AAA: Travel for Independence Day Expected to Go Down 2.5 Percent This Year

The recent decline of gas prices will not do much for economic indicators. Following a sustained period of high prices for fuel, as well as other vital goods, several economic indicators will see their growth offset this year.

One such indicator is the amount of travel in the US. One of the most anticipated holidays, the weekend for Independence Day, will not generate as much travel as in the previous years. Specifically, 39 million Americans will travel in June 30 to July 4 holiday time more than 50 miles, a drop of 2.5 percent from last year’s figures.

The estimate comes from AAA, which is projecting this decline based mostly on the gas prices, as the price per gallon is nearly one dollar higher than in 2010, said the director of Travel Services at AAA, Glen MacDonell. He added that high gas prices will also lead to a shift in Independence Day travel demographics, as the low-income households will be more severely affected than households with medium to high incomes.

Since fuel is a necessity, the sums spent on fuel are unlikely to change for day-to-day activities. However, in the case of households with low incomes, it is highly probable that leisure expenses will suffer some cuts, including fuel costs for Independence Day travel. According to AAA estimates, from households with incomes of up to 50,000 dollars only 33 percent will travel for Independence Day, down from last year’s 41 percent. Conversely, those from high-income households (100,000+ dollars annually) will travel more, the estimated number of Independence Day travelers going up to 35 percent, from 26 percent last year.

Harris Interactive: Gay and Lesbian Adults More Intent on Traveling This Summer

As the economy in US and around the world is showing signs of improvement, and the summer gets close to its peak, Harris Interactive conducted a national survey to take the pulse of travel intentions of Americans.

The results of the survey indicate that the members of the LGBT community are more intent on travelling this summer compared to that of last year. Some 65 percent of the surveyed gay adults had planned to travel this summer, compared to 60 percent last year. Furthermore, 18 percent of the LGBT responders said they had business travel plans this summer, three percent more than last year.

The survey also revealed that the spending plans also included higher amounts than last summer. In average, they were willing to spend about 1,300 dollars for business or leisure travels, up from 1,058 dollars last year.

Furthermore, about 9 percent of LGBT Americans plan to take more car trips this summer, while 63 percent said they weren’t planning on increasing the number of their summer car trips. Weekend trip intention presented a similar pattern. Some 12 percent of responders said they wanted to increase the number of weekend trips, while 60 percent said they would have just as many leisure weekends as last year. Two percent also indicated they planned to take longer trips.

The survey was conducted online between April 11-18 on behalf of Witeck-Combs Communications, with the participation of 2,576 Americans aged 18 or more. Among the participants, 331 identified themselves as transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay.

Three Major Viruses Can Now Be Identified Through a Single Blood Test

A blood test developed by leading Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche has just received approval to be commercialized on European markets, and it is able to identify, in real time, three major viruses – HBV, HCV and HIV.

The new product is the latest version of the widely used blood test TaqScreen MPX, and it was developed for use with the Cobas 201 testing system.

This version of the TaqScreen test is characterized by high sensitivity, and, so far, it is the only commercially available test that is capable of identifying multiple viruses simultaneously, through the use of an automated system. The TaqScreen eliminates the necessity of further time-consuming tests on batches that turned out positive for viral presence.

The test was developed to detect of the RNA of HIV type 1, HIV type 2, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B DNA, and its intended use is testing blood donations, from blood components to whole blood.

The test also has increased range of viral targets, owing to Roche’s monitoring project, which keeps track of the changes occurring in viral sequences.

The TaqScreen Test uses multi-dye, real-time PCR technology that is able to identify and discriminate simultaneously between HBV, HCV, and HIV types for any given individual sample. The process is fully automated thanks to the Cobas platform, thus reducing the time needed to process the samples and the required volume of the samples.

TaqScreen was developed by Roche’s division of Molecular Diagnostics in the pursuit of the company’s goal of achieving the highest possible efficiency for blood centers and blood safety for patients.

The commercialization of the product was approved for Europe alone. The test is not available on US markets.

NASA: Endeavor Flies Its Last Mission to the International Space Station

The Endeavor shuttle, carrying a team of five under the leadership of Commander Mark Kelly, docked today at 6:14 am EDT on the International Space Station, thus finishing its last mission. The flight, mission STS-134, is also the penultimate orbiter flight.

Shortly before liftoff, the Commander said that this mission represented the power of exploration, commitment and teamwork and that it was in the DNA of the US to launch explorations and reach for the universe. He took the opportunity to thanks those who were watching the launch for their support.

Endeavor and its crew delivered to the science teams on the International Space Station an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which will help them search for cosmic matter of various types, as well as supplies, such as a high-pressure gas tank, Dextre robot parts, and communications antennas.

Some of the shuttle’s systems – namely the orbiter boom system – will be transferred to the International Space Station. After the transfer, the system will assist astronauts in their spacewalks as an extension to the robotic arm of the station.

