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October 28 2014

bloglog

Agents: Man says devil made him do it; 10 Commandments smashed

 
(CNN) -- Though he told authorities that the devil made him do it, Satanists disapproved, after a man allegedly shattered a stone copy of the Ten Commandments last week.

The man is accused of running his car on Friday into a controversial 6-foot-tall granite tablet of the biblical edicts erected near Oklahoma City's Capitol, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.

He then left his car standing near the monument, which -- as photos showed -- was smashed asunder through the second commandment: "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain."

He walked into the Federal Building, where he made threats against President Obama and the federal government, KFOR reported, citing U.S. Secret Service agents.

The man told the agents that the devil made him wreck the religious monument, which was placed at the Capitol in late 2012.
He also said he was mentally ill and had stopped taking his medication. He has been detained at a mental health facility for evaluation.

Condemnation of the destruction came quickly from two sources that have railed against the monument -- the ACLU of Oklahoma and the Satanic Temple.

The ACLU filed suit last year against the presence of the monument on state property, and on Friday, said that it would keep fighting for its removal, because it feels it violates the Constitution.
But the organization was also "outraged at this apparent act of vandalism."

"The Ten Commandments constitute a strong foundation in our clients' deeply held religious beliefs," the Oklahoma ACLU said in a statement.

The Satanic Temple has demanded to have a monument of its own erected next to the Judeo-Christian one.

And it still wants it, but "only alongside the 10 Commandments," it said in a statement posted by KFOR.

"If our monument stands at the state Capitol, we want it to complement and contrast the Ten Commandments, with both standing unmolested as a testament to American religious freedom and tolerance."

The Satanists could well have that wish fulfilled, but only in part.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has vowed to have the Ten Commandments monument rebuilt.

October 17 2014

bloglog

AbbVie urges shareholders to reject Shire deal due to tax rule change

The board of directors of Illinois drug maker AbbVie Inc. recommended that shareholders reject the acquisition of European rival Shire, saying recent changes to U.S. tax rules eliminated some of the financial benefits of the $52-billion deal.

The decision late Wednesday probably puts an end to one of the most high-profile proposed inversions, in which a U.S. company buys a smaller firm in a lower-tax nation and reincorporates there to save money.

The collapse of the deal would be a victory for the Obama administration, which made technical revisions to tax rules last month to try to curb a wave of inversions that threatened to erode the U.S. tax base.

"Although the strategic rationale of combining our two companies remains strong, the agreed-upon valuation is no longer supported as a result of the changes to the tax rules, and we did not believe it was in the best interests of our stockholders to proceed," said Richard Gonzalez, AbbVie's chairman and chief executive.

Shire, based in Dublin, Ireland, said Thursday that its board "was considering the current situation and a further announcement will be made in due course."

AbbVie will have to pay Shire a $1.6-billion breakup fee if the deal falls through.

AbbVie said late Tuesday that it was reconsidering the purchase, causing Shire stock to tumble about 22% on Wednesday. AbbVie shares fell 0.9%.

On Thursday, Shire shares dropped an additional $4.39, or 6.9%, to $49.56 in trading in London. AbbVie stock fell $1.73 more, or 3.2%, to $52.90.

When the deal was announced in July, AbbVie said the purchase would reduce its overall effective tax rate to 13% in 2016 from 22.6% last year.

AbbVie planned to reincorporate on the British isle of Jersey, where Shire is incorporated for tax purposes. Jersey has no corporate income tax.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35%, the highest among the world's most advanced economies.

Democrats and Republicans both want the rate lowered by eliminating some tax loopholes but have not been able to agree on how to do it.

Meanwhile, U.S. firms, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, have sought inversion deals to escape the high tax rate.

With bills to limit inversions stalled in Congress, the Obama administration took executive action last month to make the deals less financially appealing.

Last month, the Treasury Department eliminated some techniques, including so-called hopscotch loans that American companies with headquarters abroad use to gain access to foreign earnings without paying U.S. taxes on them.

Gonzalez, though, insisted at the time that the merger was not just for the tax benefit. In an email to Shire employees a week after Treasury unveiled the anti-inversion tax changes, he expressed optimism the deal remained on track.

This week, however, AbbVie said its board had assessed the effect of Treasury's "unilateral changes to the tax rules" and determined they introduced an "unacceptable level of uncertainty" to the Shire deal.

October 14 2014

bloglog

How Apple Gets You To Buy New iPhones Over And Over Again


Ever wonder why your iPhone seems to slow down after a few years? Why the once-amazing device gets cranky and struggles to perform basic tasks or load apps?

The answer lies in Apple's software, and it's a key part of the company's strategy to keep millions of people buying new iPhones.

Apple releases a new mobile operating system every year, and that keeps a powerful cycle in motion. Each fall for the last few years, people have rushed to download the latest and greatest version of iOS, which is designed for -- and, as a result, works best on -- the newest hardware that is also released around the same time. In the months leading up to the release, many app developers furiously update their apps for the latest operating system.

Here's how that affects you: If you have an iPhone that's more than two years old, and as Apple recommends, you've upgraded the operating system a couple of times since you bought it, you may find yourself wanting to throw your phone against a wall. It's likely gotten slow and finicky.

For many, the solution is simply to buy a new iPhone.

It's highly unlikely Apple deliberately slows down older iPhones just to get you to upgrade. The company declined to comment for this story. Instead, Apple designs the new operating systems, which have more features, take up more space and require more computing power, for the new iPhones. And a consequence of that is they don't work as well on older iPhones.

The system has been pretty successful for Apple. iPhone owners in the U.S. tend to shell out big bucks for a new iPhone about every two years (which, not coincidentally, is also the length of the traditional wireless contract.)

But with its latest update to iOS 8, Apple hit a few bumps.

Last month, the company made the rare move of pulling an update to the operating system after some people reported it left their phones unable to make calls and their fingerprint sensors useless. Although Apple said the bugs only affected a small number of people, and the company soon released a fix, the episode led to a spate of bad publicity. That, along with the whopping five gigabytes of precious storage space needed to download the update wirelessly, seems to have made people shy away from downloading the new OS en masse. Apple fans are adopting the new operating system much more slowly than they adopted iOS 7, the previous version.

Still, a huge number of people rushed to download iOS 8 in the first few days it was available.

Justen Meyer, a 33 year-old who works in the pro sports industry in St. Louis, was one of those people. He regrets updating his iPhone 4S, which he says is now "slow."

"It's horrible. My apps don't work. Twitter won't open," he said in an interview recently.

Before the update, his phone was "perfect," he said. "I was completely happy. Now it's making me wonder if I'm going to go through this the next time I get a new phone."

Meyer isn't alone. People complaining about their iPhones feeling slow after new iPhones and operating systems come out is nothing new. Catherine Rampell wrote in The New York Times last year that her iPhone 4 felt "a lot more sluggish" after the 5S and 5C were released. Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard, noted in another Times story this summer that Google searches in the U.S. for "iPhone Slow" spike when each new iPhone is released.

