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Amy Winehouse Lyrics Question Surprises Cambridge Students

Final year students at Cambridge University were stunned recently to discover one of their final papers included a question about jazz sensation Amy Winehouse.

The beehived star has joined the ranks of the literary greats, it seems, as exam-takers were invited to compare the lyrics of the troubled singer's hit Love Is A Losing Game with Sir Walter Raleigh's poem As You Came From The Holy Land.

"It was really bizarre," revealed one of the students who sat the practical criticism paper. "I sat there looking at the paper in shock!" "I think it's cool," said another. "Poetry doesn't have to mean Keats and Byron. That said, there were a lot of surprised people."

While Amy has yet to comment on her inclusion in the exam, she can be reassured she was in good company. Other famous songs referenced on the paper were Fine And Mellow by Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan's Boots Of Spanish Leather.

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US Climber Scales Everest For 10th Time

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An American climber has scaled Mount Everest for the 10th time, becoming the first non-Nepalese to achieve the feat, mountaineering officials said Wednesday.
David Hahn, 46, of Taos, New Mexico, reached the 29,035-foot summit Tuesday along with fellow American climber Nicole Messner and two Sherpa guides, Tourism Ministry official Ramesh Chetri said.

Pasang Tshering, Hahn's contact person in Katmandu, said Hahn and his teammates were all safe and in good health and were slowly making their way down to base camp on Wednesday. They are expected back from the mountain early next week.

The record for largest number of climbs of the world's highest mountain is held by Appa, a Sherpa guide who earlier this month scaled the peak for the 18th time.

Appa's closest rival is fellow Sherpa guide Chhewang Nima, who has made 15 trips to the Everest summit.

There are at least seven other Sherpas who have climbed Everest more than 10 times.
Nepal temporarily banned climbing on the mountain in early May to prevent any protests against China while climbers carried the Beijing Olympic torch to the top. The team reached the summit on May 8, and Nepal lifted the ban a day later. Everest straddles the Tibet-Nepal border.

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VAT On Fuel

French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday proposed in a radio interview suspending VAT on fuel oil to help EU member states deal with crude oil prices, which reached $135 a barrel last week. French consumers pay about 19.6% VAT on the price of oil, which had doubled since President Sarkozy took office last year. France is set to assume the EU presidency in July.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission commented that any change in VAT on fuel would require unanimous agreement by EU member states, and would in any case be the wrong response to high petroleum prices; EU finance ministers agreed in 2005 not to cut fuel taxes in response to rising world energy prices.

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CALCUTTA, India — Nepal, the world’s last Hindu kingdom, was poised to be reborn as a republic Wednesday, as a newly elected assembly led by former Maoist guerillas prepared to meet to fulfill the leftists’ principal campaign promise.

Exactly when and how the monarch, King Gyanendra, would leave Narayanhity, the main palace in the capital, Katmandu, was not clear. He has made no public statements in recent weeks about his plans, though his supporters have made their disappointment known by setting off small bombs in the capital. On Tuesday, an explosion in the center of the capital injured six people and a royalist organization called Ranbir Sena claimed responsibility.

The government has urged the king, a businessman with interests in tobacco and hotels, to move from the pink concrete Narayanhity to his private residence, a high-walled compound in Katmandu, or face eviction by force. “If he does not leave the palace then the government might have to use force to vacate the palace,” Ram Chandra Poudel, the peace and reconstruction minister said on Tuesday, according to a Reuters report. “This will not be good for him.”
On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that the government would give him 15 days to leave the palace.

Security was tightened across Katmandu and celebrations began, with the government declaring a three-day holiday starting Wednesday to mark the birth of the republic.
The vote by a special assembly, elected last month, would formalize the dissolution of the 239-year-old monarchy in Nepal.

King Gyanendra, who had taken control of the government in early 2005, lost most of his powers two years ago when street protests in Katmandu forced him to cede power to the elected government. Soon, Maoist insurgents came out of the jungle after 10 years of war, turned themselves into politicians and demanded an end to the monarchy. The government, which they joined, complied.

It removed the king as head of the army, dropped the word “royal” from the name of the national airline, and drafted a new national anthem which no longer demanded allegiance to the throne. The king was required to pay taxes, and his likeness was replaced by Mount Everest on the country’s currency, starting with the 500-rupee note.

Last year, under pressure from the Maoists, the Parliament voted to declare Nepal, a nation of 27 million people wedged strategically between India and China, a federal democratic republic.
The Constituent Assembly, as the parliament is known, took the final, official step: rewriting the Constitution altogether, starting with the question of monarchy. It seems all but certain that the assembly will scrap it.

