Heatwaves coming longer, earlier, hotter

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Hotter days and longer heatwaves will occur in Australia more frequently and earlier in the year, a report says.

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And it will be decades before extreme temperatures stop rising due to the effects of human-induced climate change, one of the co-authors of the Australian Heatwaves report, Professor Will Stefan of the Climate Council, says.

Heatwaves are occurring up to two weeks earlier than previously recorded, are lasting longer and the number of record hot days has doubled in the last 50 years, the report says.

Scientists define a heatwave as more than three consecutive days where the temperature is in the top 10 per cent of days for that time of year, as well as being hotter than the previous month.

During the past decade there were three times as many hot-day records as there were cold, Prof Stefan said.

“That’s virtually impossible to happen on the grounds of natural variability alone,” he told reporters.

“What’s behind this? The physics is really, really clear. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is going up.”

Co-author and heatwave expert Dr Sarah Perkins said “it is clear” heatwaves are becoming more savage and are lasting longer.

“This summer and last summer have been characterised by extreme temperatures a lot of which have been record breaking,” she said.

Extended heatwaves will have significant negative impacts on health and infrastructure, co-author Professor Lesley Hughes said.

“Heatwaves have been dubbed the silent killer,” she said.

About 1000 people in Australia, generally elderly or children, die each year due to heatwaves.

In the 2003 European heatwave about 70,000 people died and in Russia in 2010 more than 50,000 were killed by extreme heat.

Heatwaves also damage infrastructure, Prof Hughes said.

Roads can melt, train and tram tracks can buckle and over-stretched electricity networks can black out.

The final report is due out in late February.

As the authors spoke to reporters in Sydney, soaring temperatures scorched Australia’s southern states, fanning bushfires, health alerts and power outage concerns.

Melbourne is facing its longest run of 40 degree days since 1908.

Meanwhile Adelaide is heading towards 46C on Thursday, close to its all time high of 46.1C set on January 12, 1939.

Missing Aust man fails to board US flight

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Hopes that missing Australian soldier Captain Paul McKay would appear at a New Jersey airport for the first leg of his scheduled flight back to Australia have been dashed.

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“At this point he has not boarded a plane,” Saranac Lake police sergeant James Law told AAP on Wednesday.

Capt McKay was last seen on New Years Eve walking on railroad tracks in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.

A ground search of the dense forest area involving Saranac Lake police, state rangers and volunteers has failed to find any clues to where Capt McKay might be.

He has been suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after a tour of Afghanistan and is on leave from the Australian Army.

Capt McKay, 31, purchased an Australia to the US round-trip airfare, with the return leg beginning from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.

He was then scheduled to fly from LA to Australia on Wednesday evening.

The Transport Security Administration (TSA), airlines and airports have been alerted to be on the lookout for Canberra-based Capt McKay.

Banks will alert authorities if he uses a credit card.

“We have everybody watching and looking with the hope we would find him, but we haven’t heard from anybody,” Sgt Law said.

Capt McKay went missing when the northeast US was hit by the polar vortex, bringing minus 30 degree temperatures and snow storms, but Saranac Lake police chief Bruce Nason said Capt McKay’s Army training gave searchers and his family hope he could survive.

“Based upon his experiences, if anybody has a chance of going into this wooded area and coming out it is him,” Chief Nason said.

“He has some experience.

“We are hoping he got slowed down by the weather.

“I remain optimistic.

“If I wasn’t, we wouldn’t be looking that hard and if it was my child I would want everybody to remain optimistic and we are.

“We are committed to continue the search for as long as it takes.”

Capt McKay sent an email to his father on December 30.

In the email, Capt McKay said he was leaving all of his possessions to his father.

Lealiifano aims to return against Waratahs

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Wallabies centre Christian Lealiifano has earmarked the Brumbies’ round-five clash with the NSW Waratahs on March 15 for his return to Super Rugby action.

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The 26-year-old is recovering from the ankle surgery he underwent in December following a break-out season in which he made his international debut in the opening Test of the British and Irish Lions series in Brisbane.

However, that appearance lasted just 42 seconds. He was carried off after being knocked out when attempting to tackle Jonathan Davies.

But Lealiifano bounced back to play 13 times in the green and gold last year before going under the knife to cure a long-term ankle problem, with his moonboot to be removed on Monday.

