Monday, March 28, 2011

Just a few short days after Apple launched the iPad 2 in Britain, the country is already experiencing shortages of the tablet. Hundreds of gadget-crazed Apple fans stood in lines waiting for the chance to tap their thumbs across its 9.7-inch touchscreen, only to find that the iPad 2 is out of stock. Apple did not confirm the unavailability of the tablet nationwide. As we noted yesterday, many locations throughout Europe had sold out by Saturday. 

However, not a single Apple store phoned by The Telegraph this morning had an iPad 2 in stock. 

"Country-wide, you won't get one," said an Apple staff member at the Covent Garden location. Apple suggests reserving the iPad 2 online to be picked up in stores as soon as a new shipment arrives.

The Internet has been abuzz with talks of NFC and the future of the mobile wallet, and today Google announced a partnership that may take this buzz into the realm of reality. Sources close to the WSJ said, Google Inc. announced a partnership with MasterCard Inc. and Citigroup Inc. to embed technology into Android mobile phones that would allow customers to make purchase by waiving their smartphones over a special reader embedded into POS systems.

Google has already embedded the “near field communication” payment chip into its Nexus-S, but the company failed to prompt widespread pickup and use of the technology. Perhaps by partnering with the two financial icons, Google can sway retailers and consumers to adopt the technology. The plan is to offer retailers more data about their customers to create targeted ads and special discounts for mobile users. Consumers can also track spending through their mobile wallet.

Consumers would have to download a mobile-payment application in order to use their Citigroup-issued debit or credit card for electronic payment. Perhaps further down the line, Google will have the application preloaded on new Android phones.

The plan involves VeriFone Systems Inc., a company which makes credit-card readers for cash registers. VeriFone would have to roll out more contact-less devices throughout stores to enable the swipe or wave feature Google is hoping to implement. The credit card readers are based on NFC technology, which are already embedded within the cash registers of thousands of merchants nationwide.

“A phone is a lot smarter than a card,” said Doug Bergeron, VeriFone’s chief executive, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “It opens the door to a rich experience at the point of sale that retailers really covet.”

The question on everybody’s minds is, “exactly how secure if NFC?”

“Because it’s contact-less there’s a perception people can grab it from thin air, but it’s actually a more sophisticated technology than credit cards with a magnetic stripe, making it more difficult to steal a consumer’s payment information,” said Nick Holland, a mobile-transactions analyst at Yankee Group.

Although payment information may be hidden, this would not stop a thief from swiping your credit card if you happen to misplace your cell phone. Combine that with Google’s promise to retailers to obtain customer and buying information for more targeted ads, and an instant red privacy flag goes up.

The system is expected to be released this year by Google, the company hoping to broaden uses of the smartphone, which may help put the telecom ahead of main competitor, Apple.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc., and T-Mobile USA announced last fall they would work together on a project called “Isis,” to enable customers to pay for goods using their smartphones, ultimately eliminating the reason to carry a wallet at all.

The market for mobile payments is growing significantly, with numbers around $618 billion by 2016, cited a report by MasterCard and consulting firm Edgar, Dunn & Co. Expect NFC and the mobile wallet to continue to grow in the coming years as more retailers, telecoms, and credit card companies continue to adopt the program.

After a year of promises, media events, and touring demos, the no-glasses 3D eagle has landed. The Nintendo 3DS finally debuted in the U.S. yesterday to tales of long lines, brisk sales, and roaring launch parties.

Nintendo passed around oldie blue and red cellophane 3D glasses at an official midnight launch event in Manhattan outside the Union Square Best Buy, enjoining line-idling customers attired in hats, coats, and gloves to toss them away as the clock struck midnight.

Not offered in trade for those glasses: Arm braces to keep the 3DS steady in your hands while viewing its finicky autostereoscopic 3DS (the screen requires that your eyes remain in a very narrow field-of-view for the 3D effect to work properly).

While it's too soon for official launch figures or serious sales estimates, we know Nintendo sold around 375,000 units last month during the handheld's initial 48 hours on sale in Japan, that it was Amazon UK's most pre-ordered item, well, ever, and that in the U.S., Lazard Capital analyst Colin Sebastian believes pre-orders were about twice those for the Wii.

We also know it's making the rounds in some pretty unusual places--like gas stations. Yep, oil magnate BP's begun selling the 3DS at around 100 of its service stops in the UK, reports Brand Republic.

Rough impressions, scribbled around Twitter '3DS' hashtags, tell a partial tale of the user experience so far.

"WOW!!! I didnt think #Nintendo could pull it off but the new #3DS really is 3D! Simply #Amazing," cheered Twitter user PunkyBrew4.

"Brought my #3DS to work today to see how much I actually walk in a day. Mondays are also our busy day. This'll be fun," wrote Drantis82.

