Thursday, December 31, 2009

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twitter Hacked, Defaced By “Iranian Cyber Army” (Developing)

We’ve received multiple tips right around 10 pm that Twitter was hacked and defaced with the message below. The site is currently offline. We’re looking into this and waiting on a response from Twitter.

The message reads:

Iranian Cyber Army



U.S.A. Think They Controlling And Managing Internet By Their Access, But THey Don’t, We Control And Manage Internet By Our Power, So Do Not Try To Stimulation Iranian Peoples To….

Take Care.

Update: – We have just found out that the same defacement is appearing at at least one other site, We are not able to see what was at this domain before, but it is now displaying the same defacement that Twitter was only a few minutes ago.

Twitter does not have the best record with security issues. We have previously covered a number of incidents, and as recently as two months ago their web servers were misconfigured to reveal detailed internal network information. We also previously wrote about their admin interface having a password of ‘password’ on one account, and the well-known Twitter doc incident. It was hoped that with the hiring of a new COO, Dick Costolo, as well as a number of other high-level engineers, including security experts, that Twitter had grown out of the phase of being vulnerable to security incidents on such a large scale.

We do not know a lot about the group claiming responsibility for the attack as we haven’t heard their name before and they do not show up in any defacement mirrors or security sites. Similar Iranian groups were active during the election campaign in that country. We have emailed the group (they were kind enough to leave an address on the defacement) for a comment (also added them on Gchat – worth a shot).

Update 2.: is down, is down (not useful, perhaps they should host it at blogger). Some tweets are getting through at the moment because parts of the API are up. Search also seems to be working. The Firehose is up – Tweets are coming in from FriendFeed (all those tweets about ‘is twitter down’ are from third-party sites)

Update 3.: It is suggested that if you use the same password on your Twitter account with other accounts, now would be a good time to change your password on those other accounts.

Update 4.: There is a history between Iran and Twitter. It was well noted and covered in the media that Twitter was used as a tool during the Iranian election protests. The US government actually intervened to assure that Twitter was available to the protestors in Tehran and around the country. This attack may be an act of reprisal from groups who were not happy with the role that Twitter played during the protests

Update 5.: There is speculation at the moment that this may be a DNS redirect, which means that the domain has been redirected to the defacement page. This doesn’t explain why some sub-domains are down, while others are currently still alive (such as search)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday's Top Tech Deals

Black Friday discounts bleed a little red as tough times in retailing call for sharp cuts on prices at a few big tech shops. These ten top deals show just how much pressure is riding on holiday sales.


No. 10: Apple

Apple is traditionally the stingiest of tech discounters in the gadget market, and this year will continue that grand tradition. If reports of Apple's Black Friday specials are true, Macs and iPods will get a one-day price break of about 10%.

The numbers. Apple's "cool" gizmos have enjoyed a remarkably resilient status among consumers. That position is reflected in the company's tightfisted pricing stance. Apple's implied theme here is big discounts are for big losers. But retail partner Costco seems eager to dangle some marked-down coolness to lure its members. Costco is selling the latest Apple iPod nano for $129, a 13% discount on the $149 regular price.

The stock. Like its gadgets, Apple's stock attracts an eager crowd willing to pay top dollar to be part of the action. Costco, however, could use a few tricks to keep its bargain-hunting customers from finding deals in Wal-Mart's aisles. In the past month, Wal-Mart shares have doubled the rise of Costco's stock.


No. 9: Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard grabbed the top place in PCs from Dell two years ago by jumping on the notebook bandwagon as consumers went shopping for desktop power in portable devices. Hewlett-Packard hopes to cash in again in an emerging category of hybrid laptops called super netbooks.

The numbers. One of the most-watched devices in this category is the DM3, a 13-inch, thin, lightweight notebook with an eight-hour battery life, four-gigabyte memory and no DVD drive. HEWLETT-PACKARD introduced the DM3 in July priced at $599. On Friday it will sell on Amazon for $499.

The stock. Hewlett-Packard branched into IT services last year and hopes to get a chunk of Cisco's networking market with the pending acquisition of 3Com. But computers are still its biggest business and if hybrid notebooks are a winning category, Hewlett-Packard could continue to punish Dell.


No. 8: Garmin

Garmin was a top destination in the GPS device boom, but navigating the post-boom is proving to be a challenge.

The numbers. While rivals like Magellan and TomTom have typically offered the cheaper options in GPS, Garmin is going on the offensive this Friday. For the first time in a national retail offering, Garmin will break the $100 barrier with a $99 device. The Garmin Nuvi 205W is being advertised for $99 at Best Buy this Friday, a 29% discount from the $140 regular price.

The stock. Garmin shares are down 16% in the past month as analysts and investors absorb the shock of weaker margins on new devices like the Nuvi phone. Deeper discounts, it seems, aren't exactly the right road toward alleviating those concerns.


No. 7: Dell

Dell has been paddling furiously, but still lagging behind and losing business to Hewlett-Packard and Acer, among others.

The numbers. Dell told analysts last week that it would not build its turnaround on deep price cuts on PCs. But Dell didn't mention computer monitors. Black Friday will see another $100 price barrier shattered when Dell's S2009W 20-inch desktop monitor goes on sale for $99 at Best Buy. That price is 37% below the monitor's regular mark up of $159.

The stock. Dell shares are down 8% from Thursday levels when the company reported disappointing numbers, thinning margins and eroding market share. Dell's lousy performance came amid a surprisingly strong period of PC industry sales giving investors the sense that Dell may be missing out on a recovery.


No. 6: Palm

Palm's Pre phone was expected to spark the revival of a smartphone pioneer. With a bright touch screen, a slide-out keypad and a new WebOS operating software, the $200 phone debuted as the best challenger yet to the Apple iPhone.

The numbers. After a dismal debut and meager sales, the Palm Pre, sold exclusively by Sprint, quickly fell in the bargain bin. In three months, the Pre price fell to $149. Getting into the spirit of Black Friday, Amazon has begun to offer the Pre for $80, a 46% discount on the previous price of $149.

