Thursday is Agronomy Day at the University of Illinois.
Illinois Public Media News
Story by Sean Powers
Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana wants to add 14,000 square feet to its emergency department within two years.
There's good news for four Champaign-Urbana area startup companies.
The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports the companies have been approved to receive investments from the Invest Illinois Venture Fund that was set up last year.
Under the program, companies can receive up to 25 percent of their own lead investments from the state.
The companies that have been approved but haven't yet received any money from the state are Caterva, ANDalyze, Diagnostic Photonics and Nuvixa.
The goal of the fund is that it will replenish itself. The newspaper reports that once a company is viewed as self-sustaining, the state could stop investing and the proceeds from its investment will be used to help other companies.
State lawmakers in Illinois are trying to make it safer for people to use online dating sites.
The Decatur Herald & Review reported Sunday that legislation aiming to do that passed the Illinois House last week.
It would require Internet dating services operating in Illinois to post disclaimers saying whether they conduct background checks on their members.
The measure is sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Mussman, a Democrat from Schaumburg.
She says she wants to help Internet users "become more savvy" and protect themselves from online predators.
Opponents say the bill overreaches. Republican Rep. Jim Durkin of LaGrange says adults should be responsible for their own safety when using such sites.
The legislation now goes to the Senate.
Indiana lottery officials are keeping their eye on an Illinois effort to sell lottery tickets online.
The Hoosier Lottery hasn't started formally looking at online sales. But spokesman Al Larsen tells The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/GXns7K ) that they'll consider it depending on how the program in Illinois works out.
Illinois began online sales on Sunday of tickets for the multistate Mega Millions game and its state lottery. It's the first state to try an online program.
The system in Illinois sets up a direct deposit account for players with winnings of less than $600. Those who win more than that will receive email notification that they've won. Players will also be able to set up subscriptions for automatic wagers.
As Illlinois adults sip their coffee and unfold their newspapers early Sunday morning, state officials say they can also become some of the first people in the country to buy lottery tickets online.
Illinois will become what lotto officials say is the first state in the U.S. to sell tickets over the Internet when the high-security website goes live around 7 a.m. Sunday. Online players will be able to buy up to $10 worth of Lotto or Mega Millions tickets, and state lawmakers are already considering whether to add Powerball into the mix.
The Illinois Lottery estimates e-ticket sales could net hundreds of thousands of new players, and bring in between $78 million and $118 million in new revenue for the cash-strapped state, half of which would fund capital projects. State lawmakers signed off on the online pilot program in 2009, but implementation had been held up pending legal approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which finally came in December.
In Illinois, where lotto tickets must be bought at a licensed retailer, the plan hasn't been without controversy. Some retail groups have worried that online lottery sales, which they say account for up to 50 percent of revenue at some convenience stores, would take a huge bite out of their in-store business. And anti-gambling advocates complain Internet ticket sales could tempt addicts and underage buyers.
But Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said the system is secure, and require would-be gamblers to turn over their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card information before they click "buy."
"But there's also the psychological protection that if you attempt to circumvent our rules by playing underage, or playing from outside the state, and you win, we do a winner validation for any prize over $600," Jones said Friday. "And we won't pay you."
Meanwhile, retailers and convenience store owners have been in talks with Jones and Northstar Lottery Group, the private company that runs the Illinois lotto. The store owners had been pushing for a bump in their five percent commission rate to offset a feared drop in in-person ticket sales, as well as a plan to require that online tickets be purchased exclusively using designated debit cards that could only be bought and recharged at brick-and-mortar stores.
But business groups seem to have quieted down after striking a deal to require that Illinois study the effects of online ticket sales on retailers, and the viability of the debit card idea. That plan will be tacked onto the bill that would add Powerball to the Internet pilot program. The amendment is designed to "lift the opposition that the convenience store owners have had," and will likely be introduced next week, according to the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston.
Retailers say they have a symbiotic relationship with the Illinois Lotto. But they're staying vigilant.
"These concerns are not going away, but at least we now - I shouldn't say 'at least' - we now have - or will have - a mechanism to determine whether our concerns play out," said David Vite, CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents 5,100 convenience stores across the state.
A Chicago man was charged Tuesday of computer hacking in collaboration with five other people aligned with the activist group Anonymous.
Federal prosecutors accuse Jeremy Hammond of stealing the credit card information of nearly 60,000 clients of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Startfor), a global intelligence firm. Prosecutors say Hammond went by the name "anarchaos," among other online aliases.
A federal complaint alleges Hammond posted that information on a file sharing website resulting in at least $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges. The complaint also said Hammond helped obtain emails from Stratfor employees and put them on certain Internet websites.
