Student raises thousands of pounds for homeless man who offered her money

An art student living in Preston has raised over £21,000 for a homeless man, after she says he offered her his last £3 so that she could get a taxi home safely.

Dominique Harrison-Bentzen, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, says she had lost her bank card and needed to get home after a night out when the homeless man, known only as Robbie, offered money to help.

The 22-year-old says she declined the offer, but was so moved by his gesture that she started a campaign to raise enough money to help him get a flat. She set up a donation page and asked people to each donate £3 for her fundraiser, which involved spending the night on the street, along with supporters who had heard about her story through social media.

Harrison-Bentzen says: “I suddenly realised that I had no money and a homeless man approached me with his only change of £3. He insisted I took it to pay for a taxi to make sure I got home safe.

“I was touched by such a kind gesture from a man who faces ignorance every day, so I set on a mission to find this man. The more I spoke about him the more kind gestures I learned about him, such as him returning wallets untouched to pedestrians and offering his scarf to keep people warm.

“He has been homeless for 7 months through no fault of his own and needs to get back on his feet but cannot get work due to having no address. So that’s when I decided to change Robbie’s life and help him, as he has helped many others.”

The campaign has received global attention, going viral on social media. Since the donation page was set up, it has frequently reported technical difficulties due to “an unusually high number of visitors”. Many have tweeted their support, including Ian Brown of the Stone Roses.

After the fundraiser, which ended on Wednesday morning, Harrison-Bentzen posted on Facebook: “This is not only going to change Robbie’s life, but [the lives of] an incredible amount of homeless people in Preston. Yes, we were cold and yes, we were hungry, but people endure that 365 days of the year, so for 24 hours we didn’t complain.”

Harrison-Bentzen says the money will be used to find permanent accommodation for Robbie and help other homeless people in the city. She says: “With Robbie’s blessing, we want to help as many people as we can. Robbie has already suggested some local charities within Preston who have helped not only him but others throughout their hardship.

“The next few days will be spent carefully deciding where to donate the money and how it can be used in the most efficient way to benefit the homeless community within Preston.”

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Ex-Anonymous hacker questions North Korea's role in Sony hack

 

The United States is close to publicly blaming North Korea for the Sony cyberbreach. Could North Korea really pull off something like this when it can barely keep the lights on? A former American hacker who also attacked Sony is raising doubts, CBS News' Elaine Quijano reports.

Working under the code name Sabu, Hector Monsegur was responsible for some of the most notorious hacks ever committed. As he told "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose earlier this month, Monsegur began cooperating with the FBI after getting caught. He now works as a security researcher.

"For something like this to happen, it had to happen over a long period of time. You cannot just exfiltrate one terabyte or 100 terabytes of data in a matter of weeks," Monsegur said. "It's not possible. It would have taken months, maybe even years, to exfiltrate something like 100 terabytes of data without anyone noticing."

Administration officials believe North Korea was behind the hack.

"It could be. In my personal opinion, it's not," Monsegur said. "Look at the bandwidth going into North Korea. I mean, the pipelines, the pipes going in, handling data, they only have one major ISP across their entire nation. That kind of information flowing at one time would have shut down North Korean Internet completely."

Monsegur is confident they don't have the infrastructure to carry out this kind of attack.

"They don't have the technical capabilities," he said. "They do have state-sponsored hackers very similar to China, very similar to Russia and very similar to our good old USA."

But he said there's a chance the hack could have originated from China.

"I mean, it's possible," he said. "It might be a North Korean inside China."

Some of the investigators point to malware written in Korean, but Monsegur said that doesn't necessarily mean the hackers are Korean.

"Well, it doesn't tell me much. I've seen Russian hackers pretending to be Indian. I've seen Ukrainian hackers pretending to be Peruvian.There's hackers that pretend they're little girls. They do this for misinformation, disinformation, covering their tracks," he said. "Do you really think a bunch of nerds from North Korea are going to fly to New York and start blowing up movie theaters? No. It's not realistic. It's not about 'The interview.' It's about money. It's a professional job."

Monsegur thinks it's also possible this was an inside job, that an employee or consultant downloaded all the information from Sony's servers and then sold it to someone else.

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Attention teachers, home owners and retirees — these are tax breaks you need to know about

WASHINGTON — Well, finally. Congress on Tuesday night extended dozens of expired “temporary” tax breaks for 2014. It took the Senate, by a 76 to 16 vote, until the week after Congress was supposed to adjourn to pass the bill, which the House had already approved.

The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The majority of tax breaks in the bill pertain to businesses, but a handful will affect individuals.

Among those who will benefit from the retroactive extension to January 1, 2014:

  • Teachers who buy classroom supplies
  • Mass-transit commuters
  • Residents of states with no income tax
  • Parents with kids in college
  • Some homeowners
  • Some retirees with IRAs

The bill also includes a new provision that will benefit disabled adults.

What’s not clear yet is whether passage of the tax extenders bill so late in the year will force the IRS to delay when you can start filing your 2014 taxes, which typically begins in mid-January.

But whenever tax season starts, here are the extended tax breaks that you can take on your 2014 tax return:

Deduction for teachers’ expenses

This measure lets school teachers deduct up to $250 for the costs of classroom supplies that they buy with their own money. It’s available to all teachers, whether they itemize or not.

