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Facebook may turn out to be a lot more important than any of us thought. It has just launched a major change in its strategy that will transform its role in the Internet ecosystem and could create a raft of new opportunities for companies of all sizes.

No longer will Facebook consider itself merely another social network. Instead it is becoming a technology platform on which anyone can build applications for social computing. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg invited me to spend time with executives of Facebook and partner companies in advance of the announcement. (Here's an extensive feature I wrote for Fortune Magazine based on this exclusive access,

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To taxi officials, the touch-screen monitors popping up in cabs help passengers make the 
most of 
the 13 New York minutes spent on an average ride.

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More than 1 billion people live in low-lying areas where a sudden surge in sea level could prove as disastrous as the 2004 Asian tsunami, according to new research presented on Thursday.

New mapping techniques show how much land would be lost and how many people affected by rapid sea level rises that are often triggered by storms and earthquakes, a U.S. Geological Survey-led team determined.

E. Lynn Usery, who led the team, said nearly one-quarter of the world's population lives below 100 feet above sea level -- the size of the biggest surge during the 2004 tsunami that pulverized villages along the Indian Ocean and killed 230,000 people.

"What we are suggesting is what kind of areas are at risk (in) a catastrophic event," Usery told a meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

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A key element of the second major report on climate change being released Friday in Belgium is a chart that maps out the effects of global warming, most of them bad, with every degree of temperature rise.

There's one bright spot: A minimal heat rise means more food production in northern regions of the world.

However, the number of species going extinct rises with the heat, as does the number of people who may starve, or face water shortages, or floods, according to the projections in the draft report obtained by The Associated Press

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It says something about the state of the cell phone industry that the product looming largest over the annual wireless show doesn't even exist yet. Never mind that it's coming from a company that's never even made a cell phone.

Indeed, the "preverberations" from Apple Inc.'s plan to bring its addictive design simplicity and elegance to wireless with the iPhone is palpable across a good many announcements slated for CTIA Wireless 2007, which opened on Tuesday.

While the prototype that Apple unveiled back in January instantly drew drools with its slender, sleek looks, the real test will be whether the iPhone's large touch-screen interface rewrites the rules for ease of use when it becomes available in June. As Motorola Inc.'s boom-and-bust fortunes with the Razr show, style isn't everything.

There's sure to be plenty of hyperventilation about mobile video and music at the show. So a core theme emerging among this week's planned product launches is how to make these devices less confusing as they get crammed and cramped with multimedia capabilities.

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A federal judge on Thursday dealt another blow to government efforts to control Internet pornography, striking down a 1998 U.S. law that makes it a crime for commercial Web site operators to let children access "harmful" material.

In the ruling, the judge said parents can protect their children through software filters and other less restrictive means that do not limit the rights of others to free speech.

"Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if (free speech) protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection," wrote Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr., who presided over a four-week trial last fall.

The law would have criminalized Web sites that allow children to access material deemed "harmful to minors" by "contemporary community standards." The sites would have been expected to require a credit card number or other proof of age. Penalties included a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

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At the only hospital in the capital of this tiny West African nation, a 3-year-old AIDS patient named Suleiman receives his daily dose of medication -- a murky brown concoction of seven herbs and spices served out of a bottle that once contained pancake syrup.

The boy is told a spoonful a day will make him better. His mother, Fatuma, takes the same concoction, as do several dozen other AIDS and HIV patients here. Adults take two spoonfuls.

"It's amazing," Fatuma says. "Two weeks ago, I was very ill, weak and couldn't eat without vomiting."

This has become the treatment for HIV/AIDS patients here since early January, when Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced he had discovered a cure for the disease that has wreaked havoc across Africa. He made that announcement in front of a group of foreign diplomats, telling them the treatment was revealed to him by his ancestors in a dream.

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Scientists believe heat from radioactive decay inside a tiny, icy Saturn moon shortly after it formed billions of years ago may explain why geysers are erupting from the surface today.

The Cassini spacecraft last year beamed back dazzling images of Yellowstone-like geysers spewing from a warm section on Enceladus, raising the possibility that the moon, which has an overall surface temperature of about minus 330 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 201 degrees Celsius), may have an internal environment suitable for primitive life.

However, scientists have been stumped by the origin of Enceladus' interior heat. Now a new model suggests ancient radioactive decay played a key role in shaping the moon's warm south pole region where plumes of water vapor and ice crystals periodically vent.

According to the theory, Enceladus formed some 4.5 billion years ago by the mixing of ice and rock containing the radioactive isotopes aluminum and iron. Over a period of several million years, the rapid decay of the two radioactive elements produced a burst of heat that resulted in a rocky core enclosed by an ice sheet. Over time, the remaining decomposition in the core further warmed and melted the moon's interior.

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Microsoft's Craig Mundie has some big shoes to fill when Bill Gates steps down next year -- or at least one shoe anyway.

Gates tapped Mundie, the software giant's chief research and strategy officer, and chief software architect Ray Ozzie to replace him and handle the day-to-day operation of the company so he can focus on his charitable foundation.

In a recent speech at Georgia Tech's New Faces in Technology Symposium, Mundie told the audience that computer science has had a profound impact on productivity and creativity, but said it was still a relatively young discipline.

He told the crowd of faculty and students that technology would provide tools to solve many of society's problems, "but somebody has to invent the tools."

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Japan is pretty serious about robotics. If the droids are going to fit in, they probably need to learn the Japanese custom of serving tea.

Fortunately, researchers at the University of Tokyo are exploring just that. In a demonstration this week, a humanoid with camera eyes made by Kawada Industries Inc. poured tea from a bottle into a cup.

