May 31, 2009

Wise up to waste

FOR every five bags of groceries consumers buy, one ends up in the bin. Three million tonnes of food waste is generated in Australia each year.

Experts say more conscientious shopping, cooking and storage of food could save Australian families $6 billion a year.

In 2005, the Australia Institute looked at what we threw out: $2.9 billion of fresh fruit and vegetables, $876 million in leftovers and $630 million in uneaten takeaway food.

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics says food costs are up 4 per cent, so food waste makes no sense.

"We have become incredibly wasteful and lazy, yet our grandmothers wasted nothing," says Planet Ark founder Jon Dee, who is behind Do Something, a group that aims to educate consumers.

"The one good thing to come out of the recession is that people are rethinking our wasteful ways," Mr Dee says of their Foodwise campaign, sponsored by Tupperware.

The company has a vested interest in teaching people how to store food, but, Mr Dee says, storage is vital.

"If you can store food properly, it lasts longer," he says.

The environmental impact of food waste is also an enormous issue.

"When discarded food rots in landfill, it releases methane gas, which is 23 times more potent than the carbon exhaust," he says.

Buying only what you need is the key, so a shopping list is a must.

The Foodwise website has hints on what to do with food you may normally throw out, such as the bendy carrot, wilted celery and sprouting onions.

Combined in a pot with water, you have the perfect base for soups, casseroles or a plain stock that can be frozen.

Mother-of-two Fiona Gaven is happiest tilling the soil in her inner-city backyard.

"Every square centimetre is growing vegies or herbs," Ms Gaven says.

The four chickens that lay three to four eggs a day eat most of her food scraps.

She is also fighting a private waste-not-want-not campaign and saving money.

"I get the grocer to put aside any old tomatoes and he sells them to me for $1 a kilo. It's so much cheaper than normal," she says.

"Most people throw out old tomatoes, but they make a fantastic soup, pasta sauce or paste for pizzas. All can be frozen."

To visit the the Value hunter's site, click here.

May 28, 2009

GFC tops clear and present dangers

THERE are several fashionable views about the global financial crisis. There's the knee-jerk reaction that this is a terrible calamity wreaked upon mankind by a vengeful God looking to punish those who committed consumerist sins during the boom. So repay debt and repent now.

There's also the view that this crisis is the Great Comeuppance for Generation Y -- that entire generation of affected and feckless 20-somethings "who wouldn't know the meaning of a hard day's work".

Mind you, I am sure that Generation Y regard the global financial crisis as proof positive of the greed and incompetence of old people (anyone over the age of 40).

And let's not forget our Green friends who are mightily peeved with the GFC. They had a nice thing going from 2006 onwards, what with Al Gore's movie and the scary prognostications of the Stern report. In fact, climate change was a first-order issue in Australia and in Britain throughout the whole of 2007 and into 2008.

But then along came the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September and suddenly the prospect of environmental Armageddon paled in comparison with the more immediate threat of a global financial meltdown.

I mean, how can the climate-change lobby compete: "Sea levels will rise by one metre by the end of the century" versus "The threat of immediate unemployment and loss of the family home".

When faced with two equally worthy Armageddons -- one of the environmental persuasion, the other economic -- the more immediate will always prevail. The climate people really do need to bring forward their forecasts of calamity. Something by September is desperately needed to subvert the public relations lead already secured by the GFC.

And on this point the Green people really should have done their homework. They have no world-ending scenario that can be neatly explained by a three-letter acronym. Something along the lines of RSL (Rising Sea Level) syndrome should have been launched to the market about three years ago.

Thank God the marketing of swine flu was bungled. It started out as plain old swine flu and then it morphed into the edgy alphanumeric H1N1 within days, but all this did was dilute the scare factor.

Remember: if you are going to scare the world, get your message and acronym right first up.

With a bit of luck the world economy will be back on track by the end of the year and Green issues can reclaim their rightful position as a first-order concern.

But for the moment, the environment must take a back seat.

I know, I know. Green issues are always important and if we don't act now then the planet's future is imperilled.

But the problem is that there's just too much scary stuff out there for the average Joe to absorb.

This doesn't mean the community is not sympathetic to the Green cause. It's more that our capacity to absorb has been diluted by a multiplicity of threatening world issues.

Think about it. Soon after the turn of the century there was the threat of Osama bin Laden, then avian flu, then SARS, then the GFC and now swine flu. (Have I forgotten Mad Cow disease or was that last decade?)

I don't know who the God of Armageddon is but you'd think he'd (disaster has to be male) pace things out a bit: you know, one global threat to mankind a decade.

You have to admit Y2K was a well-conceived product that was brilliantly executed in the lead-up to the new millennium.

But this good work has been spoiled by someone up there cramming too many disaster threats into a single decade.

Reflect on the Y2K phenomenon. It was pitched perfectly: this is the sale of a prospect, not of a fact. And this prospect was managed and interpreted by gurus (IT specialists) who demanded blood sacrifices (budget allocation) to allay the fears of trembling masses. Deliver us gold or we will allow planes to drop from the sky.

In fact, so successful was this idea of selling a threat that I think the God of Armageddon got a taste for celebrity. He got a liking for the limelight in the 1990s and then continued to spin the scare market this decade just to keep the punters on their toes.

