Archive | May 2013

Swiss factory shooting leaves several dead

Police say suspected attacker is among dead at wood-processing plant in Menznau

A shooting at a wood-processing company in central Switzerland has left three people dead and seven wounded, some of them seriously, prosecutors say.

The shooting occurred shortly after 9am on Wednesday at the premises of Kronospan, a company in the small town of Menznau, west of Lucerne.

Three people were killed, among them the suspected assailant, police in Lucerne said in a statement. A further seven were wounded, several of them seriously. Officials gave no further details.

The local Neue Luzerner Zeitung newspaper cited a witness as saying that the shooter opened fire in the company canteen. It was not immediately clear who the shooter was, what the motive might have been or whether the assailant worked for the company.

According to the local town council, Kronospan has some 450 employees.

“At the moment we’re all in a state of shock,” Urs Fluder, a manager at Kronospan, told Radio Pilatus, a local station. “We will see that the families are properly informed.”

Gun ownership is widespread in Switzerland, thanks to liberal regulation, the failure of a 2012 referendum to tighten controls and a long-standing tradition for men to keep their military rifles after completing compulsory military service.

An estimated 2.3m firearms are owned by the country’s 8 million people.

But gun crime is relatively rare, with just 24 gun killings in 2009, a rate of about 0.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. The US rate that year was about 11 times higher.

Still, there have been several high-profile incidents over the years, including the killing of 14 people at a city council meeting in Zug, not far from Lucerne, in 2001.

Last month a 33-year-old man killed three women and wounded two men in a southern Swiss village.

Iran hails turning point in nuclear talks

Six-nation group offers concessions including sanctions relief in return for acceptance of limits on uranium enrichment

Iran has declared that negotiations with a group of world powers have reached a “turning point” after it was offered a series of concessions, including sanctions relief on gold and petrochemical exports, in return for acceptance of limits on uranium enrichment.

Two days of talks in the Kazakh city of Almaty between Iran and a six-nation negotiating group ended on Wednesday with an agreement to hold further meetings aimed at finalising a deal.

In return for a limited relaxation of sanctions, the six-nation group – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – maintained its insistence that Iran stop making 20%-enriched uranium, which is relatively easy to turn into weapons-grade material.

However, it relaxed its demand that all of Iran’s stockpile of about 170kg of 20%-enriched uranium should be shipped out of the country, allowing Iran to retain enough to fuel a research reactor in Tehran.

The six powers also softened the stipulation put forward at a series of abortive meetings last year that an underground enrichment plant at Fordow, in central Iran, should be shut down.

In Almaty the Iranians were asked only to “reduce the readiness” of Fordow while accepting more intrusive monitoring of the facility by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a western diplomat said.

Other officials said enrichment at Fordow would have to be suspended and demonstrable steps taken to ensure it could not be quickly restarted.

The main financial and oil sanctions on Iran would stay in place, but sanctions relief on gold and other precious metals would allow it to sidestep some banking restrictions. The ability to export petrochemical products would allow it to boost foreign currency earnings and potentially increase its domestic oil refining capacity.

The chief of the Iranian delegation, Saeed Jalili, welcomed the offer, saying: “We consider these talks a positive step which could be completed by taking a positive and constructive approach and taking reciprocal steps … We believe this is a turning point.”

Nuclear experts from all sides are due to meet in Istanbul on 18 March to hammer out details of the proposal, and another meeting of senior diplomats in Almaty is scheduled for 5 April.

A western diplomat said: “I think we now have traction to get into proper detailed negotiations. This is the first time we have put sanctions relief on the table. Its more than a gesture, it’s sending a message. We have shown we are listening and are serious without giving up the major lever we have, which is the oil embargo.”

The diplomat said a deal on Iran’s 20% uranium could open the way to a more comprehensive agreement later on in which the oil and financial sanctions could be lifted in return for permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear programme and robust IAEA monitoring.

