With the spotlight dimmed, time for the true India to develop

The Story was going down so well. Blue-chip multinationals had been persuaded to outsource any work they could to Indians fresh from college. Companies going on sale had begun to think of Indian buyers first. Tourists from Paris to São Paulo, once fearful of malaria and cobras, had shed old fears to arrive by the planeful…

But 2008 ended badly for this branding campaign. The world economy entered crisis mode. The outsourcing companies began to collapse. Hedge funds deluging the Bombay Stock Exchange with liquidity began to run dry. And then the savage, 72-hour siege of Mumbai drop-kicked a country already teetering on the cliff’s brink.

For now, the India Story is suspended. No more magazine covers with the television celebrity Padma Lakshmi’s worshipful hand greeting. No more investors who cannot distinguish Kolkata from Kerala pouring their savings into India nonetheless. No more iPods at Davos. No one is looking for the next big seductively risky thing…

Yes, my favorite sort of letter – “from our correspondent in India” –

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Bus passengers dive to the floor to avoid decapitation

Families told of their shock after a double-decker bus had its roof ripped off when it crashed into a low bridge.

The driver of the Stagecoach bus and two passengers were taken to hospital after the collision at the Metro Bridge in The Avenue, Wallsend.

The number 40 service, which was going from Newcastle to Wallsend, is understood to have taken a wrong turn and the 14ft-high vehicle hit the bridge. The structure has a sign saying the bridge is 12ft 3in high.

The spokesman said: “Six passengers were on the bus at the time. Three were seated towards the rear of the vehicle on the upper deck, most of which was sheered off as a result of the accident. Thankfully, we understand there were only minor injuries from flying glass to three passengers. The driver was also taken to hospital suffering from shock.”

Pretty scary. That’s more than a Yellow Card! And the driver had to be moving right along to remove that much sheet metal and glass.

Coming Attraction: The cement that eats carbon dioxide

Cement, a vast source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, could be transformed into a means of stripping the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an innovation from British engineers.

The new environmentally formulation means the cement industry could change from being a “significant emitter to a significant absorber of CO2,” says Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, chief scientist at London-based Novacem, whose invention has garnered support and funding from industry and environmentalists.

The new cement, which uses a different raw material, certainly has a vast potential market. Making the 2bn tonnes of cement used globally every year pumps out 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions – more than the entire aviation industry. And the long-term trends are upwards: a recent report by the French bank Credit Agricole estimated that, by 2020, demand for cement will increase by 50% compared to today.

Making traditional cement results in greenhouse gas emissions from two sources: it requires intense heat, and so a lot of energy to heat up the ovens that cook the raw material, such as limestone. That then releases further CO2 as it burns. But, until now, no one has found a large-scale way to tackle this fundamental problem.

Novacem’s cement, based on magnesium silicates, not only requires much less heating, it also absorbs large amounts of CO2 as it hardens, making it carbon negative.

Magnesium silicates are readily available – already used in specialty wallboard. Though it will take some time for pilot operations to demonstrate real-time cost-benefit ratios, it certainly sounds like a dramatic breakthrough.

As for time to develop and spread round the world? Damned near every major advance in building codes since World War Two has been initiated in Europe and the U.K.. If it works as well as it may, we’ll probably catch up in the U.S. – a decade later.

Treasure trove in dusty locked garage

A classic Bugatti car, which gathered dust in a Tyneside garage for almost 50 years, may fetch up to $4.35 million when it goes under the hammer.

Relatives of reclusive Newcastle doctor Harold Carr found the 1937 Type 57S Atalante in a garage after he died. Now the classic car, thought to be one of just 17 built, is to be sold by Bonhams in Paris next month.

Dr Carr, a former army surgeon, left the contents of a lock-up garage to his family when he died in 2007.

As well as the Bugatti, his nephew also discovered a classic Aston Martin, and a Jaguar E-type in the lock-up.

The nephew, an engineer from Newcastle, said: “We just can’t believe it. Of course we’re delighted and we’re going to make sure the money is shared out among the family. It’s a wonderful thing to leave.”

Wow! I’ve tried for two cars-in-a-barn over the years. The last was several years back, here in town, when I spotted an XK150 Jag coupe parked under a pine tree. As I found out, it had been parked there when the original owner blew the clutch a dozen years before he died. But – his son in law knew what it was. No bargain.

When I was a kid, a mate and I were asked to clean up a barn belonging to an elderly widow – and found a V12 Lincoln Town Car from the 1930’s parked inside. But, she wouldn’t part with it because it had been her late husband’s car since new. Oh, well.

UK housewives rule when it comes to time online

A survey of more than 27,000 web users in 16 countries has shown that the Chinese – as a nation – spend the largest fraction of their leisure time online.

However, UK housewives spend even more than China’s average – 47%.

Germans are the most likely to meet someone in real life that they first met online; more than three quarters have done so.

The study also found that the UK is the least trusting of information in its newspapers among the 16 countries…

And as for online socialising? On average across all countries, respondents had 17 online friends.

However, when asked the question “Have you ever arranged to meet in person people who you’ve met through the internet?”, Germans came out on top with a whopping 76% saying yes.

A further part of the study comparing online and traditional media and information sources showed national differences.
In the UK, online news sites are second only to friends as the primary source of trusted information; two fifths said they considered online news a “highly trusted” medium.

