Top new tech products: outstanding smartphones and tablets at MWC

With Mobile World Congress (MWC) in full swing, there are tablet and smartphones announcements everywhere. Highlights from the showroom floor include the Nokia 808 PureView, the Huawei Ascend D quad, the HTC One X, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, ASUS’s 3-in-1 PadFone, the Samsung Galaxy Beam and an unnamed Fujitsu smartphone. Unless otherwise noted, pricing and release dates have not been announced.


A smartphone with an incredible high-resolution camera
The Nokia 808 PureView is somewhat of an amazing anomaly in the smartphone world with its massive 41MP image sensor and in-house-developed pixel over-sampling technology. It features a 4” display, DLNA, NFC, 1080p video recording, a 4X lossless zoom and is the world’s first smartphone to record audio and close to CD quality with Nokia Rich Recording. Unfortunately it runs the aging Symbian Belle operating system and not Windows Phone. The Nokia 808 PureView is expected to launch in Europe in May for €450.
http://europe.nokia.com/pureview

The world’s fastest quad-core smartphone

Huawei calls its Ascend D quad smartphone the “world’s fastest.” The device is powered by Huawei’s own K3V2 quad-core processor and boasts a slimline (8.9mm thick profile) design. It sports a 4.5” display, Android Ice Cream Sandwich, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, 8MP and 1.3MP cameras, the ability to record in 1080p and a 1,800mAh battery. The Ascend D quad series will launch in China, Australia, Europe, Asia-Pacific, North and South America, and the Middle East in Q2 2012.
http://www.huaweidevice.com/worldwide/productMobile.do?method=index&directoryId=6001&treeId=3745

A waterproof quad-core smartphone with a 13.1MP camera and fingerprint sensor

Despite not having an official name for its flagship quad-core smartphone, Fujitsu has been busy showing off the prototype smartphone to attendees at Mobile World Congress. The as yet unnamed device boasts a 1.5Ghz Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, a 4.6” display, a 13.1 MP camera, a fingerprint sensor, LTE, and a “long battery life.” The handset is water- and dust-resistant and runs on Android 4.0 ICS.
http://www.fujitsu.com

A superphone with a giant HD display and ImageSense technology

The HTC One X is the first phone to run HTC’s camera-improving ImageSense technology enabling users to capture images in just 0.7 seconds, and to simultaneously shoot photos and videos. It has a HD 4.7” display, a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 8MP and 1.3MP cameras, Beats Audio, 32GB of storage, NFC, DLNA for wireless streaming, a 1,800mAh battery, and runs Android 4.0 ICS with the customized HTC Sense 4 skin. The HTC One X will be available from April.
http://www.htc.com/www/smartphones/htc-one-x/

A tablet for those who love to draw and take notes with a stylus

Samsung has taken its tablet-smartphone hybrid Galaxy Note and turned it into a 10.1” tablet that works in conjunction with a stylus. The Galaxy Note 10.1 can be used with your finger or with an "advanced pen-input called the S Pen." It has a profile of 8.9mm, a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, WiFi, optional HSPA+ connectivity, 3MP and 2MP cameras, and runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
http://www.samsung.com/global

A tablet with a smartphone brain

ASUS’s PadFone is a convergent Android device that adheres to a developing trend of smartphone-powered tablets. The device is comprised of a 10.1” tablet (called the “PadFone Station”) that wraps around a sleek 4.3” smartphone to form "one symbiotic gadget." The smartphone itself features a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, an 8MP camera, 16-64GB of storage, HDMI out and Android 4.0. The PadFone is expected to be released in April.
http://event.asus.com/mobile/padfone/

A smartphone with a built-in projector

The Samsung Galaxy Beam may not be a high-end smartphone but it does come with its own built-in 15 lumens projector. With it you can beam content onto any flat surface around you at a size of up to 50” wide. It sports a 1GHz dual-core processor, a 4” display, a 5MP camera, 8GB of memory, a 2,000mAh battery, and runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
http://www.samsung.com/global/microsite/galaxybeam/

When blood-sucking mega-fleas stalked the Earth

The giant dinosaurs that roamed the world some 150 million years ago shared the planet with equally daunting parasites: blood-gobbling fleas that were up two centimetres (almost an inch) long.
So say Chinese and French palaeontologists, who have pored over nine extraordinary fossils unearthed from Inner Mongolia and Liaoning province.
The ancient fleas measured just over 20mmm (0.82 inches) long for females, and nearly 15mm (0.6 inches) in males, compared to a maximum of 5mm (0.2 inch) for today's fleas.
The dino-era fleas were wingless and, unlike their counterparts today, could not jump and had comparatively small mouths, says the study.
But for all that, they were supremely adapted to their environmental niche.

They had claws which enabled them to grip onto hairy or feathered reptilians, whose hide was then pierced with a long, serrated "siphon" to suck out a blood meal.
The fleas were so successful that when the dinosaurs were wiped out some 65 million years ago -- an extinction linked to a collision with Earth by a space rock -- they smoothly moved onto mammals and birds, sizing down in the process.
The study, led by Andre Nel of France's National Museum of Natural History in Paris, appears on Wednesday in the British journal Nature.

Facebook releases new advertising infrastructure: E-marketers, the social network is your oyster

Facebook has long been experimenting with e-commerce and advertising — long before the Open Graph and Timeline were even a thing. While social networking has brought a whole new audience and ways to reach them to brands and businesses, it’s been an effort based on trial and error.
Today Facebook unveiled not only Timeline pages for brands and businesses but its new advertising model. The crux of it is that marketers need to be able to interact with consumers via Facebook to the same degree that your average users do. Essentially, brands will have the ability to use Facebook to talk to its audience like your family and friends talk to you on the site. Facebook harped on the idea that this is better for everyone: a connection is a connection, and businesses should be able to get friendlier, more communicative, more personal with customers (and potential customers).

And Timeline for brands is part of this. Not only do they look and largely function like the average user’s page, they include the rich, visual storytelling medium. It gives a company an identity beyond being all business. But Facebook revealed much more to the changes in marketing structure today. Here are a few of the updates that will most affect the user experience.
Premium Offers That’s not all Facebook is doing for marketers, however. Facebook also introduced Premium Offers and Ads, which function similarly to Promoted Tweets. Marketers can pay to get their ads or Sponsored Stories some better real estate on Facebook. You’ll notice that also includes mobile ad placement.
The Reach GeneratorThe social network also has a new tool called the Reach Generator. The Reach Generator allows advertisers to pay Facebook on an ongoing basis to sponser one page post a day – and Facebook guarantees a 75-percent reach of a brand’s page over the course of a month. “We found that fans are twice as valuable as the general population based on purchase behavior,” Facebook director of global business marketing Mike Hoefflinger says. “These aren’t just customers, these are the best customers.”


Logout ads All of this is going to affect users: marketers are getting new engagement tools and a better ability to reach you. To Facebook and brands, this is good – they want to connect in meaningful ways, not annoying ones. Of course this is subjective, so be forewarned that ads are about to become a bigger part of using Facebook. We all knew it was inevitable.
But the biggest change to user experience might be logout ads. Now, when you logout of Facebook, you will see ads. Facebook calls this the “logout experience,” and it’s essentially a hit and run. You used to be directed to the sign-in page, and now you’ll be greeted by an ad below the login portal instead. 37 million people log-out of Facebook every day, and now Facebook can leverage those exiting eyes.
Creating some harmony
The take-away here is that Facebook wants ads to act like all other content on Facebook. Instead of a big spotlight that says “Hey! This is an ad! This is trying to sell you something!” the site is trying to give marketers and advertisers the tools to make these look and act like activity between you and your contacts.
The hope is that users like this, that we prefer this subtle, less interruptive form of advertising. Then everybody wins. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the platform is curtailing to marketers’ needs to a whole new degree. 