Part of that could be because so many people download the new operating system at the same time, iMore Editor-in-Chief Rene Ritchie pointed out earlier this year. Apple releases its new OS to everyone at the same time, while Android updates hit different phones at different times. (This is one of the reasons why Android's operating system is so fragmented -- only a quarter of Android owners are on the latest version of the operating system.)

October 10 2014

bloglog

6 must-reads from Palin family brawl, according to police report


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nobody is being charged in a drunken brawl that involved a white limousine full of members of Sarah Palin's family, police in Alaska said Thursday.

But it sure sounds like things got out of hand, with the host of the September house party where it all happened last month saying the Palins got into a fight they "ended up losing."

The Anchorage Police Department released a report that includes more than two pages of details about the brawl, which happened after the former GOP vice presidential nominee's family and friends showed up at another friend's party. It details accusations that Bristol Palin punched the host in the face repeatedly, that Track Palin tried to start a fight with his father and more.

Here are some of the details -- wildly different, depending on who's offering the information -- that Officer John Daily submitted in his official report:

1. When he arrived, a shirtless, "heavily intoxicated" and "belligerent at first" Track Palin, Sarah Palin's adult son, was about to step into a white limousine with his parents, Sarah and Todd. They'd all been at the party at Korey Klingenmeyer's house.

2. Track told the officer some guys were "talking rudely" to his sisters and making them cry. So he stuck up for them. When one of his friends, identified only as Steven, got punched by one of the allegedly rude guys, the fight started. Todd said that's when "everything escalated and it was a situation they couldn't walk away from."

3. Bristol Palin ended up on the ground during the fight. The Palin family said that's because Klingenmeyer knocked her down.

4. Klingenmeyer offered a different version of the story. He told the officer he wanted to press charges against Bristol, who he said had told him "he doesn't own this place and that she will kick his a--." after he tried to stop her from fighting. Then, Klingenmeyer said, Bristol hit him. He said she could "hit him again if it makes her feel better and she does." After six or so "pretty hard" punches, he said he grabbed her fist and Bristol fell down. "At that time," the officer reported, "he said several guys from the party stepped in to help him and a fight broke out and the Palins ended up losing."

5. Bristol "appeared heavily intoxicated and upset," and explained that Klingenmeyer "had drug her across the lawn by her legs and was calling her a [expletive deleted] and a slut." She explained that another girl at the party had hit one of her sisters, Willow Palin, and said that's how things got started.

6. Track left the fight with a bloody mouth and injuries under his left eye and on his left elbow. Bristol had some dirt on her knees. Klingenmeyer "stated his face felt swollen," but there weren't any "obvious injuries."

The Palin family wouldn't comment Thursday on the report and the decision not to charge any of the brawl's participants.

But Sarah Palin did defend her daughter Bristol in a Sept. 19 Facebook post.

"I love my Bristol!" she wrote. "My straight-shooter is one of the strongest young women you'll ever meet. I have to say this as a proud mama: right up there with their work ethic and heart for those less fortunate, my kids' defense of family makes my heart soar!

"As you can imagine, they and my extended family have experienced so many things (liberal media-driven) that may have crushed others without a strong foundation of faith, and I'm thankful for our friends' prayer shield that surrounds them, allowing faith to remain their anchor."

October 06 2014

bloglog

Hewlett-Packard to split into two companies


Technology giant Hewlett-Packard, known as HP, is to split itself into two separate companies.

The US firm will separate its better-performing computer and printer business from its corporate hardware and services operations.

Shareholders will be given a stake in both businesses.

The split is part of a radical restructuring plan, which has already resulted in tens of thousands of job cuts in recent years.

Investors cheered the news, sending HP's shares up nearly 5% in early trading on Wall Street.

Rapid change

The firm is now in the fourth year of its five-year turnaround plan, aimed at helping the firm adapt to the new era of mobile and online computing.

Current chief executive Meg Whitman, who has the job of reviving the fortunes of the 75-year-old firm, will head the new spin-off, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

This will house the corporate hardware and services operations.

She will also be chairman of HP's printing and PC business, HP Inc, which last quarter accounted for about half its revenue and profit.

Ms Whitman said the split would give both firms the "flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics".

"We can [now] more aggressively go after the opportunities created by a rapidly changing market," she added.

HP said it expected the division to be complete by the end of the 2015 financial year.

Split opinion

Analysts said it was still unclear how the split would help HP to compete against its rivals, and whether the two divisions would ultimately end up competing with one another.

"Both operations have seen declining revenue, and many are likely to question whether independence can change their fortunes," said Arnaud Gagneux at analyst firm CCS Insight.

"The cost of the separate marketing, finance and purchasing departments for the two entities will increase HP's spending, and the loss of some economies of scale may affect HP when purchasing components."

However, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White said that separating into two companies would give HP the option to sell off one or even both businesses if an attractive offer was made.

Business pressures

The division of HP's businesses comes at a time when other large tech firms are being urged to break up.

Last week, online auction site eBay announced it was splitting off its payments system PayPal into a separate company.

HP has been under pressure from newer rivals such as Chinese firm Lenovo, which overtook HP as the world's largest PC maker in 2012. Third-ranked US rival Dell was taken private last year.

September 29 2014

bloglog

How to Get More From Every Ad Dollar You Spend on Facebook



It's harder than ever to get your brand noticed on social media. Here's what you need to do to make sure you get sufficient return on your advertising budget.

In the past week, have you written a blog post, published a branded resource such as a PDF or ebook, or shared a Facebook post on behalf of your business? These are all types of "inbound marketing," which is taking up an increasing part of many companies' marketing budgets.

More and more companies are spending their marketing dollars on these sorts of efforts in part because once you create that ebook, PDF, or blog post, you can use it for years and years. With traditional advertising--billboards, print ads, TV and radio commercials, etc.--if you don't pay, you can't play.

Now that social networks are making it more difficult for you to catch your customers' attention unless you pay for it, you might be thinking about throwing a few dollars behind your most valuable resources.

Facebook is the natural place to start. Here are three ways to get the most out of every dollar you spend on Facebook ads:

1. Set up your conversion tracking pixels ASAP

If you're using Facebook ads primarily to drive sales, setting up a conversion tracking pixel should be your first priority. Without one, you won't know if the return on your ads is greater than your spend.
Would you put money on a racehorse then never bother to find out if the horse won or not? People who create Facebook ads and don't first set up conversion tracking are effectively doing the same thing.
 They'll never know if their ads have performed well or not.

Facebook makes it simple to track the conversions of your ads. In Facebook's Ad Manager, when you go to the Conversion Tracking tab, click it to "Create pixel" based on your objective ("checkouts," "registrations," "leads," "key page views," etc.). Name your pixel and then Facebook will give you a snippet of code. Copy the code and paste it in the webpage where you want to track conversions. Meaning, if you want to track checkouts, you would put your conversion tracking pixel on the confirmation page that people see after completing a checkout.

