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  • Turn Away From Fortune-Telling

    By Rev Shark
    RealMoney.com Contributor
    3/20/2006 9:24 AM EST
      

    "It is our choices ... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." 
      
    -- J. K. Rowling

    If you listen to the pessimists, this market not only posses the ability, but the great likelihood, to tumble sharply and enter into a long and dreary bear market. The potential is out there and can easily be seen, or so we are told. How can we not be worried given the faltering consumer, the dying real estate market and spiraling inflation and interest rates.

    The optimistic bulls say au contraire, the market has the ability to go much higher from here. Valuations are reasonable, pessimism is high and there is plenty of cash sloshing around on the sidelines.

    Both groups are correct. The market has the ability to go much lower or much higher. The market always possess the capacity to do something dramatic and those who believe they can predict where we will be six months or a year from now are simply fooling themselves. No one, and I mean no one, has ever been able to consistently call a market direction a year or so in advance. Sure, some will get lucky now and then and predict a turning point. They will try to make it sound like it was their great insight and logic that lead to their prediction, but it was simply luck.

    Those who try to predict market direction over the next few weeks or months have a better track record, but the longer their time frames, the more they are trafficking in fortune-telling than logical prediction.

    The market has the ability to do what it wants, and no matter how hard we work at trying to figure out what the distant future holds, we are doing nothing more than guessing. Logical, high-odds speculation can only be done within a relatively short time frame of a few months at most.

    The key to gauging where the market is headed is not to try to dissect its abilities and potential but to focus on what choices it is making. The market tells us about its character through the choices it is making. Right now, for example, the semiconductor sector is acting like the Big Ten Conference in the NCAA. It simply can't do anything right and is being left for dead. That is a choice that is being made at this time by the market, and we need not focus on the abilities of chips and techs but rather on the choices being made by the market.

    Focus on what choices the market is making and forget trying to figure out what it is capable of. The market is capable of whatever it pleases, and failure to see that ensures that you are a gambler, not a speculator. We have a little Monday morning strength driving things. Asia was hot overnight, Europe was perky and there is some strength in commodities and mining. Oil is flat and the dollar bouncing. Volatility is likely to stay high.

  • see on ka päris hea:
    Nordic American Tanker Shipping Ltd. -- Letter to Shareholders From the Chairman and CEO
    Monday March 20, 9:05 am ET


    HAMILTON, Bermuda, March 20, 2006 (PRIMEZONE) -- Nordic American Tanker Shipping Ltd. (the Company) (NYSE:NAT - News)
    ADVERTISEMENT


    Dear Shareholder,

    I would like to report to you on the development of our Company since the New Year -- again an active period.

    The spot tanker market during the first months of 2006 has been strong. Seven of our eight vessels are currently employed in the spot market. The average spot market rate, according to the spot assessment of the Imarex Tanker Index which gives an indication of the level of the spot market, was $50,988 per day for the two first months of 2006. As of March 17, the average spot market rate for March is $38,472 per day according to the Imarex Tanker Index. Broadly speaking, the tanker market exhibits tight vessel supply, leaving the market finely tuned with high capacity utilisation. While it is expected that short term spot rates may vary significantly and continue to be volatile, in our view the supply and demand tanker market fundamentals are positive.

    Our dividend and earnings release related to the first quarter 2006 will be announced on May 2nd at which time we expect to announce solid earnings and dividend.

    We passed an important milestone on February 27th when we announced that we had agreed to acquire a double hull Suezmax vessel, built in Korea in 1998, at a price of approximately $69 million. This vessel is expected to be delivered from the seller to the Company in early April, increasing the NAT fleet to nine vessels with an aggregate capacity of 1,384,491 dwt.

    On the same date NAT commenced a follow-on offering which successfully closed on March 14th 2006. The Manager of NAT, Scandic American Shipping Ltd., which I control, purchased 100,000 shares in the follow-on offering at the same price as the other investors.

    These two events, together with our plans to acquire a tenth vessel later this year, are a demonstration of the Company's policy of accretive growth. For us, accretive growth is to increase our cargo carrying capacity per share. To put it differently, accretive growth means that the Company produces higher earnings and pays higher dividends per share after an acquisition than if the acquisition had not taken place.

    Over the last 15 months, having increased the fleet from 3 vessels to 9 vessels, we have effectively managed our growth. We were able to pay a record dividend per share for the 4th quarter of 2005 ($1.88 per share) as compared to the 4th quarter of 2004 ($1.62 per share), despite a material decrease in spot rates for the 4th quarter of 2005 as compared to the 4th quarter of 2004.

    We currently estimate that our cash breakeven is $8,500 per day. The break even rate is the amount of average daily revenues for our vessels which will cover our cash, general administrative expenses, voyage expenses, if any, vessel operating expenses, interest expenses and other financial charges. Based on publicly available information, this is among the lowest levels in the industry for Suezmax tankers.

    Our aim is to continue to operate a modern and environmentally friendly fleet, focusing on double hull vessels only.

    Our policy is to declare quarterly dividends to shareholders, substantially equal to our net operating cash flow during the previous quarter.

    Since 1998, the first full year after NAT became stock listed, the arithmetic average cash yield per annum from our dividends has been approximately 14.7% and has not been less than 10% in any year. This is the annual average actual dividend paid to shareholders in relation to the average daily stock price during each year. Our Company has now paid dividend for 33 consecutive quarters.

    In NAT's earlier phases of the development, the Company was financed solely with equity. We have adjusted that policy slightly, as earlier advised you. Our policy is now to maintain in the region of $15 million per vessel in current market conditions. Our balance sheet is one of the strongest in the industry.

    It is very important, impacting the supply of tonnage, that two major oil companies have recently adopted a policy of no longer chartering single hull vessels.

    When it comes to the demand side, longer term prospects for the tanker market depend, above all, upon developments at the macro economic level. It is comforting to see that growth in the United States and in emerging economies seems to continue, resulting in increased oil consumption and transportation demand.

    In summary, I would like to stress that the main objective of our Company continues to be value creation via a transparent, predictable and clear strategic platform based on a unique operating model. Our company is in a good position for further growth and progress

    We are overwhelmed by the support the shareholders are showing NAT. Through approaches and written communication to us, shareholders express views and make comments on our activities. We encourage such active involvement from our shareholders.

    For further details on our Company, please see http://www.nat.bm

    Sincerely, Herbjoern Hansson Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

    CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

    Matters discussed in this press release may constitute forward-looking statements. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides safe harbor protections for forward-looking statements in order to encourage companies to provide prospective information about their business. Forward-looking statements include statements concerning plans, objectives, goals, strategies, future events or performance, and underlying assumptions and other statements, which are other than statements of historical facts.

    The Company desires to take advantage of the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and is including this cautionary statement in connection with this safe harbor legislation. The words ``believe,'' ``anticipate,'' ``intend,'' ``estimate,'' ``forecast,'' ``project,'' ``plan,'' ``potential,'' ``will,'' ``may,'' ``should,'' ``expect,'' ``pending'' and similar expressions identify forward-looking statements.

