Monday, April 30, 2007

The New York Times
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April 29, 2007

Love and Loneliness on the Las Vegas Strip

LOS ANGELES

CERTAIN films are unimaginable anywhere but in the cities where they’re set. “Sweet Smell of Success” in New York, for instance, or “Breathless” in Paris. “Chinatown” in noirish Los Angeles, “The Untouchables” in two-fisted Chicago. Similarly, if one wants to make a movie about bluffing, artifice and high-grade insincerity, there’s only one logical place to go.

Las Vegas is not just the backdrop but the neon-lighted moral reflector of the director Curtis Hanson’s latest, “Lucky You,” a romance involving a man (Eric Bana) and his woman (Drew Barrymore), though it’s really about the man and his card game (poker). Written by Mr. Hanson and the Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”), it’s also about the cost of playing emotions close to the vest, and the issues of illusion and perception — themes that tie together many of Mr. Hanson’s films, including “L.A. Confidential,” “Wonder Boys,” “8 Mile” and “In Her Shoes.”

“The location itself speaks to that,” said Carol Fenelon, Mr. Hanson’s friend for 20 years, his producer and his partner in the production company Deuce Three. “The whole idea of the Vegas strip — every hotel is created to mimic something that exists in its original form somewhere else, and is always a very bad facsimile of it,” Ms. Fenelon added, alluding to ersatz monuments like the Paris hotel’s Eiffel Tower and the Luxor’s pyramid. “Las Vegas is like that on so many levels: people come there as doctors or lawyers, and become gamblers. They exist in a way that has nothing to do with what they are inside. It’s all about playing the game.”

And Mr. Hanson, who was born in gambling’s second city, Reno, Nev., couldn’t ignore the similarities to the movie world, where survival depends on creating, and maintaining, an alternate reality.

“Part of the reason for wanting to make the movie was that the poker world was different, interesting, and we had an affinity for it,” said Mr. Hanson, who still plays regularly in casual contests with money at stake, while Ms. Fenelon competes in tournaments. “But the other part of it was the emotional thing. The skills at the table — and in the movie business — are different from the qualities that you want running your personal life. That single-mindedness, the aggression, the duplicity or bluffing or whatever you want to call it, the lack of sympathy — as Billy says,” a reference to Ms. Barrymore’s character, “you can’t be concerned with whether your opponent can afford to lose or not. That was the real attraction, to deal with that, and explore people whose business means being in that situation all the time. How does that impact their private life?”

Or, for that matter, their professional life? Although filmmaking is often described as a collaborative medium — especially when it’s successful — the director can be like a player with two aces in the hole and a dwindling pile of chips. For at least 10 years, Mr. Hanson has been among Hollywood’s more critically respected directors, but box-office success has for the most part eluded him. “L.A. Confidential” was his splashiest success, with Oscars for the supporting actress Kim Basinger and the Hanson-Brian Helgeland screenplay, as well as nominations in seven other categories.

He also generates respect among the people with whom he’s worked. “Curtis has this great ability to see what makes you tick and find the appropriate things to say,” said Guy Pearce, one of the stars of “L.A. Confidential.” “I don’t mean in a politically correct way, but as in terms of inspiring you and getting you to do what he wants. To me, that’s the job description of what directing is all about.”

Yet Mr. Hanson’s post-“L.A. Confidential” work has seemed snakebit. The much-lauded “Wonder Boys” never seemed to be given a proper release; the Eminem vehicle “8 Mile” was pigeonholed as a rap movie; and “In Her Shoes” was marketed merely as a Cameron Diaz chick flick. And the odds for “Lucky You” don’t look particularly favorable. Its release has been delayed by Warner Brothers, which has decided that its ideal opening berth is opposite “Spider-Man 3” this Friday.

Add to this the fact that the trailers for the movie are emphasizing the romance between the Bana and Barrymore characters, rather than the angle that would seem to be a surefire marketing hook: poker. Ever since Chris Moneymaker, a virtual unknown, emerged from the world of Internet gambling to win the World Series of Poker in 2003— thus creating the so-called Moneymaker effect, which convinced many untutored amateurs that even they could beat the pros — the game has exploded. Televised poker has become the No. 3 spectator sport behind pro football and Nascar racing, according to Variety, and the World Poker Tour presents it on the Travel Channel, which has committed to broadcasting three more years of tournaments. Last year, the World Series of Poker involved 8,773 players and awarded $12 million to the first-place finisher.

The Moneymaker year, 2003 — the same in which “Lucky You” is set — was only the second in which the “hole card” camera was in use (showing the player’s hidden cards for use in delayed broadcasts), a change that inevitably altered the pro game’s psychology. Harrah’s bought the World Series trademark the following year and moved the event from its longtime home, Binion’s Horseshoe, to Harrah’s own casino Rio (“an ugly monstrosity right off the Strip,” Ms. Fenelon said). Predictably, perhaps, the rise in poker’s popularity has meant a gradual separation from its roots.

Mr. Hanson’s reaction has been to graft his story to a sense of poker history and its vanishing sense of earthy romance. Using actual poker aces among the cast — more than two dozen make cameo appearances, including Huck Seed, the namesake of Mr. Bana’s Huck Cheever — Mr. Hanson based the poker hands on ones drawn from games that he and Ms. Fenelon had observed, or that their chief poker consultant, the world-class player Doyle Brunson, had lived through himself.

In one sequence early in the film, Huck beats an opponent with a pair of deuces. Mr. Brunson had once been on the receiving end of that, in a game against the poker master Chip Reese.

“It was a young man’s move,” Mr. Hanson said. “Chip has said that on that hand, he wasn’t playing the cards, he was playing the man. He had played Doyle many, many times, and Doyle made a move of pushing all in at a critical moment of the hand. And Chip read him correctly as having nothing.

“It wasn’t about the cards. It was about the person.”

Historically, Mr. Hanson said, gambling movies have tended to dwell on cheating or the “unbelievably great hand” that comes out of nowhere, like four of a kind or a royal flush. “Not that people haven’t cheated, obviously, but that’s really not part of the game.”

When the character played by Jean Smart gets a straight flush during the World Series, the commentator notes that there has been only one of those at the final table of the event. It’s a scene that illustrates the vortex of probability and serendipity in which the professional poker player finds himself — as does the professional filmmaker, who knows a little more, but never enough, about what determines success. Both are, in a sense, lone guns. It doesn’t seem accidental that the phrase “luck of the draw” can apply equally to cardplaying or gunslinging, or that the denouement of “Lucky You” — a showdown between Mr. Bana’s character and his nemesis, L. C., played by Robert Duvall — recalls not just the 52-card catharsis of “The Cincinnati Kid” but also the showdowns that climax many great westerns.

And, as in many westerns, the story line is propelled by the concept of loneliness — “poker playing,” said Mr. Roth, the screenwriter, “being a defense against loneliness, moreover a fight against the inexorability of time.”

