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AT&T To Bring Free Wi-Fi To Starbucks And Beyond!

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This is awesome news in so many ways. AT&T plans to start implementing wi-fi networks at more than 7,000 company-run Starbucks locations nationwide (that’s pretty much all of them except in certain locations, such as Barnes & Noble, for example). The best part? It’s going to be free! If you have a Starbucks card, you will be allowed two hours of free, unrestricted access per day to the network. For anything beyond that, there’s a very nominal fee. If you’re an AT&T Broadband customer, you’ll have unlimited free access. The networks will be installed in the Spring in many markets, and all locations should have networks by the end of the year.

This is somewhat of a different topic, but it has been reported that AT&T has snapped up part of the 700 MHz wireless spectrum put on the auction block by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and plans to offer nationwide long-range wi-fi that will most likely be free for iPhone users (personal note: this would be incredible) and only ten to twenty dollars per month for iPod Touch users and computer users who do not have any kind of AT&T service plan. This makes complete sense and leads me and many other people to believe that we will never see the 3G-equipped iPhone that has long been rumored to come out this year. The chips used in 3G phones use too much power to be useful in a device such as the iPhone. Plus, this way there will be no update to the iPhone necessary and last year’s purchases, myself included, won’t be left out in the cold with an incompatible device. The profits for both AT&T and Apple would be enormous if iPod Touch owners embraced the service, and really, why wouldn’t they? The device becomes twice as useful in more places with constant connectivity to a wi-fi network, as opposed to just at home.

I’m really excited about the prospect of these plans being implemented!

Here are the links to articles on both planned AT&T services:

AT&T’s Starbucks Wi-Fi Networks

AT&T’s Nationwide Wi-Fi Network

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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This Roanoke, Virginia mother-to-be is concerned about the effects jackhammers used in road construction outside her house might have on her unborn child. Hmm, I don’t think they’re gonna do anything compared to what’s in your mouth! Wow, people amaze me.

VCU’s Alert System Still Needs Work

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VCU tested their Emergency Alert System today at noon, sounding sirens, displaying messages on flat screen TVs in buildings, sending out text messages and emails, and updating their VCU Alert website. The previous test that was conducted last Fall was largely unsuccessful because the single siren on the Monroe Park Campus couldn’t be heard. Five were added on the campus, bringing the total to six on the Monroe Park Campus and ten total between that one and the MCV Campus.

Last time, I was in class at the Grace Street Theater, somewhat removed from campus. The sirens were still audible, though, even if it was somewhat faint. However, today when the sirens went off, I was in class at Hibbs, right next to one of the main sirens that’s mounted on the roof of the Cabell Library. I could barely hear it! In addition, I didn’t receive the text alert (nor did anyone around me) until a full fifteen minutes after the test! In my personal opinion, the test was yet another failure. In some classrooms such as mine, students would be unaware of an emergency, and text alerts coming in fifteen minutes late is ridiculous. The harm could already be done by that time. I think it’s a good thing that VCU is putting systems like this into place, but they have a long way to go to make it effective and useful.

Here are some pictures of the news coverage on Shafer Street outside of Hibbs today:

Microsoft’s Next Step Toward World Domination: Purchasing Yahoo!

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I really hate Microsoft, for so many reasons. This just deepens my loathing of the mega software giant. They’re apparently taking a big leap towards taking over the world and killing us all, this time by snatching up Yahoo for a cool $44.6 billion dollars. I don’t even really use Yahoo besides their Flickr service, and consider them way behind in terms of technology and services compared to Google, whose many services and cool technologies I fully implement and support. This deal seems rather hostile and will position Microsoft as an even bigger, more monopolistic company. I still don’t think Yahoo will ever really be able to compete with Google on a level playing field. They are so ingrained into people’s minds as THE premiere search provider that there’s just no way to knock them off their high horse. I’ll be very interested to see where this whole thing goes.

Microsoft Corp. went public Friday with an offer to buy Yahoo Inc. for $44.6 billion, a move designed to create a more credible competitor to industry leader Google Inc. and deepen Microsoft’s position in the market for online business software.

The unsolicited approach, outlined by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer in a letter sent Thursday night to Yahoo’s board and published Friday, is aimed at pressing Yahoo to agree to a combination it rejected a year ago. Yahoo acknowledged the proposal and said it would be evaluated “carefully and promptly.”

