrote in a recent report.

Laws that vary by state would no doubt be a headache for companies that sell products online across the country. In the coming days, Minnesota’s House of Representatives is due to consider a bill introduced by Representative Jim Davnie that would levy a sales tax on digital downloads of e-books, music, movies, and even ringtones. The tax would affect a wide range of tech companies, including Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL). “There’s clear opposition from the IT industry,” Davnie says. “Apple, Microsoft have been in my office.” Microsoft declined to comment for this story. Apple couldn’t immediately be contacted.

Amazon.com Wants Tax Uniformity

Some Internet players oppose pro-tax efforts by local governments too. Priceline.com (PCNL) has about 50 lawsuits pending that involve various cities and counties trying to impose local hotel occupancy taxes on the site’s customers, says Darrel Hieber, partner at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which has represented Priceline in such cases since 2004.

While Amazon.com opposes the New York State law, it supports efforts to impose taxes in a uniform manner. “We’d be O.K. with a mandatory collection requirement as long as the states’ tax systems were truly simplified and the collection evenhandedly applied,” Amazon.com spokeswoman Patricia Smith writes in an e-mail. Many small businesses are also making peace with the notion. “We think it’s fair for people to collect sales taxes on the same terms [as brick-and-mortar small businesses],” says Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Assn. “There’s a need for a comprehensive, national approach to this. There’s got to be some final resolution to this because these issues have been festering for years.”

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The European Extremely Large Telescope will be the first optical telescope capable of picking out the weak pinpricks of light that are reflected from planets as they orbit stars.

Astronomers claim the huge instrument, which will house a mirror the width of five double decker buses placed end to end, will be able to spot rocky Earth-like planets up to 100 million million miles away.

The telltale signatures in the light coming from such planets could also reveal whether there is water on their surfaces, which gases are in their atmospheres, and even if they may harbour life itself.

It will be the first time planets outside our own solar system have been seen using light from their surface. Current telescopes are not powerful enough to detect even giant planets in this way as the light they reflect is overwhelmed by far brighter stars.

The 1 billion euro (£700 million) E-ELT will have more mirror glass than all the other telescopes in the world put together.

It is expected to be so powerful that if astronomers were to use it to peer at the Moon, they would be able to see the car sized lunar rover that was left on the moon by astronauts during the Apollo missions.

With such high resolution, scientists believe they will be able to see Earth-like planets that orbit stars within a region known as the habitable zone, an area far enough away from the star around which it orbits to not be too hot to support life, but also not to far away and too cold.

As astronomers this year celebrate 400 years since Galileo first used a telescope with a lens just an inch wide to study the heavens, British scientists on Thursday presented the detailed scientific case for building the new giant telescope which will be four times larger than any other telescope yet built.

Isobel Hook, joint chair of the E-ELT science working group and an astronomer at Oxford University, said: “The astronomy community has been moving towards building progressively bigger telescopes to get sharper images.

“The resolution of the ELT is going to allow us to see objects and structures in the universe that we have been blind to until know.”

There are currently 344 known planets outside our own solar system which have been detected indirectly by looking for changes in light coming from stars as the planets pass in front of them. Almost all are gas giants similar to Jupiter.

The E-ELT, which will gather more than 15 times more light than telescopes currently in operation, will be able to directly see small rocky planets as they orbit their stars.

By analysing the spectrum of the light reflected from these planets, it should also be possible to determine whether they have water or even vegetation on the surface.

Professor Andrew Cameron, an astronomer at University of St Andrews, said: “If they live up to the design goal, we will be able to detect Earth-like planets tens of light years away.

“There are lots of stars within that range, so there is real potential for finding a terrestrial planet that could sustain life.”

Construction of the E-ELT, which is being funded by the European Southern Observatory, an international research organisation made up of 14 European countries including Britain, is expected to start in 2010 and the telescope is due to be operational by 2018.

A decision on where the telescope will be located is to be taken at the end of this year. Candidates include La Palma in the Canary Islands and Chile.

