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Microsoft sets maximum hardware spec for netbook-only Windows 7 SKUs

13 comments Thursday, May 28, 2009

According to tech site TechARP, Microsoft has set the maximum hardware specification that OEMs will be able to pre-install the cheaper netbook-only Windows 7 SKUs onto.

The three SKUs considered here are:

  • Windows 7 Starter
  • Windows 7 Starter for Small Notebook PC
  • Windows 7 Home Basic For Small Notebook PCs (China only)

Microsoft already has a similar limitation in place on OEMs offering XP on low-cost systems, called the Microsoft Windows XP Home Ultra Low Cost PC (ULCPC) program.

Here is the new Windows 7 maximum hardware spec. I’ve added the current spec for comparison.

  • CPU: Single core CPUs no faster than 2GHz and with a TDP no greater than 15W.
    Currently the limitation is only 1GHz, or the following CPUs: Intel Atom N270, N280, 230, Z500, Z510, Z515, Z520, Z530, Z540, Z550, or Intel Celeron 220, or AMD MV-40, 1050P, TF-20, Geode LX, Athlon 2650e, Sempron 210U, or VIA C7-M ULV, Nano U1700, U2250, U2300, U2400 or U2500.
  • Screen size: No larger than 10.2″.
    Currently the limitation is 12.1.
  • RAM: 2GB.
    Currently the limitation is 1GB.
  • Storage: 250GB HDD or 64GB SSD.
    Currently the limitation is 160GB HDD or 32GB SDD.
  • Graphics: No limitation
    Currently the limitation is no greater than DirectX 9.
  • Touch: No limitation.
    Currently the limitation is resistive only

So, basically what’s really changed is that you can have more RAM and storage but the screen size has shrunk by nearly two inches and with a more rigid CPU requirements.

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Rumor: Speedier Next-Gen iPhone Is on Its Way

You’re probably already stuffed with iPhone rumors, but consider this dessert. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has heard from “informed sources” that the next-generation iPhone will receive a significant processor upgrade, bumping the speed to 600MHz, which should make the new handset 1.5 times as fast as the current 400MHz iPhone CPU. He also claims receiving confirmation of rumors that the next iPhone will feature a magnetometer (digital compass) and a video camera.

One last morsel: MacTalk reports that Vodafone has declared the current 16GB iPhone has been labeled “End of Life,” meaning new iPhones are on their way.

When? Gruber predicts the announcement will be made at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, which kicks off June 8, and the phone will hit stores in July. That’s a reasonable assumption, because Apple announced the current iPhone 3G at 2008’s WWDC. Also, Apple will likely have to hold WWDC sessions devoted to the new iPhone’s API, and the company would of course have to announce the product first.

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Gadgets: fashion for the broken leg set


Cooper Martin Clothing

If you have ever broken a major appendage, you quickly realize that the simple things in life are now, not at all simple. That explains why so many people who, for example, break a leg, resort to wearing sweat pants or shorts; it's not just the easiest but sometimes the only option.

The company Cooper Martin agrees, that's why they came up with their line of clothing for just this occasion. The clothes have strategically placed zippers and Velcro on business casual clothing.

You can see how it works at

Photo Shower Curtain

Some family pictures are priceless and it's not enough for them to have that prized spot on the mantel, so why not immortalize it in a shower curtain; it's cooler than you think.

The makers at take your favorite photo and turn it into a customized curtain; either for a standard bath tub size or stand alone shower.

The makers claim you can launder the curtain and never have to worry about fading or warping.

You can see it for yourself at

Finis Circuit Trainer

The couch potato in all of us can come up with many excuses of why we can't exercise today and fitness companies, like Finis, are getting wise to lazy ways.

The circuit trainer performs the job of a timer, but better. How it works, you set the amount of time you want to workout then set the amount of time you want to rest; the trainer lets you know when each time is up and it's time to get going again.

The Circuit Trainer lets you know when time is up through lights and a buzzer.

You can learn all about it at

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More thoughts on Oracle and hardware

2 comments Saturday, April 25, 2009
There are two explanations making the rounds for Oracle’s unexpected entry into the hardware business. Neither on its own is wholly convincing, but each hints at what is probably really going on here.

The first is the explanation that Oracle was putting about on Monday. This holds that vertical integration of all aspects of hardware and software is the next step being demanded by the customers of enterprise technology companies, who want one throat to choke when something goes wrong.

But it hardly feels as though customer expectations have changed enough to force Oracle to buy a deeply troubled server company to take on entrenched rivals like IBM, HP and now Cisco. Not does this explanation take account of the fundamental nature of the enterprise technology industry, which relies on deep technology and business partnerships.

The other explanation is that Oracle had to move quickly to outmaneuver the slow-footed IBM, so it was willing to take on the unappealing hardware business just to get its hands on Sun’s software assets. It then follows, according to this view, that Oracle will now turn around and unload the hardware side as soon as it can, perhaps in pieces.

To judge from the people we’ve spoken to, neither of these explanations quite gets to the bottom of what is going on.

One good pragmatic reason for assuming Sun’s struggling hardware business is that, for the arch cost-cutters at Oracle, this is where many of the biggest opportunities for expense savings lie. Oracle has promised $1.5bn in operating profits from the Sun deal in the first year. Slashing hardware costs is likely to be a quick way to get there - and if the economy turns, Sun’s highly cyclical hardware arm could even provide a pleasant surprise.

One person familiar with Oracle’s thinking suggests that the company will act quickly to narrow the focus of Sun’s hardware on a smaller number of high-end system designs. And a person close to the Sun camp admits that Sun itself simply failed to act aggressively enough to cut costs - though this person adds that a big acquirer like a Oracle also has many more opportunities to save money than Sun could have done on its own, for instance by combining salesforces.

Another pragmatic reason to take on the hardware business is that it offers Oracle a strategic hedge. In a world dominated by a handful of giant systems companies, life as a pure software company could become uncomfortable: what if big partner/rivals like IBM and HP become less enthusiastic about selling and supporting Oracle’s software?

Being able to offer its own hardware gives Oracle a fall-back, according to one person close to the transaction. The very existence of an Oracle hardware division changes the equation and removes a potential weapon in the hands of its enemies.

Of course, none of this changes Oracle’s main motivation for the Sun acquisition: getting its hands on Java, Solaris and MySQL. But it does help to explain why a software company with operating profit margins of 35 per cent is willing to take on a business that recently has had trouble making any money at all.

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Gadget Leak: Toshiba 2009-2010 Handset Roadmap

2 comments Saturday, April 18, 2009
Spring has sprung and with it leaked images and info about Toshiba’s upcoming handsets. The 5 new handsets are purportedly all based on the 1 GHz Snapdragon processor running Windows Mobile 6.5.

First up is the TG02 and TG03, which build upon the already announced TG01 that includes a 4.1-inch touchscreen, HSDPA, microSD card slot, accelerometer and 9.9mm thick form factor. The difference between the two yet to be officially announced handsets are an IPX4 water resistant rating with a 3.2MP camera for the TG02, and a 5MP camera with 5.1 Dolby Digital output for the TG03, but sans IPX4 rating.

The MIDs, the K01 and K02 feature a 4.1-inch and 3.5-inch touchscreen respectively, while both include a slide out QWERTY keyboard and a 3.2MP camera.

Last of the leaked handsets is the L01, which boasts the largest of the screens at 7-inches and some funky stand alone keyboard that is very reminiscent of the Touch Book.

You can expect most of these handsets to launch between Q4 2009 and Q1 2010.