The crew that accompanies Commander Kelly on Endeavor’s last trip was formed of mission specialists Roberto Vittori, Greg Chamitoff, Drew Feustel and Mike Fincke, and the pilot Greg H. Johnson. Vittori, from the European Space Agency, is the last of the international astronauts to have caught a ride to space on a shuttle.

The mission will last for 16 more days and the space station teams will perform four spacewalks in this time.

Endeavor is set to land back on Earth at Kennedy on June 1 at approximately 2:32 am EDT.

AT&T Remote Communication Solution to Aid Critical Communications in Disaster and Emergency Situations

At&t remote mobilty zoneGovernment, public safety and business organizations in the US are now able to turn on emergency cell-communication sites in case of emergency or disaster situations with the help of AT&T’s Remote Mobility Zone.

The new service offered by AT&T will help key organizations maintain critical level of communication capabilities in emergency situations caused by man-made or natural disasters by providing services for mobile and data communication when wireless coverage is absent.

The system is designed to support and maintain essential communications by allowing key organizations to power up their own cell sites in case of disasters. The system is the first of its kind in the US, and it aims to assist efforts of disaster recovery and continuity of business operations.

AT&T representative Chris Hill said that the Remote Mobility Zone represents a solution to the first minutes of a disaster scenario that can be setup in less than 30 minutes and allows maintaining essential mobile communications.

The Remote Mobility Zone could also represent a viable solution for companies and organizations that operate in remote areas, provided that AT&T has a licensed spectrum there. Permanent Remote Mobility Zone cells can be installed by the AT&T subsidiary Mobility Vanguard Services.

The Remote Mobility Zone comes with various solution packages.

The fixed site deployment offers a cell site that can be used either as a backup communications system or as a permanent one in remote locations without access to wireless networks.

A highly mobile version of the Remote Mobility Zone, the Fly Away package, was specifically designed for first-responders to disaster areas where the communication systems have been knocked out. They extend connectivity by nearly half a mile from the emergency cell, which is stored in a suitcase.

For government organizations, AT&T developed the “Park and Use” package, which can be installed on vehicles. Once the government vehicle reaches the no-communications area, the vehicle occupant can activate the service. Optionally, AT&T provides roof-mounted antennas that would enhance the signal for increased performance while on the move.

The Remote Mobility Zone is part of AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery program, in which the company has invested some 600 million dollars so far.

Choice of Word Matters: Lady Gaga Apologizes for the Casual Use of the Word “Retarded”

In one of her recent interviews, namely with the NME music magazine, Lady Gaga, in a furious reply to her accusers, called the plagiarism claims against her “retarded”.

Being an advocate for rights of various disadvantaged groups, Lady Gaga has apologized afterwards, and she admitted that the use of the word puts a stain on the social issues she advocates for frequently.

She explained that her life’s work is to push for acceptance through music, and she explained through the blog of Perez Hamilton that the word was used in a “furiously unintentional” manner.

Lady Gaga’s casual use of the word reveals the ease with which many other people use it. While it is nearly impossible to measure the large-scale frequency of its use, offers those who feel offended by the use of the word the possibility to ask the “offenders” to reconsider the words they use via a live stream on Twitter.

The project managed to demonstrate that those who use the word “retard” casually are highly likely to apologize if confronted. According to one of’s advocates, Holly Roos, who also has two children suffering from the Fragile-X syndrome, hundreds of tweeters have apologized over the past month for their poor choice of words and pledged to be more considerate in the future.

Holly Roos added that she was happy to see a prominent personality like Lady Gaga reconsider her choice of words.

Lady Gaga’s use of the word “retarded” was all the more shocking as she is herself an advocate for various causes. Recently, she attended an event organized by the Best Buddies Association, a nonprofit group for those affected by a variety of development-impairing syndromes.


Mortgages Remain Difficult to Pay Off for More Than a Fifth of Americans

mortgage loanWhile news gets increasingly optimistic about the economic prospects of the US, some 22 percent of Americans encounter difficulties in keeping up with mortgage payments. This category also includes a small percentage of seven percent, who think that they have serious problems meeting payments on their mortgages, reveals a nationwide poll by Harris Interactive.

Moreover, 21 percent of people who have mortgages think that their properties have seen their values decrease and that there is little chance that their current value would match the value of the mortgage.

Despite the somewhat pessimistic tone, the numbers this year are better than last year. Harris Interactive reports a seven percent decrease in the number of those who have difficulties making mortgage payments, while those who had extreme difficulties are less by four percent this year than in 2010. In 2010, the number of Americans feeling underwater was higher by three percent than this year.

A decrease was also noted in the number of people who have mortgages, from 69 to 66 percent.