The E-ELT will use 906 hexagonal segments – each four and a half feet across – that will be pieced together to work together as a single mirror housed inside a giant rotatable dome. Each segment will have to be continually adjusted by computers to produce a single image.

In the past, optical telescopes on Earth have also been hindered by turbulence in the atmosphere which can leave images of stars and galaxies slightly fuzzy.

This problem led to astronomers building expensive space telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope which can operate outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Astronomers behind the E-ELT, however, plan to use new technology that could make future space telescopes unnecessary.

They propose to use powerful lasers positioned at several points around the giant mirror that will be fired more than 55 miles up through the atmosphere to create a faint “artificial star”.

This artificial star can then be used to measure the level of blurring that the atmosphere is causing and a special deformable mirror can be adjusted to compensate.

Scientists claim this will allow them to achieve some of the clearest images of our universe ever achieved from the surface of the planet.

Colin Cunningham, director of the E-ELT programme in the UK, said: “There will be more glass in this telescope than there is in all the other telescopes currently in use around the world put together.

“The detail it will allow us to see is four times greater than we can currently get. It is very exciting.”

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Are We On the Brink of Finding a Second Earth? NASA/Harvard Teams Say “It Could Happen Anytime Now”

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“It could happen almost any time now. We now have the technological capability to identify Earth-like planets around the smallest stars.”

David Latham -Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

To date, Planet hunters have spotted more than 200 planets beyond our solar system, but the vast majority are hot, Jupiter-sized planets that would dwarf the Earth and are almost certainly lifeless.

Astronomers may be on the brink of discovering a second Earth-like planet, a find that would add fresh impetus to the search for extraterrestrial life, according to the US journal Science. Astronomers from six major centers, including NASA, Harvard and the University of Colorado, outline how advances in technology suggest scientists are on the verge of being able to detect the presence of small, rocky planets, much like our own, around distant stars for the first time. The planets are considered the most likely habitats for extraterrestrial life.

One technique relies on observing the shift in light coming from a star as a planet swings around it. Until recently, this “radial velocity” method has only been sensitive enough to pick up planets far more massive than Earth, but improvements now make the discovery of a second Earth highly likely, said Dave Latham, a co-author on the paper at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“It could happen almost any time now. We have the technological capability to identify Earth-like planets around the smallest stars even now,” he said.

Earlier this year, the world’s largest and most prolific team of planet hunters, the Anglo-Australian, California and Carnegie Planet Searches ( AAPS), reported their findings of 37 exoplanets that have been discovered over the past couple of years, 7 of which were previously unreported brown dwarfs.

Depending on whose number you go by, the total number of exoplanets currently discovered is 212 or 240, the majority of which have been discovered by the AAPS and their colleagues in the California and Carnegie searches.

The method of discovery primarily implemented is studying the Doppler wobble of stars. As a planet orbits its parent star, its gravitational pull causes the star to wobble. Using the Doppler Effect, the scientists are able to determine the velocity of the planet. When the planet moves away from Earth, its star moves toward the Earth, causing it to emit shorter wavelengths, which appear bluer. The opposite is true as well; as a planet moves closer to Earth, its star moves further away, emitting longer (redder) wavelengths of light. The AAPS uses highly advanced, sensitive spectographs to record these very small wavelengths.

But there are things that Doppler searches cannot tell researchers. With Doppler readings, they are able to calculate the velocities of the planets being studied as they move towards and away from the Earth. What Doppler readings are unable tell researchers are the angles of inclination of the orbital planet to the line of sight. This is important information because by being able to calculate the angles of inclination of the orbiting planet, scientists are able to determine the actual physical size of the planet.

The AAPS has developed a technique to find the angle of inclination: transit searches. Transit searches are a relatively new technique which has only just begun giving them results within the past few years. As a planet transits in front of its parent star, passing our line of sight from Earth, scientists are able to calculate its angle of inclination, thereby determining its eccentricity (how elliptical or round its orbital path is). In the years to come, the method of transit searches should advance, resulting in more information about already discovered planets.