Summary Box: Microsoft unveils Windows 8 for test

THE MILESTONE: Microsoft let consumers start trying out its upcoming touch-based Windows 8 operating system.
ABOUT THE SYSTEM: It aims to power a new wave of tablet computers and traditional PCs designed to counter Apple's big gains in the market through its Macs and iPads.
DEMOS: Microsoft executives at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona showed off how users can use their fingertips to swipe in and out of applications, and tilt upright computer screens to a flat position so they can be used as two-person gaming boards or big drawing tablets.

12 killed as violent storms ravage Midwest, South

HARRISBURG, Ill. (AP) — A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes in a small Illinois town Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South, killing at least 12 people in three states.
Winds also ripped through the country music mecca of Branson, Mo., damaging some of the city's famous theaters just days before the start of the busy tourist season.
The tornado that blasted Harrisburg in southern Illinois, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.

By midday, townspeople in the community of 9,000 were sorting through piles of debris and remembering their dead while the winds still howled around them.
Not long after the storm, Darrell Osman raced to his mother's home, arriving just in time to speak to her before she was taken to a hospital with a head injury, a severe cut to her neck and a broken arm and leg.
"She was conscious. I wouldn't say she was coherent. There were more mumbles than anything," he said. "She knew we were there."
Mary Osman died a short time later.
The twister that raked Branson seemed to hopscotch up the city's main roadway, moving from side to side.
As sirens blared, Derrick Washington stepped out of his motel room just long enough to see a greenish-purple sky. Then he heard the twister roar.
"Every time the tornado hit a building, you could see it exploding," he said.
At least 37 people were reported hurt, but most suffered only cuts and bruises. After the start of Branson's peak season in mid-March, up to 60,000 visitors would have been in hotels on any given day.
Just six guests were staying at J.R.'s Motor Inn, and all of them escaped injury by taking refuge in bathtubs. Engineers deemed the building a total loss after the second floor, the roof and all windows were destroyed.
Manager Lori McGauley choked back tears thinking about what might have been.
"We had 25 people booked for next week," McGauley said. "If this happened a week later, we would have lost some people."
At the 530-room downtown Hilton, intense winds sucked furniture away. Hotel workers were able to get all guests to safety.
Looking at the city's main strip, it was difficult to believe there weren't more serious injuries. A small mall was nearly completely demolished. The Legends Theater, the Andy Williams Moon River Theater and the Branson Variety Theater all sustained significant damage.
The Veterans Memorial Museum was in shambles, and a small military jet that sat in front of the museum was blown apart.
Some of the most popular theaters were barely damaged. The popular Presley's Country Jubilee was virtually unscathed, as was Yakov Smirnoff's theater. A manager at the Baldknobbers Jamboree Show expected to cancel just three or four shows before performances resume next week.
Other venues weren't so lucky. Branson Variety Theater's 1,600-seat auditorium was intact, but the lobby and gift shop were nearly destroyed. It could be almost two months before the theater's popular Twelve Irish Tenors and Shake, Rattle & Roll shows perform again.
Back in Harrisburg, Nell Cox woke up during the tornado and glanced out her window with a flashlight to see her neighbor being blown out a window.
"She crawled back to the front of my house," Cox said. She ventured outside to grab the woman, brought her indoors and summoned an ambulance.
The winds were strong enough to blow the walls off some rooms at the Harrisburg Medical Center. The staff had enough warning to move the most endangered patients. Then they heard the walls collapse, officials said.
The hospital discharged patients who could go home or moved them to other medical facilities. But they also had to confront an influx of injured.
"Helicopters have been coming in and out here all morning," said Vince Ashley, the hospital's CEO.
In the shattered neighborhoods, debris was strewn everywhere — washing machines and dyers tossed in neighbors' yards, along with kitchen sinks and sticks of lumber with nails protruding. Chunks of pink insolation added color to the disarray.
Osman and his sister sorted through the wreckage at the site of their mother's duplex, looking for photos and financial records. They found 10 old picture slides that were among a collection of hundreds. Some were caked in mud and damaged by water.
"My mother was a Christian," Osman said. "I know she's in a better place. That is the only thing getting me through this."
In Missouri, one person was killed in a trailer park in the town of Buffalo, about 35 miles north of Springfield. Two more fatalities were reported in the Cassville and Puxico areas.
Three people were reported killed in eastern Tennessee — two in Cumberland County and another in DeKalb County as storms collapsed homes and downed power lines there.
The tornado that barreled through the tiny eastern Kansas town of Harveyville was an EF-2, with wind speeds of 120 to 130 mph, state officials said. It left much of the community in rubble.
The twisters were spawned by a powerful storm system that blew down from the Rockies on Tuesday and was headed toward the East Coast. Authorities were sending teams to investigate Thursday to determine if tornadoes were involved in Tennessee.
Corey Mead, lead forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said a broad cold front was slamming into warm, humid air over much of the eastern half of the nation.
Long a tourist destination for visitors attracted to the Ozark Mountains, Branson rose to prominence in the 1990s because of its theaters, which drew country music stars including Merle Haggard and Crystal Gayle, as well as other musical celebrities such as Chubby Checker and Andy Williams.
Branson is about 110 miles southeast of Joplin, which was devastated by a monstrous twister last May that killed 161 people. Memories of that disaster motivated people to take cover after the sirens sounded early Wednesday.
"I think so many people from Branson went over to help in Joplin, and having seen that, it was fresh on our minds," said Mayor Raeanne Presley, whose family owns Presleys' Theater. "We all reached for our loved ones a little sooner and got to the basement a little faster."
The violent weather also lashed parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky, where three buildings belonging to an Elizabethtown trucking company were heavily damaged.
"It picked the whole building up," said Jim Owen, son of the owner of Harry Owen Trucking. "It would take a group of 20 men five days with equipment to tear that down."
The Midwest and South were to get a reprieve from the menacing weather Thursday, ahead of another strong system expected Friday.
Ryan Jewell, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the next system is forecast to take a path similar to Wednesday's and has the potential to inflict even more damage.
On Friday, he said, both the Midwest and South would be "right in the bull's eye."
___
Salter reported from Branson, Mo. AP photographer Robert Ray in Harrisburg, AP photographer Mark Schiefelbein in Branson and writer Janet Cappiello in Louisville, Ky., also contributed to this report.

Mayan Light Beam Photo: Message from Gods, or iPhone Glitch?


