Building a Better Tech School


Building a Better Tech School
IF all the hopes and hype are warranted, a nondescript third-floor loft in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan offers a glimpse of the future, for New York City and for Cornell University. In truth, it doesn’t look like much — just cubicles and meeting rooms in space donated by Google. But looks deceive; here, with little fanfare, Cornell’s new graduate school of applied sciences is being rolled out.The sparkling, sprawling new campus on Roosevelt Island filled with gee-whiz technology — still just ink on paper. The thousands of students and staff, the transformative effect on the city’s economy, the integration with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology — those all remain in the future, too.But just 13 months after being awarded the prize in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s contest to create a new science school, Cornell NYC Tech got up and running. Eight students enrolled in January in what is being called the beta class, a one-year master’s program in computer science. And Cornell has made it clear that, in many ways, this is not the usual university program.Not long ago, three young high-tech entrepreneurs sat with the students, talking about failure. They talked about questionable technical, financial or personnel decisions in start-up businesses they had created or worked in, about companies they had seen disintegrate, and about detours into projects they later discarded.

A Score or More of Languages in Your Pocket

A Score or More of Languages in Your Pocket

Minh Uong / The New York Times
In Douglas Adams’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the hero sticks a so-called Babel fish in his ear and can understand everything said to him in any language. Today’s apps for language translation try to accomplish the same thing. While not as accurate or instantaneous, they are nevertheless useful and greatly improved from just a couple of years ago. And you don’t have to put anything slimy in your ear. The reason these kinds of apps have gotten so much better is simply that more people have been using them, said John Garofolo, a senior adviser at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who has studied and tested the software. The more a translation app is used, the more it learns to statistically make correct associations with sounds, text and meaning.The latest translation apps incorporate voice-recognition software so you can speak as well as type in the word or phrase you want translated and then get both a text and audio response. While there are a bewildering number of translation apps, most use one of just three voice recognition programs (Google, Microsoft or Nuance) mixed with translation software (either Google or Microsoft) plus the app developer’s own tweaks. An exception is the app Jibbigo, which has its own system, developed by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University. The language apps differ markedly in price, user interface, added features and functionality offline. Accuracy seems to depend on your accent and dialectical proclivities as well as the range of words you use and how noisy the environment is where you say them. Some apps may be better at translating, say, curse words, while others might be better at culinary terms. Some may be super at French, but miserable at Hungarian. But no matter which app you choose, you can’t use it for long and involved conversations. These apps work only when you speak very slowly and distinctly and in short sentences. Be prepared to rephrase when you get quizzical looks or uncomfortable giggles — as when asking in English for a baby’s “crib” in your hotel room and the app’s French translation intones that you need a “favor” in your hotel room. Mon Dieu!After testing most of the voice-recognition translation apps available (and listening to more mechanical speech than a healthy person should), I found a few standouts in reliability and usability. The trials occurred over several days, in different noise environments, and involved at least three languages. Here are my picks:GOOGLE TRANSLATE for iOS and Android: When Google Translate works, it’s fast and accurate. It has a way of seizing up at times, usually in loud places or when you give it a long sentence or multisyllabic word. After a long wait, you might get a message saying “Speech recognition not available.” Also, it’s not particularly good at recognizing proper names or names of cities.Nevertheless, it’s probably the most widely used translation app and is powered by Google’s behemoth worldwide computing power and data sets. Indeed, the company used all available United Nations documents, each translated into six languages, to build its statistical translation system. That is in addition to countless Web documents and voice actors’ recordings plus feedback from the billion or more translations it delivers daily to users. Like most Google products, the free translation app has a simple and uncluttered interface. It covers 63 languages (20 with voice-recognition and 43 with text to speech), including four dialects of Spanish and three for Chinese. This is good because trying to use a Mexican-Spanish translation when talking to a Salvadoran can be extremely frustrating. Also, Google last month introduced 50 offline translation packages. You can download a particular language package to use when you aren’t near Wi-Fi and don’t want exorbitant roaming or data charges. Just know the offline translation service isn’t as comprehensive in terms of vocabulary as what you’d get online. JIBBIGO for iOS and Android: The work of Carnegie Mellon computer scientists, Jibbigo is also free and a generally useful translator although it doesn’t recognize some seemingly simple and useful words like “corkscrew” and “cellphone” and it particularly has trouble deciphering thick accents like some heard in Oklahoma or Massachusetts. The app covers 13 languages (including English dialects for the United States and Britain and Spanish dialects for Mexico and Spain), which are available online and offline for $5 each. Or you can buy languages in bulk; a European bundle, for $10, includes French, Italian, German and Spanish. You download them from the cloud only when you need them so you don’t take up too much of your mobile device’s memory.Jibbigo has an intuitive interface. It keeps a history of your translations and also has a way for you to control the speed with which the translated words are spoken, which is helpful if you are trying to learn the language. Jibbigo also has a button for allowing explicit language. On other apps, you tend to get error messages or asterisks. Another nice feature is the ability to input a list of proper names (in text and voice) for it to readily recognize.VOCRE for iOS and Android: Vocre, which costs $5 and covers 36 languages for Android and 66 for iOS, is a true hybrid of technologies. It uses Nuance’s voice recognition program and Microsoft’s translation program but rolls over to Google’s system when Microsoft gets stumped. The app also taps into a database of crowdsourced translations.The voice recognition is excellent even when using proper names. The translation is good even when conveying more complex thoughts. And you can choose whether you want a male or female voice speaking the translation. The split-screen feature allows two participants in a conversation to use the app while facing each other. A big drawback is that there is no offline functionality.ITRANSLATE for iOS and Android: This app also uses Nuance software for voice recognition and Microsoft and Google software for translation with some proprietary software in the mix. It will translate 36 languages with impressive accuracy even in noisy environments. The cost is $5 but only for one year, and it will not automatically renew. There are less expensive versions of iTranslate, including a free version with annoying ads, but don’t waste your time or money. They are like getting just a few pieces of a larger puzzle you’re trying to solve, and it’s irritating.The interface is user-friendly and seems to translate faster than the other apps. You can choose a female or male voice, as well as the speed at which it speaks. Also very useful are dictionary entries that pop up to show you various possible definitions. But like Vocre, you can’t use the app offline, which for international travelers is not good, bon, bueno, dobre, gut, buono, bra, goeie, jo or geras.

Rearranging the Furniture, Minus the Aching Back

Rearranging the Furniture, Minus the Aching Back
If you’ve ever sat on your couch and wondered how it would look across the room, or whether the walls would look good in red, that was your inner interior designer speaking. Now apps offer a quick and powerful way to indulge your home design fantasies.Home Design 3D ($7 on iOS) is one of the better ones. It turns a two-dimensional view of your home into a three-dimensional graphic that you can view from any angle and even walk around as if inside. It is so sophisticated you could use it as a starting point for designing a house, rather than just tweaking your interior design. You start in two-dimensional construction mode, adding rooms and adjusting their size and shape to match your place. You can add measurements and drop in items from a database, like a water fountain or a grand piano. There’s a host of options for doorways, windows and other openings, and you can choose to color walls or floors with textures that look like wallpaper, carpet or wood or simply a uniform color. When your design is done, you click on the 3-D button to turn it into a 3-D version. While the app tries to be as intuitive as possible, with clear icons for control and some attractively designed screens, it has a steep learning curve. The fact that you have to pay for access to some textures and pieces of furniture might also frustrate you
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An interior design photo on the iPad edition of Houzz Interior Design Ideas.

Build App Pro is a similar Android app that costs $6. The app also has a plan-view design mode that lets you set out the layout of rooms and furniture items, plus a 3-D graphical view. Like Home Design 3D, the app tries to make design simple — it uses icon-driven menus and easy-to-learn gestures. But it has a small number of 3-D furniture models and a tendency to crash.A far simpler app is Houzz Interior Design Ideas, free on Android and iOS, which will probably be more useful in the early stages of any redesign plans. The app’s main feature is an extensive catalog of photos, listed by categories like Family Room, Wine Cellar and Exterior. Tap on a category, select a subcategory like Modern or Tropical and scroll through the photos. You can bookmark designs you like in your own idea book, or export them to Twitter or through e-mail. The app also has lists of products for sale and professionals who can help you realize your design. If you’re just thinking about changing the color of your furniture or walls, there are many apps to help. The best-known color matching system is Pantone, and it has an official MyPantone app for iOS.

Q.& A.: Using Facebook Chat Heads

Q.& A.: Using Facebook Chat Heads
Q.
I use Facebook on my iPhone quite a bit, but lately these little circles with my friend’s profile pictures have been popping up around the screen. What are these?
A.
The circular images on the screen are Facebook’s new Chat Heads feature, which was included in a recent update to the iOS version of the Facebook app. When you see a Chat Head appear, it means that friend has sent you a message within Facebook. Tap the picture to read and reply to the message. To dismiss a Chat Head icon, touch the image with your finger and drag it down to the bottom of the screen to a gray X.The Chat Heads feature first appeared last month as part of the Facebook Home software for certain Android phones. In Facebook Home, Chat Heads can pop up when you are using other apps on the phone to keep you connected with your friends. On the iOS version, however, the Chat Heads are contained within the Facebook app itself.

