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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vibrating tattoo alerts patent filed by Nokia in US

Vibrating magnetic tattoos may one day be used to alert mobile phone users to phone calls and text messages if Nokia follows up a patent application.

The Finnish company has described the idea in a filing to the US Patent and Trademark Office.

It describes tattooing, stamping or spraying "ferromagnetic" material onto a user's skin and then pairing it with a mobile device.

It suggests different vibrations could be used to create a range of alerts.

The application lists Cambridge-based Zoran Radivojevic as the innovation's lead inventor. It was filed last week and was brought to light by the Unwired View news site.

It suggests a magnetic marking could be attached to either a user's arm, abdominal area, finger or fingernail.

"Examples of... applications may be low battery indication, received message, received call, calendar alert, change of profile, eg based on timing, change of time zone, or any other," the filing reads.

"The magnetic field may cause vibration of one short pulse, multiple short pulses, few long pulses... strong pulses, weak pulses and so on."

The filing also suggests that the magnetised marking could be used as an identity check. It says that by picking a certain shape the user could create a "specific magnetic impedance" - effectively their own magnetic fingerprint.

It says this could act as a "password" and gives the example of a laptop refusing to display content on its screen unless it verifies its user is close by.'Invasive procedure'

Nokia is far from the only technology firm investigating new uses for haptic - or touch - feedback.

HTC and Samsung have released mobile phones that slightly vibrate when the user types or presses graphical-representations of buttons on their screens.

Engineers at the University of Utah are developing a video games controller that uses haptic feedback via the user's thumbs to create the sensations of waves, pulses and a bounce effect.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have also created a handheld prototype designed to let cancer specialists locate and categorise patients' tumours by how dense they feel while examining them from a remote location.

However, Nokia's idea stands out for seeking to enhance touch feedback by permanently, or at least semi-permanently, marking the users' body.

"Our research suggests that once a user become accustomed to haptic feedback on a phone or tablet screen, other devices that don't offer it can feel 'dead'," Marek Pawlowski, editorial director at the mobile industry research firm PMN told the BBC.

"Nokia's patent suggests that their magnetic mark could be invisible - which might make this appealing to some. But in the immediate term I think users would draw the line at anything that is invasive like a tattoo or would be seen to have potential medical effects."

A spokeswoman for Nokia was unable to confirm whether Nokia intended to follow up its patent application with further research.


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Moody's downgrades Detroit's debt

Detroit — Moody's Investors Service on Tuesday issued two downgrades to the city's tax debt that illustrate Detroit's weakening fiscal condition as it fights to stave off a stake takeover, The Detroit News has learned.

The city received a downgrade to B2 from Ba3 for its $553.1 million in outstanding general obligation unlimited tax debt and also a downgrade to B3 from B1 for the $486.4 million in outstanding general obligation limited tax debt. Both ratings fell two points.

Moody's also downgraded the Detroit Retirement Systems Funding Trust from Ba3 to B2, the report states.

It is yet another blow to the financially strapped city, which is fast running out of cash as Gov. Rick Snyder is pressuring Mayor Dave Bing and City Council to agree to a consent agreement that would help implement financial structure and stability.

"We changed it because despite some positive steps that the mayor and City Council have done to reduce the city's general fund deficit, the problems have persisted," said David Jacobson, a spokesman for Moody's. "The fiscal year 2011 general fund deficit balance continues to increase. There's been a persistent inability to achieve structural balance despite all the big spending cuts."

Mayor Dave Bing's chief operating officer, Chris Brown, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the downgrade "isn't unexpected." The city is taking steps to mitigate any negative financial impact, he said.

"In December, we narrowly averted a downgrade," Brown said. "Since then, we've been concerned about the continued possibility, and we've worked to avoid it."

Jacobson said that because of the uncertainty of the emergency manager law, all city bonds remain on review for another possible downgrade, and a risk remains of another downgrade happening in another 90 days. Opponents of Public Act 4, which gives an appointed emergency manager more power to sell assets and terminate union contracts, have collected 220,000 signatures to freeze the law and place it on November's ballot. A decision is expected in a month or so.

The "challenges" listed in Moody's report include the city's "weak liquidity profile," the "ongoing inability to achieve structural balance in the general fund," declining population base and a potential "termination payment" due for swap agreements made.

Bradley Coulter, a turnaround specialist, said there will continue to be uncertainty in the markets until the city reaches an agreement to restructure itself.

"It's a reflection of the ongoing inability to come to an agreement on how the city should restructure between the city and the state," said Coulter, director of the Bloomfield Hills-based O'Keefe & Associates Consulting.