In “Lucky You” the vanishing frontier of a John Ford movie is mirrored by the disappearing authenticity of big-time poker.

“I’m always intrigued by the way things that are real in our culture are replaced by things which simulate authenticity,” Mr. Hanson said. “At the same time, there’s also this yearning for reality. That’s why Duvall says at the end of the movie, after L. C. has been hired to make an appearance as a celebrity poker player, ‘They want to pretend it’s the way it used to be.’ That the game is what it used to be. But it’s exploded far beyond that.”


CNNMoney.com

Wal-Mart faces blast from human rights group

Report claims No. 1 retailer uses array of tactics - some illegal - to prevent unions in stores.

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has used a myriad of tactics, including some that are illegal, to hinder the ability of its workers to form labor unions, a human rights group said in a report to be released Tuesday.

According to Human Rights Watch, the world's largest retailer has restricted the dissemination and discussion of pro-union views, threatened to withhold benefits from workers who organize, interrogated workers about their union sympathies and sent managers to eavesdrop on employee conversations.

Wal-Mart (Charts, Fortune 500), the largest private employer in the United States, has also refused to bargain collectively, fired employees it knows to be pro-union and focused security cameras on areas where union organizing is heaviest, according to the report.

Wal-Mart employs more than 1.3 million workers nationwide, none of which is in a union. "Wal-Mart workers have virtually no chance to organize because they're up against unfair U.S. labor laws and a giant company that will do just about anything to keep unions out," said Carol Pier, who researched the report for Human Rights Watch, which probes human rights abuses around the world.

Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said the Human Rights Watch report is based on "unsubstantiated allegations" and added that the retailer respects its workers' right to a free and fair unionization vote.

"Wal-Mart provides an environment of open communications and gives our associates every opportunity to express their ideas, comments and concerns," Tovar said in an emailed statement.

"It is because of our efforts to foster such an environment that our associates have repeatedly rejected unionization attempts."

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said it interviewed 41 current and former Wal-Mart workers and managers, met with labor lawyers and union organizers, and analyzed lawsuits that accuse Wal-Mart of violating U.S. labor laws.

"Wal-Mart is a poster child for what is wrong with U.S. labor laws," said Pier. "Many tactics comport with U.S. law but taken together they create a climate of fear and intimidation."

Wal-Mart exposes new hires to anti-union training sessions and videos, gives managers union-prevention manuals and uses a "union hotline" and a centralized database to track union activity across the country, Human Rights Watch said.

U.S. labor laws fall short of international standards, the report said, and "allow a wide range of employer conduct that violates workers' right to organize and fail to include 'sufficiently dissuasive sanctions against acts of interference by employers against workers and workers' organizations,' as required by law."

Wal-Mart, which competes against Target (Charts, Fortune 500) and Costco (Charts, Fortune 500), operates some 4,000 stores nationwide, has battled critics who charge it with providing poverty-level wages and inadequate health care.

latimes.com

Google fires back against Viacom suit

Google
By Dawn C. Chmielewski
Times Staff Writer

6:24 PM PDT, April 30, 2007

Google Inc. fired back against Viacom Inc. today, arguing that the entertainment giant's $1 billion copyright infringement case threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news and entertainment online.

In a federal court filing in New York, Google argued that its popular online video site, YouTube, cannot be held liable for the video clips of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "SpongeBob SquarePants" or other Viacom shows that users post, because copyright law provides a shield.

Google said Congress, in passing the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, struck a careful balance between copyright holders' right to protect their content online and the interests of service providers whose computers store the information. The law gives providers of Internet access, e-mail and Web services a "safe harbor" from liability, so long as they act quickly to remove infringing material, Google said.

"Congress, in the DMCA, provides hosting platforms like YouTube with very clear protections against lawsuits of this nature … provided we take certain steps," said Mia Garlick, Google product counsel. "It has been our position consistently that we meet and exceed those steps that are laid out in the DMCA."

Viacom didn't mince words in responding to Google's allegations. "It is obvious that YouTube has knowledge of infringing material on their site and they are profiting from it," a statement from Viacom said. "It is simply not credible that a company whose mission is to organize the world's information claims that it can't find what's on YouTube. Unfortunately, Google continues to distinguish itself by failing to join the majority of major digital companies that have affirmatively embraced the legal rights of copyright holders."

Viacom sued Google and YouTube in March, seeking at least $1 billion in damages for alleged copyright violations. It accused YouTube of deliberately building a library of copyrighted works to attract viewers to the site and increase its value – and making calculated decisions "not to take reasonable precautions to deter the rampant infringement."

Google denied the allegations in its 12-page legal response, offering a lengthy list of arguments it plans to make in court, including that video excerpts can be posted online as a fair use of copyrighted works.

Google's Garlick said YouTube goes well beyond what the DMCA requires in providing copyright holders ways to verify that their videos are on the site and an automated process for requesting the unauthorized clips be removed.

"We're very confident in our legal position and believe that we're definitely meeting our obligation," Garlick said.

Some legal observers, such as Matt Jackson, an associate professor at Penn State University, said the case may hinge on whether the courts determine that YouTube must proactively screen the videos its users post.

Richard E. Neff, partner at Greenberg Glusker law firm in Los Angeles, said the protections Google claims rely on YouTube lacking actual knowledge of the infringing material. While it's true YouTube may not know whether an individual clip from "The Colbert Report" is copyrighted, it's also clear that infringement is happening on a massive scale, he said.

"It's not a slam dunk, but a court is likely to find that this is going on massively, daily [and] you've got to do something about it," Neff said.
The New York Times
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April 20, 2007

Big Money in Little Screens

SAN FRANCISCO, April 19 — Searching the Web on a mobile phone has been a lot like getting online via dial-up modem circa 1995: slow, tedious and not terribly useful. Typing on tiny buttons, squinting at a list of links and clicking through to a page that won’t display properly is enough to test anyone’s patience.

But that is beginning to change. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have all trained their sights on cellphones, which they see as the next great battleground in the Internet search wars. They have thrown tens of millions of dollars and armies of programmers at the problem, seeking to develop tools that people on the move can actually use.

In recent months, the three search giants have introduced a new breed of search services that emphasize quick answers to urgent questions: Where is the best local pizzeria? How did the Yankees do against the A’s? What’s the fastest way to get to the airport?

The services are beginning to carry small ads related to searches like those that have turned desktop Internet search into a gold mine.

“The biggest growth areas are clearly going to be in the mobile space,” Eric E. Schmidt, chief executive of Google, said when asked about new opportunities at a conference here this week. In case his point wasn’t clear, Mr. Schmidt drove it home: “Mobile, mobile, mobile.”

