Sunday, February 13, 2011

Have you ever watched a movie that you thought was pretty good, and later saw that almost all of the reviews by professional movie critics were negative? There's a reason why that happens, and the same issues that plague movie critics can also affect you as a marketer.

Let's talk about how.

First, let's answer the question: Why are critical reviews always worse than user reviews? I challenge you to go to Yahoo! Movies and find a movie where the overall critical grade is higher than the the average user grade. I've never seen it happen -- though there may be a few rare instances I just don't know about.

That used to drive me crazy. I'd watch a good movie and see that the critics gave it a C- and the users a B+. "Are critics really that clueless?" I thought.

No, they're not clueless. The problem is exactly the opposite -- they know too much about movies.

Amazing! Sony Ericsson actually managed to keep something secret from us. The Xperia Pro is the one handset from its MWC presser today that wasn't known about in advance, but we're damn happy to see it anyhow. It features a well-spaced QWERTY keyboard that slides out much in the same way as the gamepad would on the Xperia Play. We did notice there were some software issues on our demo devices -- the Sony Ericsson-customized Android 2.3 installation was nowhere near as smooth as what we've seen on the Xperia Arc previously, so maybe SE will need a bit more time to fashion out its software here. Physically, the Pro is compact and seems decently well built -- we did find the oddly placed power button and teeny tiny volume controls a bit of a bother to locate and operate, however. Obviously, this is a big step up in size from the Xperia X10 Mini Pro, but thickness is kept mercifully in check. It doesn't feel significantly thicker in the hand than phones that lack its hardware keyboard. We'll have video of the device for you very shortly, but for now, enjoy the hands-on shots below.
DRESDEN, Germany (AP) -- Thousands of people formed a human chain in Dresden to protest against a far-right march Sunday on the 66th anniversary of the Allied bombing of the city in World War II.

City authorities said that 17,000 people formed the chain around the rebuilt city center. News agency DAPD reported that they included Germany's interior minister and Saxony's state governor.

Three waves of British and U.S. bombers on Feb. 13-14, 1945, destroyed Dresden's centuries-old baroque city center.

The total number of people killed has long been uncertain. In 2008, a panel commissioned by state officials found that the firebombing killed no more than 25,000 people - far fewer than scholars' previous estimates that ran as high as 135,000.

Dresden remembers the victims while also recalling "nights and days in which Warsaw, Rotterdam and Coventry were earlier reduced to rubble by German bombers," deputy mayor Detlef Sittel said.

Far-right groups have long sought to exploit the bombing. A few thousand supporters marched later Sunday from the city's main station, carrying torches and banners with slogans such as "the victims were our families."

The far right is a marginal political force in Germany and has no seats in the national parliament. However, Saxony, where Dresden is located, is one of two states where the far-right National Democratic Party has seats in the regional legislature.

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's Central Bank on Sunday sold 6.5 billion pounds ($1.1 billion) in Treasury bills, still forced to pay high yields despite the easing of tensions after President Hosni Mubarak ceded control of the country to the military.

The auction of 3 billion pounds in three-month bills and 3.5 billion in 266-day bills was the latest push by the Egyptian government to raise funds as the political crisis battered the country's economy.

It was the first such auction since Mubarak left office on Thursday after 18 days of protests in which hundreds of thousands demanded his ouster.

Yields for the 91-day bills averaged almost 10.95 percent while the 266-day T-bill averaged almost 11.68 percent, slightly lower than previous sales last week.

"We expected the market to ease a bit because the situation was much better than last week," said Khalil El-Bawab, head of fixed income at EFG Hermes, the Cairo-based Mideast investment bank. Yields "will further ease in the coming few weeks once the situation is more stable."

Regional markets, meanwhile, posted moderate gains in the first day of trade in much of the Arab world since Mubarak's departure from office.

CAIRO (AP) -- A full inventory of the Egyptian Museum has found that looters escaped with 18 items during the anti-government unrest, including two gilded wooden statues of famed boy king Tutankhamun, the antiquities chief said Sunday.

The 18-day uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak engulfed the areas around the museum, on the edge of Cairo's Tahrir Square. On Jan. 28, as protesters clashed with police early on in the turmoil and burned down the adjacent headquarters of Mubarak's ruling party, a handful of looters climbed a fire escape to the museum roof and lowered themselves on ropes from a glass-paneled ceiling onto the museum's top floor.

Around 70 objects - many of them small statues - were damaged, but until Sunday's announcement, it was not known whether anything was missing.

Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass said the museum's database department determined 18 objects were gone. Investigators searching for those behind the thefts were questioning dozens of people arrested over several days after last month's break-in.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- Investigators looking into the cause of a gas explosion that killed five people in Allentown, Pa., last week are focusing on an "imperfection" in a pipe near the blast site.

Wednesday night's explosion flattened a pair of row houses and set fire to a block of homes, killing five people - including a 4-month-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

On Saturday, investigators told The Morning Call of Allentown they were zeroing in on an abnormality in a section of pipe.

Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said workers were to dig up the section of pipe Sunday and take a closer look. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will then send the pipe to a forensics expert.

A spokesman for Reading-based UGI Utilities Inc., says the PUC is running the inspection and will report to the National Transportation Safety Board.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker John Boehner says he thinks the Obama administration has handled "a very difficult situation" in Egypt about as well as possible.

The Ohio Republican also says that the upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia - where popular protests helped oust longtime authoritarian leaders - "surprised everyone," including U.S. intelligence officials.

Boehner tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that he thinks there's a need for an assessment to determine why U.S. officials "didn't have a better feel for this."

Egypt has pledged to move toward a democracy and Boehner says he's optimistic, despite the absence of any democratic governments in the Arab world. He says "just watch what's happened on the streets over the last 18 days" as a sign that democracy can take hold.

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's military leaders dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution Sunday, meeting two key demands of protesters who have been keeping up pressure for immediate steps to transition to democratic, civilian rule after forcing Hosni Mubarak out of power.

The military rulers that took over when Mubarak stepped down Friday and the caretaker government also set as a top priority the restoration of security, which collapsed during the 18 days of protests that toppled the regime.

The protesters had been pressing the ruling military council to immediately move forward with the transition process by appointing a presidential council, dissolving the parliament and releasing detainees.

"They have definitely started to offer us what we wanted," said activist Sally Touma, reflecting a mix of caution and optimism among protesters who want to see even more change, including repeal of the repressive emergency law.

Judge Hisham Bastawisi, a reformist judge, said the actions "should open the door for free formation of political parties and open the way for any Egyptian to run for presidential elections."

Hossam Bahgat, director of the non-governmental Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the military's steps were positive but warned that Egypt was on uncharted legal ground.

"In the absence of a constitution, we have entered a sort of 'twilight zone' in terms of rules, so we are concerned," he said. "We are clearly monitoring the situation and will attempt to influence the transitional phase so as to respect human rights."

The military ruling council said it will run the country for six months, or until presidential and parliament elections can be held. It said it was forming a committee to amend the constitution and set the rules for a popular referendum to endorse the amendments.

BERLIN (AP) -- Director Wim Wenders is paying tribute in 3D to the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, whom he calls a master of movement.

Wenders' film "Pina" has its premiere at the Berlin film festival on Sunday. It was originally planned as a joint project with Bausch but Wenders decided to press ahead after her death in 2009.

Bausch was an innovative creator of striking, absurdist scenes. Wenders says that when he first saw her work, he realized he "might know enough about movies and movement, but I never, ever was able was able to decipher movement and create movement in the way that Pina had done it."

He says he had the impression that "all of us filmmakers, we were ... beginners in the art of seeing."

LONDON (AP) -- The royal love story has been chronicled in speech bubbles and sketches.

A comic book telling the story of Prince William and Kate Middleton's romance is due to be published in April, joining a host of other books and memorabilia flooding the market ahead of the April 29 royal wedding.

"There's always been a tradition in this country of comics for girls in which the girl dreams of meeting someone famous and falling in love," said Mike Collins, the artist who did the illustrations for "Kate and William: A Very Public Love Story."

"In this case, this is what's happened and it's for real," he said.

The graphic novel will be published in two editions: The first follows the prince's life from the rugby pitches of his exclusive boarding school to his adventures in the Royal Air Force, while the other traces Middleton's half of the story with cheeky fictional diary entries that imagine her as a love-struck student who later comes to terms with the ups and downs of being a future king's girlfriend.

The two halves will come together in a collected bound edition that's presented as a flip book and includes a fictional account of the wedding day (and a kiss, too.)

The couple make a good looking comic book superhero and heroine, Collins said.

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- The official Tunisian TAP news agency says the foreign minister has resigned.

Ahmed Ounaies' resignation comes just weeks after that of his predecessor and less than a month after the formation of a transitional government, which followed the Jan. 14 ouster of former President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali.