The Communist Party (Maoist) holds more than a third of the legislature’s 601 seats and is the largest party in the new assembly. Its leader, who is known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda, or in Nepali, the fierce one, is expected to take over as prime minister. The parties have also agreed to have a ceremonial president with limited powers.

Nepali Congress, the nation’s oldest political party, won 110 seats, followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) with 103 seats, and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, representing the plains bordering India, with 52 seats.

The country’s three largest parties agreed this week to turn Narayanhity palace into a national museum once the king leaves. Gyanendra took the throne after a gruesome palace massacre in June, 2001, in which his brother, then-King Birendra and most of the royal family were killed by Crown Prince Dipendra, who then shot himself. Gyanendra and his family survived.

The assembly, which was sworn in Tuesday, will govern Nepal for up to two years, while it drafts a new constitution. That will not be easy, as there remain several challenges to sealing peace in the country. Chief among them is the fate of 20,000 ex-Maoist fighters, who are currently in camps under United Nations supervision.

The Maoist leadership wants them to be integrated into the military, but that proposal is likely to face stiff resistance from the Nepalese Army and the other main parties. Perhaps the bigger challenge is what to do about the fallout from the war: disappearances, displaced persons, and property seized by the guerrillas. “There are many other peace process commitments as yet unfulfilled,” the chief U.N. envoy to Nepal, Ian Martin, told reporters on Tuesday.

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Gateway To The Galaxy

Saturn is the gateway planet of the Houston skies. Sometimes all it takes is a single exposure, just one look through a telescope at the bright light with its rings and moons, to lure the vulnerable.

From Saturn, it's on to Mars. And the next thing you know, the unsuspecting will be hooked into a lifetime of searching the night skies for galaxies, nebulae, clusters and shiny objects listed in catalogs created by those whose lives took a similar turn hundreds of years ago.
"Saturn will do it to you," said Connie Haviland of Pearland. "I saw the rings of Saturn and I went, 'Whoa,' and it got me started."

Haviland now shares the hobby with her husband, David, president of the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society, and just about anyone else interested enough to look through her telescope.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the Havilands were on the grounds of the Universities Space Research Association campus in Clear Lake with three members of the society in the hopes of drawing in children.

This particular crowd was an easy mark. The group of 5- to 15-year-old smart kids had been organized by Texas Parents of the Profoundly Gifted and was gathered for a lecture on black holes. For most, it wouldn't be their first celestial rodeo.

But just as the telescopes, some homemade and others operated by intricate computer systems, were set up, the clouds rolled in and covered the skies.

Kids didn't see stars, and the grown-ups missed out on a chance to show a bit of the universe to an enthusiastic crowd.

But then, most audiences are enthusiastic, David Haviland said. The sense of awe keeps many an amateur astronomer interested in lugging out the heavy equipment in the hopes of initiating newcomers.

"If it is a good scope and it is crisp and clear, you can just hear the jaws drop," he said.
Despite the refineries, strip centers, homes and businesses that pollute the darkness of the night sky, thousands of local amateur astronomers set up telescopes in green patches around the city for "star parties," a mixture of social gathering and intellectual exchange.

Many are informal affairs such as the neighborhood ones hosted by Ken Fraley. He's just a guy with an 8-inch reflecting telescope who periodically sends out an invitation on the Woodland Heights' Internet bulletin board. Neighbors, dog walkers, joggers and children in PJs making a final stop before bedtime arrive on the Norhill Esplanade to get a closer look at the skies.
Others are mostly for amateur astronomy clubs, including the Houston Astronomical Society and the North Houston and Fort Bend Astronomy clubs.

Sunday, one of the largest in the country, The Texas Star Party, kicks off in West Texas near Fort Davis. The annual festival of amateur stargazers draws crowds from around the world. For astronomers from the Houston area, the week offers skies unblemished by the ever-expanding intrusion of urban light.

"The pollution from the city lights limits what you can see here," said Johnson Space society member Jim Cate, who will take his 16-inch telescope to West Texas for the star party next week. "You can see the planets. Out there it is a world of difference. The sky is filled with stars."
The Houston Astronomical Society, for example, offers "star parties" for schools and other educational programs close to home. About four times a year, the society holds parties for members and guests at a spot in Columbus where the skies are not as polluted, said Bill Flanagan, the society treasurer.