Of course this is not to say that all threats (climate, disease, terrorism) are neither real nor important. Rather, the purpose of my argument is to ask whether the response to this week's global threat is proportionate to the scale of the threat that is actually posed. Do we ever really ask that question?

To some extent I think our fearfulness is a consequence of the 24-hour news cycle. If there's a new disease outbreak in Mexico City then we immediately shudder in Australia. A decade or more ago I don't think Australians would have connected as strongly with this threat.

If a glacier calves off Antarctica, the only explanation offered is that global warming is accelerating. And when there's more good vision of the same thing in a month's time, it will mean the threat is accelerating even faster. The whole process leads to a whipping of public opinion into a fearful frenzy.

I think Y2K will eventually be viewed as the first successful global fear product. It was a commercial success for those involved in stemming its impact. There were government departments and budgetary allocations in both the private and public sectors to prevent what we were told might happen.

And when it didn't happen it was all because of the investment. Beautiful. I'll have one of those every decade thank you very much. But the public appetite for scary computer stuff is probably a tad fatigued.

And this is where reality and irrational fear intersect. There are real issues associated with terrorism, climate change and infection. And until the GFC, we didn't know the economy offered another layer of fear.

The issue is that we now seem to so easily get things out of proportion.

I think there is something deep inside the human psyche that revels in the threat of fear. And the reason is that fear is a galvanising force.

We feel connected with others when we fear something or someone from without.

One of the great legacies of the GFC may be a yearning for the connectedness of family, tribe and community. And why not? After all, it is said that the generation that survived the Great Depression and World War II were forever frugal, and that they were hierarchical and self-disciplined because of the war.

From a business perspective, what this ascendant "market for fear" might mean is a renewed interest in connected residential communities. Master-planned estates, golf-course estates and even gated communities would naturally fit into this paradigm of a fearful post-recession world.

Research hogs 'rort' the system

TOP universities were using marriages of convenience with medical research institutes to inflate their research income and prestige and to secure an unfair slice of sought-after block funds for infrastructure, university chief Ross Milbourne said.

Professor Milbourne, chairman of the Australian Technology Network of universities, sharply criticised thepractice as a "rort" and a "rip-off".

But front-rank universities such as Sydney and Melbourne rejected what they said was a misguided assault on the realities of modern, collaborative science, with the potential to set back vital research into health and medicine.

The controversy, which is marked by strong disagreements at many levels and uncertainty about the exact arrangements between universities and their research partners, is coming to a head after lobbying of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr.

A joint government-university review of how research income is reported began this month under the leadership of Edwina Cornish, representing deputy vice-chancellors for research, and Anne Byrne, from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. The review should finish in mid-August.

If a university can report to Canberra more income from grants, such as National Health and Medical Research Council grants, it will do better in the competition for limited federal block funds intended to pay for research infrastructure at universities.

May 26, 2009

Optus admits false broadband advertising

Optus has been slashing broadband speeds to half the level advertised for customers who exceed their monthly download allowance.

Customers of Optus's "Naked" ADSL broadband plans have their internet speeds throttled down to 64kbps for the rest of the month once they exceed their 7GB, 15GB or 30GB monthly allowance.

This is half the speed of 128kbps that is listed in the terms and conditions published on the Optus website and about the same speed offered by ancient dial-up modems.

Many internet providers significantly reduce speeds for customers who download too much, rather than charging high fees for excess usage.

However, with Australians increasingly using the internet to consume rich media content, they are finding they are using all of their monthly data allowance more quickly than ever before.

They then have to make do for the rest of the month with greatly reduced internet speeds, so whether the speeds are capped at 64kbps or 128kbps is seen as an important consideration.

Optus admitted the false advertising, saying an error was made in the terms and conditions published on its website. The error has now been fixed.

It said all of its "Naked Broadband" customers would be "contacted directly to advise them of the error, offering them the opportunity to cancel their contract without penalty".

The discrepancy was first picked up by a reader of APC magazine, Michael Sanchez, who said he signed up to Optus broadband only because he thought his connection would be slowed just to 128kbps, which is enough for basic web access.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission did not respond to calls requesting comment.

However, at a communications conference in March, the regulator's chairman, Graeme Samuel, said he was "putting the telecommunications industry on notice".

"Misleading advertising, unfair contracts, inadequate disclosure and subscription scams are all in the ACCC's sights. Standards must improve or risk increased scrutiny and action," he said

May 24, 2009

Study shows depressed people see the world differently

Depression doesn't make brown eyes blue, but it can change visual perception, according to Tel Aviv University researchers. A team headed by Dr. Uri Polat of TAU's Goldschleger Eye Institute compared the visual perception of healthy people to those hospitalized for depression. The clinically depressed lacked the ability to fill in parts of a picture when those parts were missing or faint.

"Vision is processed in the brain, and we already know that depression affects cognitive functioning," says Polat. The new results linking depression to eyesight could result in a new tool to accurately diagnose depression."

To investigate the effects of depression on visual perception, he developed a test that let him assess "the filling-in process" that a healthy mind performs when looking at objects. The researchers asked 27 control subjects and 32 patients hospitalized for depression to look at identical images and report what they saw. The control subjects were able to "see" missing parts, while the depressed ones were not.

