Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Postal Service To Cut Saturday Mail Delivery

Postal Service To Cut Saturday Mail Delivery To Save $2 Billion Per Year WASHINGTON — Saturday mail may soon go the way of the Pony Express and penny postcards. The Postal Service said Wednesday that it plans to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages to stem its financial losses in a world radically re-ordered by the Internet. "Our financial condition is urgent," declared Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. But Congress has voted in the past to bar the idea of eliminating Saturday delivery, and his announcement immediately drew protests from some lawmakers. The plan, which is to take effect in August, also brought vigorous objections from farmers, the letter carriers' union and others. The Postal Service, which suffered a $15.9 billion loss in the past budget year, said it expected to save $2 billion annually with the Saturday cutback. Mail such as letters and magazines would be affected. Delivery of packages of all sizes would continue six days a week. The plan accentuates one of the agency's strong points: Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010, officials say, while the delivery of letters and other mail has plummeted. Email has decreased the mailing of paper letters, but online purchases have increased package shipping, forcing the Postal Service to adjust to customers' new habits. "Things change," Donahoe said. James Valentine, an antiques shop owner in Toledo, wasn't too concerned about the news. "The mail isn't that important to me anymore. I don't sit around waiting for it to come. It's a sign of the times," he said, adding, "It's not like anyone writes letters anymore." In fact, the Postal Service has had to adapt to changing times ever since Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general by the Continental Congress in 1775. The Pony Express began in 1860, six-day delivery started in 1863, and airmail became the mode in 1918. Twice-a-day delivery was cut to one in 1950 to save money. But change is not the biggest factor in the agency's predicament – Congress is. The majority of the service's red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment – $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year – and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year. Congress also has stymied the service's efforts to close some post offices in small towns. Under the new plan, mail would be delivered to homes and businesses only from Monday through Friday but would still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays. Post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open. Over the past several years, the Postal Service has advocated shifting to a five-day delivery schedule for mail and packages – and it repeatedly but unsuccessfully has appealed to Congress to approve the move. An independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control. The proposed change is based on what appears to be a legal loophole – and that may be a gamble. Congress has long included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills, but because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, Donahoe says it's the agency's interpretation that it can make the change itself. "This is not like a `gotcha' or anything like that," he said. The agency essentially wants Congress to keep the ban out of any new spending bill after the temporary measure expires March 27. Might Congress try to block the idea? "Let's see what happens," he said. "I can't speak for Congress." Two Republican lawmakers said they had sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate in support of the elimination of Saturday mail. It's "common-sense reform," wrote Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. But Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich called it "bad news for Alaskans and small business owners" who he said need timely delivery to rural areas. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was disappointed, questioned the savings estimate and worried the loss of Saturday service might drive customers away. "The Postal Service is the linchpin of a $1 trillion mailing and mail-related industry that employs more than 8 million Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, magazine and newspaper publishing and paper manufacturing," she said. "A healthy Postal Service is not just important to postal customers but also to our national economy." She noted that the Senate last year passed a bill that would have stopped the postal service from eliminating Saturday service for at least two years and required it to try two years of aggressive cost cutting instead. The House didn't pass a bill. Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday, "I think trying to act in this postal area is pretty difficult. But I understand where the postal commission is coming from. They're in charge with running the post office, but yet the Congress, in its wisdom, has tied their hands every which way in order for them to actually run the post office in a revenue neutral way." "And so Congress needs to act, there's no question about that, and I hope we'll act soon." President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House learned only Tuesday about the agency's decision to cut Saturday service. He said the White House is still evaluating the decision but would have preferred its own comprehensive overhaul package that failed to pass Congress last year be adopted "for the sake of a stronger future Postal Service." The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, said the cutback is "a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers," particularly businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication. He said the maneuver by Donahoe to make the change "flouts the will of Congress, as expressed annually over the past 30 years in legislation that mandates six-day delivery." The National Farmers Union said "impacts on rural America will be particularly harmful." Despite that opposition, the Postal Service clearly thinks it has a majority of the American public on its side. The service's market research indicates that nearly 7 in 10 people support the switch as a way to reduce costs, Donahoe said. He said the savings would include employee reassignment and attrition. The agency in November reported a record annual loss of $15.9 billion for the past budget year and forecast more red ink in 2013, capping a tumultuous year in which it was forced to default on the $11 billion in retiree health benefit prepayments to avert bankruptcy. The financial losses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were more than triple the $5.1 billion loss in the previous year. Having reached its borrowing limit, the mail agency is operating with little cash on hand. The Postal Service is in the midst of a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, officials say. At the DeCicco Food Market in Pelham, N.Y., where they handle the mail for all 10 of their stores, the assistant manager, Frank Torres, said they will try to adjust their routine. I'll tell you, though, the customers are pretty upset, we've been hearing them at the (checkout) registers. Some of them get mail they want on Saturday. "You know what also, it will be strange not seeing the mailman on Saturday. Our office girls know him on a first-name basis."

Florida teen gets 30 days in jail for insult to Miami judge

Florida teen gets 30 days in jail for insult to Miami judge Penelope Soto, 18, who was arrested for illegal possession of Xanax, should have taken a chill pill before cheesing off a Miami judge who gave her a 30-day sentence for contempt of court. Penelope Soto (right) is visibly shocked to hear that her bond has been doubled after her disrespectful behavior toward Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat (left) on Monday.
A cranky Florida teenager, upset over getting arrested for drug possession, lashed out at a Miami judge during her bond hearing Monday, flipping him the bird and earning a 30-day sentence for contempt in the process. Penelope Soto, who had been arrested for having Xanax and was charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, was brought before Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat on Monday. The stern jurist asked the 18-year-old Soto, who was wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, about her assets, probing into how much her jewelry was worth, according to Soto, who had been laughing and smiling through the hearing, chuckled at the question. Read more:

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Union negotiators for dockworkers on the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts and negotiators for port operators and maritime shippers have reached a tentative labor pact that will avert a potentially devastating economic blow to the U.S. economic recovery. ederal mediator George Cohen said late Friday that both groups -- the International Longshoremen's Association, the AFL-CIO (the ILA) on one side and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (the USMX) on the other -- agreed on terms of a “master contract,” an umbrella agreement that governs labor relations in all 15 major ports from Maine to Texas. These ports handle about 35 percent of U.S. imports. It was further agreed that there will be no work stoppage as negotiators hammer out local agreements and pacts specific to each port. The news provides a huge relief to U.S. retailers worried that a strike by the International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO, which represents about 14,500 workers, would cost more than $1 billion per day. “The retail industry, which supports one in every four U.S. jobs, is pleased to hear that the ILA and USMX have reached a tentative, long-term master contract," National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement released Saturday. Negotiators were operating under a Wednesday deadline to avoid what would have been the first longshoremen's strike in 35 years. "I am extremely pleased to announce that the parties have reached a tentative agreement for a comprehensive successor Master Agreement,” Cohen said. “The tentative agreement is subject to the ratification procedures of both parties and, as well, to agreements being achieved in a number of local union negotiations. Those local negotiations are ongoing and will continue without interruption to any port operation.” A strike would have hit the New York-New Jersey area particularly hard. About 3,250 longshoremen load and unload boats on ports in the area. Port activity directly supports nearly 200,000 jobs in the New York area alone. A one-week dockworkers strike would cost the region an estimated $110 million in economic output and $136 million in personal income. Even without sympathy strikes by dockworkers in other ports, a New York-area job action would have cost the U.S. $1 billion to $2 billion per day in economic activity. Moreover, a strike would have hammered the nation's fragile economic recovery because consumers, who constitute about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, would have to absorb the extra cost of goods as a result of higher transportation charges. Talks between labor and industry have centered primarily on two contentious issues. One is container royalties, or payments to dockworkers, many of whom make more than $100,000 per year, to compensate them for work lost because of shippers using containers. Maritime shippers have been using containers on freighters for decades to handle cargo efficiently as containers can be easily moved among ships, trucks and trains. Those shippers -- and also the terminal operators -- argue that there are few if any dockworkers today who have been impacted by the 1960s introduction of containerization, and that royalties no longer compensate workers for time actually lost. Still, container royalties have remained in place and, since 2009, when a cap on royalty payments was scrapped, those payments skyrocketed. In 1996 they averaged $6,028 per worker; in 2011 they averaged $36,000 per worker, according to the Wall Street Journal. The ILA argues that these payments are now an essential part of worker compensation. “Container Royalty (payments) supplements the members’ income and keeps his benefits package financially strong,” says a statement on the ILA website. “Container Royalty eligibility must be earned by an ILA member reaching a certain amount of hours worked each year. ILA work isn’t like other professions: no ships mean no work, but employers depend on a strong and skilled workforce when ships need to be worked. Container Royalty helps keep an ILA workforce available.” Work rules are another central issue in the labor dispute, indeed a more contentious one. The terminal operators and ocean carriers point to a number of egregious activities that were unearthed during public hearings in 2010 held by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. These hearings featured testimony about such waterfront abuses linked to the longshoremen as crane operators who work eight hours but are paid for 24 hours of work; dockworkers who earn overtime pay despite not even being at the port; “no-show” jobs, which, in one case, paid $73,531 in 2009; shop stewards who earn more than $400,000 per year; timekeepers who earn more than $400,000 per year and are paid for 27 hours of work per day; and the outsized influence of the Genovese crime family on the New York-area docks. Port management has been demanding that these activities are finally eliminated, and it’s insisting that in the next few years, the longshoremen and the companies that ship on the waterfront focus on improving productivity substantially. Besides the Port of New York and New Jersey, the ports involved in the contract negotiations are Hampton Roads, Va.; Houston; Savannah, Ga.; Boston; Delaware River; Baltimore; Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Port Everglades, Fla.; Miami; Tampa Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; and New Orleans.