The offer, for $31 a share in cash and stock, represents a 62% premium to Yahoo’s closing price Thursday. It comes offer comes as Yahoo continues to struggle against Google in the race for online-advertising revenue and Internet- search market share despite efforts to upgrade its systems. Yahoo’s shares have lost about 40% of their value over the past three months.

“While a commercial partnership may have made sense at one time, Microsoft believes that the only alternative now is the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo! that we are proposing,” Ballmer said in the letter to Yahoo’s board.

Yahoo shares jumped 55% to $29.72 in premarket trading. Microsoft fell 4.7% to $31.08 premarket. Google, down about 6% premarket after issuing weaker than expected fourth-quarter results late Thursday, and saw its stock slip further after the announcement and was recently down nearly 7%. The announcement pushed U.S. stock index futures higher.

A deal would bring together two pioneers in their respective industries that stagnated as new competitors did a better job of adapting to changing technology and the habits of users. It’s unclear how the combination of those cultures would work. Microsoft is widely viewed as a lumbering technology giant struggling to become more nimble, while Yahoo is trying to recapture the spark of its more free-wheeling days as an Internet startup.

Yahoo, however, would add a commanding presence in Internet content and users to Microsoft’s deep pockets and near monopoly over the desktop software that enables most routine computer use.

“In our view there is a compelling case that says yes, although the risks of a culture mismatch and potential employee attrition would have to be managed carefully,” Goldman Sachs analyst Sarah Friar said in a note. Goldman Sach has an investment banking relationship with Microsoft. It wasn’t immediately known whether Goldman is advising on the Yahoo offer.

Microsoft said Yahoo holders would be able to trade each of their shares for $ 31 in cash or 0.9509 of a Microsoft share, pro-rated so that no more than half of the overall purchase price is paid in cash. The deal values Yahoo at 65 times earnings. Currently, it trades at 40 times earnings, according to FactSet Research. Yahoo shares haven’t traded at $31 since November.

The companies held talks about partnering or merging in late 2006 and early 2007. Those talks included the potential of a merger proposal, but Yahoo told Microsoft in February it wasn’t interest in being acquired.

He noted Yahoo’s decision at the time was based on the “potential upside” of its own plans and a “significant organizational alignment,” led by the long- awaited overhaul to its search-advertising system dubbed Project Panama.

“A year has gone by, and the competitive situation has not improved,” Ballmer wrote.

Microsoft noted the market for online advertising is “increasingly dominated by one player. Together, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer competitive choice while better fulfilling the needs of customers and partners.”

Microsoft and Yahoo each have struggled to get bigger in Internet searches and search advertising despite heavy investment. Google was by far the most-used U.S. search engine in December, with a 58.4% market share, compared with 22.9% for No. 2 Yahoo and 9.8% for No. 3 Microsoft, according to data from ComScore Inc. (SCOR).

“The fact is that in this particular industry, scale matters,” Kevin Johnson, Microsoft’s president of platforms and services, said in an interview.

The company added the deal would also result in “combined engineering talent to accelerate innovation,” a hint that Microsoft can’t alone take on Google with its current staff. Microsoft said it would offer “significant retention packages” to employees, executives and engineers across Yahoo.

Microsoft expects at least $1 billion in annual cost savings and revenue enhancements from a deal, which it says could close in the second half of the year.

Takeover speculation fired back up after Yahoo late Tuesday posted a drop in fourth-quarter net income and issued a 2008 outlook that fell short of analysts’ expectations. Goldman Sachs analyst John Marshall, in a report published Friday, said the chances of a Microsoft bid for Yahoo had risen and recommended buying options on Yahoo. He cited the growing importance of the online services business to Microsoft. The software giant also cited that business, which involves licensing companies to use constantly updated software applications accessed via the Internet.

Speculation about a Yahoo buyout has swirled since last year, when Microsoft’s interest in such a deal was reported. Buying Yahoo would theoretically place Microsoft as significant competitor in the Internet search market, where it has so far lagged behind both Yahoo and Google. Microsoft, which has thriving software businesses that could fund a much deeper foray into Internet markets, hadn’t actively dispelled rumors it was considering an acquisition of Yahoo.

Microsoft said it will host a conference call to discuss the proposal at 8:30 a.m. EST. The company is to present a strategic update for analysts Monday in New York.

West Virginia Considering Giving Middle Schoolers Rifles?