"We see with our brain, not with our eyes; the eye is only the tool," says Polat, who studied the brain activity of subjects during the experiment. He found unusual patterns emerging: The brain activity of depressed people looked different from that of the control group. He and his team are now looking at ways to turn brain signals into an objective tool, both in diagnostics and for monitoring the course of treatment. Visual perception tests might give psychiatrists a better way to diagnose depression. Currently there is no non-biased test to assess whether someone is clinically depressed. Diagnostic questionnaires can produce inaccurate results, denying patients medication or hospitalization.

The study may also assist psychiatrists in monitoring the effects of anti-depressants such as Prozac; it could take days instead of the six weeks it now requires to know whether a medication is suitable. The team have decided to develop an EEG (electroencephalograph) test that could be used to scan brain activity for the signature signs of depression. Such a standardized tool could save the healthcare system a great deal of money in costs resulting from misdiagnosis, and would give depressed people peace of mind, says Polat. "Knowing the severity of one's condition could help a depressed patient decide when to medicate, and then to know whether the medication is working. It could also help psychiatrists better understand depression in children, and in people who have multiple dysfunctions that prevent them from communicating their feelings, he said

May 20, 2009

TAU physicist's 'infrared fibers' can defend water supplies from chemoterrorism

A Tel Aviv University physicist has developed a system to monitor the safety of a building's or community's water supply in real time, which could combat the threat of contamination due to industrial spillage, natural disaster or sabotage.

Although most people take the safety of their drinking water for granted, ordinary tap water could become deadly within minutes, says Prof. Abraham Katzir of Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy.

Modifying special fibers developed in his lab, Katzir can detect "colors" in the infrared spectrum that distinguish between pure and contaminated water. Connected to a commercial infrared spectrometer, the fibers serve as sensors that can detect and notify authorities immediately if a contaminant has entered a water reservoir, system, building or pipeline.

In the lab, the fiberoptic system detected poisons, such as pesticides, in amounts well below the World Health Organization safety threshold. Preliminary field experiments have already been done at several European sites, and the results were reported recently in the Journal of Applied Spectroscopy.

Once in use, the sensor system would be one of the first real-time water monitors to provide protection from chemoterrorism attacks - a threat to which water supplies in places like the US are particularly susceptible.

"It's unlikely that someone will poison the water supply in Afghanistan," says Katzir, "but America is in grave danger and needs to arm itself against chemical threats to its drinking water.

"With our naked eyes we can't distinguish between pure water and water that contains a small amount of alcohol or acetone. They're all clear. We can't do it even with a spectrophotometer, which measures visible colors," explains Katzir.

"But we can clearly distinguish between liquids using an infrared spectrometer which can distinguish between 'colors' in the invisible infrared spectrum."

The special fiber sensors make it possible to monitor the quality of water in a remote location, such as a lake, a river, or a pipeline, and detect trace amounts of contaminants in real time, adds Katzir.

Water management executives in Florida's Everglades and officials in Germany are among those who have expressed an interest in using the technology.

"Toxic materials are readily available as pesticides or herbicides in the agriculture industry, and can be harmful if consumed even in concentrations as low as few parts per million," says Katzir.

Cities like New York are especially susceptible to a chemoterrorist threat. With many skyscrapers holding water reserves on the top of the building, a terrorist only needs to introduce poison into a tank to wreak havoc.

"A terrorist wouldn't have to kill tens of thousands of people. Only 50 deaths - as horrible as that would be - would cause nationwide panic," Katzir says.

Currently, water authorities in America test water reservoirs usually once every day or two, with no system in place to detect chemical threats instantaneously.

"This new system can cut millions of dollars from the cost of testing water manually," he says,

The fiber sensors developed by Katzir are made of insoluble, non-toxic, and biocompatible materials.

"You can eat them and nothing will happen to you," he notes.

Katzir's determination to fight terrorism through science has a personal side as well. His father, world-renowned scientist Prof. Aharon Katzir, was assassinated by the Japanese Red Army in a terror attack in 1972.

"I am trying to walk in his footsteps by doing applied research that can be a practical tool in an important battle," he says. "This system can be ready for use in less than a year."

Maryborough GP saves boy Nicholas Rossi with a home drill

A COUNTRY doctor has saved the life of a dying 12-year-old boy by using a household drill to bore into his brain after the boy had a bike accident.
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The emergency "operation", by local GP Rob Carson in the Victorian country town of Maryborough, was yesterday hailed by a leading neurosurgeon as "one of the gutsiest life-saving efforts imaginable".

The drama happened late last Friday when Nicholas Rossi fell off his bike while riding in a quiet cul de sac outside a friend's house in Maryborough, a town of 7000 people 170km northwest of Melbourne. Nicholas was not wearing a helmet and the impact of his head hitting the pavement knocked him momentarily unconscious.

"He was a bit delirious at first, but then he stood up and said he was fine," his father, Michael Rossi, told The Australian yesterday. When he got home, Nicholas kept complaining of a headache and his mother, Karen, a trained nurse, took him to the district hospital where Dr Carson, a local GP, was on duty.

The doctor kept him for observation, but an hour later Nicholas began to drift in and out of consciousness and have spasms.

Dr Carson recognised it as a sign of internal bleeding in the skull that places acute pressure on the brain - the same deadly condition that recently claimed the life of actress Natasha Richardson, wife of Hollywood actor Liam Neeson. He also noticed that one of the boy's pupils was larger than the other - another sign of the internal bleeding.