Windows 8

Windows 8 iPad killers: Round 1 Be careful what you wish for: Windows 8 tablets that promise to offer a twofer tablet-laptop device -- something not offered by Apple on the iPad -- are here. But are they up to the task? The iPad-killing Windows 8 tablet-laptop has arrived. Problem is, most aren't ready to dispatch the iPad -- or the MacBook Air for that matter -- yet. So far, reviewers of shape-shifting Windows 8 tablets have not been kind. Otherwise known as "detachables," the devices can take the form of a standalone tablet or attach to a keyboard base to become a close facsimile of a full-fledged laptop. And one of the key selling points -- if not the key selling point -- is that you can run all your favorite Windows applications. In other words, this isn't application-deprived Windows RT. The fly in the ointment is Intel's underwhelming Atom Z2760 processor, which presents itself as a kind of paradox: it promises to run any legacy Windows application, but it doesn't really deliver. CNET's review of the HP Envy x2, titled Half-tablet, half-laptop, all Atom, summarized the x2 this way: "a slower Atom processor means in performance it's far behind most ultrabooks, even though it's priced like one." Another review, at Wired, of a similarly configured Acer Iconia W510 is even harsher: "The W510 benchmarks at about a quarter of the speed on general apps versus the typical Windows 8 laptop shipping today, and it really can't run any graphics benchmarks at all." And how about the Samsung Ativ 500T? ExtremeTech calls it "ridiculously underpowered." The review continues: "Real Work is nuked by desktop lag, performance stuttering, and a ludicrously small amount of storage." Yep, storage is another problem. Some of these detachables come with flash drives that are only 32GB or 64GB. That leaves precious little space to store applications after Windows 8 has occupied a disproportionately large part of the drive's real estate. So, that's the bad news. Luckily, alternatives are emerging. Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet -- due to arrive next Saturday, February 9 -- sports a fast laptop-class Ivy Bridge chip. And Samsung has the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T: a speedy detachable with the same chip. (See review here.) And expect more products like this when Intel's more battery-friendly Haswell chip lands in the summer. Also, a new Atom is on the way -- probably late this year -- that has a completely revamped (read: faster) processor architecture and will be offered in quad-core variants. Lastly, remember that the systems mentioned above are not "convertibles" like the Lenovo Yoga, Asus Taichi, or HP Revolve. Those are laptops first, tablets second and, accordingly, offer laptop-level performance. And maybe convertibles and touch-screen laptops are the best that PC makers can offer for now. A shot at laptop-tablet nirvana will have to wait until Round 2.


Which game console should you buy?

This is an interesting read i guess i will buy an Ebox360

A lot has changed since the Xbox 360 debuted in November 2005. After what has seemed like dozens of upgrades, improvements, omissions, price drops, motion controllers, and bundles, the dust has settled (once again) and we're left with three competitively priced consoles.

Editors' note: This console buying guide was updated on November 23, 2011, for the holiday season.

Such an evenly matched trio of hardware brings up the ultimate question for prospective video game console buyers: which home console should you buy?

This question doesn't necessarily have a definitive answer. Quite frankly, the answer could be any of the three depending on what you're looking for. In other words, there is no default "best console." It's about finding the one that's right for you--and what will be the deciding factor in your case will ultimately depend on what you plan to use the console for. That said, in lieu of detailing every last bit of functionality that each console offers, let's discuss the type of person we think would benefit most from each console.

Nintendo Wii

• Nintendo Wii Hardware Bundle ($170-200)
• Nintendo Wii Mario Kart Bundle ($150)

Last year Nintendo introduced a new bundle for the Wii that included Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and a Wii Remote with MotionPlus built in. This year, the company has chopped $50 off the price and now offers a $150 Wii with just Mario Kart Wii bundled inside. Though the Wii isn't regarded as a "hard-core" gamer's console, the system has served up some pretty compelling titles over the past few years, with more-recent titles like Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid Other M giving Wii owners something to cheer about. A growing trend with the Wii seems to be that of rebooted franchises from the company's past, like Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby's Epic Yarn. Not much has been seen in terms of pure innovation, but Nintendo seems content with rewarding its loyal fan base. However, we must admit that Nintendo seems to have left the Wii hanging with little to play since the announcement of the console's Wii U successor at E3 2011.

This notion was reinforced with the release of what's probably the Wii's last major title, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. We absolutely love the game, and think it's a fine way for the Wii to go out. That said, at this point in the game it's tough to recommend a new purchase simply because software support is on its last breath. While the Wii does have a respectable library, just know you'll only playing games from its past and the occasional WiiWare standout.

All things considered, the Wii has become best known for its addictive party games, the occasional fitness game, kid-friendly fun, and shooting titles that emulate light-gun arcade games. The number of first-party Nintendo titles is small, and a large number of third-party games are mostly written off as gimmicky cannon fodder.

The Wii's online multiplayer experience isn't anything to write home about, but we definitely recommend playing Mario Kart Wii online. Unfortunately, the Wii's 16-digit friend code system did not catch on with most gamers. The well-established Virtual Console offers an impressive number of classic games from various older gaming systems, and WiiWare provides a platform for inexpensive titles from independent developers.

Aside from games, the Wii doesn't offer much in terms of additional functionality. Only last year did the Wii obtain Netflix streaming, and it can't play DVDs or CDs. Besides Netflix, its only streaming-media compatibility comes from PlayOn's third-party PC software. A cheaper Wii that can't play GameCube titles was recently introduced in Europe, but Nintendo says it has no plans of releasing this system in North America.

Accessories for the Nintendo Wii can add up. The console supports up to four Wii remotes and Nunchuks (the system comes with one of each). Thankfully, Wii MotionPlus is now bundled in most new controllers, so purchasing a separate attachment is no longer needed. However, there are still plenty of accessories to purchase, and all this plus extra chargers and batteries can become quite pricey, creating a lot of hidden costs.

The Nintendo Wii is best for: Parents with children who are just beginning to enter the world of gaming; family gaming; an environment with a lot of people (dorm room or apartment with numerous roommates); loyal fans of classic Nintendo franchises.

The Wii is not the best choice for: Those who are looking for a game console that doubles as an all-purpose entertainment hub, want state-of-the-art HD graphics, enjoy a robust online community, and/or those who prefer a wide selection of adult-targeted titles.

Key Wii exclusives: All Zelda, Mario, Metroid, and first-party Nintendo games.