“It’s more for less,” said Shashank Joshi, the author of a study on the Iranian nuclear negotiations, The Permanent Crisis. “It’s offering more sanctions relief and asking less of Iran, which is a move in the right direction that many of us have been calling for. What is just as important is the Iranian reaction. They are talking in the same terms about the same things rather than just putting forward diametrically opposed positions.”

Panic in Greek pharmacies as hundreds of medicines run short

Pharmaceutical companies accused of cutting supplies because of low profits and unpaid bills

Greece is facing a serious shortage of medicines amid claims that pharmaceutical multinationals have halted shipments to the country because of the economic crisis and concerns that the drugs will be exported by middlemen because prices are higher in other European countries.

Hundreds of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country.

More than 200 medicinal products are affected, including treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics, anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease.

Separately, it was announced on Tuesday that the Swiss Red Cross was slashing its supply of donor blood to Greece because it had not paid its bills on time.

Chemists in Athens describe chaotic scenes with desperate customers going from pharmacy to pharmacy to look for prescription drugs that hospitals could no longer dispense.

The government list includes some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi all said a few products had been withheld. GSK and AstraZeneca denied the claims.

“Companies are ceasing these supplies because Greece is not profitable for them and they are worried that their products will be exported by traders to other richer countries through parallel trade as Greece has the lowest medicine prices in Europe,” said Professor Yannis Tountas, the president of the Greek drug regulator, the National Organisation for Medicines.

The regulator has investigated 13 pharmaceutical companies that have reduced supplies and has handed the names of eight to the ministry of health so they can be fined. Tountas did not disclose the names of the companies, saying this was the responsibility of the ministry of health, but added that they were “big multinational companies”.

The body representing pharmacists, the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association, confirmed the shortages. “I would say supplies are down by 90%,” said Dimitris Karageorgiou, its secretary general. “The companies are ensuring that they come in dribs and drabs to avoid prosecution. Everyone is really frightened. Customers tell me they are afraid [about] losing access to medication altogether.” He said many also worried insurance coverage would dry up.

“Around 300 drugs are in very short supply and they include innovative drugs, medications for cancer patients and people suffering from clinical depression,” said Karageorgiou. “It’s a disgrace. The government is panic-stricken and the multinationals only think about themselves and the issue of parallel trade because wholesalers can legally sell them to other European nations at a higher price.”

The Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies said the picture was more nuanced. Its president, Frouzis Konstantinos, said there were “probably a very few companies” that were not supplying the Greek market, and only for very specific products – “the reasons being a combination of Greece’s low medicine prices and unpaid debt by the state”, he said.

In Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, chemists say they are often overwhelmed by people desperately trying to find life-saving drugs. Oscillating between fury and despair, the customers beseech pharmacists to hand over medications that they frequently do not have in stock.

“Lines will form in the early morning or late at night when you’re on duty,” said Karageorgiou, who is based in Thessaloniki. “And when the drugs aren’t available, which is often the case, people get very aggressive. I’m on duty tonight and know there will be screaming and shouting but in the circumstances I also understand. We have reached a tragic point.”

Greece’s social insurance funds and hospitals owe pharmaceutical companies about 1.9bn ( 1.6bn), a debt going back to 2011, with companies expecting payments of 500m this month.

Some companies admitted they were not supplying some medicines. According to the government list, Pfizer had not supplied or would not be supplying 16 medicines. A company spokesperson disagreed with the total but confirmed four medicines had been withdrawn “because alternatives were available and because of the parallel trade [reselling] situation in the country”. The products are the two leukaemia treatments Zavedos and Aracytin, which were withdrawn last year, and the analgesic Neurontin and the epilepsy therapy Epanutin, which were withdrawn last month.

Roche stressed it had not halted supplies of medicines to Greece, but said it had withheld supplies to public hospitals that owed the company 200m. Daniel Grotsky, a spokesman, said: “We are insisting that they [the public hospitals] fulfil their contracts and this is something we do in any country … We are withholding [medicines] until they meet their obligations.”

