Hackers target Westboro Baptist Church website, Twitter account

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hackers claiming to be associated with the internet activist group Anonymous have attacked the website belonging to the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and hacked into the Twitter account belonging to Shirley Phelps-Roper, the Church’s spokeswoman. The attacks are part of an operation dubbed ‘#OpWestBor’ on Twitter and is in response to the Church’s decision to picket funerals of victims of the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” said Phelps in a post to her Twitter account on Saturday.

On Sunday, in a video posted on YouTube, Anonymous announced their intentions saying, “From the time you have received this message, our attack protocol has past been executed and your downfall is underway. Do not attempt to delude yourselves into thinking you can escape our reach, for we are everywhere, and all-seeing, in the same sense as God. … We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.” The Church’s website has been unreachable for most of the day. At the time of this report, the website was unreachable. As a result of the breach, Anonymous claims to have gained access to and leaked alleged personal information such as names, home addresses and telephone numbers belonging to Church members.

Also as part of the operation, early yesterday morning, a member of Anonymous called ‘CosmoTheGod’ hacked the Twitter account belonging to Phelps, posting a ‘tweet’ saying, “This account is now being ran by @CosmoTheGod #UGNazi #oops.” As of this report, Anonymous still has control of it.

This isn’t the first time hackers took control of the Church’s website. In 2011 the Church blamed Anonymous for circulating a letter claiming an attack on the Church’s website was imminent and blamed them for taking down their website in an earlier attack, something the group denied. Shortly after the incident, user “th3j3st3r” on Twitter claimed responsibility for circulating the letter and the initial attack. When Phelps and one of the group’s members were interviewed on live television shortly thereafter, she denied hackers could break into their website or take it offline. However; during the interview, Anonymous hacked into the Church’s website, defaced it and took it offline.

“I was just going to say in the time that Shirley was blabbing her religious preachings I actually did some business and I think if you check downloads.westborobaptistchurch right now you’ll see a nice message from Anonymous”, said Anonymous nine minutes into the interview.

On December 14, a gunman identified as 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother Nancy then went into Sandy Hook Elementary school carrying a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and two other handguns, where he opened fire killing 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of five and ten years old. Shortly after the incident, Lanza shot himself, committing suicide.

Oracle to acquire Siebel for USD 5.85bn

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

US-based Oracle Corporation announced earlier today that they are buying rival US-based Siebel Systems for $10.66 USD per share. Siebel shareholders have the option to receive the $10.66 per share in cash or in Oracle stock. This deal is valued at approximately $5.85 billion USD. Siebel Systems’ Board of Directors has already voted in favour of the acquisition. Founder Thomas Siebel has also given his support. A special meeting will soon be held for Siebel stockholders to vote on the acquisition. If all goes well the deal should close in the early part of next year.

After acquiring Siebel; Oracle, which specializes in database applications, will become the second largest software company. Oracle has offices in more than 145 countries, and employs over 50,000 people. This acquisition will make Oracle the largest customer relationship management (CRM) applications company in the world. CRM applications include accounting, inventory management and customer management software. “Siebel’s 4,000 applications customers and 3,400,000 CRM users strengthen our number one position in applications in North America and move us closer to the number one position in applications globally”, said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

“Today is a great day for Siebel Systems’ customers, partners, shareholders, and employees,” said Thomas M. Siebel, Chairman and Founder of Siebel Systems. Many analysts predicted the acquisition of Siebel after Oracle bought competitor PeopleSoft for $10 billion USD, last December.

California’s violent video game ban law ruled unconstitutional by US Court of Appeals

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday has declared unconstitutional California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793, the California “ultraviolent video games law” that sought to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Federal judge Consuelo M. Callahan has ruled that the 2005 statewide ban, which has yet to be enforced, violates minors’ rights under the US Constitution’s First and 14th amendment because even the most graphic on-screen mayhem, video game content represents free speech that cannot be censored without proper justification.

