Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hong Kong's Angry Protests: What Now? (BusinessWeek)

Police fire tear gas at demonstrators during a protest near central government offices in Hong Kong on Sept. 28. Pro-democracy protesters kick-started their campaign to occupy central Hong Kong after police clashed with students demanding that China withdraw proposals to control the city’s elections
Police fire tear gas at demonstrators during a protest near central government offices in Hong Kong on Sept. 28. Pro-democracy protesters kick-started their campaign to occupy central Hong Kong after police clashed with students demanding that China withdraw proposals to control the city’s elections
Benny Tai has gotten what he wanted. A leader of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, Occupy Central With Love and Peace, Tai said last month he welcomed the prospect of police using tear gas against protesters. Yesterday, the police obliged, firing first pepper spray and then tear gas at thousands of students and other Hong Kong people demonstrating in front of the government headquarters. The tear gas had little impact: Crowds quickly regrouped and today the demonstrators are not only occupying the major thoroughfare in the financial district, they have expanded their protests to other parts of the city.
What happens next? Today, crowds are smaller as many Hong Kong people have gone back to work, but protests continue in Central and other parts of town. “Only when the government makes a substantial response, then we will advise people to retreat,” Chan Kin-man, an Occupy Central leader, told Bloomberg News. As the standoff continues, here are several points to keep in mind.
This is not Taiwan. In late March, Taiwanese students infuriated by President Ma Ying-jeou’s plan to tie the island’s economy closer to the mainland stormed the legislature. The protests, dubbed the Sunflower Movement, spread to other government offices and large street demonstrations. The occupation of the legislature lasted a humiliating 24 days before the government finally convinced students it would put the proposed services agreement with China on hold until lawmakers could pass new rules restricting Ma’s ability to craft deals.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying seems determined to avoid enduring similar embarrassment. After a weeklong boycott of classes, students gathered at the government headquarters on the edge of Hong Kong Island’s Central district. When police arrested some of them over the weekend, people sympathetic to their cause started heading for the massive building and park along the waterfront. But rather than let them all in—and risk a repeat of the Sunflower protests in Taipei—Hong Kong’s police restricted access. With no way to get inside, the people occupied the street, Queensway, one of the busiest roads in the city. (Unlike Shanghai, Hong Kong didn’t change the names of its streets after the city’s return to the motherland. So there’s still a King’s Road, a Queen’s Road, a Victoria Street, etc.) Had the police allowed the protesters into the government complex, the crowd would have been large but it wouldn’t have been as disruptive.
This is not 2003. The students and the pro-democracy activists behind Occupy Central can take inspiration from the giant protest in the summer of 2003. On July 1 that year, some 500,000 Hong Kong people took to the streets to protest plans by then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to impose harsh new security laws. AsBusinessWeek reported then, the protest was orderly, a “kid-glove uprising” in which Hong Kong people marched “peacefully, even respectfully” while police “never took their batons from their belts.”
There was no violence, and the leadership in Beijing seemed to be listening: In March 2005, Tung announced his resignation for “health reasons.” Recently Tung became an independent director of Jack Ma’s Alibaba (BABA), the e-commerce powerhouse that last week had its huge initial public offering in New York.
Forcing out Tung was fairly easy for the Chinese government. After initially bungling Hong Kong’s response to the SARS epidemic in 2003, he was already unpopular when the people took to the streets in July of that year. And China’s leaders hadn’t gotten publicly involved with the SARS response or the proposed security laws. That, coupled with the peaceful nature of the demonstration, meant China’s leaders could afford to get rid of Tung after a respectable amount of time.
Today, however, the Chinese government has very publicly intervened in the Hong Kong fight: first with its controversial white paper asserting locals had a “confused or lopsided” understanding of Hong Kong’s autonomy, later with its decree that any candidates running for chief executive in 2017 must first win majority approval by a pro-Beijing nomination committee of 1,200 people. That makes it virtually impossible for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government to make any concessions.
This is not the mainland. The pro-democracy protests come at a time when relations between Hong Kong and its mainland masters are at their worst since the 1997 handover. As Chinese tourists have flocked to the city, they’ve helped fuel a boom among retailers selling products that consumers from the mainland want, everything from gold jewelry to infant formula. That’s also fueled resentment among locals, who blame the visitors for rising housing prices, crowded subways, and shop closures. This spring, there was an uproar online after a couple from the mainlandallowed their toddler to urinate on a busy sidewalk in Kowloon, prompting verbal attacks from irate locals.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Five handy apps to knock out multiple tasks (TechRepublic)

By September 22, 2014

My original idea was to focus on tools similar to Jack of Tools, which is a Windows Phone app that includes a compass, level, altimeter, speedometer, GPS, etc. Unfortunately, that type of tool is relatively tough to come by, especially if you're looking for one that works on a variety of mobile platforms. So I decided to focus on useful apps that perform a variety of related functions.