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You’ve got to be kidding me. With all the issues with kids bringing guns to school, they’re doing this? West Virginia wants to bring back hunting education in their middle schools. Yeah, okay. That’s just a wonderful idea! The supporters of the plan below say that they would teach kids other things besides hunting skills, such as how to whittle a stick, apparently, claiming that that’s something today’s youth need to know how to do. Absolutely vital! Shoot, the last stick I whittled was a pencil. And that was years ago before I had mechanical pencils. And it was with an electric pencil sharpener, too. Anyway, the whole reason they’re considering bringing this back is because there’s a declining number of people in West Virginia getting hunting licenses. Anyone ever consider that’s because, on the contrary, there’s an increasing number of cars on the road these days and there’s more roadkill than ever? That’s the West Virginia equivalent of going to a butcher shop. Why kill the cow when you can select the best cut of meat and cook it right on up? Wait, I didn’t say that, did I?

A bill introduced by a Wyoming County [West Virginia] senator could bring hunter education back to the state’s middle schools.

“It’s about time,” said hunter-education instructor Don Shumake. “I got a big smile on my face and clipped it out of the newspaper.”

Children would be instructed in everything from survival skills to gun safety, but the guns would either have dummy ammunition or be disabled. Sen. Billy Wayne Bailey, who introduced the bill, doesn’t envision West Virginia’s middle-school students firing real guns during class time.

Hunter education in schools in nothing new. The program’s roots are in West Virginia middle schools.

The course teaches the dangers of guns and the respect one must show a firearm, it also teaches boating safety, has an extensive hypothermia section and first aid, including bleeding and respiratory management. Children also learn survival skills.

Hunter education is especially important since many children don’t receive such instruction at home, Shumake said.

“People donát have somebody to show you that when you cut a stick, you cut away from you and other life lessons,” he said. “They are getting more than just a shooting education. They learn about firearms, it’s not fair not offer it to children who really want to understand. I would rather see them look back and say `boy, I’m glad I had that class,’ instead of saying `boy, I wish I knew what I could have done.'”

Superintendent Bill Niday said some hunting classes have been taught in Wood County Schools, though they have always been optional for student participation.

“I can remember at times the Department of Natural Resources have done some classes in the schools,” he said. “I know that some physical education and health classes have touched on aspects of that. At Parkersburg South High School, part of their physical education program is archery.”

Niday said as long as such courses are left up to the discretion of administrators and students, there shouldn’t be an issue.

“If schools have a need, I don’t see a problem,” he said, “but I would hate to see that become a mandatory part of the curriculum.”

Shumake said the program would lighten the load of hunter-education classes. Those classes held in the fall, especially just before deer season in November, fill up rapidly and those who wait to long to enroll will likely miss that year’s deer season. The state requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1975, to complete the course before buying a hunting license.

West Virginia, where roughly 320,000 people participated in the gun season for bucks, may be the only state in the country contemplating such a bill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Hunting is a huge part of life in West Virginia, but, mirroring a national trend, the number of hunters buying permits has been declining for years.

The state sold 154,763 hunting permits to residents in 2006, according to the Division of Natural Resources, a 17 percent drop from 1997. Although West Virginia still ranks in the top six nationally for sales of nonresident permits, the decline is being felt at the state Capitol.

Nationally, the number of hunters 16 and older stands at roughly 12.5 million, a decline of 10 percent from 1996 to 2006, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

16 Year Old Planned To Blow Up Hannah Montana Concert With Commercial Airliner

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Well, I think Hannah Montana is as annoying as the next guy does, but this guy took it to a whole new level. This guy wanted to hijack a commercial airliner and slam it into an arena where she was performing in the middle of the concert. I mean I know people have been scalping her tickets for upwards of a thousand dollars, but come on, dude. Chill out!

(CNN) — Authorities have charged a teenage boy who said he planned to hijack a commercial jetliner in an attempt to commit suicide, an FBI spokesman told CNN late Thursday. The 16-year-old was taken into custody by airport police without incident on Tuesday evening after flying from Los Angeles, California, to Nashville, Tennessee, on Southwest Airlines Flight 284. “His stated intent was to hijack the airplane and commit suicide,” said George Bolds, an FBI spokesman in Memphis, Tennessee. “He did indicate he intended to die in Louisiana. It appears he had a ticket to Louisiana.” Bolds said the boy indicated he had lived in Louisiana.