The Court has ruled that there’s no convincing evidence it causes psychological damage to young people. The 3-0 judgment has affirmed an earlier ruling by a U.S. District Court, which barred enforcement of the law on the basis that it was “unduly restrictive” and “used overly broad definitions,” and that the state failed to show that the limitations on violent video games would actually protect children.

In 2005, Leland Yee (余胤良), a California State Senator (in District 8 which includes the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County), Speaker pro Tempore of the Assembly (D-San Francisco/Daly City), introduced California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793 which barred “ultra-violent” video games from minors under the age of eighteen in California and mandated the application of ESRB ratings for video games.

“California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793” were commonly called the “ultraviolent video games bills” or simply “video game ban” bills. Bill 1792 banned the sales of such video games while Bill 1793 required signs explaining the regulations on said games to be placed where such were sold. Both bills were passed by the Assembly and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger into law (AB 1179) on October 7, 2005.

Explicitly, these two bills provided that:

  • AB 1792 will place ultra-violent video games into the “matter” portion of the penal code, which criminalizes the sale of said material to a minor.
  • AB 1793 will require retailers to place M-rated games separate from other games intended for children, and will also require retailers to display signage explaining the ESRB rating system.

Yee, a former child psychologist has publicly criticized such games as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Manhunt 2, and opposes the U.S. Army’s Global Gaming League.

On October 17, 2005, before the effectivity of the challenged Act, plaintiffs Video Software Dealers Association, the not-for-profit international trade association dedicated to advancing the interests of the $32 billion home entertainment industry and Entertainment Software Association, a 1994 US trade association of the video game industry have filed lawsuit (D.C. No. CV-05-04188-RMW) against the defendants Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, CA Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown, Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, City Attorney for the City of San Jose, Richard Doyle, and County Counsel for the County of Santa Clara, Ann Miller Ravel.

Plaintiffs’ counsel, Jenner & Block‘s Paul M. Smith has filed a declaratory relief to invalidate the newly-enacted California Civil Code sections 1746-1746.5 (the “Act”), on the grounds that it allegedly violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Plaintiffs have submitted that “the Act unconstitutionally curtailed freedom of expression on its face based on content regulation and the labeling requirement, was unconstitutionally vague, and violated equal protection. California’s restrictions could open the door for states to limit minors’ access to other material under the guise of protecting children.”

By December 2005, both bills had been struck down as unconstitutional, by Ronald M. Whyte, District Judge, Presiding in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, thereby preventing either from going into effect on January 1, 2006.

Judge Whyte has granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in “Video Software Dealers Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger,” 401 F. Supp. 2d 1034 (N.D. Cal. 2005), and cross-motions for summary judgment, in “Video Software Dealers Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger,” No. C-05-04188, slip op. (N.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2007).

Similar bills were subsequently filed in such states as Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Michigan and Louisiana have been ruled to be unconstitutional by federal courts on First Amendment grounds, according to Sean Bersell, a spokesman for the Entertainment Merchants Association.

The defendants, in the instant Case No. 07-16620, have timely appealed the judgment. On October 29, 2008, the appealed case was argued and submitted to the Sacramento, California‘s U.S. Court of Appeals, hence, the promulgation of the instant 30 pages decision (No. 07-16620; D.C. No. CV-05-04188-RMW) by Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Sidney R. Thomas and Consuelo M. Callahan (who wrote the court’s opinion), United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judges.

In the ban’s defense, Deputy Attorney General for the State of California, Zackery Morazzini has contended that “if governments restrict the sale of pornography to minors, it should also create a separate category for ultra-violent video games.” Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr., California Attorney General, has also argued that “the Court should analyze the Act’s restrictions under what has been called the ‘variable obscenity’ or ‘obscenity as to minors’ standard first mentioned in Ginsberg, 390 U.S. 629. The Court’s reasoning in Ginsberg that a state could prohibit the sale of sexually-explicit material to minors that it could not ban from distribution to adults should be extended to materials containing violence.”

