The NewsFuror

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscars 2008

Coen Brothers
The Coen brothers previously won Oscars for Fargo
No Country For Old Men has won four Oscars, including best film and best director, a category awarded jointly to brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

Javier Bardem also won best supporting actor for his role as a hitman in the film, thanking his family in Spanish.

All of the acting prizes went to Europe, with UK stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton named best actor and best supporting actress respectively.

France's Marion Cotillard earned the best actress prize for La Vie En Rose.

"I'm speechless now," said Cotillard, who played legendary torch singer Edith Piaf in the movie.

"Thank you life; thank you love. It is true there are some angels in this city."

Daniel Day-Lewis
Best film
No Country For Old Men
Best actor
Daniel Day-Lewis (pictured)
Best actress
Marion Cotillard
Best supporting actor
Javier Bardem
Best supporting actress
Tilda Swinton

Day-Lewis, who picked up his Oscar from Dame Helen Mirren, joked it was "the closest I'll ever come to getting a knighthood".

It was the 50-year-old's second Academy Award, having been recognised for My Left Foot in 1990.

Elsewhere at the ceremony, exotic dancer-turned-scriptwriter Diablo Cody took best original screenplay for the quirky, verbose comedy Juno - her first ever movie.

"I'm shocked by the popularity of the film," she said.

"I mean, when you write basically an independent movie about, you know, a pregnant teenager and you make it for seven million dollars you never, ever think it's going to become this phenomenon."


Jon Stewart
Stewart returned to host the Oscars for the second time
The ceremony, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, marked the 80th anniversary of the Academy Awards.

Organisers celebrated "Oscar's birthday" with film montages celebrating past winners and memorable Oscar moments - including the streaker who ran behind David Niven during 1974's ceremony.

However, this year's understated show was unlikely to provide many clips for future compilations.

It was put together in just a matter of weeks after the writers' strike - which had threatened to force the cancellation of Hollywood's biggest night - was called off.

That meant there were no large-scale song-and-dance numbers or lovingly-crafted movie spoofs from host Jon Stewart.

George Clooney and Sarah Larson
George Clooney was accompanied by his girlfriend, Sarah Larson
Returning for his second stint at the helm of the awards show, Stewart acknowledged the impact of the strike on Hollywood.

"These past three and a half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writers' strike," he said.

"But I'm happy to say that the fight is over. So tonight, welcome to the make-up sex."

Batman joke

No Country For Old Men, a dark comedy about a drugs bust gone wrong, had long been the frontrunner to win best film.

Its win cements the reputation of the Coen siblings as Hollywood's favourite leftfield film-makers.

Accepting their award, older brother Joel recalled that the duo had been making films since childhood.

Marion Cotillard
Marion Cotillard was among the night's winners
"What we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," he said.

"We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox."

Tilda Swinton gave the most spirited speech of the night while picking up her best supporting actress award.

"I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this," she said, referring to her Oscar statuette.

"Really, truly. The same shape head and, it has to be said, the buttocks."

She also poked fun at her Michael Clayton co-star George Clooney, by referring back to his critically-derided stint as superhero Batman.

"Seeing you climb into that rubber batsuit from Batman and Robin, the one with the nipples, every morning under your costume, on the set, off the set, hanging upside-down at lunch... You rock, man."


Dame Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren presented Day-Lewis with his award
One awkward moment came as musical duo Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova ran out of time during their acceptance speech for most original song.

Hansard, who sings for Irish band The Frames, had just finished his thank-yous and stepped aside for petite Irglova to make her speech when the orchestra struck up, forcing her off stage.

After a commercial break, Irglova was invited back to rapturous applause from the audience.

"The fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible," she said.

With the main ceremony over, a question mark still lingers over the glitzy post-Oscars parties. The high-profile Vanity Fair bash was cancelled during the writers' strike.

Other casualties included People magazine's party, and that of socialite Dani Jannssen, whose annual gathering attracts the likes of Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood.

However, pop stars Madonna and Prince have stepped into the breach with hastily-arranged parties in their Hollywood homes.

Spears briefly reunited with sons

Britney Spears
Spears had not been allowed to see her sons since January
Troubled US pop star Britney Spears has spent several hours with her two sons after being granted access to visit them on Saturday.