The boy had fractured his skull and torn a tiny artery between the bone and the brain just above his ear. This created internal bleeding that became trapped between his skull and brain and formed into a huge blood clot, placing pressure on the brain.

If Dr Carson did not act within minutes, the boy would die.

"Dr Carson came over to us and said, 'I am going to have to drill into (Nicholas) to relieve the pressure on the brain - we've got one shot at this and one shot only'," Mr Rossi recalled.

The small hospital was not equipped with neurological drills, so Dr Carson obtained a household De Walt drill, used for boring holes in wood, from a hospital maintenance room.

He telephoned leading Melbourne neurosurgeon David Wallace to help talk him through the procedure, which he had never tried before.

Mr Wallace told Dr Carson where to aim the drill and how deep to go.

The GP disinfected the drill and drilled into the skull just below the bruise mark on the side of the head above the ear where the trauma had occurred.

"He drilled into my son's head and we heard the suction," Mr Rossi said.

Dr Carson drilled until a blood clot fell out. Blood then kept flowing out. The GP then used forceps to make the drilled hole slightly bigger until it was about 1cm in diameter.
Then a draining tube was placed in to allow the blood to continue to keep flowing out. Nicholas was being transfused with fresh blood in his arm at the same time.

Dr Carson knew the procedure had worked when he checked the pupil and found it had returned to normal size.

The actions of Dr Carson, assisted by anesthetist David Tynan and a team of hospital nurses, kept Nicholas alive until he was airlifted an hour later to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.

Since then Nicholas's condition has improved so much that he was released from hospital yesterday.

Dr Carson is a reluctant hero, telling The Australian he was just doing his job.

"If you are in that situation you just do those things," he said.

"It is not a personal achievement, it is just a part of the job and I had a very good team of people helping me."

Mr Rossi was not so shy. "He saved our son's life," he said.

"David Wallace told us he could not believe Rob Carson had the guts - and it does take guts - to drill into his head.

"He said it was the difference between a patient arriving at the hospital dead or alive."

Nicholas turned 13 yesterday.

"He has started his teenage years with a bang," Mr Rossi said. "But life can change in a minute - tell your kids to always wear a helmet."

May 16, 2009

Mafia bank raid

NTERNATIONAL gangsters have stolen the bank details of hundreds of Victorians in a fraud set to become the biggest in Australian banking history. A mafia-style Romanian crime gang obtained the account and PIN details in the past two months. They flew into Melbourne and fitted secret card-reading devices to hundreds of automatic teller machines in Victoria and across Australia.

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation shows the gang escaped with millions of dollars, later spent on lavish homes and luxury cars. The fraud looks set to escalate, with police confirming gangs often do not use the illegally obtained details for months - leaving victims unaware they are about to be theft victims. Eleven Romanians have been arrested.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is cracking down on Romanians attempting to enter Australia on tourist visas in a bid to thwart the gang.

Hackers launch phishing attack on Facebook

Hackers launched an attack on Facebook's 200 million users on Thursday, successfully gathering passwords from some of them in the latest campaign to prey on members of the popular social networking site.

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said on Thursday that the site was in the process of cleaning up damage from the attack.

He said that Facebook was blocking compromised accounts.

Schnitt declined to say how many accounts had been compromised.

The hackers got passwords through what is known as a phishing attack, breaking into accounts of some Facebook members, then sending e-mails to friends and urging them to click on links to fake websites.

Those sites were designed to look like the Facebook home page. The victims were directed to log back in to the site, but actually logged into the one controlled by the hackers, unwittingly giving away their passwords.

The purpose of such attacks is generally identify theft and to spread spam.

The fake domains include, and Facebook has deleted all references to those domains.

Schnitt said that Facebook's security team believes the hackers intended to collect a large number of credentials, then use those accounts at a later time to send spam hawking fake pharmaceuticals and other goods to Facebook members.

The site fought off a similar attack two weeks ago, he said.

Privately held Facebook and rival social network MySpace, which is owned by News Corp, require senders of messages within the network to be members and hide user data from people who do not have accounts. Because of that, users tend to be far less suspicious of messages they receive.

Hackers used a phishing attack last year to spread a malicious virus known as Koobface (a reference to Facebook). It was downloaded onto Facebook members' PCs when they clicked on a link sent to them in an email that looked like it had been sent by a friend on Facebook.

May 12, 2009

Australian worm cripples modem/routers

A new botnet, “psyb0t” is the first known to be capable of directly infecting home routers and cable/DSL modems.

It is suspected that the botnet originated in Australia, as the first activity from the botnet was detected here. Australian IT consultant Terry Baume first observed it infecting a Netcomm NB5 modem/router. You can read his full analysis here.

The botnet binary was further analysed by members of the website DroneBL (a real-time IP tracker that scans for and botnets and vulnerable machines) which came to the conclusion that the “psyb0t” or "Network Bluepill" botnet was mostly a test run to prove the technology. After the botnet's discovery and public outing, the botnet operator swiftly shut it down.

The first generation targeted very few models of router, though the current, most recently discovered generation (dubbed 'version 18' in the code) targets a wide range of devices.

The malware contains the shellcode for over 30 different Linksys models, 10 Netgear models, and a variety of other cable and DSL modems (15 different shellcodes).