Tip of the Week: Find Your System Information Quickly

Tip of the Week: Find Your System Information Quickly
Want to buy that cool new video game but are unsure how much memory or what kind of processor your computer uses so you can make sure the software will work? Both Windows and Mac OS X keep these details, along with other hardware information, in a convenient place.In Windows 7, go to the Start menu and type System into the Search box. Select System or System Information in the results to open a window listing your computer’s details. For a quicker way to the information, press the Windows key and the Pause key on the keyboard to open the System window; the Win + Pause keyboard shortcut works in the newer Windows 8 system as well.On a Mac running recent versions of OS X, go to the Apple menu on the left side of the menu bar and choose About This Mac. The box that appears shows the OS X software version, processor and amount of installed memory. Click the More Info button to see additional details about the computer. If you want a shortcut to even more data, hold down the Option key on the keyboard and return to the Apple menu, where the About This Mac item now says System Information. Select System Information from the menu to get a big list of specifications.

Do-Not-Track Talks Could Be Running Off the Rails


Do-Not-Track Talks Could Be Running Off the Rails

Source: Mozilla
After nearly two years of negotiating and little progress, the international group trying to agree on a Do Not Track standard is convening its final official face-to-face meeting next week in Sunnyvale, Calif.Although many people may not know that advertisers and other third parties operating on Web sites install cookies, which are small bits of code that track users’ browsing history, a small subset of consumers have already activated the Do Not Track mechanisms on their devices. These don’t-track-me browser settings send out signals telling third parties that a user does not want to have his or her online activities tracked.As of March, for instance, 11.4 percent of the estimated 450 million people worldwide who use the Firefox desktop browser had activated the Do Not Track setting, according to a new report Friday from Mozilla.Advertisers say they need to collect tracking data in order to show relevant ads to consumers. Without behavior-based ads to support free content and services, they argue, certain sites would have to shut down or start charging for access. Privacy advocates, for their part, argue that consumers have a right to choose not to be tracked by companies they don’t do business with. If the price consumers have to pay is more generic ads that are not tailored to them, they say, so be it.“Most people don’t realize the extent to which this brazen online tracking is done, but when the practice is described, they want to be able to control it,” John M. Simpson, the privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, wrote in a blog post earlier this week. “Why should a company I know nothing about, have no say over and no relationship with be able to collect information about my online activity?”If the tracking protection group of the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C, the international standards body that has been trying to create a consensus for the privacy mechanisms, fails to come to an agreement, however, these signals could end up having no more significance than white noise.In an effort to get participants to cut a deal, Peter P. Swire, a law professor at Ohio State who is the co-chair of the W3C tracking group, circulated a draft proposal earlier this week.The proposal said third parties would agree to not collect tracking data on any browser where a consumer had actively turned on the privacy signal. But companies would still collect data for certain permitted uses.Stuart P. Ingis, a lawyer representing the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry group that offers consumers an ad choices program, said that, from his point of view, two major issues remained to be resolved: ensuring consumers themselves choose to activate the privacy option and determining the kind of data that third parties could continue to collect and use even after a consumer activated the privacy signal.“If progress can be made, that could clear a path to a conclusion,” Mr. Ingis said.Some consumer advocates and technologists see additional sticking points, however, objecting to a number of prescriptive clauses in the proposal that could limit the way browsers present Do Not Track preferences to their users. A few advocates even suggested that the two sides are so far apart that the negotiations might as well be terminated.The proposal, for example, says any Do Not Track button should be off by default, rather than set to a neutral position that would allow a user to turn the signal on or off. It also says that any Do Not Track mechanism should be located only in the browser setting – not through a browser “installation process or any other similar mechanism.” That would come as a challenge to browsers like Internet Explorer 10, in which Do Not Track is one of the choices offered during installation.Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy group, said the proposal seemed intended to limit the number of consumers who would turn on a don’t-track-me signal.“The industry wants to make it hard for people to turn on Do Not Track and that should be a deal breaker,” Mr. Chester said. “It should be prominent, simple and effective. Right now, the proposal fails to deliver that.”But Mr. Ingis of the Digital Advertising Alliance argued the mechanism wasn’t important enough to consumers to be presented during browser installation.“By putting it in a browser setting, you create a little bit of friction so that you make it simple enough for people who want to find it,” he said. “But you don’t treat it as if it’s a matter of national security, because it’s not.”These stances seem so far apart that some now foresee a permanent stalemate. Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science and law at Stanford University who has been participating in the talks, says it’s time for the group to have a conversation about how to shut down the negotiations altogether.“I think it’s right to think about shutting down the process and saying we just can’t agree,” Mr. Mayer said. “We gave it the old college try. But sometimes you can’t reach a negotiated deal.”

Shine Starts to Wear Off a Little for Google Glass


Shine Starts to Wear Off a Little for Google Glass

White Men Wearing Google Glass, a Tumblr Web site, pokes fun at people wearing the augmented reality glasses.
screenshot via Tumblr
The shiny new thing luster of Google Glass may already be wearing off, even before most people have been able to try one on.When Google introduced Google Glass last year, tech nerds salivated over these augmented reality goggles from the future. But not everyone was excited. Some not on the proverbial bleeding edge of gadgetry wondered if the high-tech eye wear would offer salvation from smartphones, or turn them into zombie-eyed obsessives staring into tiny screens a few inches from their eyeballs.Over the last two weeks, as Google Glass has started to trickle into the real world, the split of tech aficionados and regular folks has only grown.Robert Scoble, an obsessive tech pundit, wrote a glowing review of the new augmented reality glasses and said, “I will never live a day without them.” He then showed off a picture of himself showering while wearing the glasses.Is that a good or bad thing? As Marcus Wohlsen, a tech reporter for Wired, noted Thursday, seeing a large, hairy tech enthusiast half-naked in a shower while wearing Google Glass could put the device in the company of products lauded by the tech set and generally ignored by everyone else. “The Segway. The Bluetooth headset. The pocket protector,” Mr. Wohlsen wrote.Worrying if Google Glass ends up in the same tech graveyard as the Segway might be the least of Google’s worries. After a developer showed off an application for the glasses that lets people sneak a photo of someone simply by winking, the headlines around the new gear focused quickly on privacy.“The Creepiest Google Glass App Is a Stalker’s Dream,” wrote Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic, ,who called the secret photo-taking application a “privacy nightmare.”“Google Glass: Let the evil commence,” wrote Jason Perlow of ZDNet, who noted that in the “Explorer” version of Google Glass that has recently shipped to a first generation of users, there is no “recording LED indicator” light on the device, “so that one could stealthily record without any indication o the subject that they are being captured on-camera.”A Google spokesman said the company was carefully monitoring the type of apps developers were building for Google Glass to ensure they addressed privacy concerns before the product shipped to mainstream users. “Right now Glass is being made available primarily to developers who signed up to our Explorer program,” the spokesman said. “The goal of the program is ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology and for developers specifically to hack together new features, find exploits and build amazing new apps ahead of a wider consumer launch.”If you were active on social media over the last few days, chances are you saw the latest Tumblr Web site, White Men Wearing Google Glass, making the rounds. The site has been shared thousands of times on social networks over the last few days. ”White Men Wearing Google Glass. This doesn’t make me want a pair,” wrote Jason Zada, an award winning director, on Twitter. Another person simply wrote that Google Glass looks “lame.”Still, some tech heavyweights professed their enthusiasm for Google Glass. Marc Andreessen, a partner in the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said, ”You put it on and you’re like ‘Oh my God, I have the entire Internet in my vision. Where have you been all my life?’ ”A photo of Mr. Andreessen wearing the glasses is also the main icon featured on White Men Wearing Google Glass Tumblr Web site.

Gadgets to Help Tend a Garden


Gadgets to Help Tend a Garden

Collecting pollen with a VegiBee, which helped tomato yields rise 38 percent for Bill Whaley, the tool’s inventor.
Tim Parker for The New York TimesPicture a tiny drone that arises from your vegetable garden to shoo away hungry deer. Or maybe a houseplant that, when you’re away, meanders through your rooms like a cat following a sunbeam. Or one that posts a request for water on Twitter. The future is knocking at the door of home gardening. And, if some do-it-yourselfers have their way, there is no aspect of nature that can’t be improved with a rechargeable motor and a sensor or two. ake, for example, the VegiBee. Bill Whaley, a former department store executive living in St. Louis, said he invented the device after a disappointing tomato yield. Mr. Whaley concluded that the problem was pollination, and quickly set out to improve on the bees, which were clearly remiss.


Looking a little like an electric toothbrush, the VegiBee’s wand is held close to a flower on a tomato plant. The tiny vibrations — 44,000 a minute — gently shake the pollen into the plastic spoon that comes with the package. You dip the female part of another flower into the pollen. Vibrate, dip, repeat.It does the trick, Mr. Whaley said. His harvest increased 38 percent and he recently put a rechargeable model on the market for $50.Would the average gardener want to take all that trouble? Maybe. Mr. Whaley said some determined gardeners have been performing a similar manual pollination for years using electric toothbrushes. The VegiBee, though, is better at shaking off the pollen because of its quick vibrations, he claims.