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Nikon D5000 DSLR

The Nikon D5000 has been announced. The D5000 is an upper-entry-level DSLR camera that sits in between the D60 and D90. It has a 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor, live view and can record HD movies at a 720p resolution. The screen on the back can also swivel 180 degrees and tilt.

The camera has a sensitivity of ISO 200 to 3200 which can be extended from ISO 100 to ISO 6400 equivalent. With the 2.7 inch LCD being capable of rotating around and with it having Live View, it makes taking pictures that little bit easier in some situations. The D5000 has a HDMI output compatible with HD TV’s allowing you to playback direct from the camera on to your TV when needed. Other capture features are also included which are wide area, normal area, face detection and new subject tracking. The subject tracking feature is capable of locking on to an individual and if they move out of the cameras view and then back in they will still be kept in focus on the camera. 19 scene modes are included to help you capture the right type of photos for the type of scene you are shooting in.

Available from Amazon.

The Nikon D5000 costs $849 with a 18-55 VR kit lens.

Nikon D5000 Features

• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor
• 12.9 million total pixels
• 12.3 million effective pixels
• Supports high ISO sensitivities
• Nikon DX-format sized CMOS sensor
• Airflow control system
• Image Sensor Cleaning
• Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX 2 software required)
Image processor Nikon EXPEED
A/D conversion 12 bit
• 4,288 x 2,848 (L)
• 3,216 x 2,136 (M)
• 2,144 x 1,424 (S)
• NEF (compressed RAW)
• JPEG: Fine (approx. 1:4), normal (approx. 1:8), or basic (approx. 1:16) compression
• NEF (RAW) + JPEG (any size)
• AVI Motion-JPEG
• File format AVI (Motion-JPEG)
• Image size (pixels) 1280 x 720; 24fps, 640 x 424; 24 fps, 320 x 216; 24 fps
• Audio: Monaural on/off selection
• Exposure: Determined with matrix metering utilizing output from the image sensor
• Exposure lock available
• Exposure compensation available in P, S, A, M modes
• Maximum single clip length: 1280×720/ 5 minutes, others 20 minutes
• Nikon F mount with AF contacts
• Approx. 1.5x lens focal length (Nikon DX format)
• AF-S, AF-I
• Other Type G or D AF Nikkor
• Other AF Nikkor/AI-P Nikkor
• Type D PC Nikkor
• Non-CPU
• IX Nikkor/AF Nikkor for F3AF
- All functions supported
- All functions supported except autofocus
- All functions supported except autofocus and 3D Color Matrix Metering II
- All functions supported except some shooting modes
- Can be used in mode M, but exposure meter does not function; electronic range finder can be used if maximum aperture is f/5.6 or faster
- Cannot be used
• 11 focus points (1 cross-type sensors)
• Multi-CAM 1000
• AF working range: -1 to +19 EV (ISO 100, normal temperature)
• Contrast Detect in Live View mode
Lens Servo • Single Servo (AF-S)
• Continuous Servo (AF-C)
• Automated selection of AF-S or AF-C, (AF-A)
• Focus Tracking automatically activated by subject’s status in (AF-A)
• Manual focus [M], Electronic range finding supported
• Single point from 11 focus points
• Center point narrow or wide zone
• Liveview (Tripod mode): Contrast AF on a desired point anywhere within frame
• Single point AF
• Dynamic Area AF
• Automatic-area AF
• 3D Tracking AF (11 points)

Via: DPReview

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Microsoft owns up to "E74" 360 errors, expands warranty

A popular gaming blog tracked a new kind of Xbox 360 error, the E74, and Microsoft has finally owned up and added the issue to the three-year "Red Ring of Death" warranty. This is a win for consumers, but it's yet another black eye for Microsoft's hardware.
By Ben Kuchera

While Xbox 360 systems may be known more for the dreaded "red ring of death" than any other hardware failure, one gaming blog has been tracking the rise of the "E74" error, an issue that causes the console to crash and show a multi-language kill screen. You'll also get a single red section on your system's power button. Microsoft is aware of the problem, and has since amended it's three-year warranty to cover the error.

The story began when Joystiq started to receive complaints concerning the error. The site decided to gather some data, and found that complaints of the error increased after the release of the New Xbox Experience, or NXE. "One oddity is that there is no correlation between the dates on which the systems in question were purchased and when they went belly up," Joystiq writer Justin McElroy reported. "The error usually occurred after anywhere from 12 to 36 months of use, with many of you claiming that trouble arose on consoles that have already been repaired for Red Ring of Death. Whatever modifications Microsoft has made to the console to improve its reliability in the past years seems to have no bearing on the likelihood of E74."

The problem was that this issue wasn't covered by Microsoft's warranty; the company simply called it a "general hardware failure" and that was that. More sites jumped onto the issue, however, and found the same data: the E74 error was a widespread issue, and seemed connected to the NXE, although that might not be the direct cause of the issue. "The time frame for the rise in issues makes NXE and its November debut a suspect," Engadget wrote. "But it's worth noting that the uptick started just before that launch, so perhaps it has more to do with hiccups caused by spurred interest in turning on the console after a long period of dormancy."

Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it would do the right thing and extend the red-ring warranty to include the E74 errors, detailing the inclusion on its Xbox support site. "After investigating the issue, we have determined that the E74 error message can indicate the general hardware failure that is associated with three flashing red lights error on the console. As a result, we have decided to cover repairs related to the E74 error message under our three-year warranty program for certain general hardware failures that was announced in July 2007." Microsoft also claims it has made the necessary changes to decrease the likelihood of the error, and will refund the cost of E74 repairs to customers who may have already paid to have their console fixed or replaced.

It's gratifying to see Microsoft do the right thing, but yet another known hardware issue with the 360 won't do much to help the system's battered reputation; the red ring fiasco ended up costing the company $1 billion plus to make right. The "E74" problem won't likely cost anything near that amount, but the damage to the 360's shoddy hardware reputation won't be easy to quantify.

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Tips for getting catastrophe insurance

(This Old House) -- The 10 most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history all have occurred in the last decade. These catastrophes have resulted in insurance companies having to cover losses averaging $10 billion each year since 1989, compared with just $2 billion yearly from 1980 to 1988.

With the potential catastrophe payouts insurers face far exceeding their reserves, it's no surprise that major companies, including Allstate and State Farm, are raising catastrophe-policy premiums and deductibles.

"The insurance industry is saying to the homeowner, If you choose to live here, that's great, but you have to take on more of the risk," says Jayna Neagle, of the Washington, D.C.-based Insurance Information Institute. "It's all about sharing the risk."

If you live where tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are a regular occurrence, catastrophe insurance is an important consideration. Ask these questions to avoid paying too much or choosing a company that a disaster could drive out of business:

Do you have proper coverage?

Amazingly, most people don't. For instance, only 20 percent of homeowners in floodplain areas carry flood insurance, even though their flood risk is 26 times their fire risk.

Similar figures hold in many earthquake- and storm-prone areas. Find out if you need catastrophe coverage by calling your agent or state insurance board.

Obtain information on flood, storm or quake risks in your region and compare it to risks posed by the "normal" hazards your homeowner's policy covers; if catastrophe risk exceeds normal risk, buy expanded coverage. This Old House: Beef up your insurance

Is the insurer financially stable?

Don't Miss

A huge catastrophe can shake the stability of weaker insurance companies, putting them at risk of a default that could leave policyholders uncovered. A.M. Best and Standard & Poor's now rate insurance companies to reflect their ability to withstand such catastrophes.