A list of 6000 usernames and 13,000 passwords were also included, to be used for brute force entry to Telnet and SSH logins which are open to the LAN and sometimes even the public WAN side of the routers. Generally, routers do not lock a user out after a number of incorrect password attempts, making brute force attacks possible.

According to DroneBL, any router that uses a MIPS processor and runs the Linux Mipsel operating system (a simple operating system for MIPS Processors) is vulnerable if they have the router administration interface, or sshd/telnetd in a DMZ, with weak username/passwords. DroneBL noted this includes devices flashed with the open-source firmwares openwrt and dd-wrt, and the group also said that other routers may be vulnerable, as it had observed the bot running on routers based on the Vxworks operating system.

Of course, exploiting home network devices is more useful than infecting PCs because they are mostly running 24 hours a day, unlike PCs. The attack of a router additionally enables hackers and exploiters to exploit a network with greater levels of stealth, as there's no change to PCs on a network, except perhaps reduced network performance.

Australia's biggest scam comes crashing down

So ANZ has a $500 million exposure to the failed Timbercorp tax deduction empire. What fools.

It's hard to know for whom to feel the most scorn - bankers stupid enough to back inherently flawed businesses or the mugs suckered into buying products on the lure of tax deductions - and the salesmanship that tends to come with particularly fat commissions.

And then there's Great Southern Plantations, trading presently suspended pending some further attempt at rescue. Ditto the scorn for all involved. Oh, and the various "independent" expert reports that have been purchased by management at various times, never mind alleged "investment recommendations".

But maybe I should tell you what's really my opinion of the rural managed investment scheme industry: it's the biggest single scam in Australian financial history, probably losing more money than HIH and Bond combined. And some parts of the MIS mob have been nearly as flagrantly dodgy as Firepower.

What's worse is that it's been wilfully helped along by Australia's leading banks, law and accounting firms - never mind the dullard politicians who allowed the disease to fester and spread, only belatedly attempting to limit it in 2007. Mind you, I suppose much the same could be said of HIH and Bond.

Queensland hospital calls death before patient dies

NURSES at a north Queensland hospital were preparing to remove the body of a "deceased" patient when they discovered she was still breathing. Local hospital staff informed relatives of Innisfail woman Rita Ring that the 92-year-old had passed away after a doctor declared her dead.

But staff had to phone Ms Ring's family back a short time later to inform them that there had been a mistake and she was still alive. Hospital sources have claimed nurses were preparing to put Ms Ring in a body bag when they discovered she was breathing. However, Queensland Health has denied this claim.

The horror story, which happened on May 3, has sparked an internal investigation at Innisfail Hospital. Innisfail Hospital medical superintendent Peter McKenna yesterday apologised but defended the "experienced" doctor and insisted Ms Ring received the "highest possible level of care".

475,000 faulty bowel tests handed out

ALMOST half a million people have received a faulty bowel cancer test and will need to take the test again.
The Federal Government says there is a question mark over all tests handed out since December 1.

The Japanese-manufactured tests don't seem to be picking up the signs of bowel cancer as well as they should be, the Department of Health and Ageing says.

The Government has given out 475,000 test kits to all 50-, 55- and 65-year-olds to try to catch cases of bowel cancer early.

More than 100,000 people have returned a sample and been given the all-clear, but they will now need to retake the test.

New test kits will be sent out as soon as the problem is fixed, but that, the Government says, could take "several weeks".

May 11, 2009

A Quick Look at MySQL 5.4

Although MySQL 5.1 was released in December of 2008, Sun Microsystems isn't wasting any time moving forward with a number of new and exciting enhancements for its next release, MySQL 5.4. The first item of note is that the MySQL Server will be returning to a release early/often paradigm. So, instead of waiting on a full set of previously agreed upon features to be ready, the goal will now be to adhere to time-controlled releases that include all features that are ready by an agreed-upon beta date, with any features not fully 'baked' simply rolling to the next release.

Download MySQL 5.4 »

This being the case, MySQL 5.4 won't include some large new features like the Falcon transactional storage engine and the new backup utility, but it will include a number of very desirable enhancements that help your database-driven systems scale better and run faster in many cases. Let's take a look at what's included...
Scalability Improvements

One of the primary fixes in MySQL 5.4 is that the InnoDB storage engine can now address more than 4 CPU's/cores; now those using MySQL and InnoDB can see performance increases all the way up to 16-way x86 servers and 64-way CMT servers and beyond. Naturally, this helps the MySQL Server scale much better under large application workloads. One of the nice aspects of this change is that the gains are transparent; in other words, there is nothing you have to do from a programming or configuration standpoint to obtain the benefit.

Depending on the type of benchmark or test used, preliminary internal tests from MySQL/Sun show anywhere from modest to very dramatic performance gains from the scalability fixes in 5.4 as compared to the current MySQL 5.1 GA. For example, results of an EAStress2004 benchmark (a subset of the SPECJAppserver2004 benchmark, which models a typical web application and involves a significant number of read/update/insert and delete on the database) showed MySQL 5.4 running 59% faster than MySQL 5.1:

May 9, 2009

Parents feel caught in children trap

ALMOST one in four parents feels "terrified" or "overwhelmed" by the challenge of raising children, a study has found.

The survey of 500 families found most parents struggled with the daily demands of bringing up their children.

Two-thirds of parents reported feeling "worried, concerned or challenged" about raising children while 24 per cent felt "terrified or overwhelmed" and 6 per cent felt "out of control".