Ideally you will have several versions of your ads, so you can remove the ones that aren't converting and put more money behind the thoroughbreds that are.

2. Use Custom Audiences like a pro

Custom Audiences are the Clydesdales of the Facebook advertising world. They're an incredibly powerful feature, but some people are afraid to use them because they think setting up Custom Audiences requires advanced know-how. But I'll let you in on a secret: They're not as tough to use as people think they are.

With Custom Audiences, you're able to target people with Facebook ads on a very behavior-centric level. Why is this valuable? It means if X type of user/customer does X thing, you can target them with X message. This is hyper-targeting at its finest.

Here's an example: You own Flora's Flower Shoppe, and this December your goal is to double your last year's sales of poinsettia arrangements. To do this, you create a couple of Website Custom Audiences (WCA), one for the page on your website that features all your poinsettia boutiques and another for your website's checkout confirmation page.

Once you've created your WCAs, you can make Facebook ads that target people who have visited your website and browsed your poinsettia product page(s), but left without making a purchase. Per your sales goal, your ads can feature a free-shipping code, like "FBFreeShip," or a 10 percent off discount code on all your poinsettia arrangements.

You can even drop the promotional angle and simply promote one of your status updates that features a photo of a beautiful poinsettia arrangement with a message of how they're the perfect flower to give this holiday season. You do this through the "people you choose through targeting" option that appears in the pop-up when you click "boost post."

A WCA is just one type of Custom Audience you can create with Facebook's ads platform. You can also create Custom Audiences that are made up of people who have subscribed to your email list, given you their phone number, or used your app.

September 25 2014

bloglog

Backyard pools losing appeal in some parts of Bay Area


Along with the two-car garage and barbecue, the backyard swimming pool defines the American dream home, but lately pools have been losing some of their luster in parts of the Bay Area during the worst drought in decades.

Permits for new pools have dropped sharply in San Jose so far this year while permits for pool removals are increasing. In Concord, new pool construction has dropped by half since 2010, and the number of new pools this year is in the single digits and about equal to the number of pool demolitions. Walnut Creek has seen more permit applications for pool demolitions than applications for new pools.

"A lot of people are cautious about their water usage. Everybody is kind of hesitating, saying wait and see what happens with the rain," said Jose Mejia of Coral Pool and Spa of San Jose.

To be sure, pools are as popular as ever in some cities -- San Ramon has issued 187 new pool permits and only five pool demolition permits so far this year -- and Mejia said requests for pool remodels and repairs are still coming in.

"But it's not as good as it was before," Mejia said. "There is a lull. It has been slowing down quite a bit."

California is in the third year of a historic drought, and urban residents have cut back water usage by 7.5 percent. Some cities have imposed fines and hired water cops to monitor usage. And taking out a pool will cut the average homeowner's water usage by roughly 1,200 gallons a month, according to the East Bay Municipal Utility District. If it is replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping, the savings will drop considerably.

As some residents have second thoughts about adding a pool, others are deciding to demolish aging backyard pools.

After buying a "huge fixer-upper" in Walnut Creek last year, Marisa Rose and her husband, Andy, decided to take out a massive 1960s kidney-shaped pool in the backyard.

"It was $12,000 to remove it and $30,000 to $50,000 to get it fixed," she said. "It was a no-brainer. When we bought last December there wasn't as much talk about the drought, but now I think it was smart long-term."

John Norwood, president and chief lobbyist of the California Pools and Spa Association, says the drought has caused "a psychological effect" that is making homeowners hesitate to install a swimming pool. "Some people, even when you sit down and show them facts, say, 'I'm not going to do it this year,'" Norwood said.

He cited a study by the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County that compared the water usage of a 500-square-foot pool to 1,000 square feet of traditional landscaping such as a lawn, assuming that the pool and its 500-square-foot deck were replacing that much landscaping. The district found that an uncovered pool uses less water than the traditional landscaping -- 96,575 gallons for an uncovered pool compared with 116,813 gallons for the landscaping over a five-year period. The pool's water usage dropped even more when it was covered.

"The trick is getting people to cover their pools," said district spokesman Jonathan Volzke. "They like looking out their window at the sparkly water."

Some water districts encourage people to replace their pools by giving rebates. The Santa Clara Valley Water District gives a $2-a-square-foot rebate and EBMUD gives 50 cents a square foot, which are the same as rebates for removing a lawn.

But there are lots of reasons why some homeowners want to get rid of pools -- some say they're too expensive to heat and maintain, others just don't use them anymore. For some immigrants, the pools are bad feng shui if they're behind the house, which is where most suburban pools are located.

"The drought is the last nail in the coffin for the pool," said Zali Lorincz of ZL Construction, the Walnut Creek-based pool demolition contractor that removed the Roses' pool. Lorincz said he's on track to do more than 100 demolitions this year, compared with 85 last year.

"They're either too old, or cost too much money, or they never use it, or insurance costs are too high, or it takes up too much of their back yard and their energy bills are through the roof," Lorincz said.

A typical pool demolition costs around $10,000 to $12,000, depending on what is done. A complete removal can cost more, but a common way is to drill holes in the pool bottom, cave in the sides below the surface and fill the hole up with dirt.

September 23 2014

bloglog

Indiegogo Will Allow Extended Campaigns


Indiegogo is trying something new in the online crowdfunding world.

The company says it has started to permit selected campaigns to extend beyond their deadlines so long as they have reached their initial funding goals. The idea is to allow campaigns to maximize the potential money they can raise from backers. On the official Indiegogo Blog, the company explains:

“Since our mission is to democratize funding, we believe we must continue to pioneer this industry through innovation until all people can fund what matters to them — whatever it is, wherever they are or however they’d like to do it.”

So far, just a few campaigns at Indiegogo have been selected to extend their funding period past the deadline. Indiegogo writes that this permission will extend to all crowdfunding campaigns eventually. The idea is to allow businesses and other fundraisers to deepen engagement with their backers on the site.

“This turnkey pilot project reflects the increased use of Indiegogo by businesses, artists and activists who seek to attract and develop new audiences.”

By allowing successful fundraisers to extend their campaigns instead of creating new ones, Indiegogo says its new program will have a couple of key benefits.

First, fundraisers can more easily build on the following they’ve already created during the initial campaign. That means the exposure a company has already achieved during its initial round of funding keeps working in its favor as the campaign continues. There’s no need to create a whole new marketing effort with new links from social media or other sites.  Instead, fundraisers are able to continue building traffic around a single campaign with a single destination on the Web.

Second, extended campaigns will make it easier to keep track of backers instead of having them spread out over multiple campaign pages. Indiegogo says it will give fundraisers access to a single built-in Campaigner Dashboard. And Indiegogo’s Google Analytics integration should also make it easier to manage campaigns all in one place.

Indiegogo does not indicate in the announcement for the new program exactly how much extended campaigns will cost. But a report from TechCrunch suggests the company would probably continue to charge its standard four percent commission on additional funds raised.