    The forward-looking statements in this press release are based upon various assumptions, many of which are based, in turn, upon further assumptions, including without limitation, our management's examination of historical operating trends, data contained in our records and other data available from third parties. Although we believe that these assumptions were reasonable when made, because these assumptions are inherently subject to significant uncertainties and contingencies which are difficult or impossible to predict and are beyond our control, we cannot assure you that we will achieve or accomplish these expectations, beliefs or projections. We undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

    Important factors that, in our view, could cause actual results to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements include the strength of world economies and currencies, general market conditions, including fluctuations in charter rates and vessel values, changes in demand in the tanker market, as a result of changes in OPEC's petroleum production levels and world wide oil consumption and storage, changes in our operating expenses, including bunker prices, drydocking and insurance costs, the market for our vessels, availability of financing and refinancing, changes in governmental rules and regulations or actions taken by regulatory authorities, potential liability from pending or future litigation, general domestic and international political conditions, potential disruption of shipping routes due to accidents or political events, vessels breakdowns and instances of off-hire, failure on the part of a seller to complete a sale to us and other important factors described from time to time in the reports filed by the Company with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the prospectus and related prospectus supplement, our Annual Report on Form 20-F, and our reports on Form 6-K.
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    The government heads this week into the home stretch of its case against two former Enron chief executives. Prosecutors will be looking to end on a flourish with the testimony of Ben F. Glisan Jr., the only former top executive who has already been sentenced in the Enron debacle.

    Mr. Glisan, the former treasurer, is the last major witness for the government before the case shifts to the defense and to what promises to be memorable testimony by the defendants, Jeffrey K. Skilling and Kenneth L. Lay.

    Mr. Glisan worked closely with Andrew S. Fastow, the former chief financial officer, on developing special-purpose entities, like the Raptors group, that both men have said in plea deals were used to inflate earnings and hide debt. The government is also expected to use Mr. Glisan to try to connect the dots for jurors hearing a complex case.

    For seven weeks and through 14 witnesses, jurors have listened to prosecutors build a case on largely disparate pieces of indirect circumstantial evidence that Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling, the top executives of what was once the seventh-largest company in the world by revenue, conspired to mislead and defraud investors.

    Legal experts have generally praised the government's case, which has shied away from complex explanations of accounting and focused on the actions and words of Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay in the three years before Enron collapsed in December 2001.

    But legal experts continue to debate two crucial issues: whether the government has presented enough evidence that Mr. Lay knowingly lied about the true state of Enron's businesses and, more broadly, whether there was an extensive conspiracy within Enron to defraud and mislead employees and investors, as the government contends.

    Those issues underscore the importance of decisions that the judge, Simeon T. Lake III of Federal District Court, will make in the coming weeks about how to structure the jury instruction. If the judge grants a "deliberate ignorance" instruction, as expected by many legal specialists because of case precedent, it could ease the way for jurors to find Mr. Lay guilty — even if the government cannot prove he knew that fraud was occurring on his watch.

    "These instructions are making it very difficult if not impossible for defendants to prevail in these types of cases," said Joel Androphy, a lawyer in Houston specializing in white-collar crime.

    Mr. Lay's lead lawyer, Michael Ramsey, agreed that prosecutors were more likely than not to seek the "deliberate ignorance" instruction for his client. "There is nothing direct to say about Ken Lay," Mr. Ramsey said. "It has all got to be by insinuation and innuendo."

    But legal experts said the cumulative impact of such testimony could be taking a toll on Mr. Lay. Last week provided some of the most emotional testimony against Mr. Lay to date. Johnnie Nelson, a 46-year-old pipeline operator in New Mexico, blamed Mr. Lay for steep losses in his retirement savings account, saying a man he formerly admired had let him down.

    At week's end, Sherron S. Watkins, a former Enron vice president and now an author and lecturer, said she had become concerned about potential accounting problems and had taken the concerns directly to Mr. Lay after Mr. Skilling abruptly resigned.

    Ms. Watkins criticized Mr. Lay's handling of an inquiry into her accusations and raised the specter that Mr. Lay might have authorized lawyers to look into firing her, which did not happen in the end.

    Jurors seemed riveted by her testimony, which was peppered with her negative opinions of Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling. Judge Lake helped prosecutors by not reining in her answers.

    Prosecutors have also presented evidence that Mr. Skilling participated in fraudulent acts. David W. Delainey, the former chief executive of the Enron Energy Services retail division, testified about one meeting in March 2001 in which Mr. Skilling assented to a plan to shift some $250 million in troubled retail contracts to the wholesale energy division.

    Mr. Delainey contended that the meeting participants knew the move was being done to deceive investors about the retail unit, which he called a "basket case."

    Mr. Fastow, while admitting his own criminality, testified that Mr. Skilling approved "bear hug" side deals guaranteeing that one partnership, LJM, would not suffer losses for doing deals with Enron that could help it manipulate its earnings. And Mr. Fastow, in somewhat shaky testimony, nevertheless said the side deals had been memorialized in a document called the Global Galactic agreement, aspects of which, he said, Richard A. Causey, the chief accounting officer, had discussed with Mr. Skilling.

    Kevin P. Hannon, the former chief operating officer of Enron's troubled broadband unit, offered surprising testimony that Mr. Skilling uttered "They're on to us" in a May 2001 meeting at which senior executives discussed a research report suggesting Enron's stock was overvalued.

    Despite the evidence presented so far, some legal experts said they believed the case could crumble once Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay took the stand.

    "There is still no explosive evidence," said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer at McCarter & English in Newark. "Jurors will be expecting prosecutors to dissect their testimony with a scalpel."

    Before the defense takes over, Mr. Glisan's appearance for the prosecution offers one more chance for high drama. Mr. Glisan, 40, has already served more than half of a five-year sentence for conspiring to falsify financial results and make Enron appear more successful than it actually was. He was the chief architect of the Raptor vehicles, whose insolvency in the fall of 2001, prosecutors contend, played a role in the ultimate collapse of Enron.

    Mr. Glisan is serving time at a low-security prison in Beaumont, Tex., about 100 miles east of Houston, according to Bureau of Prison records. He is sure to draw stares if he enters the courtroom in prison garb, as he did two years ago when he testified in another Enron case involving the sham sale of interests in Nigerian barges.

    Affable and sharp, Mr. Glisan was credited with being a crucial government witness in the barge case, which resulted in five defendants being found guilty. Unlike other government witnesses, Mr. Glisan has less to gain from shading his testimony to fit the government's theory of the case because he is already serving his sentence, legal experts say.

    Away from the courtroom, lawyers for both sides began hashing out the all-important jury instruction they will eventually submit to the court.

    "I am not terribly optimistic after yesterday that we can get a charge together by agreement," Mr. Ramsey said Saturday. "The judge will have to get into it and make some rulings."

    The "deliberate ignorance," or "conscious avoidance," charge made it fairly easy for jurors to find Bernard J. Ebbers, the former chief executive of WorldCom, guilty last year of conspiracy and fraud charges. ">WorldCom, guilty last year of conspiracy and fraud charges.

    In a motion seeking a new trial, lawyers for Mr. Ebbers, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, argue that jurors were told they could find him guilty based on "conscious avoidance" even without evidence that Mr. Ebbers "deliberately avoided learning any fact at issue."

    The judge in that case justified the charge on the grounds that the circumstances were "overwhelmingly suspicious" and that Mr. Ebbers had failed to question those suspicious circumstances.

    Mr. Ebbers also struggled to win a "missing witness" charge, which defense lawyers in the Enron case are likely to seek as well. In the Ebbers case the judge denied defense motions to grant immunity to some witnesses or to allow use of previous statements to impeach the government's cooperating witnesses.

    Absent that, Mr. Ebbers's lawyers sought to instruct jurors that certain witnesses were "missing" because they were under government control, had indicated they would exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and were not given immunity by the court to testify for the defense.

    Lawyers for Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay are facing the same challenges in responding to testimony by government cooperators testifying under plea agreements. Most of the government cooperators, including Michael J. Kopper, a close confidant of Mr. Fastow; and David B. Duncan, the former Andersen partner who had approved much of Enron's questionable accounting, have told defense lawyers they would invoke Fifth Amendment rights.

