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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

September 05 2014


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


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


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


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


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


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

August 11 2014


4 (Mostly Simple) Ways to Keep Safe From Spammers' Snares

One billion -- that's the number of stolen usernames and passwords that a Russian cyber-crime gang has apparently accumulated. It's a huge number and a hacking milestone.

On a practical level, though, the figure reported in the New York Times likely won't translate into anything big. Here are two reasons why:

First, the hackers have primarily used the information to target people with spam e-mail and social-media messages on Twitter and similar services, according to Hold Security, the Milwaukee-based consultancy that discovered the database of stolen account information. But here's the thing: Spammers are highly inefficient. While the one billion figure is eye-grabbing, the real number to focus on is 99.6 percent. That's how often spam filters block those messages, according to The Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam nonprofit based in London and Geneva.

In other words, the vast majority of people whose online credentials were stolen likely won't experience any direct harm. Of the people who do see the messages, fewer still will open them. And even then, users will have to be fooled into clicking on links designed to infect their machines or sell them fake pharmaceuticals.

Alex Holden, founder of Hold Security, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Here's the second reason: Even if you're unlucky enough to be in the 0.4 percent group that does see the spam messages, there are four steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Don't open spam. You know this. Why do you make us repeat ourselves?
  • Don't be lazy: Use a variety of passwords. Online thieves are hoping you use the same credentials for all the sites you access, including ones that store financial information.
  • Update your software with the recommended security patches. Many users still ignore these.
  • And if you're worried your computer might already be infected, take the extreme step of re-installing the operating system to start over. Changing passwords on a breached computer won't do any good. The cyber crooks will have those, too.

Online security is much like exercise and eating leafy greens. You know you're supposed to do it. So why aren’t you?

Read more: 4 (Mostly Simple) Ways to Keep Safe From Spammers' Snares

July 30 2014


6 Secrets for Creating Fierce Employee and Customer Loyalty

Why do companies exist? Is it solely to enrich their owners or do workers and customers matter as well?

I think the answer matters to entrepreneurs: In 2003, I argued in my book Value Leadership that doing well by employees, customers and communities enriches shareholders over the long run.

In the United States, the answer usually ends up being that all these groups are important but when resources become scarce, shareholders and debt holders are the ones who matter most. (In Germany, things are different: Workers also have a seat on corporate boards.)

So the thousands of workers on strike at Market Basket, the Tewksbury, Mass.-based, 25,000-employee grocery chain, probably won’t be enough to convince its board of directors to reinstate the CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, it let go last month.

What probably will make a difference is whether the board – which last fall paid out a $300 million special dividend to shareholders -- accepts the offer by Arthur T. Demoulas to acquire the 50.5 percent stake in the $4.6 billion company now controlled by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and other family members.

Whatever the outcome, the 71-store Market Basket offers lessons for running a successful business that are very important. Former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas has demonstrated that a company should serve all of its stakeholders -- that is, workers, employees, shareholders and the community.

This is particularly significant for companies where many of the employees are in contact with customers, such as the in the grocery industry: Cashiers, butchers and all sorts of other people interact with customers. And if those employees have deep functional expertise in the business, develop relationships with customers and convey a positive attitude about the company, shoppers will keep coming back.

Moreover, even employees without direct customer contact -- like those purchasing the goods stocked on shelves -- will be more productive if they are happy and loyal. The reason is simple: They know the business so well that they can do their jobs more effectively.

A closer look at Market Basket’s operations under Arthur T. Demoulas suggests that its industry-beating 7.2 percent operating margins in 2012, cited by the Boston Business Journal, derive from six secrets: long-term employee relationships, low overhead, bulk purchasing, low prices, no debt and treating employees and customers like family. Here's a look at these six key variables:

1. Developing long-term employee relationships.

As Kevin Griffin, publisher of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, explained to The Boston Globe, Market Basket has some employees at its headquarters who have been at the company 40 years. Market Basket accomplishes this by promoting from inside the ranks, with “once-grocery baggers ascending to senior positions.” 

And the company pays staffees more than rivals do: Experienced cashiers earn more than $40,000, while full-time clerks receive salaries that start above the minimum wage at $12 an hour, according to theGlobe. Four-times-a-year bonuses are granted, amounting to as much as to six to eight weeks pay.  

The company contributes 15 percent of each employee’s pay to a retirement plan (worth $552 million in 2013). Market Basket made $43 million in contributions in 2012, the Boston Business Journal noted.