"Of COURSE the first thing I play in my 3DS is a DS game," wrote MrMattJay.

"Must say... #3DS is really motivating me to move more, the pedometer and coins I can earn work for me! Just need a way to spend some them," wrote gcf_klaas.

Not everyone was as upbeat about the handheld, and a few grumbled about launch games lineup and efficacy of the 3D effect.

"I tried the #3DS at @Gamedigital & it didn't work with me & I actually feel a little sick from it," wrote Sulcalibur.

"Played the #nintendo 3ds at week, really not impressed. Big let down. Standard DSi is much better," wrote DavePCampbell.

"It's a shame. Such great hardware, such poor line-up. Need Zelda. NOW. (Oh and a 3D GTA maybe?)" wrote kklsid.

Microsoft's own Larry 'Major Nelson' Hryb acknowledged picking one up: "My wife just got back from shopping and picked up a Blue 3DS. Charging it now." Hybr later noted he was playing Crysis 2, because: "My wife Bogarted the #3DS tonight."

Apple typically holds its WWDC each June, and this year the Worldwide Developers Conference will kick off at San Francisco's Moscone Center on June 6. In the announcement, Apple makes it clear that it will "unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS." This means it will introduce the next major version of iOS, which is likely to be called iOS 5. Apple has already given us a sneak peak of what OS X 10.7 Lion will offer, but we're sure to get the full scoop -- including pricing and availability -- at WWDC in June.

Apple hasn't provided any information yet about iOS 5, but a report over the weekend listed a number of potential changes to Apple's mobile operating system. According to sources cited by TechCrunch, there's a lot to look forward to. Though the OS won't launch until the fall, TechCrunch said, it is likely to rely heavily on the cloud in conjunction with revamped MobileMe Web-based services. One such new service might include a "music locker" for online music storage, as well as location services for finding family members and friends.

MobileMe is definitely in need of an upgrade. The $100-per-year service offers some basic services such as email, contact syncing, photo storage, and the Find My iPhone feature. Storage for photos and/or documents is limited to just 10 GB, though, and many felt the $100 yearly cost was too steep. TechCrunch suggested that a revamped MobileMe might cost as little as $20 per year, though surely plenty of iPhone/iPad users would prefer the service to be available for free.

Apple has updated iOS continuously over the years, with the most recent update (4.3) hitting devices several weeks ago. Apple has launched a new version of iOS each summer to coincide with the launch of a new iPhone. TechCrunch isn't so sure we'll see a new iPhone at WWDC, though. WWDC is, after all, a developers conference and Apple typically doesn't use it to launch new hardware.

The laundry list of features that iOS lacks seems to grow as quickly as the features it has. Many hope to see completely re-designed notifications, a local file system, and more.

Apple's 10.7 Lion operating system is still on track to launch this summer, and WWDC will provide developers with plenty of opportunity to learn about it. The preview Apple gave in late 2010 showed a heavily revised OS that makes use of the trackpad (on laptops) for all sorts of touch-based interactions (similar to those of the iPad).

Apple's announcement today notes that WWDC will offer "more than 100 technical sessions presented by Apple engineers on a wide range of technology-specific topics for developing, deploying, and integrating the latest iOS and Mac OS technologies." It also said that more than 1,000 Apple engineers will be on site to assist developers and provide additional insight.

"At this year's conference we are going to unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, in a prepared statement. "If you are an iOS or Mac OS X software developer, this is the event that you do not want to miss."

Go to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2011 Web site to purchase tickets, as well as for updates and more information.

Police in northern Greece have arrested nine Bulgarians accused of crossing the border to steel potatoes from fields at night.

Police said Monday that the five men and four women were arrested and detained early Sunday will digging up and loading 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds) of stolen potatoes onto a truck, outside the northern Greek city of Drama that is close to the border with Bulgaria.

Police launched its operation after a farmer who owned the field and kept overnight watch said some 14 metric tons (15.7 tons) of potatoes were stolen in the previous week.

See which other actors will star in Zack Snyder's Warner Bros. reboot of the superhero film.

Amy Adams is the newest actress to join the Warner Bros' reboot of Superman, to be directed by Zack Snyder. See all the stars lined up to star in the film -- set for a December 2012 release -- so far:

1. Superman - Henry Cavill
The British actor, best known for his work on Showtime's period drama The Tudors, was in the top three or four contenders since Day 1, an insider tells The Hollywood Reporter. Cavill's closest competitor was Matthew Goode, another British actor who was one of the stars of Snyder and Warners Bros.' Watchmen comic book movie.