September 19 2014

bloglog

Error in ninth gives Yankees walk-off 3-2 victory; Derek Jeter hits home run


In a final season filled with offensive frustration and the likelihood of an idle October, Derek Jeter again was able to rise to the occasion Thursday night in the first game of his last homestand before retirement.

Jeter homered and went 2-for-4 as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays, 3-2, on an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth before 34,279 at Yankee Stadium.

The dramatic win came after Shawn Kelley allowed a tying two-run home run by Jose Bautista on an 0-and-2 pitch with two outs in the eighth to deprive rookie Shane Greene (62/3 scoreless innings) of a victory.

Chris Young led off the ninth against Aaron Sanchez with a single and pinch runner Antoan Richardson stole second as Brett Gardner worked the count to 3-and-0. Gardner fouled off two sacrifice-bunt attempts before moving Richardson to third with a successful sacrifice on 3-and-2 (Joe Girardi said he was bunting on his own at that point).

Chase Headley then hit a hot shot that went under the glove and through the legs of drawn-in first baseman Adam Lind for a game-ending error. It was the Yankees' fifth walk-off situation in the last nine games.

Jeter's line-drive solo home run to left in the sixth inning -- on an 82-mph fastball from knuckleballer R.A. Dickey -- gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead. It was his fourth homer of the season and first in the Bronx.

Was it his last? We'll know by Thursday, when Jeter is scheduled to play his final regular-season home game.

The Yankees still have a mathematical shot at a postseason berth, but they trail the A's by five games with 10 to play. They also would have to hop over Seattle and possibly Cleveland to extend Jeter's career.

Jeter entered the game batting .249 after snapping an 0-for-28 streak -- the second-longest of his career -- with a single on Wednesday night.

He arrived at the ballpark at about 3:30 p.m. and was met with reporters' questions about how he felt going into his final homestand. "I don't know," he said, noting that he had just gotten there and that all he had done was start to put on his uniform while talking to the media. "I want to just try to enjoy it, but I haven't even been outside yet. I want to play games."

The day began with the release on the Internet of a 90-second TV commercial showing Jeter walking around the Yankee Stadium neighborhood and surprising unsuspecting fans. It was shot in July and will start airing on TV tomorrow.

Jeter said he just wanted to say thank you again. But the best way probably is what he did Thursday night -- by providing a few on-field moments to remember.

The home run, which came on a 3-and-1 pitch, was Jeter's first since Aug. 1 in Boston -- a homerless span of 158 at-bats -- and the 260th of his career.

No curtain call? "I heard them cheering,'' he said. "It's been odd. I've been cheered when I've gotten out, too. Mac [Brian McCann] was in the middle of his at-bat, so I don't want to distract anyone that's hitting at the time.''

Jeter scored his 1,919th run, moving into a tie for ninth place in MLB history with Alex Rodriguez.

Jeter also singled in the first, beating out a grounder in the hole that Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes double-clutched on. But he committed a rare baserunning gaffe when he stopped short on an attempted steal of second and easily was tagged out after McCann took a called third strike on a 3-and-2 pitch. Jeter thought it was ball four.

Jeter was robbed of another hit in the fourth when leftfielder Kevin Pillar made a diving catch on a drive to left-center. Pillar had made a similar catch going toward the leftfield line to rob Gardner of an extra-base hit in the second.

So Jeter is 3-for-6 since his 0-for-28 stretch. "I'm happy,'' he said. "We won the game. I can't worry about what I've done up until this point. I'm just trying to have one good last homestand here and I'm going to try to play as hard as I can like I always do.

"It's just another game. I'm trying not to think about it. We still have a week left, so we're trying to win games. I'm going to go out there and play hard like I've always done my entire career until we're outta here. Can't help but think about it because you guys ask about it every day and I hear it from the fans, players, managers, coaches, but when we're playing the games, I'm trying to help us win.

"Obviously, this year up until this point hasn't turned out how I would like it to, but you've got to keep fighting, you've got to keep battling, and regardless of how you've done, you get to come to the field and have a chance to help the team win."

September 17 2014

bloglog

Investing in new technologies? Do it widely...


Backing a handful of ideas in a sector that evolves more often than socks are changed just isn't going to cut it. Gain wider exposure with the right technology fund

Technology is changing so fast that it seems you only have to buy the latest tablet or smartphone for a better model to appear on the shelves days later.

These rapid technological developments can provide opportunities for investors, but the potential for big rewards is accompanied by big risks. Many people are understandably still nervous about the prospect of investing in technology after the dramatic boom and bust in this sector at the beginning of the millennium.

Martin Bamford, of independent financial adviser (IFA) Informed Choice, says: “It is very difficult to predict accurately which new technology developments will become commercially successful and deliver great returns for investors. Sometimes the most obscure new idea can become the next big thing. Investors should therefore invest widely in this sector, rather than backing a small handful of new ideas.”

One way to gain wider exposure is through a technology fund that invests in the shares of numerous different companies. Mr Bamford recommends the Henderson Global Technology Fund, which is managed by Ian Warmerdam and Stuart O’Gorman.
Mr O’Gorman says: “This fund invests in around 90 technology stocks including Apple and Microsoft, but also newer developments such as Google Glass.”

However, Patrick Connolly, of IFA Chase de Vere, says he remains wary of investing directly into technology funds: “We prefer to get exposure to the leading technology companies through more broad-based equity funds, particularly US funds or global funds. For example, AXA Framlington American Growth currently holds 28pc in technology, while Threadneedle Global Select has 17pc in technology.”

Another way for investors to potentially generate returns from technological advances is to consider investing in specialist natural resources fund, which can benefit from any rise in prices of the metals or minerals needed to produce new technology. For example, the most popular electronic gadgets include tantalite, tungsten and tin, all of which are extracted from minerals, as well as copper and gold.

September 15 2014

bloglog

French bank warns: Stay away from these 20 stocks ahead of Scotland vote


Societe Generale has warned investors to avoid 18 UK companies and two French firms ahead of a vote on Scottish independence
France’s second biggest bank has warned investors to stay away from UK equities ahead of the Scottish referendum, singling out 20 European stocks to avoid.

Societe Generale’s basket of Scotland-exposed stocks has already underperformed the FTSE 100 by 8pc in the year-to-date, suggesting that “a risk premium is already emerging”.
18 of the 20 companies identified are based in the UK, while two are French.

A Yes vote this Thursday “would trigger another phase of underperformance”, said Roland Kaloyan, of Societe Generale, while “some companies could benefit from a weaker currency in the long run”.

The list includes a number of grocers and other retailers which see a considerable proportion of their sales come from Scotland, along with banks Lloyds and RBS, both of which have Scottish brands, and are incorporated north of the border.

“A Scottish exit would probably trigger a major political crisis with the shakeup of the UK’s political landscape”, said Mr Kaloyan.
Other companies that could lose out include property, media, oil, software, telecoms, and insurance firms.