2. Keeping overhead low.

The long-term employee loyalty seems to boost productivity. Compared with its  rivals, Market Basket had only six employees working as grocery buyers, about one-fifth the number of grocery buyers as would be found at a similarly sized chain, the Globe reported.  

“By the time they’ve reached leadership positions, employees have been with the company long enough that they are deeply experienced across many levels of the company, meaning they’re able to operate more efficiently from a staffing perspective," the Globe noted, summarizing Griffin's reasoning. "The lack of turnover also cuts down on the costs of recruiting and training."

3. Buying in bulk at a discount.

Like many successful large retailers, Market Basket takes advantage of its size to negotiate volume discounts, the Globe noted, with Griffin explaining that the company builds long-term relationships with suppliers to assure it can deliver low prices.

4. Maintaining low prices.

Market Basket has a reputation for low prices. As shopper Nathan Mudhall emailed me: “I always wondered how low margin products could vary so much in price from company to company." He singled out Market Basket's price for Land O Lakes Butter, $3.79, as considerably lower than other stores'. "There is no other market that is even close to them in price, selection, service, and cleanliness."

Read more: 6 Secrets for Creating Fierce Employee and Customer Loyalty

July 25 2014


Cutting-edge marketers, here’s why you don’t want to miss GrowthBeat (pre-registration ends today)

GrowthBeat is coming up on August 5-6, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most provocative marketing­-tech events of the year.

We’re bringing you some of the best and brightest in modern digital marketing for a series of never-before-seen case studies and sessions designed to help you declutter the landscape, simplify functions, clarify your goals, and find your way to success.

Today, we’re announcing another fantastic round of speakers, including top marketing/growth execs from 7-Eleven, Adobe, Airbnb, ClearSlide, DocuSign, Eventbrite, Facebook, HootSuite, Jiffy Lube, LinkedIn, Oracle, Salesforce, Walmart, Zappos, and a host of the hottest marketing-tech players.

NOTE: Ticket prices increase by $200 today (7/25) at 5 p.m. Pacific, and seats are very limited.

Check out the speaker and program updates below, and make sure to register here by 5 p.m. to save.

Featured Speakers:

GrowthBeat speakers

Questions GrowthBeat will answer:

  • What are the best case studies showing how marketers have used the latest software to retain and acquire customers?
  • What are the big data and analytics apps that help disqualify leads that are a waste of time and that highlight only those leads that are the most attractive?
  • What apps work specifically well for consumer businesses versus enterprise businesses?
  • What are the leading tools that help you find possible growth potentials by monitoring data across your various activities and units?
  • What are the use cases that vendors such as New Relic, AppDynamics, and Mixpanel showcase — all of which help you find useful profit-yielding patterns of unstructured data without you knowing about them?
  • What software tools require real data scientists and other trained professionals to help achieve profits? By contrast, what are the best tools business executives can use with little training?
  • Where do the emerging big data applications tend to work best in marketing and sales?
  • What are the cutting-edge developments in fields such as behavioral science that will help you optimize lead generation and qualification?
  • What are the other new rules, from creative to analytics, that marketers need to follow in order to succeed?

    Read more: Cutting-edge marketers, here’s why you don’t want to miss GrowthBeat (pre-registration ends today)

July 23 2014



I am on a quest to stay passionate and productive in my day job.

By day I am a business consultant, but by night--not to mention during the wee hours of the morning and on weekends--I become a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and photographer.

On my journey I have met a number of inquisitors who ask why I toil away the hours before and after work to master crafts that are seemingly unrelated to my day job.

For instance, I work in consulting, so my pursuit of an MBA was embraced, even enthusiastically promoted to clients by my colleagues. But the mere mention of my other jobs provokes an inquisition of epic proportions.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned from moonlighting that may inspire you to render your own lessons from a side gig:


“If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!” said William Strunk, infamous author of the definitive English style guide, The Elements of Style. Co-author E.B. White explained this piece of advice in the book’s introduction: “Why compound ignorance with inaudibility? Why run and hide?”

Businesses are already plagued by rapid shifts and uncertainties of market, technology, and resources. You can only make matters worse if you can’t muster the courage to admit when you don’t know something; it’s practically a criminal offense if you make definitive assertions instead. There is a place for guesses, but declare that you are stating an assumption not a fact.

As an over-simplified example to illustrate the point, imagine that your team poses the following question: “How often do consumers purchase products of category X without customizations?”