The findings of the study, commissioned by parenting group Generation Next, reveal a national family crisis, health professionals say.

Sydney GP and Generation Next founder Ramesh Manocha said Australian children were facing an uncertain future.

"We give our children everything. They have access to every opportunity, every material item, more information than ever before.

"And yet, they seem to be unhappier and unhealthier.

May 7, 2009

Cyber Cops busting cyberporn

It's just before lunchtime in the sunny, high-tech headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, Calif., and Simon Axten is cuing up some porn. A photo of a young couple sloppily making out pops onscreen. It's gross, but not against the rules, so Axten punches a key to judge the image appropriate. Next up: a young woman in panties only, covering her breasts with her hands. "That's pretty close," Axten says, pondering the image. There's nothing arbitrary about his judgments: at Facebook, they have developed semiformal policies like the Fully Exposed Butt Rule, the Crack Rule and the Nipple Rule. In this photo there's no visible areola, he decides, so it stays. The next photo is a male clad only in a black thong and angel wings. Utterly nonplussed, Axten OKs the picture. After delivering a verdict on 75 of the 438,848 outstanding photos flagged by Facebook users—buff guy soaping up in the shower (OK); girl blowing an epic cloud of pot smoke (he deletes it); an underage user drinking from two liquor bottles at once (ditto)—Axten is off to a meeting. It's just another day at the office of the world's fastest-growing social-networking site.

At Facebook, Axten isn't some fringe employee doing unmentionable work. The 26-year-old Stanford grad is one of some 150 people the young company employs to keep the site clean—out of a total head count of 850. Facebook describes these staffers as an internal police force, charged with regulating users' decorum, hunting spammers and working with actual law-enforcement agencies to help solve crimes. Part hall monitors, part vice cops, these employees are key weapons in Facebook's efforts to maintain its image as a place that's safe for corporate advertisers—more so than predecessor social networks like Friendster and MySpace. "[They were] essentially shanghaied by pornography and sexual displays," says David Kirkpatrick, author of the forthcoming book "The Facebook Effect." It's a tricky job: by insisting that users sign up under real names and refrain from posting R-rated photos, Facebook hopes to widen its user base to include upscale professionals, but at the same time it's aware that too much heavy-handed censorship could upset its existing members. "If [Facebook] got polluted as just a place for wild and crazy kids, that would destroy the ability to achieve the ultimate vision, which is to create a service for literally everyone," Kirkpatrick says—and then its potential for profits would disappear, too.

May 6, 2009

Power failure lasting 36 hours cripples hospital care

DOCTORS at more than 100 hospitals in the state could not access patient records or vital test results for up to 36 hours last weekend after a power failure crippled NSW Health's computerised database.

Some records were lost, X-ray and pathology results could not be accessed and staff were forced to use whiteboards to keep track of emergency patients after the main server shut down at 9am on Saturday because of a faulty circuit-breaker.

Back-up power from the Cumberland Data Centre, which provides computer access to the Greater Western, Greater Southern and Sydney West area health services also failed, plunging some of the busiest hospitals in the state into chaos.

Thousands of patients were affected, with doctors and nurses forced to take notes on paper and go to other parts of the hospital to collect hard copies of results, extending treatment times and adding to the confusion.

Some staff, who did not want to be named, said the weekend was chaotic and a shambles. One surgeon said it was fortunate no lives were lost.

The chief executive of Sydney West Area Health Service, Steven Boyages, said hospital blackouts that lasted more than 30 to 60 minutes were unacceptable, but the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, insisted patients were not put at risk. "At no time was there any threat to patient care or safety," he said yesterday.

Science a slave to expediency

THE notion that human activity has an alarming influence on climate is based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and spurious claims about a scientific consensus.

Independent scientists who question these claims are accused of being in the pay of the energy industry and of believing that the notion of man-made climate change is a conspiracy.

To the best of my knowledge, no climate conspiracy has ever existed. But another force has driven science into its present parlous state where the output of computer software is held in higher regard than observational data, where marketing spin is more important than fact and evidence, and where a trenchant defence of the notion of man-made global warming is seen as paramount.

The single, pre-eminent force driving this distortion of science originates in the once-august UN. The UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change set the tone by linking climatic variations to the air and water pollution issues that it was quite reasonably addressing at the time. It ignored recognised natural climate forces and declared that recent variations in climate were attributable to human activity. Although the IPCC, which was set up by the UNFCCC to investigate the matter, backed away from the assertion that all modern climate change is man made, it nonetheless operates under a charter that considers only the risks of "human-induced" climate change.

Raising these matters under the UN banner was a political masterstroke because it drew national governments into the process. UN bodies have a reputation for political allegiances rather than peer-group pressure but the result is much the same, and even more so when government appointees, often fervent believers in the cause, speak passionately and seem backed by UNauthority.

No individual or government had the temerity to stand up to the UNFCCC or IPCC and say, "we don't agree". Some stridently endorsed the claims, and many interpreted the statement, "we don't know what else might be causing climate change, so it must be human activity" as proof positive rather than admission of incomplete knowledge.

The IPCC has now delivered four scientific assessment reports, each accompanied by an increasingly urgent call to action regarding climate change driven by greenhouse gases. National governments, which are signatories to the UNFCCC, have almost without exception bought into the alarm, modulating it only to accord better with their own political philosophies. This, combined with the allocation research funding according to policy relevance, means governments now attempt to predetermine the findings of scientific research.