When Hector Siliezar visited the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza with his wife and kids in 2009, he snapped three iPhone photos of El Castillo, a pyramid that once served as a sacred temple to the Mayan god Kukulkan. A thunderstorm was brewing near the temple, and Siliezar was trying to capture lightning crackling dramatically over the ruins.
In the first two images, dark clouds loom above the pyramid, but nothing is amiss. However, in the third photo, a powerful beam of light appears to shoot up from the pyramid toward the heavens, and a thunderbolt flashes in the background.
Siliezar, who recently shared his photographs with occult investigators, told Earthfiles.com that he and his family didn't see the light beam in person; it appeared only on camera. "It was amazing!" he said. He showed the iPhone photo to his fellow tourists. "No one, not even the tour guide, had ever seen anything like it before." [See photo]
The photo has surfaced on several Mayan doomsday discussion forums. But was the light beam a sign from the gods — a warning about Dec. 21, 2012, the date that marks the end of the Mayan calendar cycle, and when some people fear the world will end? Or is it simply the result of an iPhone glitch? 
According to Jonathon Hill, a research technician and mission planner at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, which operates many of the cameras used during NASA's Mars missions, it is almost definitely the latter. Hill works with images of the Martian surface taken by rovers and satellites, as well as data from Earth-orbiting NASA instruments, and is fully versed in the wide range of potential image artifacts and equipment errors.
He says the "light beam" in the Mayan temple photo is a classic case of such an artifact — a distortion in an image that arises from the way cameras bounce around incoming light.
It is no mere coincidence, Hill said, that "of the three images, the 'light beam' only occurs in the image with a lightning bolt in the background. The intensity of the lightning flash likely caused the camera's CCD sensor to behave in an unusual way, either causing an entire column of pixels to offset their values or causing an internal reflection [off the] camera lens that was recorded by the sensor." In either case, extra brightness would have been added to the pixels in that column in addition to the light hitting them directly from the scene. [7 Things that Cause UFO Sightings]
Evidence in favor of this explanation is the fact that the beam, when isolated in Photoshop or other image analysis software, runs perfectly vertical in the image. "That's a little suspicious since it's very unlikely that the gentleman who took this picture would have his handheld iPhone camera positioned exactly parallel to the 'light beam' down to the pixel level," Hill told Life's Little Mysteries.
It's more likely that the "light beam" corresponds to a set of columns of pixels in the camera sensor that are electronically connected to each other, but not to other columns in the sensor, and that this set of connected pixels became oversaturated in the manner described above.
 "That being said," Hill said, "it really is an awesome image!"

Microsoft sees future in Windows 8 amid iPad rise

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft is scrambling to preserve what's left of its kingdom.
Since the company released its Windows operating system in 1985, most of the sequels have been variations on the same theme. Not that it mattered much. Regardless of the software's quality, Microsoft managed to remain at the center of the personal computing universe.
The stakes are much different as Microsoft Corp. puts the finishing touches on Windows 8 — perhaps the most important piece of software the Redmond, Wash., company has designed since co-founder Bill Gates won the contract to build the first operating system for IBM Corp.'s personal computer in the early 1980s.

A test, or "beta," version of the revamped operating system will be unveiled Wednesday in Barcelona, nudging Windows 8 a step closer to its anticipated mass market release in September or October. The company will offer the most extensive look at Windows 8's progress since it released an early version of the system to developers five months ago.
Microsoft designed Windows 8 to help it perform a difficult balancing act. The company hopes to keep milking revenue from a PC market that appears to be past its prime, while trying to gain a stronger foothold in the more fertile field of mobile devices. It's a booming market that, so far, has been defined and dominated by Apple Inc.'s trend-setting iPhone and iPad and Google Inc.'s ubiquitous Android software.
"Microsoft's future path is riding on Windows 8 and its success," said Gartner Inc. analyst David Cearley. "This is a chance for Microsoft to re-establish itself in a market where it's becoming increasingly irrelevant."
If Windows 8 is a hit, it could also help lift the fortunes of struggling PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. Besides giving businesses and consumers a reason to consider new PC purchases, Windows 8 is expected to spawn a new breed of hybrid machines that will be part tablet computer, part laptop.
If Windows 8 is a flop, however, it will increase the pressure on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. His 12-year reign has been marred by the company's troubles adapting to an Internet-driven upheaval. As Microsoft has stumbled, faster-innovating companies such as Apple and Google have elbowed their way into a position to steer the direction of computing for the next decade or two.
Ballmer, known for his zealous faith in Microsoft, hails Windows 8 as the catalyst for an exciting — and lucrative — new era at the 37-year-old software maker.
Investors seem to be believers, too. Microsoft's stock gained 52 cents Tuesday to close at $31.87, the highest closing price since April 2008. The shares have climbed by 23 percent so far this year. By comparison, Apple's stock has surged 32 percent during the same period, while Google's shares have dropped 4 percent.
Microsoft's financial performance traditionally improves when it releases a new version of Windows. The last upgrade came in October 2009 when Windows 7 hit the market. The company has sold more than 525 million copies of Windows 7 since then. Part of Window 7's success stemmed from pent-up demand; the previous version, Vista, was so clunky and buggy that many PC users stuck with the system they already had on their machines or switched to Apple's technology on Mac computers.
Windows 8 is radically different from its predecessors. The system won't even have Microsoft's familiar "Start" menu. All applications are spread across a mosaic of tiles, as part of a design Microsoft calls "Metro." The tiles, which resemble road signs, can be navigated with a swipe of the finger on the display screen or with a keyboard and a computer mouse. The tiles also provide a glimpse at the activity occurring in applications connected to the Web, such as email.
The system also is expected to enable users to easily back up their pictures, movies, music and other files on a Microsoft storage service called SkyDrive, which will compete against Apple's iCloud.
The operating system's versatility means it can be used to power computer tablets, as well as traditional PCs.
Microsoft badly wants a piece of the tablet market that has been cutting into PC sales since Apple introduced the iPad two years ago.
In the quarter that included the holiday shopping season, Apple shipped 15.4 million iPads, more than doubling the volume from the same time a year earlier. Meanwhile, worldwide personal computer sales dipped slightly, and Microsoft's revenue in its Windows division declined 6 percent. It marked the fourth time in the past five quarters that Microsoft's Windows revenue has fallen from the previous year.
Reversing or slowing that trend is critical for Microsoft. It still relies on the PC industry for about 55 percent of its revenue, according to Nomura Equity Research analyst Rick Sherlund. "The launch of Windows 8 should provide a few years of robust growth and opportunity for Microsoft to reposition itself to better defend its position against challengers," Sherlund wrote in a note after Microsoft reported the latest erosion in its Windows division.
Besides spurring more sales of the new operating system, Windows 8 is likely to drive demand for the next generation of the Office suite, another major moneymaker for Microsoft.
Windows 8 could inspire more PC makers to design machines that combine the convenience of tablets with the utility of a notebook computer. These devices would be similar to the so-called "ultrabook" computers that offer a Windows-based version of Apple's lightweight MacBook Air machines. Once Windows 8 is available, the ultrabook line could be expanded to include machines equipped with a screen that swivels off the keyboard to take advantage of the system's touch controls and provide a tablet-like experience.
Microsoft clearly envisions Windows 8 becoming the foundation for pure tablets, too. That's why it's developing a version of Windows 8 that can run on the more tablet-friendly microprocessor technology licensed by ARM Holdings. That version will complement the Windows 8 design that will run on the Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. chips that power most PCs.
HP, the world's largest PC maker, is already counting on Windows 8 to deliver better times. The company's division that includes desktop and laptop computers suffered a 15 percent drop in revenue during its more recent quarter ending in January. CEO Meg Whitman said last week that HP expects to release PCs and tablets running on Windows 8 in time for the holiday shopping season. HP's Windows 8 product line will include a tablet designed for corporate customers.
The biggest question hanging over Windows 8 is whether the long wait for the software will leave Microsoft hopelessly behind Apple and Google in mobile computing.
Whatever headlines Microsoft grabs during Wednesday's preview are likely to be quickly overshadowed next week when Apple is expected to show off the third version of the iPad.
Meanwhile, Google says more than 300 million smartphones and tablets are already running on its Android software, with another 850,000 devices getting activated each day. At that rate, another 155 million to 180 million devices could be running on Android by the time Windows 8 comes out in September or October. As it is, a version of Android is already running the second hottest-selling tablet, Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire.
"Microsoft is late to the game and this is a different game than they have been playing," Cearley said. "But if they hit a home run with Windows 8, it could still turn some things around."