Sunday's TAP report didn't give any reasons for Ounaies' resignation.

His predecessor, Kamel Morjane, was a minister under Ben Ali and one of several who initially kept their jobs after a mass uprising forced the longtime autocratic ruler into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Continuing street protest forced out Morjane and most Cabinet ministers with their roots in Ben Ali's RCD party. Ounaies was named to replace Morjane on Jan. 27.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Health officials on Saturday were investigating complaints of respiratory illnesses that a media report said affected dozens of people after a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles that was part of a larger conference.

The Department of Public Health issued a statement Saturday saying only that it was investigating a suspected respiratory infection outbreak among attendees of a conference on the west side of Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles Times said there were reports that dozens of people were sickened after the event at the L.A. mansion, but neither the newspaper nor county health officials cited a specific number of cases.

The department sent an e-mail with a survey Friday to all who attended the Feb. 3 event, saying that they had received reports of problems including pneumonia, the newspaper said after talking to participants.

Some 700 people from 30 countries attended the Santa Monica conference on Internet businesses, called Domainfest global.

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NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York State Department of Labor has issued two safety violations against the Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark," the stunt-heavy show that has been plagued by injuries to cast members, a newspaper reported.

Citing an anonymous state official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release the findings, The New York Times reported Saturday that the safety violations were related to accidents last year.

The official said one violation involved an actor who fell more than 20 feet during a performance; the other was related to two performers injured while rehearsing a stunt in which cast members are catapulted from the back to the front of the stage.

No financial penalties have been imposed on the production, but state safety officials will perform surprise inspections from now on, the official said. Further violations could lead to the withdrawal of variances issued last year allowing aerial stunts that involve Spider-Man and the other characters.

Show spokesman Rick Miramontez told The Associated Press in an e-mail early Sunday: "The production is in full compliance of DOL guidelines and will continue to work with state officials to maintain the highest safety standards at all times."

Labor Department spokesman Leo Rosales did not immediately respond to requests for comment by the AP on Saturday.

The producers have 60 days to appeal the Labor Department's findings.

(CNN) -- At least 12 people were injured when a bomb exploded in southern Thailand Sunday morning, police said.

The explosion caused a fire that burned down about a dozen houses, Yala Police Col. Krisada Kaewchandee said.

Investigators believe a car bomb caused the blast, he said.

The explosion occurred in a region that has seen a spike in suspected insurgent attacks recently.

Nine civilians were killed and two others were injured in a bombing in Yala province last month.

Muslim separatists in southern Thailand have long battled government forces in a country that is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

The conflict came to a head in 2004 after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took office. Several thousand people died in the resulting violence.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Sen. Charles Schumer of New York warns national air safety regulations proposed after a Buffalo airliner crash two years ago are being watered down in Washington.

Schumer tells The Associated Press he will call on the Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday to fight what he says are industry efforts to weaken the August 2010 regulations. The rules aim to keep drowsy pilots out of cockpits.

The regulations he sponsored arose from the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in which all 49 people on board died along with one person on the ground. The regulations include more training and actions to make sure pilots are more alert in the air.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported that both pilots were probably fatigued, although that wasn't a direct cause of the tragedy.

(CNN) -- Firefighters in Washington have contained a massive blaze that started on one house's roof and spread to at least 15 other homes, authorities said.

Stacked logs at a saw mill were also engulfed by the fire and helped fuel the flames, Yakima County Fire Chief George Spencer said late Saturday.

"We're talking thousands and thousands of logs. It'll take about three or four days for that to burn out," he said.

Authorities said the fire started around 2 p.m. Saturday in the town of White Swan, located on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Investigators do not know what caused the fire, Sgt. George Town of the Yakima County Sheriff's Office said.

Firefighters have not official determined what sparked the blaze, but are considering it to be accidental, Spencer said.

He said the fire may have destroyed or damaged at least 15 and as many as 20 homes.

At least 60 firefighters from 12 different fire departments battled the flames for more than eight hours.

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries and were treated at the scene.

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) -- Army troops captured a jungle encampment of al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf gunmen and killed five militants in a gunbattle that also left two soldiers dead in the southern Philippines, officials said Sunday.

Among the militants reportedly killed in Saturday's clash near mountainous Sumisip town on Basilan island was Juhaiber Alamsirul, a close aide of Abu Sayyaf commander Nurhassan Jamiri, who has been blamed for beheadings and kidnappings, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said.