Roche could not say how many hospitals were affected but said it was still supplying public hospitals with “critical medicines”, which included treatments for HIV and transplantation. Grotsky said patients could still get their medicines through pharmacies.

Angeliki Angeli, spokeswoman for Sanofi Greece, said it was supplying public hospitals with medicines considered life-saving, unique or irreplaceable. “Non-unique products are supplied based on hospitals’ outstanding obligations and overdue status,” she said. Non-unique products are medicines for which either a generic exists or a therapeutic alternative option is recommended by treatment guidelines.

She said most Sanofi medicines on the government list remained available on the market with the “exception of a couple of dosages/forms where alternatives exist”.

GSK Greece said it had never halted the supply of any product in the Greek market. “This is a joint decision taken not only at local level but also at corporate level. Equally, GSK has maintained the uninterrupted supply [to] Greek public hospitals with all its products irrespective of the accumulated debts,” the company said.

Vanessa Rhodes, of AstraZeneca, said the company had not halted the supply of any of its medicines to Greece. “Our priority is to ensure patients have access to the medicines they need. Furthermore, we have an emergency ‘direct-to-pharmacy’ supply system in place should pharmacies find themselves out of stock of any of our products.”

Zeta Chatziantoniou, of Boehringer Ingelheim in Greece, stressed it “has not halted any of its medicine supplies in Greece in the retail sector and in the public sector”. Novartis said it was not halting supplies to Greece.

The pharmaceutical industry says many shortages are because of products being exported through parallel trade, and has urged the government to address set drug prices. Under EU trade rules, the free movement of goods is allowed. So for example, while a pharmaceutical company may sell a medicine to a wholesaler or pharmacist in Greece, the wholesaler or pharmacist can sell these medicines on to wholesalers in other countries. Parallel traders do this to make money on the price differences between countries.

“The government needs to correct these wrong prices to avoid a surge of exportation. Greece’s drug prices are 20% or more lower than the lowest prices in Europe,” said Konstantinos, who is also the general manager of Novartis in Greece.

The industry wants the health ministry to bring in a new pricing system so that Greece uses a basket of eurozone countries to calculate prices. At present, medicines are priced at below the average of the three lowest prices in 22 EU countries.

The regulator has introduced export bans for nearly 60 medicines to try to tackle the problem and is looking at 300 more products. It is also investigating 10 wholesalers and 260 pharmacists who it believes have broken the export ban. The ministry of health will decide any punishment, which is likely to be fines ranging from 2,000 to 20,000, said Tountas.

This month will be crucial as Greek officials and Greece’s creditors – the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – must agree the 2013 public pharmaceutical budget, which has fallen in recent years. More cuts would put patients at a “critical level”, said Tountas, who will be one of the key players at the negotiating table. The budget was 3.7bn in 2011 and fell to 2.44bn last year. Tountas is concerned creditors may cut it to 2bn for 2013.

US stocks rise as Bernanke reaffirms Federal Reserve’s support of stimulus

Wall Street rebounds after Fed chairman calms earlier worries that bond-buying programme would end earlier than expected

Wall Street rose on Wednesday as Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reaffirmed his support of the Fed’s stimulus policy, the latest US earnings showed strength and an Italian bond auction drew ample demand, reassuring investors.

In his second day before a congressional committee, Bernanke repeated testimony in which he defended the Fed’s policy of buying bonds to keep interest rates low in order to promote growth and bring down the unemployment rate.

Bernanke’s similar remarks on Tuesday helped the market rebound from its worst decline since November. The S&P 500 is now back above 1,500, a closely watched level that has been technical support until recently.

“Bernanke comments will keep liquidity in place in the market and every dip now is being viewed as an opportunity to get in,” said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management.

Financial markets had been worried about the possibility the Fed would end its bond buying earlier than expected after Fed meeting minutes showed some policymakers favored changes.