Google: Technology is making science fiction real

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt predicted Tuesday that rapid advances in technology will soon transform science fiction into reality — meaning people will have driverless cars, small robots at their command and the ability to experience being in another place without leaving home.
Schmidt said the introduction of books available online, Internet translation of languages and voice recognition for computers all happened much faster than anyone envisioned and that
technological research into even more previously unheard of advances is progressing at a fast clip.
"People who predict that holograms and self-driving cars will become reality soon are absolutely right," Schmidt told thousands of attendees at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the planet's largest cell phone trade show.
Schmidt stepped down as Google's chief executive last year but has remained the company's chief representative in the public eye. As CEO, he rarely ventured into long-term visions like those he articulated in Barcelona. He didn't outline how Google, which makes its money from online advertising, would profit from his visions.
Schmidt said research under way will lead to situations where people can put themselves at events like a rock concerts so they can see, hear and even feel the event. And turn down the volume, if it's too loud.
One attendee said she was scared that the possibility could be dehumanizing, but Schmidt replied by holding up his cell phone into the air.
"It has an off button and it is here on the right," Schmidt said. "My point is it is all about your control. If you don't like my version of a rock concert, I'm not forcing you to go."
Small robots could be used so busy people can send them to events for video and voice transmissions when their presence isn't required, Schmidt said.
"In the future you'll be able to dispatch a robot to each event," he said.
Google has been testing driverless cars for years, and Schmidt noted that several U.S. states are already drawing up regulations so they can be used on the road. The technology took a big step forward earlier this month when Nevada became the first state to spell out requirements for the testing of driverless cars on state roads.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval even took a test ride in a self-driving Toyota Prius in July. The car being developed by Google uses radar, sensors that allow the vehicle to "see" the road, other vehicles and people. Human drivers can override the autopilot function.
Google's self-driving cars have logged more than 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers), Schmidt said.
Underlying it all is the explosion of data and devices that consumers will be able to use without even caring if they are logging onto the Internet, Schmidt said.
"The web will be everything, but it will be nothing," he said. "It will be like electricity, it is just there."
People will eventually be able to use virtual reality go to places like Marrakech in Morocco or to North Korea "whenever it has an election," Schmidt said.
Schmidt compared the new connectivity to a "digital watering hole" where everyone will be able to gather, though he acknowledged it will take much longer for people in developing nations with poor connectivity to take part.
"It will redefine the relationship these people have in the world. In times of war and suffering, it will be impossible to ignore the cries of people calling out for help," Schmidt said. "In this new world there will be far fewer places for dictators."
That already happened during the Arab Spring that saw governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya fall, with more turmoil still under way in places like Syria.
"With information comes power and with power comes choice, and smarter resourceful citizens are going to demand a better deal for their communities," Schmidt said.

Syria civilian death toll "well over 7,500": U.N.

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can be classified as a war criminal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said as the United Nations announced more than 7,500 civilians had been killed by his forces since the start of the revolt.
At least 25 people were killed in the shelling of opposition strongholds by Syrian forces on Tuesday, activists said. In Homs alone, opposition groups said hundreds of civilians had been killed or wounded in the 24-day-old assault.
"There would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday. She added however that using such labels "limits options to persuade leaders to step down from power."
As world dismay grew over the bloodshed, France said the Security Council was working on a Syria resolution and urged Russia and China not to veto it, as they have previous drafts.
In the besieged district of Baba Amro and other parts of Homs, terrified residents were enduring dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine, activists said.
A wounded British photographer managed to escape from Homs but the fate of French reporter Edith Bouvier was not clear.
"There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council. "The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people."
Syria's government said in December that "armed terrorist groups" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had said on Monday it was time to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court and warned Assad that he would face justice.
He told the French parliament work had begun at the Security Council on a new resolution. "I solemnly call on Russia and China not to block this Security Council resolution," he said.
Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution on February 4 that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had discussed the situation with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now the U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria, saying he hoped Annan would "bring his persuasive powers to bear on Russia and China."
Syria's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, stormed out of the U.N. Human Rights Council after calling on countries to stop "inciting sectarianism and providing arms" to Syrian rebels.
He said foreign sanctions were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel. The European Union imposed additional punitive measures on Tuesday.

FRENCH JOURNALIST British photographer Paul Conroy, of London's Sunday Times, was spirited safely out of Homs into Lebanon. "He is in good shape and in good spirits," the newspaper said.
Conroy had been among several foreign journalists trapped in Baba Amro, where Marie Colvin, a veteran war correspondent also with the Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a bombardment on February 22.
Confusion surrounded Bouvier's fate. President Nicolas Sarkozy initially said he had been informed that Bouvier had been evacuated, but later said that had not been confirmed.
The latest bombardment of Baba Amro was the heaviest so far, activists said, adding tanks from an elite armoured division led by Assad's brother Maher had moved into Homs overnight.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 people were killed in Homs on Tuesday, a day after 84 were killed in the city, out of an overall death toll of 122 civilians across Syria. The British-based group said 29 security force members had been killed in clashes with rebels on Monday.
In Hama province, security forces bombarded the town of Helfaya, a centre of anti-Assad protests, killing 20 people.
The reports could not be independently confirmed. Syrian authorities tightly restrict media access to the country.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had delivered food and other aid to Homs and Idlib, but called for a "humanitarian ceasefire" to improve access.
Assad, projecting an aura of normality in a land ravaged by conflict over his right to power, promulgated a new constitution on Tuesday after officials said nearly 90 percent of voters had endorsed it in a referendum two days earlier. Opposition groups and Western leaders seeking his removal denounced it as a sham.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans, Erika Solomon and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Catherine Bremer, Yann Le Guernigou and Leigh Thomas in Paris, Sui-Lee in Beijing, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Peter Griffiths in London, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Adrian Croft in London, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Maria Golovnina)

Scientists see red on NASA cuts of Mars missions

WASHINGTON (AP) — NASA said Monday it is not giving up on Mars, but it will have to get there later and at a lower price.
President Barack Obama's budget announced this month canceled joint U.S.-European robotic missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018. Now top science officials say they are scrambling to come up with a plan by the end of the summer for a cut-rate journey to the red planet in 2018.
NASA sciences chief John Grunsfeld said he thinks there is a better than even chance that NASA will not miss the 2018 opportunity. That is when Mars passes closest to Earth, which happens only once every 15 years. It offers a chance at fuel cost-savings and the ability to send up more equipment.