The Digital Rain Gauge and Thermometer, but only the collector on left would be outdoors.
Gardeners love to dig in the dirt, but how can it be completely savored, you may ask, without spreadsheets full of sweet data? Garden stores have answered that call with an array of gadgets that test soil for moisture and acidity levels. The Rapitest 4-Way Analyzer, for instance, not only measures moisture and pH levels, but also determines whether to add fertilizer and what the sunlight level is in a particular spot in the garden. It’s about $30 online or in stores. Or try a digital rain gauge. Digital gauges used to be so expensive that only true weather zealots bought them. “But they’ve gotten cheaper and cheaper as time went on,” said Matt Glenn, vice president for business development for Headwind Consumer Products in Syracuse, Neb. These rain gauges are impressive. They are wireless and track rainfall by the day, week, month or year. They also have thermometers for indoor and outdoor temperatures.Why stop there? Once you have data, why not share it on a social network of other like-minded gardeners?
 Enter Future Tech Farms, the high-tech gardening brainchild of Brian Falther and his business partner, Austin Lawrence. The two mechanical engineers are trying to develop a network of indoor gardening pods, hooked up via phone or home Wi-Fi, to a social pod network, which would share information on the most effective growing conditions. “The whole goal is to create a food production format for the world that is ecologically sustainable, energy sustainable and carbon neutral,” said Mr. Falther, a 2010 graduate of Kettering University in Flint, Mich., where Mr. Lawrence is a senior. “I don’t know why everyone isn’t doing this.”Why indeed? The small self-contained pods would collect data on water temperature, light, pH levels and such. Then the information on what works best could be shared on the network, making it easier for newcomers and participants to garden, Mr. Falther said.The two have more than $30,000 in start-up money and are hoping that someday their pods will be as familiar a sight in homes as refrigerators and televisions.


An early version of the Future Tech Farm.
Outdoors, gardeners are constantly battling voracious creatures. It never fails that, just when you’re ready to pick that perfect tomato, a squirrel snatches it away.But there is some high-tech help for that too. The Garden Defense Electronic Owl, made by Easy Gardener, is placed on a fence post, and when a sensor in the battery-operated plastic bird detects a woodland creature, the owl’s head turns to fix the intruder with a murderous stare intended to frighten it away. The owl, about $40, is not the only device meant to scare on the market, but it may be the creepiest. Several brands of sensor-driven, motion-activated sprinklers are also available, with names like the ScareCrow, Yard Enforcer and Spray Away, ranging in price from $49 to about $140. But why settle for a threatening turn of the head or a simple squirt of water when you could have a quadricopter drone?
The Rapitest 4-Way Analyzer monitors the moisture, pH, fertilizer and sunlight levels in the garden.
At the University of Victoria in British Columbia, engineering students charged with the problem of deterring garden pests came up with the Garden Gnome Drone, a small but noisy machine that rises off its landing pad when infrared sensors detect an intruder, then flies a quick pattern around the garden before settling back down in its place. The students didn’t test their device to see if it deterred garden animals, said Chandra Beaveridge, who was one of five on the design team. But theoretically, any wandering raccoon would drop its ear of corn and flee in terror at the eerie sight. The idea is to scare creatures away from the garden without harm or the use of water, she said.Drones for home gardens would be expensive, she acknowledged. The drone, called Parrot, costs about $200, which is one reason there are no plans to market it at the moment. But the group left behind its code for future engineers to build on, she said, so someday someone might market and sell it as an animal deterrent. But your garden robot need not be airborne. Stephen Verstraete, a sculptor living in Belgium, designed a do-it-yourself garden robot. “I don’t have green thumbs. All my plants always seem to die,” he said. So when he was asked to create robots to roam around a technology convention in Amsterdam last year, Mr. Verstraete built robots that detected sunlight and moved house plants to the light.“I wanted to make them as cheap as possible and easy for anybody to make,” he said. “I made mine with stuff lying around, but if you want to buy everything new, I guess the cost will be a minimum of $15,” he said. He lists the parts at instructables.com/id/Plant-Host-Drone/If your plants don’t visit you in your sunny breakfast nook, they could at least call, right?Or, better yet, send a message by Twitter.Botanicalls, a collaboration among artists and technologists, has designed a do-it-yourself kit with a sensor that goes into the dirt to measure moisture. When it gets too dry, the plant posts, “Water me please.” And it will send out a polite thank you when you respond.“We didn’t want it to be like that person who only calls when he wants something,” said Robert Faludi, a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York and in the Interactive Telecommunications program at New York University. The kit is for sale at botanicalls.com/buy/ for $100.The goal was to encourage a happy relationship between plants and people. “A lot of people are afraid of plants. They’re afraid whatever they do the plant is going to die. This makes it possible for them to have a plant in their lives where they might not otherwise,” Mr. Faludi said.

Tap a Word in a Sentence Three Times and It’s Yours

Tap a Word in a Sentence Three Times and It’s Yours
Philtrum. Salubriousness. Thaumaturge. These are three of my favorite words, but they’re not common ones. So you may be reaching for a dictionary right now. But before your fingers close on that printed book and flick through its alphabetically indexed pages, consider this: There are many dictionary apps that could help you do the job more speedily. They may also have features that will teach you new words. And they might even be fun.Dictionary.com Dictionary and Thesaurus is a free iOS and Android app that comes from one of the best-known dictionary Web sites. Unlike the Web site, the app has the advantage that many of its features work offline. This app’s home page is colorful with icons and is topped by a search bar where you enter words you want to look up. As soon as you begin to type in this bar, the app begins to suggest words that may match, so you don’t always have to type in the whole word. If you’re unsure of a word’s spelling, you can tap on the microphone icon and speak your word instead. When you see the word you’re looking for in the search list, a single tap takes you to its main dictionary entry. Here you’ll find the usual definitions you’d get in a paper dictionary, including a guide to pronunciation, word origin description, various meanings and related word forms. You can hear the word spoken aloud by tapping on the loudspeaker icon, or add the word to a favorites list. The app also has a built-in thesaurus, which you can get to via a tab in the search bar. On the iPhone, the app can translate a word into several languages.


It’s functional as a dictionary, but the app also has entertaining extras. It can show you which words people are searching for most right now, for example, and even what people near you are searching for. The app is visually cluttered, though, and some features, like voice recognition and pronunciation guides, work only online. I got the feeling I was being nagged to buy add-ons, like the ability to see example sentences. Also, the free version’s on-screen ads can get annoying if you don’t make a $2.99 in-app purchase to banish them. The Android version has a slightly different interface of a simpler design than the iOS version. There is also an attractively designed free edition for Windows Phone, though it seems trickier to switch between the dictionary and the thesaurus in that one.Merriam-Webster has released several dictionary apps with different functions to cater to certain users or devices. For example, some apps incorporate a thesaurus function alongside the main dictionary; others don’t. The basic Merriam-Webster app is free for iOS and Android devices and is supported by on-screen ads. Its design is simpler than the Dictionary.com app’s. The home page consists of a logo, a control bar at the bottom that provides access to the app’s various functions and a prominent search bar at the top. Like the Dictionary.com app, Merriam-Webster’s version suggests word matches as you type in the search bar. It can also take voice input instead of typed text. When you tap on a word in the list of suggestions, the app shows the relevant dictionary entry, which is easy to read, with a clear layout and large text. The entry also uses the word in an example and offers a list of synonyms and antonyms. Tap on the red speaker icons to hear the word pronounced.But the basic app’s database is limited and it knows only two of my favorite three words. It’s possible that the Collegiate edition would know all three: it costs a little less than $25 on iOS and Android to get more definitions as well as the ability to modify menus and a “pen reader” system for recognizing handwriting in many languages. A $3.99 Windows Phone edition of the Merriam-Webster app says it includes “all” the definitions from the Collegiate dictionary.English Dictionary — Offline, free on Android, is the simplest of the apps mentioned here but is still powerful. Its interface is basic: a search box at the top and space below for word definitions to appear. Tap icons to share words to other apps, flag words as favorites or perform other actions like viewing your search history. Dictionary entries are based on the Wiktionary database, which the makers say includes about 159,000 words. You can click on individual words on an entry page to navigate to that word, and the app will speak the word aloud for you. It’s free and handy for looking up definitions. But it falls short if you’re curious about how a word came into use.As for “philtrum,” it’s that little vertical groove in your upper lip beneath your nose.

On One Phone App, Looks Are Everything

On One Phone App, Looks Are Everything

Nancy Doniger
The quickest hookups in New York these days aren’t happening behind the velvet ropes of No. 8, on the bar stools of Dorrian’s or in the coed bathroom of the Electric Room.Rather, the action is happening on a new smartphone app, and no, it isn’t Grindr.“Anytime I’m at a dinner or an event, social or business, people are buzzing about Tinder,” said Erica Berman, 28, an events planner in Manhattan who said that she uses the app several times a day.Ms. Berman is not alone. Technology has hit a new level of shallow, and New York’s 20-somethings are embracing it full speed.Introduced to college campuses in September, Tinder taps into the most superficial aspect of the dating scene. After downloading the app and selecting their gender, location and whether they like men or women (or both), users swipe through a stack of profile photos (left for “nope,” right for “liked”), based on little more than the person’s appearance. If two users “like” each other, they can proceed to have an online conversation.Tinder has been compared to Hot or Not, the once-popular photo rating site, as reimagined in the age of Facebook. Indeed, the app is linked to a user’s Facebook account, automatically pulling in a person’s profile, photographs and mutual friends.“You don’t have to fill out a profile, you don’t have to put in info — you just have to like the way someone looks,” said Anne Ryan, a 23-year-old project manager in the West Village, who was introduced to Tinder over brunch. “Besides, if I don’t think someone is hot, or if they don’t think I’m pretty, no one ever finds out.”Unusual for a dating app, Tinder appeals to men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals. That was by design.“Irrespective of preference, Tinder solves a basic human need, which is to meet and connect with new people,” said Sean Rad, 26, who started Tinder with Justin Mateen, also 26, and three others. “In the real world, you see someone’s face and you decide if you have an attraction to them.”In the seven months since Tinder was released to iPhone users, the app has logged 2.4 billion profile ratings and 21 million matches, said Mr. Mateen, a high-tech entrepreneur who lives in Los Angeles.To those who criticize the app for prizing looks over compatibility, Mr. Mateen noted that “approximately 70 percent of those matches have resulted in a two-way conversation.” Moreover, he said, the company has received six videos of couples who met on Tinder and are now engaged.Jesse Morris, 25, a handsome marketing executive in Murray Hill, said that he won’t be getting engaged anytime soon, but he uses Tinder to cast a wider net. “Bars don’t attract everyone, and when you’re in a bar, all the best-looking girls are under a magnifying glass from every guy,” he said. “Because Tinder requires its users to independently indicate interest, you don’t need to work through that competition and clutter.”Mr. Rad and Mr. Mateen would agree. They aren’t just the founders of Tinder, they are users, too.“Justin met the girl he is dating pretty seriously right now on Tinder,” Mr. Rad said about his co-founder. “He is embarrassed to say the serious part.”