"You will see uncertainty in the markets until some type of plan is put together and the bond holders can see what the outcome will be," he added. "Some really quick decisions need to be made. When you run out of money, it forces your hand to make decisions. The pressure is on the city to come up with something that works, whether it's with the state or on their own."

Detroit News

Fed Is Ready to Act If Europe Falters Again: Bernanke

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said Europe's financial troubles have eased, but added the U.S. central bank would be ready to act if conditions worsened again, according to written testimony to Congress released late Tuesday.

Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke
"In the past few months, financial stresses in Europe have lessened, which has contributed to an improved tone of financial markets around the world, including in the United States," Bernanke said in testimony prepared for a House hearing Wednesday.

Bernanke stresses, however, that a full resolution of the crisis "will require a further strengthening of the European banking system; a significant expansion of financial backstops, or “firewalls,” to guard against contagion in sovereign debt markets."

Bernanke also said that the exposure of US banks and money market funds to Europe remains a worry.

"Although U.S. banks have limited exposure to peripheral European countries, their exposures to European banks and to the larger, “core” countries of Europe are more material," Bernanke said. "Moreover, European holdings represented 35 percent of the assets of prime U.S. money market funds in February, and these funds remain structurally vulnerable despite some constructive steps, such as improved liquidity requirements, taken since the recent financial crisis."

Bernanke will also tell the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that European policymakers must follow through on fiscal reforms in order for the recent period of relative calm to persist.

The Fed chief reiterated the U.S. central bank's commitment to keeping the financial system stable, even if Europe's woes flare up again.

"The Federal Reserve will continue to monitor the situation closely, work with our financial institutions and foreign counterparts to enhance the resilience of our financial system, and be ready to use our tools to help stabilize U.S. markets should the situation require such action," said Bernanke.

In separate prepared testimony for the same hearing, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner also addresses the threat of contagion: "The most important unfinished piece of the broader financial strategy is to build a stronger European firewall to provide a backstop for the governments undertaking reforms."

Geither brings attention to the fact that Europe’s leaders will establish another fund called the European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) to succeed the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) starting in July 2012.

The ESM, says Geither, is crucial and must make clear to financial markets "that they have the financial resources available on a scale that is commensurate with future needs in the event the crisis were to intensify."


U.S. IRS recruits new ‘SWAT team’ to fight tax dodge tricks

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is staffing up with high-powered talent to crack down on companies shifting profits from country to country to lower their tax bills, a hot strategy the agency has targeted before with only limited success.

The IRS showed its elevated concern on the issue, known as “transfer pricing,” last May by hiring Samuel Maruca to fill the newly created post of transfer pricing director.

He has since brought aboard specialists from Big Four audit firms KPMG and Ernst & Young, as well as law firm Mayer Brown and boutique consultancy Horst Frisch.

Maruca, who came from law firm Covington & Burling, is still recruiting. He told Reuters the agency previously had “had a difficult time attracting and retaining economists.”

Now, he said, the IRS’s international group “has significant external hiring authority.”

Transfer pricing is a booming field of global tax law. It involves multinational corporations that are constantly moving goods, services and assets from one subsidiary to another in different countries, and how they account for these “transfers.”

By carefully manipulating the pricing of such moves, companies can effectively shift profits to low-tax countries from high-tax ones, lowering their overall tax costs.

Many governments in the developing and developed world, many of them faced with crushing deficits, are working to curb transfer pricing because it reduces their corporate tax revenues.

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman made changes at the agency in mid-2010 that set the stage for bringing in Maruca, who has filled 40 positions so far and plans to bring on up to 60 more staffers.

The IRS, which employs 90,000 people, saw its budget cut by 2.5% by Congress for fiscal 2012 to $11.8-billion.


Federal agencies often struggle to keep up with higher-paid private-sector professionals. The IRS is no exception, and there is some skepticism about Maruca’s chances.

“The economic crisis allowed the IRS to attract talented, experienced industry professionals who might not have been available previously,” said ex-deputy IRS Commissioner Michael Dolan, now director of KPMG’s Washington national tax practice.

“The $64,000 question is, what will be able to do … and will he really have enough resources to change the game?” Dolan said.

To curtail tax avoidance through transfer pricing, governments seek to limit corporations’ ability to manipulate the transfer prices. National laws, though variable from country to country, generally call for “arms-length” pricing.