The UK was markedly less trusting of print media, with only 23% counting newspapers as highly trusted – roughly the same fraction who considered the Wikipedia site as highly trusted. At the top were Finnish respondents, who were some three times more likely – 69% – to describe their newspapers as such.

I have a couple of friends I would describe as “close” who I met online. One of those is my partner in crime in this website – K B – who I’ve never met. We live over a thousand miles apart and while I don’t think he travels much or often, I’m a bloody hermit.

That settles that, I guess.

How to be a world beater? Pick the right competition


World mountain bike chariot championships, Powys, Wales

Most of these events are in the UK. Do the Brits have the market cornered on wacky competitions?

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your gears. The village of Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys may be more famous for hosting the World Bog Snorkelling Championships and the Man versus Horse race, but mountain bike charioteering looks a lot more fun.

For those readers not hailing from the town of Rawtenstall in Lancashire, clog cobbing is the sport of throwing an old working boot. Its genius lies in its simplicity: competitors have three goes at hurling a boot (there’s a wide selection on offer) backwards over a shoulder down the road outside the Roebuck Inn.

World stone skimming championships, Argyll, Scotland

Once a year hundreds of competitors congregate on Easdale Island, the smallest permanently inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides (population 60), to do battle in one of the world’s less conventional sporting arenas: a flooded slate quarry. Happily for readers who see the referral of sporting decisions to a video umpire as a sign of the impending collapse of society, the stones are not judged on how many skips they make (although they have to do at least three) but the distance they travel before they sink.

And on and on.

There’s also a wife-carrying championship in Finland and the Famous Nathan’s hot dog eating competition in Coney Island. Surely, you can find some sort of silliness to match your talents and competitive ego.

Researchers hack internet security infrastructure. Well, a tiny corner.

Academic and private security and cryptography experts from the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States said they have found a way to mimic the digital identity and authority assigned to RapidSSL, a company that helps Internet users correctly distinguish legitimate Web sites from counterfeit or hostile sites.

RapidSSL is one of dozens of companies, trusted by makers of Internet browsers, to act as so-called “certificate authorities,” or CAs for short. CAs issue digital security credentials designed to uniquely identity Web sites. In the process of issuing a certificate, for example, CAs are required to conduct basic background checks to ensure that the applicant has a legitimate claim to the Web site name listed in the requested certificate…

The problem, the researchers realized, is that RapidSSL and a few other CAs still sign their digital certificates using a cryptographic method, called MD5, that suffers from known weaknesses. Combining recent and new research about ways to exploit those weaknesses with a homegrown, massive array of number-crunching machines (which included networking together about 200 PlayStation 3 gaming consoles), the team was able to reproduce a virtual clone of the digital signature RapidSSL uses to sign SSL certificates.

Armed with those credentials, an attacker who had seized control over a large network, for example, could intercept all requests for users trying to visit a specific e-commerce or banking Web site…

Verisign has been phasing out MD5 in favor of more secure signing algorithms amongst its CA properties for the past couple of years, and expects to finish the process in January 2009.

The link [above] is what makes sense. RapidSSL is a very small part of banking and commercial security. I checked with an associate in banking security and was told this was “a known issue” and exactly why folks with their heads screwed on safely didn’t used systems keyed on MD5.

If you’re worried about it – call your bank’s IT department and verify whether they do or don’t use it. Mine doesn’t.

Connecticut convict sues to get halal meat for Muslim festivals


There are about six certified producers for halal meat in the U.S.
Daylife/AP Photo by Paul Sancya

A Connecticut prison inmate has sued the state, claiming that his religious freedom as a Muslim has been violated by the lack of halal meat.

Ricardo Collins filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court. “I am a American Muslim and I am being denied the halal meat for the two Islamic feast days,” Collins said in his complaint. “The halal meat for the two feasts have great ‘spiritual meaning’ to the Muslim community all over the world.”

Collins was sentenced to 70 years after he was convicted of killing a man in Bridgeport in 2002. He recently won an appeal granting him a new trial.

Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the prison system, said that it meets the requirements set down by a court decision that ruled that New Jersey prisons were not required to serve halal meat, which has been slaughtered according to religious rules.

I’ve spent a half-century fighting injustice and bigotry in the U.S.. That includes abusive prisons. I don’t consider ignoring religious preferences to be abusive.

I haven’t an opinion about Collins’ case; but, he was found guilty once. And if there’s one thing I am a hard-ass about it’s – if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

Old problem, new theme: China’s warning on bribes


Daylife/Getty Images

It has become one of the New Year traditions in the New China: a stern, old-school warning from the Communist Party about corruption.

The party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection issued its annual broadside to government and party officials this week, a mind-your-manners reminder about bribes and malfeasance. The warning this year focuses on illegal business deals, and it is hardly a coincidence that the state-run news media are now full of stories about public officials brought low by shady schemes…

The upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year, inaugurating the Year of the Ox, falls on Jan. 26, 2009. The holiday season is a time for traveling, visiting friends and relatives, holding elaborate dinners, and giving gifts, particularly red-and-gold envelopes containing cash.

The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, quoted the party commission’s new circular that reminds officials to “live a frugal life and rule out extravagance and waste.”

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