The “Fallo” or dispositive portion of the judgment in question goes as follows:

We hold that the Act, as a presumptively invalid contentbased restriction on speech, is subject to strict scrutiny and not the “variable obscenity” standard from Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968). Applying strict scrutiny, we hold that the Act violates rights protected by the First Amendment because the State has not demonstrated a compelling interest, has not tailored the restriction to its alleged compelling interest, and there exist less-restrictive means that would further the State’s expressed interests. Additionally, we hold that the Act’s labeling requirement is unconstitutionally compelled speech under the First Amendment because it does not require the disclosure of purely factual information; but compels the carrying of the State’s controversial opinion. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Plaintiffs and its denial of the State’s cross-motion. Because we affirm the district court on these grounds, we do not reach two of Plaintiffs’ challenges to the Act: first, that the language of the Act is unconstitutionally vague, and, second, that the Act violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.—”Video Software Dealers Association; Entertainment Software Association v. Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Kennedy” – No. 07-16620; D.C. No. CV-05-04188-RMW – Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Sidney R. Thomas and

Consuelo M. Callahan, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Circuit Judges.

“We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder,” said the law’s author, Sen. Leland Yee, announcing he wanted Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr., the current Attorney General and a former governor of the State of California, to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Letting the industry police itself is like letting kids sign their own report cards and that a self regulating system simply doesn’t work. I’ve always contended that the … law the governor signed was a good one for protecting children from the harm from playing these ultra-violent video games. I’ve always felt it would end up in the Supreme Court,” Sen. Yee explained. “In fact, the high court recently agreed, in Roper v. Simmons (2005), that we need to treat children differently in the eyes of the law due to brain development,” he added.

According to Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, plaintiff, the Court’s ruling has stressed that parents, with assistance from the industry, are the ones who should control what games their children play. “This is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time and state resources,” Gallagher said in a statement.

California’s violent video game law properly seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games. While I am deeply disappointed in today’s ruling, we should not stop our efforts to assist parents in keeping these harmful video games out of the hands of children.

Entertainment Software Association members include Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp, THQ Inc, Sony Computer Entertainment America, and Take-Two Interactive Software, the maker of “Grand Theft Auto” games.

Judge Callahan has also reprimanded state lawyers for having failed to show any reasonable alternatives to an outright statewide ban against the ultra-violent video games. “Ratings education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content,” said Bo Andersen, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Merchants Association.

Andersen continues, “retailers are committed to assisting parents in assuring that children do not purchase games that are not appropriate for their age. Independent surveys show that retailers are doing a very good job in this area, with an 80 percent enforcement rate, and retailers will continue to work to increase enforcement rates even further; the court has correctly noted that the state cannot simply dismiss these efforts.”

California was already forced to pay $282,794 to the ESA for attorneys’ fees, money that would’ve helped with the state’s current budget difficulties. Andersen has urged California government officials not to appeal the case. “The estimated $283,000 in taxpayer money spent by the state on this case is so far an ‘ill-advised, and ultimately doomed, attempt at state-sponsored nannyism.’ A voluntary ratings system already exists to avoid the state-sponsored nannyism of a ban,” he explained.

“The governor believes strongly we have a responsibility to our children and our communities to protect against the effects of video games depicting ultra-violent actions,” said Governor Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Camille Anderson adding the governor was reviewing Friday’s decision.

Deputy Attorney General Zackery Morazzini, the state’s counsel in the appealed case, has stressed that “a law restricting sales of violent games is far more effective than industry self-policing, since the technological controls that the court cited as another alternative can be easily bypassed by any kid with an Internet connection.”

According to Jim Steyer, Founder of Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization of 750,000 regular users dedicated to improving children’s media lives, researches have shown that playing these violent video games are detrimental for kids mental and physical health. “The health threat involved with kids playing such games is equivalent to smoking cigarettes,” Steyer said. “These violent video games are learning tools for our children and clearly result in more aggressive behavior,” said Randall Hagar, California Psychiatric Association’s Director of Government Affairs.