Check an insurer's rating with A.M. Best, S&P, or Consumer Reports magazine. Look for an A rating or better (such as AAA or A++). Avoid lower-rated companies (those with a B or lower rating).

Are the premiums and deductibles reasonable?

Double-digit increases in catastrophe premiums are common in high-risk storm and earthquake areas. These increases vary widely by company and region, so if your premium jumps up, shop around for an insurer that's not as exposed to catastrophe-related payouts. This Old House: Insure yourself against storms

Also be aware of the change to "percentage deductibles" that require homeowners to cover a percentage of the damages rather than a set figure. For example, if the deductible is 5 percent and losses are $100,000, the policyholder covers the first $5,000.

According to J. Robert Hunter, insurance director for the Consumer Foundation of America, homeowners are not always clearly notified of the change. "A lot of people have been misled," Hunter says. "The disclosure is really vague, buried in a lot of fine print." This Old House: Do you have enough insurance?

When you're ready to buy, try these shopping tips:

1. Purchase all your insurance (homeowner's, auto, life) from an insurer that offers a multiple-policy discount. Also check if your insurer gives a "loyalty" discount for staying with them for three to five or more years.

2. Go with a high deductible; this can save up to 20 percent in premiums if you have savings to do it.

3. Install smoke detectors, a burglar alarm, storm shutters, dead bolts, and a fire-sprinkler system to reduce the premium on your homeowner's policy. The same goes for using storm- or earthquake-resistant construction methods or materials.

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Piracy Insurance Is Still Available, At A Higher Price


CHICAGO -(Dow Jones)- Despite a surge in piracy off the coast of Somalia in recent years, capped by the dramatic rescue of a U.S. cargo ship captain there Sunday, insurers are still willing to offer piracy insurance, although at dramatically higher prices.

"In general, the price is up five- to 10-fold from 18 months ago," when the surge in piracy off Somalia began to take off, said Peter Townsend, executive director for the marine practice group at insurance broker Aon Corp. (AOC). "The demand is there."

Piracy insurance generally covers physical loss or damage to the ship or its cargo, along with kidnap and ransom coverage for the crew. Townsend said he helped develop coverage that also includes the daily loss that comes from having a detained ship sit unused while the owners negotiate ransom with pirates.

Piracy-insurance prices are usually set per shipment no more than a week before a planned passage through the area plied by Somalian pirates, which includes the Gulf of Aden and parts of the Indian Ocean. Though prices vary widely, it might cost a shipper $30,000 to $50,000 for $3 million to $5 million of coverage for a single voyage through the area, Townsend said.

Townsend said prices tend to dip immediately after a spate of hijackings. " Underwriters feel that, if several vessels are being held, the likelihood is decreased" that there will be another pirate attack in the following days.

He said Sunday's rescue of the captain of the American-flagged cargo ship Maersk Alabama by U.S. Navy Seal sharpshooters probably won't decrease piracy, despite the death of three of the pirates during the rescue.

"The rewards [of piracy] outweigh the risks, in their view," Townsend said. " The loss of three pirates will harden their resolve. It is a risky business."

Townsend said he couldn't say if the Maersk Alabama was insured, but he said many shippers play the "percentages" and hope their ship will be one of the many that make it through unattacked. However, the surge in piracy in the past two years is increasing interest. Most piracy insurance is underwritten through the Lloyd's of London insurance market, where groups of insurers take on risks.

One insurer that offers the coverage, Chubb Corp. (CB), said last month that prices generally were up around 20%. A Chubb spokesman said the company didn't break out its total premiums of profitability on the coverage, but that it wasn't a major part of its business.

Townsend said pirates off the Somali coast detained 111 vessels and 800 seafarers in 2008, which was about a 200% increase from the year before. So far in 2009, 40 vessels have been detained.

In 2008, Townsend estimated, around 30,000 vessels traveled through the area, which he called a "major artery" for shipping.

-By Lavonne Kuykendall, Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4141; lavonne.kuykendall@

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Gogic Robot walks funny

3 comments Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Japanese Gogic robot is cute little robot with a very funny walking style. See the video of Gogic below.
The Gogic player DIY robot kit sells for $499.99 on Gizmine.

Elekit's Gogic player DIY robot kit features five servo-motor controls that allow it to walk, and sit.
The assembly time is three hours and the robot is powered by standard batteries 9V x 1, AA x 4. More details on Gizmine.

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Sprint Looks to Lease Network to Gadget Makers

Think your favorite gadgets--GPS, media player, camera--and now reimagine them with wireless cellular connectivity. You can then browse for restaurants on your GPS navigator or upload pictures directly from the camera to Flickr anytime, anywhere.

Telecom services provider Sprint is hoping to make that possible by offering excess capacity on its cellular network available to gadget makers, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

"Sprint understands that we are getting to a point where almost every digital device would want to be connected to a fast ubiquitous network," says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy for Los Angeles based analytics firm Interpret. "Wi-Fi isn't everywhere and consumers want the assurance of ubiquitous connectivity that wide area networks can offer."

Sprint has already taken the first step towards this model through its partnership with Amazon. Amazon kicked off the first version of its e-book reader Kindle with Sprint's wireless connectivity to help users download e-books over the air. In its latest version, Kindle allows users basic web surfing using Sprint's network without paying any additional data access charges.

This kind of unobtrusive wireless capability is something other gadget makers are likely to jump at. Sprint is already in talks with Garmin, SanDisk and Eastman Kodak, says WSJ.

"More and more we are going to see this become attractive to all sorts of vendors, especially if they can integrate it at a low cost," says Gartenberg.

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Public Opinion on Healthcare Reform 2009 and 1993 -- Is this a New Day or "Groundhog Day?"

0 comments Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Remember 1993? Snoop Dogg was on the radio. Grunge ruled the world of fashion, and one of the top movies was "Groundhog Day" where Bill Murray had to relive the same day over again until he figured out just what he had to offer the world and finally got it right.

A charismatic young Democrat had just been elected President promising, among other things, to reform a broken health care system. Public opinion seemed to be behind him but the effort ultimately failed and a more careful reading of public opinion in those early months of the Clinton Administration reveal some of the fault lines that eventually sank the effort. Not only did reform fail to make it out of either house of Congress, but in the 1994 election voters ratified the decision and punished Democrats who supported reform rather than the Republicans who had defeated the plan.

Now a new Democrat has taken office promising healthcare reform. The question becomes; has enough changed in public opinion to offer hope that the outcome will be different this time around? A thorough review of the available polling then and now is less than encouraging for supporters of comprehensive health care reform (a category that includes the authors who should be understood to be supporters of comprehensive reform albeit sobering ones.)

Where common questions can be found in polls leading up to health reform 1993 and 2009, the public is currently less attuned to the issue, expresses less dissatisfaction with the status quo, and offers lower levels of support for the general prospect of reform. But an even greater challenge for reformers is the fact that the basic contours of public opinion that undercut the previous effort continue to be true today - perhaps even more so.

Just as in 1993, it would be easy to read current polls as highly encouraging. Many of these measures appear quite strong, it is just that they are not as strong as comparable numbers in surveys taken before the start of the 1993 effort when many pollsters, including those advising the White House were fooled into believing they had a clear mandate for major change.

Now: A 2008 Harris Interactive survey finds 29% saying so much is wrong with the current health care system that it needs to be completely rebuilt, and an additional 53% says that while there are some good aspects the system needs fundamental changes. That adds up to 82% calling for fundamental change. Just 13% say the system works pretty well and only needs minor changes.