The whistleblower website, Wikileaks started publishing emails from Stratfor in February. The website says it has nearly 5 million emails obtained from that company. It's not completely clear whether those emails are the ones prosecutors allege Hammond obtained by hacking into Stratfor's servers.
Hammond appeared in federal court in Chicago on Tuesday after being arrested the night before. He will be transferred to New York to stand trial.
Attorney Jim Fennerty represented Hammond in his initial Chicago court appearance. Fennerty also represented Hammond about two years ago when he was arrested for protesting at a Neo-Nazi gathering. He also confirmed Hammond had been detained for his opposition to Chicago's bid to host the Olympic Games, though Fennerty didn't represent Hammond in that case. Fennerty said he knows Hammond through his activism in Chicago.
"I like the guy. Maybe he does things I wouldn't do," Fennerty said.
Hammond is charged with three federal counts and faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 years for each of those counts.
"He does take them [the charges] very seriously. As you saw him today he looks kinda like - somebody said he looked kinda shell-shocked," Fennerty told reporters Tuesday.
Another four hackers were charged with similar counts in an indictment unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. A fifth hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, pleaded guilty last August. Monsegur is described in court papers as the ring-leader of the Anonymous sub-group LulzSec. Federal agents said Monsegur cooperated with the FBI in their investigation.
Wednesday's Internet strike in opposition to Internet Piracy legislation led eight lawmakers --- including Illinois Senator Mark Kirk --- to drop their support of the measures.
But Congressman Tim Johnson (R-IL) said he didn't need a day without Wikipedia to reach the conclusion that SOPA (HR 3261), and its Senate version PIPA (S 968) would be bad for the country.
The Urbana lawmaker says he understands the threat of Internet Piracy, but believes the two bills would do more harm than good.
"I think it's vaguely worded," Johnson said. "I think it clearly has the potential to violate First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. I think it is oppressive with respect to individuals, and I think it is ill-considered. And I think it's something that clearly should be defeated in the Congress."
Supporters of SOPA, such as the Motion Picture Association of America, argue that it targets only foreign "rogue websites" that are dedicated to copyright infringement. They say such sites as YouTube and Facebook would not be affected, and would not be required to monitor their users. But Johnson remains skeptical.
"They're misportraying it," he said. "It's clear from the bill that it would have potential for tremendous abuse. This is a good example of big Hollywood money coming in and trying to buy the process. And it's simply not going to work."
Johnson said he doesn't think SOPA and PIPA bills can be revised to address his concerns. Instead, he said current laws are sufficient to protect intellectual property rights.
The two bills would give officials the power to require that Internet providers and search engines block websites suspected of copyright infringement. Critics say the measure would pose a threat to other websites, just for linking to sites that had links to copyright infringement.
The first focus group meeting for potential subscribers to Champaign-Urbana's big broadband project had its share of questions, and there were answers for most of them.
The UC2B project for underserved areas won't be fully on line for about a year. But the first neighborhoods could see it as soon as April. Those include parts of Garden Hills - home for Robert Siedenberg:
"I knew there was fiber to the corner of my yard - I never dreamed it would come to the house," he said. "That's wonderful."
Siedenberg has had internet issues for much of his 10 years in North Garden Hills. After moving there, he discovered his home's all-copper phone lines were 50 to 60 years old. That meant the phone company would frequently switch service to an unused line, for basic dial up service.
"That would be good for a year or two, and by good, I mean it would be functional," said Sidedenberg. "And then we'd have outages again."
Those eligible for UC2B have learned they can expect to pay about 20-dollars for monthly service, and at a speed that's expected to surpass what Comcast and others and provide. It will also serve as an intranet service, allows users to produce content, and connect to anchor institutions like schools and hospitals. Consultant Diane Kruse says she's excited with the response.
"Often, when you're in this business, you're thinking about the plans, and you're deep into the spreadsheets and the numbers and the operating models and the policies," she said. "It's easy to lose focus on the customer."
Canvassers of bid-broadband neighborhoods have hit most areas once, getting replies from about 400 households so far.
About 18 people eligible for the service attended the first focus group meeting on UC2B in Champaign Monday night. Questions ranged from whether a senior on a fixed income could receive a lower rate, and whether current providers, like Comcast would end up offering more competitive rates as a result of UC2B.
Things are looking up for the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul.
After it looked like a bleak financial picture might cause the museum to close, the last year has seen an improved bottom line.
Nancy Kobel is president of the museum's board of directors. Kobel tells The (Champaign) News-Gazette that the museum has enough money to cover payroll until the end of January.
She said that's a lot better than in August 2010 when the museum had only enough money to cover about two weeks of payroll.
Kobel said the board's efforts to promote the museum on the former Air Force base have been effective enough to allow them to stay open on Sundays, something they couldn't afford to do last winter.