News & Current Affairs

July 27, 2009

Saudi sex boasts man apologises

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Saudi sex boasts man apologises

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A Saudi man who boasted about his sexual conquests on an Arabic TV station has tearfully apologised, as calls mounted for him to be punished.

Mazen Abdul Jawad talked about his sexual conquests, starting with a neighbour when he was 14, and how he picks up women in the kingdom.

Saudi media say officials are considering whether to charge him.

Pre-marital sex is illegal in Saudi Arabia and Mr Abdul Jawad could face imprisonment or flogging.

Discreet society

Saudi Arabia is not only the most conservative society in the Arab world, it is also the most discreet.

If people break its strict Islamic code they face punishment – lashes or imprisonment for drinking or non-marital sex.

These rules are flouted by locals as well as expatriates, but almost everyone who breaks the rules keeps quiet about it and hopes they won’t be found out.

So it is unusual for a Saudi man to appear on TV freely discussing the ways in which he has transgressed the Saudi code.

Mr Abdul Jawad agreed to be interviewed for the Red Lines show on the popular Lebanese TV station, LBC.

The show deals with taboos in the Arab world.

Bluetooth dating

Mr Abdul Jawad talked openly about his sexual conquests, starting when he was 14.

He also described how he used the Bluetooth function on his mobile to meet Saudi women.

Religious authorities have tried to ban such devices for this very reason.

Complaints have now been filed against Mr Abdul Jawad in his local court and online Saudi forums are full of denunciations of his behaviour.

He says he is considering suing LBC for misrepresenting his views.

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July 19, 2009

Sink or swim in modern China

Sink or swim in modern China

Chris Hogg heads to the small Chinese village of Zhushanxia, 200km from Shanghai, to see how lives have been shaped by the economy under communist rule, the recession and the country’s economic recovery.

A farmer sells vegetables at a wholesale market on March 22, 2005 in Hefei of Anhui Province, China

China’s economic roller-coaster has divided communities and villages into those who have sunk financially, and those who managed to swim

Huang Jiao Ling lives at the end of a long dusty road.

Mobile phone numbers are daubed all over the walls of her home and those of her neighbours.

It is like a strange kind of mathematical graffiti, but the numbers are, in fact, advertisements for people offering goods and services.

In modern China, it seems everyone has something to sell.

Huang Jiao Ling, too, is an entrepreneur. She is in her 50s, but she looks younger.

In her front garden, where others might have planted vegetables, she has built a small workshop.

Inside, the walls are unfinished and the floor uneven, but there is just about enough room for a work-bench and a handful of basic machine tools.

Churning out widgets

On the floor are cardboard boxes filled with piles of tiny metal widgets.

They are simple to make – her husband sits at the bench turning them out rapidly by hand.

Fruit seller in China

Many Chinese run their own small businesses in order to get ahead

A few feet away, his bicycle-taxi is parked just inside the front door of the house.

The machine work is a lot less tiring than pedalling passengers around, but he still keeps the bike.

It is useful, he says, to supplement their income in leaner times.

The Huangs sell the boxes of widgets to the factory where Huang Jiao Ling has a full-time job.

For a while this year they had to shut the workshop as demand dropped, but now the machines are humming again.

They have two children, because if you live in the country and your first child is a girl, you are allowed to have another one.

The girls go to very good schools, the best Huang Jiao Ling can afford.

She spends more than half her income on school fees.

“We have to think of their future,” she tells me.

“It’s a Chinese tradition. Parents always think of their children, and when the parents get old, their children will look after them. It’s the same for every generation.”

Yu Feng Guo is Huang Jiao Ling’s brother-in-law.

She is doing well for herself in China’s new modern market economy, but he has been left behind.

He used to work in a state-owned brick factory.

Different lifestyles

When the economic reforms began 30 years ago he watched as some of his co-workers left their jobs to start up their own small businesses, many of them selling prawns or fish by the side of the road.

He decided to do what he thought was the right thing, what the communist party would expect of a loyal worker in a state-owned enterprise – he stayed.

Eventually, the brick factory went bust and he was out of a job.

Rice paddy field

Agriculture provides an income for many rural Chinese

Now, dressed in a shabby khaki jacket, he works as a security guard in an open-air food market.

Those early entrepreneurs who had left his factory to try their luck in the fledgling market economy are now much richer than him and to his family this seems unfair.

“Thirty years ago everyone in the village was poor,” his son tells me.

“Now the difference in lifestyle between the rich and the poor in our village is huge.”

There is an implicit bargain in modern Chinese society between the leaders and the led.

Beijing tells its people “we will give you opportunities” – to earn more, to enjoy a better standard of living than your parents did.

But you, in return, will behave yourself.

Back on track

In Zhushanxia village quite a few cars can be seen bumping along past the fields, something you would not have seen 30 years ago.

If you have got used to having more, whether it’s a car, or a bigger house, or a more expensive school for your child, you have more to lose when times get tough.

That is why it is so important for the government to get the economy back on track.

When it first faltered, when factories started laying off workers, there was a risk that they would start to feel the government was no longer keeping to its side of the deal, so why should they?