It is nearly two months since she last saw them, after her ex-husband Kevin Federline was legally given sole custody of them on 4 January.

But Mr Federline's lawyer said on Saturday an agreement allowing Spears to see her children had been reached.

Mark Vincent Kaplan said both parents agreed to a revision of a court order.

'Participant in their lives'

The order had stripped Spears, 26, of her visitation rights.

"The process of reinstating the children's mother as a participant in their lives can commence," Mr Kaplan said.

Mr Federline's spokesman, Elliot Mintz, said Spears' father, James, played a key part in making possible the visit with Jayden James, aged one, and Sean Preston, two.

He gave no further details of the reunion.

The court order was put in place in January after Spears had refused to return her children to their father after a visit. It resulted in a stand-off with police at her house.

She was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward following the incident, and spent another six days in a psychiatric unit earlier this month.

Mr Federline had been awarded primary custody of the boys last October.

Day-Lewis gets best actor Oscar

Daniel Day-Lewis
Day-Lewis had been odds-on favourite to win the prize
Daniel Day-Lewis has been named best actor at the Academy Awards for his powerful performance in oil prospecting drama There Will Be Blood.

The star, who has joint British-Irish citizenship, collected his award from Dame Helen Mirren, and joked about her performance in her film The Queen.

"This is the closest I'll ever come to getting a knighthood," he said.

Tilda Swinton was the UK's other big winner, taking best supporting actress for her role in Michael Clayton.

But it was the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men that won the night's main prizes - best film and best director.

Best film
No Country For Old Men
Best actor
Daniel Day-Lewis
Best actress
Marion Cotillard
Best supporting actor
Javier Bardem
Best supporting actress
Tilda Swinton

The dark comedy, about a hitman who stumbles across the gory aftermath of a drugs deal, also picked up best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor for Javier Bardem.

France's Marion Cotillard was rewarded for her interpretation of Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose with a best actress Oscar.

Exotic dancer-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody won the best original screenplay award for her quirky, verbose comedy Juno - her first script.

Meanwhile Irish singer Glen Hansard and his girlfriend Marketa Irglova took the best original song for Falling Slowly, culled from the low-budget musical Once.

'Rubber batsuit'

Swinton, who plays a corporate lawyer attempting to cover up a scandal in Michael Clayton, dedicated her Oscar statuette to one of her representatives in the US.

"I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this," she said.

Tilda Swinton
Swinton wore a gown by Alber Elbaz for the ceremony
"Really, truly. The same shape head and, it has to be said, the buttocks."

She also poked fun at her Michael Clayton co-star George Clooney, by referring back to his critically-derided stint as superhero Batman.

"Seeing you climb into that rubber batsuit from Batman and Robin, the one with the nipples, every morning under your costume, on the set, off the set, hanging upside-down at lunch... You rock, man."

Day-Lewis's Oscar is his second, having previously won for My Left Foot in 1990.

The 50-year-old was also nominated in 1994 for In the Name of the Father and in 2003 for Gangs of New York.

The star is famed for immersing himself in his characters and for shunning Hollywood during long periods between roles.

On accepting his award, the star gave his "deepest thanks" to the Academy for "whacking me with the handsomest bludgeon in town".

UK in Liechtenstein tax data deal

British pounds
The UK says it is trying to protect the UK exchequer
The UK's tax authority has confirmed that it has paid an informant for data regarding British citizens who have accounts in tax haven Liechtenstein.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) confirmed the move after a Sunday Times report, but would not say how much it had paid the informant.

HMRC said it was seeking "to protect the UK exchequer from those who seek to hide behind secrecy laws".

Separately Germany is involved in its own probe over Liechtenstein accounts.

The Sunday Times newspaper claimed the amount paid to the informant was £100,000 - but that figure was not confirmed.

HMRC said it had made the move in a bid to protect the UK against those trying to "deprive the UK of tax revenues to which it is entitled".

Meanwhile, Germany has launched a probe into tax evasion using data also from an anonymous informant, who was reportedly paid 5m euros (£3.7m; $7.4m).

In response, the country's head - Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein - has argued that Germany's move is illegal.