Microsoft Xbox 360

• Xbox 360 (4GB) ($200)
• Xbox 360 (4GB) with Kinect Bundle ($300)
• Xbox 360 (250GB) ($300)
• Xbox 360 (250GB) with Kinect Bundle ($400)\

The Xbox 360 still remains the better-selling of the two powerhouse consoles of this generation, but by a much smaller margin worldwide. This is partly because the system went on sale an entire year before the PlayStation 3 and because the console had a much stronger lineup of exclusives early on in its life cycle. Also, at launch, Xbox 360 was considerably more affordable than the expensive PlayStation 3. But a lot has changed since then.

With well over 20 million members worldwide, Xbox Live is the most complete online console experience available today. The caveat is that the "Gold" Membership tier--required for online gaming and access to the best perks--requires an annual fee of $50. (By comparison, the standard Sony and Nintendo online networks are free, though Sony does now offer a premium PSN experience called PlayStation Plus for the same yearly price.) That said, there are plenty of opportunities to save money on an XBL subscription, so make sure to keep an eye on the Xbox Dashboard for special deals.

Like Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN), Xbox Live offers downloadable games (both casual "Arcade" titles and full games), game add-ons (downloadable content, or "DLC"), and the capability to buy and rent TV shows and movies, many of which are in high-definition video. Some of the purchased videos can also be transferred to Microsoft's Zune portable media player. (Note that you'll need a hard drive to fully enjoy most of these features; the current "Slim" console includes a 250GB model, but it's a separate purchase for the 4GB model). A dashboard update also gave Xbox 360 owners the ability to use USB sticks as a means of storing media and game saves.

Back at E3 2010, Microsoft debuted a completely redesigned Xbox 360 console. Dubbed as the "Slim" or "S" console, the newer unit is 17 percent smaller than its predecessor, has built-in Wi-Fi, runs much quieter, and has a dedicated port for the Microsoft Kinect. This console is now the standard Xbox 360 system, while a $200 4GB unit has accompanied it on store shelves.

In terms of additional functionality, the Xbox 360 offers streaming Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter applications, in addition to and ESPN content. You can stream digital media from a networked Windows PC through DLNA, and the 360 can double as a full-on Windows Media Extender for those running Windows Media Center on their PCs; third-party products such as PlayOn and TwonkyVision can also expand the 360's default streaming capabilities. Xbox 360 will also recognize most music players and hard drives, so you can manually plug these types of devices into an open USB port and play music, photos, and videos right on the console. However, unlike the Blu-ray-capable PS3, the Xbox 360 can only play standard DVD movies.

On December 6, 2011, the Xbox 360 will be getting a major dashboard update that will overhaul the system's look, which falls in line with Microsoft's new Metro UI. It will also introduce Bing content search and cloud storage for game saves and Xbox Live user profiles.

Beyond all of its impressive media capabilities, the Xbox 360 is also an excellent game machine. Most triple-A titles are available on the 360, save for a few PlayStation 3-only games, and the games generally look as good as or better than their PS3 counterparts. The console also has its fair share of exclusives, including the Gears of War, Halo, Forza, and Fable series. Also--especially for the past two summers--Microsoft has impressed us with some major exclusive Xbox Live Arcade titles like Bastion, Fruit Ninja Kinect, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

There are plenty of Xbox 360 accessories that can extend the overall cost of owning the system. Additional controllers and rechargeable batteries represent the core add-ons, but you can also spend money on wireless headsets, charging docks, and messaging keypads.

Note that the older Xbox 360 consoles have a notorious (and deserved) reputation for bad reliability, thanks to the "red ring of death" problem that afflicted far too many early models. However, the slim Xbox 360 has proved to be a much more reliable piece of hardware.

In an effort to compete with PlayStation Move and the Wii's motion control, Microsoft debuted the $150 Kinect accessory add-on (previously referred to as Project Natal). We like Kinect for its unique take on motion control, and the fact that it's nearly impossible to cheat or fool, unlike the Wii. Though it does have a large launch library, there are only a few titles really worth checking out. Also, Kinect requires much more space to play than any other motion system, so this should be the primary factor when deciding on a purchase. Almost a year after its initial launch, the Kinect gaming selection is still a bit scarce. We really like innovative titles like Fruit Ninja Kinect and Child of Eden, but Kinect's showing at E3 2011 left us a bit concerned for its immediate future. Still, games like the Dance Central and updates that allow Kinect to bring voice control to Xbox 360 apps keep it relevant.

The Xbox 360 is best for: People who want an easy-to-use interface; gamers who take online gameplay seriously; gamers who already have friends on Xbox Live; hard-core and casual gamers; anyone who wants a good all-in-one gaming and entertainment system; fans of full-body motion control; workout fiends.

The Xbox 360 is not the best choice for: Those who want the PS3's added value of built-in Blu-ray; do-it-yourselfers who want more media-viewing options.

Key Xbox 360 exclusives: The Halo, Fable, Forza, and Gears of War series; some Xbox Live Arcade titles like Bastion and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet; small number of DLC for multiplatform games like Fallout: New Vegas.

Sony PlayStation 3

• PlayStation 3 (160GB) ($250)
• PlayStation 3 (320GB) ($300)
• PlayStation 3 (320GB) Move Bundle ($350)

There's no doubt about it, the PlayStation 3 did not get off to a great start when it was released in November 2006. Fast-forward five years, and the console has definitely righted the ship. The PlayStation 3 now offers a solid library of games (including the Uncharted, Killzone, InFamous, LittleBigPlanet, and Resistance series) and access to the PlayStation Store, and is one of the best Blu-ray players on the market. (It also plays DVD movies and CDs, of course.) Now with an entry-level price of just $250, it might be the best time to consider buying a PS3. Sony has strategically positioned the console with a competitive price and promising list of future titles.

Though the base plan is totally free, the PlayStation Network doesn't necessarily provide you with the best online gaming experience around, but if you don't consider such a thing important, it is more than sufficient. At E3 2010, Sony announced PlayStation Plus, a fee service that promises to enhance the overall PSN experience. We've had some time with PlayStation Plus and have to report that its benefits simply don't justify a $50 per year subscription.

Like Xbox Live, the PlayStation Store is host to tons of movies, TV shows, demos, and downloadable games. PlayStation 3 also offers Home, a Second Life sort of experience where you can set up shop in a virtual world. Sony had been hyping the feature for years, but PlayStation Home is now generally regarded as a dud despite the company's numerous attempts to revitalize it.

Just like the Xbox 360, there are plenty of ways to get digital media streamed over the console via a home network or a third-party product like PlayOn. You can also hook up a device via USB and play media that way as well. The PS3 offers Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, NHL, MLB, NFL Sunday Ticket, and HBO content support.

Though the Xbox 360 and Wii have various accessories available, you probably will need to purchase only a few for the PS3. Aside from additional controllers, there is not much you'll need. (The biggest annoyance: you'll need an infrared-to-Bluetooth adapter if you choose to use the PS3 with a universal remote.) The console uses Bluetooth technology so you can use almost any headset for chatting purposes.

Sony has marketed the PS3 as an exceptional deal because of its built-in Blu-ray player. While getting a built-in Blu-ray player is one of the console's major selling points, its benefits to the gaming experience remain mixed. It offers game developers much more space to work with than a standard DVD, but that hasn't translated into a quantum leap in graphics quality--the PS3's graphics are essentially on par with those of the 360. Also, the Blu-ray drive's fixed speed is problematic: it requires many PS3 games to do a preliminary hard-drive installation when playing a game for the first time. To this day, some titles--including major ones like Gran Turismo 5--suffer from long load times.

Sony's answer to controller-based motion control is PlayStation Move, which it released September 19, 2010. Though Move feels a lot like the Nintendo Wii experience, it offers better precision control and adds HD graphics. Like Kinect, the Move's initial library of games is lacking, but motion junkies should find safe haven in first-party titles like Sports Champions and light-gun games like The Shoot. A year after its release, Move support has been implemented into a handful of existing PS3 titles. Its functionality is being incorporated into new games, but only a few upcoming titles have Move-only mechanics.

The PS3 also now supports 3D movies as well as a growing list of 3D games. Of course, you'll need a new 3D HDTV to enjoy this content, but it is the only console pushing the initiative.

The PS3 is best for: Hard-core and casual gamers who aren't concerned with the ultimate online experience; early adopters and fans of 3D; do-it-yourselfers; videophiles who need the latest and greatest in Blu-ray; content-conscious media consumers.