Then: The problem is, these results were typical, though a little stronger in the period before the failed effort. As early as 1991, the same pollsters (then Lou Harris and Associates, the word "Interactive" as we know it today had not yet been coined) using the same question recorded 42% saying so much is wrong with the current health care system that it needs to be completely rebuilt, and an additional 50% said that while there are some good aspects the system needs fundamental changes - for a total of 92% calling for fundamental change and just 6% said the system worked well and only needed minor changes.

Now: A 2008 Harvard School of Public Health survey found a 55% majority in support of "national health insurance" with 35% opposed. While this is unlikely to be a phrase that this round of reformers will find useful or descriptive of their proposals, the term that was in common use in 1993 does allow for an apples to apples comparison.

Then: The same researchers using the same phrase in 1993 found 63% supporting "national health insurance" and just 26% were opposed.

Then as now the real problems facing health care reformers were structural and clearly visible in the polls. As the nation reached near consensus that there was a problem, there was never any such agreement on the specific solution. While many people agreed then as they do now that it is wrong that so many Americans are either uninsured or underinsured, the priority then, as now, for most people was on finding ways to lower their own health insurance cost. Then as now most people had health insurance that they judged to be pretty good.

Then: In 1993 a 77% majority told Martilla and Kiley that they were at least somewhat satisfied with their own health care coverage.

Now: For comparison, 82% expressed a similar level of satisfaction with their own insurance in a 2007 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Poll.

Then: A 1993 Gallup Poll asked people about their priorities for reform and 38% said they wanted health insurance that included all Americans. The bare majority, 51% wanted to control costs, and 10% volunteered that they want reform that did both.

Now: The comparison here is a little less direct, but in 2008 the Harvard School of Public and the Kaiser Family Foundation found similar results with 45% saying they want to make health care insurance more affordable and 22% saying their goal for reform would be to expand insurance to the uninsured.

Then: An NBC News Wall Street Journal Poll in March 1993 found 66% agreeing with the statement "I would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance." Just 30% were opposed. A Martilla and Kiley poll found a similar result but in a clear sign of the problems that would emerge, among their 65% willing to pay higher taxes, just 25% said in a follow up question that they would be willing to pay as much as $50 more a month, 40% said they would pay $30. Support for higher taxes only reaches a majority (62%) when the price is as low as $10 per month, a sum that seems quite low to be enough to give coverage to everyone.

Now: In the most recent NBC News Wall Street Journal Poll conducted February 26 to March 1, 2009 the public is currently split with just 49% agreeing with the statement "I would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance" and nearly as many 45% do not agree.

Does all of this mean that the Obama plan is doomed before it has even begun? Of course not, but putting the apparently positive numbers from many of today's poll questions in the context of even more positive numbers from polls taken before the previous failed effort should serve to underscore the difficulty of the challenge ahead.

It is clear that the new team will benefit from lessons learned in the earlier health care reform effort. Reflecting a hard won understanding that most Americans are fairly satisfied with their current coverage, the first words out of any Administration spokesperson, including President Obama, on the subject of health care reform is that if you like what you have now you will be able to keep it. Also reflecting the priorities expressed in public opinion polls today (and back then), far greater emphasis is now being placed on cost containment than on extending coverage.

The real question will of course come in the details of the proposal. If Obama can come up with a plan that extends coverage to more Americans without a major increase in the burdens it places on the individuals and businesses who pay for it, then it will be difficult for those who want to see this effort fail to generate much public opposition. Naturally this is a tall order, but we would not want to be among the legions of commentators who have had to swallow their doubts that Barack Obama can achieve the difficult.

The only thing we will predict is that there will be a lot of articles written looking at statistics like some of the ones mentioned here (in fact they are likely to grow stronger as the heat is turned up on the issue) to make the case that this time around the public strongly supports reform. We hope this little bit of context will help keep these articles in perspective.

The authors wish to thank Julia Kurnik for research assistance and Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health for invaluable assistance. Would anyone try to write this article without first calling Bob Blendon?

Full post with graphics can be found at and

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U.S. banks lost $32.1 billion in fourth quarter


U.S. banks posted net losses of $32.1 billion in the last quarter of 2008, according to revised figures released late last week by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Previously, the FDIC reported that the nation’s financial institutions had posted losses of $26.2 billion in the fourth quarter.

The FDIC said the new figures reflect “significant amendments” the agency received shortly after its original estimates were released last month. Banks’ revised figures show vastly higher non-cash impairment charges in the fourth quarter, the FDIC said, which impacted the financial sector’s net income and equity capital figures.

Net income for all of 2008 was revised down from $16.1 billion to $10.2 billion.

The decline in the banking industry’s equity capital for the final quarter of 2008 is now reported at $10.1 billion, up from $3.7 billion.

Banks made $575 million in fourth quarter 2007.

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John Hancock Financial Leads Industry in Life Insurance Sales for 2008


BOSTON, March 23, 2009 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX/ ----John Hancock led the industry in total individual life insurance sales in 2008, according to a recent survey of 78 major life insurers by LIMRA International (LIMRA).

According to LIMRA, John Hancock Life Insurance had sales in 2008 of $835 million in premium*. The company also increased its industry-leading market share to more than seven percent and led the industry in average face amount of approximately $1.3 million.

"We are extremely pleased to lead the industry in life insurance sales, especially in light of the challenging economic backdrop in 2008. Our sales results again demonstrated strength across our entire product portfolio," said Steve Finch, President, John Hancock Life Insurance. "We strive to be an industry leader in product innovation, continually enhancing our portfolio to meet our clients' needs."

John Hancock finished first in the industry in variable life (including variable universal life) sales, with sales of approximately $237 million*, according to LIMRA.

"We have placed strong emphasis on variable universal life over the past few years. We believe that for clients with long term horizons our variable universal products are well designed to meet their needs. They remain an attractive and appropriate product," Mr. Finch said.

John Hancock finished second in the industry in universal life sales with sales of nearly $496 million*, and the company maintained its market share of nearly 10 percent, according to LIMRA.

Term and whole life sales again produced strong results, with sales of $84 million and $17 million respectively.

"We remain committed to further strengthening our product portfolio, our service capabilities and our underwriting expertise to provide even greater value for our clients and producers," Mr. Finch said. "We know that our customers and their advisors have many options for meeting their financial objectives and we appreciate that they have chosen to place their trust and confidence in John Hancock."

*Annualized premium plus 10% of excess premium for US individual life insurance as reported to LIMRA

About John Hancock Financial and Manulife Financial Corporation

John Hancock Financial is a unit of Manulife Financial Corporation (the Company), a leading Canadian-based financial services group serving millions of customers in 19 countries and territories worldwide. Operating as Manulife Financial in Canada and in most of Asia, and primarily as John Hancock in the United States, the Company offers clients a diverse range of financial protection products and wealth management services through its extensive network of employees, agents and distribution partners. Funds under management by Manulife Financial and its subsidiaries were Cdn$405 billion (US$330 billion) as at December 31, 2008.

Manulife Financial Corporation trades as 'MFC' on the TSX, NYSE and PSE, and under '0945' on the SEHK. Manulife Financial can be found on the Internet at

The John Hancock unit, through its insurance companies, comprises one of the largest life insurers in the United States. John Hancock offers a broad range of financial products and services, including life insurance, fixed and variable annuities, fixed products, mutual funds, 401(k) plans, long-term care insurance, college savings, and other forms of business insurance. Additional information about John Hancock may be found at

Survey Source: LIMRA International, U.S. Individual Life Insurance Sales Survey, Fourth Quarter YTD 2008 results. Sales based on annualized new premium.