Another finding of the survey is that 62 percent of adults, with or without a mortgage, fear that their income this year will not meet the needs of their families. The groups with low income (under 35,000 dollars per year) are very pessimistic, with 75 percent saying that they are concerned about their financial prospects this year, and 36 percent – very concerned.

The poll was conducted with the online participation of almost 3,200 adults in the week of 7-14 March.

Internet Could Improve Teacher-parent Communication

internetMore than 70 percent of the teachers believe that the Internet and the various communication tools made available by new technologies could improve the communication of teachers and school personnel with the parents of the students, reveals a poll conducted by Itslearning, a leading provider of educational technology and communication solutions.

One of the tools the teachers were referring to is a secure web portal where parents would be able to access information relevant to their children’s school activities and performance.

The survey was made with the participation of 5,805 teachers from US, UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany and France.

About 75 percent of the teachers pointed out in the survey that parental engagement is very important when it comes to the education of children, but 44 percent of teachers added that they lacked the means and the time to communicate efficiently with parents. Teachers said that they would like to have a more active communication with parents than they do now. At present, most teachers speak to the parents of their students at least once per semester, but they feel that this level could be improved considerably with the help of properly designed online tools.

Itslearning research manager, Morten Fahlvik, said that, at the moment, teachers use various online and offline tools to communicate with the parents, but that these tools are not designed specifically for the task, and they do not help reduce the teachers’ workload. The survey revealed that 24 percent of the teachers were still sending parents letters by post, while only 37 percent of them were using SMS and 46 percent – emails.

Itslearning launched a dedicated portal based on cloud technology last year, and teachers appear to receive it very well. The company is now performing a survey of parents to see what their opinion is about the portal. The portal is automatically updating grades and attendance, and it also allows teachers to add other types of student-specific information.


Austrian Investment Firm Buys Ukraine’s National Telecom Company

The State Property Fund in Ukraine and the Ukrainian subsidiary of the EPIC Concern in Austrian, ESU LLC, signed an agreement for the acquisition of Ukrtelecom, Ukraine’s biggest state-owned telecom company. Following the agreement, ESU LLC will become the owner of a 92.97 percent share of the Ukrainian telecommunications company. The transaction value is of some 1.3 billion dollars. Furthermore, the buying company committed to repaying the company’s loan of approximately 160 million dollars.

According to the news agency Reuters, this deal counts as the largest privatization contract signed under the administration of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

One of the managing partners at EPIC, Peter Goldscheider, said that the acquisition of Ukrtelecom is part of the Austrian group’s long-term investment strategy and that EPIC was planning to attract some strategic investors. EPIC also plans to launch an initial public offering in the near future.

The privatization of 92.97 percent was announced by the State Property Fund last year, and EPIC Concern’s subsidiary in Ukraine was the only company to make a bid for it. Following the failure to attract more investors in the competition, the state cancelled the bidding process. The telecommunication company has undergone an independent assessment, which was made by the Ukrainian consulting firm Ostrov. The State Property Fund offered EPIC the opportunity for a direct acquisition for the price of 1.3 billion dollars, which the Austrian group accepted.

Ukrtelecom has 373 departments and 33 offices across Ukraine. The company has a share of 80 percent on the fixed-line market of the country, and some 630,000 clients at its mobile telecommunication business Utel.

China Ranks First on the Art Market, Topping US and UK

artsChina scored the first position worldwide according to revenues from fine art auctions, according to art market information company Artprice.

The country’s strengthening economy is reflected in the art sector, which received a considerable boost in 2010 from government institutions and private Chinese collectors. Artprice estimates that the number of art auctions will continue to grow in the following years as the ranks of China’s billionaires grows at the impressive rate of 20 percent annually, compared to 5.6 percent worldwide.

China only needed three years to climb from the third position at the very top. In 2007, China dethroned France from number three, and, in 2010, it managed to jump over US and UK, which were the traditional market leaders for more than five decades.

Artprice’s chief executive Thierry Ehrmann said that the news is unprecedented and that China sliding on the top position represents a key point in the art market’s universal history.

According to Artprice, China did not use any artifices to grab the top spot, as the results are based solely on public auctions of fine art objects. Apparently, not even traditional Chinese art was involved.

Last year, China was responsible for about 33 percent of the global sales of fine art objects, such as drawings, sculptures, installations, paintings, prints and photography. It is closely followed by the US with 30 percent, UK with just 19 percent and France with five percent, reveals an Artprice report.

In 2010, four Chinese artists made it in the top-10 best selling artists, compared to just one in the previous year. The lowest auction revenues, of 112 million dollars, were posted by Fu Baoshi, who landed the 9th position. The 6th position went to Xu Beihong, with auction sales worth 176 million dollars. Qi Baishi took the second place, topping another of his compatriots – Zhang Daqian – and Andy Warhol. Furthermore, China also dominates the contemporary artists’ top10, with 6 of its artists being present there, compared to just three US artists.