    Others important Enron figures who have not been charged, like the former Enron president Greg Whalley, also have indicated they would invoke the Fifth if called.

    That would make it tough for the defense to disprove Mr. Delainey's accusations about what was said at the March 2001 meeting in Mr. Skilling's office. All but one participant in the meeting — a former Enron accountant, Wesley H. Colwell — is likely to be unavailable for the defense.

    Mr. Colwell testified earlier in the trial for the government but was not asked about his role in the effort to shift losses out of the retail unit.

    Another participant in the meeting that day, Mr. Causey, is not likely to be called by the government except as a rebuttal witness, if at all, prosecutors have said.

    Ivan Seidenberg is known in the telecommunications industry as a chief executive who makes all-or-nothing bets.

    Since the late 1990's he has often been the man to beat, having created Verizon Communications — for a time America's largest phone company — by merging Nynex with Bell Atlantic and then buying GTE.

    But in less than two years, Mr. Seidenberg has been eclipsed in ambition by Edward E. Whitacre Jr., the longtime Bell executive who engineered SBC Communications' takeover of AT&T last year. He now plans to buy BellSouth to create a $120 billion giant that looks increasingly like AT&T did before it was broken up in 1984.

    Not that Mr. Seidenberg wants Verizon, with about $90 billion in sales, to be known as the biggest Bell. In fact, nothing annoys him more than when Verizon is called a Bell company — with all the connotations of a heavily regulated, slow-moving behemoth.

    He is trying to shed all vestiges of Verizon's history as part of Ma Bell by making long bets on advanced wireless services and a top-of-the-line fiber network that will provide consumers with the fastest broadband connections available and television service to compete with the cable and satellite companies.

    The AT&T-BellSouth deal "doesn't change anything for us," Mr. Seidenberg said, sitting in his lower Manhattan office that, in an odd coincidence, used to house the old New York Telephone Company, which hired him as a cable splicer's helper in 1966. Today, he said, Verizon "is all about trying to invest in technology so we can create new growth."

    Turning Verizon into a fast-growing technology company represents a huge gamble for Mr. Seidenberg, 59, who will go down in corporate history either as the man who took a stodgy carrier into the next century or as someone who reached too far too fast. His success or failure at revamping Verizon will also provide some clues about how viable traditional phone companies will be in the years ahead.

    Last year, Wall Street punished Verizon's stock because Mr. Seidenberg's plan to run fiber optic lines to as many as 16 million homes, or nearly half of Verizon's phone customers, by 2010 was considered reckless. The cost of installing fiber — now about $2,000 a home — was so high that investors sent Verizon's shares tumbling 26 percent last year. (The shares, however, have risen 13 percent this year, closing at $34.41 on Friday.)

    The fiber network will undoubtedly offer premium service, but industry analysts remain deeply skeptical that millions of consumers will drop their cable or satellite services to sign up with Verizon. Still, in some towns in Texas where Verizon started selling television service last year, the reception has been positive; about one-third of the homes offered it signed up.

    Either way, Mr. Seidenberg has proven his critics wrong before. About five years ago, when investors urged him to grab more wireless customers by cutting prices, as rival companies were doing, he chose instead to spend heavily to build a national cellular network that could be upgraded easily.

    That strategy has paid off. Verizon Wireless is now signing up record numbers of new subscribers and they are the most loyal in the industry, largely because Verizon's network is considered better than others. While Cingular, which is owned by AT&T and BellSouth, has more subscribers, Verizon Wireless has more advanced multimedia services.

    At the same time, Mr. Seidenberg plans over time to shed millions of local phone lines, withdrawing from a business that is being eroded by wireless phones and Internet-based phone services. He sold off 700,000 lines in Hawaii in 2005 and has said he is willing to sell Verizon local lines in other parts of the country where it does not do much business.

    He also dismissed speculation that Verizon would acquire Qwest Communications, the smallest Bell company, which serves 14 Western states.

    His top priority now is to buy the 45 percent of Verizon Wireless held by Vodafone; the stake is worth between $38 billion and $43 billion, according to analysts' estimates. Mr. Seidenberg said he was "a willing buyer" because Verizon would be able to book 100 percent of the profits from Verizon Wireless.

    To make the deal, he said in an interview last week that Verizon was willing to buy Vodafone's shares in several chunks rather than in one piece, and even to revise the dividend it pays Vodafone during that process.

    But he rejected talk that Verizon might pursue Alltel, the fifth-largest cellphone company, which uses the same technology as Verizon Wireless and covers many parts of the country that Verizon does not. Alltel, he said, would only make Verizon bigger, not necessarily faster-growing.

    Mr. Seidenberg's emphasis on growth over size is one way he hopes to differentiate Verizon from AT&T in investors' minds. His wary approach to mergers sets him apart from Mr. Whitacre, who has been an open and aggressive buyer over the past decade.

    "They both understand their businesses well, but they have different styles," said Robert Rock, a telecommunications analyst at John Hancock in Boston. "With Ed, what you see is what you get, where Ivan is a more strategic thinker."

    Mr. Seidenberg has not been shy about buying companies either, just more nuanced in doing so. As chief executive of Nynex, he sold the company to Bell Atlantic in 1997. Instead of leaving, he became vice chairman and waited until Bell Atlantic's chairman, Raymond W. Smith, retired.

    Two years later, he had full control of Bell Atlantic, which he merged with GTE in 2000 and renamed Verizon. Again, he took a subordinate role, this time to Charles R. Lee, GTE's chairman. In 2002, Mr. Lee became chairman and Mr. Seidenberg became the sole chief executive. Two years later, Mr. Seidenberg became chairman after Mr. Lee left the company.

    Though Mr. Seidenberg joined New York Telephone as a cable splicer and spent a decade in a series of engineering jobs, he started on the road to upper management when he joined AT&T's regulatory department in 1976.

    The dozen or so years Mr. Seidenberg spent dealing with lawmakers in Washington, some analysts say, taught him to be cunning and flexible.

    Consider the handling of the debate over whether the Bell companies should be allowed to charge Internet content providers for faster connections to their customers.

    Mr. Whitacre of AT&T drew loud criticism in November when he told Business Week that "for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes free is nuts!" The comments galvanized consumer advocates and Internet content providers and pushed a once-obscure issue into prominence.

    Though Verizon wants similar freedom to adjust its services, Mr. Seidenberg has largely been quiet, letting his lawyers in Washington do most of the talking.

    Regardless of which public relations approach they take, Verizon and AT&T share the same basic problem. With the number of traditional phone lines shrinking, they hope to compete with cable providers on cable's turf — selling television service.

    To offer that service, Mr. Whitacre is taking a less costly — but also less proven — approach to his fiber network rollout than Mr. Seidenberg. AT&T is stringing fiber lines to neighborhoods and using the existing copper lines to connect the rest of the way to homes. It is expected to spend about $12 billion on its network by 2010 to serve nearly 32 million homes (including those of BellSouth customers), according to Bernstein Research.

    Verizon will spend about $18 billion by 2010 to run fiber lines into people's homes, Bernstein says. The Verizon network will serve half that number of customers, but will offer more bandwidth than networks run by AT&T and the cable companies.

    Mr. Seidenberg insists that the cost of running fiber to individual homes is declining, and says that in a few years, investors will see the wisdom of spending more now to generate growth later. While smaller competitors are cutting into his phone business, he says, Verizon has the tools to strike back.

    "We're big, but we take big steps," he said. "So we can catch them pretty quickly."

    Amazon.com last week modified its search engine after an abortion rights organization complained that search results appeared skewed toward anti-abortion books.