Liechtenstein is now conducting its own investigation on the subject.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development lists Liechtenstein as one of only three states remaining on its blacklist of "uncooperative tax havens".

'NatWest Three' head for prison

(L-R) Giles Darby, David Bermingham and Gary Mulgrew
The three admitted guilty to wire fraud
Three British bankers have been sentenced to 37 months in prison each for their role in a multi-million pound fraud linked to US energy firm Enron.

David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby - the so-called NatWest Three - have been sentenced after admitting to wire fraud.

A Texas judge announced the sentence, thereby approving a plea-bargain deal.

Last November, the three, all 45, admitted to defrauding former employer NatWest out of $19m (£10m).

Judge Ewing Werlein in the Southern District of Texas announced the sentence on Friday.


The men admitted to conspiring with ex-Enron employees Andrew Fastow and Michael Kopper, who are already in prison, to defraud NatWest of $19m and then split $7.3m between themselves.

The judge also ordered the three men to repay $7.3m to Natwest's owner, the Royal Bank of Scotland, as part of the sentencing.

Charges brought by prosecutors argued that the three men had advised NatWest to sell part of an Enron-owned firm, Sub Swap, for less than it was worth.

With today's announcement, three more individuals have accepted responsibility for their role in the widespread fraud at Enron
Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general, US Department of Justice

The men then left the bank and bought a share in the company, before selling it on at a higher price for a profit.

Bermingham, of Goring, south Oxfordshire, Glasgow-born Mulgrew who lives in Brighton, East Sussex and Darby, of Lower Wraxall in Wiltshire, were extradited to the US in July 2006 and had previously protested their innocence to seven charges.

But in return for pleading guilty last year to one count of wire fraud, US prosecutors agreed to ask for the six other counts to be dismissed, and supported the trio's bid to serve some of their sentence in the UK.

Following the sentencing Bermingham said: "My conduct in this matter fell well below the standards expected."

Darby said: "I failed to take the right course of action and I deeply regret that."

Mulgrew apologised "unreservedly" and said his actions "lacked integrity".

The three are hoping to serve their sentences in the UK. But they still have to be referred to a US prison initially.

Enron, once a hugely successful energy firm, collapsed in 2001 with debts of $31.8bn (£18.3bn), becoming the second largest bankruptcy in the US.

This triggered a wave of court cases against the firm, including from former employees who lost their jobs and saw their pensions collapse.

Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher of the US Department of Justice said: "With today's announcement, three more individuals have accepted responsibility for their role in the widespread fraud at Enron".

Latin America nuclear pact signed

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Buenos Aires, 22 February, 2008
Energy dominated the first of two days of talks between the leaders
Argentina and Brazil have agreed to build a joint nuclear reactor to address looming energy shortages.

The agreement came as part of a plan by South America's two biggest economies to extend defence and energy projects.

It was announced after talks in Buenos Aires between Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Brazil would export electricity to Argentina in the winter months ahead amid shortage fears, Mr Lula said.

"We're going to launch a satellite jointly and develop a nuclear project," said Mr Lula.

He added that the venture would "serve as an example in this world, ablaze with the temptation to build up arms and with political and ideological intolerance".

Each country currently has two operating nuclear plants, and both have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Bolivian gas dispute

The two leaders see the joint nuclear project as a way to increase energy supply while raising their profile on the international stage,.

But while energy issues dominated the first of two days of talks, the two presidents did not refer directly to a dispute over the ratio of Bolivian gas supplied to the two countries.

La Paz currently prioritizes its exports to Brazil, its biggest client, which imports 30 million cubic metres of Bolivian natural gas per day.

Argentina imports a maximum of 7.7 million cubic metres per day from Bolivia, and would like a bigger share.

There are fears it could suffer from acute energy shortages during the southern hemisphere's winter months ahead.

It is hoped the issue will be resolved during a joint meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales on Saturday.

Pakistan 'sparks YouTube outage'

A computer shows YouTube (file image)
Turkey and Thailand have in the past also banned access to the site
Pakistan's attempts to block access to YouTube have been blamed for an almost global blackout of the video website for more than an hour on Sunday.

BBC News has learned that the outage was almost certainly connected to Pakistan Telecom and Asian internet service provider PCCW.