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Workers hurt by health insurance woes

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - Following a trend seen nationally, fewer workers in Illinois are insured than they were in the 1990s.

A study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that nationwide nearly one in five workers is uninsured, a statistically significant increase from fewer than one in seven during the mid-1990s.

In Illinois, the study found that 16 percent of workers between ages 19 to 64 were uninsured in 2007, the latest year such figures are available. In 1995, 11.6 percent of workers in Illinois were uninsured.

The study found that the problem is cost. Total premiums for employer plans have risen six to eight times faster than wages, depending on whether individual or family coverage is picked.

About 20.7 million workers were uninsured in the mid-1990s. A decade later, it was 26.9 million, an increase of about six million.

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Dell's Sleek Adamo Arrives Today

1 comments Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dell's Adamo ultraportable is finally here.

Ever since Apple first introduced its MacBook Air, consumers have been lusting after ultra-thin, ultra-light laptops that still pack a solid performance punch. While many manufacturers have come to challenge the Air, from Lenovo's X300 series to Voodoo's Envy 133, Apple's offering has maintained its dominance. As of today, that dominance will be challenged yet again.

Dell's Adamo will go on sale later today, with an expected shipping date of March 26. The Adamo (Adamo means "to fall in love with" in Latin) carries many of the high end features one would expect with an ultraportable of this caliber. The 13.4-inch, 720p display is made from "edge-to-edge" mineral glass, and the entire laptop chassis is machined from one piece of aluminum. For storage, SSD is the only option, with 128 GB being standard.

While good looks and speedy storage are all well and good, the rest of the insides are a bit of a letdown. For $1,999, the Adamo carries a 1.2 GHz Core 2 Duo U9300 processor with 2 GB of DDR3 memory. If you're willing to p[ay an additional $700, you'll get a processor bump up to 1.6 GHz, 4 GB of RAM, and a built-in 3G wireless card. Unfortunately, both models come with Intel's X4500, which leaves something to be desired on the graphics front. Sure, no one was expecting a GTX 260M, but there are several viable alternatives to the X4500. As for other amenities, the Adamo comes with a DisplayPort, with cables to connect to DVI, HDMI and VGA. North America buyers can also expect an exclusive Adamo Premium Service and the upper echelons of Dell's technical support.

In comparison, the $1,799 MacBook Air ships with a 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo as well as Nvidia's highly regarded 9400M graphics, giving it a solid advantage in both general processing and graphics muscle at a lower price point.

"Great design needs to be timeless and evoke emotion in people", said Alex Gruzen, Senior VP of Dell's consumer products division. "While a premium computing experience was assumed for Adamo, the intent was for people to see, touch and explore Adamo and be rewarded by the select materials and craftsmanship you would expect in a fine watch." Judging from the sentiments of Gruzer and the Adamo's insides, Dell undoubtedly put style before performance with this ultraportable.

One area where the Adamo beats the MacBook Air is thickness. While the Air has a maximum thickness of .75-inches, the Adamo maxes out at .65-inches. However, it should be noted that the Air comes up to .75-inches from .16-inches, whereas the Adamo is .65-inches throughout its body. The Adamo also comes in about one pound heavier than its veteran rival.

While the Adamo is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the ultraportable market, it's lackluster hardware may be an Achilles heel.

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TypeIt4Me 4.1.1: Tom’s Budget Software Pick

TypeIt4Me has long been a favorite of Mac users. It’s been around for 20 years, in one incarnation or another. TypeIt4Me is a utility that monitors your typing, looks for keyword phrases (called abbreviations in TypeIt4Me) you have defined, and replaces those keywords with the text you have assigned to that keyword.

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the AutoText feature in Microsoft Word, or many other word processors, you’re on the right track. The difference is that TypeIt4Me is a system-wide application that will work with almost any open application. You can use TypeIt4Me in your email application, word processor, web editor, or just about any application that works with text.

The text that replaces an abbreviation can be as simple as your name and address, or as complex as a rich text document that contains formatting and images. TypeIt4Me works with variables such as date and time, and can insert the current contents of your clipboard. You can control the position of the cursor, defining its location after TypeIt4Me expands an abbreviation; trigger AppleScripts; or nest other TypeIt4Me clippings within the current expanded abbreviation.

TypeIt4Me is available for $27. A 30-day demo is available.

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Steve Ballmer Maps Microsoft’s Cloud-y Future

By Saul Hansell

Saul Hansell/The New York Times
A diagram, by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, of its cloud computing strategy

Look at the picture above. It’s an original Steve Ballmer created before my eyes on the wall of a conference room here at The Times.

Simple, isn’t it?

Well, that’s the point that Mr. Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, was trying to make when he drew it. I was talking to him about Microsoft’s plans to offer companies cloud computing services — software that will run on Microsoft’s new network of big data centers. As I learned about the Azure system, Microsoft’s new cloud operating system, I started to wonder if it is overly complex. I asked if Microsoft was risking taking on too much, as it did with Longhorn, the operating system rewrite that led to the ill-fated Windows Vista.

“It’s not anything like Longhorn,” Mr. Ballmer said. “And it’s not really that complicated.”

He jumped up, grabbed a marker and drew a big black rectangle divided into smaller rectangles on the white board.

“This is what we look like in the data center,” he said.

He was referring to all of the software Microsoft currently sells to run on corporate servers and the tools to develop them. That currently is a $13 billion-a-year business for Microsoft (22 percent of its total revenue) and its fastest growing segment. All of those products, Mr. Ballmer said, are being rewritten so customers can run them on Microsoft’s computers in addition to their own.

“Anything that has been a server needs to be a service,” he said.

So in the center box he wrote “Windows Server”—the company’s core product for data centers.

“Windows Server becomes Windows Azure,” he said. Steve Ballmer

That is going to be a service that will let companies build applications to be run from Microsoft’s data centers.

The next block up represented SQL Server — Microsoft’s database product.

“I’ll bet by the time we’re done, if I win, this will be called SQL Azure,” he said, implying a bit of a branding debate. Nearby were boxes for Microsoft’s other server products — Exchange for e-mail, SharePoint for collaboration, etc.

The trapezoid at the very top of Mr. Ballmer’s picture represented Office and other PC software products that it sells to big companies, much of it meant to interact with the server software, like Exchange.

As he has before, Mr. Ballmer insisted that these PC programs are not all going to be replaced with Web sites, like Google Docs or Gmail.

“Everyone says ‘You have to run in a browser.’ That’s nonsense,” he said. “When you run in the browser, you are not running HTML, you are just downloading code to the browser instead of downloading code to the PC.”

What is important, Mr. Ballmer argued, is giving Microsoft software the ability to use the Internet as needed. For example, corporations will be able to start their own social networks to enable employees to work together better. You’ll use this network from within Office.

He also suggested that the move will increase Microsoft’s earnings from corporate services. That’s because it will be able to charge both for the software itself and Microsoft’s service to operate that software on its own machines.

The company’s costs will rise and its profit margins will fall as it builds out its data centers. Software, after all, has remarkable margins because it doesn’t really cost anything to deliver an additional office license to a corporate client. But Mr. Ballmer said that Microsoft will still come away with more dollars in profit for every worker using its cloud-based services than it does from software.

“Shareholders don’t get fed by percentages,” he said.

So far, little of this is actually making money for Microsoft. It started selling the early version of cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint services last year. And it is testing its new systems with big companies including Coca-Cola Enterprises and Nokia. But Mr. Ballmer said he didn’t think Microsoft was behind its potential rivals.