    Until a few days ago, a search of Amazon's catalog of books using the word "abortion" turned up pages with the question, "Did you mean adoption?" at the top, followed by a list of books related to abortion.

    Amazon removed that question from the search results page after it received a complaint from a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national organization based in Washington.

    "I thought it was offensive," said the Rev. James Lewis, a retired Episcopalian minister in Charleston, W.Va. "It represented an editorial position on their part."

    Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said there was no intent by the company to offer biased search results. She said the question "Did you mean adoption?" was an automated response based on past customer behavior combined with the site's spelling correction technology.

    She said Amazon's software suggested adoption-related sources because "abortion" and "adoption" have similar spellings, and because many past customers who have searched for "abortion" have also searched for "adoption."

    Ms. Smith said the "Did you mean adoption?" prompt had been disabled. (It is not known how often searches on the site turn up any kind of "Did you mean..." prompt.)

    Customers, however, are still offered "adoption" as a possibility in the Related Searches line at the top of an "abortion" search results page. But the reverse is not true.

    Ms. Smith said that was because many customers who searched for abortion also searched for adoption, but customers who searched for "adoption" did not typically search for topics related to abortion.

    Still, the Rev. Jeff Briere, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a member of the abortion rights coalition, said he was worried about an anti-abortion slant in the books Amazon recommended and in the "pro-life" and "adoption" related topic links.

    "The search engine results I am presented with, their suggestions, seem to be pro-life in orientation," Mr. Briere said. He also said he objected to a Yellow Pages advertisement for an anti-abortion organization in his city that appeared next to the search results, apparently linked by his address.

    Web software that tracks customers' purchases and searches makes it possible for online stores to recommend items tailored to a specific shopper's interests. Getting those personalized recommendations right can mean significantly higher sales.

    But getting it wrong can cause problems, and Amazon is not the first company to find that automated online recommendations carry risks.

    In January, Walmart.com issued a public apology and took down its entire cross-selling recommendation system when Web customers who looked at a boxed set of movies that included "Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" were told they might also appreciate a "Planet of the Apes" DVD collection, as well as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and other irrelevant titles.

    Amazon.com last week modified its search engine after an abortion rights organization complained that search results appeared skewed toward anti-abortion books.

    Until a few days ago, a search of Amazon's catalog of books using the word "abortion" turned up pages with the question, "Did you mean adoption?" at the top, followed by a list of books related to abortion.

    Amazon removed that question from the search results page after it received a complaint from a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national organization based in Washington.

    "I thought it was offensive," said the Rev. James Lewis, a retired Episcopalian minister in Charleston, W.Va. "It represented an editorial position on their part."

    Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said there was no intent by the company to offer biased search results. She said the question "Did you mean adoption?" was an automated response based on past customer behavior combined with the site's spelling correction technology.

    She said Amazon's software suggested adoption-related sources because "abortion" and "adoption" have similar spellings, and because many past customers who have searched for "abortion" have also searched for "adoption."

    Ms. Smith said the "Did you mean adoption?" prompt had been disabled. (It is not known how often searches on the site turn up any kind of "Did you mean..." prompt.)

    Customers, however, are still offered "adoption" as a possibility in the Related Searches line at the top of an "abortion" search results page. But the reverse is not true.

    Ms. Smith said that was because many customers who searched for abortion also searched for adoption, but customers who searched for "adoption" did not typically search for topics related to abortion.

    Still, the Rev. Jeff Briere, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a member of the abortion rights coalition, said he was worried about an anti-abortion slant in the books Amazon recommended and in the "pro-life" and "adoption" related topic links.

    "The search engine results I am presented with, their suggestions, seem to be pro-life in orientation," Mr. Briere said. He also said he objected to a Yellow Pages advertisement for an anti-abortion organization in his city that appeared next to the search results, apparently linked by his address.

    Web software that tracks customers' purchases and searches makes it possible for online stores to recommend items tailored to a specific shopper's interests. Getting those personalized recommendations right can mean significantly higher sales.

    But getting it wrong can cause problems, and Amazon is not the first company to find that automated online recommendations carry risks.

    In January, Walmart.com issued a public apology and took down its entire cross-selling recommendation system when Web customers who looked at a boxed set of movies that included "Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" were told they might also appreciate a "Planet of the Apes" DVD collection, as well as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and other irrelevant titles.

    Amazon.com last week modified its search engine after an abortion rights organization complained that search results appeared skewed toward anti-abortion books.

    Until a few days ago, a search of Amazon's catalog of books using the word "abortion" turned up pages with the question, "Did you mean adoption?" at the top, followed by a list of books related to abortion.

    Amazon removed that question from the search results page after it received a complaint from a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national organization based in Washington.

    "I thought it was offensive," said the Rev. James Lewis, a retired Episcopalian minister in Charleston, W.Va. "It represented an editorial position on their part."

    Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said there was no intent by the company to offer biased search results. She said the question "Did you mean adoption?" was an automated response based on past customer behavior combined with the site's spelling correction technology.

    She said Amazon's software suggested adoption-related sources because "abortion" and "adoption" have similar spellings, and because many past customers who have searched for "abortion" have also searched for "adoption."

    Ms. Smith said the "Did you mean adoption?" prompt had been disabled. (It is not known how often searches on the site turn up any kind of "Did you mean..." prompt.)

    Customers, however, are still offered "adoption" as a possibility in the Related Searches line at the top of an "abortion" search results page. But the reverse is not true.

    Ms. Smith said that was because many customers who searched for abortion also searched for adoption, but customers who searched for "adoption" did not typically search for topics related to abortion.

    Still, the Rev. Jeff Briere, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a member of the abortion rights coalition, said he was worried about an anti-abortion slant in the books Amazon recommended and in the "pro-life" and "adoption" related topic links.

    "The search engine results I am presented with, their suggestions, seem to be pro-life in orientation," Mr. Briere said. He also said he objected to a Yellow Pages advertisement for an anti-abortion organization in his city that appeared next to the search results, apparently linked by his address.

    Web software that tracks customers' purchases and searches makes it possible for online stores to recommend items tailored to a specific shopper's interests. Getting those personalized recommendations right can mean significantly higher sales.

    But getting it wrong can cause problems, and Amazon is not the first company to find that automated online recommendations carry risks.

    In January, Walmart.com issued a public apology and took down its entire cross-selling recommendation system when Web customers who looked at a boxed set of movies that included "Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" were told they might also appreciate a "Planet of the Apes" DVD collection, as well as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and other irrelevant titles.

    The first episode in the new season of "The Sopranos" ended in a classic cliffhanger moment, with Tony on the floor after being shot by his uncle Junior. But some viewers who recorded the show on their TiVo digital video recorders to watch later might not know how close Tony came to being whacked.

    Because of a software glitch in some machines, TiVo customers have been discovering over the last few months that some of the shows they had set to record were cut off before the programs ended.

    "I lost the last 15 minutes of 'Lost,' as well as 'C.S.I.,' " said Monica Sharma, a marketing solutions manager in Piscataway, N.J. "Regrettably, the big things happened at the end."

    The first notice of the problem came in November, when a few befuddled TiVo users posted complaints on TiVo's Web site. Customers also wrote about the glitch more recently at tivocommunity.com, an independent site for TiVo aficionados. A TiVo employee who monitors the sites posted a response there saying the company was on the case.

    One of the main selling features of digital video recorders is their ability to record programs without the viewer having to enter start and stop times. It was unclear why certain shows were cut short on the malfunctioning TiVo's. The company's engineers isolated the problem to Series 2 machines (TiVo units integrated into DirecTV receivers were not affected).