The PS3 is not the best choice for: Those who don't care about HD graphics or video.

Key PS3 exclusives: The Uncharted, InFamous, Killzone, LittleBigPlanet, Gran Turismo, and Resistance series.

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Lesson for today

100 things that you did not know about Africa

 The human race is of African origin. The oldest known skeletal remains
of anatomically modern humans (or homo sapiens) were excavated at sites
in East Africa. Human remains were discovered at Omo in Ethiopia that
were dated at 195,000 years old, the oldest known in the world.

 Skeletons of pre-humans have been found in Africa that date back
between 4 and 5 million years. The oldest known ancestral type of
humanity is thought to have been the australopithecus ramidus, who lived
 at least 4.4 million years ago.

3. Africans were the
first to organise fishing expeditions 90,000 years ago. At Katanda, a
region in northeastern Zaïre (now Congo), was recovered a finely wrought
 series of harpoon points, all elaborately polished and barbed. Also
uncovered was a tool, equally well crafted, believed to be a dagger. The
 discoveries suggested the existence of an early aquatic or fishing
based culture.

4. Africans were the first to engage in
mining 43,000 years ago. In 1964 a hematite mine was found in Swaziland
at Bomvu Ridge in the Ngwenya mountain range. Ultimately 300,000
artefacts were recovered including thousands of stone-made mining tools.
 Adrian Boshier, one of the archaeologists on the site, dated the mine
to a staggering 43,200 years old.

5. Africans pioneered
 basic arithmetic 25,000 years ago. The Ishango bone is a tool handle
with notches carved into it found in the Ishango region of Zaïre (now
called Congo) near Lake Edward. The bone tool was originally thought to
have been over 8,000 years old, but a more sensitive recent dating has
given dates of 25,000 years old. On the tool are 3 rows of notches. Row 1
 shows three notches carved next to six, four carved next to eight, ten
carved next to two fives and finally a seven. The 3 and 6, 4 and 8, and
10 and 5, represent the process of doubling. Row 2 shows eleven notches
carved next to twenty-one notches, and nineteen notches carved next to
nine notches. This represents 10 + 1, 20 + 1, 20 - 1 and 10 - 1.
Finally, Row 3 shows eleven notches, thirteen notches, seventeen notches
 and nineteen notches. 11, 13, 17 and 19 are the prime numbers between
10 and 20.

6. Africans cultivated crops 12,000 years
ago, the first known advances in agriculture. Professor Fred Wendorf
discovered that people in Egypt’s Western Desert cultivated crops of
barley, capers, chick-peas, dates, legumes, lentils and wheat. Their
ancient tools were also recovered. There were grindstones, milling
stones, cutting blades, hide scrapers, engraving burins, and mortars and

7. Africans mummified their dead 9,000 years
ago. A mummified infant was found under the Uan Muhuggiag rock shelter
in south western Libya. The infant was buried in the foetal position and
 was mummified using a very sophisticated technique that must have taken
 hundreds of years to evolve. The technique predates the earliest
mummies known in Ancient Egypt by at least 1,000 years. Carbon dating is
 controversial but the mummy may date from 7438 (±220) BC.

 Africans carved the world’s first colossal sculpture 7,000 or more
years ago. The Great Sphinx of Giza was fashioned with the head of a man
 combined with the body of a lion. A key and important question raised
by this monument was: How old is it? In October 1991 Professor Robert
Schoch, a geologist from Boston University, demonstrated that the Sphinx
 was sculpted between 5000 BC and 7000 BC, dates that he considered

9. On the 1 March 1979, the New York
Times carried an article on its front page also page sixteen that was
entitled Nubian Monarchy called Oldest. In this article we were assured
that: “Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history,
preceding the rise of the earliest Egyptian kings by several
generations, has been discovered in artifacts from ancient Nubia” (i.e.
the territory of the northern Sudan and the southern portion of modern

10. The ancient Egyptians had the same type of
tropically adapted skeletal proportions as modern Black Africans. A 2003
 paper appeared in American Journal of Physical Anthropology by Dr Sonia
 Zakrzewski entitled Variation in Ancient Egyptian Stature and Body
Proportions where she states that: “The raw values in Table 6 suggest
that Egyptians had the ‘super-Negroid’ body plan described by Robins
(1983). The values for the brachial and crural indices show that the
distal segments of each limb are longer relative to the proximal
segments than in many ‘African’ populations.”

11. The
ancient Egyptians had Afro combs. One writer tells us that the Egyptians
 “manufactured a very striking range of combs in ivory: the shape of
these is distinctly African and is like the combs used even today by
Africans and those of African descent.”

12. The
Funerary Complex in the ancient Egyptian city of Saqqara is the oldest
building that tourists regularly visit today. An outer wall, now mostly
in ruins, surrounded the whole structure. Through the entrance are a
series of columns, the first stone-built columns known to historians.
The North House also has ornamental columns built into the walls that
have papyrus-like capitals. Also inside the complex is the Ceremonial
Court, made of limestone blocks that have been quarried and then shaped.
 In the centre of the complex is the Step Pyramid, the first of 90
Egyptian pyramids.

13. The first Great Pyramid of Giza,
 the most extraordinary building in history, was a staggering 481 feet
tall - the equivalent of a 40-storey building. It was made of 2.3
million blocks of limestone and granite, some weighing 100 tons.

 The ancient Egyptian city of Kahun was the world’s first planned city.
Rectangular and walled, the city was divided into two parts. One part
housed the wealthier inhabitants – the scribes, officials and foremen.
The other part housed the ordinary people. The streets of the western
section in particular, were straight, laid out on a grid, and crossed
each other at right angles. A stone gutter, over half a metre wide, ran
down the centre of every street.

15. Egyptian mansions
were discovered in Kahun - each boasting 70 rooms, divided into four
sections or quarters. There was a master’s quarter, quarters for women
and servants, quarters for offices and finally, quarters for granaries,
each facing a central courtyard. The master’s quarters had an open court
 with a stone water tank for bathing. Surrounding this was a colonnade.

 The Labyrinth in the Egyptian city of Hawara with its massive layout,
multiple courtyards, chambers and halls, was the very largest building
in antiquity. Boasting three thousand rooms, 1,500 of them were above
ground and the other 1,500 were underground.

Toilets and sewerage systems existed in ancient Egypt. One of the
pharaohs built a city now known as Amarna. An American urban planner
noted that: “Great importance was attached to cleanliness in Amarna as
in other Egyptian cities. Toilets and sewers were in use to dispose
waste. Soap was made for washing the body. Perfumes and essences were
popular against body odour. A solution of natron was used to keep
insects from houses . . . Amarna may have been the first planned ‘garden

18. Sudan has more pyramids than any other
country on earth - even more than Egypt. There are at least 223 pyramids
 in the Sudanese cities of Al Kurru, Nuri, Gebel Barkal and Meroë. They
are generally 20 to 30 metres high and steep sided.

 The Sudanese city of Meroë is rich in surviving monuments. Becoming the
 capital of the Kushite Empire between 590 BC until AD 350, there are 84
 pyramids in this city alone, many built with their own miniature
temple. In addition, there are ruins of a bath house sharing affinities
with those of the Romans. Its central feature is a large pool approached
 by a flight of steps with waterspouts decorated with lion heads.

 Bling culture has a long and interesting history. Gold was used to
decorate ancient Sudanese temples. One writer reported that: “Recent
excavations at Meroe and Mussawwarat es-Sufra revealed temples with
walls and statues covered with gold leaf”.

21. In
around 300 BC, the Sudanese invented a writing script that had
twenty-three letters of which four were vowels and there was also a word
 divider. Hundreds of ancient texts have survived that were in this
script. Some are on display in the British Museum.

In central Nigeria, West Africa’s oldest civilisation flourished between
 1000 BC and 300 BC. Discovered in 1928, the ancient culture was called
the Nok Civilisation, named after the village in which the early
artefacts were discovered. Two modern scholars, declare that “[a]fter
calibration, the period of Nok art spans from 1000 BC until 300 BC”. The
 site itself is much older going back as early as 4580 or 4290 BC.