2. Lois Lane - Amy Adams
Snyder calls her "one of the most versatile and respected actresses in films today. Amy has the talent to capture all of the qualities we love about Lois: smart, tough, funny, warm, ambitious and, of course, beautiful." Phyllis Coates, Margot Kidder and Kate Bosworth have played the role before her.

3. Superman's Mom - Diane Lane
Lane plays Martha Kent. Says Snyder, "This was a very important piece of casting for me because Martha Kent is the woman whose values helped shape the man we know as Superman. We are thrilled to have Diane in the role because she can convey the wisdom and the wonder of a woman whose son has powers beyond her imagination."

A Texas college student from Saudi Arabia accused of buying chemicals and equipment to build a weapon of mass destruction has pleaded not guilty.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari (al-daw-SAW'-ree) entered his plea at his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Koenig at the federal courthouse Monday in Lubbock. Koenig set a May 2 trial date.

If convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction he faces up to life in prison.

Court documents allege he hatched plans to attack various U.S. targets, including New York City and former President George W. Bush's Dallas home.

Aldawsari was arrested Feb. 23. Court records indicate authorities traced his online purchases, discovered extremist online posts he made and secretly searched his apartment, computer and email accounts, and read his diary.

Warner Bros. is expanding its Facebook movie rental service with five new films including Inception , the first two Harry Potter Movies, the romantic comedy Life as We Know It and Yogi Bear . The new films are available starting Monday and should cost between 30 and 40 Facebook credits ($3-$4) each for 48-hour unlimited streaming access. The newer movies including Inception, Life As We Know It and Yogi Bear appear to be priced 10 credits ($1) higher than older movies such as The Dark Knight , Warner Bros' first offering that debuted in early March, and the Harry Potter films. Warner Bros. says the new films are still part of its "test offering of movies." Warner Bros. has not officially confirmed online movie rental pricing.

How it Works

To get started, visit the Facebook pages for each movie (links above) and select the "Watch" link in the navigation column on the left. On the next page click the "Watch Now" link embedded in the movie poster in the center column for each title. You will then be asked to agree to use the app for each movie, requiring you to share your basic Facebook information with the app including your name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other publicly available information you've shared on the social network.

After you agree, you will then be prompted to enter your ZIP code and pay with Facebook credits to rent the movie. If you don't have enough Facebook credits, you can buy more credits on this page by clicking the "buy more" link. Facebook movie streaming is available to users in the U.S. only.

While you're watching the movie, you will have access to Facebook features such as commenting on the movie, chatting with friends and updating your status.

Britney Spears gave Sin City a thrill on Friday night, when she performed a surprise set of songs from her forthcoming Femme Fatale album. The 45-minute show -- Spears' first live performance since her 2009 Circus tour -- was kept top-secret until Friday night, when Spears couldn't resist spilling the beans on her Twitter.

"Looks like my little secret isnt a secret anymore. Whos coming to watch me take the stage TONIGHT @RainLasVegas at @PalmsLasVegas?" tweeted the pop star, adding, "You're all invited. Be there are be square bitch!"

Spears was booked as a "special guest" under -- of all people -- DJ Pauly D of Jersey Shore. (She tweeted an image of the marquee here.) After DJ Pauly's set at the Palms Casino Resort's Rain nightclub, Spears performed three songs -- complete with costume changes, sets and back-up dancers -- for the crowd of around 1500.

Spears began with her current single, "Hold It Against Me," which she sang in front of a prop electric chair. For the next number, "Big Fat Bass," she changed out of her sequined bodysuit and into a sexy black leather outfit with a policeman's cap. She belted out the song from inside a giant boombox while her boyfriend Jason Trawick watched from the VIP area.

As her finale, Spears performed "Till the World Ends," dressed in the night's most attention-getting costume: a corset with blinking red lights around the breasts (perhaps a logical next step after Katy Perry's firework bra and Christina Aguilera's light-up crotch). Spears finished the show in this triumphant pose -- and if that doesn't say "Britney's back, bitch!" then we don't know what does.

The performance, which got raves from the crowd, will air next week as part of an MTV special on Spears. All three songs are featured on her album Femme Fatale, which drops on Tuesday, March 29.

When Reese Witherspoon wed Jim Toth at her Ojai, Calif. ranch on Saturday evening, the couple was 90 miles north of Los Angeles -- but the vibe of the night was a universe away from Hollywood glitz!

In a courtyard in front of the Ojai house, the Monique Lhuillier-clad actress, 35, and CAA agent Toth, 40, exchanged vows and William Goldberg wedding bands beneath a canopy.

About 120 family members and friends-- including Sean Penn, Scarlett Johansson, Renee Zellweger, Tobey Maguire and wife Jennifer Meyer, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey and love Camila Alves, Alyssa Milano, Colin Hanks, Isla Fisher and hubby Sacha Baron Cohen-- were on hand for the bash.