“Everything is on track. It’s been frustrating, I’ve been on crutches for a while and I’m itching to get out,” Lealiifano said.

The inside centre battled through last season with the niggling ankle, which he first broke midway through 2012.

“You think you’d get some kind of warranty on these kind of things,” he joked.

“All the nurses (in December) were like: ‘Oh you’re back again!”

While he conceded precaution could delay his return as late as the round-seven clash with the Melbourne Rebels, Brumbies’ director of rugby Laurie Fisher believes the Waratahs match is a very realistic possibility.

“That will be the aim. He’s very important in our structures,” Fisher said.

In the meantime, Pat McCabe, South African recruit Lionel Cronje and Andrew Smith will battle it out for the No.12 jersey.

Meanwhile, joining captain Ben Mowen, Lealiifano, David Pocock and Stephen Moore in the Brumbies’ leadership group in 2014 will be back-row enforcer Fotu Auelua and veteran winger Clyde Rathbone.

“We’ve got a lot young players coming up now. Hopefully I can lead by example and pave the way for them,” Auelua said.

Bobridge fires for SA in cycling

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Jack Bobridge made a brief and impressive return to track cycling on Thursday as SA continued their domination of the team pursuit at the Australian championships.

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He combined with fellow London Games silver medallist Glenn O’Shea and rising stars Alex Edmondson and Luke Davison to catch NSW in the final on day two of the championships.

SA clocked three minutes 58.387 seconds to win the 4000m team pursuit Australian title for the fifth straight year.

A second-string SA team also beat WA for the bronze medal.

Bobridge has made an encouraging start to this year, finishing fifth earlier this month at the road nationals.

It follows a lean period in his professional road career, which included a switch from Orica-GreenEDGE to Dutch team Belkin a year ago.

“I’ve got him back on the track so he could find his mojo a little bit more, have a bit more fun and get back to winning bike races,” said national track endurance coach Tim Decker.

“That’s what he does; that’s what he loves.

“The last couple of years, it’s been tough.

“That was a test for me, to bring him in … and it worked pretty well.”

But after this week’s nationals, Bobridge will return full-time to road racing and will not ride at the late-February world track titles in Colombia.

“His road team, obviously they pay the bills and we don’t have the budget to pay the bills for him, which is a big shame,” Decker said.

“If we could get a road team to support his track ambitions, that would be fantastic and we’d welcome him back with open arms, for sure.

“He’s grown up a lot now, he’s more mature and I think he could bring something back to this team.”

Also on Thursday, SA’s Stephanie Morton upset strong favourite Anna Meares to qualify fastest in the women’s sprint.

Morton clocked 11.180 seconds for the flying 200m and Meares was second in 11.214.

Meares is training through the nationals in the lead-up to the worlds.

Morton and Meares breezed through the opening rounds of match racing ahead of Friday’s semi-finals and finals.

Tasmanian Amy Cure won her first senior national title when she qualified fastest and beat reigning champion Annette Edmondson (SA) in the 3000m individual pursuit.

Melissa Hoskins (WA) beat Ashlee Ankudinoff in the bronze medal ride.

In men’s sprint qualifying, Matthew Glaetzer set an Australian championship record of 9.901 seconds to qualify fastest.

He was the only rider to go under 10 seconds.

SA also won the under-19 men’s team pursuit, while Korean Jeone Park won the under-19 men’s sprint.

Victorian Courtney Field won the under-19 women’s keirin.

Starc ready to fire says Maddinson

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Nic Maddinson says his Sydney Sixers teammate Mitchell Starc is primed to finally make his return to elite cricket after being diagnosed with a stress fracture of the back in September.

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Starc last played in the controversial drawn fifth Test at The Oval in late August and is set for a comeback in the Sixers’ Big Bash League semi-final against the Perth Scorchers at the SCG on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old Starc is in Australia’s Twenty20 squad and could play in Sunday’s third match against England on Sunday but he will definitely play for the Sixers as they chase down a vital Champions League spot.

“Mitch is going well; he is looking good for his return,” Maddinson said on Thursday.

“We have had a few centre wicket practice sessions and the odd net session and he has been impressive.