Societe Generale identified 13 stocks that could benefit from a weaker pound, as analysts suggested that a Yes vote would see the value of sterling fall further.

The stocks in this basket have all shown a 90pc correlation with sterling’s strength against the dollar.

BAE Systems featured in both lists. The company does £1.7bn of sales in Scotland, and has 3,500 employees in the country, many of which work on naval shipbuilding at Rosyth.

September 11 2014

bloglog

Intel launches 15-core Xeon E7 v2 family for big data and mission-critical computing


Intel has introduced its Xeon E7 v2 family of processors aimed at the most demanding data centre workloads, including big data analytics, mission-critical enterprise applications, databases and highly virtualised environments.

Available now in systems from vendors including HP, Dell, IBM, Cisco, Fujitsu and Bull, the Xeon E7 v2 family supports up to 15 processor cores per chip and three times the memory capacity of the previous generation at up to 1.5TB per socket, Intel said.

This provides servers with the ability to scale up to any workload, enabling customers to implement the most demanding applications, including in-memory processing of databases and data analytics, including real-time analysis of incoming data streams, according to Intel.

"The advanced performance, memory capacity and reliability of the Intel Xeon processor E7 v2 family enable IT organisations to deliver real-time analysis of large data sets to spot and capitalise on trends, create new services and deliver business efficiency," said Diane Bryant, senior vice president of Intel's Data Centre Group.

The Xeon E7 v2 line, also known as Ivy Bridge EX, is the 22nm successor to the earlier Westmere EX line and comprises three families; the E7-8800, E7-4800 and E7-2800 series. These are designed for eight-socket, four-socket and two-socket systems, respectively. However, they can also scale to 32-socket designs when combined with specialist node controller chipsets.

These new chips are effectively Intel's top-of-the-line processors, aside from the Itanium family that increasingly occupies only niche segments such as HP's Integrity line. It offers 50 percent more cores than the previous generation, plus larger cache capacities up to 37.5MB.

Like the updated Xeon E5 v2 family that launched last year, the Xeon E7 v2 chips feature a more complex on-die ring bus arrangement due to the cores being arranged in three groups of five cores in the case of the top-end models with up to 15 cores. Models will also ship with 12, 10, eight and six cores.

With the Xeon E7 v2 line, Intel is also introducing Intel Run Sure Technology, a collection of features aimed at enhancing the reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) of the Xeon platform.
These comprise enhanced Machine Check Architecture (MCA) features, such as MCA Recovery Execution Path, which extends software-assisted error recovery to include uncorrectable data errors, MCA I/O, which provides information on uncorrected I/O errors to the OS, and PCI Express Live Error Recovery (LER), which enables the system to contain and recover from PCI Express bus errors.

On-chip PCI Express is another improvement of the Xeon E7 v2 over its predecessors, with the chips supporting 128 lanes of I/O in addition to the standard Intel QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) links. This delivers a 4x improvement in I/O bandwidth, according to Intel.
Other enhancements include new memory controller configurations, with two Scalable Memory Interconnect (SMI) Gen 2 links per home agent/memory controller, for a total of four links per processor socket.

Intel's Jordan Creek Memory Extension Buffer connects to this and offers two DDR3 back channels per SMI, which can be configured to operate in two modes: lock-step mode for enhanced reliability or performance mode for higher performance.

September 09 2014

bloglog

'iWatch' to headline Apple event, analysts predict

CUPERTINO -- While Tuesday's Apple event is cloaked in the company's customary blanket of secrecy, there have been enough leaks and rumors for analysts to make pretty good guesses about what will be announced.

The consensus is that CEO Tim Cook and crew will unveil the first new product of his tenure, a smartwatch already dubbed the "iWatch" by the media -- but what Apple will call it is still unclear. According to some reports, the watch will come in two sizes and will be shielded with a sapphire screen.Analysts predict that the device will be pitched as a tool for monitoring health and fitness. In addition, the watch reportedly will be equipped with near-field communication technology so users can make payments in retail stores without reaching for their wallets. Although analysts anticipate that the watch will be introduced Tuesday, most do not expect it to hit stores until 2015.

"The wearable will be the first product that comes to market that has Cook's personal imprint on it," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.What's still unclear, aside from the name, is how much the smartwatch will cost, although one report pegs it at $400.In keeping with tradition, Apple is also likely to debut a new iPhone or two.The company reportedly will release two new phones with screens of 4.7 and 5.5 inches, addressing growing demand in the market for larger devices. Lest the devices start feeling bulky, Apple will roll out software to help users type and navigate apps with one hand, according to some reports. The devices will also reportedly be equipped with NFC technology to facilitate mobile payments.

Although Apple has long resisted the move toward larger screens, the design plays to the company's strengths, said Ramon Llamas, a research manager at IDC.

"One of the things Apple does really well is content," which can be showcased better on a bigger screen, Llamas said.

But the size will come at a cost. Analysts expect the phones to be more expensive, with the 5.5 inch device cast as the higher-end model. It's still unclear whether Apple will continue to produce the iPhone 5S and 5C, both released last year, once new models are out, said Matt Margolis, an analyst at PTT Research.

Although Apple is ramping up production of sapphire at a Mesa, Arizona, facility, some question whether the company will have enough of the material on hand to make more durable screens for the iPhone. But Margolis thinks Apple will be able to pull it off.

"I think it'll be a big surprise when they do announce it," he said.

Apple is also expected to showcase two new cloud-based platforms, HealthKit and HomeKit. The programs, announced earlier this year, give developers tools to create new applications for monitoring health and building so-called "smart homes."

And of course, there's always the chance of "One more thing ..."


Read more: 'iWatch' to headline Apple event, analysts predict

September 08 2014

bloglog

How to fight fair in relationships

Early on in the Veltkamps' marriage, most discussions about money led Liana and Jeremy into a full-blown yelling match. The young San Ramon couple -- who each work two jobs to support their family -- would talk over each other, often having the same frustrating argument.

Worst of all, nothing ever got resolved.

That all changed when the Veltkamps learned how to fight fair using practical, speaker-listener exercises. They took turns and, when necessary, timeouts.

"We learned to put our pride aside and just listen to each other," Liana says.

Turns out, fighting can be great for relationships -- if you fight clean. A 2011 study in Psychological Science revealed that the happiest couples argue in tandem with their partner, using words like "we" to spark compromise. (Meanwhile, another study by researchers at the University of Utah found that 93 percent of couples who fight dirty will be divorced within 10 years.)

The key to fighting fair is learning how to diffuse anger and, more important, increase empathy, says Les Parrott, clinical psychologist and author with his wife, Leslie, a marriage and family therapist, of the new book, "The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer" (Worthy; 190 pages). According to Les Parrott, the majority of marital spats would be resolved if all the couple did was accurately see the issue from the other's perspective.

The Parrotts, founders of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, are on a national tour to teach couples the principles of a fair fight, or what they call C.O.R.E.: Cooperation, Ownership, Respect and Empathy. Their "Fight Night" stops Sept. 12 at Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore. Tickets are available at www.lesandleslie.com. The website also features more than 1,000 free videos that help answer relationship questions.