Reverend Jimmy Bartz, of the Santa Monica church regularly attended by the couple, officiated the 20-minute service, and Witherspoon's children (with ex-husband Ryan Phillippe) Ava, 11, and Deacon, 7, participated in the ceremony.

Matron of honor duties went to Witherspoon's best friend Heather Rosenfield, whose little boys served as ring bearers; the star's nieces were flower girls.

In a fitting turn for the Southern-born actress, a bluegrass band played "Tennessee Waltz" as the processional music for Toth and the kids, segueing to "Here Comes the Bride" for Witherspoon's walk, and playing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" during the ceremony.

Immediately following the "I do" exchange, guests retreated to a one-hour cocktail party behind the house.

NATO's commander for Libya deflected suggestions Monday that international airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces were essentially providing air cover for advancing rebels, insisting that NATO's mission is purely designed to protect civilians.

Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada told a press conference that the military alliance was in the process of taking over command from the U.S.-led operation after NATO's 28 members agreed Sunday to the transition. He declined to say how long it would take, saying it was complex and still being coordinated, though officials in Brussels have said it would be a few days.

The move effectively means that once the transition is complete, NATO could bomb Gadhafi's forces if they are threatening to harm civilian populations. International airstrikes have crippled Gadhafi's forces, allowing rebels to advance near Gadhafi's stronghold of Sirte after appearing at the brink of defeat.

The U.N. Security Council authorized countries to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya. But critics have said the military campaign goes far beyond what was authorized: On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the international air campaign breached the U.N. resolution and amounted to international interference in what he called Libya's civil war.

Asked where NATO drew the line between protecting the civilians and aiding rebels, Bouchard said his mission was clear:

"Our goal is to protect and help the civilians and population centers under the threat of attack," he said.

“President Obama makes his case on Libya tonight at 7:30, a major address that he and aides have previewed in recent days. ‘Along with our allies and partners, we're enforcing the mandate of the United Nations Security Council,’ Obama said in his Saturday radio address. ‘We're protecting the Libyan people from (Moammar) Gadhafi's forces. And we've put in place a no fly zone and other measures to prevent further atrocities.’”

So far, the strategy appears to be helping the rebel forces. “Rebels surged westward along Libya’s coast Sunday, seizing at least three more key towns and capitalizing on their new momentum after more than a week of airstrikes by an international coalition,” the Washington Post says. “The rebel stronghold of Benghazi erupted in gunfire and rockets early Monday amid rumors that that Sirte, the home town of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, had fallen. But those reports appeared to be unfounded."

The New York Times adds, "As rebel forces backed by allied warplanes pushed toward one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s most crucial bastions of support, the American military warned on Monday that their rapid gains could quickly be reversed without continued coalition air support. As rebel forces backed by allied warplanes pushed toward one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s most crucial bastions of support, the American military warned on Monday that their rapid gains could quickly be reversed without continued coalition air support."

Security forces in Syria are reported to have fired teargas and fired shots in the air as anti-government protests flared again in the southern city of Deraa.

The unrest followed clashes in Latakia over the weekend in which at least 12 people died, and promises by the authorities to lift emergency laws restricting public gatherings and allowing arrests on the grounds of national security.

A witness told Associated Press that forces had fired teargas as up to 4,000 people protested in Deraa. He said security forces fired teargas at first. He also heard gunfire, although it appeared guns were being fired in the air.

A witness told Reuters news agency demonstrators had converged on a main square in the city, chanting "We want dignity and freedom" and "No to emergency laws".

Security forces have struggled to deal with unrest in the southern city and other centres but authorities have held out the prospect of decisions that would "please the Syrian people" in the next two days. An announcement by president Bashar al-Assad was promised by the vice-president Farouq al-Shara, speaking on Lebanese Hezbollah's al-Manar television. There were no details.

It must be more than a little bit difficult for the elected leaders of the Western world to claim the moral high ground while authorizing the deliberate targeting of the leaders of largely Third World or so-called "enemy states" for assassination.

Whether this is by the use of poison or exploding cigars in the case of Cuba's Fidel Castro or by the use of highly sophisticated guided weapons in the case of Serbia's Slobodan Milosovic, or the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, is less important than the belief in Washington, London and perhaps Paris than they alone have the right to order the untimely deaths of foreign leaders.

The maverick former MI5 officer David Shayler and Richard

Tomlinson of MI6 have both vigorously claimed that Britain's intelligence services had attempted to assassinate Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in February 1996.

Now suspicion is growing that Gaddafi is once again being singled out for termination, a suspicion fueled by an apparent public dispute between Britain's military leadership who deny that there is any intention of killing or overthrowing Gaddafi and the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government that point-blank refuses to rule this out as a sub-text to the United Nations agreement on imposing a no-fly zone.