Evernote is a free app that can help you remember things. Like Microsoft OneNote, Evernote allows you to collect information from a variety of sources and write that information to a notebook. For instance, you can save a Web page or you can save images or blocks of text from a page without saving the entire page. The main thing that makes Evernote worthwhile is that it's useful for so many diverse purposes, serving as a personal organizer, research tool, and collaboration app.

Zip Code Tools

You may not need Zip Code Tools on a daily basis, but it provides such a great wealth of information I just had to include it in this list. Zip Code Tools allows you to perform all manner of lookup related to Zip codes. It can answer questions such as what are the zip codes in California, what zip code am I in right now, what is the demographic data for 90210, or how far is it to zip code 40258 (and many, many more). It can even point you toward the nearest post office.

Waze Social GPS

Waze Social GPS is a free multi-function tool that's a big help for those who have a daily commute. As the name implies, Waze uses real-time data from other drivers to alert you to traffic problems along your normal route. If a traffic problem does exist, Waze can route you around it. It can also alert you to things like speed traps and road closures.


OpenTable is a free tool geared toward those who like to dine out. Although OpenTable markets itself as a restaurant reservation app, it does quite a bit more. For instance, when you make a reservation, you can include special requests (such as "I'm allergic to strawberries" or "I'd like to sit next to the window"). The app also puts your reservation on your calendar. It even lets you invite your friends to join you for dinner.

Trip38 Travel Assistant

Trip38 Travel Assistant is a free multi-function travel app. Like many other travel apps, Trip38 manages your reservations for flights and hotels — but it does a lot more than that. The app provides a wealth of destination-specific information. For instance, Trip38 can tell you about local attractions, events that are happening at your destination city, and the weather at your destination.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Eric Holder Angered Wall Street Banks, and Their Critics (BusinessWeek)

Eric Holder’s time as attorney general will be remembered for many things, most recently his forceful response to the upheaval that followed a police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo. On Wall Street, however, he will always be the guy who extracted billions of dollars in settlements from banks.
As he has been hinting for several months, Holder intends to resign his post as attorney general, although he plans to remain in office until his successor is fully in place. “Attorney General Holder has discussed his plans personally with the president on multiple occasions in recent months, and finalized those plans in an hour-long conversation with the president at the White House residence over Labor Day weekend,” according to an official at the Justice Department who was quoted in news reports.
In 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general under President Clinton, he wrote a now-infamous memo (pdf) outlining guidelines for bringing criminal charges against corporations, in which he argued that companies should be treated no differently than individuals. He added this precedent-setting caveat, however: “Prosecutors may consider the collateral consequences of a corporate criminal conviction in determining whether to charge the corporation with a criminal offense.” He went on: “prosecutors may take into account the possibly substantial consequences to a corporation’s officers, directors, employees, and shareholders.” And: “Virtually every conviction of a corporation, like virtually every conviction of an individual, will have an impact on innocent third parties.” He was basically saying that the government should hesitate before charging companies with committing a crime, because it could hurt innocent bystanders.
When Holder was appointed attorney general by President Obama in 2009, he was dropped right into the esophagus of the financial crisis, and those words came back to haunt him. As months slid by, during which taxpayers funded rescues of financial institutions and millions lost their livelihoods and homes, public rage built about companies and people implicated in the crisis not paying a price.
In March of last year, Holder seemed to reiterate his earlier point when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult to prosecute them.” Only a few months later, after much criticism, he revised his statement, saying, “There is no such thing as ‘too big to jail.’ No individual or company, no matter how large or how profitable, is above the law.”
No one was actually jailed in the end. What followed were a handful of eye-popping, multibillion-dollar (mostly) civil settlements with many of the country’s biggest banks. In August, Bank of America (BAC) agreed to pay $16.65 billion to the DOJ and other agencies over the bank’s role selling toxic mortgages prior to the financial crisis. In July, Citigroup (C) agreed to pay $7 billion, and last November, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) agreed to pay $13 billion to resolve their own mortgage fraud investigations. In total, the Justice Department says it has extracted almost $37 billion from banks in mortgage settlements. The DOJ did force two foreign banks,BNP Paribas (BNP) and Credit Suisse (CS), to plead guilty to criminal charges of violating U.S. sanctions and helping Americans avoid taxes, respectively. They also paid enormous fines.
Ultimately, though, critics who wanted to see individuals threatened with prison sentences for committing financial crisis-related fraud were disappointed by the Holder era. Instead, it was bank shareholders who ended up paying for their companies’ misdeeds, while the individuals who committed them, and made millions in bonuses while doing so, went on with their lives.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Printing Makeup From Your Inkjet (BusinessWeek)