The stock. Despite a 23% drop in the past month, Palm shares are still up more than 400% over the past year. A lot of that appreciation is tied to the value of the Pre as a contender in the booming smartphone market. But with the Pre prices falling so fast, it's difficult to stay as hopeful about Palm's revitalization plan.

Western Digital

No. 5: Western Digital

Western Digital drives down prices of external hard drives in its battle with rival Seagate Technology. The newest crop of hard drives offer twice the capacity at half the price of last year's models.

The numbers. As a Black Friday special, Wal-Mart is offering the Western Digital portable 320 gigabyte external hard drive for $49, a 50% markdown from the $99 regular price. Seagate's popular FreeAgent 320-gigabyte external hard drive goes for $80.

The stock. Storage has been a popular theme for tech investors this year. With component costs falling, manufacturers have been able to cut prices profitably as higher sales offset lower prices. Shares of Western Digital and Seagate have tripled this year.


No. 4: SanDisk

SanDisk is flashing some astounding Black Friday prices on flash memory devices. Flash drive prices have fallen faster than those of hard drives. USB thumb drives now pack three times the memory capacity at a third of last year's prices.

The numbers. The SanDisk 4 gigabyte flash drive is available for $8 at Wal-Mart, a 73% discount from the $30 regular price. In contrast, Target sells a Lexar 4 gigabyte flash drive for $20.

The stock. Falling memory prices haven't hurt SanDisk shares. The stock has doubled this year. A big part of that enthusiasm, however, was due to a positive resolution to a licensing dispute with Samsung in May.


No. 3: Palm

The Palm Pixi, the diminutive follow up to the Pre, hit stores last week priced at $100 with a Sprint contract. However, Sprint quickly started the discounts to stem the flow of subscribers from its service.

The numbers. Amazon is now selling the Palm Pixi for $25, a quarter of the price it went for when it was introduced Nov. 15. Falling prices on new smartphone models suggest demand may not be strong.

The stock. Palm's Pixi was designed to compete with the $99 Apple 2G iPhone and lower cost BlackBerries from Research In Motion. Investors have been concerned the Pixi could cannibalize Pre sales. The timing of Pixi's arrival also puts it up against Motorola's Droid at Verizon. Palm investors, who cheered the company's revival, are now looking at a very crowded market.


No. 2: BlackBerry

Research In Motion's BlackBerry Curve at Sprint is also battling it out in that market. Nothing in tech gets cut deeper than the price of a three-year-old phone. The best example was the Motorola Razr. The ultrathin trendsetter debuted in 2004 with a $600 price tag, but by 2007, it was a promotional freebie.

The numbers. Best Buy, along with desperate partner Sprint, is giving free Curve phones to people who sign up for two-year service contracts on Black Friday. The phone was recently advertised for $50 to $200.

The stock. Sprint's willingness to subsidize customers' phone costs is a bold strategy to keep and lure customers. Last year, Sprint lost more than 1 million subscribers because of neglected service and rival offers, such as those for AT&T's iPhone. Fewer contract cancellations will be seen as a major accomplishment. And while Sprint shares are well below their one-year high in May, the stock has still doubled this year.


No. 1: BlackBerry

Research In Motion takes the top two spots with the BlackBerry Curve. This model, the Curve 8900, is one of the newest from the three-year-old line. Its sold by Amazon on behalf of AT&T.

The numbers. Amazon has already opened the Web doors with its online Black Friday special on the Curve 8900. The phone costs 1 cent if you sign up for a two-year contract with AT&T.

The stock. While free Razrs once sounded the game-over bell for Motorola, free Curves aren't as dismal a warning sign for RIM. Unlike Motorola, RIM has new models to keep the smartphone momentum going. Even with a 9% drop in its share price over the past month, RIM is still up nearly 50% for the year.

Copyrighted, TheStreet.Com. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Manny Pacquiao batters Cotto for TKO win

Manny Pacquiao celebrates with trainer Freddie Roach after beating Miguel Cotto in a WBO welterweight title fight on Saturday in Las Vegas.
(Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao staked his claim atop boxing’s mythical throne as the pound-for-pound best, using his lightning hand speed to beat and batter Miguel Cotto into submission Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Pacquiao knocked Cotto down once in the third round and again in the fourth, pummeled him repeatedly and easily lifted the World Boxing Organization welterweight belt from the Puerto Rican with a 12th-round stoppage. The time was 55 seconds into the final round, as referee Kenny Bayless leaped between the fighters to save Cotto a more savage beating and ignominious end.

Cotto came out strong and landed some hard punches, but Cotto couldn’t deal with the speed. Pacquiao was landing three shots for every two Cotto did early. After the knockdown in the fourth, Cotto’s offense was nonexistent as he spent most of the last two thirds of the fight fending off Pacquiao’s onslaught.

Cotto landed in single digits in power shots in every round from the fifth forward.

Pacquiao nearly had the stoppage after the 11th when Cotto trainer Joe Santiago walked onto the ring apron and waved his hand at Bayless.

It appeared he was going to stop the fight, but then Bayless and ringside physician James Game spoke and allowed it to continue. It was only extending the misery as Pacquiao poured it on in the 12th.

When the fight ended, the crowd began to chant, “We want Floyd!” It was a reference to Floyd Mayweather Jr., the other man with a claim to the top of the boxing pound-for-pound list.

Pacquiao, who has won championship belts in five divisions and beat the linear champion in two others, can no longer be knocked as a small man who was beating washed up fighters.

In Cotto, he took on an elite and powerful welterweight whose only loss came under suspicious circumstances to Antonio Margarito last year. There is suspicion that Margarito’s gloves were loaded for that fight, though it has never been proven.

But Pacquiao proved he was able to not only take a welterweight punch, but rock him repeatedly. It was a magnificent performance and will create public demand for a fight with Mayweather.

“I want to see him fight Mayweather,” Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said.

