Weekly Roundup – 5/6/12

Virginia/US

Fixed Mortgage Rates Fall to All-Time Low on Weak GDP Report, Euro Zone Concerns
If you thought mortgage rates were as low as they could go, think again. Mortgage rates are dropping, this time to a new all-time low.

Average rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage sank to 3.84 percent, Freddie Mac reported Thursday, down from 3.88 percent last week and beating out the previous record low of 3.87 percent in early February this year.

Good news for homeowners.

Obama talks exit strategy, signs deal with Afghanistan
President Barack Obama, speaking early Wednesday at the tail end of a surprise visit, discussed the exit strategy from Afghanistan and promised a steady drawdown of U.S. troops.

Obama committed to pulling 23,000 troops out of the country by the end of summer and sticking to the 2014 deadline to turn security fully over to the Afghan government. He also said that NATO will set a goal this month for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations next year.

This is a good thing. It’s time to bring our troops back home.

Poll: Obama ahead of Romney in Virginia
Fifty-one percent of voters said they would vote for the president if the election were held today, while 44% said Romney, according to the Washington Post poll released Thursday.

Looks like it’s going to be a tight race. I wonder who is going to win our electoral votes.

Virginia: For lovers, and for Romney and Obama
President Obama will make Richmond the site of his kick-off campaign rally this Saturday and, as he often does, will motorcade across the Potomac Friday for an official event in northern Virginia, this one devoted to student loans at an Arlington high school. Mitt Romney has two stops in Virginia lined up this week, Wednesday in northern Virginia and Thursday in Hampton Roads, and he will also be in Lynchburg to speak to graduates of Liberty University next week.

Obama is coming to the VCU Siegel Center on Saturday, and I can’t go see him because I have to work. :(. I can’t go see Romney either because he’s not stopping in Richmond. This sucks.

US adds 115,000 jobs in April, fewer than expected
The US economy created 115,000 jobs during April, down on the previous month and fewer than analysts had expected, official figures have shown.

However, the unemployment rate fell slightly to 8.1% from 8.2% in March, the Labor Department said.

The unemployment rate hit a three-year low, but part of the reason for the fall was a drop in the number of people looking for work, which reduced the size of the workforce.

“The drop in the unemployment rate was actually an unhealthy drop – you had less people looking for work, which shows a bad sentiment,” said Ron Florence at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

Things aren’t looking good.

Judge says Facebook ‘likes’ not protected by First Amendment
The “like” button on Facebook seems like a relatively clear way to express your support for something, but a federal judge says that doesn’t mean clicking it is constitutionally protected speech.

Everyone should be careful what they “like” from now on.

Nurse in Afghanistan dies in Skype chat with wife
The wife of an Army officer serving in Afghanistan witnessed her husband’s death as the two video chatted via Skype, his family said Friday.

The circumstances of Capt. Bruce Kevin Clark’s death were not immediately available. The Pentagon said it was under investigation, and his brother-in-law said he didn’t have details.

Wow, I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been for his wife to see.

Obama outlines case for re-election at first official campaign rally
The president said that in the final six months of 2008, “nearly three million of our neighbors lost their jobs.” But he said when he took office, “We didn’t quit. We don’t quit. Together we are fighting our way back.”

Obama touted the federal government’s rescue of the big auto companies, and he criticized his challenger, saying “when some wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt, we didn’t turn our backs.”

The president also touted his foreign policy achievements, saying that “for the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.” He said that “Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to this country,” and “al Qaeda is on the path to defeat.”

He then pledged that “by 2014, the war in Afghanistan will be over,” and pointed out that Romney had opposed setting a troop withdrawal deadline in that conflict.

I like Obama and some of the things he has done, but sometimes, I feel like he makes empty promises he can’t keep.

Connecticut Passes a Marijuana Bill
The Connecticut Senate passed a bill on Saturday legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, with tight restrictions intended to avoid the problems that have plagued some of the other states where it is now legal.

I guess it’s good if marijuana is used for medical needs.

World

Bin Laden’s last letters go online, showing dark days
A selection of documents seized in last year’s raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan house was posted online Thursday by the U.S. Army’s Combating Terrorism Center. The documents show dark days for al Qaeda and its hunkered-down leader after years of attacks by the United States and what bin Laden saw as bumbling within his own organization and its terrorist allies.

“I plan to release a statement that we are starting a new phase to correct (the mistakes) we made,” bin Laden wrote in 2010. “In doing so, we shall reclaim, God willing, the trust of a large segment of those who lost their trust in the jihadis.”