So in Beijing, of course, there will be relief that a recovery appears to be under way.

But the next challenge for the government will be to do more to try to ensure that everyone shares the benefits.

Huang Jiao Ling is happy her workshop is busy again, but still nervous about the future.

So she, like most other Chinese, is saving as much of her income as she can.

Her brother-in-law Yu Feng Guo, has no idea how he will be able to save enough to secure a state pension on his meagre wages from his unstable job.

He and others like him will be looking to their leaders for reassurance that they will be cared for as they approach old age.

But that will costly and complicated. Fixing the economy may prove to have been the easy part.

August 14, 2008

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang studied at Newcastle University

A Chinese couple murdered in Newcastle may have been involved in a range of internet scams, including betting and providing false visas, police said.

Zhen Xing Yang and girlfriend Xi Zhou died after a “frenzied” knife attack at a flat in Newcastle’s West End.

Detectives revealed information on a seized computer and three mobile phones showed the pair may also have arranged forged professional qualifications.

The 25-year-old Newcastle University graduates, were found dead on 9 August.

Det Supt Steve Wade, leading the murder investigation, said: “A possible motive for the killings is beginning to emerge concerning the lifestyle of Xi Zhou and Zhen Xing Yang.

“Community intelligence supported by the examination of computer equipment and mobile call data has shown that both of the victims have been involved in fraudulent activity which has angered and upset a number of people.

Televised matches

“We are currently investigating this as a possible motive for the killings.”

One line of inquiry involves claims Mr Zhen recruited spectators online to send live updates from UK football matches.

It is claimed syndicates in China, where matches are televised a minute behind, could take advantage of this.

Information passed to Northumbria Police includes details of adverts placed on UK-based Mandarin-language websites, recruiting people to watch football matches around the world.

One reads: “It is a very simple job, any student who is interested, please contact Zhen Xing Yang.”

An ad posted under the name CICI-UK, his girlfriend’s nickname, on the powerapple website last October, reads: “Work: Watch football games and send live information to people.

“Requirement: Basic understanding of football rules, no professional background needed, advantage if you have a car.

“Location: Sheffield, London, Blackpool, Portsmouth, York, Hull and many other places.”

Similar adverts requested live information from the Mexican League.

CCTV of Xi Zhou in street

Xi Zhou was caught on CCTV travelling home from work

The couple were found dead in separate bedrooms at the downstairs flat by friends on the afternoon on 9 August.

Police said Mr Zhen was “assaulted for more than an hour” before being stabbed. They believe passers-by may have heard his screams.

A post-mortem examination revealed he suffered extensive bruising to his arms before he died.

Examinations also showed Miss Xi may have been asphyxiated as well as stabbed during the attack.

The body of a cat, which had been drowned and hidden in a washing bowl underneath the bathroom sink, was probably killed by the couple’s murderer, said police.

An offender profiler has been brought in to help establish a motive for the killings.

Police have also released CCTV images taken as Miss Xi traveled home from work at the Wagamama restaurant in Newcastle last Thursday afternoon.

Police have not been able to find any occupation for Mr Zhen since he completed his degree in September 2006.

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We continue to look into the lifestyle of both victims and internet websites form part of this investigation.

“We cannot comment further at this stage.”

Spending on communications falls

Spending on communications falls

Person using mobile phone, PA

Mobile use has doubled in five years, Ofcom says

Britons are spending more time using communications services but paying less for them, says an Ofcom report.

Every day in 2007, the average consumer spent 7 hours and 9 minutes watching TV, on the phone, using the internet or using other services, it says.

Since 2002, mobile use has doubled and PC and laptop use has grown fourfold, says the watchdog’s annual review.

But the average UK household spend on communications in 2007 was £93.63 a month – a fall of £1.53 on 2006.

TV remains the most popular pastime, with the average person watching for 3 hours and 38 minutes a day last year.

In 2007 the average person in the UK spent 24 minutes per day on their computer and 10 minutes using their mobile.

Graph showing household spend on communications services between 2002and 2007

Ofcom’s annual communications market review notes that monthly spend on communications has fallen for three years in a row.

Ofcom says consumers are getting increasingly canny about the way they buy services, switching providers or paying one fee for a bundle of services.

COMMUNICATIONS FACTS
Communications industry revenue topped £51.2bn in 2007
Average households spend £93.63 per month on communications services
87.2% have digital television
80% of new TV sales are high-definition sets
40% buy communications services in a bundled package
44% of adults use text messaging every day
36% of adults use the net every day
Source: Ofcom market review

Lower prices for broadband are one factor, with the average household spending £9.45 for an internet connection in 2007 compared with £9.87 in 2006.

Fierce competition between broadband providers is causing some concern that it may be difficult for the industry to raise the investment needed for faster networks.

But the report shows that broadband take-up is continuing to grow both at home and on the move.

By the end of 2007, Ofcom found, 58% of homes had broadband, compared with 52% a year earlier.

Dongle surge

The real surge, though, came in the use of mobile broadband after a big marketing push by mobile phone companies selling so-called “dongles”.