Brain, Interrupted


Brain, Interrupted

TECHNOLOGY has given us many gifts, among them dozens of new ways to grab our attention. It’s hard to talk to a friend without your phone buzzing at least once. Odds are high you will check your Twitter feed or Facebook wall while reading this article. Just try to type a memo at work without having an e-mail pop up that ruins your train of thought. But what constitutes distraction? Does the mere possibility that a phone call or e-mail will soon arrive drain your brain power? And does distraction matter — do interruptions make us dumber? Quite a bit, according to new research by Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab. There’s a lot of debate among brain researchers about the impact of gadgets on our brains. Most discussion has focused on the deleterious effect of multitasking. Early results show what most of us know implicitly: if you do two things at once, both efforts suffer. In fact, multitasking is a misnomer. In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching. As economics students know, switching involves costs. But how much? When a consumer switches banks, or a company switches suppliers, it’s relatively easy to count the added expense of the hassle of change. When your brain is switching tasks, the cost is harder to quantify. There have been a few efforts to do so: Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. But there has been scant research on the quality of work done during these periods of rapid toggling. We decided to investigate further, and asked Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology, and the psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon to design an experiment to measure the brain power lost when someone is interrupted. To simulate the pull of an expected cellphone call or e-mail, we had subjects sit in a lab and perform a standard cognitive skill test. In the experiment, 136 subjects were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. There were three groups of subjects; one merely completed the test. The other two were told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. During an initial test, the second and third groups were interrupted twice. Then a second test was administered, but this time, only the second group was interrupted. The third group awaited an interruption that never came. Let’s call the three groups Control, Interrupted and On High Alert. We expected the Interrupted group to make some mistakes, but the results were truly dismal, especially for those who think of themselves as multitaskers: during this first test, both interrupted groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than members of the control group. In other words, the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20 percent dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent). But in Part 2 of the experiment, the results were not as bleak. This time, part of the group was told they would be interrupted again, but they were actually left alone to focus on the questions. Again, the Interrupted group underperformed the control group, but this time they closed the gap significantly, to a respectable 14 percent. Dr. Peer said this suggested that people who experience an interruption, and expect another, can learn to improve how they deal with it. But among the On High Alert group, there was a twist. Those who were warned of an interruption that never came improved by a whopping 43 percent, and even outperformed the control test takers who were left alone. This unexpected, counterintuitive finding requires further research, but Dr. Peer thinks there’s a simple explanation: participants learned from their experience, and their brains adapted.Somehow, it seems, they marshaled extra brain power to steel themselves against interruption, or perhaps the potential for interruptions served as a kind of deadline that helped them focus even better. Clifford Nass, a Stanford sociologist who conducted some of the first tests on multitasking, has said that those who can’t resist the lure of doing two things at once are “suckers for irrelevancy.” There is some evidence that we’re not just suckers for that new text message, or addicted to it; it’s actually robbing us of brain power, too. Tweet about this at your own risk.What the Carnegie Mellon study shows, however, is that it is possible to train yourself for distractions, even if you don’t know when they’ll hit.Bob Sullivan, a journalist at NBC News, and Hugh Thompson, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, are the authors of “The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck to Success.”

Go the Same Way, or Go the Wrong Way

Go the Same Way, or Go the Wrong Way

With the “Yelpification” of culture, there is increasing strength in numbers.
Stockbyte, via Getty Images
Not long ago, a friend of mine, a dear man with exquisite taste, took me to dinner at Momofuku Má Pêche in Midtown Manhattan. I point out his taste because, being from out of town, he chose the restaurant on the fly, based on some reviews he had read on Yelp, the social networking site that rates everything from eating establishments to vacuum cleaners to gastroenterologists. The supertrendy place had gotten some raves.Now, if I had the same experience with a gastroenterologist I had chosen based on glowing Yelp evaluations as I did at Momofuku, I would be checking myself into the emergency room. My monkfish — a special favorite of the Yelp hordes — tasted like a pencil eraser. It was also so cold that it could not be described as cooked. It was deceased. As for the destination-place atmosphere, imagine the decibel level of a Justin Bieber concert as filmed by Leni Riefenstahl. The service was haute rude. Our waitress responded to my timid questions about the oysters with a pseudopopulist arrogance that implied I was both hopelessly out of touch with the everyday experience of fishermen and boat owners, and too much a rube to comprehend the subtle distinctions of taste and class that characterized the world of the fancy shellfish. And those fake proletarian desserts! “Compost cookie.” “Cereal milk.” “Crack pie.” The idea, I suppose, is that if you eat such downwardly mobile treats, it is only because you are so confident of your upwardly mobile status. Yet the fact is that the crowd of Yelp reviewers had decided that Momofuku was the place to eat. And so we found ourselves eating at Momofuku.For the pop sociologists of the period after World War II, “crowd” was a scare word, an impersonal entity that would extinguish your personality, spew contempt at your uniqueness, disable the operation of your individual instincts and judgment. Now the “wisdom of crowds” has become an accepted platitude. “Peer pressure,” far from being a pernicious influence, is something we seek out as we race from one review site to another. You might call this the Yelpification of culture. The goal and appeal of Yelp, and of countless similar companies, is to make everyone, regardless of income or social status, feel like a teenager trying to get into an exclusive private school that evening. Heaven forbid that you should meet one of your friends at your favorite Thai place. No, you have to meet at everyone’s favorite Thai place. Because if your friend is like some of my friends, he or she will be Yelping the place you suggest, and you’re in big trouble if your favorite Thai restaurant has — unbeknown to you, who have been going there for 27 years — the status of the Ebola virus among savvy restaurant-goers. (“This place should be BYOT — Bring your own turmeric! Stay away!! Yuck!!!”) No, you have to go to a place that has received the best reviews from lots of people, even if you have no idea who they are or what their motives might be for spending their time rating restaurants. Gone are the days when “conformist” was a slur on someone’s character. Now the idea is that if you are not following the crowd of five-star dispensers, you are a tasteless, undiscriminating shlub. Welcome to the lonely crowd of the 21st century, both a revival of and a variation on the original “lonely crowd,” a term famously coined by the sociologist David Riesman in his best-selling 1950 book of that name. Riesman argued that as the economy turned producers who manufacture goods into consumers buying them, the nature of society changed. People went from being “inner-directed’ to being “outer-directed,” from heeding their own instincts and judgment to depending on the judgments and opinions of tastemakers and trendsetters. Having lost touch with themselves, outer-directed souls were all alone in the midst of other people.Of course, in one important respect, Riesman’s thesis has been radically refuted. Whereas he and other postwar intellectuals feared the conformist power of the crowd, we now fear the aberrant individual or individuals lurking in the crowd. The tragedy in Boston makes the postwar worries about mass society, inflamed by the perceived Communist threat at the time, seem trivial. But in other respects, Riesman’s insights seem like the seeds of our own time. Thanks to the Internet, we have become both producers and consumers. We are, in the futurist (how old-fashioned the term “futurist” seems now) Alvin Toffler’s unlovely phrase, “prosumers.” We tweet, and post, and update, and blog at the same time we are consuming other people’s digital productions. We are all part of a vast crowd that is unaware of how atomized it is, ignorant of the fact that it is both interconnected and isolated at the same time. The social media response to the Boston bombings was, all at once, informative, misleading and disorienting. Manipulating our iGadgets, we have the illusion of going our own way even as we make sure to follow everyone else. “Following” is now the hallmark of a triumphant individuality. The Internet prizes the cute angle, the startling factoid, the arch provocation, qualities that are actually the careful, calculated style of the other-directed person cannily hiding behind an inner-directed facade. We are all, in Riesman’s Runyonesque parlance, “inside-dopesters.” According to Riesman, the aim of the inside-dopester is “never to be taken in by any person, cause or event.” The acquisition and preservation of such knowingness is the essential principle of the Twitterverse. It is certainly the sole purpose of Yelp and its ilk, where we can be reassured that by obeying the crowd, we will never be taken in by any restaurant, gastroenterologist or vacuum cleaner.In an information-saturated world, we need all the information we can get about all the information we are receiving. In a society more and more dominated by commerce, we need businesses that guide us toward the right commercial choices. But one effect of this ocean of meta-commentary and meta-evaluation is to professionalize our leisure time. We are now in the midst of a national attempt to maximize leisure time the way Americans once joined together to beat the Russians to the moon. Quality time used to mean time away from the pressures of work or ambition. Now it means exactly the opposite: time spent working on getting the most and the best in just about every category of existence. Another effect is, to my mind, the worst. Thanks to our constantly digitized lonely crowd, we are as keenly aware of other people’s opinions and judgments as we were in high school. But we are aware of their opinions and judgments without ever getting to know them as personalities.The centuries-old idea that taste is subjective has been replaced by the conviction that, as in elections, sheer numbers carry the day. As a result, we may well start to become as cynical about our social lives as we are about our politics.And that would be a real one-star experience, as I’m sure everyone will agree.