The new offerings from the search companies are just the beginning. Search services that pinpoint a phone’s location using the Global Positioning System or that accept voice commands are coming out of the labs. Google has gone so far as to build a prototype phone with its own software inside, according to one person who has seen it.

But between the search giants and phone users stand some powerful gatekeepers — cellphone carriers like Cingular, Sprint and Verizon. On the PC, Web surfers can easily go to the search engine of their choice, but this takes longer on a cellphone. Carriers have the ability to dictate which search engine is easy to access and which is not through placement in their phones’ menus.

“Search will be even more of a choke point on the mobile device than on the PC because navigation is so hard,” said Marco Boerries, the senior vice president in charge of Yahoo’s wireless efforts.

After spending billions of dollars building wireless networks, building relationships with consumers and subsidizing the cost of phones, the last thing carriers want is to miss out on profits from the mobile search business. By and large, they have been eyeing the major search engines with a bit of foreboding.

“In the U.S., the carriers have complete authority over what happens on the phone,” said Sam Jadallah, a venture capitalist who has invested in mobile phone technology start-ups. For the nation’s wireless carriers, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft “are much bigger threats than they are partners,” he added.

The tension between the two sides is reflected in the scarcity of major alliances between carriers and big-name search companies. Among the big American cellphone operators, only Sprint has a wide-ranging partnership with a top search provider, Microsoft. Most other large carriers are working with small technology companies that offer generic search services, which the carriers can stamp with their own brand.

One exception to the usual rules in the United States market is the iPhone from Apple Inc. , which is due out in June and will work only over the Cingular network, now solely owned by AT&T. Apple had the clout to choose its own partners to provide software and services for the phone: Google for mapping, Yahoo for e-mail and both companies for search. A Cingular spokesman declined to discuss the company’s search strategy.

There is plenty at stake in the mobile search market, which some analysts predict could grow to be even bigger than the desktop variety. There are far more cellphones in the world than there are computers. What’s more, consumers on the go are often searching for information — a restaurant, movie listings, a store — that could result in a transaction, making them attractive targets for advertisers.

Mobile phones are also linked to a single person, and their location can be tracked, potentially allowing advertisers to deliver highly focused messages — and pay a premium for the privilege of doing so.

And while battle for search on the computer desktop looks pretty much settled for now — Google has won, with Yahoo a distant second and Microsoft struggling to remain relevant — the search wars on the mobile phone are just beginning.

So far, search giants have signed alliances with handset manufacturers like Nokia and Motorola, and with carriers in Asia and Europe. Google, for instance, has teamed up with China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator. But in the United States, most major carriers are taking smaller steps, often with smaller partners.

Verizon Wireless, for instance, uses a service from Medio Systems that searches only through material that Verizon offers, like games, ring tones and screen savers. Verizon customers who have data plans can search the Web using any search engine, but they have to enter its address themselves, rather than having it available when they turn on their phones.

“We know it is a very cautious approach to search,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless.

Medio, which is backed by Mr. Jadallah’s firm, Mohr Davidow Ventures, also provides search services, including some Web search, to T-Mobile customers. JumpTap, a Medio rival, has search deals with Alltel and other carriers.


Of course, these are early days, and analysts believe that wireless operators may well find it to their advantage to offer search services that are already popular with consumers.

But some Internet giants are taking no chances. Google is developing comprehensive software for mobile devices that goes well beyond search and the other services it already offers.

Despite the prototype and the persistent rumors that a Google phone is imminent, few in the industry expect the company to go into the business of selling phones. Analysts are speculating that the company plans to persuade hardware manufacturers to build phones based on its software that may initially be aimed at overseas markets.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if they offer a co-branded phone configured for easy access to Google services,” said Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

That would help to ensure that Google’s services are not frozen out by future alliances between rivals like Microsoft and carriers or handset makers.

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Schmidt declined to comment on any plans for a Google phone. “We have a large investment in mobile phones and mobile phone platform applications,” Mr. Schmidt said. He also declined to comment on any alliances with United States carriers, saying that Google was in business discussions with some of them.

Yahoo has also said it was in discussion with major carriers in this country.

For now, searching the Web on a cellphone, which requires a modern phone with a data service plan, is far from being a mainstream activity. In February, fewer than nine million cellphone users in the United States conducted Web searches, according to the research firm Telephia. About 233 million Americans had cellphones at the end of last year, according to CTIA, a wireless industry group.

But analysts and search companies say the new services are poised to change that quickly.

“There is a pent-up demand for mobile search that didn’t really exist with the PC,” said Greg Sterling of the research firm Sterling Market Intelligence. “And competition is really starting to create some innovation.”

Indeed, the new services introduced by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are all attempting to provide useful information with minimal typing.

Google, for instance, has made it easy for users to personalize their mobile search page (www.google.com/m) with their favorite stock quotes and news sources. The service also remembers recent place names in searches, so when users type “movies” into the search box, it returns a list of movies playing locally and makes it easy to find show times and purchase tickets.

Microsoft’s software, called Live Search for Mobile (available at wls.live.com), allows users to type a city, then search in specific categories like restaurants, hotels, transportation and nightlife.

Yahoo’s oneSearch service (m.yahoo.com) tries to anticipate users’ needs. When they type “Apple” into the search box, it will return the company’s stock quote, followed by news articles about it, nearby stores and other information culled from Yahoo’s Internet properties, like related photos from its Flickr service.

While they chase the world’s thumb-typers, all of the major search companies are seeking to expand beyond services that require a keypad or keyboard.

In March, Microsoft agreed to buy Tellme Networks, a maker of voice recognition technology, for a price that was reported to be more than $800 million. The company’s free 800-555-TELL service allows users to search movie listings, stock quotes, news and other information by speaking into their phones, and see the results on their phone screens.

Less than a month later, Google introduced a competing free service available at 800-GOOG411. Yahoo appears determined not to be left behind.

“We are talking to everyone who is providing voice input technology in their devices on how to marry their technology and our search results,” Mr. Boerries said.

“If you look at how often people look at their phone now, wait until mobile search is real,” said Mr. Jadallah, the venture capitalist.


The New York Times
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April 30, 2007

Social Networking Leaves Confines of the Computer

SAN FRANCISCO, April 29 — While Walter Zai was in South Africa watching the wild animals recently, people around the world were watching him.

Mr. Zai, a 37-year-old Swiss engineer, used his mobile phone to send out constant updates and images from his safari for an online audience.

“You feel like you are instantly broadcasting your own life and experiences to your friends at home, and to anyone in the world who wants to join,” said Mr. Zai, who used a new online service called Kyte to create his digital diary.

The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or their latest haircut.

New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably, to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.

Unlike the older networking sites, which are still largely used on PCs, these new phone-oriented services are bringing the burgeoning culture of exhibitionism to more exotic and more personal locations. They are also contributing to the general barrage of white noise and information overload — something that even some participants say they feel ambivalent about.