In theory, that means corporations must set transfer prices that are at or near market level, not artificially raised or lowered. But enforcement is complex, especially for intangible assets, s uc h as search-engine algorithms or trademarks.

“The valuation problems are insurmountable,” said Edward Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California and former chief of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes tax policy for the U.S. Congress.

“There are billion-dollar disputes on just the arms-length transfer pricing of intangibles” he said.


By one measure of transfer pricing enforcement, the IRS lags behind tax treaty partners. In fiscal 2011, 85% of transfer pricing audit adjustments were initiated by a foreign country, rather than by the IRS, according to IRS statistics. That was up from 77% in fiscal 2010.

Two major transfer pricing court decisions went against the IRS in 2009 and 2010.

“Clearly, the IRS is trying to figure out what to do next on its litigation strategy in these important transfer pricing cases,” said Eric Solomon, a director at Ernst & Young, who called Maruca’s group a “SWAT team.”

As the IRS raises its game, the pharmaceutical and high-tech sectors can expect close scrutiny, tax professionals said.

Businesses are sure to fight back. The IRS has ruffled feathers on transfer pricing before with limited results.

“Anybody who thinks the IRS can ultimately enforce transfer pricing is either an eternal optimist or delusional,” said Richard Harvey, a tax professor at Villanova University and former senior adviser to the IRS’s Shulman.

The staff changes and hiring at IRS “will help them on the margins,” Harvey said. “But they’re still fighting a very difficult battle where the deck is stacked against them.”

Finantial Post

Medvedev Vows to Counter European Missile Shield

Russia's view of European missile shield

Russia’s outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev said the country must be prepared to respond by 2017-2018 to deployment of a missile shield in Europe.
Negotiations between Russia and Western nations on the U.S.-led missile defense project have deadlocked over the West's reluctance to give Moscow guarantees the project would not threaten Russia’s security. But Medvedev said Russia remains willing to continue discussions.
“We have not closed the door and are holding conferences and talking about this with our partners,” he told Russian Defense Ministry officials in Moscow. “But we must be fully prepared by 2017-18… for a response.”
Russian Defense Ministry Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia was ready to explain its position at an international missile defense conference due in Moscow in May.
“We are ready to specify our position at the international conference on missile defense in Moscow on May 3-4,” Serdyukov said.
He also said his ministry had started working on a possible military response to the NATO project as instructed by the president in November.


Land of The Freebies, Home of the Enslaved

Tanks shell Damascus suburbs after rebel attacks

Syrian tank in a Damascus suburb [file]

AMMAN - Two large suburbs of Damascus came under heavy tank bombardment on Wednesday following renewed Free Syrian Army attacks on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, opposition activists said.

Artillery and anti-aircraft gun barrages hit the suburbs of Harasta and Irbin, retaken from rebels by Assad's forces two months ago, and army helicopters were heard flying over the area, on the eastern edge of the capital, the activists said.

Assad's forces reasserted their control of Damascus suburbs in January after days of tank and artillery shelling that beat back rebels and lessened street protests against the 42-year rule of Assad and his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad.

The suburbs are a linked series of towns inhabited mostly by members of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, who have grown increasingly resentful at the domination of the Assads, who belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam.

The Damascus assault and rebel fighters' flight on Tuesday from the eastern city of Deir al-Zor mark the latest setbacks for the armed opposition, which also faced accusations of torture and brutality from a leading human rights body.

But as Assad made advances on the ground, he appeared to suffer a setback on the diplomatic front, with key-ally Moscow adopting a new, sharper tone after months of publicly standing by his government.

"We believe the Syrian leadership reacted wrongly to the first appearance of peaceful protests and ... is making very many mistakes," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio station Kommersant-FM.

"This, unfortunately, has in many ways led the conflict to reach such a severe stage."

Lavrov also spoke of a "future transition" period for Syria but continued to reject calls from most Western and Arab states for Assad to resign, saying this was "unrealistic".

It was not immediately clear if the change in language would translate into a tangible difference in the way international powers, hitherto divided on Syria, might deal with the crisis.

"The change in the Russian position is one of tone, not of substance. Moscow still sees its support of Assad as part of a regional game, but it is losing the support of the Syrian people, which could backfire on it if the Syrian regime falls," said Najati Tayyara, a prominent Syrian opposition figure.

The uprising started with non-violent demonstrations last March, but the situation deteriorated rapidly amid a ferocious army crackdown and there are now daily clashes between rebels and security forces around the country.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed so far, but the toll is rising rapidly, with at least 31 men, women and children killed on Tuesday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Jerusalem Post

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