Santiago said Pacquiao hit harder and was stronger than expected. Cotto injured his left shoulder in the eighth.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Watch HBO 24/7 PACQUIAO vs. COTTO Episode 2

October 31, 2009 · Filed Under Announcements, Featured, News, Pictures and Photos


Watch episode 2 of HBO 24/7 Pacquiao/Cotto on Halloween Night Oct. 31, 8:00 pm PT/11:00 pm ET. HBO will continue to follow both fighters as they prepare for their upcoming bout on November 14th. Manny Pacquiao leaves the Philippines and begins training at Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California. Miguel Cotto will be wrapping up his training at the Fight Factory in Tampa, Florida as he heads out to Las Vegas, Nevada.

HBO Sports 24/7 has featured Roy Jones Jr., Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Ricky Hatton, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and now Miguel Cotto.

Sunday, November 1, 2009 Pacquiao vs Cotto 24/7 - Episode 2



Part 3

Sunday, October 25, 2009 Pacquiao vs Cotto 24/7 - Episode 1

Latest Pound For Pound Ratings

  • 1. Manny Pacquiao

    Country: Philippines

    Record: 49-3-2 (37 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #1 | Last Week: #1 | Weeks On List: 303

    Titles: The Ring

  • 2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

    Country: USA (Las Vegas, Nevada)

    Record: 40-0-0 (25 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #2 | Last Week: - | Weeks On List: 1

  • 3. Shane Mosley

    Country: USA (Las Vegas, Nevada)

    Record: 46-5-0 (39 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #3 | Last Week: #4 | Weeks On List: 35

    Titles: WBA

  • 4. Bernard Hopkins

    Country: USA (Philadelphia, Pa.)

    Record: 49-5-1 (32 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #4 | Last Week: #3 | Weeks On List: 172

  • 5. Juan Manuel Marquez

    Country: Mexico

    Record: 50-5-1 (37 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #5 | Last Week: #2 | Weeks On List: 132

    Titles: WBA, WBO, The Ring

  • 6. Israel Vazquez

    Country: Mexico

    Record: 43-4-0 (31 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #6 | Last Week: #5 | Weeks On List: 112

  • 7. Rafael Marquez

    Country: Mexico

    Record: 38-5-0 (34 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #7 | Last Week: #6 | Weeks On List: 70

  • 8. Nonito Donaire

    Country: USA (San Leandro, Calif.)

    Record: 22-1-0 (14 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #8 | Last Week: #7 | Weeks On List: 21

    Titles: IBF

  • 9. Miguel Cotto

    Country: Puerto Rico

    Record: 34-1-0 (27 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #9 | Last Week: #8 | Weeks On List: 21

    Titles: WBO

  • 10. Celestino Caballero

    Country: Panama

    Record: 33-2-0 (23 KOs)

    Ranking: This Week: #10 | Last Week: #9 | Weeks On List: 35

    Titles: IBF, WBA

Roach Won't Allow Cotto To Use Mayweather Trick

“We will make sure that Cotto cannot use his weight to his advantage,” Roach told The Philippine Star.

Trainer Freddie Roach will not allow WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto to use the weight tactic of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Last Saturday in Las Vegas, Mayweather weighed 146-pounds for his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. The fight was agreed upon for a catch-weight of 144-pounds. At the late hour, the Marquez camp was informed that Mayweather was unable to make 144 and a deal was reached for the fight to move forward.

Marquez weighed four pounds less at the weigh-in. Nobody knows what Mayweather weighed on the night of the fight. He refused to step on the official scales in the back and refused to answer any and all questions regarding his weight. Some speculate that he may have been in the mid-150s.

Roach's prize pupil Manny Pacquiao faces Cotto at the catch-weight of 145-pounds on November 14. He will not allow Cotto to jump on the scales at any weight above the contracted limit of 145. Cotto is in a different position than Marquez. Mayweather was brining all of the money to the table and did whatever he pleased. Pacquiao is the one bringing most of the money to the table in his fight; giving himself the advantage to impose his authority on Cotto.

Fight's off if Cotto weighs over 147 lb

pacquiao vs cotto“It means he has a lot more work to do than us in losing weight,” said Ariza.

MANILA, Philippines - There’s just one thing that can keep the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto fight from happening, and that’s if the champion from Puerto Rico weighs in at over 147 lb.

“That’s the highest we could go (147 pounds),” Pacquiao’s chief trainer, Freddie Roach, was quoted as saying in an Internet report that came out yesterday.

Pacquiao and Cotto are fighting at a catchweight of 145 lb even if the 27-year-old Puerto Rican has agreed to stake his WBO welterweight (147 lb) crown.

At the start of the negotiations, Team Pacquiao tried to drag Cotto down to as low as 143 lb, but the latter said he can’t go lower than 145, and the fight was sealed.

“ I would call the fight off if he comes in weighing more than that,” Roach also said, meaning Cotto will have to make sure or even die trying to make the catchweight.

Or face the severe consequences, like losing all his purse, or even facing a legal battle.

Based on reports, Cotto will be fined $1 million for every pound in excess of 145. He can weigh in at 147, pay Pacquiao $2 million and go on and fight the Filipino pound-for-pound champion.

But if Cotto weighs just a fraction over 147, Roach said he’s pulling the plug on what could be or what should be the biggest fight of the year.

In the fight contract that either fighter who exceeds 145 lb will have to pay a fine, but it’s only today that the details had come out.

“We’re just protecting Manny,” Mike Koncz, Pacquiao’s adviser, had said.

Pacquiao is three days into training at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood after spending more than 30 days training in three different gyms in the Philippines.

Before he boarded the plane to Los Angeles last Saturday, Pacquiao walked around 150 lb, and was happy to report in his regular column that he still gets to eat as much as he wants.

Cotto, on the other hand, must be bleeding to get down in weight. In New York, during the press tour last September, Cotto said he was at 160, and Pacquiao’s conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, liked what he heard.

“It means he has a lot more work to do than us in losing weight,” said Ariza.