Cyberparenting and the Risk of T.M.I.


Cyberparenting and the Risk of T.M.I.




It may be a timeless curse of parenthood to know simultaneously too much about one’s teenager and yet never access the information one actually wants. But the unruly morass of today’s social media and cellphone-infested landscape seems to have made both aspects of the curse worse. Nowadays, if you are the parent of a 14-year-old, you can see him guzzle beer, flirt with a girl who squeezes her bosom in every “selfie” she posts on Instagram, and describe a fellow ninth grader in language saltier than any you ever used at that age. Of course, your parents never even heard you swear. They had no idea where you went after you slammed the front door behind you. They couldn’t begin to fathom what you were really up to on a Saturday night.Today, parents are just one click away: buddied up on Facebook, logging on to Tumblr, peering over cryptic text messages and trying to get a glimpse of
Snapchat images before they dissolve into the ether.
 

Parents who wouldn’t be caught dead reading their teenage daughter’s diary are stuck in a bind. Who really wants to be privy to all this? Karen Sanders, a 49-year-old mother of two in Scarsdale, N.Y., finds herself reading comments made on her 15-year-old daughter’s page. “She’ll post something about someone else, and I find myself stalking her friends — not even mine! By then, even I’m creeped out — by myself.”Sandra Tsing Loh, 51, a writer, radio personality and the mother of two tween daughters in the Los Angeles area, said: “All the boundaries have broken down. Facebook is constantly sending alerts of what they’re up to: liking and commenting and posting and sharing, like squirrels pecking away. But when their mothers are reading, it’s way too much information.” For many adults, the Internet poses a vast array of potential privacy infringements, not all of which are readily defined or understood. But for teenagers the threat is clear: Big Mother. And Big Father. The author Dan Savage refers to it as “the burden of knowing.” He and his husband are what he calls “very heavy-duty monitors”(“kind of the fascist parents”) of their 15-year-old son. “Children leave a digital trail, and you feel like a negligent parent if you’re not monitoring,” Mr. Savage said. “What we’re trying to balance is not knowing everything we can know, which is everything, and giving our son some leeway to make mistakes without dying in the process. It’s horrifying.”Yes, we know contemporary parents are hyperinvolved in their children’s lives. But the term “helicopter parent,” with its menacing tones of parental omniscience, has nothing on the intimate reach of the cyberparent. A helicopter hovers above, at a safe distance, with lots of insulating air between. Cyberparents, on the other hand, are squished right up next to their offspring.Some parents use the “fly on the wall” approach, monitoring regularly or checking in periodically, without comment either online or off. Others prefer the “pick your battles” method, reserving action for moments when a sister says, “Hmm, I saw that picture your daughter posted” or an impolitic slang phrase is flung online in an iffy manner. Then there are the polar extreme tactics of “head in the sand” and “not until you’re 18.” Schools across the country constantly run workshops, often with a range of perspectives, to help straggling parents. A growing number of companies have also popped up to assist parents in navigating the landscape, whether it is supervising their children’s online behavior or maximizing their privacy settings. The home page of one of these “parental intelligence” firms, uKnow.com, states its role as: “Helping mom and dad understand their child’s use of technology, and protect their safety, privacy and reputation.” Such programs are not about digital spying, said Tim Woda, a founder of uKnow.com and its senior vice president for strategic growth. “That would just teach children that being sneaky and underhanded is O.K. as long as it’s for a good reason,” he said.Instead, children see the app installed on their devices, which helps them self-censor. “Our customers just want to understand what’s happening in their kids’ world,” he said, “and so much of it is online that unless they get inside, they’re in the dark.”A majority of parents of teenagers have at least tried to maintain some degree of control. According to a 2012 study of 802 parents of teenagers by the Pew Internet Project, 59 percent of parents of teenagers on social-networking sites have talked to their child because they were concerned about something posted to their profile or account, and 42 percent have searched for their child’s name online to see what information is out there.Most parents recognize the hypocrisy in their roving curiosity. “When I was a 15-year-old seminarian in Chicago, I was sneaking into gay bars, which were not nice places back then,” Mr. Savage said. “If I’d had that on my Instagram and e-mails, my parents would have murdered me.”“Flaming mean 6th graders on Facebook,” began a furious post Ms. Tsing Loh wrote on Facebook last spring, which continued, “One of the most notable features of Facebook, I find, is that now a mother can see, in real time, festivals of ‘Lord of the Flies’ meanness and piling up upon say one’s cool and sweet 11-year-old child.” Ms. Tsing Loh described the anguish of watching children she had shepherded to the Cheesecake Factory since kindergarten post unkind things about her child. (Among them: her daughter is “Facebook friends with Mommy.”)Parents describe finding out things they had rather not have known. One quick glance at Instagram, and they may not want that lovely girl they welcomed at their weekend house several times last summer to return. You wouldn’t believe what that boy, the one who is a lifeguard at the town pool, said about a 12-year-old in her bikini. And who is rolling a spliff on the 14-year-old neighbor’s Tumblr? No established guidelines exist for what parents do with this material. Should they riposte? Comment? Call another child’s parent? In the Pew study, half of parents who use social media themselves have responded to comments or posts on a child’s profile.Kuae Kelch Mattox, national president of Mocha Moms Inc., and the mother of three children (two of whom use social media), is careful to ask her children if it’s all right to tag them in the “proud parent” photos she posts on her own profile page. “If I set a tone for mutual respect, I think it will be reciprocated,” she said. According to a 2011 Pew survey, children expressed a decided ambivalence about having their parents friend them on social networks. “I don’t want to friend her but she like friended me,” a 13-year-old girl told an interviewer.For some children, having Mom or Aunt Jessie comment is just plain embarrassing. “Someone will change their status update to ‘going to the park’ and then you’ll see 80 family members saying, ‘Have fun at the park,’ ” complained another 13-year-old. Who invited Mom and Dad to the party anyway?For parents, embarrassing their children is generally the least of it. Many are already in an outright panic over what their children do online. The worst-case scenarios involve predators and others who would inflict serious harm. According to the 2012 Pew poll, 72 percent of parents are very or somewhat concerned about their children’s interactions with strangers online. Then there are the twin teenage boogeymen of the Internet age: cyberbullying and sexting. One voguish form of torment among kids online is setting up fake accounts (identity-theft light, since no money is involved) for other children, and posting photographs and comments in their names. When Anna Berry’s 13-year-old daughter was in fifth grade, the family learned that a classmate was impersonating the child online. The doppelgänger put her birthday, address and photos taken at their daughter’s school in Littleton, Colo., onto Facebook, with no security settings, and began to friend other children. Ms. Berry watched in horror as her daughter, who wasn’t even on the site then, saw posts in her name go online. “You could see the tears rolling down her cheeks, the sense of violation,” she recalled. Two years later, Ms. Berry’s daughter is allowed on Facebook, but not to friend children from school. “I don’t want the drama,” she said.Then there is the typical teenage bad behavior offline that the Internet broadcasts to the world and codifies for the ages. Even low-lying infractions like suggestive posing and graphic language gain potency when addressed to hundreds of thousands of viewers. “I don’t like the cursing,” Ms. Mattox said. “I’ve said to them, ‘Did you really have to say that?’ and it’s: ‘Oh, Mom, you don’t have to be there. You don’t have to read it.’ ” On another occasion, she saw her daughter posting updates from her phone well after bedtime. For a while, she and husband took the phone away at night. But no matter how much today’s lurking parents may find out, there is a great deal else going on in cyberspace that they aren’t aware of. Teenagers (though not all parents) realize they can dictate who sees what on Facebook. And a good number of tweens and teenagers have already migrated from “their parent’s Facebook” to zippier sites like Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr, all of which feel less welcoming to the 20th reunion crowd. “What I’ve found out is, they know how to shut you out,” Ms. Sanders said. “I don’t have the access codes to my daughter’s Tumblr account, so unless she leaves them open, I know nothing about her Tumblr life.” Occasionally, Ms. Sanders has asked her daughter for the codes, but her daughter then changes them. Like most savvy parents, Ms. Sanders has installed parental controls on the family computers, but has found the phrase “how to take parental controls off” in their search history.Parents also say that while they may be subjected to too much information online, insight into the offline world of their children has become spotty and opaque. The family phone is no longer the gateway to communication. Parents no longer know who is calling their children, nor can they glean insight from overheard snippets of conversation, tearful exchanges and slammed receivers. “Sometimes I think we know less,” said Wendy Weinstein Karp, a mother of two children in Larchmont, N.Y. “A friend will be sleeping over, and suddenly someone is rushing down to the door because they’re all in touch with each other on their gadgets. People come and go from the house, and you have no idea what’s going on. We’re less in control of the information.” It may be small consolation, but often, the feelings of shock, intrusion and disapproval are mutual. June Jewell, 51, a small-business owner from Vienna, Va., said her daughter will see a photo of her mother on Facebook and complain, “Why did you post that?” Ms. Jewell will put up evidence of herself singing karaoke and her daughter will respond, “You’re embarrassing me!” Ms. Jewell, who has three children active on social media, said nobody wants to think their parents are cool. “What’s funny is that her friends follow me on Twitter and they’re not critical at all.” As far as she knows.