Also supporting the market, European stocks and the euro rose on relief that Italy was able to sell bonds despite jitters about the country’s political instability.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 96.77 points, or 0.70%, at 13,996.90. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 11.93 points, or 0.80%, at 1,508.87. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 30.75 points, or 0.98%, at 3,160.39.

The benchmark S&P 500, up 6% for the year, was within reach of record highs a week ago, before the minutes from the Fed’s January meeting were released. Since then, the index has shed 1% as the minutes raised questions about whether the Fed may slow or halt its economy-stimulating measures soon.

In earnings news, discount retailer Target Corp appeared poised for a solid showing in the first quarter and forecast a higher profit for the full year after a weak performance in the key holiday season. The stock was off 1.5% at $63.07.

Dollar Tree Inc reported a higher quarterly profit as shoppers spent more and the chain controlled costs. The stock jumped 10% to $45.00.
Shares of Boyd Gaming jumped 2% to $6.63 after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a revised online gaming bill.

A closely watched proxy for business spending plans jumped 6.3% in January, the biggest gain since December 2011, data on durable goods orders showed on Wednesday.

Another report showed an index of pending home sales increased 4.5% to its highest level since April 2010 – just before the expiration of the home-buyer tax credit.

Does Apple owe you $5?

Apple Settlement

The way we view apps has evolved rapidly over the last few years. What started as a convenience item for most companies is now a requirement, often more important than a well built website. A side effect of this rapid evolution is missing some critical steps to avoid abuse, which lead to a settlement Apple just agreed to involving apps targeted at selling to children.

In app purchases are an incredibly powerful tool. In a world where we can impulse buy something small and have it be delivered immediately, making sure there are fewer and fewer steps in the micro transaction will guarantee more sales. Apple’s in-app purchasing system nets them a percentage of every dollar made in every app across their ecosystem, so they have a vested interested in making sure there are very few steps in a given transaction. This works well as long as you are dealing with adults, but when you aim this system at children you are bound to run into problems.

Many games for iOS resorted to using in-game currency to purchase things needed to easily progress in each game. Downloading and playing the game is free, but you can progress much faster if you’re willing to pay for an item or accessory to help out. If you want in-game currency, you pay real money through Apple’s in-app purchasing system.

It’s not a bad idea, especially if you’re up to the challenge of trying to play without the aid of in-game money, but if you’re not careful those in-app purchases can rack up quickly. If you’re a child, and it’s not obvious that you are spending your parents money to get fake money for your game, their bank account can quickly suffer.

Apple Settlement

Obviously parents were upset about this, and a class action lawsuit was created to try and address the problem with Apple. In-app purchasing systems were quickly adjusted to require a password, and game developers now clearly state when real money is changing hands, but the damage was already done. Many users were out hundreds of dollars as a result of these games, often with no idea that the transactions were taking place until they were long done. There’s no record of how many users were involved in the class action suit, or how Apple plans to handle extreme cases, but if you are able to prove that you were a victim of this system you can get some money back.

GigaOm reports that Apple is expected to send an email to over 23 million iTunes users who may have made purchases that fall under the list of infringing apps. Apple will issue anywhere from $5 to $30 in iTunes credit to anyone able to prove that a minor used their account to buy things with in-app purchasing. For users who have more than $30 in purchases that qualify, a request can be made that the money be returned in cash instead of credit. It’s unclear exactly when this is expected to start, as the settlement has yet to be approved by a federal judge, but once that happens the emails are expected to follow shortly after.

Space dust found to disable satellites with mini EMP bursts

Interplanetary dust particle under a scanning electron microscope

When a satellite is launched into orbit it has an expected life span. In some cases a satellite can continue to function well beyond what was predicted, such as in the case of NASA’s world record-holding Landsat 5. Other times satellites just fail inexplicably.

If you asked most people why a satellite fails they’d probably guess that it was hit by something, either a man-made piece of space junk or a micro-meteoroid more commonly known as space dust. But a number of satellites have failed without any noticeable damage having been caused — their on board systems just shut down, and a Stanford researcher thinks she’s figured out why.