Penalties if Miguel Cotto is Overweight on Official Weigh-in

“Our limit for Cotto is just 147 lb. There’s no fight if he weighs beyond that. Cotto will be assessed a $1-million penalty for every pound overweight.”

Just in case Cotto does a Mayweather on the official weight-in Freddie Roach warned that there'll be no fight if he comes in beyond the regular welterweight limit of 147 lbs.

Pacquiao - Cotto Fight Weigh-in Pictures/Photos and Videos to be posted once available

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pacquiao vs Cotto

Manny Pacquiao and Cotto fight are almost here.
Lets wait and see!

10 Highest-Paying Blue-Collar Jobs

Who says hard work doesn't pay? These 10 blue-collar jobs show that the color of your collar doesn't necessarily dictate the level of your income.

What Does It Mean to Be a Blue-Collar Worker?

Blue-collar jobs are typically classified as involving manual labor and compensation by an hourly wage. Some fields that fall into this category include construction, manufacturing, maintenance and mining.

What It Does Not Mean

Do not mistake blue-collar jobs for easy to land, easy to keep or low-paying ones. Although some blue-collar jobs do not require a four-year degree, many of them require additional education by way of specialized training, a certification or an apprenticeship.

There are several blue-collar jobs that offer competitive compensation packages, relative to their white-collar counterparts.

Elevator installers and repairers sit atop the list with an average hourly wage of $42.08. This hands-on occupation involves many tasks, including assembly, testing, maintenance and repair of elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks. On average, an elevator installer or repairer can bring in over $87,000 per year.

Ship and boat captains and operators earn an average of $24.86 per hour for navigating their vessels through a variety of waterways. On average, a captain or operator brings in almost $58,000 each year, but these captains have to work a bit harder for the money -- the average work week is 51.8 hours.

The pressure is on, literally, for gas plant operators who control compressors to keep gas flowing through pipelines. This essential job pays workers just under $64,000, or approximately $30.71 on an hourly basis.

There are several specialties within the electrical and electronic repair industry. The most lucrative area involves inspecting and repairing electrical equipment at generating stations, substations and in-service relays. These workers bring in an average salary of $68,000 per year.

The Top 10 List

1. Elevator Installer and Repairer

Average salary: $87,518
Average hourly wage: $42.08
Average work week: 40 hours

2. Electrical and Electronics Repairer -- Powerhouse, Substation and Relay

Average salary: $68,084
Average hourly wage: $32.75
Average work week: 40 hours

3. Power Plant Operator, Distributor and Dispatcher

Average salary: $65,846
Average hourly wage: $31.50
Average work week: 40 hours

4. Gas Plant Operator

Average salary: $63,872
Average hourly wage: $30.71
Average work week: 40 hours

5. Locomotive Engineer

Average salary: $63,125
Average hourly wage: $28.27
Average work week: 42.5 hours

6. Electrical Power Line Installer and Repairer

Average salary: $60,354
Average hourly wage: $29.02
Average work week: 40 hours

7. Structural Iron and Steel Worker

Average salary: $59,224
Average hourly wage: $28.55
Average work week: 39.9 hours

8. Construction and Building Inspector

Average salary: $59,144
Average hourly wage: $28.31
Average work week: 40.2 hours

9. Ship and Boat Captain and Operator

Average salary: $57,910
Average hourly wage: $24.86
Average work week: 51.8 hours

10. Radio and Telecommunications Equipment Installer

Average salary: $57,149
Average hourly wage: $27.48
Average work week: 39.9 hours

About the List

The jobs are ranked by annual salary, from highest to lowest, excluding overtime. The data was pulled from the National Compensation Survey: Occupational Earnings in the United States, 2008, which is published by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

HP jump-starting Compaq brand with ultra-cheap machines

Remember Compaq? Hewlett-Packard acquired the venerable computer company way back in 2002, but it's kept the name alive as a secondary brand ever since, mainly relegating Compaq to overseas markets (Compaq is particularly popular in Asia) and as second-tier PCs sold on the cheap at warehouse-style stores.

But now HP is looking to breathe a little new life into the Compaq brand, positioning it not just as a label for extremely cheap computer equipment but also as one with mainstream appeal in the U.S.

Today the company is announcing the rollout of a line of ultra-inexpensive PCs, both laptops and desktops, with extreme budgets in mind.

Consider first the Compaq CQ61z (pictured), a 15.6-inch laptop with an AMD Sempron CPU, 2GB of RAM, DVD burner, 160GB hard drive, and discrete graphics. Running Windows 7 Home Premium, the machine costs a nearly unfathomable $399. That price point probably sounds familiar -- it's the usual cost for your average netbook, which in comparison offers a tiny screen, minimal hard drive, and an ultra-low-power Atom CPU.

With the $400 laptop's arrival, Compaq wants potential buyers to ask: Why not jump up to a much larger and more capable system for exactly the same price? I'm having a hard time seeing any reason not to. Seriously, it even has a numeric keypad.

Even better bargains abound for desktop shoppers. The attractive Compaq Presario 4010f has similar specs (with a 250GB hard drive) and starts at just $309 after a $100 rebate.

Both systems are available on Windows 7 launch day, October 22.

Compaq's aggressively inexpensive hardware -- particularly the $399 laptop -- could have massive ramifications for the computer market. Will netbooks finally feel the pinch that they've been giving to standard laptops for two years now? And what kind of pressure will machines like this bring to bear on more expensive notebook PCs? Price war in 3... 2... 1...

Monday, October 12, 2009

2012 isn't the end of the world, Mayans insist

MEXICO CITY – Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly "running out" on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it's not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder insists. "I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff."

It can only get worse for him. Next month Hollywood's "2012" opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" Web site, says people are scared.

"It's too bad that we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see them grow up."

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.

A significant time period for the Mayas does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years.

But most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes "predictions" from Nostradamus and the Mayas and asks: "Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?"

It may sound all too much like other doomsday scenarios of recent decades — the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect or "Planet X." But this one has some grains of archaeological basis.

One of them is Monument Six.

Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost didn't survive; the site was largely paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.

