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December 10 2014


'Sons of Anarchy': How do you rate that ending?

(SPOILER ALERT: The following post contains key plot points from Tuesday night's series finale of "Sons of Anarchy" on FX).

"I'm not a good man. I'm a criminal and a killer. I need my sons to grow up hating the thought of me."

That's the painful, but truthful, self-assessment uttered by Jax Teller in the final episode of "Sons of Anarchy." He finally realized it was time -- time to let go of his family, his biker brothers, his club presidency. ... That realization came with a belief that, in order to save his sons, he had to die.

And so in an episode that brought more blood, and many more tears, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) took his own life, on his own terms, by driving his father's motorcycle headlong into a semi truck as he was being chased by a convoy of highway patrol men on a lonely stretch of Interstate 580.

Thus ended the seven-season ride of one of the most violent, testosterone-fueled dramas in television history.

The final chapter -- "Papa's Goods" -- as written and directed by series creator Kurt Sutter, had Jax pushing for something that Tara had always wanted: To get their boys far, far away from Charming and the all brutality that entails ("so they don't become what I became."). But before it could happen -- and before Jax could take his leave -- there were plenty of loose ends to tend to:

Jax visited the graves of his beloved best friend, Opie, and his wife Tara, the woman so viciously and needlessly killed by his mother, Gemma. He bid a anguish-filled goodbye to his boys, and Nero and Wendy, who took the kids to off to Norco.

He helped to set up a new arms deal that benefitted Connor Malone, but screwed the Irish Kings. He gunned down his two biggest remaining enemies -- Barosky and Marks -- in cold blood. He set the record straight with District Attorney Patterson regarding the murders of Tara and Eli.

He also set the club up for post-Jax life by filling Chibs in on what needed to be done, including a unanimous Mayhem vote. Here again, Jax did things on his own terms. After presenting his president's patch to Chibs (who made Tig the new VP), he appeared to be ready to take a bullet from his SAMCRO brothers. Instead, in a prearranged scheme, Chibs shot Happy in the arm to make it appear as if Jax defiantly refused to meet Mr. Mayhem and escaped.

This allowed Jax to hit the road one last time. On his way out of Charming, he stopped to address his father along the highway where he died.

"It's not too late for my boys," he tells the ghost of J.T. "I promise they will never know this life of chaos."

Cue the high-speed chase as Jax -- riding with no helmet -- leads an ever-growing army of law-enforcement vehicles around the highway's twists and turns ... until, finally, he takes his hands off the bars, breaks into a slight smile and intentionally comes face-to-face with a truck driven by none other than Michael Chiklis' Milo! (The same guy who gave Gemma a ride last week).

December 05 2014


The One Rule All Balding Men Should Follow

Balding men and anyone else with thinning hair: It's time we had a talk.

Let's face it, you're not fooling anyone with that comb-over, that weave doesn't look right, and the toupee will always look crooked.

But take heart, because there are a few things you can do to your hair and head that will lessen the notability of the hair loss as well as boost your confidence.

The first mistake men make, according to barber Richard Bresson of Fellow Barber, is keeping their hair on the longer side. As a rule, shorter is always better.

This is because, as hair grows out it becomes "stringy and limp on top" and bushy on the sides. 

Instead, get the sides cropped close with scissors or clippers and the top short with the hair brushed to the side. Don't get any kind of part since you don't want any hard lines drawing eyes to the "problem area."

"It's all about creating an illusion, moving the eyes away from the thinning top, instead of to the whole cut that's pleasing to look at," Bresson told us.

As for styling, stick to clays and pastes (you can see our recommendations here) that will give your hair lift and body, according to Bresson.

And if all else fails, just buzz it.

It's up to you and your scalp to make this relatively drastic decision, but more men should definitely consider it, Bresson told us. It can make you look younger and feel more confident.

Plus, you don't have to shave down to nothing. A No .2 setting or lower on the clippers to shave your head will drastically minimize the appearance of any bald spots or receding hairlines.

But remember, now your head is fully exposed to the elements, so use sunscreen.

December 02 2014


Whodunnit? Why North Korea Is Suspected in Sony Hack

Sony was warned. After learning of the company’s plans to release a James Franco-Seth Rogen comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea declared war in June. At the time, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said all North Koreans were determined “to mercilessly destroy anyone who dares hurt or attack the supreme leadership of the country, even a bit.”

Thanks to threats like that, North Korea seems like a prime suspect in the hacking attack that crippled Sony Pictures last week. The attackers made off with several new Sony movies, including Brad Pitt’s Fury and the remake of Annie, and apparently made them available online. One movie that the hackers haven’t leaked is The Interview, the Franco and Rogen film that got the North Koreans so outraged with Sony in the first place.

An investigation is under way, with the FBI taking part, and it’s too early to say whether Kim’s regime had any role in the hack. But “the facts and the evidence really point to the East on this one,” Joe Loomis, Cybersponse CEO and founder, told Bloomberg Television. The incident is an example of a “new type of warfare coming along now,” he added, “where you have a foreign country attacking a corporation.”