“He is bowling well, he is bowling quick and he is swinging the ball so hopefully he is going to be out on the park really soon because he looks ready.”

Scorchers quick Pat Cummins is another on the comeback trail after finally returning in their win over the Adelaide Strikers last week.

“That will be interesting,” Maddinson said.

“I faced him a year ago and he shattered one of my bats … he didn’t like a late cut I hit off him so he decided to ramp it up again.

“Hopefully he is not back to that pace but I think his pace is a big asset for Perth.

“Anyone of his calibre coming back into their side is a massive plus for them.”

Perth beat Sydney in the competition’s first ‘super over’ at the SCG during the regular rounds and Maddinson said the Sixers were keen for revenge with the added lure of a Champions League spot on the line for both BBL finalists.

“This is a massive game for us. If we can win that, getting to play overseas in that Champions League is a real test.

“So that is where we would like to get to but first we have Wednesday’s game and hopefully a final after that,” Maddinson said.

Salvo dismissed amid more abuse evidence

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A man, now a miner, was so distraught by memories of what had happened to him at a Salvation Army boys home in Sydney that he could not read his evidence at a royal commission inquiry.

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When he took the stand at a public hearing into child sexual abuse on Thursday, the man identified as FV, faltered as he told about hearing his younger brother was raped.

They had been sent to the Bexley Boys Home in Sydney south in 1974 when Captain Lawrence Wilson was in charge and placed in different dormitories.

In evidence read on his behalf by Simeon Beckett counsel assisting the commission, FV said he was raped by Cpt Wilson and a few weeks later was collected by a man and woman and taken to a house in Punchbowl, Sydney.

The couple were in Salvation Army uniforms and the big woman “had short blond hair and looked to be in her 30s”.

At Punchbowl the couple tried to force him to have sex. He ran away and got a train back to Bexley where Captain Wilson was waiting and gave him 18 stripes with a cane and told him “they were good people I sent you to”.

Twice more during his time at Bexley he was sent to people’s homes, once to a property in Blacktown, and another time to the house of two women.

FV resumed his evidence to tell the commission how his experiences at Bexley affected him.

“The sexual attacks on myself are the hardest things to deal with, one day you are a boy the next you are a shell walking around,” he said.

He was savagely attacked by Mr Wilson one day for laughing.

“One thing I will never forget was the day Wilson dragged me along the hall, caned me and then bashed me like a bulldog tearing apart a rag doll,” he said.

He said Bexley made him tough but he still has nightmares so intense he cannot get back to sleep.

NSW police could not find enough evidence in 1998 to charge Mr Wilson with running a pedophile ring.

Wilson died in 2008 the same year the Salvation Army reported allegations against him, related to the time he was at Bexley and in Queensland.

The public inquiry is focusing on four homes run by The Salvation Army in the 60s and 70s, two in NSW and two in Queensland.

Many allegations are about five officers, including Wilson. The others are Victor Bennett who died in 1986, Donald Schultz dismissed in 2005 and John McIver who was still an officer up to Thursday when the Salvation Army suspended him.

In a statement they said the suspension was in light of evidence at the commission.

Over the past few days the commission has heard that Mr McIver, now in his mid-70s, physically and sexually abused children at Bexley in NSW and at Indooroopilly in Queensland where he was a manager.

It is alleged that Mr McIver whipped one boy at Bexley until he developed welts and was bleeding.

He then allegedly fondled his genitals before threatening the boy he would “beat the life” out of him if he told anyone.

Plisson looks to lift France in 6 Nations

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Five-eighth Jules Plisson will make his France debut in Saturday’s Six Nations rugby opener against England in Paris.

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Plisson, 22, will be partnered at halfback by Jean-Marc Doussain of Toulouse, while his Stade Francais teammate Alexandre Flanquart is preferred to Yoann Maestri in the second row.

Having been in outstanding form at club level, Plisson will look to lift a French side that struggled in 2013, losing eight of 11 matches.

Along with Doussain, who is also 22, they will form the 10th different halves’ pairing in 22 matches under coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

In the team announced by Saint-Andre on Thursday, they were preferred to Maxime Machenaud of Racing Metro, who will be on the bench, and Francois Trinh-Duc, who was named in the squad in place of injured Remi Tales but does not make the matchday 23.