    The engineers first suggested a temporary fix that is the high-tech equivalent of hitting the side of a TV: pull the plug on the machine and then power it back up. It seemed that the abrupt cuts happened only on machines that had been in use for a long time and had never been rebooted.

    TiVo says it has since created an upgrade to its operating system — which is being downloaded automatically to all Series 2 TiVo boxes — and that it should solve the problem permanently.

    Fortunately for TiVo, even people like Loretta Mears, a Manhattan chiropractor who never got to see the final minutes of recent episodes of "Boston Legal" and "Lost," do not seem to hold it against the machine.

    "I absolutely love TiVo," Ms. Mears said. "It's made it possible for me to watch black-and-white movies that are on at 3 a.m."

    For the first time, CBS SportsLine.com is offering viewers live video of the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament. And because many of the games are on during work hours, the Web site is offering something else: a way for basketball fans to conceal their viewing from their bosses.

    On the Web browser, which allows viewers to watch and listen to games not broadcast in their geographic area, there is a red button marked Boss Button. When clicked, the basketball feed cuts out, the sound goes dead and an image of an Excel spreadsheet pops up. When the coast is clear, the user can click on the spreadsheet and the video comes back on.

    Boss buttons have been around for several years for a variety of office time wasters, but they may gain new prominence as online video like the N.C.A.A. tournament becomes more popular. Steve Snyder, the general manager for the Web site, said the day games in the early rounds of the tournament led the site's product developers to devise a clever way to help basketball fans cover up their viewing.

    "It used to be an old thing from the solitaire days," Mr. Snyder said. "When PC's started appearing in offices, it was baked into the games. We thought if we do it right, it will be fun, and it works and captures the attention of our users." The free games attracted two million viewers on the first day of the tournament, he added.

    The fake spreadsheet has lists of cities and numbers that officials at CBS SportsLine say have no significance. At the bottom of the Excel chart is a list of comments that appear to correspond to the data, including, "As seen above, L.A. had a bad year." Mixed in with those notes is a little advice for the viewers. "Remember, cheering in the office gives you away."

    Still, Mr. Snyder acknowledged that most bosses would catch on, adding he thought that "if people feel like they are fooling their bosses, they are stretching it a little bit."

    THE year is still young, yet the two leading makers of semiconductors for personal computers have already experienced moves of 20 percent in their stocks. To the great chagrin of Intel shareholders, no doubt, their stock has fallen, while Advanced Micro Devices' has rallied.

    Why the striking divergence? One simple reason.

    "The current A.M.D. offer on chips is just better," said Bob Turner, whose Turner Investment Partners runs two technology mutual funds. "What they offer is a microprocessor integrated with memory that is better than Intel's. They really got it right this time."

    Until recently, A.M.D. had a reputation for seldom getting it as right as Intel. But A.M.D. has caught up with its rival and even surpassed it, and it has been able to exploit this design gap, as industry analysts call it, to grab market share.

    "Silicon Valley has been following this saga for many years," said Kevin Landis, manager of the Firsthand family of tech funds. "Intel had the technology lead and the manufacturing lead, then it had the brand lead. I got used to the idea that Intel was always one step ahead, but A.M.D. finally demonstrated that to be not the case, and the market is having to admit that to itself."

    That admission has sent A.M.D. to a significant valuation premium over Intel. A.M.D. trades at nearly 100 times its trailing 12-month earnings, compared with just 14 for Intel. Using analysts' estimates of 2006 earnings, the gap is not as big; Intel's multiple rises to the high teens — the exact level depends on who is doing the estimating — and A.M.D.'s falls to anywhere from the high 20's to mid-30's.

    Still, the discrepancy remains wide, showing that investors are willing to pay more — a lot more — for the extra earnings growth expected from A.M.D. Some investment advisers say A.M.D. is the better holding over the long run, but others are standing by Intel in the belief that it has become a cheap, low-risk choice.

    Mr. Landis is in the first camp. "We stayed away for years because they developed a reputation as an also-ran," he said of A.M.D. "I came late to the party and bought a little."

    Mr. Turner also prefers A.M.D., although he, too, is not unabashedly enthusiastic. "The stock may look expensive," he said, "but if we get robust earnings, it looks O.K."

    He finds some chip stocks better than O.K., however, including Marvell and Broadcom. Those two are multiyear holdings, he said. "We don't think we're ready to place A.M.D. in that category yet."

    And he certainly is not willing to put Intel in that category. Mr. Turner does not own it because he is a growth manager and he says he believes there is just too little of that in store for Intel at the moment.

    Signs of a turn are hard to glimpse. A.M.D. continues to expand its market share, thanks to sales agreements with big PC manufacturers like Lenovo in China, and it has been particularly aggressive lately in challenging what it describes as the monopoly practices that Intel uses to compel manufacturers to use its brand exclusively.

    Intel warned this month that competitive pressures would drag first-quarter revenue below the company's previous estimates and that this might force profit margins down, too.

    Glen Yeung, an analyst at Citigroup, said he expected financial results "well below" even the reduced expectations of the company and Wall Street. In a note to clients, he forecast earnings about 25 percent below market projections.

    He changed his rating on Intel's stock — upward from hold to buy.

    "We anticipate some controversy over this call, given the well-understood and ongoing share gain by A.M.D." and Intel's need to cut prices to draw customers, Mr. Yeung wrote.

    BUT Intel's discounted valuation and leadership in the chip business, though dwindling, plus the lift it is likely to get from stronger computer sales as Microsoft introduces its Vista operating system, make it worth owning, he contends.

    "By upgrading now, we signal our belief that much of the bad news is priced in by the market," Mr. Yeung said.

    Mark Mowrey, editor of the Tech Value Report newsletter, also finds Intel, for all its troubles, too good a bargain to pass up.

    "Admittedly, I worry about A.M.D.'s recent competitive gains and potential wins in monopoly court," Mr. Mowrey told subscribers. "Still, I believe that Intel's stock price adequately reflects these difficulties in the near term, while not sufficiently incorporating both Intel's greater breadth and still fantastic long-term capability for technological inventiveness."

    SOON after the dot-com bubble burst, it became fashionable to say there had been only a few voices in the wilderness warning of the doom that lay ahead, as most of the country stampeded to certain financial ruin. In reality, warnings were issued all the time; they just went unheeded.

    Still, more people (or at least, more dollars) were wrong than were right, so it's no crime for those who were right to feel a little superior. The site iTulip.com, which was restarted this week after a three-year hiatus, does not hesitate to claim credit for accurately predicting that the bubble would pop. It even got the timing right.

    For the most part, iTulip is pretty much as it was when it shut down, though with some added features. It even looks as if it were designed in 1998, the year the original site started.

    One big change, though, is that it is not nearly so funny. The original was meant as a parody of dot-com cheerleaders (with sections called Know Your Mania and Depression). The new site, run by Eric Janszen, a technology executive, is far more serious, even grim.

    At the site's beginnings, "the stock market bubble was in full swing," Mr. Janszen wrote, mixing metaphors as he reintroduced it this week. "ITulip.com, and few others, were warning visitors not to put their retirement money in the speculative bubble that the U.S. stock market had become. Cramer was ranting on CNBC about the latest dot-com 'can't lose' stock. We warned that the stock market was due to crash, most likely by the first or second quarter of 2000. It did."

    The site owns up to having missed the real estate bubble, which, it says, "has really kept the U.S. out of poorhouse, if only until now."

    "Not only did we fail to predict the housing bubble as the Fed's answer to the stock market bubble collapse, we argued that the Fed would never allow one to develop. Wrong."