Agency officials who met with upset scientists on Monday seemed intent on salvaging a program that took some of the deepest science spending hits in the president's budget. Until this month, NASA had been ramping up its Martian ambitions.
Meanwhile, in the middle of this year, the most high-tech rover ever, Curiosity, will land near the Martian equator in search of the chemical building blocks of life. The more scientists study Mars, the closer they get to answering whether microbial life once existed there, a clue to the ultimate question: Are we alone?
Two years ago, President Barack Obama stood at Kennedy Space Center and said it was more of a priority than going to the moon. He wanted astronauts there by the mid-2030s.
But the two coming missions were then canceled along with the most ambitious Mars flight yet planned, which the National Academy of Sciences endorsed as the No. 1 solar system priority. That was a plan to grab Martian rocks and soil and bring them back to Earth. Now that is "not an option" given the current budget, Grunsfeld said.
Mars researcher Steve Squyres of Cornell University, who headed the national academy panel, said if NASA could not make progress on a Mars sample return, the space agency should think about moving on to the next priorities, such as visiting Jupiter's moon Europa.
"We're really at a crossroads," NASA planetary sciences chief Jim Green said.
NASA said it does not quite know what a reconfigured 2018 mission would look like, but it would be cost-capped at $700 million and it will not be landing. If it is lucky, it may orbit Mars.
After Curiosity lands in August, the next NASA Mars surface mission probably is close to a decade away, Grunsfeld said.
To scientists, the message from the White House seems simple: Bye-bye, Mars.
If Obama's budget sails through as outlined, "in essence, it is the end of the Mars program," said Phil Christensen, a Mars researcher at Arizona State University. It is like "we've just flown Apollo 10 and now we're going to cancel the Apollo program when we're one step from landing," he said.
Stanford University professor Scott Hubbard, who used to run NASA's Mars programs, said Mars researchers at the Monday meeting "were just sitting there sort of stunned and depressed."
It is not that NASA officials do not think Mars is worth exploring further; it is just that they do not think they can afford it anymore. Obama has proposed cutting 10 other federal agency budgets this year including Defense, Homeland Security and Education. NASA's 0.3 percent budget cut was among the smallest. In fact, the $28.3 billion cuts to the Defense Department dwarf NASA's entire $17.7 spending plan for 2013.
"We're trying to identify a way to (explore Mars) in these very difficult fiscal times," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said last week at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the epicenter of Mars research.
Researchers partly are to blame because they promise to do a mission cheaply and when they get approval, costs soar, said Alan Stern, a former NASA sciences chief. He called it "committing suicide in slow motion" and said it has been happening in the Mars program since 2006. An even more over-budget space telescope forced more cuts to NASA science.
The Curiosity mission costs $2.5 billion, almost $1 billion over budget.
Many scientists believe the life question can be answered only by examining Martian samples back on Earth, and astronauts should not set foot on Mars before that happens. Stern said: "We are probably back to being 15 to 20 years from a Mars sample return."
If NASA ignores Mars for a decade, it runs the risk of a brain drain, said Ed Weiler, who resigned last year as NASA's sciences chief because of budget battles over Mars.
"Landing on Mars is a uniquely American talent, and there aren't too many things that are uniquely American," Weiler said.
In 19 tries, Russia has had little to no success when it comes to Mars. The European Space Agency currently has a spacecraft circling the planet but its lander crashed. NASA has had six Martian failures during its 20 tries.
The Europeans are talking to the Russians and Chinese to replace the U.S. in the upcoming missions.
Earthlings have been captivated by Mars since the 1900s when amateur astronomer Percival Lowell saw what looked like canals. The life question was tackled by the twin Viking spacecraft, which landed in 1976. Their rudimentary experiments failed to turn up signs of life and NASA lost interest.
After a 1992 return attempt failed, NASA came up with a blueprint for Mars: Each mission followed up on discoveries found in the previous flight, and all focused on water, a crucial element for life.
"It's become a more interesting planet every time we go back there," said Wesley Huntress, who spearheaded the new Mars program and went on to run NASA's sciences division.
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Online:
NASA's Mars program: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/ ___

WikiLeaks publishes leaked Stratfor emails

LONDON (AP) — Private intelligence firm Stratfor is in the business of shedding light on the world for its many clients. On Monday, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks was the one shedding light on Stratfor, saying it had more than 5 million of the company's emails and would publish them in collaboration with two dozen international media organizations.
The small selection so far published on WikiLeaks' website gives a look at the daily routine of the Texas-based think tank, whose clients range from local universities to global megacorporations. One described a $6,000-a-month payment made to a Middle Eastern source, another carried bits of gossip dropped by a retired spy, and many were filled with off-color office banter.

An initial examination of the emails turned up a mix of the innocuous and the embarrassing, but WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange promised more explosive material in the coming weeks.
"What we have discovered is a company that is a private intelligence Enron," Assange told London's Frontline Club, referring to the Texas energy giant whose spectacular bankruptcy turned it into a byword for corporate malfeasance.
Assange accused Stratfor of funneling money to informants through offshore tax havens, monitoring activist groups on behalf of big corporations and making investments based on its secret intelligence.
Stratfor denied there was anything improper in the way it dealt with its contacts.
"Stratfor has worked to build good sources in many countries around the world, as any publisher of global geopolitical analysis would do," the company said in a statement. "We have done so in a straightforward manner and we are committed to meeting the highest standards of professional conduct."
The Stratfor statement suggested the company wouldn't be commenting further on Assange's allegations.
"Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them," the statement said.
How WikiLeaks got the company's emails remains unclear. Assange refused to answer questions about the matter Monday, but Stratfor said the messages appeared to be the same ones stolen by hackers in December. That breach, claimed by the Internet activist group Anonymous, ravaged the company's servers and led to the disclosure of thousands of credit card numbers and other information.
Wired magazine quoted an unnamed member of Anonymous as saying that the stolen data had been transferred to WikiLeaks, which allegedly acknowledged receiving the transfer using a coded message on Twitter. Anonymous appeared to confirm that account, pointing to the cryptic message "rats for donavon," which WikiLeaks posted on Dec. 30.
Several media groups, including Rolling Stone magazine and German broadcaster NDR, said they have been offered advance access to the emails and will publish stories based on the documents if appropriate.
It's unclear what impact the leak will have on Austin, Texas-based Stratfor. The company counts investment firms, academic institutions and major multinationals among its clients, and one academic said that the disclosure would likely scare away corporate clients.
"When people discover, 'Hey, here's your clients,' then your clients are chilled," said Jeffrey Addicott, the director for the Center of Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. "It causes a certain uproar."
Some clients are already facing questions. Among the emails are reports apparently compiled for The Dow Chemical Co. on activists who have targeted the company over its links to the Bhopal gas leak disaster, which killed thousands of Indians and spawned a long-running legal battle.
Dow said in a written statement that "major companies are often required to take appropriate action to protect their people and safeguard their facilities," adding that it operated within the law.
The reports prepared for Dow appeared to be little more than roundups of news stories and Internet chatter, but Stratfor also boasts of more serious sources.
One leaked email quotes Stratfor Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton bragging about his "trusted former CIA cronies." In another, he promises to "see what I can uncover" about a classified FBI investigation.
Messages left for Burton weren't immediately returned. Stratfor has speculated that some of the leaked emails may have been altered or forged, although the firm did not provide any evidence of tampering. Anonymous said in a Twitter message that the suggestion of forgery was "pathetic."
Another Stratfor email warned about letting people know too much about how the company operated.
"I think showing too much of our inner workings devalues our Mystique," the email said. "People don't know how we collect our intelligence and that's one of the cool, mysterious things about STRATFOR."
___
Associated Press writers Paul Weber in San Antonio, Texas and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.
___
Online:
WikiLeaks: http://wikileaks.org/
Stratfor: http://www.stratfor.com/

Nokia pins hopes on cheaper Windows smartphone

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Struggling cell phone maker Nokia kicked off the world's largest mobile phone trade show Monday by unveiling a new low-cost Windows smartphone that operators could give away free to customers, and another aimed at snap-happy consumers demanding better photo quality.
Chief executive Stephen Elop told reporters at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that the new phones — a low-price euro189 ($254) smartphone that runs on Windows software and a handset with a high-resolution 41 megapixel camera — demonstrate "the actions necessary to improve the fortunes of Nokia."