Many Arab nations that reluctantly signed up to this operation apparently did so on the understanding that a no-fly zone would mean just that ... stopping the Libyan air force from attacking rebel held towns and cities.

While this may indeed prove to be a valid excuse for attacking air defense sites and even airfields, it would seem perverse in the extreme to try and claim that tanks, trucks and Infantry are "airborne assets".

The grandiose city on the Mediterranean has been designated the political capital of Africa by Col Gaddafi.

But its Soviet-style architecture looms as its most important attribute.

As the front line in a developing civil war it offers Libya's armed forces a formidable fortress to defend.

Its wide-avenues and reinforced concrete towers allow easy manoeuvrability and ample shelter against coalition air forces.

The rebel forces in 'technicals' – pickup trucks with heavy weaponry on the back – will be vulnerable to Gaddafi's dug-in fire power.

Even if they storm the streets, the rebels will confront a resident population that fervently pro-Gaddafi.

"Every one here likes Gaddafi, we want no change, we want to go normally about our business," said Daud Mansour, a member of Warfalla, Libya's largest tribe and a Sirte breadman.

"The people from the east are not welcome here we will fight them."

TOKYO—Shares of Tokyo Electric Power Co. hit a 34-year low Monday as speculation grew about a possible government takeover of the company, which faces multibillion-dollar losses from its nuclear disaster.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Naoto Kan said nationalization isn't on the agenda, but Japan was abuzz with talk about how the company, known as Tepco, could handle its liabilities.

"There is a strong possibility the current legal framework may not be adequate to solve the situation. The solution then will be temporary nationalization of the company," said Yoshimi Watanabe, leader of the opposition Your Party, at a news conference Friday.

Billions of dollars are likely to be sought by people in the 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone around the nuclear plant, as well as farmers beyond the zone who had to destroy crops because of radiation exposure and other victims.

Tepco and the government haven't given an official liability estimate, but the company has said it wants to raise two trillion yen, or about $25 billion. Major banks have expressed willingness to provide loans. The company just finished raising 450 billion yen through an equity offering last October.

A key question is whether the troubles at Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant qualify under a 1961 Japanese law as a "grave natural disaster of an exceptional character." If so, under the law the government would likely be responsible for much of the damages.

Tepco shares fell by the maximum daily limit Monday, dipping nearly 18% to 696 yen from 846 yen at Friday's close on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Before the March 11 quake, the shares were trading above 2,100 yen, meaning they have lost more than two-thirds of their value.

A Tepco spokesman said Monday that the company is focusing on the Fukushima Daiichi problems and hasn't given thought to how the company's structure might change after the problems are resolved. The spokesman said Tepco will take direction from the government in determining how damages should be paid.

Apple WWDC kicks off June 6

Apple will be holding its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Moscone West in San Francisco between June 6 and June 10, the company announced today.

As in previous years, the five-day conference will be a place for developers to learn more about Apple's operating systems, iOS and Mac OS X. The company plans to hold over 100 "technical sessions" for developers, as well as provide "code-level assistance." But it's Mac OS and iOS that will take center stage, Apple said.

"At this year's conference we are going to unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, said in a statement. "If you are an iOS or Mac OS X software developer, this is the event that you do not want to miss."

Schiller's comments all but confirm that Apple will also be talking quite a bit about Mac OS X Lion, the upcoming release in the company's desktop operating system. It unveiled the platform last year and promised to launch the operating system this summer. Lion will ship with Apple's Mac App Store built-in. It will also feature a new option called Mission Control, which shows users what's running on the Mac at any given time. Another new feature, LaunchPad, displays all the available apps on the system in a single pane.

Apple also has said that it plans to bring some features of iOS, the operating system on the iPhone and iPad, to the Mac OS--for instance, multitouch gestures.

Although Apple's announcement does not mention a keynote address, it shouldn't surprise anyone if Apple holds one. Historically, WWDC has been the event where Apple announces its next iPhone and iOS version.

With just seven days remaining in the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers have major issues left to deal with, but leaders of the House and Senate hinted Friday that only a handful are likely to be tackled.

When the Legislature convenes Monday for the 34th day of the 40-day session, the agenda will be dominated by the 2012 state budget, a suddenly revamped proposal to overhaul the state tax code and Sunday alcohol sales. That will leave little oxygen in the Capitol for much else, despite that of more than 2,000 bills introduced this year, only seven have reached Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

But other major issues, including guns and abortion, might fall victim to the time crunch, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said.

Senate Bill 102, which does away with restrictions on where weapons can be carried, will likely end up part of discussions after the session about an omnibus gun bill that has been taking shape in the House, Ralston said. And SB 210, which makes it easier for women to sue abortion providers for performing abortions, did not get careful enough scrutiny, he said.