“This is all so early,” he said. “It’s early for Amazon. VMware is just barely there. We’re barely there. Google isn’t there yet.”

Most of these companies don’t have much experience selling to big companies, he said.

“It took us 10 years to establish our enterprise capability and this company, Google, hasn’t really begun to focus,” Mr. Ballmer said. “We understand what the enterprise needs: security, compliance, archiving.”

That’s why I keep wondering about the scope of what Mr. Ballmer is trying to do. Azure and the related products are meant from the start to have all the features that a multinational company might need to run sophisticated applications. His picture may well look simple to chief information officers who see in it a mirror of the software they already buy from Microsoft.

I said one more time to Mr. Ballmer that his approach seemed much riskier than that used by Google and Amazon, which can start by offering simple services and then can build them up over time.

Mr. Ballmer replied he was quite confident that Microsoft’s “story is right.”

He added, “We are taking the complexity out, not the capabilities.”

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Paul Boutin Cisco acquires Flip camera maker, analysts bring out the knives

On Thursday, network equipment megalith Cisco Systems announced the pending acquisition of Pure Digital, makers of the popular Flip video camera whose success is due to its one-button simplicity and built-in video management software for both PC and Mac. (See gadget gury David Pogue's video for an entertaining explanation of the Flip's appeal. A new model, the Mino, shoots HD video.)

Cisco watchers are largely unimpressed with the deal. In short, analysts and writers who cover Cisco consider the Flip's market of 2 million units too small for Cisco to bother with, and Pure Digital's selling price of $590 million too small a return for investors Benchmark Capital and Sequoia Capital.

Gartner analyst Nick Jones:

This leaves me totally puzzled. $590 million is loose change for Cisco. But why spend even loose change on a brand no-one has heard of outside the US and which has sold about 2 million units in its entire history. Last year the mobile industry shipped well over 800 million handsets with cameras, the latest models like the Samsung Omnia can already shoot HD video which is on the cusp of mainstream mobile adoption. The chips and camera modules on mid to high-end devices will all head to HD over the next couple of years. So products like Flip are going to be buried under an avalanche of HD enabled handsets. I can understand Flip wanting to sell out before the tsunami arrives but why would Cisco buy?

Network World columnist Brad Reese:

A spectacularly successful cash out for Pure Digital's venture capital investor - Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital (keep in mind that Moritz and Sequoia were also the original venture capital backers of Cisco), [but] not be a wise acquisition for Cisco.

First, how do Cisco's valuable channel partners benefit with Cisco capital and management attention focused on products sold in mass retail outlets for between $130 and $230, and whose success has spawned a large group of copycat competitors?

Second, Cisco's expertise is in developing and supporting complex technology. I fear Cisco risks being "dumbed down" ... for example, a recent report shows Cisco gaining market share in [small to medium business] routers but losing ground in the high-end router segment to Juniper Networks.

PEHub blogger Lawrence Aragon, who writes about private equity:

It sounds like a pretty good deal, but you have to understand that the VCs put $95 million into Pure, which makes the Flip digital video camera. Assuming they own half of the company, that’s a return of just over 3x their money. For a middle-of-the road VC firm, that would be a decent return, but for big name backers Benchmark Capital and Sequoia Captial that’s pretty much a dud.

Did Pure Digital's investors push for a relatively cheap acquistion before the Flip loses its market share? Does Cisco have plans for the Flip, or for Pure Digital, that aren't obvious from outside the company? Cisco's press release suggests Cisco, an enterprise IT colossus, is trying to become a household brand as well:

"The acquisition of Pure Digital is key to Cisco's strategy to expand our momentum in the media-enabled home and to capture the consumer market transition to visual networking."

The consumer market transition to visual networking? Sounds like Cisco is looking to sell cameras to the makers of YouTube home videos. Good luck competing with Apple and Logitech.

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Review: A month with Sony's Vaio P

2 comments Saturday, March 21, 2009
+ Very small and light, but still has a great keyboard
+ 1600x768 display
+ Fanless and completely silent
+ Stunning looks
+ 3G networking and GPS built-in

- You'll need to upgrade to Windows XP or Windows 7 to get the most out of it.
- 200 dpi display means text is tiny
- Expensive, and so are accessories
- Intel GMA 500 video drivers badly need updating
- Disabled SIM card slot

It is beautiful, an engineering marvel. It is fanless, silent and slim. For anyone who's ever hated carrying a briefcase—or wanted a computer that goes well with Gaultier—the Vaio P is the ne plus ultra of ultraportable computers.

For the rest, it's a $900 laptop that can barely keep up with netbooks half its price.

Sadly hobbled by Windows Vista's bloat, only those with undemanding performance requirements will enjoy it straight out of the box. Install XP or Windows 7, however, and its promise becomes more apparent.

About as small as a laptop can be while retaining a decent keyboard, the P is 9.7" x 4.7" x 0.8" and weighs just 1.4 pounds. It has a high-definition 8" LED-backlit display, 2GB of RAM, 3G internet, WiFi and GPS. The base model has a 60GB hard drive, with optional SSD upgrades. That keyboard is nearly full-size, and in the chiclet style long used by Sony and Apple, recently adopted by cheaper brands.

It has a GoBi radio, which means in principle that it can get 3G data from both Evdo and HSDPA networks. In the U.S., however, it is exclusive to Verizon. U.S. units also lack the faster processors available in Europe and Japan (you can buy imports from Dynamism) but gain integrated GPS, a feature not found abroad.

It's a nice package, for sure, but it uses a slower version of Intel's Atom chip, the Z520, which leaves it huffing and puffing to keep up with cheaper alternatives like the HP Mini.

vaiopkeyboard.jpgBattery life is also poor: you'll get a little over 2 hours on balanced settings. The long-life battery doubles that, but makes the P about a third of an inch thicker. Small type on the 200dpi display can be hard on the eyes. The track-nub is surprisingly good — there was simply no space for a trackpad — but some people find it irritating and difficult to use.

More disappointing was poor video and gaming performance, even accounting for the low specifications. This is almost certainly a software issue: Intel and Sony need to step up and provide better drivers for the P's GMA 500 video chip. While it looks gorgeous, the plastic finish is fingerprint-friendly and it doesn't feel very durable.

It's hard to talk about the Vaio P without talking about its ads. After announcing it at CES to the technology tribes, Sony turned its marketing attention to professional women, deploying a bizarre campaign centered around robot fashion mannequins who wandered Manhattan making geolocated Facebook updates.

At a party at the company's Madison Avenue flagship store, I got to observe the mannequins do their thing--stand very still, looking pretty, holding Vaio Ps out for the fashion press to nervously inspect.

It's art, and I kind of liked it, but it makes one wonder just how much it would have cost Sony to make sure OpenGL worked better.

Whoever Sony wants to sell it to, here's who I think will like it: portability junkies who find netbooks too cumbersome, but who still want a usable keyboard. If the idea of that appeals to you — and you're prepared to pay for it — go for it. If you're even slightly ambivalent, however, wait until Windows 7 is out so you can avoid the hours of tinkering that the Vaio P demands to get the most from it.