“Jules Plisson is young but he already has a good array of talents, in terms of style, technique and strategy. He will play in the ‘crunch’ and he will need to start well,” said Saint-Andre.

Of his decision to select Flanquart, the coach added: “It is the second row that plays together all year at Stade Francais. We have brought together an experienced player with another who is very strong in the air with his touches, lay-offs.

“We will need that against the English.”

Stade Francais lock Pascal Pape will captain Les Bleus in the absence of the injured flanker Thierry Dusautoir.

Saint-Andre admitted that starting their campaign against England will give France an early indication of how far they can go in this season’s Six Nations, although he was quick to dismiss any notion that they should be considered favourites.

“A win would give us a lot of confidence and instil plenty of positivity in the group, but a defeat could spoil the Six Nations.

“The first international match often sets the tempo for your season. We know that because last year we had a defeat in Italy (23-18) and then we had a difficult year.

“You can’t be the favourites when you finished last in the 2013 Six Nations! We are outsiders. The favourites are the Welsh and the English.

“We are just going to concentrate on Saturday’s match and try to have a much better 2014 than 2013.”

France (15-1):

Brice Dulin; Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard; Jules Plisson, Jean-Marc Doussain; Bernard Le Roux, Louis Picamoles, Yannick Nyanga; Pascal Pape (capt), Alexandre Flanquart; Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo. Res: Dimitri Szarzewski; Yannick Forestier; Rabah Slimani; Yoann Maestri; Antoine Burban; Damien Chouly; Maxime Machenaud; Gael Fickou.

England debutants for Six Nations rugby

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England are set to give debuts to winger Jack Nowell and centre Luther Burrell in their Six Nations rugby opener on Saturday against France in Paris.

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Both backs were named in the starting XV announced by coach Stuart Lancaster on Thursday, with Exeter’s Nowell called up following injuries to Christian Wade and Marland Yarde and the loss of form of Chris Ashton.

Burrell has impressed for Northampton this season and, with the powerful Manu Tuilagi set to be sidelined for the whole Six Nations, he was included ahead of the fit-again Brad Barritt, who is on the bench.

Gloucester winger Jonny May is in line for only his second cap, and first Six Nations start, after debuting against Argentina last year.

But halfback Danny Care, a 42-Test veteran, returns to the starting XV for the first time since playing against Italy in last season’s Six Nations.

Fullback Mike Brown, five-eighth Owen Farrell and inside centre Billy Twelvetrees will look to guide the rookies alongside them.

“Congratulations to Jack and Luther who deserve their chance, as does Jonny starting his first Six Nations game,” Lancaster said in a Rugby Football Union (RFU) statement.

“It’s also great to see Brad back in the 23 with his experience and leadership,” added Lancaster, looking for the team to go one better than the two runners-up finishes in his two previous Six Nations as England coach.

Care, Farrell and Brown have 81 caps between them, but there are only nine Test appearances between the rest of England’s backs while, on the bench, there is a lack of a specialist replacement for Farrell, with Saracens fullback Alex Goode set to cover several positions.

While England’s back division has an unfamiliar look, the same eight forwards who starred in a 30-22 defeat by world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in November have been retained for the Stade de France clash.

“We felt the pack went well in the autumn and it’s right to leave it unchanged,” Lancaster said.

“But we have some quality players to come on off the bench, including two British and Irish Lions in (hooker) Tom Youngs and (prop) Mako Vunipola.

“We can’t wait for Saturday. We’ve had a good two weeks and all the players have pushed hard for selection.”

Winger Anthony Watson, No.10 George Ford and prop Matt Mullan will travel to Paris with the squad as additional cover.

England, again captained by flanker Chris Robshaw, have won their two previous Tests against France under Lancaster.

England (15-1):

Mike Brown; Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Wood; Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Res: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode.

Marsh out, Hughes in for Sth African tour

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Injured batsman Shaun Marsh has been withdrawn from Australia’s Test Squad for the tour of South Africa.

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Cricket Australia (CA) on Thursday advised that Phillip Hughes had been recalled to the 15-man squad to replace Marsh.

National selector John Inverarity said: “As Shaun Marsh’s calf injury has not improved as much as required over the past four days, he has been withdrawn from the Test squad …

“Phillip Hughes had been placed on standby and now comes into the Test squad as a replacement for Shaun. Phillip will head to South Africa as soon as possible.”