 West Africans built in stone by 1100 BC. In the Tichitt-Walata region
of Mauritania, archaeologists have found “large stone masonry villages”
that date back to 1100 BC. The villages consisted of roughly circular
compounds connected by “well-defined streets”.

24. By 250 BC, the foundations of West Africa’s oldest cities were established such as Old Djenné in Mali.

 Kumbi Saleh, the capital of Ancient Ghana, flourished from 300 to 1240
AD. Located in modern day Mauritania, archaeological excavations have
revealed houses, almost habitable today, for want of renovation and
several storeys high. They had underground rooms, staircases and
connecting halls. Some had nine rooms. One part of the city alone is
estimated to have housed 30,000 people.

26. West Africa had walled
 towns and cities in the pre-colonial period. Winwood Reade, an English
historian visited West Africa in the nineteenth century and commented
that: “There are . . . thousands of large walled cities resembling those
 of Europe in the Middle Ages, or of ancient Greece.”

 Lord Lugard, an English official, estimated in 1904 that there were 170
 walled towns still in existence in the whole of just the Kano province
of northern Nigeria.

28. Cheques are not quite as new
an invention as we were led to believe. In the tenth century, an Arab
geographer, Ibn Haukal, visited a fringe region of Ancient Ghana.
Writing in 951 AD, he told of a cheque for 42,000 golden dinars written
to a merchant in the city of Audoghast by his partner in Sidjilmessa.

 Ibn Haukal, writing in 951 AD, informs us that the King of Ghana was
“the richest king on the face of the earth” whose pre-eminence was due
to the quantity of gold nuggets that had been amassed by the himself and
 by his predecessors.

30. The Nigerian city of Ile-Ife
was paved in 1000 AD on the orders of a female ruler with decorations
that originated in Ancient America. Naturally, no-one wants to explain
how this took place approximately 500 years before the time of
Christopher Columbus!

31. West Africa had bling culture
 in 1067 AD. One source mentions that when the Emperor of Ghana gives
audience to his people: “he sits in a pavilion around which stand his
horses caparisoned in cloth of gold: behind him stand ten pages holding
shields and gold-mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of
the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into
their hair . . . The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an
excellent breed . . . they wear collars of gold and silver.”

 Glass windows existed at that time. The residence of the Ghanaian
Emperor in 1116 AD was: “A well-built castle, thoroughly fortified,
decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having glass

33. The Grand Mosque in the Malian city of
Djenné, described as “the largest adobe [clay] building in the world”,
was first raised in 1204 AD. It was built on a square plan where each
side is 56 metres in length. It has three large towers on one side, each
 with projecting wooden buttresses.

34. One of the
great achievements of the Yoruba was their urban culture. “By the year
A.D. 1300,” says a modern scholar, “the Yoruba people built numerous
walled cities surrounded by farms”. The cities were Owu, Oyo, Ijebu,
Ijesa, Ketu, Popo, Egba, Sabe, Dassa, Egbado, Igbomina, the sixteen
Ekiti principalities, Owo and Ondo.

35. Yoruba metal
art of the mediaeval period was of world class. One scholar wrote that
Yoruba art “would stand comparison with anything which Ancient Egypt,
Classical Greece and Rome, or Renaissance Europe had to offer.”

 In the Malian city of Gao stands the Mausoleum of Askia the Great, a
weird sixteenth century edifice that resembles a step pyramid.

 Thousands of mediaeval tumuli have been found across West Africa.
Nearly 7,000 were discovered in north-west Senegal alone spread over
nearly 1,500 sites. They were probably built between 1000 and 1300 AD.

 Excavations at the Malian city of Gao carried out by Cambridge
University revealed glass windows. One of the finds was entitled:
“Fragments of alabaster window surrounds and a piece of pink window
glass, Gao 10th – 14th century.”

39. In 1999 the BBC
produced a television series entitled Millennium. The programme devoted
to the fourteenth century opens with the following disclosure: “In the
fourteenth century, the century of the scythe, natural disasters
threatened civilisations with extinction. The Black Death kills more
people in Europe, Asia and North Africa than any catastrophe has before.
 Civilisations which avoid the plague thrive. In West Africa the Empire
of Mali becomes the richest in the world.”

40. Malian
sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An
Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around
1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large
 maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who
inherited the Malian throne in 1312. This mariner king is not named by
Al-Umari, but modern writers identify him as Mansa Abubakari II.

 On a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 AD, a Malian ruler, Mansa Musa,
brought so much money with him that his visit resulted in the collapse
of gold prices in Egypt and Arabia. It took twelve years for the
economies of the region to normalise.

42. West African
gold mining took place on a vast scale. One modern writer said that: “It
 is estimated that the total amount of gold mined in West Africa up to
1500 was 3,500 tons, worth more than $****30 billion in today’s market.”

 The old Malian capital of Niani had a 14th century building called the
Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with
arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were
plated with wood and framed in silver; those of a lower floor were
plated with wood, framed in gold.

44. Mali in the 14th
century was highly urbanised. Sergio Domian, an Italian art and
architecture scholar, wrote the following about this period: “Thus was
laid the foundation of an urban civilisation. At the height of its
power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta
 was very densely populated”.

45. The Malian city of
Timbuktu had a 14th century population of 115,000 - 5 times larger than
mediaeval London. Mansa Musa, built the Djinguerebere Mosque in the
fourteenth century. There was the University Mosque in which 25,000
students studied and the Oratory of Sidi Yayia. There were over 150
Koran schools in which 20,000 children were instructed. London, by
contrast, had a total 14th century population of 20,000 people.

 National Geographic recently described Timbuktu as the Paris of the
mediaeval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to
Professor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.

 Many old West African families have private library collections that go
 back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane
 have a total of 3,450 hand written mediaeval books. There may be
another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some
date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private
collections in Niger. Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about
700,000 surviving books.

48. A collection of one
thousand six hundred books was considered a small library for a West
African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is
 recorded as saying that he had the smallest library of any of his
friends - he had only 1600 volumes.

49. Concerning
these old manuscripts, Michael Palin, in his TV series Sahara, said the
imam of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show
 the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years . . .
Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more
than their counterparts in Europe. In the fifteenth century in Timbuktu
the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the planets, knew about
the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for
150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came
up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.”

50. The Songhai Empire of 16th century West Africa had a government position called Minister for Etiquette and Protocol.

 The mediaeval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable
with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive
walling totalling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of
the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records
carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The
largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical

52. Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the
highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once
stated that: “These works from Benin are equal to the very finest
examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have
 cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . .
Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible

53. Winwood Reade described his visit to
the Ashanti Royal Palace of Kumasi in 1874: “We went to the king’s
palace, which consists of many courtyards, each surrounded with alcoves
and verandahs, and having two gates or doors, so that each yard was a
thoroughfare . . . But the part of the palace fronting the street was a
stone house, Moorish in its style . . . with a flat roof and a parapet,
and suites of apartments on the first floor. It was built by Fanti
masons many years ago. The rooms upstairs remind me of Wardour Street.
Each was a perfect Old Curiosity Shop. Books in many languages, Bohemian
 glass, clocks, silver plate, old furniture, Persian rugs, Kidderminster
 carpets, pictures and engravings, numberless chests and coffers. A
sword bearing the inscription From Queen Victoria to the King of
Ashantee. A copy of the Times, 17 October 1843. With these were many
specimens of Moorish and Ashanti handicraft.”

54. In
the mid-nineteenth century, William Clarke, an English visitor to
Nigeria, remarked that: “As good an article of cloth can be woven by the
 Yoruba weavers as by any people . . . in durability, their cloths far
excel the prints and home-spuns of Manchester.”

55. The
 recently discovered 9th century Nigerian city of Eredo was found to be
surrounded by a wall that was 100 miles long and seventy feet high in
places. The internal area was a staggering 400 square miles.

 On the subject of cloth, Kongolese textiles were also distinguished.
Various European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
wrote of the delicate crafts of the peoples living in eastern Kongo and
adjacent regions who manufactured damasks, sarcenets, satins, taffeta,
cloth of tissue and velvet. Professor DeGraft-Johnson made the curious
observation that: “Their brocades, both high and low, were far more
valuable than the Italian.”