Although the next generation of techniques such as interferometric astrometry and direct imaging will be the most promising new methods of detection in the future study and discovery of extrasolar planets, as Chris Tinney of AAPS explains, the most successful and powerful form of study currently in use is complementing Doppler searches with transit searches. By doing so, “You can essentially know everything you can know about a planet. You know exactly its mass and its radius, which means you can work out its density,” and therefore, “you can make estimates as to whether it’s a gas giant or an ice giant planet, or whether it’s rocky.”

As these techniques develop, the smaller and smaller the extrasolar planets being discovered will become.

So when does Tinney expect an Earth-sized planet discovery, now that they’ve gotten down to Venus-sized planets when once they only found those with a mass that of Jupiter’s?

Tinney thinks that “finding a planet of Earth mass is probably a only couple of years away. But…”—and he emphasizes the “but,” pausing for a moment—“there’s always a ‘but.’” As he explains, all of the things they are finding of very low mass are moving in very short orbital periods, which means that they are orbiting close to their parent stars. So although there they are like Earth in terms of their mass and size, these planets are very unlike the Earth in terms of their orbit.

“To find an Earth-mass planet in an Earth-like orbit is just not going to happen with the Doppler technique,” Tinney states. It is simply beyond the technology currently developed. Essentially, it would mean that they would need to be performing measurements 100 times better than any technology is capable of doing.

So does this rule out the possibility of finding a habitable planet?

Not quite. There is a “trick” to planet hunting. Scientists can look for Earth-mass planets in short period orbits around lower mass stars. These types of stars are called M dwarfs and have a mass one tenth the size of the Sun, which means that the velocity signal is ten times larger, and therefore the radius at which the planet must be from the star in order to have water or liquid on its surface is much smaller. For now, it’s Tinney’s opinion that some of the recent reports about habitable planets being discovered “is more hype than reality,” but that the discovery of such planets “will come in due course.”

In fact, that’s precisely what Tinney is currently working on, aside from his AAPS commitment. He has convinced the Gemini Observatory—a collaboration of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina—to build a spectrograph on one of its largest class of telescopes. In order to perform the types of studies needed to find other Earth-mass planets, scientists would need to being studying the near infrared, rather than the green wavelengths of visible light. This new Gemini spectrograph, called the Precision Radial Velocity Spectrometer, will specifically be designed to do very high precision Doppler work in the near infrared, rather than the optical. Once that type of technology is developed, Tinney believes that rather than finding the occasional one or two Earth-sized planets around M dwarf stars, finding more and more “will be much more straightforward,” thereby dispelling some of the current hype and allowing scientists to gather actual statistics about these types of systems.

NASA’s mantra of “follow the water” has defined the search for extraterrestrial life on and other planets. If water is crucial for life, then the most likely sanctuaries will be planets which lie in a “habitable zone” just the right distance from a star, so that it is neither so hot that water evaporates, or so cold that it remains permanently frozen.

Dr Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center said missions such as Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, which launched in early March, would have a high chance of finding Earth-like planets if they are out there.

“These are the biggest questions. Are there habitable abodes? Are we alone?” he said. “Put it like this. If we don’t find anything, I’ll have to rethink my agnosticism.”

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The troubled US insurance giant has bowed to demands to restructure its bonus payments to its employees.

Top level bonuses to its executive staff are to be dramatically cut this year according to a letter sent by Edward Liddy, AIG’s Chairman to the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

The letter confirmed that 2008 bonuses would be paid because the company had no choice.  These were legally binding payouts, which were being honored despite being bailed out by the taxpayer.

It is still believed to be the biggest-ever government rescue of a US company.  American International Group (AIG) plays a key role in insuring risk for financial institutions around the world and was seen to be too important to fail.