Two army scout rangers were killed and five others were wounded in the three-hour clash involving about 30 militants near the village of Baiwas. Troops captured an Abu Sayyaf encampment, where they found bunkers, a hand-held radio and rebel belongings, Cabangbang said.

Troops have been searching for Jamiri, who was reportedly wounded in a Basilan clash last month, he said.

Jamiri has been blamed for the 2007 beheadings of 10 marines in Basilan, as well as several kidnappings for ransom and bomb attacks in the impoverished Muslim province, about 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Here's Michelle Obama's advice for couples this Valentine's Day: laugh with your partner.

She says it's what she and President Barack Obama do, and it seems to be working. Their marriage, although tested throughout the years by his political ambitions - for the Illinois Senate, the U.S. Senate and later president - is going on 19 years.

"I think a lot of laughing," the first lady said at a White House luncheon with reporters who asked about the Obamas' union. "I think in our house we don't take ourselves too seriously, and laughter is the best form of unity, I think, in a marriage.

"So we still find ways to have fun together, and a lot of it is private and personal. But we keep each other smiling and that's good," she added.

It also helps that Obama is "very romantic."

"He remembers dates, birthdays," Mrs. Obama said last week on "Live! With Regis and Kelly. "He doesn't forget a thing, even when I think he is. . I'll have a little attitude. I give him a little attitude, but he always comes through."

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- For political figures in exile, the United Arab Emirates has been a luxury refuge, a base for plotting attempted comebacks and - for at least one unable to escape assassins - a final stage. There is no shortage of speculation that Egypt's Hosni Mubarak could join the list.

The Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya reported Saturday that the former Egyptian president was making plans to head to the Emirates. A Kuwait daily, Al-Qabas, said Friday that UAE officials have offered Mubarak haven in Al Ain, a desert city near the Omani border.

UAE officials have made no public comment on the reports, which were so persistent that the UAE's state news agency WAM issued a rare denial Sunday of bulletins that Mubarak's plane had landed in the Sharjah emirate north of Dubai.

But it wouldn't be out of character to open their doors to a former leader with few options at home - just as neighboring Saudi Arabia did for toppled Tunisian ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month and Uganda's Idi Amin in 1979.

The roster of Emirate exiles includes former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the late Pakistani ex-Premier Benazir Bhutto and a turncoat Chechen warlord who was gunned down by a killer with a gold-plated pistol.

Just hours before stepping down, Mubarak and his family fled Cairo to a walled compound in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Their next move is unknown. In his last nationwide address on Thursday, the 82-year-old Mubarak said he would "die on the soil of Egypt."

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- More nations are pledging support, yet NATO still faces a shortage of 740 trainers needed to get Afghan soldiers and policemen ready to take the lead in securing their nation, the coalition's top training official says.

Needed most are 290 police trainers, including those to work in new training centers opening in Afghanistan this year, U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of NATO's training mission, told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants his nation's police and army to take the lead in protecting and defending their homeland by 2014, a deadline that will be reached only if the training effort - already on a fast track - gets even more support from NATO and other nations. Caldwell said the coalition wants to have the additional 740 trainers in place by this summer.

"The NATO secretary-general has said, 'No trainers, no transition,'" Caldwell said. "He is exactly right. If you don't have sufficient numbers of trainers, then we can't set the conditions for transition in 2014."

The Afghan security force added more than 70,000 police and soldiers last year and now is 270,000-strong. It is well on its way to meeting Karzai's goal of reaching 305,600 by the end of October. Karzai is expected to announce his next target for growth in coming weeks.

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan's standoff with Washington over a jailed U.S. Embassy worker will not thwart talks between the two countries and Afghanistan, a Pakistani government spokesman said Sunday.

Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have been rising over the detention of American Raymond Allen Davis for killing two Pakistani men he says were trying to rob him.

In an apparent step to show its displeasure, the United States on Saturday postponed a meeting with Pakistani and Afghan officials to discuss the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan prizes such gatherings as a way to assert influence in Afghanistan.

The meeting was to have taken place next week. The U.S. did not directly cite Davis' continued detention as the reason, but U.S. diplomats have said the talks could become a casualty of the dispute.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said he is confident the three-way talks will continue.

"The trilateral talks will be rescheduled in due course of time," Basit said. "It is important the trilateral process continues. We hope whenever held, (talks) will yield maximum results for peace and stability."