After more than 25 years researching relationships, Les Parrott says two of the biggest mistakes couples make in how they handle conflict is putting all of their energy into blaming and trying to get their points across. "Seek first," he urges. "Before you try to talk and prove your point, just listen."

That type of empathy was critical for Livermore's Donny and Tehani Hodge, who have been married for almost 13 years. Like many couples, the Hodges' hot-button issue was their relatives, and their fights "would get nasty, with name-calling," Tehani recalls, whenever she would turn to Donny for support following a disagreement she had with a family member.

Read more: How to fight fair in relationships

September 05 2014

bloglog

Sexism, Lies, and Video Games: The Culture War Nobody Is Winning


Video games and the way we write and talk about them are growing up. Their old-school fans are kicking and screaming.

The 21st century’s defining medium—video games—is experiencing sharp growing pains. Over the last few weeks, identity tensions have divided fans online in strange, ugly episodes rooted in how writers discuss games and who is allowed to participate. At the root of all this is a fascinating question: Are games technology product, or cultural experience?

In the 1980s, video games were classy distractions: the condition of being installed at an arcade cabinet, chasing a high score, seemed to fit the era’s naive ideas of capitalism-as-culture. In the 1990s, games took on the decade’s rebellious, “edgy” tone, grasping toward the definitions of maturity set by MTV, action flicks and whatever else it took to sell high-end hardware to young men.

By the turn of the millennium, the medium had become America’s favorite scapegoat for moral panic — Luddites worried about games’ increasing realism and the fact that ‘shoot’ seemed to the favored verb of the most popular titles. To hear Fox News tell it, “gamers” were all anti-social escapists living in Mom’s basement, sticky with Mountain Dew, murder fantasies and hyper-realistic sex simulators stripped right off the shelves from in front of children.

Sadly, the broader public image of video games has been slow to improve, thanks largely to the iron fist marketers have maintained over their narrative. The games that have historically enjoyed the biggest budgets and the highest returns are Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo and their ilk. Aimed largely at that young male demographic, your average person on the street probably still imagines that the act of play in the digital world still mostly involves staring down the barrel of a gun.

While as a pastime those projects are slightly juvenile, so are summer superhero blockbusters featuring talking raccoons, and few would begrudge fans those, nor hand-wring about their supposed “effect”. Games’ poor public image has long been a source of discouragement to everyone who creates and plays within a rapidly maturing, surprisingly diverse medium.

The advent of the smartphone means that your average consumer now has access to a platform to play games on. Many of these, like Capy’s Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing or Adam Atomic’s Canabalt, combine simple, friendly mechanics with lovely modern art and stylish music. Tablets and e-readers present enormous opportunities for rich, touchable experiences: Inkle’s 80Days is a lush pop-art interactive experience based on Jules Verne’s world travelers, and Devine Lu Linvega’s dark comic toy Ledoliel lets players enjoy oddly intimate interactions with alien diplomats.

It used to be that to make video games you needed some kind of computer degree and a career track at the sort of game production mega-corporation that would go on to fame for their brutal working practices and high turnover. But even game creation tools are becoming more accessible, welcoming an entirely new community of creators, voices and formats to the fan community.

Amid rising costs and economic constraints, traditional blockbusters and shiny new home consoles face more profitability challenges than they once did — but new digital business models help game companies endure, with the happy side effect that they can build longer-term relationships with fans.

There’s something for everyone in the modern gaming landscape, and the way games journalists parse all this for their readers is beginning to change, too. You’d think this would make people happy, but recently this culture shift would appear to have broken out into full-on culture war online.

Prominent feminist critique — present in every other relevant medium, but new to games — has elicited massive backlash and threats to women working in the field. A female developer who created a text game about depression has been in the midst of weeks of online attacks over a salacious blog post published by a jilted ex who alleges she slept with a game journalist in exchange for a favorable review.

Despite the fact the journalist in question did not ‘review’ the game and wasn’t found to have allocated it any particular special treatment, the misogynistic “scandal” — and fans’ fear of women “censoring” their medium by seeking more positive and diverse portrayals — has launched an ‘ethical inquiry’ by fans campaigning to unearth evidence of corruption and collusion among people who they feel are too close to the games and developers they write about.

Their inquiry, passed around Twitter under the deeply sincere hashtag “#GamerGate”, alleges that writing op-eds about colleagues and peers is unethical, that a list of people who attended an academic conference together is proof of a conspiracy, and that any critic who pursues creators and projects that interest them is cynically promoting their friends. Some of them admit they’re afraid that “social justice warriors” will ruin video games.

Others still seem alarmed to see the games writing community so defensive about the inquest — unaware that writers on games have endured the frustration of labor within a product-driven system for years, and that subjectivity is their solution, something L. Rhodes aimed to explain to petitioners who don’t seem to realize that the “standards” they expect are somewhat at odds with the actual environment they wish for.

To the outside world it must look silly. Surely these campaigners understand that no meaningful reporting on anything takes place without the trust—and often friendship—of people on the inside. Stranger still is that beyond the fact this all looks suspiciously like an excuse to hound women’s voices out of the growing game industry, fans are calling for a wholly “objective”, product-oriented approach to a medium that’s clearly shifted into the domain of meaningful, subjective experiences and as such requires the addition of cultural critique, not solely “reporting” as the tech industry understands it.

Previous modes of writing on games generally involved “scoring” them, applying a supposedly neutral quality rating. Often these scores were handed down by magazines who’d received ad revenue from the very companies whose products they claimed to be neutrally evaluating, and those companies could (and did) threaten to pull advertising, or access to press events and review materials, if they didn’t like the score they got.

Happily, modern games have far fewer barriers. Independent writers frequently publish personal pieces about the indie games that have inspired them—there’s very little money to be made in either writing about or creating these things, which is liberating for people who’ve always wanted to approach games as objects of human, rather than corporate interest. Dialogue about games is more frequently considered by mainstream publications, and all this accessibility and diversity allows curators of game culture far more latitude to shape conversation about an exciting medium that’s finally blowing off the must and dust of a prior age.

It’s odd to see how firmly internet fans resist this, how infuriated they are that they may no longer be a defined “demographic” who must be catered to explicitly, that they are participants in a variegated culture instead of strictly delineated recipients of a “product or service.” Their response is to feel their very identity is under threat (and to levy Martin Luther King quotes, even).

The bizarre conspiracy theories circulating online (I occasionally consult on game designs and disclose those relationships, but there is an image circulating which inaccurately claims that I run a ‘PR firm’ where people pay me to cover things) feel something like a video game in and of itself. The GamerGate crusaders leap to employ legal terminology like fancy weapons they are clearly confused about how to wield. To them, this revolution of new voices, new platforms and new players appears to feel like the same sort of persecution games once experienced at the hands of Fox News and anti-violent game crusaders — it’s unfortunate their behavior has been so often in-step with those negative stereotypes of late.