A leading net professional said the global outage was "probably a mistake".

Pakistan ordered internet service providers to block the site because of content deemed offensive to Islam.

The BBC News website's technology editor, Darren Waters, says that to block Pakistan's citizens from accessing YouTube it is believed Pakistan Telecom "hijacked" the web server address of the popular video site.

There will definitely be some fallout from this

Those details were then passed on to the country's internet service providers so that anyone in Pakistan attempting to go to YouTube was instead re-directed to a different address.

But the details of the "hijack" were leaked out into the wider internet from PCCW and as a result YouTube was mistakenly blocked by internet service providers around the world.

The block on the servers was lifted once PCCW had been told of the issue by engineers at YouTube.

Users are quite upset. They're screaming at ISPs which can't do anything
Wahaj-us-Siraj, convener of the Association of Pakistan Internet Service Providers

A leading net professional told: "This was probably a simple mistake by an engineer at Pakistan Telecom. There's nothing to suggest this was malicious."

IP hijacking involves taking over a web site's unique address by corrupting the internet's routing tables, which direct the flow of data around the world.

No-one at YouTube or PCCW was immediately available for comment.

Cause of ban

Reports said Pakistan made the move because YouTube content included Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that have outraged many.

But one report said a trailer for a forthcoming film by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, which portrays Islam in a negative light, was behind the ban.

"They [Pakistan's telecommunications authority] asked us to ban it immediately... and the order says the ban will continue until further notice," said Wahaj-us-Siraj, convener of the Association of Pakistan Internet Service Providers.

The government decision has caused uproar in Pakistan, according to Wahaj-us-Siraj:

"Users are quite upset. They're screaming at ISPs which can't do anything.

"The government has valid reason for that, but they have to find a better way of doing it. If we continue blocking popular websites, people will stop using the internet."

Other countries that have temporarily blocked access to YouTube include Turkey and Thailand.

Japan blasts satellite into space

H-2A rocket lifts off from its launch pad on the island of Tanegashima on Saturday 23 February, 2008
The launch is part of an ambitious space programme
Japan's space agency has launched an experimental communications satellite designed to enable super high-speed data transmission in remote areas.

An H-2A rocket carrying the satellite Kizuna was launched from the southern island of Tanegashima, about 1,000km (620 miles) south of Tokyo.

A ship entering restricted waters near the launch site slightly delayed the lift-off.

The launch had been postponed by a week because of a mechanical fault.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said the satellite had separated from the rocket and successfully entered its intended orbit, 283km from Earth.

The agency said that with Kizuna, it hoped to enable data transmission of up to 1.2 gigabits per second at a low cost across Japan and in 19 different locations in South-East Asia.

Kizuna is also known as the Wideband Inter-Networking Engineering Test and Demonstration Satellite, or Winds.

Hi-definition TV broadcast

Jaxa developed Kizuna with another government agency, the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

About 100 experiments will be conducted via the satellite, including a test broadcast of the next generation of high-definition television.

Jaxa spokeswoman Asaka Hagiwara said the total cost of the development, launch and operation of the satellite was estimated at 52bn yen (US$480m; £240m).

Saturday's launch is part of an ambitious space programme which sent Japan's first lunar probe into orbit around the moon last September.

Jaxa has said it wants to send astronauts to the moon by 2025, although Japan has not yet attempted manned space flight.

Andy Burnham
The proposals are part of a strategy on the creative industries
Internet service providers must take concrete steps to curb illegal downloads or face legal sanctions, the government has said.

The proposal is aimed at tackling the estimated 6m UK broadband users who download files illegally every year.

The culture secretary said consultation would begin in spring and legislation could be implemented "by April 2009".

Representatives of the recording industry, who blame piracy for a slump in sales, welcomed the proposals.

"ISPs are in a unique position to make a difference and in doing so to reverse a culture of creation-without-reward that has proved so damaging to the whole music community over the last few years," said John Kennedy, head of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

A spokesperson for the Internet Service Provider's Association (ISPA) said that creating appropriate legislation would be very difficult.

"Any scheme has got to be legal, workable and economically sustainable," the spokesperson told BBC News.

He also said that ISPs were already pursuing self-regulation, which was the government's preferred route.