"In the city it is kind of limited in the things you can do," he said. "You can look at the moon and the planets, which are interesting, but the light blocks out the deep sky things like the galaxies."
An oasis closer to home is Brazos Bend State Park and its George Observatory, where the night sky still offers astronomers a good view of the stars. The observatory, part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, boasts a 36-inch research telescope that can take the amateur eye deep into the sky on Saturday nights, when it is open to the public, said manager Barbara Wilson.
On those nights, volunteers from the Fort Bend Astronomy Club also set up smaller telescopes on the outdoor observation deck and let the public take a peek.

Dennis Borgman, for example, gives lunar tours from his telescope, pointing out craters, fault lines and the location of the Apollo landings.

"Most people have been looking at the moon for most of their lives," he said. "You point out something new to them and you see a smile on their faces."

For many a stargazer, the interest was sparked in childhood. For some, it was a first look at Saturn, or in Wilson's case, Mars. David Haviland remembers being fascinated by the Apollo missions and especially the first moon landing as a child, though he received his first telescope as a gift when he was an adult. Others were introduced in scouting or school programs.

First inspiration launched an adult interest that grew with every new star cluster discovered or galaxy observed, amateurs said. But the passion for the hobby is fueled by a recognition that looking into the night sky is a way of observing millions of years of history. It is also a continued sense of wonder, Cate said.

"To me it is part of creation," he said. "It is part of what is out there. There is a lot of science involved and there is a lot of mystery involved. It is just mysterious and beautiful."
And fun.

That's part of the reason Fraley periodically drags his telescope onto the Norhill Esplanade to share the view. On a recent evening, even without the official invitation, the telescope drew an impromptu crowd of neighbors, many of them Fraley's regulars.

As the skies turned from dark blue to night, Fraley pointed his telescope directly at Saturn and watched as the line formed to look in the viewer. Repeated expressions of amazement followed.
Said Michael Brewster, for one, "I've never seen anything like that in my life."

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Microsoft Windows 7

What a difference a week makes! Just last Friday I was dissecting Microsoft's latest pro-Vista marketing spin and lamenting the lack of corroborating evidence to my "ready for Windows 7" missive over at the Windows Sentinel blog. There must have been something in the Kool-Aid at that annual Memorial Day picnic, because when the employees returned their previously hog-tied tongues were suddenly loosed.

First, there was the interview with Steve Sinofsky, in which he emphasized how Windows 7 would build on the foundation laid with Vista. Then came the Windows Vista team blog posting by Chris Flores stating that there would be no "new kernel" in Windows 7 (sorry "MinWin" fans) and that their goal was to run on the "recommended hardware" they specified for Vista.

In other words, I was right. About Windows 7. About its Vista underpinnings. About everything. My detractors (and by now you are legion) may commence with the crow consumption.
But the "piece de resistance" had to be the Windows 7 "demo" conducted during a Walt Mossberg/Kara Swisher interview of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Though the video (scroll down the page a bit) of the demo portion of the event is a bit grainy, you can at least make out some aspects of the cool Surface-derived UI direction that Microsoft is taking with Windows 7. Someone else mentioned seeing a Mac OS X-like "dock" in the video, however, I couldn't make it out - though I did glimpse a couple of objects that seemed similar to the "wheely" things you can see in this collection of supposedly leaked Windows 7 screen-shots.

Bottom Line: Nothing revolutionary - just a logical integration of multi-touch principals into the core Windows interface. More importantly, it's all stuff that you could build easily using the Vista/2008 code base as your foundation, which is encouraging from a "can they really pull this off" perspective.

What we've learned this week:
Windows 7 will be built upon the foundation laid down with Windows Vista. No real surprise here. I've been saying this for months (though it's always nice to be proven right).
"MinWin" and other "academic exercises" are just that: Research projects. The real Windows 7 kernel is a natural evolution of the Vista kernel, including seamless support for Vista device drivers. After the debacle of Vista's early driver compatibility woes, this is a good thing.

Microsoft's Next Big Thing (NBT) will be touch...and voice, and digital ink, and all forms of alternative input metaphors. Combined with the next generation of touch-enabled PCs, this could be a game changer. After 20 years of mice and keyboards (and all manner of ergonomic tweaks to make them less crippling to our weary hands), I think the human race is ready for a change. Multi-touch could be the next "killer app," the one cool, must-have feature that drives Windows 7 adoption. I know I want it!

Have the floodgates finally opened? Has Microsoft finally turned the corner on Vista in order to focus full-time on promoting Windows 7? Maybe yes, maybe no. There's still way too much we don't know about the next Windows - like how the UI will change for us "touch-challenged" users with older PCs. However, if Microsoft continues on its current path of revealing tidbits though myriad outlets, we'll have plenty to dissect in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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