One has to wonder if this is down to game fans being systems thinkers, who see the world as an ecosystem of curiosities to discover and solve. Everyone wants to feel they’re part of something bigger, after all, that they might be a hero of an underground society that no one else knows about. And Twitter exposes us all to the vocabulary of extremes, an intense world where even minorities can feel very loud (a good thing for #Ferguson, not so for video games).

As video games unshackle from old constraints, traditional fans double down on keeping the treehouse sacrosanct. The tension between “games as product” and “games as culture” is visible within these online controversies as everyone invested in the industry watches to see which will “win”. Someone should tell the internet conspiracy theorists they can relax — we’ll absolutely, definitely have both.

September 03 2014

bloglog

6 Reasons Samsung Should Fear the iPhone 6


The last few years will likely go down as a golden age for Samsung Electronics. While Apple defined the modern smart phone with its iPhone in 2007, Samsung has been growing far more rapidly.

Since 2010, Samsung's share of the smartphone market has quadrupled to 31 percent, according to research firm IDC. Apple's share has barely budged in that same period, ending 2013 at about 15 percent.

But Apple may finally have the right ingredients to reverse Samsung's fortunes. On Sept. 9, Apple is set to unveil not only a new phone, which some pundits are calling the iPhone 6, but also details of a long-awaited smartwatch that will work in concert with the new phone. Bloomberg News has reported several of the features expected to be packed into the next iPhone, including larger screen sizes and a payments system allowing customers to use the device to make purchases in stores. Put all of these pieces together, and you get some potentially profound changes that could sap the advantages of Samsung’s hot-selling Galaxy line of products.

We don't know everything about the new iPhone, but we know this: It won’t be a good day for Samsung. Here’s why:

More Competition in Large Phones

Since the launch of the iPhone seven years ago, the device's screen size has only increased by half an inch. Meanwhile, the global appetite for large phones has been insatiable, and Samsung has been the main beneficiary. Devices with screens larger than 4.5 inches made up a third of the worldwide market last year, and IDC expects them to grow to 44 percent this year.

Now, Apple is finally getting in on the action. The company plans to unveil models with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens, according to people familiar with Apple’s plans.

“Samsung has had a few years with no real competition on larger form-factor phones, and that’s where they’ve been able to run the table on Apple,” says Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray. “Now that competitive advantage is going to simply disappear.”

Teresa Brewer, an Apple spokeswoman, declined to comment on possible new products.

Mobile Payment Lock-In

After years of experiments, Apple will announce a payments platform so that iPhone owners will be able to buy goods at brick-and-mortar stores with a quick flick of their iPhones. The company has inked deals with Visa, MasterCard and American Express for the iPhone 6, which contains a wireless chip that transmits data securely to an in-store reader.

Even in the rosiest scenario, you’ll still want to keep your wallet with you. It will take many years for the majority of retailers to make the investments necessary to support digital payments, says Richard Crone, a payments-industry consultant.

Still, Apple has a better chance to change consumers’ behavior than Google, which has struggled to convince hardware makers, mobile carriers and stores of Google Wallet's worthiness. Apple has 800 million credit and debit cards on file with customers who have purchased items through iTunes. Apple may have to do some convincing after security concerns over hacked celebrity accounts. If Apple executes well, it will be far more difficult for Samsung to wrest iPhone customers away.

An iWallet “would be the ultimate in stickiness,” says Crone. “It would create a tremendous barrier to exit for Apple customers and more importantly, a tremendous barrier to entry for competitors.”

Watch and Learn

Samsung has been making smartwatches for at least a year. In May, the company held a splashy event hoping to establish itself as the center of the nascent wearables segment. It introduced Sami and Simband, a set of software and hardware standards that any company could use to create their own devices and apps, and released yet another watch of its own on Aug. 28.

So far, there are few signs of traction, says Tavis McCourt, an analyst at Raymond James. “I would say Samsung has not moved the category forward,” he says.

Tom Beermann, a spokesman for Samsung, declined to provide an update on the number of companies using Sami or Simband, or to provide data on the number of watches sold.

Apple’s wearable device, often referred to as the iWatch, may not come out until next year, according to a report from Recode. No matter, says Munster. With only small companies such as Fitbit and Jawbone making progress in niches like fitness, there will be plenty of pent-up demand by the time the products arrive in Apple’s stores, he says. If the iWatch goes mainstream, it could shut Samsung out.

Corporate Ambitions

Apple has become the dominant provider of smart phones and tablets to corporations, seemingly without breaking much of a sweat. Apple’s focus on simplicity has encouraged information-technology departments to accommodate employees’ desire to use their iPhones and iPads at work. That’s been good enough to get these devices into more than 90 percent of the world’s largest companies, Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this year.

September 01 2014

bloglog

A Barbecue-Cleaning Franchise Gets Fired Up


One day in 2009, Southern California native Bryan Weinstein went out back to fire up his gas grill. It had been a while. When he opened the lid, he saw crusted-on food, spots of mold and other manner of filth that would not be tolerated on any other cooking implement. As he spent the next few hours scraping, scrubbing and degreasing, he decided there needed to be a simpler, more effective way to clean his barbecue.

"I Googled it and saw that there was only one grill-cleaning company in Orange County," he remembers. "I thought this would be a great opportunity in a niche market with little or no competition."

He learned about the best methods for steam cleaning and sterilizing barbecues and sat down with a chemist to develop a proprietary polish for stainless steel. Then he put his concept to the test, running Bar-B-Clean in Orange County until he perfected the system. A veteran Soccer Shots franchisee, Weinstein began selling Bar-B-Clean units in August 2013. So far he has franchisees operating in Pasadena, Calif., as well as Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Austin. He expects to grow into double digits by the end of the year.

As many Americans get ready to close up their grills for the winter, we got Weinstein to tell us why we should care about a clean 'cue.

Cleaning a grill is one of the dirtiest jobs around the house. Is it really necessary? 

One of the main things we push is the health benefit of cleaning a grill. We like to say that a clean barbecue is a healthy barbecue. I'd say 50 percent of the grills I've seen have rat droppings in them. When you spark up the barbecue, all that old soot and rat and mouse droppings smoke and cover the food. It's a very unhealthy place, and when it gets hot, it's even more unhealthy.

Most people call us because they want their grill to look nice because they're having company. By the time we're done with our conversation, they're usually more interested in the health aspects.

Rat droppings?!

Yeah. I've even found three full-on rat nests in grills. The worst one was last month. There was a nest just underneath the grates. I came home after that and had to jump in the pool to get the stuff off me.

Are there enough nice grills out there to support a business like this?

We're really concentrating on the Sunbelt--places where people use outdoor kitchens year-round. There are lots of homes built in the last 20 years where people have hardscaped the backyard and built in a grill.

August 28 2014

bloglog

U.S. Stocks: Futures Fall Ahead Of GDP Data


U.S. stocks futures moved lower Thursday ahead of an updated reading on second-quarter U.S. economic growth.