In the letter, Mr Liddy said he had come under pressure from the Treasury to reduce the firm’s bonus payments.  He said bonuses agreed to in 2008, before the firm’s problems became known, could not legally be blocked.

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“Under the current circumstances, I do not like these arrangements and find it distasteful and difficult to recommend to you that we must proceed with them.” Said Liddy in his letter.

AIG had promised to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to staff for the year 2008.

AIG would do its best to cut bonuses by at least 30% in 2009, Mr Liddy wrote to Mr Geithner.

Additionally US President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser has said “outrageous” conduct at AIG as the bailed-out insurance giant prepared to hand out millions in bonuses to top executives.

Lawrence Summers, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, has said the Obama administration had “scaled back” the bonuses but said its hands were tied by contract law in how far it could go.

“There are a lot of terrible things that have happened in the last 18 months, but what’s happened at AIG is the most outrageous, what that company did,” he said on US television.

But Mr Summers added: “We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts.

“Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by (Treasury) Secretary (Timothy) Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system. And they have, as a result of Secretary Geithner’s efforts, been scaled back.”

A white paper prepared by the company says that AIG is contractually obligated to pay a total of about $165 million of previously awarded “retention pay” to employees in this unit by March 15. The document says that another $55 million in retention pay has already been distributed to about 400 AIG Financial Products employees.

Mr Liddy has reportedly told Mr Geithner the bonuses cannot be cancelled due to a risk of lawsuits for breach of employment contracts, and AIG risks an exodus of senior employees if it does not pay out bonuses.

Mr Summers appeared to lend some credence to that argument.  “There is one other reality we have to recognize, which is that these companies have to be enabled to function, if the government is going to maximize the prospect of getting its money back.”

Massive losses at the division in London have forced the US government to pump about $150 billion into crippled AIG, and it is planning another emergency injection of $30 billion.

Condemnation of the planned bonuses came from both sides of politics.  “It is an outrageous situation,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, while accusing the Obama administration of dodging culpability.

Start-Up Promises More Game Realism

Engineers Say Technology Will Speed Production of Film-Like 3-D Images

A start-up founded by former Apple Inc. engineers said it has developed technology that could bring film-like realism to computer games and change the way movie makers and other design professionals work.

The San Francisco company, Caustic Graphics Inc., plans to exploit a technique called ray-tracing that generates extremely accurate three-dimensional images. Ray-tracing is a mainstay of Hollywood studios, but remains out of reach for most PC users. A single image can take hours to generate; rendering a film can take months on hundreds of server systems.

Computer games and other PC software typically rely on a technology called rasterization. Though the results keep getting more realistic, developing an interactive form of ray-tracing has been a longtime quest in the computer industry.

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Caustic Graphics’ technology helps computer-generated images look more like photographs.

Caustic, whose name refers to light rays reflecting off a curved object, says it is close to achieving that goal. The company says its software and chips allow graphics chips to carry out ray-tracing calculations at a 20-fold speed-up compared with existing PC hardware. It said it expects to deliver chips by early 2010 that will be about 200 times faster.

In a demonstration, Caustic executives manipulated a photo-quality image of a sports car, removing components and changing lighting and background settings to change reflections on the vehicle’s surface.

“It’s the first honest acceleration of ray-tracing I’ve seen,” said Jon Peddie, a market researcher in Tiburon, Calif., who specializes in graphics technology.

Caustic faces many challenges. They include larger competitors and the need to persuade PC users to buy a second add-in card containing its chips, in addition to conventional graphics accelerators.

Caustic is largely the brainchild of James McCombe, a 26-year-old native of Northern Ireland who worked on graphics technology used in Apple’s iPhone and iPod. He left in 2006 with two other Apple engineers to form Caustic, a closely held company that employs 35 people and has raised \$11 million.

Mr. McCombe said graphics chips have hundreds of specialized calculating engines that are particularly good at rasterization, which converts three-dimensional models into pixels on a computer screen. Ray-tracing, by contrast, emulates the ways light rays bounce off objects in a scene. Graphics chips can’t easily handle those complex calculations, which require extensive communication between processors. Caustic has developed ways to keep data flowing to them efficiently, Mr. McCombe said.