But such services have the same addictive appeal for young people as BlackBerrys do for busy professionals, said Howard Hartenbaum, a partner at the venture capital firm Draper Richards, which is an investor in Kyte.

“Kids want to be connected to their friends at all times,” Mr. Hartenbaum said. “They can’t do that when you turn off the computer.”

Central to the technology of Kyte and similar services is the marriage of mobile phones and the Web. Users download Kyte software for their phones at www.kyte.tv and can send their photos and videos — however grainy — from the phone to their online Kyte “channel.”

Viewers can tune into the programming on their own phones or on the Kyte site, or they can have the channel show up on their own Web site or social network page. In some cases the video stream can be watched live. Those who are watching the same channel can swap messages with each other and with the channel’s creator, even if he or she is silently stalking wild animals.

Daniel Graf, Kyte’s 32-year-old co-founder, sees each of the world’s hundreds of millions of camera-phone owners as a potential television broadcaster.

“To run a television network used to require expensive cameras, a satellite connection and studios,” Mr. Graf said. “But the production costs have gone down to zero. Now you can share your life over a mobile phone, and someone is always connected, watching.”

Mr. Graf said he was considering several approaches to making money from the service. They include charging companies that want to contribute promotional programming, or advertisements in or alongside the most popular channels. He said he would share that revenue with the channels’ creators. “Whatever works in traditional TV works here,” he said.

Another company proving the potency of the sharing impulse is Twitter (www.twitter.com), which is also based in San Francisco and has lately captured the enthusiasm of bloggers and tech insiders. Twitter, spun off this month from a company called Obvious, lets people broadcast short text messages from their phones and computers to those of friends and strangers.

Mobile phone companies in the United States have long tried to get users to send text messages, but with limited success, especially in comparison to the ubiquity of text messaging in Europe and Asia.

But for many Twitter users, text messages have become a form of self-expression and public performance. They are flinging messages that would seem to be of slight interest to anyone: notifications that they are online, or listening to music, or going shopping, or even performing activities of a historically more discreet nature.

“About to head out to the gym. Sweet!” wrote Chris Messina, a 26-year-old San Francisco resident, in a recent Twitter post visible to his group of friends on the service. And a few hours later: “Wow, totally rocking out to Led Zeppelin.”

Twitter’s fans include some high-profile technology pundits and even John Edwards, the former senator who uses it to inform followers of his whereabouts on the campaign trail.

Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, said high-speed social networking can become a moneymaker.

“I believe it can be profitable,” Mr. Dorsey said. But it is not entirely clear how, and how soon, he added. Twitter, which says it has several hundred thousand users, could ultimately consider displaying advertisements, or charging frequent users, especially those who send out promotional messages. Social networking sites like Facebook are largely supported by advertising.

Mr. Dorsey said that whatever business model the company decided to employ, it would not be effective until more people got on board.

“We have a few business models in mind right now. But they’re not interesting until we have a massive number of users,” he said. “We are entirely focused on growth right now.”

The mobile phone companies themselves are trying to get into the mobile networking game. Chief among them is Helio, a year-old mobile phone carrier aimed at young people. The company, a joint venture of Earthlink and SK Telecom of South Korea and based in Los Angeles, is making social networking a central part of its business and is betting it will be fundamental to attracting new subscribers.

Helio has an exclusive deal to offer MySpace features on its phones, which tend to be slicker and more multimedia-focused than those from more mainstream cellphone companies. At the end of 2006 (the last time Helio publicized its subscriber figures), 70 percent of its 70,000 members used MySpace, said Michael Grossi, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Helio.

Social networking “is at the core of the company strategy,” Mr. Grossi said.

To further capitalize on the trend, Helio plans to introduce a handset by the summer that has a fold-out standard keyboard for easier typing and socializing.

Tiny Pictures, a San Francisco start-up company, is taking a slightly different approach. Its service, Radar (www.radar.net), is similar to Kyte in that users send their camera-phone photos to the Web or to the phones of other Radar members. But users share their pictures only with friends they have invited to view them.

John Poisson, chief executive of Tiny Pictures, said the service was explicitly intended to be private because mobile social networking works best and will be most lucrative if users know the people they are sharing with. “Exhibitionism will exist as long as there is voyeurism,” he said. “But we are in the business of helping people stay in touch with the people who are close to them.”

Of course, there is such a thing as being too in touch. Mr. Zai was disconcerted by the instant feedback to his safari photos that popped up on his phone.

“Getting all kinds of communication in such a remote place is a bit confusing,” he said. “I kept responding, ‘I don’t really have the time to talk to you now. I have to make photos of these elephants.’ ”

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Top 10 Billionaire Heiresses

Ivanka Trump

Recently the fabulously wealthy has spawned a new breed of celebrity: the beautiful and stylish billionaire heiresses. Sometimes called “celebutantes,”

Forbes Magazine has picked a relatively diverse group of ten of our favorite super rich girls including several models and business executives, a TV star and an award-winning equestrian.

What they have in common?

Super Rich and Unmarried!! how nice to be their boyfriend huh?

Here are the list:.

The firsts place goes to….

Ivanka Trump (Age 24)

Ivanka Trump

The Donald’s little girl graduated summa cum laude in economics from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in Economics in 2004. A one-time model, Ivanka started modelling at 16 years of age while in school and is now represented by Elite Model Management. Her first cover was a 1997 issue of Seventeen and she hosted the Miss Teen USA Pageant that same year. Since then she has made her way down fashion runways for Versace, Marc Bouwer and Thierry Mugler. She has done ad campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger and Sassoon Jeans and was featured on the cover of Stuff magazine in August 2006.

Ivanka has appeared on Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice, and is currently the Vice President of Real Estate Development at the Trump Organization.

Check out more about her [Here] and picture [Here]

Paris Hilton (Age 25)

Paris Hilton

The original celebutante continues to grab countless press mentions thanks to a slew of high-profile–and videotaped–flings, fallings-out and fashion hits and misses. Paris also boasts the most Web hits of anyone on Forbes.com’s annual listing of the world’s [100 most powerful celebrities].

The great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of the Hilton Hotel chain, and granddaughter of billionaire William Hilton, Paris earned an estimated $7 million in the past year on her own, mostly through licensing deals attaching her name to a perfume, watches, nightclubs and a new videogame. Her participation in the reality series The Simple Life helped skyrocket her into the public eye, followed by a series of personal scandals and publicity stunts.

here are some funny links from her [Paris Hilton doesn’t change facial expressions] and [Paris hilton Birthday Song]

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Age 45)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The eldest of our favorite heiresses, her mother is Judith Bowles and her father is French billionaire GĂ©rard Louis-Dreyfus. She is best known as the Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning Seinfeld actress who played Elaine. The comedienne is a Saturday Night Live alum and also appeared on the cult TV hit Arrested Development. This summer, she received an Emmy nomination for her latest sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine, prompting folks to claim she has finally broken the Seinfeld curse and is on her way to another success.