Taking Time to Go Back to the Beginning

Taking Time to Go Back to the Beginning
Shortly before Miho Walsh and Roy Prieb were married in early in 2008 they kicked their video game habit, which was composed mainly of World of Warcraft. Actually, it was Mr. Prieb’s die-hard habit. For Ms. Walsh, playing video games with her fiancé was more of an act of love.“I was impressed with Miho, because rather than poo-pooing the whole gaming experience when we were first dating, she dove in,” said Mr. Prieb, now 40, a founder of and partner in Saaspire, a technology consultancy in New York. “She dove in, not by creating her own character; she dove in by sitting next to me and playing with me. We both got into it, co-piloting one character around that world.”Then they stopped, cold turkey.“It was a bright spring day and we looked out the window and said, ‘Let’s quit,’ ” Mr. Prieb recalled.

300 Pakistanis lodged in Indian jails

Around 300 Pakistani prisoners are lodged in Indian jails, of which 260 are fishermen and 40 jailed for criminal activities, including terrorism, Union home ministry sources have told TOI.This is in contrast to nearly 535 Indians imprisoned in Pakistan's jails, of which 483 are fishermen, according to figures provided by the ministry of external affairs on Friday.While the data regarding Pakistani prisoners lodged in jails here is maintained by the home ministry, the corresponding figures for Indian prisoners held abroad is with the external affairs ministry.Meanwhile, the Union home ministry has taken the alleged assault on a Pakistani prisoner, Sanaullah, in Jammu's Kot Bhalwal jail very seriously. It asked for a report from the Jammu and Kashmir government soon after learning of the incident, besides issuing a fresh advisory to the states — the second after the fatal attack on Sarabjit Singh in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail last Saturday — asking them to ensure the safety of Pakistani prisoners in their respective jails.The advisory follows intelligence inputs about likely attacks on Pakistani prisoners here in retaliation against Sarabjit's brutal murder by his fellow inmates in the Lahore jail.

Jharkhand assembly to be dissolved, polls likely in mid-June

Even as the Karnataka poll exercise nears completion, another Congress-BJP faceoff is on the horizon in Jharkhand. The Centre has initiated the exercise for dissolution of Jharkhand assembly, over three months after it went under President's rule, setting the stage for what could be a mid-June poll. A Cabinet note recommending dissolution of the House, followed by fresh elections before July 18, is being finalized by the Union home ministry and may be put for the Cabinet's approval soon, said ministry sources. According to sources in the Election Commission (EC), if the Presidential communication asking the EC to hold fresh polls is received over the next few days, state elections could be held in the second or third week of June. A July poll is not considered feasible as the state would then be in the thick of monsoon. Jharkhand was put under President's rule through an ordinance issued on January 18, and the assembly placed under suspended animation. This ordinance was approved by both Houses of Parliament in the first half of the Budget session. The Jharkhand polls, in case dissolution gets the Cabinet's nod, would come close on the heels of the Congress-BJP faceoff in Karnataka. A Congress win in the southern state would ensure that the party goes to Jharkhand polls with an advantage. The Grand Old Party is looking for a tie-up with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), while keeping a distance from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), apparently in line with its Bihar strategy, where it has been warming up to the Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United). The BJP, on the other hand, must fight the Jharkhand battle alone. The party recently saw a change in state leadership, with Ravindra Rai being named the state BJP president. This, however, had not gone down well with Central party leaders like Yashwant Sinha, who is also an MP from Jharkhand's Hazaribagh constituency.

Madhya Pradesh judge goes by 'animal instinct'

Chief judicial magistrate in Khandwa district court, GC Dubey decided to rely upon "animal instinct" than the rule book to decide a custody issue. During the proceedings of a theft case lodged in Piplod police station last month, where parties charged each other with stealing a baby goat weighing about 16 kilograms, Dubey summoned two female goats to the court and delivered instant justice on Thursday by observing which one shared a better comfort-level with the little one. Puran Singh, a resident of Talwaria village, had lodged a complaint against Gajrat Chamta on March 30, accusing him of having stolen his baby goat and selling it off to butcher Akbar Munshi for Rs 3,700. Puran, according to inspector O P Solanki, claimed to have found the kid in the village market ties to Munshi's shop. An FIR under Section 379 of the IPC was registered and a party sent to arrest both men and recover the goat, Solanki told TOI. The police, thereafter, filed the chargesheet in the CJM court. Puran sought the custody of the baby goat, claiming that he had the mother goat with him, which was challenged by Gajraj. After hearing both parties the judge postponed the proceeding till Thursday noon and ordered both litigants to bring the mother goat to the court at the designated hour. On Thursday afternoon Gajraj and Puran arrived at the Khandwa district court holding a goat each. News about the unusual case had travelled in town and a huge crowd assembled to watch the drama. Judge Dubey arrived with his staff and security as did the lawyers representing both parties. The baby goat, recalled Mohan Gangrade, defense counsel, was brought to the open courtyard where both she-goats were tied. And, then the judge ordered the release of the baby, who, rushed to one of them and began to suckle while the other goat watched on with detachment. Gajraj, the accused, turned out to be the winner.

Same-sex provision should not derail US immigration move: US President Obama

Same-sex provision should not derail US immigration move: US President ObamaObama has used the prospect of new immigration laws as a major selling point for stronger US relations with Latin America on a three-day tour of Mexico and Costa Rica that ends on Saturday. But a proposal by Democratic US Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has cast uncertainty into the delicate process of reaching a compromise on immigration. Leahy plans to propose next week an amendment to the legislation that would let gay Americans sponsor their foreign-born partners for green cards, which confer permanent residency. If it were to be included in the final bill, opposition from social conservatives could doom to failure the biggest effort in decades to improve the US immigration system. Obama said he would support Leahy's move, but that the broader effort to reform US immigration must be kept in mind. "I can tell you I think that this provision is the right thing to do. I can also tell you I'm not going to get everything I want in this bill. Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill," he said. Obama is under pressure to gain a legislative victory on immigration after a slow start to his second term, marked by a failure to achieve passage of new gun regulations and an ongoing budget standoff with lawmakers. Washington's battles were not far from his mind as Obama visited Costa Rica, the first US president to do so since Bill Clinton came in 1997. He met with a host of Central American leaders in San Jose on Friday evening. Costa Rica declared a national holiday in honor of Obama and thousands of people, many of them school children in uniforms, lined the streets of San Jose for a glimpse of the president's motorcade. At Casa Amarilla, headquarters of the Costa Rica foreign affairs ministry, school children wearing white shirts with blue silk shawls stood in a circle around Obama and sang to him. At their joint news conference, Obama and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla emphasized the growing importance of economic ties as a way to buoy the region, after years in which most US relationships with Central America centered around fighting drug cartels. Security concerns remain paramount, they said, but must take their place alongside trade. "What we want to do is push ahead with initiatives that help make trade easier," Chinchilla said. "We have to make sure everybody feels opportunity," said Obama.

Original Anandi 'bahu' too bags a show on rival channel

A rival channel is set to cast her in their new show. According to sources, Pratyusha and Vatsal Seth will be the lead pair. Says the source, "The show is expected to launch in a grand manner in a couple of months. Pratyusha is being paid well."Something similar had happened in the case of Giaa Manek too. The original Gopi bahu of TV was replaced overnight in Saath Nibhana Saathiya after she became a part of a dance reality show on a rival channel. Giaa some time later bagged the Jeannie aur Juju, which may not be doing very well in terms of TRPs, but it has at least given the actress a chance to explore the comedy genre.

Salman Khan's NGO comes to aid of drought-hit Maha districts

The foundation will provide 2,500 water tankers with a storage capacity of 2,000 litres each to the drought affected districts of Marathwada from May 6 to 31, according to an e-mail received recently by the Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner from Salman's 'Being Human' Foundation. Beed Residential District Collector B M Kamble said they had also received a mail regarding this from the divisional commissioner yesterday. "We have received an e-mail that Beed district will get 750 water tanks from 'Being Human' foundation. We have informed the Divisional Commissioner for distribution of these tanks," Kamble said. As per the e-mail, the NGO would supply 750 water tankers to Beed, 500 each to Osmanabad and Jalna, and 250 each to Aurangabad and Nanded. People of the Marathwada region have been facing acute water scarcity caused by uneven distribution of rainfall in the state.

I'm comfortable with sexy image of mine: Sophie Choudhry

You enjoyed doing this item number in Shootout At Wadala, isn't it?
I won't call Aala Re an item number. It is the anthem of the movie — and when a filmmaker like Sanjay Gupta calls you for a dance number as grand as this, that too with John Abraham — you'd have to be a fool to reject it.
But you have been missing from action for sometime now. Why is that?
I have been performing across the globe and making good money doing that, which is the whole purpose after all. And since the money part is taken care of, I don't want to compromise on my passion, that is acting, by taking up ordinary roles. I was offered the song Tinku Jiya, I was also offered a role in Delhi Belly. But, I want to do better work. I'm waiting for Alibag to release this year and am keeping my fingers crossed for that as people will see a different Sophie in it.
What do you mean when you say 'different'?
I seriously don't understand why we think that to take up a different image would necessarily mean going de-glam. I don't necessarily need to do a non-glamourous role to prove my acting skills when I know I can do it by being myself.
So you are comfortable with your screen image?
Absolutely. I'm comfortable with that sexy image of mine. Being glamourous doesn't mean one is not intense. I have always been ahead of time. I took up VJ-ing, so that people knew what Sophie was like. Post that, when I was juggling between singing and acting, people wanted me to choose between the two. But why should I when I know I can manage both at the same time? And so many good things came my way because I took that decision. It is just when I decided to wait for a good role to come my way that people started thinking I don't want to act.
We hear you are going to collaborate with Snoop Dogg...
I don't know why people are spreading such rumours! Nothing's confirmed yet. He was in India and we met; that's when he shared his interest on collaborating with Indian artists. It is be too early to comment on this.
Is non-film music is gaining popularity now?
Non-film music is slowly making a comeback in India. My latest song Hungama did well and when I see artists like Yo Yo Honey Singh and others doing well, I do get a positive feeling. But now that Bollywood itself has started including all genres of songs, I don't see too much scope for non-film music.