Satellites typically transmit a radio signal in order to communicate with Earth. And it is that signal that’s allowing the satellites to be damaged to the point of shutting down. The culprit is space dust, but not because of a micro-meteoroid impact with the satellite causing physical damage.

Sigrid Close, an assistant professor in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford, has discovered that due to the speed at which space dust is traveling when it hits a satellite or nearby object, it turns into a “quasi-neutral gas of ions and electrons.” That plasma emits a signal in the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) burst, which can either damage or completely shut down the electronics of the satellite.

Professor Close tested her theory at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Germany by firing dust at an object at 60km/second. Sure enough, the dust created a gas and emitted a signal that was within the frequency range used by satellites.

The discovery is important on two fronts. Firstly, it should help explain why satellites in the past have seemingly shut down without any concrete explanation presenting itself. A good example of this is the ESA’s Olympus satellite, which lost a gyro during a meteor shower in 1993 and was later decommissioned. Secondly, it should allow for future satellites to be designed with these EMP bursts in mind. In so doing, it could bypass a previously unexplained problem that put billion-dollar satellites at risk of failing.

Now read: System update kills NASA’s comms link with the International Space Station

Cloze — Free App Organizes and Analyzes Your Inbox

It’s fascinating to see the new approaches to managing e-mail cropping up. We recently covered Mailbox, which is receiving a huge amount of attention and has nearly 1 million people in the rollout queue. Also newly available is Cloze (free), which the developer characterizes as “The noise-cancelling inbox for e-mail and social.”

It combines your email accounts and social network messages into a single inbox, and uses an algorithm to analyze your inbox and prioritize your correspondents who it thinks are most important to you. It integrates email, Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter. After it analyzes your inbox, it creates a list of key people, so you can focus on those messages that matter most.

Like Mailbox, the goal of Cloze is to help you efficiently deal with messages. The options for responding include Now, Today, Tomorrow, and Next Week. It automatically keeps your list of key people up-to-date, and you can manually add people to the list.

Unlike Mailbox, Cloze supports iCloud. And it supports any other IMAP account, such as Gmail, but it doesn’t support POP accounts. Like iCloud, you cannot only access the service via an app but also can access it online via the Cloze website.

In addition to these features, the app has a range of unusual features you won’t likely see in any other email app. It actually analyzes your relationships and gives a score for each relationship according to six categories: Dormancy, Frequency, Responsiveness, Privacy, Freshness, and Balance. It even generates a list called Losing Touch, which notes those relationships that are fading. The app even gives you tips about relationships.

Note that both the app and the online Cloze service are free.

Given the deluge of messages everyone faces these days, it’s great to see fresh approaches to managing the situation.

This video demo gives you a sense for how Cloze works:


Q&A: The Making of The Amiigo Fitness Monitor


I love that in this day and age, a great idea can go from relative obscurity to overnight success thanks to the power of the Internet and the funding of the general public. Crowd-funding resource Indiegogo is one of the top websites where great ideas get brought to life, and the Amiigo Fitness Bracelet ($99) is one of its latest success stories.

The popularity of the personalized and customizable vitality tracker already is exceeding expectations, and is now in an expanded fundraising phase as it prepares to bring the Amiigo to market.

Currently, the device and its app are available to early birds for a $99 introductory price, and according to one of Amiigo’s co-founders, David Scott, it should begin shipping to Indiegogo customers in June. Once Indiegogo orders are met, the Amiigo will become available publicly within a few months.

The rumored iWatch may indeed be inching its way closer to market, but until then, there’s no shortage of wearable computers to monitor everything from text messages and e-mails to our motions and activities. It will be interesting to see where this new era of the wearable computer takes us. If you’ve been tracking Apple’s patent acquisitions, then you can reasonably predict that the future of wearable iOS-oriented technology is about to become a crowded field. The Amiigo fitness monitor is therefore ideally poised to lead the way in this blossoming field, and usher in a new era of interactive, wearable smart-technology.