It's unique in that the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.

However — shades of Indiana Jones — erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.

Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal of Mexico's National Autonomous University interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, "He will descend from the sky."

Spooky, perhaps, but Bernal notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 — including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.

And anyway, Mayas in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries than 2012.

"If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea," said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. "That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."

The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy

Its Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.

"It's a special anniversary of creation," said David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin. "The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they're just recording this future anniversary on Monument Six."

Bernal suggests that apocalypse is "a very Western, Christian" concept projected onto the Maya, perhaps because Western myths are "exhausted."

If it were all mythology, perhaps it could be written off.

But some say the Maya knew another secret: the Earth's axis wobbles, slightly changing the alignment of the stars every year. Once every 25,800 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun's lowest point in the horizon.

That will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright center of galaxy sets.

Another spooky coincidence?

"The question I would ask these guys is, so what?" says Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the "Bad Astronomy" blog. He says the alignment doesn't fall precisely in 2012, and distant stars exert no force that could harm Earth.

"They're really super-duper trying to find anything astronomical they can to fit that date of 2012," Plait said.

But author John Major Jenkins says his two-decade study of Mayan ruins indicate the Maya were aware of the alignment and attached great importance to it.

"If we want to honor and respect how the Maya think about this, then we would say that the Maya viewed 2012, as all cycle endings, as a time of transformation and renewal," said Jenkins.

As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, so did word of the "fateful" date, and some began worrying about 2012 disasters the Mayas never dreamed of.

Author Lawrence Joseph says a peak in explosive storms on the surface of the sun could knock out North America's power grid for years, triggering food shortages, water scarcity — a collapse of civilization. Solar peaks occur about every 11 years, but Joseph says there's evidence the 2012 peak could be "a lulu."

While pressing governments to install protection for power grids, Joseph counsels readers not to "use 2012 as an excuse to not live in a healthy, responsible fashion. I mean, don't let the credit cards go up."

Another History Channel program titled "Decoding the Past: Doomsday 2012: End of Days" says a galactic alignment or magnetic disturbances could somehow trigger a "pole shift."

"The entire mantle of the earth would shift in a matter of days, perhaps hours, changing the position of the north and south poles, causing worldwide disaster," a narrator proclaims. "Earthquakes would rock every continent, massive tsunamis would inundate coastal cities. It would be the ultimate planetary catastrophe."

The idea apparently originates with a 19th century Frenchman, Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, a priest-turned-archaeologist who got it from his study of ancient Mayan and Aztec texts.

Scientists say that, at best, the poles might change location by one degree over a million years, with no sign that it would start in 2012.

While long discredited, Brasseur de Bourbourg proves one thing: Westerners have been trying for more than a century to pin doomsday scenarios on the Maya. And while fascinated by ancient lore, advocates seldom examine more recent experiences with apocalypse predictions.

"No one who's writing in now seems to remember that the last time we thought the world was going to end, it didn't," says Martin, the astronomy webmaster. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of memory that things were fine the last time around."

Friday, October 9, 2009

NASA probes give moon a double smack

WASHINGTON – Take that, moon!

NASA smacked two spacecraft into the lunar south pole Friday morning in a search for hidden ice. Instruments confirm that a large empty rocket hull barreled into the moon at 7:31 a.m., followed four minutes later by a probe with cameras taking pictures of the first crash.

But the big live public splash people anticipated didn't quite happen. Screens got fuzz and no immediate pictures of the crash or the six-mile plume of lunar dust that the mission was all about. The public, which followed the crashes on the Internet and at observatories, seemed puzzled.

NASA officials said their instruments were working, but live photos of the actual crash were missing. Some select photos should be ready by a 10 a.m. press conference, they said.

But so far all NASA had was "images on the way in," said NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma.

Expectations by the public for live plume video were probably too high and based on pre-crash animations, some of which were not by NASA, project manager Dan Andrews told The Associated Press Friday morning 80 minutes after impact.

Another issue, one NASA thought was a good possibility going into Friday, was that the lighting was bad and work needs to be done on images to make them easier to see, Andrews said. Experts said the images could be essentially "gray against black," he said.

"What matters for us is: What is the nature of the stuff that was kicked up going in?" Andrews said. "All nine instruments were working fine and we received good data."

Andrews said the science team is pouring through the information — including what are supposed to be good images from ground-based telescopes on Earth — to answer the big question: Is there some form of water under the moon's surface that was dislodged? It will probably be two weeks before scientists will be certain about the answer, he said.

Before the crash, mission scientists said there was a chance that if it was really moist under the crater, they'd know about water within an hour. That's not the case now, Andrews said.

People who got up before dawn to look for the crash at Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory threw confused looks at each other instead.

Telescope demonstrator Jim Mahon called the celestial show "anticlimactic."

"I was hoping we'd see a flash or a flare," Mahon said.

About 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, 70 elementary school students at the Lewis Center for Educational Research charter school in Apple Valley capped off their weeklong "moon camp" experience by rising early to watch NASA television along with 300 members of the public.

"It was cool seeing actual pictures of the moon live," said 10-year-old Jackson Bridges, but he added: "I wanted to see the debris flying out. It was still interesting to watch, but it was less interesting without the flying debris."

The first and much bigger crash was supposed to hit with the force of 1.5 tons of TNT into crater Cabeus and create a mini-crater about half the size of an Olympic pool. The second crash was to be about one-third as strong.

The idea is to confirm the theory that water — a key resource if people are going to go back to the moon — is hidden below the barren moonscape.

The images were to come from the probe itself. The probe is LCROSS, short for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and pronounced L-Cross. It had five cameras and four other pieces of equipment to look for ice or any form of water as it dove through the dust storm created by the empty hull.

Minutes before the first crash, NASA was riding high, reporting no trouble at the Ames Research Center in California, where the mission was being controlled.

"Everything is working so very well," NASA's Victoria Friedensen, a manager in NASA's exploration office, said minutes before the one-two smack.