Sanjay Dutt introduces filmmaker OP Ralhan’s grandson

In fact, after watching just 30 seconds of Arrmaan's audition Sanjay told his team that they had found their Hasmukh, the protagonist of their film.Arrmaan, who has a degree in digital filmmaking from New York Film Academy, has attended acting workshops and has trained in dance and hardcore action for his big break.Says producer Maanayata Dutt, "Arrmaan considers his grandfather Ralhan sahab an inspiration. When he auditioned for us, we could immediately visualise him in the movie."The youngster has already started shooting for the film that is being directed by Sejal Shah. It was launched last month on the occasion of Gudi Padwa.Hasmukh Pighal Gaya, produced by Sanjay Dutt Productions, is scheduled to release in September.

Sunny Deol's 'Mohalla Assi' in dues row

While the Sunny Deol-Sakshi Tanwar-starrer Mohalla Assi might finally see the light of day in July, the issue of non-payment of dues to Italian translator Dr Michela Gemito continues to surround the film and has reached the Embassy of Italy in New Delhi.The Embassy has written a letter dated April 24, 2013 (a copy of which is with PT), asking producer Vinay Tiwari's production house to apprise them of the reasons for non-payment of the sum of `4 lakh as per the contract agreement.Michela, a PhD scholar of Indian literature and culture, had translated author Kashinath Singh's book Kashi Ka Assi on which the film is based. "Due to non-payment of the fees, a legal notice was sent by my lawyer last year but it produced only a denial from the production house that I was never employed or involved with the film," she said in a statement.Thus Michela has now approached the Embassy. Producer Tiwari said, "Yes, we have received a letter and my legal team will reply to it. I have no knowledge about who called her and we have no contract with her. We have asked her to show us the contract but she hasn't."When contacted, assistant director Nisheeth Chandra said, "I signed the contract with Michela as director Chandra Prakash Dwivedi asked me to since he was not present." Dwivedi too added, "I know Michela and yes, she has acted in the film."

Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Telefilms did not disclose Rs 30-cr income: I-T

"After investigation, we found that Balaji Telefilms did not disclose Rs 30 crore income. By not disclosing the amount, it has evaded tax," a senior Income Tax officer told. "Now, the production house has agreed to pay tax and penalty on the Rs 30 crore income. We will receive 30 per cent tax on this amount and also the penalty," the officer said. The officer further said that when Ekta Kapoor, the joint managing director of the company, was asked about tax evasion, she claimed that she is only involved in the making of films and television serials. "Hence, persons involved in the financial matters of the production house have been grilled," he added. During the search operation on April 30, a team of over 100 officials from the department swooped down on seven locations across the city, including that of producer Ekta Kapoor and her actor-father Jeetendra's residence in suburban Juhu. Balaji Telefilms' office and studio were among the seven premises where searches were conducted, I-T sources said. The personal offices of Ekta Kapoor, who made it big with television soaps before venturing into films, and her actor-brother Tushar Kapoor in suburban Bandra were also searched, they said. A top official of the production house refused to comment on the development.

Priyanka and I not close buddies: Meera Chopra

"There is no tiff as such. In fact, our families are very close. My parents are very close to Priyanka's parents. It's just that we are not close buddies. So there is no tiff between us," Meera said at the muhurat of her film Gang of Ghosts on Thursday.Not new to showbiz, Meera made her debut in films with hit Tamil movie Anbe Aaruyire and went to do several southern movies like Vaana and Maaro.Now she is entering the Hindi film industry with director Satish Kaushik's Gang of Ghosts. She is confident the film will be a hit."When Satishji narrated the script, I was laughing like crazy. So, when you laugh that much at narration, you can imagine how much the audience would laugh. So, I think it'll be a sure shot hit. It is very important to have a hit movie at the beginning," said Meera.She has also signed third installment of Vikram Bhatt's 1920 franchise and is excited about her role."I have been trying since last one year. My main aim was to work with good production houses, good directors and have a good role. My role in 1920 was so mind-blowing that when Vikram narrated me the script, I didn't even ask him who the actor was," she said.

After Salman, Aamir Khan plans to shift home

Bandra may lose one of its stars to SoBo. Now that he has a growing baby, Aamir Khan has been planning to shift to a bigger house. With the deals in and around Bandra not workign out to his liking, the actor is focused on Parel and Worli. According to sources, the actor is looking at a 5 BHK pent house or duplex ideally in SoBo and his staff is in talks with various builders. He may also buy an entire floor and convert two penthouses into one. Aamir currently owns two flats in Bandra west. While, he and Kiran live in a 3 BHK apartment in Marina, his brother stays at a 2 BHK flat in Bella Vista. "He needs more space and ideally would have liked to stay on in Bandra. He was looking for a penthouse in one of the high-rises in the area but the deals fell through," a source told us adding: "Since, a two-month search has not yielded a property of his choice, he has decided to shift focus towards SoBo, and is now considering Lower Parel or Upper Worli. However, it will take some time to finalise the deal." Interestingly, a source close to the developments had a slightly different story: "For the past four-five months Aamir has been scanning various properties. And now it seems he has finally found a place that he likes. Only his wife, agent and few close friends know the location." ven after the deal is signed, it would take Aamir some time to pack all his belongings and memories — including an archive of rare family photos, vintage film costumes, innumerable awards and fan letters among other things, from the house where he has spent the most part of his life. With the actor busy shooting for Dhoom 3, it will be up to Kiran to oversee the shifting process. Interestingly, both Salman and Aamir, who have been living in the apartments they grew up in, are shifting homes. Sallu is reportedly acquiring an entire building in Bandra west.

My chemistry with Kareena goes a bit flat on screen: Saif

When two Bollywood stars tie the knot, there's increasing speculation about them being seen together on screen. But Saif Ali Khan, who's paired up with Ilean D'Cruz for his next film, isn't too keen to appear with his wife of six months in movies. "It's something that happens to me when I'm working with her, I'm not as interesting on screen," admits Saif, "I become like how I am when I am with her, which is not interesting. Normally, an actor is competitive, and that makes for good chemistry on screen. The chemistry goes a bit flat when you're too comfortable."The last time Kareena and Saif came together for a film was in 2009, for Kurbaan. Before that, they were seen in Tashan, but their first film together was JP Dutta's LOC: Kargil. Now, however, Saif and Kareena are maintaining a studied approach towards working together. Or let's say not working together. It's not like they aren't offers for endorsements, especially after they wed, but they are not interested."It's really difficult to maintain your identity as an individual when you're in a relationship like ours. People are constantly asking you about your relationship. You're promoting your film and someone asks you about the relationship and that answer is made into the headline. The way around it is the way Americans do it. Daniel Craig is married to Rachel Weisz, you won't even know, he doesn't talk about her, he's not seen with her except for in some private function. And they're both known for the work they do. Even a brand endorsement for us as a couple, we don't want to do it because we don't want to be projected like that, we want to be projected as individuals, who have a personal connection with each other. But in the public, the less you see us together, the better," says Saif.

Wildfire on Southern California coast threatens 4,000 homes

A fierce, wind-whipped wildfire spread on Friday along the California coast northwest of Los Angeles, threatening 4,000 homes and a military base as residents were evacuated ahead of the flames and a university campus was closed.

More than 950 firefighters had built containment lines by late afternoon around about 20 percent of the inferno, which has blackened 18,000 acres of dry, dense brush and chaparral since erupting on Thursday morning. More firefighters were said to be on the way. Reuters reports

Fire managers said they expected it would take until next Monday to achieve full containment of the blaze, which sent a pall of thick smoke drifting over the beach community of Malibu and farther inland across Los Angeles County.

Several farm buildings and recreational vehicles were engulfed and fire officials said 15 homes were damaged, along with five commercial properties. While 25 outbuildings were destroyed, no residential structures were lost and no injuries had been reported to firefighters or civilians.

Some 4,000 homes were considered threatened, with evacuations ordered for about a quarter of those residences, the Ventura County fire and sheriff's departments said.

The so-called Springs Fire and a flurry of smaller blazes around the state this week marked a sudden start to a California fire season that some weather forecasters predict will be worsened by a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of the U.S. West.

"We're seeing fires burning like we usually see in late summer, at the height of the fire season, and it's only May," Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke told Reuters.

The temperature in Camarillo hit a record high of 96 degrees F (36 C) by late morning on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Strong, erratic winds that complicated efforts to combat the Springs Fire through much of the first day were calmer on Friday, officials said. The improved wind conditions allowed several air-tanker planes equipped for dumping payloads of fire-retardant chemicals to return to the air along with a fleet of eight water-dropping helicopters.

NEW WILDFIRE BREAKS OUT

The Springs Fire, which may have been ignited by a tossed cigarette butt, broke out at 6:30 a.m. local time (1330 GMT) on Thursday beside the U.S. 101 freeway, less than 10 miles from the Pacific coast, and spread quickly to the edges of the communities of Camarillo and Newbury Park.