The Federal Trade Commission‘s data reveals that “nearly 70 percent of thirteen to sixteen year olds are able to purchase M-rated (Mature) video games, which are designed for adults; ninety-two percent of children play video or computer games, of which about forty percent are rated M, which are the fastest growing segment of the 10 billion-dollar video game industry; the top selling games reward players for killing police officers, maiming elderly persons, running over pedestrians and committing despicable acts of murder and torture upon women and racial minorities.”

Somali pirates launch attack on oil tanker

Monday, November 9, 2009

Somali pirates have carried out their longest-range attack to date today, firing on an oil tanker 1,850 kilometers off the coast of Somalia. NATO and European Union anti-piracy forces say pirates attacked the ship in the Indian Ocean, 740 kilometers northeast of the Seychelles islands.

The reports say pirates in at least two skiffs approached the tanker and attacked it with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The vessel took evasive maneuvers and escaped. No casualties were reported. The EU says a spotter plane has been sent to monitor the pirates.

Meanwhile, maritime officials say Somali pirates have seized a cargo ship full of weapons. Details are sketchy on the incident. It is not clear when or where pirates seized the ship, which the officials say is using a fake name, Al Mizan.

The Atalanta naval mission of the EU, which operates off the coast of Somalia, released a statement regarding the incident. “This was the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast ever. Automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades were fired. With increasing speed and evasive maneuvers the master managed to evade the attack. No casualties were reported,” it read.

Somali pirates have gradually extended their reach using so-called mother ships that can journey far out to sea. From these, the pirates launch small skiffs to attack and board commercial vessels.

Last year, and for much of this year, most of the pirates’ attacks took place in the Gulf of Aden, north of Somalia. But in recent weeks, the pirates have concentrated their efforts in the western Indian Ocean, north of the Seychelles. The vast area is much harder for foreign naval patrols stationed off Somalia to cover, although the patrols have stopped some pirate attacks in progress.

Somali pirates are holding at least nine ships and well over 100 crew members in all. The pirates are also holding a British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, who they seized from a yacht last month.

Congressman Cunningham admits taking bribes

Monday, November 28, 2005

U.S. Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (RCA) pled guilty today to conspiring to take bribes in exchange for using his influence as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to help a defense contractor get business. In total he pled guilty to one count of income tax evasion and four counts of conspiracy, namely mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery of public official and accepting bribes. U.S. District judge Larry A. Burns scheduled Cunnigham to be sentenced on February 27. He is facing up to 10 years in prison and nearly $500,000 in fines, as well as forfeiture of unspecified amounts of cash and property.

In the court hearing, Cunningham admitted to accepting “bribes in exchange for performance of official duties” between “the year 2000 and June of 2005”, taking “both cash payments and payments in kind” and following up by “trying to influence the Defense Department”.

The federal investigation against Cunningham was triggered by his sale of his California residence to defense contractor Mitchell Wade in late 2003. However, Wade never moved in and sold the house at a $700,000 loss three quarters of a year later. At the same time Wade’s company MZM won tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts. Subsequent investigations discovered more questionable business transactions, including interactions with the defense contractor ADCS. In his plea agreement he testified that, among other charges, he “demanded, sought and received at least $2.4 million in illicit payments and benefits from his co-conspirators in various forms, including cash, checks, meals, travel, lodging, furnishings, antiques, rugs, yacht club fees, boat repairs and improvements, moving expenses, cars and boats.”

Cunningham announced his resignation after the hearing. In a written statement released by his law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP he declared “The truth is — I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.”

Judge orders residents and city to come to agreement on partially collapsed building in Buffalo, New York

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Buffalo, New York — Judge Justice Christopher Burns of the New York State Supreme Court has ordered a halt to an emergency demolition on a 19th century stable and livery on 428-430 Jersey Street in Buffalo, New York that partially collapsed on Wednesday June 11, initially causing at least 15 homes to be evacuated. At least two homes remain evacuated.