57. On Kongolese metallurgy
 of the Middle Ages, one modern scholar wrote that: “There is no
doubting . . . the existence of an expert metallurgical art in the
ancient Kongo . . . The Bakongo were aware of the toxicity of lead
vapours. They devised preventative and curative methods, both
pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical
(exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead

58. In Nigeria, the royal palace in the
city of Kano dates back to the fifteenth century. Begun by Muhammad
Rumfa (ruled 1463-99) it has gradually evolved over generations into a
very imposing complex. A colonial report of the city from 1902,
described it as “a network of buildings covering an area of 33 acres and
 surrounded by a wall 20 to 30 feet high outside and 15 feet inside . . .
 in itself no mean citadel”.

59. A sixteenth century
traveller visited the central African civilisation of Kanem-Borno and
commented that the emperor’s cavalry had golden “stirrups, spurs, bits
and buckles.” Even the ruler’s dogs had “chains of the finest gold”.

60. One of the government positions in mediaeval Kanem-Borno was Astronomer Royal.

 Ngazargamu, the capital city of Kanem-Borno, became one of the largest
cities in the seventeenth century world. By 1658 AD, the metropolis,
according to an architectural scholar housed “about quarter of a million
 people”. It had 660 streets. Many were wide and unbending, reflective
of town planning.

62. The Nigerian city of Surame
flourished in the sixteenth century. Even in ruin it was an impressive
sight, built on a horizontal vertical grid. A modern scholar describes
it thus: “The walls of Surame are about 10 miles in circumference and
include many large bastions or walled suburbs running out at right
angles to the main wall. The large compound at Kanta is still visible in
 the centre, with ruins of many buildings, one of which is said to have
been two-storied. The striking feature of the walls and whole ruins is
the extensive use of stone and tsokuwa (laterite gravel) or very hard
red building mud, evidently brought from a distance. There is a big
mound of this near the north gate about 8 feet in height. The walls show
 regular courses of masonry to a height of 20 feet and more in several
places. The best preserved portion is that known as sirati (the bridge) a
 little north of the eastern gate . . . The main city walls here appear
to have provided a very strongly guarded entrance about 30 feet wide.”

 The Nigerian city of Kano in 1851 produced an estimated 10 million
pairs of sandals and 5 million hides each year for export.

 In 1246 AD Dunama II of Kanem-Borno exchanged embassies with
Al-Mustansir, the king of Tunis. He sent the North African court a
costly present, which apparently included a giraffe. An old chronicle
noted that the rare animal “created a sensation in Tunis”.

 By the third century BC the city of Carthage on the coast of Tunisia
was opulent and impressive. It had a population of 700,000 and may even
have approached a million. Lining both sides of three streets were rows
of tall houses six storeys high.

66. The Ethiopian city
 of Axum has a series of 7 giant obelisks that date from perhaps 300 BC
to 300 AD. They have details carved into them that represent windows and
 doorways of several storeys. The largest obelisk, now fallen, is in
fact “the largest monolith ever made anywhere in the world”. It is 108
feet long, weighs a staggering 500 tons, and represents a
thirteen-storey building.

67. Ethiopia minted its own
coins over 1,500 years ago. One scholar wrote that: “Almost no other
contemporary state anywhere in the world could issue in gold, a
statement of sovereignty achieved only by Rome, Persia, and the Kushan
kingdom in northern India at the time.”

68. The
Ethiopian script of the 4th century AD influenced the writing script of
Armenia. A Russian historian noted that: “Soon after its creation, the
Ethiopic vocalised script began to influence the scripts of Armenia and
Georgia. D. A. Olderogge suggested that Mesrop Mashtotz used the
vocalised Ethiopic script when he invented the Armenian alphabet.”

 “In the first half of the first millennium CE,” says a modern scholar,
Ethiopia “was ranked as one of the world’s greatest empires”. A Persian
cleric of the third century AD identified it as the third most important
 state in the world after Persia and Rome.

70. Ethiopia
 has 11 underground mediaeval churches built by being carved out of the
ground. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD, Roha became the new
capital of the Ethiopians. Conceived as a New Jerusalem by its founder,
Emperor Lalibela (c.1150-1230), it contains 11 churches, all carved out
of the rock of the mountains by hammer and chisel. All of the temples
were carved to a depth of 11 metres or so below ground level. The
largest is the House of the Redeemer, a staggering 33.7 metres long,
23.7 metres wide and 11.5 metres deep.

71. Lalibela is
not the only place in Ethiopia to have such wonders. A cotemporary
archaeologist reports research that was conducted in the region in the
early 1970’s when: “startling numbers of churches built in caves or
partially or completely cut from the living rock were revealed not only
in Tigre and Lalibela but as far south as Addis Ababa. Soon at least
1,500 were known. At least as many more probably await revelation.”

 In 1209 AD Emperor Lalibela of Ethiopia sent an embassy to Cairo
bringing the sultan unusual gifts including an elephant, a hyena, a
zebra, and a giraffe.

73. In Southern Africa, there are
 at least 600 stone built ruins in the regions of Zimbabwe, Mozambique
and South Africa. These ruins are called Mazimbabwe in Shona, the Bantu
language of the builders, and means great revered house and “signifies

74. The Great Zimbabwe was the largest of these
 ruins. It consists of 12 clusters of buildings, spread over 3 square
miles. Its outer walls were made from 100,000 tons of granite bricks. In
 the fourteenth century, the city housed 18,000 people, comparable in
size to that of London of the same period.

75. Bling
culture existed in this region. At the time of our last visit, the
Horniman Museum in London had exhibits of headrests with the caption:
“Headrests have been used in Africa since the time of the Egyptian
pharaohs. Remains of some headrests, once covered in gold foil, have
been found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and burial sites like
Mapungubwe dating to the twelfth century after Christ.”

 Dr Albert Churchward, author of Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man,
pointed out that writing was found in one of the stone built ruins:
“Lt.-Col. E. L. de Cordes . . . who was in South Africa for three years,
 informed the writer that in one of the ‘Ruins’ there is a
‘stone-chamber,’ with a vast quantity of Papyri, covered with old
Egyptian hieroglyphics. A Boer hunter discovered this, and a large
quantity was used to light a fire with, and yet still a larger quantity
remained there now.”

77. On bling culture, one
seventeenth century visitor to southern African empire of Monomotapa,
that ruled over this vast region, wrote that: “The people dress in
various ways: at court of the Kings their grandees wear cloths of rich
silk, damask, satin, gold and silk cloth; these are three widths of
satin, each width four covados [2.64m], each sewn to the next, sometimes
 with gold lace in between, trimmed on two sides, like a carpet, with a
gold and silk fringe, sewn in place with a two fingers’ wide ribbon,
woven with gold roses on silk.”

78. Southern Africans
mined gold on an epic scale. One modern writer tells us that: “The
estimated amount of gold ore mined from the entire region by the
ancients was staggering, exceeding 43 million tons. The ore yielded
nearly 700 tons of pure gold which today would be valued at over
$******7.5 billion.”

79. Apparently the Monomotapan
royal palace at Mount Fura had chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. An
eighteenth century geography book provided the following data: “The
inside consists of a great variety of sumptuous apartments, spacious and
 lofty halls, all adorned with a magnificent cotton tapestry, the
manufacture of the country. The floors, cielings [sic], beams and
rafters are all either gilt or plated with gold curiously wrought, as
are also the chairs of state, tables, benches &c. The
candle-sticks and branches are made of ivory inlaid with gold, and hang
from the cieling by chains of the same metal, or of silver gilt.”

 Monomotapa had a social welfare system. Antonio Bocarro, a Portuguese
contemporary, informs us that the Emperor: “shows great charity to the
blind and maimed, for these are called the king’s poor, and have land
and revenues for their subsistence, and when they wish to pass through
the kingdoms, wherever they come food and drinks are given to them at
the public cost as long as they remain there, and when they leave that
place to go to another they are provided with what is necessary for
their journey, and a guide, and some one to carry their wallet to the
next village. In every place where they come there is the same

81. Many southern Africans have indigenous
 and pre-colonial words for ‘gun’. Scholars have generally been
reluctant to investigate or explain this fact.