By Friday morning, flames had advanced to within a short distance of the ocean's edge in some places, forcing authorities to close several miles of Pacific Coast Highway.

At the Point Mugu U.S. Naval Air Station on the coast, all non-essential personnel were ordered to stay home for a second day as flames encroached on a firing range at the extreme western end of the base, spokeswoman Kimberly Gearhart said. She said no ammunition was stored at that location, bordered on two sides by coastline and wetlands.

But a base housing unit that is home to 110 active-duty military personnel and their families was evacuated on Friday because of heavy smoke, Gearhart said, adding there was no immediate fire threat to that vicinity and military aircraft were continuing routine flights between the base and a communications post on San Nicolas Island offshore.

In mid-afternoon, residents were ordered to clear out of more than 900 homes in Hidden Valley, an enclave of ranches and estate-type properties southeast of Camarillo. Some 200 dwellings were evacuated earlier along the coastal highway and adjacent canyon roads, sheriff's Sergeant Eric Buschow said.

Previous evacuation orders for two housing subdivisions at the northern end of the fire zone closer to Camarillo were lifted, but those neighborhoods remained restricted to residents carrying identification, Buschow said.

California State University at Channel Islands campus, including student housing, was closed for a second day, the university said, although official evacuation orders for the school were lifted.

A separate late-afternoon brush fire in the hills above Glendale, a suburb just north of Los Angeles and about 50 miles east of Camarillo, prompted the evacuation of a number of homes and an elementary school. But water-dropping helicopters and ground crews moved in to quickly contain it.

A larger fire in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, on Thursday destroyed two houses and damaged two others before firefighters halted its spread, and at least five additional wildfires burned in Northern California.

Hot, dry conditions in Southern California were fed largely by Santa Ana winds blowing in from desert areas to the east.

MSNBC forced apology: Egregiously Taking Quotes Out of Context for Gun Control Segment

MSNBC forced apology after egregiously taking quotes out of context for gun control segment. MSNBC host Thomas Roberts on Friday aired a portion of Vice President Joe Biden’s speech given at a plaque dedication remembering the Americans lost in the Benghazi terror attack and falsely claimed he was mourning “children as the victims of gun violence.” Roberts was discussing Biden’s reported plans to make a second push for gun control after losing in the first round. Theblaze reports

In the selectively edited clip of Biden’s remarks, the vice president was talking about the serious risks that State Department employees and their families face as part of their service. “No child should predecease their parents. And I wish I could tell you we aren’t going to add anymore names with this wall…but the truth of the matter is, there will be more.” Biden said.

After playing the video, Roberts falsely claimed that the vice president was talking about the children of gun violence before announcing his renewed push for background checks.

Now compare that with the unedited video of Biden’s comments provided by National Review Online:
Later on Friday, “The Cycle” co-host Touré issued an apology on behalf of MSNBC, calling the out-of-context video a “producer error.” He also said that the network regrets the mistake, according to NRO.

This isn’t the first time MSNBC has been caught either deceptively or selectively editing video clips — far from it:

Kobe Bryant, mom in court battle

Kobe Bryant is in a court battle to try to keep his mother from auctioning off mementos from his high school days in Pennsylvania and his early years with the Los Angeles Lakers.

A New Jersey auction house filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Camden on Thursday for the right to sell the stuff after the NBA star's lawyers wrote the firm telling it to cancel a planned June auction.

The disagreement is a high-value, high-profile version of a question many families face: Can Mom get rid of the stuff a grown child left at home? Espn reports

Pamela Bryant intends to sell: the NBA star's jerseys, practice gear and sweatsuits from Lower Merion High School; varsity letters; a trophy for being the outstanding player at the 1995 Adidas ABCD basketball camp; and a signed basketball from the 2000 NBA championship game.

And then there are rings, for the 1996 Pennsylvania high school championship, a pair that the Lakers made for Bryant's parents for the 2000 NBA championship and one from the 1998 NBA All-Star Game.

According to court filings, Pamela Bryant struck a deal in January with Goldin Auctions in Berlin, N.J., which earlier this year sold a rare Honus Wagner baseball card for a record $2.1 million.

She got $450,000 up front, which she intended to use for a new home in Nevada.

A source told ESPN that Kobe Bryant offered to pay his mother up $250,000 toward a home she wanted.

She refused, saying she wanted $450,000. When Kobe Bryant turned her down, the source said that unbeknownst to Kobe Bryant she struck a deal to get the $450,000 advanced through the auction company.

The source said Kobe Bryant was unaware that his memorabilia was being auctioned until hours before the auction company released the news of the sale.

Sources close to Kobe Bryant confirmed to ESPNLosAngeles.com that before learning about the auction through news reports, the Lakers star has given his parents "millions of dollars in financial assistance" throughout his 17-year career.

Bryant's parents decided to sell his high school memorabilia without his consent in order to purchase an additional home, sources said. Bryant offered to buy a house for his parents, but they wanted a larger one.

In its court filings, Goldin Auctions says Pamela Bryant told the auction house that she asked her son five years ago what he wanted to do with the items that were in her home.

"Kobe Bryant indicated to Pamela Bryant that the items belonged to her and that he had no interest in them," the auction house's attorneys wrote. So she put them in a $1,500-per-month New Jersey storage unit.

The challenge came Tuesday when Goldin Auctions sent a news release announcing the auction. By day's end, Kobe Bryant's lawyer had sent a cease-and-desist letter telling the auction house to call off the sale and return the items to him.

Kenneth Goldin, owner of the auction house, says he can't cancel the auction because he's already advanced $450,000 to Bryant's mother and put money into advertising the auction.

Kobe Bryant's lawyer Mark Campbell said in a statement, "Mr. Bryant's personal property has ended up in the possession of someone who does not lawfully own it. We look forward to resolving this legal matter through the legal system."

Bryant has had a sometimes icy relationship with his mother and father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, a former pro basketball player who is now coaching in Thailand.

Guantanamo camp cost $900,000 a year per inmate

It's been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.

By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say. Latimes reports

The high cost was just one reason Obama cited when he returned this week to an unfulfilled promise to close the prison and said he would try again. Obama also said that the prison, set up under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush and long the target of criticism by rights groups and foreign governments, is a stain on the reputation of the United States.

"It's extremely inefficient," said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, who has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay since 2005.

"That ... may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States," Gude said.

The cost argument could be a potent weapon at a time of running budget battles between Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and of across-the-board federal spending cuts that kicked in in March. The "sequestration" as it is known, is due to cut some $109 billion in spending up to the end of September and has cut government services small and large.

Just one inmate from Guantanamo, for example, is equivalent to the cost of 12 weeks of White House tours for the public - a treasured tradition that the Secret Service says costs $74,000 a week and that has been axed under sequestration.

A single inmate is also the equivalent of keeping open the control tower at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport for 45 months. That control tower, another victim of cuts, costs $20,000 per month to run.

The $900,000 also matches the funding for nearly seven states to help serve home delivered meals to the elderly. Sequestration has cost Meals on Wheels a median shortfall of $129,497 per state, the organization says.

Or measured in terms of military spending and national security, the cost of four inmates represents the cost of training an Air Force fighter pilot - based on the Department of Defense's figure of $3.6 million per pilot.

WHY THE HUGE COST?

The huge cost of running the prison and judicial complex stem from its offshore location at a 45-square-mile U.S. Naval Base on the southeastern coast of Cuba. Because ties between the two countries are almost nonexistent, almost everything for the facilities has to be ferried in from outside.

When the military tribunals are in session, everyone from judges and lawyers to observers and media have to fly into Guantanamo on military aircraft. Food, construction materials and other goods are shipped in from outside, experts say.

But despite the high cost of the camp, and despite the fact that Republicans traditionally demand belt-tightening by the federal government, a Republican aide with the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said there was little point in asking if the price was worth it because "there isn't an alternative at the moment."

"No one has any particular affection for Guantanamo Bay, but no one has come up with a practical solution that's better," the aide said.

Obama needs to produce a plan for what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo "who are too dangerous to release," Representative Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an opinion piece in USA Today this week. "Until a better solution is offered, at Guantanamo they must stay," he wrote.

Among current inmates, nine have been charged with crimes or convicted, 24 are considered eligible for possible prosecution, 86 have been cleared for transfer or release and 47 are considered too dangerous for release but are not facing prosecution.

But until now, worries about security have prevented the idea of transferring some or all of the inmates to the United States from getting much traction.

Obama pledged to close the prison within a year after first taking office in January 2009 but his efforts ran aground, partly because of congressional opposition, from both Republicans and some in his own Democratic Party, to transferring prisoners to the United States.

Inmates started a hunger strike in February that has swelled to some 100 prisoners and has led to force-feeding of 23 of the prisoners. With the camp back under a critical spotlight, Obama told a news conference on Tuesday he would renew efforts to shut it down. He has an array of options, some of which would be more achievable than others.

Gude said it was difficult to figure out how much the United States has spent overall on Guantanamo detention facilities since it began housing prisoners there in 2002 because administrations only recently have been noting the expense in a budget line item.

"I don't know if I've ever seen an estimate but it is certainly more than $1 billion by a comfortable margin, I would say, probably more than $2 billion," Gude said.

Above the annual operating cost, capital spending on the prison could rise again if the Pentagon receives the funding it says it needs to renovate the place.

General John Kelly, the head of Southern Command, which is responsible for Guantanamo, told a House of Representatives panel in March that he needed some $170 million to improve the facilities for troops stationed at the base as part of detention operations. Kelly said the living conditions were "pretty questionable" and told the panel, "We need to take care of our troops."