Innovator: Grace Choi
Age: 30
Founder of one-woman startup Mink in New York.
Form and function: A Harvard Business School graduate provides step-by-step online instructions for hacking an inkjet printer so people can design and print custom makeup.
Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

U.S. new home sales at six-year high, but outlook challenging (Reuters)

(Reuters) - Sales of new U.S. single-family homes surged in August to their highest level in more than six years, a sign the housing recovery remains on course.
The recovery, however, will likely remain gradual against a backdrop of relatively high unemployment and sluggish wage growth, which are sidelining first-time buyers and keeping many young adults from seeking their own accommodation.
"This is welcome news in an otherwise mixed outlook," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. "We are still a long way from the housing market recovering from the bust."
New home sales jumped 18.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000 units, a second straight monthly gain that took them to the highest level since May 2008, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.
Though new home sales account for only about 9 percent of the market, the increase helped allay fears of renewed weakness after a surprise decline in home resales last month.
"We expect some of this buoyancy to be reversed in the coming month, but continue to believe that the underlying fundamentals of the housing sector remain favorable," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.
U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data, but housing shares tumbled after home builder KB Home (KBH.N) reported earnings that missed Wall Street's expectations.
KB Home shares fell 5.7 percent, while Pulte Group (PHM.N) slipped 0.6 percent and Toll Brothers (TOL.N) dropped 0.9 percent. The overall housing market index .HGX, however, was up marginally in mid-afternoon, tracking broader indexes.
The National Association of Realtors said on Monday that sales of previously owned homes fell in August for the first time in four months as the investors who had been supporting the market stepped away.
Economists hope their departure will leave an opening for first-time buyers, but worry still-high unemployment and sluggish wage growth will continue to constrain sales.
The share of first-time buyers in the home resale market has been stuck around 29 percent, well below the 40 percent to 45 percent considered as ideal by economists and real estate agents.
"It's still a challenging environment for those buyers," said Guy Berger, an economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut. "You can make a good case for a slow, gradual improvement."
In a separate report, the Mortgage Bankers Association said applications for loans to purchase homes fell last week as mortgage rates crept up. New loan applications are well off peaks seen early last year.
With average hourly earnings up only 2.1 percent over the past year, many Americans are opting to rent, while some of those who have recently graduated from college are moving back home or staying with friends, weighing on home sales.
According to government data released last week, 492,000 households were formed last year, well below the one million economists say would be consistent with a healthy market.
"Household formation, a major driver of new construction, is falling asleep at the wheel," said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Despite the rise in sales in August, the stock of new houses on the market hit its highest level in four years, giving buyers more choices.

At August's sales pace it would take 4.8 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, down from 5.6 months in July. A six months' supply is normally considered a healthy balance between supply and demand.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Next Cadillac ... (BusinessWeek)

Cadillac Elmiraj concept coupe
Cadillac Elmiraj concept coupe
Cadillac is shifting into a higher gear and promising to show off a new “top-end” model in the first half of 2015. The decision comes just a few months after the brand’s CTS bested its German rivals for the coveted Motor Trend Car of the Year award. After a long journey, the General Motors (GM) blue-chip brand is finally considered in range of—if not quite on par with—the best luxury rides. An even bigger, bolder offering is a way to flex those muscles.
“We have two cars—the CTS and XTS—that kind of transact in what you would call the mid-range of luxury,” Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell said this morning. “We need to shore up our credentials and make sure we compete at the top levels in terms of aspiration.” He added: “There’s a gap there.”
The decision is also a zig to the zag of the dominant German luxury brands. Recently, Cadillac’s foreign competitors have shifted down-market, offering smaller, cheaper models to get younger buyers into their family of vehicles. Both Audi’s new A3 sedan and the Mercedes CLA can be had for less than $30,000; the BMW 2 Series isn’t much more expensive.
Cadillac has slowly been heading in the other direction. Its burnished reputation and celebrated CTS have allowed the company to charge more. In North America this year, its sticker prices even bested those of Mercedes—albeit briefly.
Bloomberg Industries

A big, swanky Cadillac may look pretty attractive to the silver-haired Benz faithful who aren’t keen on seeing so many 20-somethings tooling around in their go-to brand. It will also look pretty attractive to Chinese executives, who love nothing more than a stretched-out, head-turning sedan with an expansive back seat. The new Cadillac will stack up most closely with the Audi A8, which starts at around $78,000 in the U.S., and the Mercedes S-Class, which costs $94,400 before any extra goodies.
Bloomberg Industries analyst Kevin Tynan said GM has been steering its Cadillac model line toward this moment for years. It introduced its midsize ATS sedan in early 2012; a year later Cadillac made its model CTS bigger and more expensive. The new car will continue that evolution. “It’s probably a point in time when they need to do it,” Tynan said. “And a well-executed halo product is always a good thing. It adds brand cachet to all of Cadillac.”
As for what it will look like, Cadillac fans are rooting for something similar to the Elmiraj, a land yacht of a concept that GM has been rolling around to drooling critics for the past year or so. The car is a foot longer than the Bentley Continental, trimmed out in Brazilian rosewood, and sports a front seat that slides forward 10 inches when the door is opened. Here’s how Jalopnik describes it: “The styling is very restrained, but it sufficiently conspires to make your car look like a turd next to it.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