Each answer below sets the team on a different track:

  • “We don’t know. But it is our assumption that 9 out of 10 times our consumers may buy the product without any customizations.”
  • “9 out of 10 times our consumers buy the product without any customization.”

The first version drives the team to find ways in which to answer the question more definitively. Alternatively, the team may launch an offering but incorporate robust mechanisms to quickly validate this underlying assumption. Even more important, the surrounding business processes could be engineered to respond with agility if the underlying hypothesis is discovered to be wrong.

The second version guarantees that the team is caught unprepared if the solution hinges on this information and business reality contradicts it.

Listen to the English professor and be brave. If you don’t know something, say it loud.


In your jobs you develop insights underpinned by complex analysis. A surprising insight, however, is only useful if your clients and colleagues are capable of utilizing this new knowledge with confidence and elegance.

Consequently, you must tailor a journey to take others along for the ride efficiently. This aspect of my craft benefited most from my leading others in yoga. It reminded me of the value of delivering complex information with an economy of words.

Consider the below options for guiding a yoga class from one move to the next, in one breath. With the first option, I excluded those who are unfamiliar with or uninterested in the jargon of yoga. With the last option, I delivered excessive information, and the class consequently lost its momentum as individuals struggled to apply the numerous instructions I had offered.


July 21 2014


5 Reasons to Make Friends with Your Competitors

When I owned my coffeehouse (2001-2004) people frequently asked me if I hated Starbucks. I didn't. After all, Starbucks is responsible for re-introducing the culture of coffee in the United States and for establishing it in countries where the cafe culture never before existed. Starbucks put the romance into the coffee experience. Without those romantic notions consumers wouldn't have given a second look at my drive-thru, or stop by for a fireside chat over a delicious cuppa joe with their friends. Thank you Starbucks!

Still, the truth is that the coffee giant made it impossible for an independent coffee retailer like me to compete, so I didn't. Instead my business became what Starbucks is not. It too became a household name but for reasons far from its convenience and fast service.

Stop viewing your competition as the enemy and instead use it as the catalyst to brilliance. Instead of investing your precious energy into hating or envying your competitors use it to become the very best entrepreneur you can possibly be. Here's how.

Give your customers another reason to choose your brand.

I knew that my delicious, fair trade coffee wasn't enough to bring customers through the door so I gave more dimension to the consumer experience. I added open mic nights, brought in great bands, and did art shows and book signings. I even opened a private conference room to local businesses and organizations.

What can you offer in addition to your products or services? When you stand out from the competition by offering something of value that your competitors don't, you give your customers a better reason to choose your product or service. How can you help your customers go beyond a simple purchase and truly experience your brand?

Keep the price down to remain competitive.

When I purchased my coffeehouse I knew that I would have to bring down the cost of goods. It forced me to move outside of my comfort zone and negotiate with vendors. In many cases I found new suppliers, and I never stopped negotiating.

Don't get complacent about costs. Just because your suppliers have served you for years doesn't mean they can't do better. Also keep an eye out for new materials, parts, or products that will create a cost savings.

Innovate, innovate, innovate.

What sells today may not sell tomorrow. I've had too many entrepreneurs come to me for coaching because their once successful business became a cash drain.

Watch what your competition is doing to stay ahead and learn from their wins, as well as their failures. Don't get complacent! Don't get so caught up in the day-to-day operations that you neglect coming up with the next great idea. That's the mistake these entrepreneurs made and, sadly, it's often too late to breathe life back into the brand.

Upgrade your skills.

When you allocate all available cash and human energy to your business it's virtually impossible to invest in training and education for yourself. Keeping abreast of the latest technology and trends, and constantly honing your leadership skills will help you gain and maintain the competitive advantage.

Make a list of your weaknesses and make a plan to build upon the skills you need to overcome them. If you cannot acquire those skills yourself, then outsource or hire someone who can provide necessary skills to compete effectively.

Read more: 5 Reasons to Make Friends with Your Competitors

July 17 2014


Visa Checkout isn’t an online wallet — it’s an online credit card

SAN FRANCISCO  — Swiping a credit card is easy, and in its quest to make online payments just as easy, Visa announced today the release of a product called Visa Checkout.

It puts Visa plastic cards on the Internet through integration into merchants’ websites and mobile shopping apps. It’s similar to a prior Visa product, V.me, but we’ll get to that later.

The idea with Checkout is that if you want to do something like ordering from Pizza Hut online, you will be able to “check out” with Visa right from these merchants’ websites and apps. The credit-card company designed it to be simple and as quick as possible, only requiring a username and password to check out once you’ve registered.