Flight details are yet to be confirmed for Hughes who was initially overlooked for selection.

Marsh injured his calf in the Australian ODI win over England and the left-hander had been in Perth receiving treatment.

Earlier on Thursday, fast bowler Jackson Bird was a confirmed starter for the three-Test tour starting on February 12.

Bird will fly to South Africa on Friday alongside Moises Henriques, after successfully proving he’s recovered from jarring his back in a Big Bash League game last week.

The Tasmanian quick was held back to see if he could get through back-to-back days of net bowling before being given the green light to tour and provide back-up for Australia’s Ashes-winning attack.

Bird was put through his paces in the nets in Hobart on Wednesday, under the supervision of Australian coach Darren Lehmann and national selection panel member Rod Marsh.

The 27-year-old returned home early from last year’s Ashes tour of the UK with a back problem and, as a precaution, he was pulled out of a scheduled second XI game on Monday and his flight to South Africa delayed.

Glory years relived at Ponting tribute

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It read like a scorecard from Australian cricket’s glory years a decade ago.

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Make that two decades. And without the AFL players.

Hayden 64, Gilchrist 40, Healy 17, Jones 4, Hughes 0-25.

And Petrie – as in North Melbourne’s Drew – 38 from 15 balls.

Star of the show Ricky Ponting hobbled to 83 not out after appearing to injure his groin while batting, and being ‘dropped’ at least a couple of times.

“Ricky Ponting’s 80 is a world-record score in Ricky Ponting tribute matches,” the ground announcer declared.

The Twenty20 celebration might have been Launceston’s biggest night, 17,771 turning out to thank the boy from working class suburb Mowbray.

They packed Aurora Stadium, which sits a stone’s throw from the club ground Ponting lit up as a kid.

Wearing Mowbray’s maroon and yellow, the 39-year-old’s side included Matthew Hayden, Brett Lee, Ian Healy, Dean Jones – and Richmond great Matthew Richardson.

The opposition, captained by Adam Gilchrist, boasted Michael Hussey, Justin Langer, Merv Hughes and some bloke batting at No.4 called Jarryd Roughead.

Ponting’s side made 6-207 in reply to the Gilchrist line-up’s 6-206, and the former Test skipper’s foundation an estimated $200,000.

Showmen Jones and Hughes hammed it up for the crowd, and the AFL contingent showed the game designed to keep cricketers fit in winter might still do that.

Kangaroo Petrie smashed four straight sixes in his knock, although the bowler was Hayden, while Roughead hit a full-pace Brett Lee ball over the boundary.

“It will help every family and every child suffering childhood cancer in Tasmania,” Ponting said.

The match had proved eventful before it even began, with three players pulling out.

Phil Hughes was waiting on a phone call to tell him he’d be joining Australia’s Test squad in South Africa.

Andrew Symonds was stranded by Cyclone Dylan in north Queensland.

And luckless former Test gloveman Tim Paine, whose career was interrupted for two years by a broken finger suffered in an exhibition match, was hospitalised after an insect bite.

The Tasmanian was recovering after he was bitten while walking his dog on a beach but expected to be fit for the Hobart Hurricanes’ Big Bash semi-final next week.

Doctors bringing Schumacher out of coma

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Michael Schumacher’s doctors have started the process of bringing the former Formula One champion out of the coma he has been in since a skiing accident a month ago.

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The 45-year-old suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his helmet on a rock in the French resort of Meribel on December 29.

The seven-time F1 champion has been in an induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital since then, although his condition stabilised following surgery after initially being described as critical.

And now doctors are slowly trying to wake him up.

“Michael’s sedation is being reduced in order to allow the start of the waking up process which may take a long time,” Schumacher’s manager, Sabine Kehm, said in a statement on Thursday.

One reason for reducing the sedation is to see if the swelling has gone down in the patient’s brain and to assess what level of functions has been retained.

Kehm said she was only providing an update now on Schumacher’s condition to clarify media leaks, and that no further details would be provided.

French newspaper l’Equipe first reported on Wednesday that doctors had started waking Schumacher.