View Julia’s [Filmography]

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Anna Anisimova (Age 21)

Anna Anisimova

She is the Russian edition Paris Hilton. The daughter of Russian metals magnate Vassily Anisimov, no. 67 on Forbes’ Richest Russians list, whose net worth is estimated above $350 million. She dropped $600,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons this summer, on top of a combined $950,000 spent the previous two summers.

A New York University student, who’s also a member her father’s real estate firm, helped broker a deal to buy Diane Von Furstenberg’s headquarters in New York’s Greenwich Village for $23 million in 2005. Most recently, the former-model paid $15 million for her own 4,000-square-foot pad in the new Time Warner Center.

Georgina Bloomberg (Age 23)

Georgina Bloomberg

Her father, Michael Bloomberg, aka The Enforcer, is the current mayor of New York City and among the world’s richest people. That is, no. 34 in the 2004 Forbes list of the 400 Richest Americans.

She attends New York University part-time, but this award-winning equestrian appears more at home in tony Wellington, Fla., training and riding horses. A two-time gold medalist at the North American Young Riders’ Championship and one of the youngest riders ever to compete at a World Cup Championship, she has earned close to $300,000 and is sponsored by publicly traded Dover Saddlery and Heritage Gloves. Bloomberg hopes to compete in the 2008 Olympics and sits on board of the Equestrian Aid Foundation.

Amanda Hearst (Age 22)

Amanda Hearst

Great-granddaughter of publishing legend William Randolph Hearst, Amanda is taking over for Paris Hilton as blue-blood society’s new “It” girl. The student and model, who is the new face of preppy designer Lilly Pulitzer and a recent Town & Country cover girl, has such a high profile that Hearst Corp.’s own Harper’s Bazaar ran a story detailing the socialite’s annual maintenance cost: a whopping $136,360.

Amanda is an heiress to the Hearst publishing empire, a $5 billion a year business. Her great-grandfather is American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, on whose life was based Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Her grandfather, William, Jr., was a 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner. Four of her uncles have made Forbes’ annual list of the 400 Richest Americans. Aunt Patty Hearst, Lydia’s mom, once found fame as a brainwashed kidnappee who helped her captors rob a bank. Seriously.

Lydia Hearst-Shaw (Age 21)

Lydia Hearst-Shaw

Along with first cousin Amanda Hearst, she is an heiress to great-grandfather William Randolph Hearst’s mass media empire, which reportedly makes $5 billion in annual revenue. A Ford fashion model, she seems to be the ‘it’ girl of anyone who’s into rich bitch appeal and heroin chic in the same breath.

Lydia keeps the family name alive on the runway, She is a favorite of edgy fashion design duo Heatherette and luxury brands like Louis Vuitton.

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Nicky Hilton (Age 22)

Nicky Hilton

Paris’ younger sister is generating her own buzz. Nicky began designing handbags as a teenager and has her own clothing line, Chick by Nicky Hilton. Earlier this summer, she announced plans to open two Nicky O hotels, one on Ocean Drive in Miami and one in Chicago.

Nicky is an heiress to some of the Hilton Hotel chain, and 5 to 15% of father Richard Hilton’s fortune. She was the face of Australian underwear line Antz Pantz, and refused the role in The Simple Life that eventually went to Nicole Ritchie.

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Aerin Lauder (Age 36)

Aerin Lauder

Her lengendary grandmother is Estee Lauder, who’s behind the half century-old, $3.5 billion cosmetics empire, her billionaire father is Ronald Lauder, the Clinique Laboratories chairman and a former US ambassador to Austria.

Aerin became senior vice president and was elected to the company’s board in 2004. More recently, she was instrumental in orchestrating a partnership with fashion designer Tom Ford and signing Gwyneth Paltrow as a spokeswoman. Her billionaire father, Ronald Lauder, is the Clinique Laboratories’ chairman.

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Dylan Lauren (Age 31)

Dylan Lauren

The daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, she is an heiress to daddy’s multibillion-dollar fashion empire. Her alleged claim to fame is making candy hip and fashionable again for the 21st century’s young and old. In partnership with FAO Schweetz’s Jeff Rubin, she began Dylan’s Candy Bar at a two-story, 10,000 sqft space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; it has since grown to four stores in three US states. The store not only sells oodles of gummies and lollipops but also throws parties and peddles apparel, plush products and even candy scented perfume.

Dylan majored in art history at Duke University. A fitness buff, she collected candies from all over Europe while there during her junior year. She used candy as the medium for her sculpture, and hosted events showcasing the works of artists who sculpted with chocolate. Her candy stores peddle 4,000 different kinds of candy, including hard-to-find varieties, old-fashioned cotton candy, 300 ice cream flavors, plus candy accessories.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Baywatch babe is back, a little washed up

By CLEMMIE MOODIE
27th April 2007

She was the lifeguard who had men queuing to be rescued.

But more than a decade on from her reign as the over-endowed queen of surf in Baywatch, Pamela Anderson is struggling to hold back the tide of time.

Recreating her most famous role for a television commercial in Malibu, she is not the girl she was.

Pamela Anderson

Age has taken its toll on Anderson, back on beach at almost 40, and right, at her Baywatch best

Pamela Anderson

A close up shows cellulite on Anderson's leg

Pamela Anderson

Anderson's body show signs of ageing

Her platinum-blonde mane, golden tan and trademark red swimsuit are still in place. But her once babysmooth legs betray signs of cellulite and her most famous assets appear to have lowered by an inch or two.

Two unsightly tattoos, including a heavy-set Celtic band across her left bicep, do little to restore the image.

"From a distance Pammy looked really striking and just as good as ever," said an onlooker.

"But on closer inspection there were a few obvious differences.

Pamela Anderson

Anderson is no longer quite so perky

"Pammy was the ultimate Californian poster girl, but I doubt that photos of her today will be lining teenage boys' bedrooms."

Miss Anderson, 39, a mother of two, who recently divorced her second husband Kid Rock after six months of marriage, took the world by storm as kind-hearted lifeguard CJ Parker in 1992, not least because of her 36FF chest which she readily admitted was the result of plastic surgery.

She has appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine a record 12 times.

In 1999, two years after leaving Baywatch in the hope of becoming a "serious" actress, she had the implants removed, but is understood to have had them replaced with smaller ones, and also undergone uplift surgery to reduce drooping.

She now boasts a slightly more demure profile of 36DD.

Her latest movie, Blonde and Blonder, a comedy about two girlfriends mistaken for Mafia assassins, is released next month.