Renewed jitters in Ukraine bruised stock markets after Kiev said Russian forces had entered Ukraine and seized the coastal town of Novoazovsk.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJU4) dropped 62 points, or 0.4%, to 17,031, while those for the S&P 500 index (SPU4) lost 7.70 points, or 0.4%, to 1,989.40. Futures for the Nasdaq 100 index (NDU4) declined 14.75 points, or 0.4%, to 4,058.00.

The losses came after the Dow and S&P indexes closed higher for a third straight day on Wednesday, with the latter clinging to 2,000 and marking its 31st record close this year.

Economic data: After a snoozer on the data front on Wednesday, the economic calendar gets more interesting on Thursday. The second estimate for second-quarter U.S. gross domestic product is out at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, and economists polled by MarketWatch predict GDP will come in a notch lower -- 3.9% -- than the initial read of 4%.

Also at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, weekly jobless claims are due. Claims are hovering near eight-year lows and have fallen below 300,000 in three of the past five weeks, a reflection of the low number of layoffs taking place in the economy. Analysts forecast that 300,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, up slightly from 298,000 the week before.

At 10 a.m. Eastern, an index that measures how many U.S. homes are ready to be sold is expected to rebound in July, after declining in June.

Earnings: Discount retailer Dollar General Corp. (DG) reported a rise in second-quarter earnings per share to 83 cents a share from 75 cents in the same period last year. Shares were up 0.8% ahead of the open.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF) is expected to report a profit of 11 cents per share on revenue of $908 million, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet, when it releases second-quarter results ahead of the open.

Movers and shakers: Williams-Sonoma Inc. (WSM) slumped 12% ahead of the open after the kitchenware retailer late Wednesday reported earnings that missed analysts' estimates.

Fighting in Ukraine: After a period of relatively calm, tensions between Ukraine and Russia flared up on Thursday. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Russian troops have entered Ukraine and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council and the European Council.

Other markets: European stocks posted sharp losses as the first country-specific reports on August consumer prices fueled fears that the euro zone is heading toward deflation. Inflation data for the euro zone come out on Friday and could add more pressure on the European Central Bank to launch fresh easing measures at its meeting next week. Asian markets closed mostly in the red.

August 20 2014

bloglog

How to Stay Protected When Renting, Swapping Your Home

The sharing economy makes it easier for you to rent out or swap a home to raise or save some cash, but it can also lead to a host of nightmares if you don’t take the necessary precautions.  

“The whole sharing economy is pretty new territory,” says Mazyar Hedayat, president of M. Hedayat & Associates. “If you do it smart and do it right, it’s going to increase the amount of revenue you make and keep your properties filled.”

But renting out your space isn’t as easy as posting an ad and connecting with an interested party.

Before you decide to rent or swap your home or apartment, experts suggest reviewing your insurance coverage. After all, you don't want to rent out your space to vacationers for a week to come back and find it trashed and that your home insurance doesn’t cover the damages.

According to Richard Hutchinson, general manager of Progressive Home Advantage, most homeowners polices exclude rentals because renters are considered a higher risk than a homeowner. To overcome this coverage lapse, Hutchison recommends taking out a separate Landlord’s Protector Policy. “These policies protect you from liabilities created by having renters, including business or loss-of-use protection which gives revenue to the owner if the home is temporarily out of commission,” he says.   

Homeowners using a home sharing or rental service like FlipKey or HomeAway should read the terms and agreement section very carefully. According to Hedayat, the end user license agreement (EULA) will spell out the property owner’s requirements, including how to represent a property to would-be renters.

While these services provide access to people looking for properties, it largely falls on you to conduct due diligence in terms of who you rent to or swap with. Experts recommend having multiple phone conversations and a video conference with interested parties.

“It's amazing how much information you can glean about a person from a short phone conversation. By asking the right questions, you'll be able to learn a lot about your guest,” says Carl Shepherd, cofounder and chief strategy officer for HomeAway.

Read more: How to Stay Protected When Renting, Swapping Your Home

August 13 2014

bloglog

5 Exercises for Bonding a Far-Flung Team

Personal relationships are vital in our professional lives. As employees, we are more productive in our jobs and happier as people when we truly connect with our colleagues. High-performance, “people-first” companies recognize this and invest in fostering these connections. Nonetheless, the increasingly mobile nature of work and the distribution of teams across geographies and time zones make this a challenge.

My company, LiquidSpace, is typical of many people-first organizations. In recruiting our team of 35 we have prioritized people over place. We now span five time zones. Team building is even more important, and more challenging, when your employees aren’t physically in the same office. Yet ours is the most productive team I’ve ever worked with. We are building a repeatable playbook of team building activities and everyday practices.

1. Host a pop-up HQ. We have an established tradition of holding a pop-up headquarters once every quarter. We choose a new city and literally plant the company flag for a week of side-by-side work and play. It’s the classic company offsite meeting but on steroids. Every employee participates and we are embedded in our product experience, booking workspace for the week from our own network.

The core of this idea is easy to replicate. Whether you hop across town or journey far afield, gathering your team in a fresh and inspiring environment can spur creativity and surface new ways of thinking about old challenges.

2. Gather around the family table. “An army marches on its stomach,” said Napoleon Bonaparte. During our pop-up HQ week, one of our simplest but most popular team activities is a home cooking night. We share in the work of cooking a meal together and cleaning up afterwards. “Doing the dishes” includes documenting the event and the ideas that surface, as well as cleaning the pots.

It’s an intimate experience to prepare a meal with your colleagues. A shared task like this requires teamwork and delivers more than just a delicious meal. The memory of collaboration and camaraderie is lasting.

3. Serve an adrenaline cocktail. It’s important to pay attention to ‘team energy’. Working as hard as we do, the fuel tanks can sometimes run empty, so pop-up week has become when we serve up an energizing team experience, injecting fun and sometimes a healthy dose of adrenaline.

Our most recent pop-up was held in Sun Valley, Idaho. Our adrenaline cocktail was a very spirited day of whitewater kayaking and rafting. The inevitable social chatter created about what we did as a team, and the thrill of accomplishment, does wonders for the individual soul and for work relationships. The residual team energy following an activity like this lasts much longer than the activity itself.

4. Hack the business. Everyone on our team wants to see the company succeed and share the benefits of building a great company. I often get growth ideas passed on to me from individual employees, and these are great, but I generally observe that most of the team is heads-down in their roles with little extra time to deeply reflect on and offer creative suggestions for growth. A few times per year, we clear our calendars for a full day, book a large conference room with plenty of whiteboards, and hold a growth hackathon. We establish a theme and challenge the team to come up with innovative ideas on how to grow the business. It’s a day where there are no bad ideas, no interruptions and no limit to what our employees can propose. These sessions are fun, have generated some of our company’s best new ideas, and demonstrate to our employees how valuable input is from every team member.

Read more: 5 Exercises for Bonding a Far-Flung Team

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