North Korea certainly has the resources to pull off such a heist. South Korean investigators suspected the North was behind attacks on South Korean banks and broadcasters last year. North Korea has “quite a strong force of professional hackers operating under the auspices of the Korean People’s Army,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

One goal for North Korea is to let the world know what those hackers are capable of doing. Tobias Feakin, director of the International Cyber Policy Center at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, estimates there are some 1,500 people working for North Korea’s hacking hub, known as Unit 121, and the country’s leaders are “more than happy to use their cyber capabilities,” he says. “They don’t seem particularly shy in their use of cyber power.”

In part, that’s because state-backed hacking is hard to prove and North Korea has already shown that it’s a country “that doesn’t play by the rules,” says Feakin. And while South Korea is one of the most connected places on earth, the North doesn’t have much of a presence in cyberspace. “It’s not an easy target to have some kind of repercussions, so in some ways it’s in a strong position,” he says. Hacking, therefore, “becomes an attractive medium for expressing your anger. There are very few consequences.”

North Korea may have a strong motive, but there’s no clear proof yet that it is behind the infiltration of Sony’s computers. Yet just the credible suspicion that the government could orchestrate such a robbery represents a victory for Kim. “Even if North Korea didn’t do it,” says Petrov, “this helps them keep the promise of relentless revenge on anyone who tries to tarnish the image of the great leader.”

November 19 2014


What Texting Does to the Spine

Sixty pounds is roughly the weight of four adult-sized bowling balls. Or six plastic grocery bags worth of food. Or an 8-year-old.

It is also, according to a new calculation published in the journal Surgical Technology International, the amount of force exerted on the head of an adult human who is looking down at her phone.

Kenneth Hansraj, a New York back surgeon, found this figure using a computer model of a human spine. An average human head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds, and tilting it down to check Facebook, send a text, or to Google the weight of an a human head increases the gravitational pull on said cranium.

"As the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees," Hansraj writes in the paper.

According to Nielsen, Americans spend about an hour on their smartphones each day. Unless you train yourself to stare straight ahead into your iPhone screen, you could be continually stressing your spine. "These stresses," Hansraj writes, "may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries."

Of course, physical therapists have been howling about the scourge of "Text Neck" for years. But it's certainly eyebrow-raising to learn that looking at Twitter in the supermarket checkout line is the equivalent of giving an aardvark a piggy-back ride.

November 15 2014


Three dead in Nigeria air crash as Boko Haram attacks

KANO - Nigeria on Friday said three servicemen were killed in a military helicopter crash in the restive northeast, while Boko Haram rebels raided two more towns and vigilantes and hunters clawed back a key militant stronghold.

The second crash in a week happened late on Thursday in Yola, the capital of Adamawa, which is one of three states that has been under emergency rule since May last year. The military said the aircraft involved was a ground attack helicopter on an armed patrol. “The crew of three was lost in the ill-fated accident,” a statement said, adding that an investigation will be carried out.

There was no immediate indication that the armed Islamist movement was responsible for the crash, though there has been an increase in Boko Haram activity in the state in recent weeks.

Boko Haram has reportedly taken over more than two dozen towns in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, including the commercial hub of Mubi, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Yola.

Last week, the extremists, who have been waging a five-year insurgency to create a hardline Islamic state, renamed Mubi “Madinatul Islam” or “City of Islam” in Arabic, residents said.

Nigeria’s chief of army staff, Major General Kenneth Minimah, told a Senate defence committee on Thursday that the loss of territory was “painful” but promised that troops would recapture lost ground.

Locals and a government official said later that about 200 vigilantes and hunters armed with home-made guns, spears, clubs, bows and arrows, and machetes took back Mubi.

“It is true Mubi has fallen back into the hands of Nigerian soldiers with the help of local vigilantes and hunters,” Chibado Bobi, chief of staff in the Adamawa state governor’s office, told AFP.

“It is however too early for residents who fled to move back to Mubi because the security and vigilantes need to mop up all remnants of the group that may be lurking in nearby areas.”

The hunters captured the Boko Haram-appointed emir, or leader, of Mubi after the attack, while militant fighters fled.

But instead of pulling back to other territory it is reported to control, locals said Boko Haram fighters invaded Hong, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south on the way towards Yola, and Gombi, to the northwest of Mubi.

In both Hong and Gombi, the militants were said to have razed the towns’ police stations.

The move towards Yola will raise concerns about safety in the city, where thousands of people have taken refuge to escape the violence.

Thursday’s chopper crash near a hall of residence at the Modibbo Adama University of Science and Technology caused panic among students, as weapons said to be on board apparently exploded.
“We heard a huge thundering sound which made us rush out of the hostels, thinking the school was under Boko Haram attack,” said one student, Harisu Abdulaziz.

Another student said there was chaos as residents at the hostel tried to flee but were prevented by soldiers guarding the gates.
The university has been under military protection after a spate of Islamist attacks against schools in the region.

November 11 2014


October 28 2014


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


'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


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

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