    Despite the retro design, the site has features not there in its first incarnation, including discussion boards and a bloglike news section. It still watches the stock market, which Mr. Janszen says is flat or, given inflation, down considerably.

    But that will probably not keep James Cramer, the frenzied analyst, "from returning to CNBC to rant and throw chairs around while touting the latest 'can't lose' stocks," Mr. Janszen wrote.

    Fashion Backward? "The open and accepted practice of fashion designers 'paying homage' to the designs of others isn't seen as unpunished piracy, but rather as part of the normal creative flow upon which design itself thrives," writes Henry Lanman in Slate this week.

    That may end as the industry presses Congress to expand a law on copyrights for boat hulls — yes, boat hulls — to clothing designs.

    Mr. Lanman sympathizes with designers who send actresses down the red carpet clad in their latest creations, only to see copies in Fifth Avenue windows shortly thereafter.

    "But by making this calculation," he writes, the industry "seems to have demonstrated that ... fashion may not have been blazing its own trail by showing how a creative industry can work in a relaxed intellectual property regime. Rather, it simply may have been the last creative business to get onto the bus to Lawyerville."

    The Great Debate Who is worse — smug, control-freak I.T. managers, or clueless, careless corporate computer users? A debate on Slashdot sheds both heat and light on the question.

    "Calling I.T. when you forget your password for the fifth time that month or with some dumb question because you are too lazy to crack open a manual is no better than stealing office supplies or equipment," writes one I.T. manager. "It's all just stealing resources."

    Market Movements A new CD, "Playing the Market," features music "based on patterns found in the stock market, economic indicators and related algorithms," according to the promotional copy at playingthemarket.com. Cuts include "National Debt" and "Long Bond."

    At strangenewproducts.com, one anonymous writer asks, "Has everyone run out of ideas of good music?"

    As expected, a federal judge ruled on Friday that Google, the Internet search engine, must turn over some search data including 50,000 Web addresses to the government for a study of child pornography online.

    But the judge, James Ware of the Federal District Court for Northern California, denied a government request that Google be ordered to hand over keywords that customers use to search its database.

    In a 21-page ruling that has implications for the privacy of Internet users, Judge Ware said privacy considerations led him to deny part of the Justice Department's request.

    "To the extent the motion seeks an order compelling Google to disclose search queries of its users, the motion is denied," Judge Ware wrote.

    "This concern, combined with the prevalence of Internet searches for sexually explicit material" the judge said, "gives this court pause as to whether the search queries themselves may constitute potentially sensitive information."

    The dispute with Google comes as the government has been moving aggressively on several fronts to obtain data on Internet activity to achieve its law enforcement goals, from domestic security to the prosecution of online crime.

    The United States attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, had subpoenaed Google to turn over data the government wanted from the company as part of the Bush administration's attempt to defend the effectiveness of a 1996 online child pornography law.

    During a court hearing on Tuesday the government reduced the request for data from Google searches to just 50,000 Web addresses and roughly 5,000 search terms from the millions or potentially billions of addresses it had initially sought.

    Judge Ware indicated then that he intended to approve some of the government's request.

    "The court grants the government's motion to compel only as to the sample of 50,000 URL's from Google's search index," the judge ruled on Friday, referring to the searchable catalog of documents that form the core of Google's Web search service.

    He ruled that the request for 50,000 Web addresses, or URL's, was a relevant one by the government for use in a statistical study it is doing to defend the constitutionality of its child antipornography law.

    "The expectation of privacy by some Google users may not be reasonable," Judge Ware wrote, "but may nonetheless have an appreciable impact on the way in which Google is perceived, and consequently the frequency with which users use Google."

    In his decision, the judge wrote of the "three vital interests" that needed to be weighed in the case: national interest, proprietary business information and privacy concerns.

    "This court is particularly concerned any time enforcement of a subpoena imposes an economic burden on a nonparty," he wrote in a filing made late Friday.

    The judge found that given Google's importance in the Web search business, the government would need at least some data.

    Three of Google's competitors in Internet search technology — the America Online unit of Time Warner, Yahoo and MSN, Microsoft's online service — have complied with subpoenas in the case.

    Microsoft began a $500 million marketing campaign yesterday to stir enthusiasm among corporate customers for its new products and grab business from I.B.M., its biggest rival in the business technology market.

    Microsoft's marketing drive and its strategic assault on I.B.M. comes as it prepares to roll out a series of new products in the second half of this year, led by Windows Vista and Office 2007. The company is positioning the new desktop offerings as a kind of dashboard for managing businesses, especially when linked to other new Microsoft programs for worker communications and collaboration, searching company databases, business intelligence and customer relationship management.

    The new products, taken together, can help companies reduce costs, increase worker productivity and hasten the pace of innovation, Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, told a gathering of corporate customers and industry analysts in New York. The networked style of work is a departure from the way most office workers have used Microsoft desktop software in the past — as personal productivity programs for reports, spreadsheets and presentations, which are then passed around as e-mail attachments.

    The Microsoft approach, Mr. Ballmer said, is to offer new software tools for what he called "the next wave of improvement in business operations." That path, he insisted, is very different from that of I.B.M., which he portrayed as mainly a services business whose consultants help companies and then depart.

    "We're talking about giving people in business the tools to be more productive every day," he said. "I.B.M. is talking about a project."

    At the conference, Microsoft gave a series of demonstrations of the capabilities of its new products. These included phoning in for e-mail and having messages read back using voice recognition and translation technology, searching corporate databases, creating virtual workspaces that automatically sync documents and calendars for team members, and analyzing worldwide sales patterns from an Excel spreadsheet.

    Several corporate technology executives said the range of capabilities demonstrated was impressive, though they noted that it would require a sizable further commitment to Microsoft products.

    Ken Bisconti, a vice president in I.B.M.'s software group, said the Microsoft demonstrations, which he saw on a Webcast, were a display of "more functions than people need or want in a pure Microsoft software environment."

    "Microsoft," Mr. Bisconti added, "is clinging to a pre-Internet, proprietary software model."

    While a huge services company, I.B.M. is also the world's second-largest software company, after Microsoft, with $15 billion in yearly revenue. I.B.M.'s Lotus Notes and Workplace Web-based offerings compete with several of Microsoft's desktop products.

    Building momentum in the marketplace for Windows Vista and Office 2007 is crucial for Microsoft. The last major release of its Windows desktop operating system was six years ago, and three years ago for the Office suite. Microsoft needs to add new capabilities to stay ahead of free alternatives to its desktop offerings, like the Linux operating system and OpenOffice applications.

    Microsoft's stock price has barely moved in years, even though its profits have grown by more than 10 percent annually since 2000. Despite its strong performance, investors question its growth prospects.

    In the long run, products like Microsoft's Xbox video game console could be big winners, Mr. Ballmer said in an interview. "But for the next two or three years, the real big growth for Microsoft is going to come from the products and scenarios we showed here," he said.

    Microsoft's marketing campaign uses the phrase "people-ready software" to describe its new products, meant to underline the long-time Microsoft theme that its software helps individuals do their work more efficiently. Yet the new marketing program is aimed mainly at so-called business decision makers, who determine technology strategy in companies, instead of individual computer users.

    "This is about explaining the business value proposition of the Microsoft brand," said Mich Mathews, senior vice president for marketing.

    The campaign began yesterday with eight-page advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other newspapers. The $500 million to be spent over the next year will include ads on television, newspapers, magazines and online, and for Microsoft-sponsored events. Microsoft's advertising agency is McCann Worldgroup in San Francisco, a unit of McCann Erickson, which is part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

    Corporations, unlike consumers, can take months or even years to decide what products to buy. So any payoff for Microsoft's marketing investment could stretch out over years. Shares of Microsoft slipped 9 cents yesterday, to close at $27.27.