Then another robot on wheels delivered the cup of tea in an experimental room that has sensors embedded in the floor and sofa as well as cameras on the ceiling, to simulate life with robot technology.

"A human being may be faster, but you'd have to say 'Thank you,"' said University of Tokyo professor Tomomasa Sato. "That's the best part about a robot. You don't have to feel bad about asking it to do things."

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Iraq's government has agreed on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth and open the industry to international investment, a move seen as necessary to a political settlement of the nearly four-year-old war, ministers announced Monday.

"This law will guarantee for Iraqis -- not just now, but for future generations, too -- complete national control over this natural wealth," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.

The draft law still faces a vote in Iraq's parliament, but the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad hailed Monday's agreement as a step toward a national settlement of the country's divisions.

Iraq's Constitution, adopted in 2005, declares that oil and gas reserves are "owned by all the people of Iraq."

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After years of delays and billions in development and marketing efforts, it would seem that Microsoft Corp. would want anyone who possibly can to buy its new Windows Vista operating system. Yet Microsoft is making it hard for Mac owners and other potentially influential customers to adopt the software.

Microsoft says the blockade is necessary for security reasons. But that is disputed. The circumstances might simply reflect a business decision Microsoft doesn't want to explain.

The situation involves a technology known as virtualization. Essentially, it lets one computer mimic multiple machines, even ones with different operating systems. It does this by running multiple applications at the same time, but in separate realms of the computer.

Virtualization has long been used in corporate data centers as a way to increase server efficiency or to test programs in a walled-off portion of a machine. The technology also has been available for home users, but often at the expense of the computer's performance.

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A U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut folded up a jutting antenna 


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An orbiting spacecraft has sent back new evidence for the presence of water on Mars.

Scientists have long debated whether water flowed on the red planet, with evidence increasing in recent years. The presence of water would raise the possibility of at least primitive life forms existing there.

Images from a camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show alternating layers of dark- and light-toned rock in a giant rift valley.

Within those deposits are a series of linear fractures, called joints, that are surrounded by "halos" of light-toned bedrock, according to researchers from the University of Arizona.

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Tucked away in the den of his 127-year-old farmhouse, Ed Winkle huddles over his computer. The screen's soft glow lights up his eyeglasses, reflecting messages about tractors, corn hybrids and crop insurance.

Winkle is checking the latest postings on his favorite Internet farm forum.

Advice from fellow farmers around the country has enabled him to increase his corn and soybean production, better market his crops, learn how to rebuild engines and get good tires for his tractor.

Online message boards and chat rooms are replacing rural coffee shops and feed mills as places for farmers to talk farming and trade tips as more of rural America goes online.

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Deep inside the Arctic Circle work is about to begin on a giant frozen Noah's Ark for food crops to provide a last bastion in the battle against global warming.

And within a year the first seeds of what will eventually be home for samples of all 1.5 million distinct varieties of agricultural crops worldwide will be tucked safely inside the vaults deep in a mountain on the archipelago of Svalbard.

There, at the end of a tunnel 120 meters into the side of a mountain, 80 meters above estimated sea levels even if all polar ice melts, and 18 degrees Celsius below freezing, they will stay like a bank security deposit.

"It will be the best freezer in the world by several orders of magnitude. The seeds will be safe there for decades," said Cary Fowler of the Food and Agricultural Organization's Global Crop Diversity Trust.

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The investors and founders of YouTube received hundreds of millions of dollars in Google shares as a result of the deal between the two companies late last year, according to new documents.

The big payout was revealed Wednesday in a regulatory filing Google made with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The paperwork offered a more detailed account than previously disclosed of the sale's beneficiaries.

The $1.76 billion acquisition of the video-sharing Web site was the biggest in Google's history, and took place less than two years after YouTube was founded. The startup had about 70 employees when the deal was announced in October.

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 At least 23 coal miners died in an explosion Saturday in two adjacent mines in a village in northeastern Colombia, an official said on Sunday.

Recovery operations were continuing to find the bodies of eight more men believed to have been in the mines at the time of the blast, which occurred late Saturday morning, said Fernando Rosales, head of Civil Defense for Northern Norte de Santander province.

The bodies were located within 600 meters (1,969 feet) of the entrance to the mines, he said. "Recovery work has been a bit quicker this morning; the mine is much cleaner," he said, adding that the remaining bodies were expected to be recovered later in the day.

The government mines ministry oversees the operation at the mines -- La Preciosa and La Siete, which are located in the remote village of San Roque, about 250 miles north of Bogota. The workers are self-employed.

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PARIS, France (AP) -- The world's leading climate scientists, in their most powerful language ever used on the issue, said global warming is "very likely" man-made, according to a new report obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The report provides what may be cold comfort in slightly reduced projections on rising temperatures and sea levels by the year 2100. But it is tempered by a flat pronouncement that global warming is essentially a runaway train that cannot be stopped for centuries.

"The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice-mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing, and very likely that is not due to known natural causes alone," said the 20-page report.

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Escape to Prague without the summer hordes

Remember the romance of Prague in the early nineties -- the faded façades, the atmospheric bars, the thrill of discovering a secret city? During the summer, when you're elbow-to-elbow with beer-swilling tourists in the Old Town, those halcyon days seem far away. But fairy-tale Prague is there, especially if you visit in winter, when the crowds have dispersed.

Stroll down the quiet cobblestoned streets and explore the castle and churches. Spend an afternoon reading Kafka or Kundera in a café, and an evening sampling Czech cuisine (dumplings, cabbage and Budvar beer), preferably served at a candlelit table on a frosty night. (Prague destination guideexternal link)

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