Pamela Anderson

Anderson shows off some familiar moves


Friday, April 27, 2007

For Immediate Release:
April 26, 2007

Contact:
Michael McGraw 757-622-7382

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Norfolk, Va. -- This afternoon, PETA dispatched a letter to Norm Goldstein, editor of The Associated Press Stylebook, suggesting that it is time to revise the book’s language guidelineswhich currently characterize animals as inanimate objectsand bring the references in line with 21st century attitudes. Specifically, PETA points out that using "it" and "which" instead of the personal pronouns "he," "she," and "who" in reference to animals is inaccurate and outdatedparticularly in a society that is increasingly recognizing that animals have inherent rights, legal standing, and individuality.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to Norm Goldstein follows.

April 26, 2007

Norm Goldstein, Editor
The Associated Press
450 W. 33rd St.
New York, NY 10001

Dear Mr. Goldstein:

On behalf of PETA’s more than 1.6 million members and supporters worldwide, I am writing to request that you revise The Associated Press Stylebook so that its grammatical rules reflect the fact that animals are living beings rather than inanimate objects. In magazine articles, popular literature, and advertising, writers are using "he," "she," and "who" to refer to animalsinstead of the outdated and inaccurate "it" and "which." Won’t you consider making this transition as well?

As "the essential global news network," the Associated Press (AP) should take a progressive step and give animals the respect that they deserve by revising AP style guidelines to reflect the usage of personal pronouns for all animals.

While the world accelerates through the 21st century, progressive ideas are challenging and changing conventional perspectives. Recently, the American legal system recognized that nonhuman animals deserve legal status beyond that of mere "property" and that abusive treatment of animals is more than simple vandalism.

The public now recognizes that whales, who sing across oceans; great apes, who share more than 98 percent of our DNA; sheep, who can recognize as many as 50 faces after not having seen them for two years; and pigs and chickens, who can learn to operate switches in order to control heat and light in factory-farm sheds, are feeling, intelligent individualsnot objects. Our language should reflect this.

I would greatly appreciate hearing your decision on this matter. Enclosed are PETA’s Writing Style and Guidelines, which explain how to avoid language that portrays animals in a negative light.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,

Anna West
Director of Written Communications

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The New York Times
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April 27, 2007

Ex-C.I.A. Chief, in Book, Assails Cheney on Iraq

WASHINGTON, April 26 — George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, saying they pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a “serious debate” about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

The 549-page book, “At the Center of the Storm,” is to be published by HarperCollins on Monday. By turns accusatory, defensive, and modestly self-critical, it is the first detailed account by a member of the president’s inner circle of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the decision to invade Iraq and the failure to find the unconventional weapons that were a major justification for the war.

“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Mr. Tenet admits that he made his famous “slam dunk” remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on President Bush’s decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war.

A copy of the book was purchased at retail price in advance of publication by a reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Tenet described with sarcasm watching an episode of “Meet the Press” last September in which Mr. Cheney twice referred to Mr. Tenet’s “slam dunk” remark as the basis for the decision to go to war.

“I remember watching and thinking, ‘As if you needed me to say ‘slam dunk’ to convince you to go to war with Iraq,’ ” Mr. Tenet writes.

As violence in Iraq spiraled beginning in late 2003, Mr. Tenet writes, “rather than acknowledge responsibility, the administration’s message was: Don’t blame us. George Tenet and the C.I.A. got us into this mess.”

Mr. Tenet takes blame for the flawed 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s weapons programs, calling the episode “one of the lowest moments of my seven-year tenure.” He expresses regret that the document was not more nuanced, but says there was no doubt in his mind at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed unconventional weapons. “In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible,” he writes.

Despite such sweeping indictments, Mr. Bush, who in 2004 awarded Mr. Tenet a Presidential Medal of Freedom, is portrayed personally in a largely positive light, with particular praise for the his leadership after the 2001 attacks. “He was absolutely in charge, determined, and directed,” Mr. Tenet writes of the president, whom he describes as a blunt-spoken kindred spirit.

But Mr. Tenet largely endorses the view of administration critics that Mr. Cheney and a handful of Pentagon officials, including Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith, were focused on Iraq as a threat in late 2001 and 2002 even as Mr. Tenet and the C.I.A. concentrated mostly on Al Qaeda.

Mr. Tenet describes helping to kill a planned speech by Mr. Cheney on the eve of the invasion because its claims of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq went “way beyond what the intelligence shows.”

“Mr. President, we cannot support the speech and it should not be given,” Mr. Tenet wrote that he told Mr. Bush. Mr. Cheney never delivered the remarks.

Mr. Tenet hints at some score-settling in the book. He describes in particular the extraordinary tension between him and Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, in internal debate over how the president came to say erroneously in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa.

He describes an episode in 2003, shortly after he issued a statement taking partial responsibility for that error. He said he was invited over for a Sunday afternoon, back-patio lemonade by Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state. Mr. Powell described what Mr. Tenet called “a lively debate” on Air Force One a few days before about whether the White House should continue to support Mr. Tenet as C.I.A. director.

“In the end, the president said yes, and said so publicly,” Mr. Tenet wrote. “But Colin let me know that other officials, particularly the vice president, had quite another view.”

He writes that the controversy over who was to blame for the State of the Union error was the beginning of the end of his tenure. After the finger-pointing between the White House and the C.I.A., he wrote, “My relationship with the administration was forever changed.”

Mr. Tenet also says in the book that he had been “not at all sure I wanted to accept” the Medal of Freedom. He agreed after he saw that the citation “was all about the C.I.A.’s work against terrorism, not Iraq.”

He also expresses skepticism about whether the increase in troops in Iraq will prove successful. “It may have worked more than three years ago,” he wrote. “My fear is that sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and that U.S. forces are becoming more and more irrelevant to the management of that violence.”

Mr. Tenet says he decided to write the memoir in part because the infamous “slam dunk” episode had come to define his tenure at C.I.A.

He gives a detailed account of the episode, which occurred during an Oval Office meeting in December 2002 when the administration was preparing to make public its case for war against Iraq.

During the meeting, the deputy C.I.A. director, John McLaughlin, unveiled a draft of a proposed public presentation that left the group unimpressed. Mr. Tenet recalls that Mr. Bush suggested that they could “add punch” by bringing in lawyers trained to argue cases before a jury.

“I told the president that strengthening the public presentation was a ‘slam dunk,’ a phrase that was later taken completely out of context,” Mr. Tenet writes. “If I had simply said, ‘I’m sure we can do better,’ I wouldn’t be writing this chapter — or maybe even this book.”

Mr. Tenet has spoken rarely in public, and never so caustically, since stepping down in July 2004.

Asked about Mr. Tenet’s assertions, a White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, defended the prewar deliberations on Thursday. “The president made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein for a number of reasons, mainly the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s own actions, and only after a thorough and lengthy assessment of all available information as well as Congressional authorization,” the spokesman said.