"With great products for consumers, I think the rest will fall into place," Elop said.
In many countries, cell phone companies subsidize the sale of smartphones to customers who sign contracts. The low price of the new phone means their out-of-pocket costs would be low, even if they give the handset away.
But shares of Nokia Corp. closed down more than 6 percent at euro4.06 ($5.44) on the Helsinki Stock Exchange after the announcements, wiping out gains made Friday when investors had hoped the Finnish company would map out bolder plans to claw back market share.
Nokia has lost its once-dominant position in the global cell phone market, with handsets running on Google's Android software and iPhones from Apple enjoying booming popularity.
The Finnish company is attempting a comeback with smartphones using Microsoft's Windows software in what Elop has called a "war of ecosystems."
"We will accelerate our global reach with new mobile devices and services," Elop said.
Nokia launched its first Windows Phone in October, eight months after Elop announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp., in a major strategy shift for the firm. Nokia said it would gradually replace its old Symbian software in its smartphones with the Windows operating system.
Malik Saadi, an analyst at the London-based Informa Telecoms & Media, said the introduction of the budget Lumia 610 budget smartphone meant Nokia was closer to having entry-level smartphones equipped with Windows Phone 7 mobile software and that the company would "finally open innovation and differentiation in a market that was otherwise dominated by Android."
Neil Mawston, a London-based analyst for Strategy Analytics, said Nokia's new PureView 808 high-resolution camera phone was impressive — but that markets were expecting more.
"Technologically it is 'wow' but they have integrated it into a Symbian phone which is viewed as, rightly or wrongly, yesterday's technology, whereas I think there was some expectation that it might be in a Windows phone which is tomorrow's technology," Mawston said.
The new phones were introduced less than three weeks after Nokia announced plans to stop assembling cell phones in Europe by the year-end as it shifts production to Asia and to cut another 4,000 jobs — its latest attempts to cushion itself from stiff competition in the smartphone sector. The job cuts follow nearly 10,000 layoffs announced last year.
Once the bellwether of the industry, Nokia has lost its dominant position in the global mobile phone market, with Android phones and Apple's iPhones overtaking it in the growing smartphone segment. It's also been squeezed in the low-end by Asian manufacturers making cheaper phones, such as ZTE.
Nokia became the leading handset maker in 1998 and reached 40 per cent market share in 2008, but the company has gradually lost share since then — falling to below 30 per cent last year.
____
Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki contributed to this report.

Insight: Conflict looms in South China Sea oil rush

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines (Reuters) - When Lieutenant-General Juancho Sabban received an urgent phone call from an oil company saying two Chinese vessels were threatening to ram their survey ship, the Philippine commander's message was clear: don't move, we will come to the rescue.
Within hours, a Philippine surveillance plane, patrol ships and light attack aircraft arrived in the disputed area of Reed Bank in the South China Sea. By then the Chinese boats had left after chasing away the survey ship, Veritas Voyager, hired by U.K.-based Forum Energy Plc.

But the tension had become so great Forum Energy chief Ray Apostol wanted to halt two months of work in the area.
"They were so close to finishing their work. I told them to stay and finish the job," Sabban, who heads the Western Command of the Philippine Armed Forces, told Reuters at his headquarters in Puerto Princesa on Palawan island.
Over the next few days, President Benigno Aquino would call an emergency cabinet meeting, file a formal protest with China, and send his defense secretary and armed forces chief to the Western Command in a show of strength.
The March 2011 incident is considered a turning point for the Aquino administration. The president hardened his stance on sovereignty rights, sought closer ties with Washington and has quickened efforts to modernize its military.
A year later, Forum Energy is planning to return. Top company executives told Reuters the company intends to sail to Reed Bank within months to drill the area's first well for oil and natural gas in decades, an event that could spark a military crisis for Aquino if China responds more aggressively.
The U.S. military has also signalled its return to the area, with war games scheduled in March with the Philippine navy near Reed Bank that China is bound to view as provocative.
"This will be a litmus test of where China stands on the South China Sea issue," said Ian Storey, a fellow at the Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "They could adopt the same tactics as they did last year and harass the drilling vessels, or they might even take a stronger line against them and send in warships."
A decades-old territorial squabble over the South China Sea is entering a new and more contentious chapter, as claimant nations search deeper into disputed waters for energy supplies while building up their navies and military alliances with other nations, particularly with the United States.
Reed Bank, claimed by both China and the Philippines, is just one of several possible flashpoints in the South China Sea that could force Washington to intervene in defense of its Southeast Asian allies.
OBAMA PIVOT
President Barack Obama has sought to reassure regional allies that Washington would serve as a counterbalance to a newly assertive China, part of his campaign to "pivot" U.S. foreign policy more intensely on Asia after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama brought up the South China Sea at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bali last November, and had a surprise one-one-one with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the subject, although Beijing had insisted the issue should not be on the agenda at all.
"As Southeast Asian nations run to the U.S. for assistance, Beijing increasingly fears that America aims to encircle China militarily and diplomatically," said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Northeast Asia Director for the International Crisis Group. "Underlying all of these concerns is the potential that discoveries of oil and natural gas beneath the disputed sections of the South China Sea could fuel conflict."
The area is thought to hold vast untapped reserves of oil and natural gas that could potentially place China, the Philippines, Vietnam and other claimant nations alongside the likes of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Qatar.
Manila is beefing up its tiny and outdated naval fleet and military bases, adding at least two Hamilton-class cutters this year and earmarking millions of dollars to expand its Ulugan Bay naval base in Palawan.
It's no match for China's fleet, the largest in Asia, which boasts 62 submarines, 13 destroyers and 65 frigates, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
China last month launched the fourth of its new 071 amphibious landing ships that are designed to quickly insert troops to trouble spots, disputed islands, for example.
The U.S. Navy has announced it will deploy its own new amphibious assault vessels, the Littoral Combat Ships, to the "maritime crossroads" of the Asia-Pacific theater, stationing them in Singapore and perhaps the Philippines.
Washington's renewed presence in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony that voted to remove American naval and air bases 20 years ago, follows the U.S. announcement last year of plans to set up a Marine base in northern Australia and possibly station warships in Singapore.
Manila is talking about giving Washington more access to its ports and airfields to re-fuel and service U.S. warships and planes. The two countries will conduct war games off Palawan island in late March -- focusing on how to deal with a takeover of an oil rig in the South China Sea.
'SOUNDS OF CANNONS'
China has warned oil companies not to explore in the disputed South China Sea, over which Beijing says it has "indisputable sovereignty." Chinese ships have repeatedly harassed vessels that have tried.
After ExxonMobil discovered hydrocarbons off the coast of Danang in central Vietnam, an area also claimed by China, one of China's most popular newspapers warned in October that nations involved in territorial disputes should "mentally prepare for the sounds of cannons" if they remain at loggerheads with Beijing.
Despite the threats, the Philippines and Vietnam have continued to explore for oil and natural gas further offshore in the South China waters, driven by persistently high oil prices and more advanced deep-sea technology.
The Philippines has reported as many as 12 incidents of Chinese vessels intruding into its sovereign waters in the past year, an unusually high number, Sabban said.
In one of the most serious incidents last October, a Philippine navy ship seized Chinese fishing boats after colliding with one of them, prompting protests from China for their return.
At least 12 Chinese fishermen have been arrested over the past year. Half of them remain in detention in Palawan.
"China has no right to tell us that we should first ask for permission from them to explore the area," Sabban said. "We have explored that area back in the 1970s, so why can't we explore it now? We knew that there is a substantial deposit of natural gas even before all of these things started."
Manila says Reed Bank, about 80 nautical miles west of Palawan island at the southwestern end of the Philippine archipelago, is within the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Beijing, however, believes it is part of the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
While China prefers to solve the disputes one-on-one with its smaller Southeast Asian neighbor, Washington has sought to internationalize the issue, given that half the world's merchant fleet tonnage sails across the sea and around these islets each year, carrying $5 trillion worth of trade.
"If we don't develop our positions in our exclusive economic zone, then we will only be giving it away and will be at the losing end," Eugenio Bito-Onon, the mayor of Kalayaan islands in the Spratlys, told Reuters at a coffee shop in Puerto Princesa.
China's oil exploration has been limited in the South China Sea with less than 15 deep sea wells drilled so far. Chinese offshore oil and gas specialist CNOOC Ltd, along with international partners Canada's Husky Energy and U.S. company Chevron Corp., plan to step up exploration in the area but focus mainly in the north, staying away from the politically sensitive waters to the south.
Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the South China Sea range from 28 billion to as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a March 2008 report. That would be equivalent to more than 60 years of current Chinese demand, under the most optimistic outlook, and surpass every country's proven oil reserves except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.
OIL MANDATE
General Sabban said the necessary patrol ships and surveillance planes will be provided to protect Forum Energy's exploration vessels in Reed Bank.
"We have a mandate to protect all oil companies exploring in our territory," he said. "We don't exactly escort them, but we are in the area to deter any outside force from harassing them."
Forum Energy, whose majority shareholder is the Philippines' top miner Philex Mining Corp., plans to spend around $80 million through 2013 to explore the Sampaguita gas field in Reed Bank, covered by Service Contract 72.
The field is estimated to hold at least 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, with the potential for five times that amount. That is at least 25 percent bigger than the nearby Malampaya gas field, operated by Royal Dutch Shell, which fuels half of the power needs for the country's main island of Luzon.
The Philippines is eager to further increase its natural gas production to meet growing domestic demand for gas-fired power, which is estimated to surge to 5,000 megawatts per day in 2016, from the current 2,700 megawatts.
"There is no question that there is gas there. We already know one or two locations we would like to drill on," said Apostol, Forum Energy's president, in an interview. "If the first drill is a bonanza, there might be a need to drill back to back."
The company said it is closely coordinating its Reed Bank plans with the military and the energy department, hoping to send drill ships by the fourth quarter.
"We are aware of the implementation risks that have to be taken into account when we contract the drilling services," said Forum Energy's executive director Carlo Pablo. "We have to have plans in case of delays in operations, on mitigating cost overruns, and contractual penalties that may be imposed."
A flotilla of ships could soon follow Forum Energy in disputed waters, with Manila later this year awarding two offshore oil and gas exploration contracts in territory also claimed by China.
That could well keep the phones busy for Sabban and his sailors at Western Command for some time to come.
(Reporting by Randy Fabi in Puerto Princesa and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