Until the end, bin Laden remained focused on attacking Americans and coming up with plots, however improbable, to kill U.S. leaders. He wished especially to target airplanes carrying Gen. David Petraeus and even President Barack Obama, reasoning that an assassination would elevate an “utterly unprepared” Vice-President Joe Biden into the presidency and plunge the U.S. into crisis.

I’m not surprised he had plans to kill Obama. What a shame. I’m glad he’s dead.

How to see the supermoon — and shooting stars, too
The moon will be at its fullest at 11:35 p.m. ET just after hitting perigee, the point in its orbit that brings the moon closest to Earth. The technical name for the event is a “perigee moon.”
The moon will be about 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) from Earth, about 12.2 percent closer to our planet than when the moon is at apogee, its farthest point. The average Earth-moon distance is about 230,000 miles (384,400 kilometers).

I didn’t see it. Overcast.

Technology/Social Media

Facebook Organ Donor Initiative Prompts 100,000 Users To Select New Option
Thousands of Facebook users have signed up to be organ donors this week, thanks to a new feature on the social networking site that makes it easier to register.

The new option was announced Tuesday by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a way to boost the number of potential organ donors. By the end of the day, 6,000 people had enrolled through 22 state registries, according to Donate Life America, which promotes donations and is working with Facebook. On a normal day, those states together see less than 400 sign up.

I registered as an organ donor in Virginia today. :) It would be great if this initiative goes worldwide. It looks like only people living in the US and Puerto Rico can register via Facebook.

Why Mac users should care about Windows malware
A Sophos researcher stirred up the Mac masses this week when he reported that 20 percent of Mac computers carry Windows malware. The good news is that even though Macs are capable of harboring Windows-targeting viruses and Trojans, those machines can’t be harmed by the malware in all but exceptional cases. The bad news, though, is that Mac users can still spread that malware to Windows machines in a number of ways.

Sucks for Windows users.

Text Message Marketing Is Still a Thing
If you compare mobile marketing with TV networks, text message campaigns would be PBS. They’re not sexy, and they’re not enormously popular, but they’re still kicking around, somewhat. According to a survey of 2,262 adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of location-based marketing firm Placecast, only four percent of mobile users receive marketing text messages.

I get them every once in a while, and they’re annoying.

Samsung unveils Galaxy S III smartphone with face, voice recognition
The new handset, with a whopping 4.8-inch screen and an 8-megapixel camera, was unveiled at a slick launch party in London on Thursday, complete with a backing orchestra.

Billed by Samsung as having been “designed for humans,” the phone features voice and eye-recognition technology that the company hopes will set the handset ahead of its rivals in the crowded smartphone market.

The new Galaxy handset, which runs the most up-to-date version of Google’s mobile operating system — Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich — recognizes when a user is looking at it, and ensures the screen doesn’t go dark while it has eye contact.

It looks like a really nice phone. If I didn’t have an iPhone, I’d probably buy the Samsung Galaxy S III.

New iPhone: Tantilizing Details Revealed
Adding to the existing rumor of a four-inch screen on the new iPhone is info obtained by Jeremy Horwitz of iLounge, who says not only will that screen be a larger 4 inches (measured diagonally), but it will have a new aspect ratio, which we would assume would be 16 x 9 — the same shape as typical HDTVs. It’s about time — since its inception, the iPhone screen has been shaped in the old-timey 4 x 3 ratio, the same as ancient standard definition TVs.

Basically, it’s a longer version of the iPhone4/4s. Still can’t wait to get my hands on one.

Verizon reps push 4G Android over iPhone
“The only drawback to the iPhone is it doesn’t have 4G, and Verizon is really pushing 4G,” another rep said on the phone. “Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is a great phone. It just costs the company a lot of money for returns when customers find out that a faster 4G network is available and the iPhone’s only on 3G.”

I can see why Verizon is doing it. I’m sure the game will change when Apple makes a Verizon 4G phone.

Business/Money

Australia billionaire to launch “unsinkable” Titanic
An Australian billionaire announced plans on Monday to build an “unsinkable” version of the Titanic, 100 years after the original sank after hitting an iceberg.

Titanic II is expected to make its maiden voyage from England to North America, the old Titanic route, in late 2016.

“It is going to be designed so it won’t sink,” mining and tourism tycoon Clive Palmer told reporters. “It will be designed as a modern ship with all the technology to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

DOOMED! Sounds like the ship may be cursed. You sure as hell won’t find me on-board! Who knows, there might be a replica of the iceberg out there.

Man sues BMW after motorcycle seat allegedly causes 2-year erection
Viagra and Cialis apparently have nothing on a BMW motorcycle seat. According to a lawsuit filed last week in San Francisco Superior Court, the seat left its driver with a two-year erection.