    In the digital music market, France is singing a different tune.

    A bill under debate in the French Parliament may require iPods to be able to play music purchased from competing Internet services, not just Apple Computer's own iTunes Music Store, forcing changes in the business model that gave rise to the revolution in legal digital music downloads.

    The outcome of the debate, which began as an update to French copyright law, is far from clear. But taken to one logical conclusion, amendments to the copyright bill could lead Apple, the market leader, to leave the French music business, said Jonathan Arber, a research analyst in London at the technology consultancy Ovum.

    "My gut feeling is that Apple will simply pull out of France if these amendments get through," Mr. Arber said. "Weighed against breaking their business model for all markets, it doesn't make sense for Apple to continue operating with the iPod and iTunes in France."

    Debate lasted late into Thursday night; a vote in the National Assembly is set for next week. The bill, which also proposes to turn individual digital piracy into a violation no more serious than a parking ticket, would go next to the Senate, where it is unlikely to be altered significantly, political analysts say.

    Some critics say the plan is technically unworkable, unfairly undermines Apple and opens the door to more piracy by crippling technology that protects copyrights. Supporters see France setting a long-overdue legal precedent that opens Apple's closed iPod-iTunes digital music system to competition.

    Apple would not comment on the legislation. Led by Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive, Apple persuaded the world's major record labels in 2003 to sell songs over the Internet at 99 cents each through the iTunes Music Store.

    But the price of making it inexpensive, easy and attractive for consumers to buy online — rather than sharing songs on the Internet without compensating record companies or musicians — was the use of Apple's proprietary formats, making song buyers beholden to Apple and its players, which account for more than 70 percent of all devices sold.

    The broad backing of Apple by music industry executives has turned into public and private griping over the company's control over the price of iTunes downloads and the domination of the highly profitable iPod, at what they see as the industry's expense.

    The amendments proposed by the government, tacked onto what is being called the author's rights law, originate in part from a European view of the economy that makes it more acceptable there than in the United States for governments to order competition in the marketplace for the benefit of consumers.

    Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the minister of culture, told the Paris newspaper Libération, "I want to give the Internet world and the cultural industries a secure legal structure to permit a real development — or even explosion — of online cultural offerings." He added, "Everyone will be able to choose."

    France is the third-largest digital music market in Europe, after Britain and Germany, according to GfK, a market research company based in Nuremberg, Germany. Downloads in France last year totaled 20 million songs worth $23.3 million, while 4.7 million digital music players were sold, the company said.

    As of Thursday, the copyright bill still had more than 400 amendments, many of them having to do with how devices interoperate. The most prominently affected device would be the iPod, but Sony's Walkman digital music players operate on a similar principle. In both cases, purchased online music can be transferred to the hardware only from a site owned by the same company — the iTunes Music Store for iPods and Sony Connect for the Walkman. Sony declined to comment.

    The development is especially rich in irony for Microsoft, a target of European antitrust action, which licenses its digital music format, called WMA, to any company willing to pay for it. Most non-Apple digital music players, like those produced by Samsung, Creative and Archos, allow WMA songs, while most online music merchants, like Rhapsody from RealNetworks, Music Now from America Online and Napster, sell songs in that format.

    But technically, the French government's aim of making music playable on all digital devices is challenging at the least, said Mark MacGann, director general of the European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association, a trade group in Brussels whose members include Apple, Microsoft and Sony.

    In addition, the cross-border implications are enormous, he said. "Governments cannot operate in a technology policy vacuum with a global industry," he added, saying that decisions should be made at least on a European level. "You cannot decide overnight to create a nirvana."

    A segmented tower on a metal and plastic base swiveled around. Two glowing segments, suggesting a head, tilted forward and spoke: "Hello. My name is Scoty. Let me explain a few things about myself."

    In a vaguely female synthesized voice — but always in plain English — Scoty, the latest robot from the robotic-toy maker WowWee, demonstrated its functions for a visitor recently.

    Chief among them are managing a personal computer's communication and entertainment abilities, finding and playing songs by voice request, recording television shows, telling users when they have e-mail and, again by voice request, reading the e-mail aloud. It takes and then sends voice-to-text e-mail dictation. It takes pictures, and gives the time when asked.

    Scoty, pronounced Scotty, has no keyboard and does not require mastery of any specialized computer languages to nudge it to perform and reply in a likeable human manner, its makers said.

    While its name stands for smart companion operating technology, "Scoty is more of a companion than operating technologies," said Richard Yanofsky, president of WowWee, which is based in Hong Kong. For lack of a better term, he said, Scoty, which is 24 inches tall, is a "digital maid."

    As robots increasingly migrate from heavy industrial tasks, like welding automobile chassis on assembly lines, to home uses as restless toys and venturesome vacuum cleaners, a fetching personality and appealing appearance become critically important. A flashy show called "Robots: The Interactive Exhibition" is touring museums and science centers in the United States through 2012 with the aim of demystifying robotics, especially their harder edges.

    "Robots are an evergreen," said Eddie Newquist, president of the creative division at the Becker Group, which makes displays for malls, museums and theme parks and created the interactive exhibition based on the computer-animated feature film "Robots" and its themes of invention. "Kids are always fascinated by robots."

    But robotics makers and experts say marvelous mechanics and electronic intelligence are not enough to lure consumers. Robotic novelties that could command steep prices from some early adopters are giving way to lower-priced products (though still rather expensive for toys) that offer personality, utility or both.

    At the American International Toy Fair last month in New York, being a robot for a robot's sake appeared to be a losing bet. Sony said it was ending production on its $2,000 Aibo robotic dogs, which are shiny and aggressively techie. In the meantime, Hasbro announced that it was adding cuddly electronic animals to its successful and largely modestly priced FurReal line of toys, including a $30 baby chimpanzee.

    "The impetus for FurReal was that we wanted to make the most realistic plush animal that existed up until that time," said Sharon John, general manager of Hasbro, which is based in Pawtucket, R.I. "Robotics were a means to an end, not the end itself."

    In a departure from its smaller toys, Hasbro is introducing what it calls a "realistic, life-size" miniature pony, Butterscotch My FurReal Friends Pony, that will be sensitive to light and touch and will embody enough robotics to, among other things, turn its head to see who tickled its ears and shake its head after "eating" its carrot.

    It will sniff and whinny and respond to soothing voices when it becomes frightened by the dark or by too much commotion around it, company spokesmen said. And it is made to bear the weight of young children and simulate galloping. Available in the fall, it is expected to cost $300.

    Like Butterscotch, many of the robotic toys shown at the toy fair were engineered to conceal their joints and metallic jowls beneath furry pelts and cute doll faces. Even traditional robots, like WowWee's Robosapien series, were packed with more personality than previous models.

    Some strived to be friendly, like the coming I-Cat "interactive music companion" from Hasbro's Tiger Electronics brand, a follow-up on last year's I-Dog, a robotic dog speaker accessory for digital music players.

    While both the I-Cat and the I-Dog are furless and highly stylized, Ms. John noted that both make use of colored L.E.D. lights that are diffused inside their smooth, seamless and translucent bodies. Scoty, whose core technologies were developed by Philips Home Dialogue Systems in Germany, uses the same approach. Its smooth, segmented body glows with different colors signifying that it is "listening" to and "understanding" requests.

    "The overall mission is to find ways of bringing robotics into useful interaction with people," said Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, the makers of government and industrial robots as well as consumer ones, including its Roomba series of vacuum cleaners and Scooba floor washers.