The Spanish word “amigo” means companion, or friend, and as your own personal fitness-tracking device, the Amiigo is just that. It reports back to you regarding everything from your vital statistics to the amount of energy you exert at any given moment. Furthermore, the Amiigo is programmable to detect your own unique motions, giving you the most accurate assessment of your energy output and how your body responds to a variety of specific activities.

While there are certainly other options available for fitness monitors that interface with our iOS devices, the Amiigo is the first I’ve come across to provide such detailed information on such a wide range of motions and activities. This is the closest thing to a commercially available, AI fitness monitor that I’ve seen so far.

According to Amiigo’s Indiegogo campaign, “The Amiigo allows users to track specifics like; exercise type, reps, sets, duration, speed, and intensity. Amiigo also tracks heart rate, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature, overall activity level, and calories burned.”

Additionally, “The Amiigo can determine exactly what kind of exercise activity you are doing and can track and identify over one hundred different activities and then correlate these activities with physiological information such as heart rate and blood oxygen saturation. With the Amiigo users can also create and record new exercises that might be unique, abstract or specific to them. After a user records an exercise, it will be recognized in future workouts!”

Recently Amiigo co-founder David Scott took some time with iPhone Life to discuss the Amiigo and how informative, intuitive, and innovative it truly is.

iPhone Life: Thank you for taking the time to chat with iPhone Life. For starters, can you tell our readers a little bit about your inspiration and goals for the Amiigo?

Scott: With the Amiigo, our focus was to create the most engaging fitness experience, in the most user-friendly format. The Amiigo provides measurements and tracking that will definitely be helpful to hardcore athletes, but it’s also designed to be helpful to the less dedicated athletes. The Amiigo was designed to help an individual tailor their personal fitness goals to meet their workouts.

The Amiigo allows you to share your metrics and stats with family and friends. We feel that the social (competitive) element means that you will be more likely to achieve your fitness goals. The Amiigo software can easily be integrated with Facebook, and we are also working hard to build our own social platform.

iPhone Life:We’ve seen a number of wearable fitness monitors pop up over the past couple of years, how does the Amiigo set itself apart from the rest of the options out there?

Scott:Well, two years ago this sector didn’t even exist. Currently, most fitness monitors are just glorified oximeters, they don’t register motion, so that means they don’t register anything on a stair stepper or while cycling for instance.

If you do exercises like free-weight squats or leg presses, other devices may not even register that you did anything, much less that you had different exhaustive experiences. The Amiigo will provide you with precise physiological data that lets you know what you did and how much energy you exerted as well as incorporate a social element that can really help you feel motivated and inspired.

The Amiigo Fitness Bracelet is ideal for:

 The Gym: Weight Equipment, Cardio Equipment, Free Weights, Crossfit

 Cycling: Road and Mountain Biking 

 The Water: Swimming and Water Sports

 Outdoors: Hiking, Walking, Jogging

 Sports: Basketball, Soccer, Baseball, Tennis, Golf, Football, Rugby

 You: Create and Record your Unique Exercises




Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Presentation Now Online (Video)

Samsung recently announced their new Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet, and now Samsung has posted a video online of their Galaxy Note 8.0 presentation, which you can see below.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 features an 8 inch WXGA display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and it will come with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and also Samsung’s S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

Huawei Media M310 Android Media Player Showcased At MWC

After being unveiled earlier this year at the CES exhibition in Las Vegas, the Huawei Media M310 Android media player is now being showcased at this weeks Mobile World Congress (MWC) exhibition in Barcelona.

To Re-cap the Huawei Media M310 mini media player is powered by a quad-core HiSilicon K3V2 ARM Cortex A9 processor, supported by 1GB of RAM, and connects to your HDTV via a HDMI port.

Huawei Media M310