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Spy camera in a tissue box

Inside this tissue box recorder from Brickhouse is a relatively decent camera capable of DVD-quality recording, triggered by motion or on a schedule. It'll even drop down to black-and-white in the dark for low-light recording. It's ridiculously priced at $600, so I can't really recommend it, but mostly pointing it out so if you see a tissue box like this in the future you'll be able to turn it around to face the wall. [via Chip Chick]
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Shuttle's X50 Touchscreen All-In-One

Similar to the Asus model we just reviewed, Shuttle's X50 is another nettop all-in-one. It too has a touchscreen 15.6" display with a 1366x768 screen resolution, 1 GB of RAM and an Atom CPU from Intel.

I has a 160GB hard drive, a webcam, gigabit ethernet and WiFi, and is sold with Windows XP. There are 5 USB ports and a memory card reader.

How, then, does it differ? Where the Eee is round, the X50 is square. And it has a handle.

Shuttle x50 [Slashgear]

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SplitFish FragFX V2 is the controller bundled with a PlayStation 3 if it were 1988


Unlike Microsoft's silly but sort of understandable proscription against mice on home consoles, Sony doesn't mind letting gamers use a mouse on their lap. Swiss peripherals maker SplitFish has released a new model of their FragFX mouse, the V2, with offers "significant improvements", but is presented here primarily because it looks odd. It is eighty of your dollars.

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Elecom M-SN1UL Mouse

The Elecom M-SN1UL is a mouse that moves the optical sensor to the outer edge where your thumb rests. By doing this it aims to make using a mouse more accurate. We’ll explain how after the jump.

When learning to write you put the pen between your thumb and finger. With a traditional mouse the ball is right in the middle of the mouse as that’s the only place it would fit. Since optical mice have been around they have also had their optical sensors right in the middle of the mouse. However, Elecom have made the M-SN1UL with a sensor out side of the mouse where if you were holding a pen, the tip would be. By doing this it means that your mouse gets the precision of holding a pen while moving it around. The optical sensor on the M-SN1UL is 1600dpi.

Will it actually work as described? or will it just seem the same as any other mouse? I expect the latter but if anyone has used one or will do in the future then let us know if it’s worth buying.

Via: EverythingUSB


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Gadget Show Presents CS: Source Prize Tourney

Heaven Media has announced they will present a professional eSports tournament to be held at Gadget Show Live, taking place at Birmingham NEC April 17th-19th. Counter-Strike: Source is the game and £6,000 will be up for grabs for the four teams from around Europe whom have been invited to compete.

“We will have a whole host of activities within the Gaming Zone, but the focal point will very much be this tournament,” said Adam Godfrey, Business Development for Heaven Media. “It is a great opportunity for over 30,000 visitors at the event to see the best gamers in Europe battling it out.

“This tournament gives casual gamers a chance to meet some of the top eSports personalities in person, these are teams that compete in large money tournaments all over the world,” confirmed Heaven Media’s Corin Cole. “We will also be providing extensive coverage both within the zone and via our portfolio of sites”.

The focal hub for coverage will be leading eSports coverage site who will be in attendance to provide live scores, features, media, and access to watch games, both live and on-demand.

Heaven Media have also confirmed the attendance of eSports broadcasting company QuadV, in the form of Paul Chaloner, Stuart Saw, and Jason Atkins, who bring with them many years of experience in broadcasting, both online and to television networks around the world.


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Health Care Reform: Changing the Tax Treatment of Health Insurance

4 comments Monday, March 16, 2009

Leading Members of Congress and certain officials in the Obama Administration are reportedly considering changes to the federal tax treatment of health insurance as a means of financing health reform.

If there is one area in health policy where there is a powerful consensus among serious analysts, conservative and liberal alike, it is the need to change the existing tax treatment of health insurance. President Ronald Reagan first proposed a change to the tax law governing health insurance in 1983, but Congress never acted on the proposal. Six years later, analysts at The Heritage Foundation unveiled a national health reform proposal grounded in comprehensive tax reform. Now, the idea could—depending on its details—potentially serve as the basis of a bipartisan compromise on health reform in the coming months.

The Current Tax Treatment

The current tax treatment of health insurance is a byproduct of wage and price controls imposed by the Roosevelt Administration during the World War II era. The federal tax code currently excludes, without limit, the value of employer-sponsored health insurance from an individual's income for the purposes of both income and payroll taxes. This tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance is a huge, but hidden, tax subsidy. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that value of the tax exclusion in 2007 was $246.1 billion in foregone income and payroll taxes. The exclusion represents the largest federal tax expenditure as well as the third largest health care expenditure, following only Medicare and Medicaid, the nation's two largest entitlement programs.

Health economists generally agree that this Roosevelt-era policy is poorly designed and has many perverse incentives. The employee exclusion is inherently unfair, inefficient, and inequitable.

It is unfair because only individuals with employer-sponsored insurance are able to receive tax relief, while individuals without access to such coverage typically pay for health insurance with after-tax dollars and, in effect, face a sizeable tax penalty. It is inefficient and inequitable because the largest tax benefits go to those who need them least; given the progressive structure of the tax code, the exclusion is regressive since it is worth less to taxpayers in lower marginal tax rates and more to those in higher marginal tax rates. Therefore, if the goal is to extend coverage to the uninsured, the tax break is poorly targeted because it provides little or no tax relief to those with low incomes, who are least able to afford health insurance.

The tax treatment of health insurance also has the perverse effect of increasing health care spending and driving up costs by essentially lowering the effective price of employer-sponsored health insurance. The exclusion does encourage individuals to obtain insurance. But it also encourages many individuals to have more generous insurance than they typically need, because the higher the cost of the insurance and the higher the person's income, the bigger the tax benefit for the individual. The exclusion creates a bias toward overly generous insurance—even first-dollar coverage—with low cost-sharing in the form of co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles because out-of-pocket expenditures, for the most part, do not enjoy a similar tax preference. This incentive reduces the price sensitivity of health care consumers and leads to higher prices and greater utilization, which in turn puts a strain on resources and makes health care more expensive for those who lack insurance.

The Right Way to Change the Tax Treatment

The best way to change the current tax treatment would be to replace the existing tax exclusion with a more equitable and efficient system of individual tax relief, leveling the playing field for robust competition among insurers and creating a level of consumer choice that is routine in every other sector of the American economy.

Short of that, Congress could limit or cap the exclusion, perhaps only for income tax purposes, while simultaneously using the new revenue to provide health care tax credits for taxpaying households. The government could also provide vouchers—which, for lower-income households, could be combined with the credit—so that more individuals and families can afford health insurance.

Under this scenario, any revenue generated from the value of premiums that either exceeds the cap or is no longer excluded from taxable income should be used exclusively to finance tax credits to individuals and families to offset their federal taxes. The existing tax exclusion on health benefits should be gradually phased out over time while the new system of health care tax credits for individuals and families is phased in. The health care tax credits should apply to a significant portion of a health plan's premium—but not all of it (consumers should have some "skin in the game")—and be used to offset some of a taxpayer's income tax liability.

Americans with no tax liability, or tax liability that is currently less than the value of the credit, should receive vouchers to purchase their own insurance. The voucher component would be somewhat like a traditional refundable tax credit (such as the earned income tax credit), although with a key difference: These health care vouchers should be paid for entirely by reductions in other government spending in the budget—and there are plenty of options available to finance such direct assistance to low-income persons. But assistance to families currently not paying taxes should not be funded by the revenue raised from changes in the tax treatment of health insurance for taxpaying Americans.

Essential to Bipartisan Reform

Changing the tax treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance has for years enjoyed support from across the political spectrum. Although President Obama has not yet included tax treatment reforms in his health care plan, it is not too late. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D–MT) has proposed limiting the current tax exclusion, which suggests there is still some room for a compromise on this front. If President Obama and leaders in Congress are sincere about passing—and fully financing—comprehensive health care reform legislation with broad bipartisan support, changes to the tax treatment are essential.

