All posts on May, 2016

Emerging Tech

The Rise of Drone Racing, Part 2

With lucrative broadcast deals and cup competitions now crowding calendars, drone racing has become one of the primary factors driving the surge in demand for consumer drones. Mountain Dew and DR1 Racing earlier this month announced a special DR1 Invitational presented by Mountain Dew. The one-hour broadcast will air on Discovery Communication’s Discovery and Science channels in August.

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Business and financeGulliver

There is no good reason to fly business class on short-haul flights

YOUR correspondent received a rare treat last week. On travelling to speak at a conference, it emerged that the client had stumped up for a business-class flight. This in itself is not a surprise. After all, there is a point to travelling at the front of the plane beyond merely quaffing better quality food and drink: being able to stretch out and sleep or work comfortably in transit can be invaluable in helping you arrive sharp and ready for action the moment you reach your destination.

Still—and without wishing to sound churlish—on this occasion, it seemed like a perk too far. The posh tickets were for a flight of barely 90 minutes from London to Norway, the evening before the conference. No chance of jetlag hampering my performance in this instance. Which invited the question of what utility business-class travel brings to short-haul flights.

The answer is very little. Fast-tracking passengers through security is all well and good, but in reality saves precious little time for additional work. Equally, a few inches more legroom and metal cutlery are pleasant, but not essential for a flight that lasts such a short time. And beyond…Continue reading

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Tech Buzz

What Will HPE Sell Next?

I joined a bunch of analysts in discussing Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s next move at a secret conclave last week. The company had just announced the sale of its IT services, which basically undid much of Mark Hurd’s work as CEO. It already had sold off PCs and printers, more than undoing Carly Fiorina’s earlier efforts. Granted, HPE spun it like it was an acquisition.

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Microsoft’s Intolerable Windows 10 Aggression

Microsoft seems to have gone off the deep end with its tricks to get unwilling customers to upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8 to Windows 10. Doesn’t the company realize this will hurt it? Does Microsoft think it can be abusive and win? Users are complaining loudly. Why doesn’t Microsoft care about the disruption it is causing?
A slice of the Microsoft marketplace wants to move to Windows 10. Fine. Many of them absolutely love it. That is not the problem.

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Tech Law

Coalition Wants FCC to Look Into Data Cap Exemptions

A coalition of technology companies and advocacy groups earlier this week wrote to the Federal Communications Commission, urging it to open a public investigation into zero-rating practices, in which mobile providers allow some video or music providers to be excluded from data caps. The group called on the FCC to examine the zero-rating practices to determine whether they harm competition.

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Social Networks

Facebook Tweaks Trending Topics Out of Abundance of Caution

Facebook this week said it would make several procedural changes to its Trending Topics feature to quell concerns that the results could be steered in a particular political direction, even though it has found no evidence of bias. The company will retrain workers in the Trending Topics department and institute additional oversight and control to make sure trending stories are selected fairly.

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Tiny HopperGo Neatly Stashes Loads of Mobile Entertainment

Dish Network continues to change the way we view recorded TV. It made location-shifting as easy as time-shifting via its Sling technology, and its Hopper let users transfer recordings to a mobile device. Now it has introduced another option for taking recorded content anywhere: the HopperGO, a compact DVR hard disk drive that lets users transfer content from a set-top box to the portable unit.

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Upward mobility

Rivals in the pink

CAR companies have long talked a good game when it comes to harnessing technology that threatens to undermine the business of making and selling vehicles. In the 1990s, as the dotcom boom was in full swing, Jac Nasser, then boss of Ford, said that the new business models the internet would enable meant that his firm would outsource the dull task of assembling cars and reinvent itself as a mobility company, selling transport as a service. Mr Nasser was too early with this insight. Only now are most big carmakers teaming up with tech firms that offer transport services, on the road to becoming mobility providers. But they in turn may have left it too late.

In the scramble to reinvent themselves, conventional carmakers have turned their attention of late to ride-hailing apps. These services allow people to use smartphone apps to summon a car and driver to ferry them to their next destination. On May 24th both Toyota and Volkswagen announced tie-ups with taxi-hailing apps. The Japanese firm has made a small, undisclosed investment in Uber, the world’s biggest ride-hailing firm, with operations in over 70…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Proof positive

AVENUE PÉTAIN, a tree-lined boulevard of grand mansions and Art Deco towers in Shanghai’s old French concession, was once one of the city’s most prestigious residential streets. Hengshan Road, as it is now called, is today full of bars and restaurants. The most intriguing used to be the Moutai club, a secretive outfit catering to political bigwigs that decorated its walls with pictures of Deng Xiaoping and other luminaries quaffing firewater. Their glasses may have contained a special blend of Moutai, an expensive brand of baijiu, a liquor distilled from sorghum.