Armed with the technology, Caustic executives say, designers who now work with the software equivalent of stick figures could manipulate realistic designs — without having to stop to render their images periodically. “This would really represent a breakthrough for us,” said Ron Frankel, president of Proof Inc., which develops “pre-visualizations” to show film directors and designers how movie scenes might be shot.

The company hopes to initially target architects, engineers and animators, and later entertainment applications on PCs and gaming consoles. Mr. McCombe expects accelerator cards using its chips to cost about the same as existing graphics accelerators, adding that its circuitry eventually could be combined with graphics chips. High-end graphics cards typically cost several hundred dollars.

But exploiting Caustic’s chips will require modifications to existing ray-tracing programs. Other companies, meanwhile, are finding ways to do ray-tracing using the microprocessors in PCs, rather than graphics chips. One is Bunkspeed Inc., which has a program called HyperShot that can make photo-quality images from three-dimensional computer models.

Philip Lunn, Bunkspeed’s chief executive, says that Caustic also faces potential competition from larger chip makers that include Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp. The latter is collaborating with Mental Images GmbH, a software maker Nvidia acquired in 2007, to accelerate ray-tracing using graphics chips.

Mr. McCombe “is one of the smartest people in the business,” says Rolf Herken, Mental Images’ chief executive and chief technology officer. But “whether Caustic will have an impact on the design of future chips, that is an open question,” he added.

Write to Don Clark at don.clark@wsj.com

US shares fall below 7,000 level to 12-year low

The global rout in global stocks spread to the US market today, sending America’s blue chip index plunging below the 7,000-mark for the first time since April 1997.

As Gordon Brown, Britain’s Prime Minister, headed to Washington for talks with President Obama to examine ways of lifting the world out of recession, the Dow Jones industrial average touched its lowest level for 12 years and lost 209.71 points, or 3 per cent, to 6,851.37.

In London, the leading FTSE 100 index took a fall of 204.26 points, or 5.2 per cent, to close at 3,625.83, — a six-year low — sparked by fears over the banking sector after HSBC detailed plans to raise £12.5 billion in the largest cash call in UK corporate history. Investors were also continuing to reel over a sharp contraction in the US economy during the final three months of 2008.

HSBC’s cash call dragged other bank shares lower, and sent investors running for cover in Europe, where France’s CAC index lost 4.48 per cent and the DAX in Germany shed 3.25 per cent.
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* Bank fears send FTSE 100 to six-year low

* AIG unveils $62bn loss, the largest in US history

* HSBC shares dive 19% on record £12.5bn cash call

Concerns over the global financial sector sparked the sale in US shares, after AIG, the US insurance, reported a quarterly loss of $62 billion, the largest in American history, as well as securing a further $30 billion in government funding.

Freddie Mac also announced that it had netted a further funding from the Government, believed to be between $30 billion and $35 billion as it announced that David Moffett, the chief executive drafted in by the Bush administration to oversee the struggling insurance group, was leaving after only five months in charge.

In the UK, aside from fears about HSBC, investors were also anxious about this week’s Bank of England interest rate decision, when borrowing costs are expected to be cut by a further half percentage point to a new low of 0.5 per cent.

It is also widely expected that the Bank will go ahead with plans to begin quantitative easing, which is a method to increase money supply into the British economy.

Darren Winder, equity strategist at Cazenove, the broker, said: “The capital rising from HSBC is obviously a major market issue. But more generally it is the weakness of the US market from Friday that is weighing heavily on the markets.

“The big picture is still one of a profit picture, which is under strong downward pressure and people are finding it very difficult to get comfortable with valuations against that sort of backdrop.”

At the weekend Warren Buffet, the legendary investor and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said the economy would remain a “shambles” during 2009 and beyond.

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