The book recounts C.I.A. efforts to fight Al Qaeda in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Mr. Tenet’s early warnings about Osama bin Laden. He contends that the urgent appeals of the C.I.A. on terrorism received a lukewarm reception at the Bush White House through most of 2001.

“The bureaucracy moved slowly,” and only after the Sept. 11 attacks was the C.I.A. given the counterterrorism powers it had requested earlier in the year.

Mr. Tenet confesses to “a black, black time” two months after the 2001 attacks when, sitting in front of his house in his favorite Adirondack chair, he “just lost it.”

“I thought about all the people who had died and what we had been through in the months since,” he writes. “What am I doing here? Why me?” Mr. Tenet gives a vigorous defense of the C.I.A.’s program to hold captured Qaeda members in secret overseas jails and to question them with harsh techniques, which he does not explicitly describe.

Mr. Tenet expresses puzzlement that, since 2001, Al Qaeda has not sent “suicide bombers to cause chaos in a half-dozen American shopping malls on any given day.”

“I do know one thing in my gut,” he writes. “Al Qaeda is here and waiting.”


latimes.com

The Internet sure loves its outlaws

Despite the MPAA and the Swedish police, the Pirate Bay's file-sharing ways are popular.

Jolly Roger files
By David Sarno
Times Staff Writer

April 29, 2007

THEY may not wield battle-axes or wear horned helmets like their Viking forebears, but today's Swedish pirates are still wreaking some pretty heavy-duty havoc.

The Pirate Bay file-sharing collective, one of the world's largest facilitators of illegal downloading, is only the most visible member of a burgeoning international anti-copyright — or pro-piracy — movement that is striking terror in the heart of an industry that seems ever less capable of stopping it.

When the Pirate Bay's Stockholm headquarters were raided last May and their servers seized, the Motion Picture Assn. of America thought it had scored a major victory. "Swedish Authorities Sink Pirate Bay," trumpeted its news release. (As has since been pointed out, this is a mixed metaphor.) But the rejoicing didn't last long. The site was back online three days later, and worse yet for Hollywood, the raid and several mass protests afterward generated so much sympathy for the pro-file sharing cause that both candidates for prime minister announced publicly that they did not think young file-sharers should be treated as criminals.

Sweden's state-registered Pirate Party also benefited from the raid's fallout. Its membership has now grown to almost 9,000, closing in on the nation's Green Party (9,550), which holds 19 seats in Parliament.

But the renegades back at the Pirate Bay don't care for politics. They are, after all, pirates. The group's website is a database of 500,000 copied movies, TV shows, songs, games and software titles. Instead of pointing you directly to a downloadable song or movie — like Napster used to — the Pirate Bay provides a kind of digital treasure map. The map, called a torrent file, points your computer toward all the little fragments of the booty that are hidden around the Internet. Feed the torrent file to your downloading software, wait a couple of hours, and ta-da! You now have a shiny new copy of "The Bourne Supremacy."

Also, you have become a criminal.

Well, join the club. The Pirate Bay alone claims more than 5 million active users. According to Internet traffic ranker Alexa.com, it's the 292nd most popular site in the world. (Netflix is 382; the U.S. Postal Service is 385; Wal-Mart is 391.) Some estimates say that file sharing accounts for 80% of the Internet traffic generated by home users. Last year, the MPAA released the results of a study it had commissioned to gauge the effects of illegal copying. In 2005, the report said, the worldwide motion picture industry lost more than $7 billion as a result of Internet piracy.

This number was widely quoted as evidence of piracy's economic harm.

Even Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa jumped in. "It's not just Hollywood that is affected," he said in December. "It's not the big stars. It is the people behind the scenes and small mom-and-pop video stores and hometown theaters."

(The MPAA used remarkably similar language in a statement for this article: "It's not just Hollywood that feels the impact; piracy hurts Mom and Pop video stores, hometown theatres … everyone involved in making and distributing movies.")

However, critics have been skeptical. As Timothy B. Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, points out, the report was just a summary, not the study itself, meaning neither its results nor its methodology can be independently verified.

Lee is not surprised by the MPAA's decision to keep the details of the study away from public scrutiny. "What they're interested in is having a big number for the headlines," he said.

Could be. But if so, who can blame them? For a decade, the industry has shut down one file-sharing service after another, each bigger, faster and harder to dismantle than the last.

"The technology will always be one step ahead," said Peter Sunde, the Pirate Bay's head software designer. The Pirate Bay "is not going to be needed in a couple of years — there will be better systems. Everything is going to evolve. It's just getting easier and easier to connect."

Sunde also spoke about the Pirate Bay's upcoming project to design its own next generation file-sharing technology, one of its goals being to make every transaction completely untraceable. The project will be open source, meaning programmers from all over the world will be able to contribute.

The Pirate Bay has built its reputation on taunting big entertainment and scoffing at copyright law. One of its claims to fame is its online gallery of legal threats, each of which is appended with a less-than-polite riposte from the pirates. One reply to DreamWorks' legal team read, "It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are … morons, and that you should go" — etc.

But the Pirate Bay does have a more adult side. Its guiding principle is that the current copyright system is outmoded. "The culture is growing from using file sharing," Sunde said. "A basic human feeling is the need for new ideas and new concepts. We need to be influenced."

Nor are the pirates so base as to be against paying artists for their work. In fact, the group's next venture is a music sharing site called Playble.com, where users will have the option of paying whatever monthly subscription fee they can afford. Every time a user downloads a song, the artist gets a portion of his fee. Sunde says he approached a major record company — he wouldn't say which — about a partnership. An executive did not take kindly to the offer, and, according to Sunde, accused the Pirate Bay of perpetrating a disturbingly Viking-like act on the executive's livelihood and family. Hint: He didn't say "pillage."

Thursday, April 26, 2007


15 ways stores trick you into spending

Don't succumb to retailers' simple ploys. Here's how they get you to buy -- and 10 ways to fight back.

http://www.centerforeconomicoptions.org/images/womanlookingatfood.jpg

By The Simple Dollar

Ever notice how you can go to a store to pick up just one thing and then, by the time you get to the check stand, you have five or six things in your cart and a bigger bill than you had anticipated?

This happens over and over because department stores use an array of techniques (grocery stores use many of the same tactics) to get you to pick up these items. By itself, each technique isn't very strong -- it's the use of them in combination that is powerful.

Here's a list of 15 of the best tricks. After the list, watch for 10 ways to combat these techniques so you can get in and out of stores with your finances intact.

1. Shopping carts. Most department-store customers enter the store intending to buy only an item or two, but the shopping carts are right there by the entrance and, oh, wouldn't it be convenient to have it so I can lean on it a bit while walking around and to put my stuff in it?

The cart has a huge bin compared with the size of most items for sale in the store, making it psychologically easy to toss in an item you don't need -- after all, there's room for plenty more, right?