“When you’re dealing with things that are so fundamental and so important, it seems to me that’s an issue we ought to be having a serious, thoughtful discussion about,” Ralston said. “I’m not sure that happened over there [in the Senate]. I’m not sure there’s enough time to have the kind of serious discussion that requires over here.”

Lawmakers will be in session all five days this week, then take a break for the Masters and spring break the week of April 4. They'll return to the Capitol for the final two days of the session April 12 and 14.

Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, pointed out that the Legislature this year has already moved on politically tough or controversial issues such as changing HOPE scholarships to keep them financially viable.

"I think we will get through next week all right," he said Friday.

In the Senate, lawmakers are expected as early as Wednesday to adopt their version of an $18 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The House has already passed its version of the budget, and negotiations between the two sides could begin by the end of the week.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said he has few details about what the Senate has done but expects the negotiations to be smooth.

"As far as the meat of the budget, I doubt there's going to be a whole lot of difference," England said. What is different, he said, "can be worked out fairly easy. With it being a pretty much bare-bones budget, there's not a whole lot to go in and argue over."

The House could vote as early as Tuesday on SB 10, which would allow local governments to ask voters if alcohol by the bottle should be sold on Sundays. It could appear before the Rules Committee Monday morning, where a favorable vote would send it to the House floor on Tuesday.

Lawmakers also have a time crunch in dealing with immigration. Competing bills have passed each chamber to crack down on illegal immigration, but legislators must now scramble over the final seven days to find a compromise.

SPRINGFIELD - Last week the U.S. Census Bureau numbers revealed Hispanics make up 10 percent of the state's total population and had grown to 15 percent of Western Massachusetts population.

"All you have to do is walk down the streets of the city to see that Latinos make up a large portion of our population," said Springfield City Councilor and candidate for mayor Jose F. Tosado.

The 2010 data regarding Hispanic residents was released March 22 and revealed Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee have seen a significant rise in their Hispanic populations since the last count in 2000. The terms Hispanic and Latino are used interchangeably in the United States for people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries. The term Hispanic used throughout the article refers to people of any race who self-identify as Hispanic and are primarily of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American origin.

A study of the new data conducted by the Pew Hispanic Research Center, a national research organization that chronicles Hispanics' growing impact on the nation, shows there are 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States, making up 16.3 percent of the total population. The nation's Hispanic population, which was 35.3 million in 2000, grew 43 percent over the decade. The Hispanic population also accounted for most of the nation's growth, at 56 percent.

D'Vera Cohn, senior writer for the Pew Research Center, said Massachusetts is one of only six states in the country to attribute all of its growth to the Hispanic population.

"In these six states, which include Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, growth in the Hispanic population accounted for all of those states' population growth. Basically, if the Hispanic population had not grown, those states would not have grown," she said.

Cohn said another interesting finding is that growth was led by American-born Hispanics, not immigrants.

"Research has indicated that most of the growth in the Hispanic population across the nation was due to birth, not immigration," she said. "While immigration is still a substantial force for increasing the population, this time around it has been surpassed by Hispanics born in the country."

India's navy and coast guard have captured 16 Somali pirates after a three-hour-long battle in the Arabian Sea, a navy spokesman said Monday.

Also, 16 crew members who had been taken hostage by the pirates were rescued from the hijacked Iranian trawler off India's western Lakshadweep islands on Sunday, Captain Manohar Nambiar said.

The pirates were using the trawler as a roving pirate base to launch attacks on passing vessels in the Indian Ocean, he said.

The pirates were trying to seize a merchant ship, MV Maersk Kensington, when a coast guard vessel and an Indian naval ship picked up its distress signals and went to its aid.

The pirates opened fire at the coast guard ship as it drew near, triggering a battle during which the pirate trawler caught fire. The pirates and the hostages, picked up from the sea by the navy ship, were headed for Mumbai.

Of the 16 hostages, 12 are Iranians and four are Pakistanis, the navy spokesman said.

"The pirates will be handed over to the Mumbai police for prosecution. The crew members will be questioned to establish their credentials and then handed over to their embassy officials," Nambiar said.

The Indian navy has seized around 120 pirates, mostly from Somalia, over the past few months. Two weeks ago, the navy captured 61 pirates when they attacked a naval ship.

Indian warships have been escorting merchant ships as part of international anti-piracy surveillance in the Indian Ocean area since 2008.

Facebook is in talks to hire Robert Gibbs, US president Barack Obama's former press secretary, to manage the social network's communications department, according to the New York Times.

Gibbs, who quit his White House post in February after two years as one of Obama's closest confidants, will help guide Facebook through a planned initial public offering in 2012, the paper reported on Sunday night.