The teen wanted to crash the plane into a Hannah Montana concert in Lafayette, Louisiana, two CNN television affiliates in Nashville, WSMV and WTVF, reported, citing unnamed sources. The concert is scheduled for Friday night at the Lafayette Cajundome. Bolds said he had no information on whether the concert may have been targeted as part of the plot. In the teen’s possession were handcuffs, duct tape and a type of rope or yarn, according to the FBI. Authorities noted that those are not prohibited items. “His plan contemplated overpowering the flight crew,” Bolds said. The teen is being held on unspecified state charges and could face federal charges as well, Bolds said. CNN affiliate WTVF reported the teen has been charged with felony terrorism and is being held at the Davidson County juvenile detention center.

“It is my understanding that at no point in time during the course of the flight there was ever any safety concern,” Southwest Airlines spokesman Chris Mainz said. Bolds also said nothing threatening occurred on the flight from California to Nashville. It was not immediately clear how police became aware of the teen’s presence on the flight or his alleged suicide plans. “Hannah Montana” is a hit Disney Channel show — which stars 15-year-old Miley Cyrus and her country singer dad, Billy Ray Cyrus — about a teenage girl who is a typical high-schooler by day but has a secret pop-star alter ego by night.

Deep Run Marathon Dance 2008 Promo

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I made a video promo for Deep Run’s 2008 Marathon Dance, which is a 27-hour dance party that raises money for local charities. Last year, the dance raised over $71,000 for autism. This promo was run this morning on the Wildcat News, the closed-circuit live news program that airs each morning.


West Chase House Fire

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This house, in the West Chase subdivision just outside of Wyndham, caught on fire Monday evening. Although the woman who lived there was badly burned (after safely escaping she went back in her burning house to save the family pet), there is an amazing story behind who pulled her out. This story just reaffirms my belief that there are no coincidences in life. Everything happens for a reason. A friend of mine, Rachel Rainer, took the photo at the left that ended up in the paper. Article via the Richmond Times-Dispatch (more photos from me follow the article at the bottom).

Two Henrico County advertising executives have emerged as the Samaritans who dashed into the burning inferno of a home to try to save a woman’s life Monday night.

“Thinking about it now, it all seems like a dream. I’d never in all my life pictured myself in this sort of life-and-death situation,” said Barry Martin, the first man inside a fully engaged house fire in the 12100 block of Jamieson Place in Henrico’s Wyndham subdivision. “I never knew I had it in me.”

The victim, career nurse Jo Ann Casazza, remained in critical condition this morning in the burn unit of VCU Medical Center, in a medically induced coma.

The fate of Casazza now hinges on the skill of the doctors and nurses at the burn unit — and perhaps on a higher power.

It’s a belief in that higher power that her rescuers discovered they held in common.

Martin, founder of The Idea Center advertising agency, and Brian Gordon, who works at The Martin Agency, had never met until Monday.

Martin had set out that night with his 9-year-old daughter Mira to put his family dog down, Buddy. Gordon was just looking for a good place to have dinner with his girlfriend.

Martin and daughter Mira stopped to pray at the family church, Mount Vernon Baptist, after the dog succumbed, and set out for home. Gordon, stumped for a dining spot, paused at a Nuckols Road intersection, wondering whether he should turn right or left.

Then Mira saw a throbbing orange glow of light from the house fire. Gordon saw the image at the same time and the two vehicles changed direction and headed together to the light source.

On the lawn of the Casazza home, a crying girl and a screaming, petite woman, Casazza’s mother, were the picture of abandonment and lost hope.

“We heard that the woman had been safe but ran back in to save a family pet,” Martin said. “It was a very strange feeling after Buddy.”

Martin frantically tried to call 911 but misdialed, at first hitting 411. It was about 7:30 p.m. He had been thinking about how to pull himself out of the despair from the lost pet only to be suddenly confronted by another life-and-death situation on a grander scale.

“I just ran into the house. The front door was the only opening, and black smoke was just pouring out.”

Inside, the victim presented a daunting challenge.

Casazza was literally burning up before his eyes.

She was large, and “her skin was literally fused to a rug in the foyer,” Martin said.

When he pulled on her wrists, “the skin just pulled off. It was a gruesome thing to see.”

Suddenly, Gordon burst into the home and together the two men pulled the woman free of the house on the rug, dragging Casazza all the way to the street.

“I will never forget the people who had gathered there, and this terribly burned woman in the middle of the street on a rug with just terrible, terrible burns,” Martin said.

“I tried to comfort her: ‘Have faith. God is with you and you are going to be all right,'” he said.

“Do you mean it? Do you mean it?” Casazza answered.

Martin said he heard Casazza to describe how the family Christmas tree may have ignited. And then she was gone, carried to the hospital by rescue workers.

For more on this story, see tomorrow’s Times-Dispatch.