“The family of Michael Schumacher is again requesting to respect its privacy and the medical secret, and to not disturb the doctors treating Michael in their work,” Kehm said.

“At the same time, the family wishes to express sincere appreciation for the worldwide sympathy. … For the protection of the family, it was originally agreed by the interested parties to communicate this information only once this process was consolidated. Please note that no further updates will be given.”

Schumacher was being kept artificially sedated and his body temperature was lowered to between 34 and 35 degrees Celsius, to reduce swelling in the brain, reduce its energy consumption and allow it to rest.

Schumacher earned universal acclaim for his uncommon and sometimes ruthless driving talent, which led to a record 91 race wins. He retired from Formula One in 2012 after garnering an unmatched seven world titles.

New app the ‘ultimate networking tool’

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Walk into a room of people, and your smartphone can tell if you have a connection to any of them, if it can find the right data.

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A social networking app called SocialRadar, released on Thursday, analyses smartphone users’ social networks including Facebook and Twitter, and correlates that with location data, to let people know in real time about their connections to those around them.

The app aggregates and merges data from top social networks including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and Google+ with live location information from smartphones.

This enables users to find colleagues, friends, and friends of friends if they are connected on one of the networks.

This means you can see in real time the people around you with whom you share a connection across several services.

“There are over a billion people with smartphones, and more than two billion social media profiles in the cloud, but no intersection of that information,” says SocialRadar founder and chief executive Michael Chasen.

Chasen, 41, who founded the education software tool Blackboard in 1997 and sold it in 2011 for $US1.70 billion ($A1.95 billion), says SocialRadar can be useful for business networking as well as for socialising.

“I can walk into a restaurant and find three people I’m connected to,” Chasen told AFP in an interview in SocialRadar’s office in downtown Washington.

“All this is in the cloud if you can connect this information.”

Chasen said he believes SocialRadar may be used for dating, “but I think it will be used for business too. It is the ultimate networking tool”.

SocialRadar has been released in North America for the iOS platform for iPhones, and a version is in the works for Android and for Google Glass – which would enable users to get information delivered for easy viewing.

Athletes warned not to wear big country logos to Sochi

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Britain has joined the United States in cautioning athletes and officials against wearing “overtly branded” clothing en route to Sochi where the athletes’ village opens on Thursday.

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Security at the Winter Games is expected to be tight with the potential threat of an attack on Sochi, which lies on the western edge of the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, scene of an insurgency aiming to create an Islamist state.

A spokeswoman for the British Olympic Association (BOA) said its 56 athletes and 64 officials were advised to travel in items from their 111-piece team kit with small, discrete logos.

“While we have not received any information or advice suggesting an increase in the threat level, we are taking a common-sense approach in recommending that team members wear less overtly branded Team GB kit during their journey to Sochi,” the BOA spokeswoman said.

“This advice is similar to guidance being offered to other delegations by their respective National Olympic Committees.”

Concern about potential attacks on the February 7-23 Games has heightened in the wake of twin suicide bombings last month in the city of Volgograd, about 700 km (400 miles) northeast of Sochi, which killed 34 people.

British officials have warned that further attacks were likely and could take place anywhere in Russia.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, which is sending the largest team to Sochi, with 230 athletes, issued a travel memo advising against wearing conspicuous Team USA gear outside the secure Olympic compound, such as the red, white, and blue cardigan with stars and stripes designed by Ralph Lauren.

“The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk,” said the memo, widely reported in the U.S. media.

Officials caution athletes about safety at every Olympics but the BOA spokeswoman could not recall previous cautions about not wearing branded team kit.

Countries competing at Sochi are taking various measures to ensure the safety of their athletes and spectators.

While France’s delegation has not received cautions over kit, its 116 athletes will receive extra protection at Sochi from French national police and gendarmerie special operations units, sports minister Valerie Fourneyron said on Thursday.

This comes on top of the 37,000 personnel on combat alert deployed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We have done some preparatory work with our experts and everything has been done to make sure our athletes and fans are safe,” Fourneyron told daily Le Parisien. “There will be maximal vigilance.”

About 6,000 athletes, coaches and officials from around 90 countries will take part in events at Sochi ranging from Alpine skiing to ice hockey and snowboarding.

(Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris, Editing by Justin Palmer)