U.S. cites "heightened threat"; 9 killed in Afghan airport bomb

KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed nine people in an attack on a military airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, the latest bloodshed since copies of the Koran were burned at a NATO base last week.
There was no official indication the explosion at the gates of Jalalabad airport was linked to the deadly protests, but the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack as "revenge" for the Koran burnings.

Nineteen Afghan civilians and law enforcement officers and four NATO soldiers were wounded in the blast, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital, said.
Jalalabad airport is almost exclusively used by NATO and the U.S. military.
Anti-Western fury has deepened significantly since the desecration of the Muslim holy book at the main NATO Bagram air base in Afghanistan. NATO described the incident as a tragic blunder.
The U.S. Embassy warned of a "heightened" threat to American citizens in Afghanistan and many Westerners are on "lock down", meaning they are not allowed out of their fortified compounds.
Riots have raged across Afghanistan over the past week despite widespread apologies from U.S. leaders, including President Barack Obama and military commanders.
Seven U.S. military trainers were wounded on Sunday when a grenade was thrown at their base in Afghanistan's north.
Chants of "Death to America!" have come to characterize the protests and some demonstrators have hoisted the white Taliban flag.
With few signs of the crisis abating, the U.S. ambassador said the United States should resist the urge to pull troops out of Afghanistan ahead of schedule.
"Tensions are running very high here. I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business," Ambassador Ryan Crocker told CNN.
"This is not the time to decide that we are done here. We have got to redouble our efforts. We've got to create a situation that al Qaeda is not coming back," he said.
Under an international agreement, foreign combat forces are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a process which is already under way.

  WIDESPREAD ANGER
The groundswell of anger over the burning of the Koran, which Muslims revere as the literal word of God, has highlighted the challenges ahead as Western forces try to quell violence and bring about some form of reconciliation with the Taliban.
The violence has killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 200, including two U.S. troops shot dead by an Afghan soldier who joined rallies in the east. Two U.S. officers were also shot at close range inside the Interior Ministry.
In an interview from Rabat, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the violence was "out of hand and it needs to stop".
The shooting of two U.S. officers deep inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry on Saturday has intensified the sense of unease among Westerners and deepened the divide with their Afghan counterparts.
The attack illustrates the dilemma faced by NATO forces as they move away from a combat role to an advise-and-assist mission, which will require them to place more staff in ministries.
With the 2014 timetable unfolding, pressure is growing for an earlier pullout, especially among Washington's allies in Europe, where the bloody and expensive war is deeply unpopular.
The high-level killings prompted NATO, Britain, Germany and Canada to withdraw their staff from Afghan ministries.
The Taliban also took responsibility for the Interior Ministry attack, although the Islamist group often exaggerates claims involving attacks against Western forces.
On Sunday, the ministry said one of its employees was a suspect in the shooting of the two U.S. officers. Afghan security sources also identified a 25-year-old police intelligence officer as a suspect.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged calm and restraint, although he also maintains that those who burned the Korans must be prosecuted.
Similar desecration of the Koran in the past have also sparked violence, although not as widespread and persistent as the riots and protests over the past week.
Last April, seven foreign U.N. staff were killed when protesters overran a base in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif after an obscure pastor from a fringe church in the United States deliberately burned a copy of the Koran.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in KABUL, Fraidoon Elhaam in KUNDUZ, Rafiq Sherzad in Jalalabad, and Jackie Frank in WASHINGTON; Editing by Michael Georgy and Nick Macfie)

Officials say 3 dead in Canadian train derailment

BURLINGTON, Ontario (AP) — A Canadian Via Rail passenger train derailed west of Toronto Sunday, killing three railroad employees and injuring dozens of passengers, officials said.
Via Rail spokeswoman Michelle Lamarche said the three people killed were all engineers riding in the cab of the locomotive at the front of the train when it derailed in Burlington, Ontario. A fourth Via worker in the locomotive was injured, she said.
Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring also confirmed that three people died in the accident.