He declined comment on what the escalating diplomatic spat means for the Davis case or for relations with the United States.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. hopes to reschedule the meeting soon.

Police in Pakistan have accused Davis of "cold-blooded murder." Davis claims he shot the men in self-defense when they tried to rob him at gunpoint in the eastern city of Lahore. The U.S. insists he has diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Bahrain's leaders promised Sunday to expand media freedoms in another apparent attempt to quell plans for the first major anti-government protests in the Gulf since the uprising in Egypt.

The tiny kingdom of Bahrain is among the most politically volatile in the Gulf and holds important strategic value for the West as the home as the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Bahrain's majority Shiites have long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni dynasty, whose crackdown on dissent last year touched off riots and clashes.

Shiite-led opposition groups and others have joined calls for demonstrations on Monday - the anniversary of Bahrain's 2002 constitution that brought some pro-democracy reforms such as an elected parliament.

Security forces were deployed in malls and other key spots around Bahrain on Sunday in a clear warning against holding the rallies, but a prominent human rights activist predicted "chaos and bloodshed" if attempts are made to crush the planned demonstrations.

Bahrain's leaders, meanwhile, have stepped in with concessions to try to defuse the protests.

Government media monitors began talks Sunday with publishers and others to draft new rules to limit state controls. The official Bahrain News Agency, meanwhile, launched a new multimedia service that includes social media applications to seek more outreach.

WHITE SWAN, Wash. (AP) -- Dozens of firefighters battled a blaze fueled by strong winds on Washington's Yakama Indian Reservation that damaged or destroyed 20 homes, officials said.

The fire apparently started in one house in the early Saturday afternoon and then spread in the town of White Swan, bolstered by 40 mph winds.

The blaze raged for most of the day, but early Sunday KNDO-TV and KIMA-TV reported on their websites that it had been fully contained.

No residents were hurt but two firefighters were treated for minor injuries, Sgt. George Town of the Yakima County Sheriff's Office told The Associated Press.

Some residents voluntarily evacuated and took shelter at the town's ceremonial long house and high school.

Rural roads leading to the town, located about 35 miles southwest of Yakima, were blocked off due to the danger posed by the fire, the Yakima County Sheriff's dispatch office said.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Betty Garrett, the vivacious Broadway star who played Frank Sinatra's sweetheart in two MGM musicals before her career was hampered by the Hollywood blacklist, has died in Los Angeles, her son said Sunday. She was 91.

Garrett died Saturday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, most likely from an aortic aneurysm, said her son, Garrett Parks. Garrett had been in good health and taught her usual musical comedy class at Theater West, the non-profit organization she helped found, on Wednesday night, but Friday checked into the hospital with heart trouble, and died with her family at her side the following morning.

Garrett was best known as the flirtatious girl in love with the shy Sinatra in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "On the Town," both in 1949, and later in life she became well-known to TV audiences with recurring roles in the 1970s sitcoms "All in the Family" and "Laverne and Shirley."

Her movie career was brief, largely because of the Red Hunt led by congressmen who forced her husband, actor Larry Parks, to testify about his earlier membership in the Communist Party.

LONDON (AP) -- A stuttering monarch, a neurotic ballerina and an enterprising computer nerd face off Sunday for Britain's top film prizes - a foretaste of the Academy Awards in Hollywood later this month.

"The King's Speech" is favorite to be crowned the big winner at the British Academy Film Awards. It has 14 nominations, including best picture and best actor for Colin Firth, who plays a king struggling to find his voice in his country's hour of need.

It faces strong competition from psychosexual ballet thriller "Black Swan," nominated in 12 categories, and Facebook-founding drama "The Social Network," which has six nominations and growing momentum following wins at the Golden Globes and other awards.

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- A panicked crowd at a political rally in southern Nigeria trampled at least 11 people to death and injured dozens more as President Goodluck Jonathan gave a speech promising to change Africa's most populous nation for the better, authorities said Sunday.

The stampede at the rally in Port Harcourt was to serve as a homecoming for a leader born in the oil-rich region. Instead, the rally highlighted the country's volatility ahead of April's national elections, and Jonathan's convoy caused a fatal traffic crash even before the stadium melee.

Organizers held the rally Saturday at Port Harcourt Liberation Stadium, a soccer venue that can hold about 25,000 people. As Jonathan began his speech, some attendees began to try to leave to beat the traffic out of the stadium, while others pushed their way inside to hear his speech, said Ibim Semenitari, a Rivers state government spokeswoman.