2. Desirable departments are far away from the entrance. Most of the items I go to a department store to buy, such as light bulbs and laundry detergent, are located many, many aisles from the entrance. This means I spend my time walking by a lot of consumer goods on my way to find the item I want.

Because these consumer goods are effectively marketed to me, there's a good likelihood that I'll spy something that I don't necessarily need and toss it in the cart.

3. The toy section is far, far, far away from the entrance. Naturally, if I take my son to the store, he wants to visit the toy section. He gets excited and starts shouting "Ball! Ball!" to me when we go in because he remembers the enormous plastic balls in the toy section.

I tell him that if he's good, we'll go look at the balls, and at the end of the trip, we usually make our way over there. What do we see? Lots of children in that area, which means that there are parents that follow their children.

4. Impulse-oriented items are near the checkouts. Stores stock the latest DVD releases and "froth" magazines there, along with overpriced beverages and candy.

Why? Because people leaving the store are thirsty, and they're going to be standing in line for a bit, which is the perfect place to hook them with some entertainment options.

5. The most expensive versions of a product are the ones at eye level. Take a look sometime at the arrangement of different choices for a particular product, such as laundry detergent. Almost every time, the most expensive options per unit are placed at eye level, so you see them first when you enter an aisle. The bulk options and better deals are usually on the bottom shelves.

6. Items that aren't on sale are sometimes placed as though they are on sale, without using the word "sale." I noticed this over and over with diapers; the department store would display a rack of them with a huge sign above them displaying the price, but it would be the same price I paid for them a week ago. Unsurprisingly, the diapers displayed like that were always the most expensive kind.

7. Commodity items, such as socks, are surrounded by noncommodity items, such as shirts and jeans. If I'm looking to buy some socks, I have to traverse through a number of racks full of different types of clothing in the clothing section just to reach them.

Why? If my mind is already open to the idea of buying clothes, I would be more likely to look at other clothing items.

8. Slickly packaged items alternate with less slickly packaged items. Look carefully at an aisle of, say, potato chips. The ones with the bright and slick packaging are generally more expensive, which isn't surprising.

But notice that there usually isn't a section of just inexpensive chips -- in most stores, they're sandwiched between more-expensive items. If there is a section of just inexpensive items, they're down by your feet (think about the inexpensive bagged cereals at your local supermarket).

9. Stop, stop, stop. You add items to your cart only if you stop, right? So stores are designed to maximize the number of stops you have to make: aisles in which only two carts can fit, colorful and attractive layouts, escalators and, my favorite of all, sample vendors. Even if it's not conscious to you, every time you stop moving in a store, you increase your chances of putting something into your cart.

10. Staple items are placed in the middle of aisles, nonessential and overpriced items near the end. Why? If you enter an aisle to get a "staple" item (i.e., a high-traffic item), you have to go by the other items twice -- once on the way in and once on the way out. That gives these items two chances to make their pitch at you.

11. Prices are chosen to make comparison math difficult. Instead of selling the 100-ounce detergent for $6 and the 200-ounce detergent for $11 (making it easier to figure out the better deal), they sell the 100-ounce for $5.99 and the 200-ounce for $10.89.

Hey, look, they're basically the same, right, because five is half of 10? Uh, no.

Continued: 10 ways to fight back

12. Stuff in bins isn't always a bargain. Higher-end stores will sometimes put items in "bins" to emulate the bargains found at cheaper stores, but the prices are still quite high. They just use the visual cue of a "bargain store" to make you think it is a bargain.

13. High-markup items are made to look prestigious. If you see something in a glass case that has lots of space around it, your gut reaction is to believe that it is valuable and prestigious to own, and for many people it can be as attractive as a light to a moth. The truth is that these items typically have tremendous markup -- you're literally just buying an idea, not a product.

14. The most profitable department is usually the first one you run into. Ever noticed that at Younkers, JC Penney, Kohl's and such stores, the cosmetic department is front and center? That's because it's very profitable, and by putting it in a place where people walk by time and time again, customers are more prone to making a purchase on an item with a very big markup.

15. Restrooms and customer services are usually right by the exit or as far from the exit as possible. Why? If you need to use either one in the middle of a shopping journey, you have to walk by a lot of merchandise to reach the needed service, thus increasing your chances for an impulse buy.

Want to see more? Look at this presentation on the art of department-store layouts to get an idea of how much thought goes into making sure you buy more, particularly those items that are marked up a lot. I didn't even get into some of the more complex techniques, such as sensory marketing, that are more subtle and harder to avoid.

How can I fight back?

Is there any wonder why people end up buying more than they need or buying sizes that are poor deals? With an array of techniques at their disposal, retailers can make a mint.

Had enough? Here are 10 things you can do to fight back against these techniques:

1. Don't use a shopping cart unless you need it. A cart, most of the time, is just a place to put stuff you don't need. If you're carrying a product, you're a lot more likely to consider whether it's a worthwhile purchase.

2. Make a shopping list and stick to it. A list makes you focus on the items you intended to buy. Without it, you are much more prone to wandering and stumbling into "great buys" that you don't really need.

3. Look at nothing but the prices and sizes. That's all the information you really need -- everything else is marketing. Find the one that has the best price for its size, get that one, and move on.

4. Start at the back and work toward the front. If this is an option at all for you based on the store layout, do it. When you go in, head directly for the most distant item, then progress back toward the checkout aisles. If you do it the other way, you're prone to walk more slowly and tiredly toward the front after your shopping is done, leaving you open to lots of impulse buys on the way.

5. Always look at the bottom shelf first. If you've found the section you want, start looking at the bottom shelf first. This is usually where the better per-unit deals are.

6. Don't stop unless you're actively selecting an item. Displays are designed to beg you to stop for a moment and just look, which is often enough to get you to pick out the item. Even if something looks interesting, keep walking. You can study it as you go past and make up your mind later about the item.

7. Never go by an item twice unless absolutely necessary. If you go down an aisle, start at one end and continue all the way out the other. Walking by an item once lets it sink into your short-term memory, giving just a hint of familiarity when you walk by it again, sometimes just enough to persuade you to buy it.

8. Carry a pocket calculator -- or know how to use the one on your cell phone. Do the math yourself to find out what the best buy is because stores try to choose numbers that make drawing false conclusions quite easy.

9. If you don't know for sure that it is a good deal, don't buy because you think it is a good deal. Stores use all kinds of visual cues to make you think something is a bargain when it's not (like the bin trick mentioned above). Don't buy anything because it's a "deal" unless you're sure that it really is an excellent bargain -- just walk away.

10. At the checkout, rethink everything you put in your cart -- and don't hesitate to hand an item to the cashier and say you've changed your mind. Many people seem to have a guilt, or obligation, to buy an item that they've put into their cart. Don't. You're the customer -- you have the right to choose whether to buy. If you find something you don't want to buy, tell the cashier and don't buy it.