Evidence discovered in 1978 showed that East Africans were making steel
for more than 1,500 years: “Assistant Professor of Anthropology Peter
Schmidt and Professor of Engineering Donald H. Avery have found as long
as 2,000 years ago Africans living on the western shores of Lake
Victoria had produced carbon steel in preheated forced draft furnaces, a
 method that was technologically more sophisticated than any developed
in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century.”

83. Ruins
of a 300 BC astronomical observatory was found at Namoratunga in Kenya.
Africans were mapping the movements of stars such as Triangulum,
Aldebaran, Bellatrix, Central Orion, etcetera, as well as the moon, in
order to create a lunar calendar of 354 days.

Autopsies and caesarean operations were routinely and effectively
carried out by surgeons in pre-colonial Uganda. The surgeons routinely
used antiseptics, anaesthetics and cautery iron. Commenting on a Ugandan
 caesarean operation that appeared in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in
1884, one author wrote: “The whole conduct of the operation . . .
suggests a skilled long-practiced surgical team at work conducting a
well-tried and familiar operation with smooth efficiency.”

85. Sudan in the mediaeval period had churches, cathedrals, monasteries and castles. Their ruins still exist today.

 The mediaeval Nubian Kingdoms kept archives. From the site of Qasr
Ibrim legal texts, documents and correspondence were discovered. An
archaeologist informs us that: “On the site are preserved thousands of
documents in Meroitic, Latin, Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, Arabic and

87. Glass windows existed in mediaeval Sudan.
 Archaeologists found evidence of window glass at the Sudanese cities of
 Old Dongola and Hambukol.

88. Bling culture existed in
 the mediaeval Sudan. Archaeologists found an individual buried at the
Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the city of Old Dongola. He was clad in
 an extremely elaborate garb consisting of costly textiles of various
fabrics including gold thread. At the city of Soba East, there were
individuals buried in fine clothing, including items with golden thread.

 Style and fashion existed in mediaeval Sudan. A dignitary at Jebel Adda
 in the late thirteenth century AD was interned with a long coat of red
and yellow patterned damask folded over his body. Underneath, he wore
plain cotton trousers of long and baggy cut. A pair of red leather
slippers with turned up toes lay at the foot of the coffin. The body was
 wrapped in enormous pieces of gold brocaded striped silk.

 Sudan in the ninth century AD had housing complexes with bath rooms and
 piped water. An archaeologist wrote that Old Dongola, the capital of
Makuria, had: “a[n] . . . eighth to . . . ninth century housing complex.
 The houses discovered here differ in their hitherto unencountered
spatial layout as well as their functional programme (water supply
installation, bathroom with heating system) and interiors decorated with

91. In 619 AD, the Nubians sent a gift of a giraffe to the Persians.

 The East Coast, from Somalia to Mozambique, has ruins of well over 50
towns and cities. They flourished from the ninth to the sixteenth
centuries AD.

93. Chinese records of the fifteenth century AD note that Mogadishu had houses of “four or five storeys high”.

 Gedi, near the coast of Kenya, is one of the East African ghost towns.
Its ruins, dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, include
the city walls, the palace, private houses, the Great Mosque, seven
smaller mosques, and three pillar tombs.

95. The ruined mosque in the Kenyan city of Gedi had a water purifier made of limestone for recycling water.

 The palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi contains evidence of piped water
controlled by taps. In addition it had bathrooms and indoor toilets.

 A visitor in 1331 AD considered the Tanzanian city of Kilwa to be of
world class. He wrote that it was the “principal city on the coast the
greater part of whose inhabitants are Zanj of very black complexion.”
Later on he says that: “Kilwa is one of the most beautiful and
well-constructed cities in the world. The whole of it is elegantly

98. Bling culture existed in early Tanzania. A
Portuguese chronicler of the sixteenth century wrote that: “[T]hey are
finely clad in many rich garments of gold and silk and cotton, and the
women as well; also with much gold and silver chains and bracelets,
which they wear on their legs and arms, and many jewelled earrings in
their ears”.

99. In 1961 a British archaeologist, found
 the ruins of Husuni Kubwa, the royal palace of the Tanzanian city of
Kilwa. It had over a hundred rooms, including a reception hall,
galleries, courtyards, terraces and an octagonal swimming pool.

 In 1414 the Kenyan city of Malindi sent ambassadors to China carrying a
 gift that created a sensation at the Imperial Court. It was, of course,
 a giraffe.