White America's Drug Problem Is Getting Worse (BusinessWeek)

White people have a painkiller problem. According to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, painkiller overdoses accounted for almost 17,000 deaths in 2011. The majority of deaths were among whites, at a rate that’s growing faster than for any other racial group.
From 1999 to 2011, drug overdoses involving opioid painkillers increased more than fourfold among white people. The rate for blacks, which was lower to begin with, more than doubled in the same period. The opioid overdose rate for Hispanics has increased only slightly.
Part of the pattern documented in the CDC’s report may reflect regional variation and illicit drug preferences. The epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse began largely in rural, white areas such as Kentucky and West Virginia but has since spread to other regions. In some places such as Florida, law enforcement crackdowns on pill mills show signs of slowing the epidemic.
The latest CDC report covers only prescription painkillers. It doesn’t tally deaths from such illicit drugs as heroin, but earlier CDC research shows that whites account for most of the recent increase in heroin overdoses as well. When looking at overdoses from all types of drugs, whites still had the second-highest death rates in 2010 (exceeded only by native Americans).

Tozzi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the big data variety problem...(TechRepublic)

How to cope with the big data variety problem

Dealing with the variety of data and data sources is becoming a greater concern for enterprises. Here are ways to attack the data variety issue. 
In addition to volume and velocity, variety is fast becoming a third big data "V-factor." The problem is especially prevalent in large enterprises, which have many systems of record and also an abundance of data under management that is structured and unstructured. These enterprises often have multiple purchasing, manufacturing, sales, finance, and other departmental functions in separate subsidiaries and branch facilities, and they end up with "siloed" systems because of the functional duplicity.
Consequently, what enterprises are finding as they work on their big data and analytics initiatives is that there is a need to harness the variety of these data and system sources to maximize the return from their analytics and also to leverage the benefits of what they learn across as many areas of the enterprise as they can.
Decentralized purchasing functions with their own separate purchasing systems and data repositories are a great example.
"When procurement is decentralized, as it often is in very large enterprises, there is a risk that these different purchasing organizations are not getting all of the leverage that they could when they contract for services," said Andy Palmer, CEO of Tamr, which uses machine learning and advanced algorithms to "curate" data across multiple sources by indexing and unifying the data into a single view. "Theoretically, purchasing agents should be able to benefit from economies of scale when they buy, but they have no way to look at all of the purchasing systems throughout the enterprise to determine what the best price is for the commodity they are buying that someone in the enterprise has been able to obtain."
Palmer says Tamr provides a solution in this area by offering a "best price" on premise website solution that purchasing agents from different corporate divisions can reference. The service uses Tamr's machine learning and algorithms to analyze different purchasing data categories across disparate purchasing systems in order to come up with best prices, which purchasing agents throughout the enterprise can then access. "We use an API (application programming interface) so the service can be instrumented into different procurement applications," said Palmer. "The results for some of our customers have been annual procurement savings in the tens of millions of dollars, since they now can get the 'best price' for goods and services when they negotiate."
Purchasing is just one use case that points to the need large enterprises have in using their systems of record to drive the big data analytics they perform. "These enterprises started off by putting their big data into 'data lake' repositories, and then they ran analytics," said Palmer. Later, enterprises added query languages like Hive and Pig to help them sort through their big data. However, what they eventually discovered was that they needed to provide the right business context in order to ask the right analytical questions that would benefit the business. They could only do this by using their systems of record, and the organization of data inherent in those systems, as drivers for their big data analytics.
Palmer says that data "curation" is one way to attack the variety issue that comes with having to navigate through not only multiple systems of record systems but multiple big data sources. The combination of machine learning and advanced algorithms that seek "high confidence levels" and data quality in the task of cross-referencing and connecting data from a variety of sources into a condensed single source is one way to do this. "The end result is not a system of record, but a system of reference that can cope with the variety of data that is coming in to large organizations," said Palmer.
Finding ways to achieve high data quality and confidence for the business by harnessing data variety is not the only thing enterprises need in their big data preparation; there are also steps like ETL (extract, transform, load) and MDM (master data management) that are part of the data prep continuum. Nevertheless, dealing with the variety of data and data sources is becoming a greater concern.
"We have seen a large growth in these projects over the past three to six months," noted Palmer. "Organizations want to take their structured data from a variety of systems of record, unify it, and then use it to drive business context into their unstructured and semi-structured big data analytics."