The talks are at an early stage and no formal offer has been made, sources familiar with the discussions told the New York Times. However, Facebook is said to be pressing Gibbs to make a quick decision.

Facebook and Gibbs declined to comment.

Gibbs left the Obama administration as part of a widespread reshuffle to prepare for the final two years of the presidential term. However, the experienced Democrat spokesman is said to have remained inside Obama's inner circle despite having no formal post in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Gibbs had been planning to help Obama campaign for a second term in office before taking a lucrative private sector job. Gibbs would receive a cash salary as well as shares in Facebook potentially worth millions of dollars if he were to take the role, people briefed on the talks said.

Mark Zuckerberg has stepped up Facebook's lobbying in Washington ahead of a plan to go public early next year. As Facebook has grown, so has its dealing with policy makers including the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of the National Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Despite a Dane County judge's temporary restraining order against Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, the Legislative Reference Bureau published the legislation Friday, sparking controversy over whether the law is in effect.

State law requires bills to be published within 10 working days after they are enacted. Walker signed the bill March 11, making Friday, March 25, the last day it could be enacted.

On March 18, Secretary of State Bob La Follette wrote to Mike Barman of the Legislative Reference Bureau asking him to remove March 25 as the date for publication of the bill and "not to proceed with publication until I contact you with a new publication date."

Laws generally take effect the day after they are published, making Saturday the first day the law would be implemented. There is disagreement, however, as to whether the law is actually in effect since La Follette's office has not published it yet.

"I don't think this act makes it become effective," bureau director Stephen Miller told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "My understanding is that the secretary of state has to publish it in the [official state] newspaper for it to become effective."

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said the Legislative Reference Bureau's actions are of no legal significance.

"This case, including the legal significance of today's actions, should be resolved in a court of law," Ozanne said in a statement Friday.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said La Follette does not have to publish the bill for it to become law, however.

A local resident says multiple explosions have been heard from inside a weapons factory that has been overtaken by Islamic militants in a southern Yemen province.

The resident says the blasts can be heard as far as 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the factory in southern Abyan. It's unclear if the explosions are accidental or intentional.

The factory in Khanfar area close to Jaar city makes munition and Kalashnikov rifles.

Resident Seif Mohammed says several ambulances have been bringing the injured to al-Razi hospital in Jaar on Monday.

The factory was seized on Sunday by a Salafi Jihad militant group, one of many roaming mostly lawless Yemen. The group is not an al-Qaida offshoot.

Yemen has been rocked by weeks of political turmoil and deteriorating security.

Former vice presidential candidate, congresswoman and US Ambassador to the United Nations Geraldine Ferraro died Saturday at age 75 of complications from blood cancer.

Ferraro, of New York City, had roots in the Hudson Valley as she was born on August 26, 1935, and spent her first eight years in Newburgh.

She served as a congresswoman representing a New York City district, from 1979-1985, ran for vice president along with Democrat presidential candidate Walter Mondale in 1984 and served from 1993-1996 as US Ambassador to the United Nations for Human Rights under President Bill Clinton.

Ferraro would visit Orange County periodically during and after her political career and always tout the fact that she was local, having been born in Newburgh.

She was “one of my earliest inspirations, and an inspiration for all women in politics,” said State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County. Ferraro campaigned with Stewart-Cousins during her 2006 Senate race.

US Senator Charles Schumer said Ferraro “broke barriers with a matter-of-factness, modesty, and grace that made her achievements all the more important and becoming.”

“Through her life in the public arena, Geraldine’s accomplishments served as a milestone in our country’s acceptance of equality and diversity,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

A new drug named Yervoy has been developed in the U.S. to prolong the lives of people with the skin cancer melanoma, according to media reports Monday.

Developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Yervoy is in a new class of drugs designed to fight cancer by removing molecular brakes that prevent immune system cells from destroying tumors.

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Yervoy is hailed by experts as the first drug in the melanoma field that could extend survival in a meaningful way.

The effect of the drug was shown in a randomized clinical trial involved metastatic melanoma patients who had already failed to benefit from treatment with another drug.

After treated with Yervoy, they were found to live a median of about 10 months, 3.6 months longer than a control group who received an ineffective treatment. More than 20 percent of the people with Yervoy treatment lived at least two years, and some of them even longer.

According to Bristol's announcement Monday, Yervoy also improves the survival of previously untreated patients with metastatic melanoma.

A complete course of the treatment consists of four infusions given over three months and costs 120,000 U.S. dollars.

Drug researchers noted Yervoy is not specific for any type of tumor, that it might conceivably be effective for many types.

However, Yervoy's function of loosening the restraints on the immune system may lead to dangerous side effects such as colitis, diarrhea, hepatitis, endocrine dysfunction and skin problems. Its negative effects have already been discovered in 12.9 percent of the patients who participated in the clinical trial.