Burns orders that both the city and the group Save The Livery (www.savethelivery.com) have to come to an agreement on what to do with the building, and try to work out ways of saving at least some portions if it including the facade, side walls and a lift tower. Save The Livery is comprised of concerned area residents who have grown to love the building’s historic and unique character. On June 14, they won a temporary restraining order to stop demolition. The court ruled that the city was only allowed to remove material in immediate danger to residents and pedestrians, but stated that the demolition could only be performed with “hand tools.” The court also ordered that any rubble which had fallen into neighboring yards when the building collapsed, to be removed.

“It is in the interest of the city to have a safe environment–but also important to maintain a sense of historical preservation,” stated Burns in his ruling. Burns has given the sides until tomorrow (Friday June 20) to come to an agreement and has ordered both parties to return to court at 9:30 a.m. (eastern time) “sharp.” Activists of Save The Livery urge supporters of the stable to “fill the courtroom” to show “continued and ongoing support.” The hearing is scheduled to take place at 25 Delaware Avenue in the Supreme Court building, 3rd Floor, trial part 19.

Currently the building is owned by Bob Freudenheim who has several building violations against him because of the buildings poor condition. He has received at least five violations in three months and residents who live near the building state that Freudenheim should be “100% responsible” for his actions. Many are afraid that if the building is demolished, Freudenheim’s charges of neglect will be abolished.

On June 17, developer and CEO of Savarino Companies, Sam Savarino was at the site of the stable, discussing the building with residents and preservationists. In 2006, Savarino proposed and planned The Elmwood Village Hotel, a ‘botique’ hotel on the Southeast corner of Elmwood and Forest Avenues. The project was later withdrawn after residents filed a lawsuit against Savarino and the city. Wikinews extensively covered the story, and contacted Savarino for his professional opinion on the building.

“[I would] love to see it preserved. I was there to see if there was anything we could do to help, to see if anything can be salvaged. I just want to see the right thing happen, and so does the city,” stated Savarino to Wikinews who added that he was allowed inside the building for a brief period.

“The side walls are beyond repair. The roof has rotted and it could come down at any time,” added Savarino who also said that the building “below the second floor appears to be stable.” He also states that the back wall of the building, which borders several homes, appears to be intact.

“Eliminating the back wall could be a problem for the neighbors. It is not unreasonable to leave at least 12 feet” of the back wall standing, added Savarino.

Savarino did not say if he was interested in buying the property, but did state, “I am sure there are a couple of people interested” in buying the property. On Thursday, Buffalo News reported that a “businessman” might be interested in purchasing the property, though Wikinews is not able to independently confirm the report. Savarino says that with the property still slated for emergency demolition, a potential buyer could face tax fees of nearly US$300,000.

Freudenheim gave the city permission to demolish the building on Thursday June 12 during an emergency Preservation Board meeting, because he would not be “rehabilitating the building anytime soon.” Freudenheim, along with his wife Nina, were part-owners of the Hotel Lenox at 140 North Street in Buffalo and were advocates to stop the Elmwood Village Hotel. They also financially supported a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the hotel from being built. Though it is not known exactly how long Freudenheim has owned the stable, Wikinews has learned that he was the owner while fighting to stop the hotel from being built. Residents say that he has been the owner for at least 22 years.

The building was first owned by a company called White Bros. and was used as a stable for a farm which once covered the land around the building for several blocks. The Buffalo Fire Department believes the building was built around 1814, while the city property database states it was built in 1870. Servants and workers of the farm were housed inside resident quarters situated at the rear of the building on what is now Summer Street, but are now cottages where area residents currently reside. Some date as far back as 1829.