For many years climate researchers have understood that their proposals will only be funded if they are pitched in line with government policy. Even worse, unless some aspect of their results appears to perpetuate government thinking, renewal of their funding is unlikely. Other climatologists are acutely aware of the potential consequences for their employers and their own employment prospects should they speak out in criticism of the dominant alarmist paradigm. Scientists who have criticised the hypothesis of human-caused climate change have had their funding curtailed or employment terminated.

Climate modellers have been very aware that their expensive and powerful computing facilities would be supported only if their research produced alarmist climate predictions. This notwithstanding, these models often produced results that were not in good agreement with historical data, perhaps because they poorly replicated or even omitted variations in climate.

These deficiencies and more have been papered over by reviving outdated and inaccurate research about the warming effect of carbon dioxide. The numbers still didn't add up but the inclusion of some "positive feedbacks" masked the problem, and the models were declared "proof" of a significant human influence on climate.

The peer-review process was originally a sanity check for the editors of scientific journals but has always been open to abuse by reviewers who wish to support or suppress a particular line of argument. The recent narrow focus of climate research funding has caused an outburst of scientific papers that support the IPCC's alarmist beliefs and relatively few papers that contradict it. Reviewers with vested interests suppress contradictory papers and support the "official" line.

Vested interests now dominate climate science. Whether climatologists, their employers and other people believe the government-approved line has become irrelevant, because they all wish to retain an income stream and whatever reputations they've established. These people advise governments, which subsequently set policy and research funding regardless of any contradiction with observational data.

Climate science is no longer an impartial truth but a slave to the yoke of politics and opportunism. If this continues, society will be the inevitable loser.

Social site warning for teenagers

TEENAGERS should think twice before posting personal information and photos on the internet, as they might come back to haunt them, privacy experts warn.

Young people risked losing jobs or being embarrassed by teachers and relatives viewing party pictures or sexually explicit images uploaded on social networking websites, Victoria's Privacy Commissioner Helen Versey said.

Ms Versey and privacy commissioners from the Asia-Pacific region and Canada will today launch "Think before you upload", an animated, online video warning young people of the dangers of documenting their life on the internet.

"Young people and others send information to social networking sites, but don't think where that information might end up," Ms Versey said. "When you put information online, do you really want some people, like employers, future employers or even relatives, to see it?"

She said that while privacy laws required Australian companies operating social networking sites to protect personal information, people could not sue for breach of privacy if someone forwarded or viewed items on their sites.

"It's everyone's responsibility to protect their own privacy in cyberspace," she said.

Internet safety expert Robyn Treyvaud said even though sites such as MySpace and Facebook allowed users to permit only their friends to view their personal content or chat online, not even that information always remained private. It could be copied and forwarded to other people, she said.

Party photos and videos hastily posted online left teenagers particularly exposed, as they could be immediately copied to YouTube, allowing millions of people worldwide to view them. The images could also be viewed years later.

Employers frequently search for a prospective employee's name through Google and Facebook, rejecting those with seemingly inappropriate cyber profiles, which might not be a true reflection of the person's skills and personality.

Ms Treyvaud said: "People used to say, 'You are what you eat.' Now, it is: 'You are what you upload.' "

In the US, there have been several cases of high school students rejected from entry to college based on their profiles in cyberspace. One US teenager committed suicide after her boyfriend circulated on the internet an explicit picture she had sent him.

"We are not saying to kids, don't go online," Ms Treyvaud said. "Do it, but be very mindful about what you share, that it's there forever, because nothing is ever deleted from the internet. The minute you hit 'send', you have lost control of your piece of data."

May 4, 2009

Medicare spike as workers face axe

UNEMPLOYMENT is being blamed for an enormous and unexpected spike in Medicare claims for mental health consultations.

As economic clouds darken, spending on mental health items covered by Medicare has soared by about 40 per cent in the past two months to its highest level.

Alarmed mental health experts say patients are increasingly citing employment worries when they seek treatment for mental health problems, and warn the demand is likely to rise further as dole queues lengthen.

The latest figures show spending on the three main elements of the Medicare "Better Access" scheme soared to just more than $30 million a month in March this year, up from $20 million the previous March.

The scheme provides Medicare rebates for GPs to provide mental health treatment plans for patients. Once a patient has a plan, they are entitled to receive Medicare-subsidised treatment from either a registered or a clinical psychologist.

The number of services provided for the three items soared by 44 per cent, from 195,559 in March last year to 281,825 in March this year. The nation's peak mental health body is alarmed at the increases.

The scheme has previously hit controversy over its massive uptake. In last year's budget, the federal Government increased the forecast spending for the scheme from $538 million for 2006-11 to $753 million.

Ian Hickie, executive director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, said the spike was being partially driven by fears over employment.

"We are already seeing in clinical consultations this (employment) issue being raised as the reason why people have come in for care at this time," Professor Hickie said.

"Jobs is the big driver in Australia - either they are in trouble with their employment, or they fear they may lose their job.

"They have high mortgages, have a lot of debts and there's a realisation that staying in employment is critical to staying (mentally) well."

Mental Health Council of Australia chief executive David Crosbie said the new figures "sound an alarm for those of us who expected the numbers of people using these services to plateau over time".