NEWARK, N.J. -- Kentucky spent 13 consecutive springs watching other schools play in the Final Four, a destination college basketball's winningest program considers its birthright.

At most places, that's hardly a drought. In the Bluegrass State, it's a lifetime.

Now coach John Calipari and the Wildcats -- finally -- are two wins away from another national title.

Brandon Knight scored 22 points and fourth-seeded Kentucky advanced to the Final Four for the first time since their 1998 national title with a 76-69 win over second-seeded North Carolina on Sunday in the East Regional final.

The Wildcats (29-8) will play Connecticut in Houston on Saturday night after turning back a late surge by the Tar Heels (27-10), who erased an 11-point deficit before running out of gas in the final 2 minutes.

DeAndre Liggins added 12 points for Kentucky, including a 3-pointer from the corner with 37 seconds remaining to help lift the Wildcats.

"Coach said if there's a kick out you'd better shoot it, and I just shot it and made it," Liggins said. "My job was to run the floor and try to make plays, so that's what I tried to do."

A season after falling a game short of the Final Four behind a roster filled with future NBA stars, the Wildcats are heading to the national semifinals for the 14th time behind the heady play of Knight and senior Josh Harrellson's emotional leadership.

A Philippine senator who fled double murder charges more than a year ago faced the public Monday for the first time since his return, claiming that he went into hiding because the previous government had conspired to put him behind bars.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson arrived in the Philippines on Saturday from Hong Kong after a court voided the arrest warrant against him. He told a news conference Monday that he had been "a fugitive from injustice."

Lacson was charged with the killings of high-profile publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer, who represented a number of top political figures, and Dacer's driver in 2000.

He said he became a fugitive after justice department contacts told him that the government of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allowed prosecutors to set aside rules of evidence to jail him for a crime he did not commit.

Lacson, a former national police chief, was one of Arroyo's staunchest critics. He left for Hong Kong on Jan. 5, 2010, and in a statement a month later said he was a victim of an alleged conspiracy involving Arroyo and feared for his life.

A spokesman for Arroyo has said in the past that the case is a matter for the courts.

The Court of Appeals ruled last month that there was no probable cause for the arrest warrant and said the main witness against him - one of his former police deputies - was unreliable. The trial court's options include ordering a reinvestigation or dismissing the case on a motion by Lacson's lawyers.

Amy Adams has been cast as spiky reporter Lois Lane in Zack Snyder's forthcoming Superman film, according to the LA Times. She will star opposite British actor Henry Cavill, who was revealed as the new Man of Steel in January.

Adams, now a three-times Oscar nominee following her best supporting actress nod for David O Russell's The Fighter, was told the news on Sunday following a phone call from Snyder. The director, who will work from a concept developed by the Dark Knight team of Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S Goyer, said Adams was the perfect choice to play the tough yet sensitive journalist who falls for the man from Krypton.

"There was a big, giant search for Lois," Snyder told the Times. "For us it was a big thing and obviously a really important role. We did a lot of auditioning but we had this meeting with Amy Adams and after that I just felt she was perfect for it."

Snyder said Adams's character would be a "lynchpin" in the latest Superman reimagining, which will attempt to ground the character in a world closer to our own reality than previous iterations.

"It goes back to what I've said about Superman and making him really understandable for today," he said. "What's important to us is making him relevant and real and making him empathetic to today's audience so that we understand the decisions he makes. That applies to Lois as well. She has to be in the same universe as him [in tone and substance]."

Adams, 36, will follow an established big-screen Superman tradition by playing older than her opposite number in the film, tentatively titled Superman: Man of Steel. Cavill is 27, but original Lois Lane Margot Kidder was also four years older than Christopher Reeve in Richard Donner's 1978 Superman, widely considered the best film of the series. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane will play Superman's adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, in the new adaptation.

Adams's appointment was announced with unfortunate timing for Warner Bros as Hollywood blog Deadline published a letter from Joanne Siegel, widow of Superman creator Jerry Siegel, to Warner Bros chief executive Jeffrey Bewkes asking him to personally intervene to bring a long-running legal case to a sensible close. The Siegel estate, along with that of co-creator Joe Schuster, recently successfully asserted its copyright to the character in a move which will force Warner to negotiate before making any future Superman films. However the studio has embarked on a strategy to try and force the family's attorney to resign due to an alleged role as a financial participant in the case.

"My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Schuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act," wrote Siegel. "Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights.

"On December 1st I turned 93. Unfortunately I am not in the best of health. My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke. Nonetheless your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me."

Siegel never sent the letter as she died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital on 12 February. The Siegel estate's battle with Warner continues.