At about 1950, the stable was converted into an automobile body shop and gasoline station.A property record search showed that in 1950 at least four fuel storage tanks were installed on the property. Two are listed as 550 square feet while the other two are 2,000 square feet. All of the tanks are designated as a TK4, which New York State says is used for “below ground horizontal bulk fuel storage.” The cost of installing a tank of that nature according to the state, at that time, included the tank itself, “excavation and backfill,” but did not include “the piping, ballast, or hold-down slab orring.” It is not known if the tanks are still on the property, but residents are concerned the city was not taking the precautions to find out.

Latest trial of the One Laptop Per Child running in India; Uruguay orders 100,000 machines

Thursday, November 8, 2007

India is the latest of the countries where the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) experiment has started. Children from the village of Khairat were given the opportunity to learn how to use the XO laptop. During the last year XO was distributed to children from Arahuay in Peru, Ban Samkha in Thailand, Cardal in Uruguay and Galadima in Nigeria. The OLPC team are, in their reports on the startup of the trials, delighted with how the laptop has improved access to information and ability to carry out educational activities. Thailand’s The Nation has praised the project, describing the children as “enthusiastic” and keen to attend school with their laptops.

Recent good news for the project sees Uruguay having ordered 100,000 of the machines which are to be given to children aged six to twelve. Should all go according to plan a further 300,000 machines will be purchased by 2009 to give one to every child in the country. As the first to order, Uruguay chose the OLPC XO laptop over its rival from Intel, the Classmate PC. In parallel with the delivery of the laptops network connectivity will be provided to schools involved in the project.

The remainder of this article is based on Carla G. Munroy’s Khairat Chronicle, which is available from the OLPC Wiki. Additional sources are listed at the end.

Contents

  • 1 India team
  • 2 Khairat
    • 2.1 The town school
  • 3 The workplace
  • 4 Marathi
  • 5 The teacher
  • 6 Older children, teenagers, and villagers
  • 7 The students
  • 8 Teacher session
  • 9 Parents’ meetings
  • 10 Grounding the server
  • 11 Every child at school
  • 12 Sources
  • 13 External links

Parajet Skycar expedition takes off from London to Timbuktu

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two explorers have set off from Knightsbridge, London Wednesday morning (0900 GMT) in a propeller-powered dune buggy heading for the Sahara. Giles Cardozo, age 29, from Dorset, with chief pilot and expedition leader Neil Laughton, age 45, an ex-SAS officer, will fly and drive the amazing two-seater vehicle more than 6,000-km (3,750-miles) to fabled Timbuktu on February 20.

“I just can’t wait to see their faces when we fly in and start playing football with them. I don’t think they will be able to believe somebody in a flying car has just visited them,” ‘extreme golfer’ Mr Laughton said before the departure. Timbuktu (Timbuctoo; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu; French: Tombouctou) is an isolated city in Tombouctou Region, in the West African nation of Mali. They will traverse Europe and Africa about 42 days to arrive at the city in Mali, West Africa before returning home via Senegal.

The home-made 450-kilogram Skycar has been designed by Cardozo in just 18 months. It is the world’s first road legal bio fuelled flying car. It is a four cylinders modified Rage Motorsport off-road racing buggy which was approved by the government last month. It runs on bioethanol and is powered by a modified 140bhp Yamaha R1 superbike engine with a lightweight automatic continuously variable transmission from a snowmobile.

The team invested about £250,000 ($380,000) to make the 1000cc engine Skycar desert-proof. In its maiden voyage, the flying car will be escorted by up to 13 people convoy including an eight-wheel truck, two Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4s and several motorbikes. It has left London’s Sheraton Park Tower hotel, heading through the capital to Dunsfold airfield in Surrey.

The team had initially planned to take the air route across the English Channel, but the 35km flight was vetoed by aviation authorities. Skycar is required by law to obtain a license from Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), including a permit from the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA). Skycar spokeswoman, Charlie Bell, however clarified that the team was “in liaison with the CAA and they are looking to finalize the permit,” adding that it is in order for the rest of the trip.