Privacy issue

"The government has no burning desire to legislate," Andy Burnham, culture secretary, told the Financial Times.

However, he said that the proposals signalled "a change of tone from the government".

Its intentions are outlined in a creative industries strategy paper called Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy.

The document is a broad ranging paper that sets out government support for the creative industries.

The document commits the government to consulting on anti-piracy legislation this spring "with a view to implementing it by April 2009", according to the FT.

"We're saying we'll consult on legislation, recognising there are practical questions and legitimate issues," Mr Burnham told the paper.

In particular, any legislation would have to take account of the 2002 E-Commerce Regulations that define net firms as "conduits" which are not responsible for the contents of the traffic flowing across their networks.

European laws on online privacy could also create problems for any new legislation.

Earlier this year it was reported that the government was considering a "three strikes" approach to tackling persistent offenders in the report.

But Mr Burnham denied this was the case and told the FT that the strategy had "never been in the paper".

If the government goes ahead, the UK would be one of the first countries to impose sanctions.

"This is a sea-change in attitude and I believe it is now up to governments elsewhere in Europe and further afield to follow their example," said Mr Kennedy.

Microsoft warns on Vista update

Bill Gates, AFP/Getty
Vista was released to consumers on 30 January, 2007
Microsoft is warning Windows Vista users that a forthcoming service pack for the operating system may stop some third-party programs working.

The software giant has released a list of programs that may be broken by the SP1 update for Vista.

Most of the software hit by the upgrade are security programs that prevent Windows users falling prey to viruses, trojans and booby-trapped webpages.

The Windows Vista update will be released to the public in mid-March.

Update loop

Service Packs are among the biggest updates Microsoft issues for its various operating systems. The software firm said SP1 makes Vista more secure and reliable and introduces some new features.

The list of programs affected by SP1 is divided into three. Some will be blocked by the update, some will not run and others will lose some of their functions.

BitDefender AV
Fujitsu Shock Sensor
Jiangmin KV Antivirus 10
Jiangmin KV Antivirus 2008
Trend Micro Internet Security
Zone Alarm Security Suite
Iron Speed Designer
Xheo Licensing
Free Allegiance
NYT Reader
Rising Personal Firewall
Novell ZCM Agent
Of the 12 programs mentioned, six block viruses or keep an eye on the places someone visits online.

Microsoft warned that its list was not "comprehensive" and asked people to get in touch with the maker of any affected software to fix problems.

Although the update will become widely available in March, Microsoft is releasing it to business customers in February.

Microsoft has also been forced to withdraw an update to Vista that was required before Service Pack 1 could be applied.

Writing on the Windows Vista blog, Nick White, Microsoft product manager, said the company had withdrawn the preparatory update while it investigated.

Isolated reports suggest that some machines on which the preliminary update has been applied go into an update loop.

He wrote: "We are working to identify possible solutions and will make the update available again shortly after we address the issue."

UK orders broadband future review

Ethernet connector, Eyewire
Broadband internet is growing in popularity and speed
The government has said it will review the future of broadband internet in the UK amid calls that it should help firms pay for installing new infrastructure.

It said it wants a better understanding of how to pave the way for moving to "next generation broadband networks".

The review will be carried out by the former chief executive of telecoms firm Cable & Wireless, Francesco Caio.

An increasing number of consumers and firms are using broadband services and new, high-capacity cables are needed.

'Prepare the way'

The review has been ordered by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

The business case for next generation access is weak
Ian Watt
Enders Analysis

According to the industry, the current telecoms infrastructure cannot cope with the increase in demand for services such as downloads of films, videos and music.

The review will report back to ministers and Chancellor Alistair Darling in the autumn.

"We need to prepare the way for the UK to adopt groundbreaking new technologies to ensure that we do not get left behind - competitively or technologically," said Business and Competitiveness Minister Shriti Vadera.

Next generation broadband plans
Fiber optic cable
France: 4 million homes connected by 2012
Germany: 50 cities connected by 2008
US: 18 million households connected by 2010
Japan: 31% already connected, 95% by 2010
UK: Review underway

Last April, the Broadband Stakeholder Group, a government advisory body, warned that the government had two years to find ways of boosting investment in the next generation of broadband connections.