Lamarche said no passengers died but 45 were injured. She said 75 people were on board the train traveling from Niagara Falls to Toronto when the train left the tracks around 3:30 p.m. Sunday within view of a residential area near Aldershot station.
The locomotive crashed on its side into a small trackside building, and at least two passengers car behind it were driven off the tracks into an L-shape. All six cars derailed, a Via official said.
Amid the twisted metal and debris emergency crews scrambled to pull passengers to safety amid reports fuel was leaking from the train. Some passengers were carried away on boards and stretchers while others, looking dazed and battered, were led out of the wreckage by emergency workers.
Three passengers were airlifted to hospital, one with a heart attack, another with a broken leg and the third with a back injury. Forty-two other passengers suffered less-serious injuries and were either treated at the scene or taken to local hospitals. Some 30 passengers were well enough to continue on to Toronto's Union Station by bus.
Deanna Villela of Welland, Ontario, said she felt a slight bump before the train jumped off the tracks, sending people and luggage flying. The crash lasted about 10 seconds but felt like "forever," she said.
Goldring said the crash caused minor damage to nearby buildings.
"There's no question it's very tragic. We're a relatively small company, we're a family, we know everyone by name," Via chief operating officer John Marginson said at the scene. "We certainly feel for the families of the colleagues that we lost."
Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene Sunday. A key piece of evidence will be the train's data recorder. Weather was not believed to be a factor, as it was clear and dry at the time of the crash. It was not immediately known how fast the train was traveling.

WikiLeaks to publish security think tank emails

LONDON (Reuters) - The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said it would begin publishing more than five million emails Monday from a US-based global security think tank, apparently obtained by hackers.
In its latest high-profile disclosure, WikiLeaks said in a statement it had acquired access to a vast haul of internal and external correspondence of Strategic Forecasting Inc (Stratfor), based in Austin Texas.

Stratfor describes itself as a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis with an intelligence-based approach to gathering information.
WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange told Reuters: "Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the US government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations, and journalists."
"What is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organizations fighting for a just cause."
Stratfor's chief executive officer and founder, George Friedman warned on January 11 that emails had been stolen but said the thieves would be hard pressed to find anything significant.
"God knows what a hundred employees writing endless emails might say that is embarrassing, stupid or subject to misinterpretation... As they search our emails for signs of a vast conspiracy, they will be disappointed."
The source of the emails was not disclosed, but the publication follows the hacking of the company's computer servers last December by individuals claiming to be linked to the Anonymous cyber-activist group.
After Stratfor's computers were hacked into at least twice last December, the credit card details of more than 30,000 subscribers to Stratfor publications were posted on the Internet, including those of former US secretary of state Kissinger and vice president Dan Quayle.
An FBI investigation is already underway into the hack last December. Friedman said his staff were cooperating with the FBI in the investigation.
"Of course we have relationships with people in the U.S. and other governments and obviously we know people in corporations, and that will be discovered in the emails. But that's our job.
"We are what we said we were: an organization that generates its revenues through geopolitical analysis. At the core of our business, we objectively acquire, organize, analyze and distribute information."
WikiLeaks released secret video footage and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010, infuriating the U.S. government.
Australian-born Assange, 40, is currently under house arrest in Britian and fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes.
(Reporting by Stephen Grey; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Orange to offer smartphone with "Intel Inside"

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The "Intel Inside" logo on hundreds of millions of personal computers is finally making its way onto a smartphone.
France Telecom's mobile unit Orange will launch a smartphone in France and the United Kingdom this summer designed by Intel and using its newest processor.
While the handset will be branded by Orange, its back cover will also boast the Intel swirl that consumers have come to expect to see on PCs over the past two decades.

That's a major milestone for Intel, whose chips are the brains in 80 percent of the world's laptops and desktop computers but power virtually no smartphones or tablets to date.
With PC sales flagging in the United States and Europe, nearly all smartphones and tablets, including Apple Inc's iPhones and iPads, use energy-efficient processors based on technology licensed to chip designers by Britain's ARM Holdings and made by Intel rivals like Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm Inc.
The new smartphone will run Google's Android platform and be among others that Orange sells under its own brand.
Aimed at Orange's entry level, pay-as-you-go clients, the phone is a copy of a reference handset Intel created to showcase its newest mobile chip to potential customers, with features like high-definition video and an 8-megapixel camera.
"This is a really big deal for us," Mike Bell, who co-heads Intel's mobile and wireless business and who is responsible for creating the reference phone, told Reuters. "It's phenomenal that Orange has asked us to participate and put our Intel logo on the back."
Orange has hired Taiwanese hardware company Gigabyte to manufacture the phones and is adding its own flavor by installing additional proprietary software.
With Wall Street concerned Intel is being left behind in the mobile market, the Santa Clara, California chipmaker has been pouring resources into improving its offerings for smartphones and tablets. Previous attempts fell flat but Intel says its newest mobile processor, codenamed Medfield, stands up to rivals' chips in power efficiency and performance.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, Intel impressed technophiles with demonstrations of its reference smartphone and said Motorola Mobility and Lenovo have picked Medfield for upcoming handsets.
Intel launched its "Intel Inside" brand campaign in 1991, and its success at making customers loyal to a particular component in PCs, known as ingredient branding, defied many expectations at the time and has since become a case study.
(Reporting By Noel Randewich; Editing by Richard Chang)

S. Korea, US begin military exercise: spokesman

South Korea and the United States Monday began a major military exercise, a Seoul spokesman said, despite North Korea's threats of possible retaliation.
A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the annual Key Resolve drill had started but gave no details. The computerised command post exercise will continue until March 9.
The North's National Defence Commission has denounced the annual drill -- which will be followed by joint air, ground and naval field training exercise Foal Eagle from March 1 to April 30 -- as a "silent declaration of war".

"Our army and people will foil the moves of the group of traitors to the nation and warmongers at home and abroad for a new war with a sacred war of our own style," the commission, the North's top ruling body, said on Saturday.
The United States bases 28,500 troops in the South. The North habitually denounces its annual exercises with South Korean forces as a rehearsal for invasion.
Seoul and Washington say the drills are defensive in nature.
The North has taken a hostile tone with the South since its leader Kim Jong-Il died on December 17 and was replaced by his youngest son Jong-Un.
The new leader has been appointed armed forces chief and has visited several units in an apparent attempt to burnish his military credentials.
Kim inspected two army battalions at a base near the border with the South, state media said Sunday, adding that one of them had staged the deadly shelling of a South Korean island in November 2010.
The leader ordered "a powerful retaliatory strike" if Monday's drills intrude on North Korean territory, it said.
Pyongyang's state news agency Monday described Key Resolve as "an unpardonable infringement upon the sovereignty and dignity" of the North while it is still in mourning for the late leader.
The South's military has strengthened monitoring of the North's activities to guard against potential attacks, Yonhap news agency said Sunday.
It said RF-4 and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft would be fully mobilised and F-15K fighter jets would be on emergency standby.
Artillery units deployed near the land border will also stand ready to immediately hit back if attacked, it said. The defence ministry declined to comment.
Cross-border tension has been high since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives near the tense sea border off the west coast in March 2010.
The North denied involvement but went on to shell Yeonpyeong island later that year, killing four people and sparking brief fears of war.
Hong Hyun-Ik of the South's Sejong Institute think-tank said Kim Jong-Un's latest visit was aimed at forging an image as a brave young leader and to garner loyalty from the powerful military.
"It's eventually aimed to further cement his leadership by highlighting the country's Songun (military-first) policy and solidify the new leadership as quickly as possible," Yonhap quoted Hong as saying.