People shop and pay for things all of the time, “but what they don’t want to spend their time doing is paying,” Visa senior vice president of digital solutions Sam Shrauger said at a press event.

“A lot of what was traditional e-commerce … is migrating either to the tablet environment or migrating to the small screen or the mobile phone,” he said.

It looks a lot like V.me, which Visa launched in late 2011 to compete with PayPal’s online payment tools. Checkout is a new incarnation of V.me, which the company said it learned a lot from, and is now replacing with the entirely re-engineered and redesigned Checkout. And just like V.me, Checkout lets customers store non-Visa cards as well, a bit as one does with PayPayl and other digital wallet-like products.

But Checkout is not a wallet, Shrauger said. It’s a digital representation of your Visa card, and the company even stressed how closely it’s worked to make even the branding feel like the classic Visa brand its customers are used to. When you check out online, a thumbnail of your Visa card shows up right next to the Visa Checkout button, for the express purpose of helping you feel comfortable.

“When you look at the real pain point for consumers … they don’t want a wallet,” Shrauger said. “They just want to pay and be done.”

This rings very true. A few months ago, during a small roundtable event American Express senior VP of digital partnerships and development Leslie Berland said that although American Express has experimented with mobile wallets, she has yet to find something that is not clunky and that’s “as easy as swiping.” American Express recently announced a partnership with ride-sharing company Uber that lets American Express cardholders using their card with Uber to earn extra points and even pay for rides with their points. This is exactly the sort of seamless and quick payment experience Visa is going for with Visa Checkout.

Competing financial services company MasterCard also recently launched its own product, MasterPass, on mobile to help MasterCard customers easily pay from within mobile apps.

Read more: Visa Checkout isn’t an online wallet — it’s an online credit card

July 15 2014


How to Pay Off an Ex-Spouse When Seeking a Mortgage

Stuck paying for a house that's no longer yours? Buying your spouse out of a property can be dicey, especially if both parties disagree with one another on the debt and equity objectives. So here are some ways to separate and pay off an ex-spouse when getting a mortgage.

Net Yet Divorced or Separated?: First, if you and your ex are still legally married, but are not yet legally separated or officially divorced, this can pose problems related to the scope of the desired split when separating property and liens (loans). If you're buying a home for yourself, your spouse would have to sign a quit claim deed releasing their interest in the property you are buying since you are still legally joined with that person. The key is that the spouse must consent to releasing their interest in the transaction.

Divorced & Still Tied to Another Property: Let's say you're trying to purchase a home, you are legally divorced and the previous property has been awarded to your ex-spouse in the divorce decree. However, for whatever reason your ex-spouse is not able to qualify for a new mortgage to refinance you off of it. Your credit report shows a mortgage that your name is tied to on a property you no longer own nor have responsibility for. In the eyes of the mortgage lender, because the liability (loan) is tied to the property and has not been paid off with your name associated with it, the liability is still considered to be joint.

The problem here is that your credit history and credit score are directly affected by your ex-spouse's sole ability to make timely mortgage payments on the joint credit account. The only way to remove the responsibility from you, beyond the divorce decree, is for the other party to sell the house or refinance the mortgage, and taking your name off the loan, thus omitting the liability from your debt-to-income ratio on your new purchase.

Refinancing to Buy Out the Ex-Spouse: Say both you and your spouse own a home together. Without the divorce degree and without a separation agreement, both parties collectively agree that one spouse will stay in the property and will buy out the other, who is vacating the property.

Consider the following scenario:
  • A couple bought a house a couple of years ago for $400,000.
  • The spouse leaving the property originally contributed $50,000 toward the down payment and wants their $50,000 contribution reimbursed.
  • The spouse who is staying refinances, cashing out $50,000, and takes out a new loan with a market interest rate and term to buy out the other party.
Assuming a divorce decree or legal separation agreement has not yet been established, the lender would require no additional further documentation, assuming both spouses currently reside at the property and are in agreement. Providing such documentation to the lender ahead of time can help answer any questions about this that may arise in the loan process.