There are several ways to design a new system of health care financing that is more efficient and more equitable than what Americans have today. The right way is to restructure the tax code to promote competition among health plans and give Americans real personal choice of health care options. A proposal that gradually phases out the current income tax exclusion while phasing in a more equitable and efficient tax treatment will achieve serious bipartisan health care reform.

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Paragon Software(R) Introduces New NTFS for Mac(R) OS X 7.0


Universal File System Driver Creates Two-Way Communication Channel Between Mac OS X and Windows, Includes New MacBrowser for Dual-Boot Capabilities

IRVINE, CA - Paragon Software Group (PSG), the technology leader in innovative data security and data management solutions, today announced the release of NTFS for Mac OS X 7.0. A complete solution designed to eliminate the barrier between Windows and Mac, NTFS for Mac provides Mac OS X users with full read and write access to Microsoft NTFS partitions. This allows users to modify existing files, delete, create, and copy new files from Mac to Windows, without the need for expensive translation software or servers.

Paragon's NTFS for Mac OS X 7.0 is based on Paragon's own unique technology -- the Universal File System Driver (UFSD). UFSD was specially developed to provide full access (read/write, format, etc.) to volumes of the most popular file systems (NTFS, FAT, Ext2/3FS, etc.) under various platforms (DOS, Windows, Linux, and Mac) when these file systems are not supported. The product is simple to install on a Mac system through user-friendly wizards, with no additional configuration required after installation. It is also simple to use, as every attached Windows NTFS partition works like a native Mac HFS partition after installation. By mounting any NTFS partition like a native Mac partition, the need to perform special commands to obtain access is eliminated. NTFS for Mac OS X 7.0 provides improved write performance enabling the same transfer rate for NTFS volumes as the native Mac OS file system.

Paragon's new MacBrowser is a unique tool that allows fast, easy and transparent read/write access to Mac HFS partitions from within Windows. After the user has installed the software on a Windows operating system, a special unmapped folder under 'My Computer' can be used to browse content, read and modify files, copy, create, open, and delete files and folders on Mac partitions from Windows. To modify a file from a Mac volume, the user would copy it to a Windows partition, make the desired changes and copy it back to Mac after the modifications are completed.

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BMW DesignWorksUSA Designs Ultimate Gaming Rig

About a decade ago, pretty much every computer in the world was housed in a boring beige box, and the biggest design question was whether that container would sit vertically or horizontally. That's all changed now, partly due to the influence of Apple and custom PC manufacturers like Thermaltake, a Taiwanese company that specializes in PC cases and cooling devices.

Recently, Thermaltake contracted
BMW DesignWorksUSA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the German automaker, to help create a new concept in high-end computing, and the result is wholly different from what's common to the market today. Instead of centering around one large box that all the computer components would sit inside, BMW's Level 10 concept uses a set of smaller containers that would house each individual piece.

The requisite LCD LED lighting is present and accounted for, in this case glowing a red hue that looks Vader-esque with the rest of its piano black plastic surrounds. This design is mostly an aesthetic exercise, but it may also have a desirable effect on cooling. Other unique features include a "USB memory key" that doubles as a power button and dual handles that allow the unit to be transported. See the official press release after the break.

[Source: BMW]



The gaming industry - a sector that can deservedly adorn itself with attributes such as visionary creativity, innovation and progressiveness. However, who inspires the gaming industry and how does one set trends in a sector that is in itself the embodiment of progressive thinking and imaginativeness? One answer to that question is currently being given by BMW Group DesignworksUSA, with the presentation of a design concept for a high-end gaming tower prototype that was inspired by the gaming world itself.

BMW Group DesignworksUSA, a 100% subsidiary of the BMW Group, has for many years shaped the global design landscape working for a multitude of industries. In addition to creating yachts, trains, aircraft, lifestyle and IT products, the three studios in Munich, California and Singapore are also engaged with design concepts aimed at transforming visions into reality. One of these concepts is named "Level 10" for Thermaltake, a manufacturer of computer housings and components for individually configurable high-end computers.

Design concept from another world.
The "Level 10" concept allows gamers to experience the power of their high-end computers through the design itself. In order to achieve this, iconic design is combined with optimum functionality and innovative details. By rendering the inside components visible, the design concept focuses on the architectural aesthetics which are inherent in the computers and result from each individually configurable component. The inspiration for this approach the design team took right from the computer worlds themselves – expressiveness, virtual townscapes and futuristic game components served as orientation for the arrangement and the look of individual components. These appear within the overall design in the form of an open modular structure that visually appeals to users, offering them additional functional benefits. Each high-quality component featured by the "Level 10" concept is enclosed within its own protective case, rendering it not only an integral part of the design but also guaranteeing interchangeability and transportability. Thus the design concept makes considerable allowances for the behaviour of users who wish to use their equipment in many different places and are eager to get it there safely. The concept also has an aesthetical answer to the physical necessity for best possible cooling, this also being associated with the virtual world of the gamer. The asymmetric arrangement of the robust vertical heatsink and the horizontally located individual components creates a strong architectural statement, clearly revealing the powerful cooling characteristics of the Thermaltake Gaming Tower.

Decisive game factor: Cleverly designed details.
Whilst the design concept initially appeals visually to gamers, clever detail solutions do justice to their high demands on the applications. A smart lock system facilitates the blocking of access in order to protect the valuable modules. A USB memory key was designed as an extractable "power button" that not only activates the system, but also secures personal system data, rendering it suitable for flexible use. Two ergonomically well-positioned, integrated handles allow safe and convenient transportation of the tower, a highly relevant feature in the high-end gaming tower sector. The design is rounded off by a cleverly devised cable conduit system and light features which communicate a multitude of tower functions such as temperature and memory volumes. Since the computer worlds themselves supply the context for the conceptual idea, an authentic design has been created that significantly emphasises the functionality of the Thermaltake housing and no longer needs to be concealed inside the chassis. The prototype of the "Level 10" tower can be seen from the 3rd to 8th of March at the CEBIT in Hannover. (Thermaltake stand hall 24 / C02).

BMW Group DesignworksUSA- Perfect design beyond the spotlights.
BMW Group DesignworksUSA is a global design consultancy and subsidiary of the BMW Group. The company, which was acquired by the BMW Group in 1995, now operates globally from its locations in Europe, America and Asia. Clients turn to DesignworksUSA for brand communications, strategy, research, design development, engineering, modeling, and color, materials, and finish. Unique to DesignworksUSA, they have both an automotive and industrial design studio, enabling the transfer of collective knowledge and inspiration from automotive design to product design and vice versa. The studio represents a guiding force for the BMW Group brand design studios (BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars) and simultaneously operates as an innovation driver for the most diverse industries from IT to medical, lifestyle or aviation. Since 2004, Verena C. Kloos has overseen the strategy and operations for the Munich, Los Angeles and Singapore design studios. The designs consistently express the individual identity of a brand, so each product devised by BMW Group DesignworksUSA gains its specific uniqueness. Thanks to this approach the design studio stands out significantly from its competitors, convincing big brand names – from Microsoft and HP, Starbucks, Embraer, Advanced Medical Optics and Bavaria Yachts to Boeing Business Jets.

Design studio: BMW Group DesignworksUSA, Munich Studio
Client: Thermaltake, Taipeh, Taiwan
Project name: Design concept "Level 10"

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