France and Germany are already trialling broadband services with much faster download speeds than anything offered in the UK.

But installing the cables and other technology needed for very high speed broadband is extremely expensive.

An estimate by Enders Analysis put the cost of providing that service to 5.6m BT residential customers at £1.1bn.

Analysts say cost is not the only problem.

"The business case for next generation access is weak, Virgin Media already has a high speed network and Sky has a strong hold of the premium content that users might actually pay for," said Ian Watt, head of fixed-line research at Enders Analysis.

Other analysts point out that the benefits of switching from the old, dial-up internet service to broadband was clear and customers were prepared to pay for it.

But according to Nickin Patel at Spectrum Value Partners it is "not clear" to consumers what the benefits of even greater speeds would be.

Computers 'spot Alzheimer's fast'

elderly woman
Alzheimer's can be difficult to diagnose
Computers can diagnose Alzheimer's disease faster and more accurately than experts, research suggests.

University College London researchers say their work may help ensure patients are diagnosed earlier, increasing the chances of effective treatment.

Their study, published in the journal Brain, found computers can identify brain damage caused by Alzheimer's with an accuracy as high as 96%.

At present a definitive diagnosis is usually only possible after death.

Alzheimer's is caused by the build up in the brain of plaques and tangles of brain tissue filaments, which causes tissue to start wasting away.

It is currently diagnosed using a combination of brain scans, blood tests and patient interviews, but distinguishing the disease from other forms of dementia is difficult, and time consuming, and the accuracy of diagnosis is only about 85%.

The new method works by teaching a standard computer the differences between brain scans from patients with proven Alzheimer's, and people with no signs of the disease.

The two conditions can be distinguished with a high degree of accuracy on a single clinical MRI scan.

Researcher Professor Richard Frackowiak said: "The advantage of using computers is that they prove cheaper, faster and more accurate than the current method of diagnosis.

"The new method makes an objective diagnosis without the need for human intervention.

"This will be particularly attractive for areas of the world where there is a shortage of trained clinicians and when a standardised reliable diagnosis is needed, for example in drug trials."

Speed important

Professor Frackowiak emphasised that as symptoms only emerge after a considerable amount of damage has already occurred in the brain it is important to make an accurate diagnosis early to improve the chances of effectively preventing further deterioration.

He said: "The next step is to see whether we can use the technique to reliably track progression of the disease in a patient.

"This could prove a powerful and non-invasive tool for screening the efficacy of new drug treatments speedily, without a need for large costly clinical trials."

Dr Susanne Sorensen, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Currently, MRI imaging is not routinely used in diagnosing the diseases causing dementia.

"This paper puts a strong case for the wider use of this technique."

Dr Sorensen said it was vital the National Dementia Strategy currently being produced by the government makes early diagnosis a high priority.

Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "This promising computer aided technique could act as a second opinion to increase the accuracy of a doctor?s diagnosis.

"However, this research is in the early stages and further analysis is required to understand the full benefits and accuracy of this technique and to see if it can be used to assess the effectiveness of new drugs."

It is estimated that over 700,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia, of which Alzheimer's is the most common form.

Gaming's future 'on the network'

(From top left) Neil Young, Peter Molyneux, Raph Koster, Chris Taylor, Dave Perry and Phil Harrison
The gaming luminaries span the games industry
The future of the games industry lies with the internet and content delivered from central servers, a panel of game luminaries has predicted.

"Everything is moving towards the network," said Neil Young, general manager of EA Los Angeles.

Phil Harrison, Sony's head of worldwide studios, said: "Public utility computing is absolutely the future of the games industry."

The panel was assembled by developer Dave Perry to discuss industry issues.

The panel included online gaming pioneer Raph Koster, Fable creator Peter Molyneux and Dungeon Siege creator Chris Taylor.

"A huge game changer for our industry is for there not to be a requirement for there to be a machine in the home," said Mr Young.

"[Instead] the game is playing as an instance on a Google server farm in Oregon, for it to be rendered, sent down the pipe and shown on a television that you paid an extra five or 10 dollars to your cable company to guarantee you had good enough bandwidth for gaming.

"That to me seems inevitable."

Flash is pointing the way to the future more so than the current generations of hardware
Raph Koster

Mr Koster added: "The games will be playing off the same back end, and will be serving different heads of the game on different devices."