Henry Wolf filed suit against BMW North America and Corbin-Pacific, Inc. He claimed in the lawsuit that the “ridged seat” of his 1993 BMW motorcycle caused him mental and emotional anguish after it left him with a severe case of priapism, aka a long-lasting erection.

Oh my God. I have no words…

WestJet’s ill-advised move to tablets
The winner of the “Dumbest Move Involving Technology Award” this week goes to WestJet for the airline’s plan to ditch its in-flight entertainment system in favour of renting tablets to passengers.

Yup, you read that right–for the low, low price of $10 to $12, WestJet will rent you a tablet pre-loaded with movies, TV shows and possibly games. And if you don’t want to pay? You’ll be stuck looking at the clouds for hours. Unless your flight is at night, in which case you won’t even be that lucky.

This is really not a big deal. Most passengers bring stuff to entertain themselves on the plane anyway.

Spirit Air to charge up to $100 for carry-on bags
Spirit Airlines will raise its fee for carry-on bags to up to $100, becoming the first U.S. airline to charge so much for a service that most other airlines offer for free.

Spirit said on its website that the new fees apply to carry-on bags registered at the gate and will become effective Nov. 6. Until that time, Spirit will continue to charge $45.

Ridiculous!!! I will never fly Spirit Airlines. End of story.

Facebook sets $28 to $35 IPO price range
It’s the day techies and investors have been waiting for: Facebook set a price range of $28 to $35 per share for its initial public offering. It also upped the maximum size of its offering to $13.6 billion, up from its previous $5 billion estimate.

Facebook currently has around 2.1 billion shares outstanding, so if its IPO prices at the top of the range, the company would be valued at just shy of $75 billion.

Many Facebook employees and executives, including Zuckerberg, hold unexercised stock options. The company itself is also holding some shares for future employee equity grants. If all of those shares were exercised, Facebook’s outstanding share count would rise to around 2.8 billion, pushing its valuation closer to $98 billion.

Cha-ching! Mark Zuckerberg wants to take over the world.

Entertainment

Jessica Simpson’s baby girl arrives
Jessica Simpson has given birth to a daughter in a Los Angeles hospital, the actress-singer said in a statement posted on her website Tuesday morning.

“Eric and I are elated to announce the birth of our baby girl, Maxwell Drew Johnson,” Simpson said.

The baby weighed in at 9 pounds, 13 ounces and measured 21.75 inches long, according to the website.

Congratulations!

‘Avengers’ Opens in U.S. After Conquering World Box Office
The movie is projected to open in the U.S. and Canada to at least $150 million in ticket sales — among the top five biggest openings of all time.

Wow, that’s huge!

Health

Taking E-Mail Vacations Can Reduce Stress, Study Says
A new study released Thursday by the University of California, Irvine, which was co-written with United States Army researchers, found that people who do not look at e-mail on a regular basis at work are less stressed and more productive.

The study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email,” looked at 13 workers in a typical office setting and asked them to discontinue e-mail for five days. The results were that during the e-mail hiatus, these people spent longer periods of time focusing on a single task at work and shifted between computer windows much less than those who were slaves to their in-box.

The researchers also tested people’s stress levels by attaching wearable heart rate monitors and found that their stress levels were much lower when not checking e-mail on a regular basis.

I need to try this at some point. Sometimes, it’s good to go “off the grid.”

Sports

Hokies introduce James Johnson as new head coach
After 19 years as an assistant coach at nine schools, James Johnson was introduced Tuesday as the new Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach.

I hope Jim Weaver selected the right guy for the job.

Morris: BCS got it right on playoff
Just as it had done for most of the past 15 college football seasons in determining the pairing for the national championship game, the BCS knew what it was doing when it decided last week on a four-team playoff to begin after the 2014 regular season.

BCS officials, conference commissioners and TV executives met in Florida with a two-pronged order of business. First, they needed a college football playoff that would satisfy university presidents who generally oppose the idea because the sport already is spiraling out of control. Next, they needed to quell the annual uproar by media and fans who clamor for a playoff of any kind.

The BCS just got a little more exciting. College football is awesome.

More players file concussion lawsuits against the NFL
More than 100 former professional football players, including former Atlanta Falcons Jamal Anderson, Chris Doleman, and O.J. Santiago, are adding their names a growing list of players suing the NFL.

They join more than 1,500 other players who claim that the National Football League hid the dangers of concussions from them.

The latest lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta by attorney Mike McGlamry, states that the NFL “repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury.”

It goes on to assert that the organization failed “to take reasonable steps necessary to protect players from devastating head injuries. Moreover, the NFL has downplayed and misrepresented the issues and misled players concerning the risks associated with concussions.”

Way too many players are suffering from a brain injury/concussion. Something needs to be done.

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