Other things to consider:
  • If you are presently separated, in most loan scenarios, the lender will consider any joint debt as the marital union is still in effect, and this could spell trouble for qualifying purposes.
  • If you are in the process of a divorce, it is ideal to complete any mortgage-related activity after the divorce has been finalized.
  • If you're planning to divorce in the future (but the process hasn't yet begun), possibly completing the mortgage transaction/buyout before the divorce has taken place could be ideal as the transaction could be wrapped up sooner for both amicable parties.
  • Also, if you're divorced and trying to buy a home, a lender will want to know whose property is whose when itemizing all real estate owned. To do that, provide a copy of your previous divorce decree -- no matter how old it is -- including all pages, all schedules and the marital settlement agreement rider.

    Read more: How to Pay Off an Ex-Spouse When Seeking a Mortgage

July 11 2014


4 Types of Stretch Assignments You Should Turn Down

If you're like most professionals, you'll eventually reach a point in your career when you realize that you can't advance to the next level without being able to show that you have relevant experience — a lot of it.

One way to demonstrate that you have potential to grow beyond your current role is to take on "stretch" assignments. In 2003, Catalyst reported that a whopping 40% of women in corporate leadership positions said that seeking out difficult, highly visible assignments had been a very important advancement strategy. It makes sense: By volunteering for additional responsibilities, you can learn new skills, make your talents visible to your leaders, and demonstrate your readiness to step into a role that goes beyond the one you're currently in.

But despite all the benefits of volunteering for stretch assignments, there are times when the extra workload can actually work against you. In a recent coaching program, one participant told me, "A mentor told me that volunteering for stretch assignments will help improve my career. I took on three new projects, and now I'm not getting any sleep. Help!"

This woman's mentor had given her good advice, but it has to be applied within reason. We have to learn to put guardrails around accepting stretch assignments so that we don't get stretched too thin by them!

But how? How can you say "no" to stretch assignments without also saying "no" to furthering your career?

The key is to be highly selective. One common misstep that many high performers make is accepting too many low-visibility assignments that require them to work overtime without gaining the benefits of recognition and new skills that such assignments should bring. To avoid stretching yourself too thin for no visible career benefit, here is a checklist for when to diplomatically say "no" to extra assignments.

1. Assignments That Stretch You Too Thin

Before saying yes to a stretch assignment, do a risk assessment. Be brutally honest with yourself: Is there a risk you'll overreach, take on too much, and compromise your ability to fulfil your regular responsibilities well?

Start by weighing the obvious factors, such as whether this side project will suck time away from your core priorities and what trade-offs it might take in your personal life to accommodate extra hours at work.

For example, Andy, a technical project manager, had recently earned his MBA and was looking out for opportunities to build a reputation as a strategic thinker. When invited to take on a stretch assignment to combine numerous products into a single product line, he said, "I weighed the probability of being successful against the workload and lack of a cohesive business plan, and saw a no-win scenario." Ultimately, he declined to participate.

Don't ignore the possibility of unexpected emotional costs, either. Will saying yes to this assignment mean working with a leader who is known for burning people out? Will it require you to collaborate with co-workers who are notorious for slacking off in the face of a looming deadline?

Look for projects that stretch you without overwhelming you, so that you can deliver a consistently high quality of work. Focus on the quality of assignments, not quantity — and take them on at a cadence that allows you some recovery time between deadlines and deliverables.

2. Assignments That Don't Build Your Strengths

The best stretch assignments are those that require you to build business acumen, new technical skills, or leadership ability. Don't volunteer yourself for a project unless it has the potential to expand your skill set and lets you demonstrate your potential to go beyond the job you're currently in.

After turning down the first stretch assignment, Andy noticed that his business unit lacked a single point of contact for coordinating requests for new product development investments. Whereas the previous assignment would have used his existing project management skills, this one required him to develop new skills, such as strategic thinking and engaging stakeholders across the organization. He volunteered, shouldering an additional full-time workload for a month. "I built credibility as a strategic leader, which helped me land the higher-profile role that I'm in today," he said.

3. Assignments That Don't Meaningfully Expand Your Network

Stay away from projects that are all about work and have no relationship-building opportunities. Go after projects that allow you to build stronger working relationships and demonstrate your expertise to leaders, sponsors, potential mentors, and peers.

For example, say your company's annual charitable giving campaign is spearheaded by a leader you admire, who is responsible for an increasingly important business division in the company. Even though the campaign isn't directly job-related, taking a lead role in it can be a way to show that person that you are smart, energetic, and reliable — and to convey that you'd like to work for him or her one day. And the random collection of colleagues you'll meet and bond with? If you stay in touch, you can become each others' eyes and ears for what's going on in different departments.

Read more: 4 Types of Stretch Assignments You Should Turn Down

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