Best Jobs in America

Money/'s list of great careers

AP Photo

In the midst of the worst job market in three decades, you might think the only thing people care about when it comes to their career is having a job and keeping it. But when Money and, a leading online provider of employee-compensation data, surveyed 35,000 people online about what makes a great job, they rated intellectual challenge, a passion for the work, and flexibility just as highly as security. Perhaps the financial crisis has made many of us realize that we’re going to be on the job a few extra years, so we might as well be doing work we can enjoy.

1. Systems Engineer

Median salary (experienced): $87,100
Top pay: $130,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 45%
Sector: Information Technology

What they do: They're the "big think" managers on large, complex projects, from major transportation networks to military defense programs. They figure out the technical specifications required and coordinate the efforts of lower-level engineers working on specific aspects of the project.

Why it's great: Demand is soaring for systems engineers, as what was once a niche job in the aerospace and defense industries becomes commonplace among a diverse and expanding universe of employers, from medical device makers to corporations like Xerox and BMW. Pay can easily hit six figures for top performers, and there's ample opportunity for advancement. But many systems engineers say they most enjoy the creative aspects of the job and seeing projects come to life. "The transit system I work on really makes a tangible difference to people," says Anne O'Neil, chief systems engineer for the New York City Transit Authority.

Drawbacks: Long hours are common; project deadlines can be fierce.

Pre-reqs: An undergrad engineering degree; some jobs might also require certification as a certified systems engineering professional (CSEP).


2. Physician Assistant

Median salary (experienced): $90,900
Top pay: $124,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 27%
Sector: Healthcare

What they do: Call it MD lite. Working under the supervision of a doctor, PAs do all tasks involved in routine medical care, such as diagnosing illnesses and assisting in surgery. In most states they can write prescriptions as well.

Why it's great: You get the satisfaction of treating patients minus insurance hassles, since PAs have far less administrative responsibility than the typical MD. "I'm part of a team yet have a lot of autonomy," says PA Robert Wooten. You don't have to take on the time or expense of med school (see pre-reqs) and the field is virtually recession-proof, owing to an ongoing shortage of primary-care physicians. PAs are also far cheaper to employ than MDs, so demand is expected to steadily increase as medical facilities try to rein in costs, says Bill Leinweber, CEO of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. And since they don't need as much specialized training as doctors, PAs can switch from, say, geriatrics to emergency care with relative ease.

Drawbacks: It's a fairly new profession, so the number of annual job openings is still small.

Pre-reqs: A master's degree; 100 hours of training every two years; recertification every six.


3. College Professor

Median salary (experienced): $70,400
Top pay: $115,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 23%
Sector: Education

What they do: Teach and grade papers, of course. But profs also spend about half their time doing research and writing articles and books about their field.

Why it's great: For starters, major scheduling freedom. "Besides teaching and office hours, I get to decide where, when, and how I get my work done," says Daniel Beckman, a biology professor at Missouri State University. And that doesn't even take into account ample time off for holidays and a reduced workload in the summer. Competition for tenuretrack positions at four-year institutions is intense, but you'll find lots of available positions at community colleges and professional programs, where you can enter the professoriate as an adjunct faculty member or non-tenuretrack instructor without a doctorate degree. That's particularly true during economic downturns, when laid-off workers often head back to school for additional training. More valuable perks: reduced or free tuition for family members and free access to college gyms and libraries.

Drawbacks: Low starting pay and a big 50% salary gap between faculty at universities and community colleges. If the position is at a four-year university, you'll probably have to relocate, and you'll be under pressure to constantly publish new work to sustain career momentum.

How to get it: For a tenure track position, you'll need a Ph.D. But all colleges want at least a master's degree and prefer plenty of teaching experience.

Getty Images

4. Nurse Practitioner

Median salary (experienced): $85,200
Top pay: $113,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 23%
Sector: Healthcare

What they do: In addition to performing routine caretaking tasks, nurse practitioners have the advanced medical training to diagnose and treat a wide range of ailments. They can also prescribe medication without consulting an MD.

Not that stability and growth don’t matter, of course. We put the heaviest weight on those factors when we began crunching the numbers to come up with our list of the 50 best jobs. But to make the final cut, a job had to get high quality-of-life marks too. Whether you’re thinking of switching careers, are job hunting, or want to nudge a child in the right professional direction, this list should give you plenty of fodder for discussion.

Why it's great: Thanks to the growth of retail health clinics and the shortage of primary-care doctors, opportunities abound for nurse practitioners in settings from hospitals and urgent-care centers to private practice. They can specialize in fields such as women's health or oncology. Experienced nurse practitioners looking for a change of pace can shift to teaching or medical research. Nurse practitioners are also specifically trained in patient teaching; disease prevention is typically a large part of their practice. "Helping people see that small changes in their lifestyles can make a big difference to their health is very rewarding," says New York City nurse practitioner Edwidge Thomas.

Drawbacks: Constant insurance headaches. Education requirements are ratcheting up.

Pre-reqs: Must first complete training to get license as a registered nurse; master's degree, plus certification. A doctor of nursing practice degree is increasingly in demand, which requires about three additional years of study.

Getty Images

5. Information Technology Project Manager

Median salary (experienced): $98,700
Top pay: $140,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 16%
Sector: Information Technology

What they do: Keep big tech projects like software upgrades running on time--and on budget. "We bring order to chaos," says April Ellison, an IT project manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why it's great: Lots of opportunity. "Just about all companies need techsavvy people who are great managers," says Houston tech recruiter Linda Ranostaj. Figuring out how to implement cutting-edge technologies keeps the job challenging. Good upward mobility: IT project managers can rise to chief technology officer of a company, where the salaries can hit $300,000. Do you prefer to work for yourself? The field offers plenty of consulting work.

Drawbacks: Hours (and hours and hours) of meetings. Aggressive project timelines. Staff jobs can be outsourced to consultants.

Pre-reqs: Five to seven years of technology and computer-related experience. A project management professional certification, along with an MBA, will enhance career prospects.