Between February and June this year, monthly sales of these devices, which give internet access to laptop users, rose from 69,000 to 133,000 a month.

According to Ofcom figures, two million people say they have used mobile broadband via a dongle or similar device and three-quarters of them say they use it at home as well as on the move – evidence that the mobile operators are beginning to compete with fixed-line businesses for broadband customers.

Children watching TV, BBC

TV retains its popularity despite booming net, mobile and computer use

British consumers are also spending more time on the phone than ever before, with a 21% increase in minutes spent on mobile calls.

Even fixed-line calls are holding up with Ofcom seeing just a 2% fall in minutes spent calling.

The Ofcom report paints a picture of a country where consumers are making more and more use of modern media services – from YouTube to personal video recorders – while still retaining an interest in the traditional services.

Digital television is now in use in 87% of British homes, with many having hundreds of channels to choose from. Despite the variety, 57% of viewing in these multi-channel homes is of the five main channels.

Ofcom also noted that while the amount of TV viewing is up on 2006, the longer term trend shows a slight decline in viewing.

August 5, 2008

Microsoft sees end of Windows era

Microsoft has kicked off a research project to create software that will take over when it retires Windows.

Called Midori, the cut-down operating system is radically different to Microsoft’s older programs.

It is centred on the internet and does away with the dependencies that tie Windows to a single PC.

It is seen as Microsoft’s answer to rivals’ use of “virtualisation” as a way to solve many of the problems of modern-day computing.

Tie breaking

Although Midori has been heard about before now, more details have now been published by Software Development Times after viewing internal Microsoft documents describing the technology.

Midori is believed to be under development because Windows is unlikely to be able to cope with the pace of change in future technology and the way people use it.

Windows worked well in an age when most people used one machine to do all their work. The operating system acted as the holder for the common elements Windows programs needed to call on.

“If you think about how an operating system is loaded,” said Dave Austin, European director of products at Citrix, “it’s loaded onto a hard disk physically located on that machine.

“The operating system is tied very tightly to that hardware,” he said.

That, he said, created all kinds of dependencies that arose out of the collection of hardware in a particular machine.

This means, he said, that Windows can struggle with more modern ways of working in which people are very mobile and very promiscuous in the devices they use to get at their data – be that pictures, spreadsheets or e-mail.

Equally, he said, when people worked or played now, they did it using a combination of data and processes held locally or in any of a number of other places online.

When asked about Midori by BBC News, Microsoft issued a statement that said: “Midori is one of many incubation projects underway at Microsoft. It’s simply a matter of being too early in the incubation to talk about it.”

Virtual machines

Midori is widely seen as an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to catch up on the work on virtualisation being undertaken in the wider computer industry.

Darren Brown, data centre lead at consulting firm Avanade, said virtualisation had first established itself in data centres among companies with huge numbers of servers to manage.

Putting applications, such as an e-mail engine or a database, on one machine brought up all kinds of problems when those machines had to undergo maintenance, needed updating or required a security patch to be applied.

By putting virtual servers on one physical box, companies had been able to shrink the numbers of machines they managed and get more out of them, he said.

“The real savings are around physical management of the devices and associated licensing,” he said. “Physically, there is less tin to manage.”

Equally, said Mr Brown, if one physical server failed the virtualised application could easily be moved to a separate machine.

“The same benefits apply to the PC,” he said. “Within the Microsoft environment, we have struggled for years with applications that are written so poorly that they will not work with others.

“Virtualising this gives you a couple of new ways to tackle those traditional problems,” he said.

Many companies were still using very old applications that existing operating systems would not run, he said. By putting a virtual machine on a PC, those older programs can be kept going.

A virtual machine, like its name implies, is a software copy of a computer complete with operating system and associated programs.

Closing Windows

“On the desktop we are seeing people place great value in being able to abstract the desktop from actual physical hardware,” said Dan Chu, vice president of emerging products and markets at virtualisation specialist VMWare.

Some virtual machines, he said, acted like Windows PCs to all intents and purposes. But many virtual machines were now emerging that were tuned for a particular industry, sector or job.

“People take their application, the operating system they want to run it against, package it up along with policy and security they want and use that as a virtual client,” he said.

In such virtual machines, the core of the operating system can be very small and easy to transfer to different devices. This, many believe, is the idea behind Midori – to create a lightweight portable operating system that can easily be mated to many different applications.

Microsoft’s licensing terms for Windows currently prohibited it acting as a virtual machine or client in this way, said Mr Chu.

Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner, said the development of Midori was a sensible step for Microsoft.

“The value of Microsoft Windows, of what that product is today, will diminish as more applications move to the web and Microsoft needs to edge out in front of that,” he said.

“I would be surprised if there was definitive evidence that nothing like this was not kicking around,” he said.

The big problem that Microsoft faced in doing away with Windows, he said, was how to re-make its business to cope.

“Eighty percent of Windows sales are made when a new PC is sold,” he said. “That’s a huge amount of money for them that they do not have to go out and get.

“If Windows ends up being less important over time as applications become more OS agnostic where will Microsoft make its money?” he asked.

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