The Skycar will thereafter fly over the high-altitude Pyrenees near Andorra, and would cross over the 14-km (nine-mile) Strait of Gibraltar. The prepared journey also includes the route through Mauritania, Atlas Mountains in Morocco and into Mali. It will further cross the harsh environment of Sahara’s remote “Rub’ al Khali” (empty quarter), for up to two weeks amid real fears of terrorist attacks.

The expedition will not have an easy task, especially since the Skycar will be tested to the limits amid punishing operating environments and weather conditions. “Clearly the reliability of the car is crucial,” said Mr Laughton. “We’re going to have to cope with wind chill temperatures as low as -30 deg C and blistering heat of up to 50 deg C. But it’s been fully tested at a secret location and it 100 per cent works,” he added.

The Parajet Skycar is a prototype flying car. It was developed by British paramotor manufacturer Parajet. The flying car utilizes a paramotor and a parafoil attached to a modified dune buggy to achieve sustained level flight. Should the engine fail, the vehicle can glide back to the ground. Should the canopy rip, an emergency reserve parachute would be deployed. It requires three minutes to convert it from a car to an aircraft. The prototype runs on biodiesel and is fully road-legal.

In 2004 British engineer Giles Cardozo, a paramotor manufacturer, has invented a fan-powered flying car to prove the Skycar is real and works. “I started making a paramotor on wheels that you sit on and take off and it suddenly occurred to me, ‘Why not just have a car that does everything?’” Cardozo said. His Wiltshire-based company Parajet built the paramotor that the adventurer Bear Grylls did fly near Everest in 2008. In 1998, Grylls, aged 23, became the youngest British to ascend Mount Everest. In May 2007, Grylls and Cardozo departed from Pheriche, about 32 kilometres south of Mount Everest.

I thought this would be an interesting challenge… Timbuktu is an iconic and quirky destination.

Cardozo has claimed he may finally have made it. “I’ve been dreaming about making flying cars since I was a boy, thinking about all the ways it could be done and seeing how all the other people in the world have done it wrong. No one’s ever made one that really does work that you can go out and buy. But here’s the ultimate solution: it’s cheap, it’s safe, it works, all the technology’s already there. So I pushed ahead and thought, ‘We’ve got to do it’,” he said.

If the Skycar becomes successful, Cardozo’s company plans a limited production with a selling price of £35,000 to £40,000 for a standard model and £60,000 for a high-performance sports version. “It will be a serious aircraft but also a proper road machine, with acceleration to match your average sports car,” says Cardozo. “I’m not going to sell millions of them but even if we sell 20 we’ll be laughing,” he added.

The explorers, with the aid of sponsors, supporters and benefactor Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet OBE (known as ‘Ranulph (Ran) Fiennes’), have aimed to raise more than £100,000 for some charities including an African orphanage.

Reports suggest probe into Formula One race-fixing allegations

Monday, August 31, 2009

News reports are suggesting that Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, are investigating alleged race-fixing by Renault. The FIA would only confirm a probe into “alleged incidents at a previous Formula One world championship event.”

According to Brazil’s Globo TV, Renault racer Nelson Piquet Jr. was told to crash his car during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, which was the sport’s first night race. By accident or design, Piquet did indeed crash during the race, which benefited teamate Fernando Alonso, who had just pitted early for fuel. Alonso went on to win the race.

Piquet was fired during this season by Renault and replaced with Romain Grosjean. He claims he was treated unfairly at the team. His comments about the race at the time were “We tried two extreme strategies with Fernando quite short and me quite long in the hope of getting a safety car. If I hadn’t crashed I would have been lucky with the safety car later in the race…”

However, it is now reported that new evidence has been supplied to the FIA. The source of this evidence has not been disclosed. The world motorsport council has the power to impose harsh penalties upon Renault if the allegations are proven, including large fines.

While the debris from the crash was cleared, the safety car was out on the track. Because Alonso had pitted early, he was the only one of the leading cars that did not need to stop for fuel and new tyres. According to the BBC and The Times, if there is found to be evidence of misconduct the world motorsport council will probably meet to investigate.