"While we cannot ask everyone receiving these services whether the global financial crisis has impacted on their mental health, most people would suggest that it is one of the factors contributing to an increase in demand for mental health services across Australia," he said.

Other doctors agreed the economic crisis was creating a ripple of anxiety-related mental problems. Simon Cowap, a GP in the inner-western Sydney suburb of Newtown who has a special interest in mental health issues, said the effects were being seen in two categories of patients: young people with pre-existing mental issues and middle-aged men with no history of psychiatric problems who had found themselves unemployed for the first time.

"I have seen some middle-aged, previously employed people who have lost their job and are finding it hard to find new work, and that's feeding their depression," Dr Cowap said.

People are also feeling trapped in jobs they don't really like, he said, "where there might be some bullying or something, because they worry they wouldn't find anything else".

Melbourne GP Leanne Rowe said there was a "definite trend for GPs seeing people who are very distressed about the threat of unemployment, and the inevitable family stress that causes".

Professor Hickie said the latest suicide figures - published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in late March - showed suicide numbers increased to 1881 deaths in 2007, the first rise in just over 10 years.

The increase was particularly apparent for men aged 25-29 and 30-34, and to a lesser extent for women aged 30-34.

"Probably the two big things that led to falls in suicide in the 1990s were strong economic growth, and subsequent high levels of employment, as well as increasing provision of mental health services," he said.

The federal Government last year pledged to evaluate the Better Access scheme after concerns first emerged over its runaway popularity. Professor Hickie called on the Government to ensure as part of the evaluation process that the extra services were going to those who most needed them, such as young people and middle-aged men.

May 3, 2009

Enterprise users put SAP on notice

"Prove it or lose it."

This is the message SAP user groups have given the software giant in light of maintenance fee increases.

In short, if performance tanks, SAP won't be paid.

SAP last year unveiled Enterprise Support, a new maintenance structure that raises support costs to 22 per cent of licensing fees.

Predictably, the news didn't bode well with customers, and user groups have been in discussions with SAP to ease the pain.

The price spike will still go ahead but SAP has decided to give customers some breathing space through smaller increments.

SAP said it would extend the four-step price increase program by three years, from 2012 to 2015.

But users will keep a watchful eye via their own KPI Index, a set of key performance indicators that track SAP enterprise support levels.

The index will be developed by the SAP user group executive network (SUGEN), comprising 12 user groups from around the world.

Some 100 SAP customers globally will be involved in creating the index, with less than a dozen Australian customers contributing to the process.

The index will cover 11 KPIs under four categories: business continuity; business process improvement; protection of investment and total cost of operations.

SAP Australian User Group (SAUG) chairperson Grahame Reynolds said that if KPIs were not met, SAP would not be able to charge the extra fees.

"The index will be used to measure the benefits SAP enterprise support provides to customers and subsequent increases in the cost of enterprise support for increments in the coming years until 2015," Mr Reynolds said.

"SAP have told their customers there are certain benefits from enterprise support. They've agreed to back themselves, so the index will be used to measure that value.

"The application of the increments will be dependent on whether these KPIs are met. We see this as a win-win situation.”

SAP's local customers include the Commonwealth Bank, NSW Department of Education, Woolworths, Australia Post and 7-11.

SAP this week posted an 8 per cent decline in operating profit globally in the first quarter ending March 31. Software revenue dipped 33 per cent to 418 million euros ($759 million) and net profit decreased 16 per cent to 204 million euros.

Court finds Telstra misused Optus customer data

OPTUS has won a Federal Court ruling against Telstra in which it was alleged that Australia¿s dominant telco misused Optus' confidential information for its own marketing gains in the 1990s.
Optus claimed that in the period 1993 to 2000, Telstra breached an access agreement by obtaining confidential information about Optus’ long distance telephony traffic.

The traffic information, which included the number of calls made, the source of call, the destination, duration, time, kind of call and value, was used to track the success of Optus' marketing campaigns.

This information was provided by Telstra Wholesale to Telstra Retail where it was used to launch marketing and advertising attacks in the long distance call market in a bid to lure customers away from Optus.

The sharing of information between Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms also allowed the telco to monitor in real time, the success of Optus’ marketing initiatives and special offers.

“There can be no doubt that in preparing the market share reports Telstra used traffic information of Optus; certainly not every element of such information, but at least the aggregate quantity of Optus’ traffic that travelled over Telstra’s network ... perhaps more,” Justice Richard Edmonds said in his ruling.

Justice Edmonds ruled that Telstra is now liable to Optus for its breaches.

Optus said it would ascertain the extent of Telstra's breaches before seeking damages.

May 1, 2009

Cover-up could be bad for your health

NEW research will investigate whether Victorians have slip-slop-slapped themselves into ill health.

The study, commissioned by the State Government and run by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, will survey 4000 people in 50 suburbs chosen at random.

Baker IDI deputy director Jonathan Shaw said he was particularly interested to find out whether Victorians had taken the "sun smart" message too far, avoiding sunshine so much that they have lowered their vitamin D to dangerous levels.

"We are going to see what has happened in the past decade," Professor Shaw said. "With more 'slip, slop, slap', we see the benefit in the reduction of skin cancer, but we want to get a handle on the other side of the equation."

Low vitamin D levels are linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. It has also been implicated in diabetes, immune system problems, heart disease and some cancers.