6. Certified Public Accountant

Median salary (experienced): $74,200
Top pay: $138,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 18%
Sector: Financial

What they do: Crunch the numbers, whether it's for financial analysis or tax preparation.

Why it's great: Businesses began stocking the payroll with CPAs after major accounting scandals earlier this decade, and a host of new corporate accounting rules going into effect soon should ratchet up demand further. Government agencies are also hiring CPAs, to monitor how well companies are complying with the new regs. Add inevitable changes to personal income tax rules and you have a pretty recession-proof profession. "Unless Congress does away with taxes, we'll always have work," says CPA Lisa Featherngill of Winston- Salem, N.C. Some 33,000 independent CPAs also work for themselves, typically as tax preparers.

Drawbacks: Deadlines are nonnegotiable; if you're in tax preparation, kiss your personal life goodbye between mid-February and April 15.

Pre-reqs: A certification exam and, typically, 150 hours of business and accounting classes and work experience.

Getty Images

7. Physical Therapist

Median salary (experienced): $74,300
Top pay: $98,100
Job growth (10-year forecast): 27%
Sector: Healthcare

What they do: Restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion to people who have been sidelined by injury, illness, or disease.

Not that stability and growth don’t matter, of course. We put the heaviest weight on those factors when we began crunching the numbers to come up with our list of the 50 best jobs. But to make the final cut, a job had to get high quality-of-life marks too. Whether you’re thinking of switching careers, are job hunting, or want to nudge a child in the right professional direction, this list should give you plenty of fodder for discussion.

Why it's great: Unlike many health-care professionals, physical therapists generally see great progress in their patients. "I don't just treat the symptoms-- I give people the tools to get better," says Jennifer Gamboa, an orthopedic physical therapist in Arlington, Va. Plus, there's no overnight or shift work. Medical advances that allow a growing number of people with injuries and disabilities to survive are spurring demand, says Marc Goldstein, senior director of research at the American Physical Therapists Association. And hey, baby boomers' knees aren't getting any younger: An aging population means more chronic conditions that need physical therapy treatment.

Drawbacks: The impact of health reform on the profession is a wild card. Can be physically demanding.

Pre-reqs: A master's degree, plus certification and state licensing. Many employers prefer a doctor of physical therapy degree.


8. Computer/Network Security Consultant

Median salary (experienced): $99,700
Top pay: $152,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 27%
Sector: Information Technology

What they do: Protect computer systems and networks against hackers, spyware, and viruses. "I consider myself a cybercrime fighter," says Gregory Evans, an independent computer security consultant in Atlanta.

Why it's great: No company or government agency can afford to have a serious breach in the security of its computer system. New technologies and an unending supply of creative hackers around the world keep the field challenging. Consultants can often work from home. And top-level pros command big paychecks.

Drawbacks: Talk about stress. If a system is infiltrated by a virus or hacker, it could mean lights out for the security consultant's career. "This is a job you can't afford to ever fail in," says Evans.

Pre-reqs: Mostly major geekdom, since the skills can be self-taught. Still, a computer science degree comes in handy. An information systems security professional certification (CISSP) is increasingly favored. Experience is key for better-paying positions: Most companies won't hire a consultant with less than five years of experience.

AP Photo/CIA

9. Intelligence Analyst

Median salary (experienced): $82,500
Top pay: $115,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 15%
Sector: Government

What they do: Gather and analyze data related to international policy and military strategy, most often for the government or defense contractors.

Why it's great: Like adventure? Data might be collected from satellite images, wiretaps, Internet chatter, and military and spy reports. Given the country's continued vigilance about national security, demand should remain high. "The best part is helping our country," says Nate Copeland, an intelligence analyst in Herndon, Va.

Drawbacks: High stress; you often can't talk about your job outside of work.

Pre-reqs: Security clearance, of course. Foreign languages and often military experience are a huge plus.


10. Sales Director

Median salary (experienced): $140,000
Top pay: $239,000
Job growth (10-year forecast): 10%
Sector: Sales and Marketing

What they do: Set and meet sales goals, generate new accounts, and mentor and train new recruits.

Why it's great: A successful sales director--especially one who can weather an economic downturn-- will always be sought after. "I feel secure since I'm bringing money into the company," says Holly Anderson, a sales director in St. Helena, Calif. Sales directors often move into high-level management.

Drawbacks: Sales down? You're vulnerable to getting the ax. Commission-based pay can fluctuate dramatically. Expect to be on the road about 50% of the time.

Pre-reqs: 10 years of sales experience and a year or two in management. A proven track record beats an advanced degree.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where Americans Earn The Most

Median incomes in these metro areas are the country's highest.

Though fewer Americans these days have salaries to brag about, and unemployment at is at 9.7% nationwide, there are enclaves of the country where the rich keep getting richer, figures released Tuesday show.

Families earn the highest median income in the Bridgeport, Conn., San Jose, Calif., and Washington, D.C., metro areas, according to the latest numbers from the United States Census Bureau. (These areas are broader than the city limits; the Bridgeport metro area, for example, encompases wealthy suburbs Norwalk and Stamford.) What's more, as incomesplummeted in many areas across the country--real adjusted family income was the lowest it has been since 1997, according to the Census Bureau--these cities all saw a rise in median family income from the previous year.

The fact that residents of these wealth centers bring in over $100,000 per year is hardly surprising. Some of these places create wealth, like Washington, where the U.S. government is a robust employer, or San Jose, a tech-industry hot spot. Others, like the Bridgeport area, are where powerful executives make their home--and bring their paychecks--after a long week in the big city.

Behind the Numbers

Forbes ranked the median family income for all 369 Metropolitan Statistical Areas for which the U.S. Census Bureau publishes data as part of its annual American Community Survey. MSAs are geographic entities that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines and uses in collecting statistics. The survey, released Tuesday, updates select subjects from the decennial U.S. Census, using a smaller sample of the population. It measures characteristics of the population for the year 2008.