filler nd now that the holiday bills have arrived, many face the daunting task of whittling down the mountain of often high-interest credit card debt before it gets out of control. That task is made more difficult this year because most paychecks have been reduced because Congress and the White House allowed a two-year reduction in Social Security payroll taxes to lapse at the end of December. Advertise | AdChoices Although many cardholders have kept their credit card debt relatively low since 2010, their average debt is expected to grow by roughly 8 percent to $5,446 by the end of this year. That's the highest level in four years, according to credit reporting firm TransUnion. That suggests some consumers could end up carrying at least a portion of their 2012 holiday debt, and paying interest on it, well into 2013. "The worst thing you can do is stick your head in the sand and not begin to change," says Norma Garcia, manager of the financial services program for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. Here are six tips on how to detox your finances this year. 1. Tally up what you owe First on the debt to-do list is to take stock of the damage. That means reviewing credit card bills, bank statements, and other accounts to determine how much you owe and how that translates into monthly payments. Experts also recommend getting a copy of your credit report if you haven't done so in more than a year. "That way, you'll know exactly where you are, in terms of what's being reported to the credit reporting companies," says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit reporting firm Experian. Consumers are entitled to get a credit report from the three nationwide credit reporting companies free of charge every 12 months. Copies can be obtained at A credit report can help you understand how your debt, and your payment history, will be perceived by potential lenders. It also underscores the need to bring down card balances, as high balances are viewed as a sign of risk. 2. Draw up a payment plan Paying down credit card debt requires discipline. One oft-advised strategy for borrowers carrying balances on two or more credit cards is to rank the cards by their interest rates and then make the biggest monthly payment on the card with the highest interest rate. For the rest, only make the minimum monthly payment. The process is repeated once the card with the highest rate is paid off. This approach reduces the portion of payments going toward interest. Griffin says some borrowers might be better off funneling the biggest payments to the card with the lowest overall balance. That enables a cardholder to pay off a card entirely more quickly. This can provide a psychological boost and reaffirm that it's possible to conquer your debt. Remember this: If you used credit cards to take advantage of holiday sales, you may quickly lose any savings because you're allowing balances to linger. 3. Consider a balance transfer A survey by Consumers Union found that half of the respondents are racking up interest charges by carrying a balance. For those who don't have a pile of cash that they can draw upon to pay down their debt, the next best option is to lower the interest charges. You can ask your credit card issuer to do you the favor, but don't count on it. A more realistic option is to consolidate your card balances into another card with a lower interest rate. Advertise | AdChoices Many card issuers extend balance transfer offers, with some providing an introductory period of a year or more to pay off the transferred balances at no interest. However, that's not set in stone. "Your introductory period is usually forfeited if you miss a payment," says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of Banks also will typically charge a fee of 3 percent to 4 percent on the amount transferred. The average interest rate on balance transfer cards is 12.59 percent, according to That's the rate borrowers can expect to pay after the introductory period on their cards ends. On cards offering a variable interest rate, borrowers can end up having a lower or higher interest rate. Worried about taking on more credit cards? Griffin of Experian says credit scores put less emphasis on the number of accounts borrowers have than on how those accounts are used, namely, if your balances are high relative to the amount of credit you have available. Experts differ on the wisdom of resorting to other options. "With a credit card, the worst thing that can happen is you default, your credit will go down," says Garcia. "With a home equity line of credit, that could have implications for your homeownership and your continued relationship with that bank." 4. Make a budget, follow it Make a budget of your fixed household expenses, such as your mortgage or rent, utilities, car loan, insurance, and so on. Carve out a realistic amount of money for more variable costs, such as gas, groceries and entertainment. Once you figure out a monthly plan that allows you to pay down your card debt, even if it means scrimping here and there, stick with it. The key to doing that is to remain on top of expenses. Computer and mobile phone apps designed for tracking expenses abound. Your bank likely already has an app that can help you to keep up with charges on your accounts. Some of the most popular apps include and Pageonce, which draw data from bank, credit card and other accounts to give users a comprehensive view of their finances and spending. They also help organize and track expenses, sending e-mail alerts when bills are due, among other features. Both are available for iPhones and smartphones running Google's Android operating system. Garcia suggests one way to remove temptation from ill-advised impulse spending is to open a separate bank account without debit card privileges and have a portion of your paycheck directly deposited there. Then, you use that account to pay down your cards. Advertise | AdChoices 5. Use credit, don't abuse it The best way to get back on the right financial track is to get in the habit of paying off any charges on cards right away. It helps to reframe one's understanding of what credit is, Garcia says. "When you use a credit card, you're tapping into a deficit — unless you plan to pay for it — rather than a reservoir of savings," she says. "The person should ask themselves, 'Can I pay off that balance every month?' and if I can't, what's that going to cost me?" 6. Get help Feeling overwhelmed by debt? Counseling agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offer free credit counseling, advice on making a personal budget and dealing with creditors. They can be found on
Most Americans think it’s important to preserve adequate Social Security benefits for younger generations — and they may even be willing to pay more taxes to get that assurance, a new survey finds. The survey, released Thursday by the nonprofit National Academy of Social Insurance, found that about eight in 10 Americans think it is critical to support Social Security even if it means that working Americans have to pay more in taxes. A slightly higher percentage of the 2,000 people surveyed said they think it’s critical to save Social Security even if wealthy people have to pay more. But here’s the thing: Many Americans also want something in return. The study found broad-based support among both younger and older Americans for a plan that would gradually increase the amount of payroll taxes everyone pays and also eliminate the cap on the amount of income that can be taxed for Social Security. In return, that plan would call for raising minimum benefits and increasing cost-of-living-adjustments. The survey comes as many Americans are growing more worried about whether they will see any Social Security benefits at all. Under current government estimates, Social Security could face funding shortfalls in about two decades because the U.S. population is aging and generally living longer. Experts say it’s not too surprising to find that older people are heavily in favor of retaining Social Security benefits even if it means paying more taxes, but it’s a little more surprising to find that younger Americans also seem to support it generally. Still, after five difficult years in which many people have struggled financially, many workers may see the allure of a plan that would give them some financial certainty late in life. “Social Security wasn’t designed to be a sole major source of retirement income, but for many people who haven’t saved enough … it certainly looks attractive,” said Alan Auerbach, director of the Robert D. Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance at UC Berkeley. Jasmine Tucker, income security research associate with the National Academy of Social Insurance, said she thinks the results show that people are willing to pay extra taxes for Social Security because they know that they will see a return on that investment later in life. “People seem to be very resistant to raising any taxes, but I think Social Security is different,” she said. Other studies have found support for raising taxes more narrowly on wealthy Americans to help fund Social Security. A Pew Research Center survey released in December found that 66 percent of Americans would support raising payroll taxes on high-income earners, while 55 percent would support reducing benefits for high-income seniors. Related: Are you struggling in the suburbs? We want to hear from you. Still, Auerbach – who was not involved in the study – noted that it’s one thing for people to say they would be willing to pay more taxes to help fund Social Security, and quite another for them to actually commit to a plan that would effectively shrink their current paycheck. “Do people really know what this would mean in terms of their take-home pay? Have they really thought through what the implications are?” Auerbach asked. Many Americans are seeing that real-world effect right now, because the end to the payroll tax holiday has resulted in an effective tax hike equal to about 2 percent of their wages. This survey was conducted in September, before the payroll tax holiday ended. Critics also argue that it may not be feasible to fix Social Security’s funding woes just by raising taxes. Many other plans have called for a mix of raising taxes and reducing benefits either by curtailing cost-of-living adjustments or increasing the age at which people can get full benefits. “There’s no attractive way to do this. There’s just a variety of less attractive ways,” said Andrew Biggs, resident scholar with the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. Biggs also argued that despite what the findings show, it would be difficult for politicians to garner support for a plan that involved raising taxes on all Americans. “If this stuff was so popular, somebody would have proposed it by now,” he said. It is clear that Americans are anxious for Congress and President Barack Obama to find some way to overhaul Social Security and other programs designed to help older Americans. A Gallup poll released just days after the 2012 presidential election found that nearly nine in 10 Americans thought it was important for Obama to take major steps to ensure the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare.

Beef prices threaten $1 McDouble

Rising beef prices threaten $1 McDouble McDonald's popular $1 McDouble cheeseburger, which has lured customers to the Golden Arches since 2008, is getting hard to sustain as rising beef prices threaten the company's profit margin. The world's biggest restaurant chain launched a competing $1 Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger in December. It also made the new sandwich - with one beef patty rather than the McDouble's two - a star of current television commercials, a status it shares with the McDouble. The dilemma for McDonald's Corp restaurant operators is that the McDouble has the highest ingredient costs on the Dollar Menu, making it a bad financial proposition unless customers add high-margin sides such as french fries or soda. "If the McDouble is all the customer buys, you lose money," said Richard Adams, a former franchisee who now advises the chain's restaurant operators. "Depending on what happens to beef prices, McDonald's management should be open to taking the McDouble off the Dollar Menu." The decision would be a significant one. McDonald's gets 10 to 15 percent of its sales from the Dollar Menu and experts say the McDouble is one of the most popular items on it. Many franchisees, who pay royalties to the parent company based on overall sales, have exercised their option to move the McDouble off the Dollar Menu by raising its price over $1. Reuters' checks of McDonald's restaurants in more than a dozen U.S. cities found that franchisees sell the McDouble for $1.09 in San Francisco, $1.19 in Los Angeles, $1.80 in Kodiak, Alaska and $1.89 in New York City. The McDouble was not even offered on menus at restaurants Reuters visited in Chicago and Boston, but was available on request for $1.29 and $1.49, respectively. It remains on the Dollar Menu in cities such as Phoenix, Fresno, Denver, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington, DC. McDonald's is "committed to the Dollar Menu and the McDouble, and both are strongly supported by the majority of our franchisees," spokeswoman Danya Proud said in a statement. "To comment on future national changes would be inaccurate and speculative." The Dollar Menu food and marketing changes are part of McDonald's plan to stop two consecutive years of margin declines at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants. They come as new McDonald's Chief Executive Don Thompson sharpens the company's focus on its famed Dollar Menu to lure cash-crunched diners and fend off resurgent rivals such as Yum Brands Inc's Taco Bell chain and Burger King Worldwide Inc . They also hint at strategies that U.S. restaurants could use to contain the damage from higher beef costs. McDonald's has a history of shaking up the Dollar Menu lineup in response to food cost spikes. In December 2008, the company raised the price of its flagship Double Cheeseburger to $1.19 from $1 and handed its Dollar Menu slot to the McDouble, which is essentially a Double Cheeseburger minus one slice of cheese. That coincided with U.S. wholesale food price increases of 7.6 percent in 2007 and 7.7 percent in 2008. McDonald's moved again in March 2012 after wholesale food prices spiked, replacing the Dollar Menu's small drinks and small french fries with fresh baked cookies and ice cream cones. At the same time, it debuted a new "Extra Value Menu" category for items priced between $1 and $2. Competing hamburger chains stole a page from McDonald's and shuffled their value menu lineups. Burger King quickly followed McDonald's with similar moves and Wendy's Co. plans to replace its 99-cent menu with a 99-cent to $1.99 "Right Price Right Size Menu." Beef prices are expected to rise above recent highs and to stay high for at least the next two years as the effects of last summer's historic U.S. drought ripple through the food system, said Jim Robb, an economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center. Ground beef prices already are up 6 percent to 8 percent so far this year, said John Davie, CEO of Consolidated Concepts, a firm that helps restaurants negotiate purchases. To be sure, McDonald's is known for using its massive size to squeeze better prices out of suppliers. The company forecast commodity inflation of just 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent this year for its U.S. business, far less than the National Restaurant Association's expectation for 2013 wholesale food price inflation in the low 4 percent range. But analysts are skeptical that McDonald's can control rising prices as well as it thinks, meaning there could be even more pressure on the McDouble's bottom line. "It's possible that they hit it, but I would say the odds are low that they hit it," Hedgeye Risk Management analyst Howard Penney said of McDonald's and its commodity cost forecast. He expected the company to raise that view at some point this year.

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Keeley Hazell

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