Mr Harrison pointed out there would always be an issue with delivering gaming content to players from servers due to the "speed of light".

Data sent over fibre optic networks is subject to the limitations of the speed of light, which means interactivity between the server and gamer will never have a latency below 70 milliseconds.

That could impact the kinds of experiences it was possible to offer people in the future because data could not move back and forth fast enough.

In the short term, Mr Young, said different devices, from consoles to the web and PCs, would co-exist in the home.

"For content creators your canvas just got bigger," he said.

Raph Koster, who was the lead designer on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, said the console industry was already being beaten by the web.

"Overall if you look at audience reach, quantity of games made and for that matter, although its difficult to measure, creativity, the web is kicking the console industry's ass in a major way."

He said Flash was the next big platform.

Are the days of the console numbered?

"It's pointing the way to the future more so than the current generations of hardware precisely because it is well on its way to becoming completely ubiquitous."

He said advances in the graphic possibilities of Flash in the coming year would further challenge the console business.

But he admitted that no-one was making money from Flash games at the moment.

Mr Harrison, who oversees the software line-up for the PlayStation 3, said: "In our proprietary view of a platform, it is a combination of technology, business model and consumer experience.

"The web, with Flash, is missing the business model aspect and consistency of consumer experience.

"Once it has figured it out then what you [Raph Koster] have said will become absolutely true."

Raul Castro named Cuban president

Raul Castro sitting in the National Assembly
Raul Castro now has to grapple with Cuba's economic problems
Raul Castro has been unanimously selected to succeed his brother Fidel as leader by Cuba's National Assembly.

Fidel Castro stepped down last week after nearly half a century in charge.

Raul has in effect been president since Fidel had major surgery in July 2006. It is understood that he was the only nominee in a vote seen as a formality.

But the real shock came when he chose 78-year-old Politburo hardliner Machado Ventura as vice-president.

The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution is unique, Fidel is Fidel, as we all know well, he is irreplaceable
Raul Castro

There had been speculation that Raul Castro, aged 76, would name one of Cuba's younger generation of communist leaders as his number two.

But he instead opted for one of the original leaders of Cuba's communist revolution.

What this means for the prospects for change remains unclear, our correspondent says.

Economic challenge

In an address to the nation, following the behind-closed-doors vote, Raul Castro said the Cuban government would continue to consult Fidel Castro, 81, on major decisions of state - a move backed by the National Assembly deputies.

Cubans in Havana discuss the priorities of their next president

Raul Castro paid tribute to his older brother as he accepted the presidency and said that he was accepting the job on the understanding that Fidel Castro would remain as the "commander in chief of the revolution", a title he was given during the 1959 uprising.

"The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution is unique, Fidel is Fidel, as we all know well, he is irreplaceable," Raul Castro said.

Our correspondent says Raul Castro now has to steer the Caribbean island through un-charted waters in an unpredictable period of economic and political renewal.

Before Sunday's session, Raul Castro had suggested implementing major economic reforms and "structural changes".

He has worked to ensure a smooth political transition, keeping the army loyal to the regime and strengthening the Communist Party's hold by introducing reforms and weeding out corrupt officials.

He has also had the advantage of continued economic support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the form of millions of barrels of cheap oil, our correspondent adds.

Mr Chavez was quick to congratulate Raul Castro on his appointment, leading a standing ovation to the new Cuban president on his weekly television programme in Caracas.

"Let's applaud Raul, who is a comrade, a companion, more than the brother of Fidel," Mr Chavez said.

Mr Castro said that Venezuela would continue to support the communist state.

Letter announcement

Fidel Castro, who has ruled Cuba since leading a revolution in 1959, announced his retirement in a letter published on the website of the Cuban Communist Party's newspaper Granma last week.

He said he had not stepped down after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in 2006 because he had had a duty to the Cuban people to prepare them for his absence.

But retirement, he added, would not stop him from carrying "on fighting like a soldier of ideas", and he promised to continue writing essays entitled Reflections of Comrade Fidel.

Though he has not been seen in public for 19 months, the government occasionally releases photographs and pre-edited video of him meeting visiting leaders from around the world.