Though the economic news has been dismal across the country, all 20 of the highest-earning cities in the U.S. saw higher incomes than in 2007. In part, this can be explained by timing: The survey asked Americans about calendar year 2008, which hit workers the hardest only at the end of the year.

"In 2008 we were debating what income would look like because of inflation," says Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank that focuses on policy issues. "But things didn't get grim until October, when cascading job losses began."

Bedroom Communities Do Best

While urban centers, growth-industry towns and university hubs may generate profits, it is often the suburbs and small cities surrounding those areas where workers take their paychecks. That's why Bridgeport tops our list, as the metro area it inhabits also includes Stamford and Norwalk; all are roughly an hour commute from New York City, and Stamford is a financial center in its own right, the location of companies like General Electric Capital and Xerox.

Similarly, in the Trenton, N.J., area, families live well, on a median income of $88,789 annually. This is likely not thanks to the town itself, which had 989 violent crimes in 2008, but neighboring Ewing, which has emerged as a key business location for the recent biotech boom in the state. The metro is also within commuting distance of New York and Philadelphia.

Areas where one might expect families to do quite well, like New York City itself (it ranked 29th), instead see much of their wealth transferred to outlying suburbs. New Yorkers still earn a lot (the $77,760 that families there gross is well above the $58,270 national average), but comparatively less than in some suburban areas. In part, this is because the New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area isn't just limited to Manhattan; it includes the outer boroughs, Long Island and parts of New Jersey. Thus many working-class families live adjacent to the wealthy city center, and their incomes are reflected in the lower median number.

Baltimore and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., modest areas in many ways, found their way onto this list with their surprisingly high median incomes of $81,036 and $85,463, respectively, for the same reason that other suburban metros made the top 20: Baltimore is close to Washington, D.C, and Poughkeepsie houses commuters to New York City.

Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston families also took home more pay in 2008 than those in nearly all other metro areas in 2008. Boston's sprawling metro area includes Cambridge and Quincy--both relatively well-to-do cities. In San Francisco, the high end of incomes are so far above the national average that the median is tugged upward.

The Jobs Picture

The numbers also confirmed something that most already knew: Where tech goes, so goes the money. Highly skilled workers congregate in high-tech cities like San Jose, Calif., where families earn a median $103,164 annually.

Other growth industries can create clusters of well-off families, and help explain why Oxnard, Calif., families make around $86,784 a year. The health industry, one of the fastest-growing in the country, helps support the city. St. John's Regional Medical Center employs more of this city's residents than any other company.

While high gross pay doesn't always trickle down evenly when taxes, Social Security, housing and other living costs are factored in, looking at median family income does give a good indication of where the country's money is pooling.

"Because 2008 was so bad, clearly, some places have borne the brunt more than others," says Bouchey. "It could be that these are the places left standing."

Top 5 Places Where Median Incomes Are Highest

1. Bridgeport, Conn.
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., Metropolitan Statistical Area
Median Family Income: $105,132

2. San Jose, Calif.
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., Metropolitan Statistical Area
Median Family Income: $103,164

3. Washington, D.C.
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.V., Metropolitan Statistical Area
Median Family Income: $101,590

4. San Francisco, Calif.
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., Metropolitan Statistical Area
Median Family Income: $94,236

5. Trenton, N.J.
Trenton-Ewing, N.J., Metropolitan Statistical Area
Median Family Income: $93,912

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Somali pirates attack French military flagship

NAIROBI (AFP) – Somali pirates attempted to storm the French navy's 18,000 tonne flagship in the Indian Ocean after mistaking it for a cargo vessel, the French military said on Wednesday.

The crew of La Somme, a 160-metre (525-foot) command vessel and fuel tanker, easily saw off the brazen night-time assault by lightly armed fighters on two lightweight skiffs and captured five pirates, a spokesman said.

"The pirates, who because of the darkness took the French ship for a commercial vessel, were on board two vessels and opened fire with Kalashnikovs," Admiral Christophe Prazuck said in Paris.

La Somme is the French command vessel in the Indian Ocean, overseeing French air, sea and land forces fighting Somali pirates and hunting terrorists under the banner of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

Officers on the ship have directed commando operations to free French hostages in the hands of Somali pirates.

The pirates tried to flee when they realised their mistake but were pursued by French forces who, after an hour-long chase, caught one of the skiffs, Prazuck said.

On it they found five men but no weapons, water or food as the pirates had apparently thrown all of the boat's contents overboard, the spokesman said.

A Western official at sea in the area, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that there had been an exchange of fire between the warship and the pirate launches.

"One of the skiffs managed to get away in the night because La Somme was busy with the first pirate boat," he said.

"Despite the arrival of other vessels, they haven't yet managed to find the second boat," he said, adding that many warships in the area were busy hunting another group which attacked a cargo ship off the Seychelles on Sunday.

The world's naval powers have deployed dozens of warships to the lawless waters off Somalia over the past year to curb attacks by pirates in one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.

La Somme was operating 250 nautical miles (460 kilometres) off the Somali coast, on its way to resupply fuel to frigates patrolling shipping lanes as part of the European Union's Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission.

This was not the first time that Somali pirates have mistakenly attacked a French naval vessel. Several pirates were captured in May when they attempted to board a frigate in the area.

Somalia has had no proper government since it plunged into lawlessness after President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

The country is riven by factional fighting and pirate gangs operate freely from several ports along its Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden coasts.

According to the environmental watchdog Ecoterra International, at least 163 attacks have been carried out by Somali pirates since the start of 2009 alone, 47 of them successful hijackings.

Last year, more than 130 merchant ships were attacked, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Pirates have in recent weeks resumed attacks with the end of the monsoon season. Last week Somali gunmen captured Spanish fishing boat The Alakrana with 36 crew members in the Indian Ocean.

The US Maritime Administration warned last month that the end of the monsoon season was likely to bring an increase in piracy off Somalia and urged shipping companies to be vigilant.

Calmer waters allow pirates, who often operate in small fibreglass skiffs towed out to sea by captured fishing vessels, to hijack freighters, trawlers and private yachts. Cruise vessels have also been attacked.