Equal treatment of commuting costs

All commuters may reduce their pre-tax income to account for their commuting costs. Under the law, however, those who drive to work and pay for parking are allowed to exclude more ($250 per month) than those who use mass transit ($130 per month). This measure again provides parity by also allowing mass transit riders to exclude $250 per month.

State and local sales tax deduction

If you itemize your taxes, this measure lets you deduct the state and local sales taxes you’ve paid in lieu of state income taxes.

The deduction can be a boon for itemizers who live in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Those are the seven states that don’t impose an income tax but where residents pay sales taxes, either at the state or local levels.

Tuition deduction

Among the many education tax breaks on the books, this one is available to all tax filers, whether you itemize or not. With it, you may deduct up to $4,000 in qualified tuition, fees and related expenses for post-secondary education, such as college and graduate school. The deduction may be taken for yourself, your spouse or your dependents.

But there are income limitations, and if you take it you may not take other types of education tax breaks, such as the Lifetime Learning Credit. Your deduction also is reduced by any grants and scholarships received to pay for school, as well as any money withdrawn from tax-advantaged, education savings accounts.

Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums

If you only put down a small amount to buy a home you may be required to pay for mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. This tax break lets you deduct the cost of your premiums if you itemize your deductions.

Income exclusion for mortgage debt that’s been forgiven

When you sell your home for less than what you owe the bank or your home is foreclosed, the bank may agree to forgive the remaining debt you owe. But the IRS typically treats that forgiven debt as taxable income to you. This tax break lets you exclude it from your income.

Tax-free IRA withdrawals for charity

With this measure, anyone over 70-1/2 may take tax-free distributions of up to $100,000 from a traditional IRA if the money is distributed directly to an eligible charity.

While retirees can’t also take a deduction for that contribution, the money won’t count as income. So it won’t hurt when it comes to other taxes, such as those imposed on Social Security benefits when income exceeds a certain level, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst for tax publisher WoltersKluwer, CCH.

Tax-free savings for people with disabilities

Attached to the extender bill is the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. That act will permit people who were disabled before the age of 26 — as well as their family and friends — to contribute up to a combined total of $14,000 a year to an ABLE account.

Earnings would grow tax free and the money would not disqualify the disabled person from receiving federal assistance benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income so long as it is used to pay for housing, transportation, education and wellness.

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–CNN’s Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

Skype Translator preview goes live with real-time Spanish and English translation

MICROSOFT-OWNED Skype has announced the public availability of Skype Translator, the firm's speechrecognition software that can decode languages in real time with the help of intelligent translation technology.

The preview kicks off with two spoken languages, Spanish and English, as well as more than 40 instant messaging languages, to those who have signed up to Skype Translator and are using Windows 8.1 on the desktop or a mobile device.

Skype Translator launched as a private beta last month but is now available to anyone. The system effectively removes language barriers by allowing video calling in which the participants see instantly translated subtitles.

"Skype Translator relies on machine learning, which means that the more the technology is used, the smarter it gets," explained Skype's corporate vice president, Gurdeep Pall.

"We are starting with English and Spanish and, as more people use the Skype Translator preview with these languages, the quality will continually improve."

Microsoft believes that Skype Translator will "open up endless possibilities" for people around the world, allowing them to connect, communicate and collaborate internationally without being hindered by language.

"Our long-term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms as possible and deliver the best Skype Translator experience on each platform for our more than 300 million connected users," added Pall.

Skype Translator can be downloaded now. A video below shows some school kids from America and Mexico using the software to communicate without the need to understand each other's language. 

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Over 300 people sign up to watch and count birds for Christmas

As part of its annual Christmas Bird Count activity, over 300 people signed up with the Golden Gate Audubon Society to watch and count birds this Christmas, and most of these bird enthusiasts are getting elated by the day as they sight and count rare birds across East Bay and other places in North America.

This has become an annual tradition with the organizers, and this year’s bird watching and counting activity is one of the largest gatherings of its kind in North America, giving bird enthusiasts and ornithologists the pleasure of seeing valuable bird population for personal enjoyment and academic data purposes.

 

 

This activity is part of a larger international bird count program organized by the National Audubon Society, and tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America will be participating in the event over the next one month. About 29 teams of people flocked to Oakland and covered neighboring communities like Alameda, Orinda, Berkeley, and Lafayette among others to watch and count rare bird flocks.

Most of these people are a mixture of bird lovers, naturalists, biologists, and aged retirees among others, and according to 61-year old Oakdale resident, John Harris, “For me, the interest was started when I was in the Boy Scouts. I remember the first time I spotted a scarlet tanager in eastern Wisconsin. I’ll never forget that beautiful bird.”

Another Incline Village, Nevada resident, 75-year old Steve Wiel states that watching and counting birds at vantage points between villages is both for personal pleasure and ornithological objectives. “I fell in love with the birds when I was about 50, on a trip to Costa Rica,” Wiel said. “Look over there, see that beautiful Muscovy duck?”

Few of the bird watchers were able to sight harlequin ducks, Anna’s hummingbird, red-tailed hawks, yellow warbler, black-crowned night heron, and scarlet tanager among others. But it is noted that changes in temperature, atmospheric conditions, and rainfall affect bird habitats and will influence their sightings and populations over this period.

Late last year, the National Audubon Society conducted a research that showed that 588 bird species in North America face survival threats because of incidents of climate change, and it is believed that little to no birds might be left in the next 60 years when climate warming will have taken its toll.

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