    "We tried to figure out how to do that," he said. "The challenges are that high technologies can be viewed as scary and distancing."

    Besides, Mr. Angle said, his company, which is based in Burlington, Mass., near Boston, is less interested in selling robots to "gadget people" than to residents of "Middle America looking for better ways of living their lives and looking for a little help."

    IRobot's popular consumer robots are shaped like overfed Frisbees and roll inconspicuously on tiny wheels performing their tasks. Mr. Angle said there was little efficiency in building highly functioning robots in anthropomorphic form. "It's wildly impractical to do so in any real sense," he said of organic-looking robots.

    Yet, many Roomba owners say they discern endearing traces of a personality in the artificially intelligent discs, prompting some users, Mr. Angle said, to name their robots. It was such emotional attachments that led the company to base its new television advertising campaign on the phrase "I love robots."

    IRobot, which went public last November, has sold more than 1.5 million Roombas, which cost about $300, since they were introduced in late 2002. The company reported revenue of $142 million in 2005, a 49 percent increase over 2004.

    Late last year, the company introduced the iRobot Scooba floor-washing robot, a $400 device that washes, scrubs and dries hard floors with no more prompting than a touch of a button.

    "The simplicity of the interaction is one of the most critical things," Mr. Angle said.

    It is a point not lost on a range of robots heading for store shelves this year.

    Playmates Toys is extending its Amazing series of computerized dolls, which introduced the voice-recognition-assisted Amazing Amanda last year. In the fall it will introduce Amazing Allysen, which is a "tween" rather than a baby doll like its little sister, and requires little more from children than simply to touch it and talk to it.

    Its face emotes electronically as it speaks and listens, its makers say. The $100 doll also has a richer vocabulary and keener object recognition than its predecessor, said a spokesman for Playmates, which is in Costa Mesa, Calif.

    Mr. Yanofsky of WowWee said he and his company had worked hard to ensure that when Scoty was released later this year — at a price he expected to be $400 — it would be simple to set up and operate.

    A demonstration video shows Scoty being removed from its packaging and prompting a new user. "You need to install some software in your computer before I become fully alive," it said.

    Mr. Yanofsky said that WowWee planned to release additional robotic companion devices in the coming years. "At the end of the day there will be a seamless interaction with machines in a manner that will be very close to human experience," he said.
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    Isegi lugesin täna mõnikümmend artiklit/kokkuvõtet/soovitust/analüüsi läbi, aga mul ei tulnud pähegi neid kõiki siia copyda.
  • kas ma pean selle ära tõlkima? natukene võiks ise ka vaeva näha
  • Heh misasja! Mudidugi on kasulik kui pikki ingliskeelseid tekste forumisse postitakse. Oluliselt parem variant on läbi lugeda eelvaliku läbinud (eeldan et foorumisse lambist ei postita keegi midagi) pikk inliskeelne tekst kui ise lugeda läbi 10 pikka ingliskeelset teksti ja siis tõdeda et ainult 1 osutus kasulikuks. Ja kes ei viitsi lugeda ostku QQQQd või muid passivseid investeerimistooteid millega vaeva näha ei ole vaja.
  • Pikkade tekstide puhul võiks tõesti panna kasvõi paar lauset enda poolt teksti sisu kohta ning kui tekst on internetis avalikult kättesaadav, siis teksti asemel link. Kui viimast teha ei saa, siis palun viidake vähemalt korrektselt originaalallikale. Miks peaks keegi raiskama aega ilma pealkirja ja kontekstita teksti lugema hakkamise peale, puhtalt selleks, et kindlaks teha, kas pakub huvi või mitte?
  • Arvan, et irvitatakse hoopis AloV peale.
  • stockerile 1 punkt juurde.

    Google tahab astuda Yahoo! Finance kandadele: finance.google.com
  • AloV peale nagu ei näe põhjust irvitada kuna Rev Sharki hommikukolumn on siin juba aastaid iga päev ilmunud.
  • Veidi üllatunud negatiivsest reaktsioonist, Rev Shark alias James de Borre blogi päeva esimene pikem sissekanne annab hea sissejuhatuse USA- s toimuvale. Tegemist üsna lühikese jutuga, millel iga sõna omab kaalu (aktsionäridele suunatud kirjadest sobiks siin tervikuna ehk ära tuua vaid Warren Buffeti koostatu), viited algallikale peaksid olema samuti piisavad. Aga eestikeelsem võiks foorum tõesti olla, selles osas nõus.
  • Suhtun vägagi positiivselt, et Rev Sharki mõtteid siin avaldatakse ja loodan, et need ilmuvad ka edaspidi. Arvan, et on teisigi, kes minuga nõustuvad.
  • AloV, sellist meest nagu Buffet ma ei tea, aga W. Buffett-i kirju on küll hea lugeda
  • AloV, ära võta kriitikat südamesse. Rev Shark on rohkem kui asjalik. Ise pööran tähelepanu päeva tarkuseterale.

    A üldiselt kes ei viitsi aeglaselt pikki tekste lugeda, võiksid kiirlugemise kursuse läbida. On mida õppida. Kes ei viitsi ka niisama lugeda, ei loe ka lühikesi tekste.

    Ise ootan huviga, kes paneb kinni pikima artikkli postituse võistluse lhv foorumis ;-)
  • Tore kui nõudlust on, 21. märtsi börsipäev siis sellise algusega:

    Don't Seek Clarity From the Fed

    By Rev Shark
    RealMoney.com Contributor
    3/21/2006 9:01 AM EST
    We feel safer with a madman who talks than with one who cannot open his mouth.

    -- E. M. Cioran
     
     
     
    New Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke provided some subtle insights into the future of monetary policy last night at a speech at the Economic Club of New York. Although Bernanke offered up some optimistic comments about the economy, the market reaction was generally negative because a healthy economy raises the potential for inflationary pressures and is likely to lead to more interest rate hikes by the Federal Open Market Committee.

    On the surface, Bernanke's comments seem quite benign. He doesn't believe that the flat yield curve necessarily indicates an economic slowdown and doesn't see the heavy use of adjustable rate mortgages as being a problem. There was nothing surprising in the speech but the upbeat comments about the economy helped solidify the view that more rate hikes are on the way. The market has been choppy and volatile lately with little leadership and a confusing mishmash of action.

    The most likely explanation for this behavior is lack of certainty about what the Federal Reserve might do. We don't have clarity and that is keeping the market range bound.

    One of the ironic things about the Federal Reserve is that much of its market influence lies not in what it does but in how clear it is about what it will do. If the market knew with great certainty that the Fed planned two more rate hikes of a quarter point each and would then stop, there is a good likelihood we would have a strong rally as the news hit. The Fed is aware that announcing in advance what it plans to do is as good as actually doing it so the only way it maintains its power is to keep everyone guessing. As long as we aren't sure what it might do, it continues to control the market.

    One of these days we will get some greater clarify from the Fed but today isn't that day. In fact it looks like the primary message from Bernancke is that the economy looks pretty darn healthy and we are likely to continue to raise rates for a while yet. That means this unclear market environment is likely to continue for now. The technical patterns are mixed. There is little momentum and the news flow is not good or bad enough to create a new trend.

    The core PPI number just hit and is higher than expected but the overall number declined. Once again there is no great clarity there for the market to react to and that will simply keep things volatile.

    Our job is to patiently navigate the choppy market seas; it is not the time to make big bets on market direction. There are good trading opportunities in individual stocks but time frames need to be kept short until we have greater market clarity. There are positives and minuses out there that cut both ways, and the best way to get in trouble is to be inflexible.

    Overseas markets are mostly down on Bernanke's comments and we have a negative start underway this morning.

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