Alas, this pleasure palace has since shut down. A crackdown on corruption by the government of President Xi Jinping has made it risky for officials to schmooze with businessmen over bottles of baijiu. Sales of China’s national spirit (and the world’s most popular hard liquor), which rose at double-digit rates from 2007 to 2012, were dealt a big blow. Annual growth in sales plunged to barely 3% in 2014 as purchases for official banquets and other forms of ostentatious boozing plummeted.

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Striking it rich

Keeping a close eye on the barrels

TWO lines of business have stood out of late for their inability to make money: journalism and oil. So when it emerged on May 23rd that Argus Media, a British firm that reports global commodities prices, is to be sold to an American investment firm for $1.4 billion, it aroused a variety of emotions. One was surprise. “Data about oil markets now seem to be worth more than oil itself,” exclaimed one executive of a commodities exchange. Another, in the words of an employee at S&P Global Platts, Argus’s main rival, was “jealousy”. The sale has turned some of Argus’s 750 scribblers, a quarter of whom are said to own shares or options, into millionaires.

Argus began in 1970 as a newsletter reporting on petroleum-product prices in the Netherlands. General Atlantic, which is buying out the family of Jan Nasmyth, its late founder, has made the most aggressive move so far in an industry that is fast consolidating. Its leaders, Platts and Argus, are battling for dominance over reporting prices of the most widely used oil benchmarks, such as Dated Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI),…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Taming the beasts

TALK to Axelle Lemaire, a French secretary of state in charge of all things digital, and one topic quickly comes up: online platforms of the kind operated by tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Uber. “France is very open to them,” she insists, “but consumers have to be protected.”

Ms Lemaire’s words will soon be put into action. The French parliament is about to pass a law, sponsored by her, which will create the principle of loyauté des plateformes, best translated as platform fairness. Once it takes effect, operators of online marketplaces will, among other things, be required to signal when an offer is given prominence because the operator has struck a deal with the firm in question, as opposed to it being the best available.

In Brussels, too, the regulation of platforms is on the agenda. On May 25th the European Commission announced plans for how it intends to deal with such services. Its proposals cover everything from what tech firms should do to rid their digital properties of objectionable content, such as hate speech, to whether users can move data they have accumulated on one platform to…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Ignorance isn’t bliss

IT IS not the “unknown unknowns” that catch people out, but the truths they hold to be self-evident that turn out to be completely wrong. On many issues, the gap between public perceptions and reality is very wide. The polling company Ipsos Mori found that Americans think 33% of the population are immigrants, for example, when the actual number is 14%. A 2013 poll found that Britons thought 24% of the population was Muslim—almost five times the correct figure of 5%.

Misperceptions about economic policy are common, too. Asked to name the top two or three areas of government spending, 26% of Britons cited foreign aid, more than picked pensions or education. In fact, aid spending is a small fraction of the other two and only 1% of the total.

Some of this is to do with innumeracy. Only a quarter of Britons could work out that the odds of throwing two consecutive heads in a coin toss was 25%. People are also heavily influenced by anecdotal evidence and by fears for themselves or their families—hence the tendency to overestimate the prevalence of crime or teenage pregnancy. (Asked how many teenage girls get pregnant each year, Americans…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Make me

“IF VOTING made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it,” quipped Mark Twain, an American writer. Some governments, however, think voting makes such a difference that they oblige voters to do it. Voting is compulsory in 26 countries around the world, from Argentina to Belgium. To those elsewhere worried about declining voter turnout, compulsory voting may seem tempting. But it is not a shortcut to a healthy democracy.

Turnout has fallen from around 85% of eligible voters across the OECD in the late 1940s to 65% today, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an NGO. For many, the changing composition of the voting electorate is as worrying as its dwindling size. Voters in Britain and America are disproportionately rich, well-educated and old. That, studies suggest, skews policymaking. In late-19th-century America, for example, rules barring most blacks in the South from voting seem to have resulted in a much lower ratio of teachers to children in black schools. Government…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Life in the fast lane

ON THE face of it business executives and Formula One drivers have nothing in common, other than the fact that they do their jobs sitting down. Racing drivers hurtle round a track, touching speeds of 350km an hour. Office-bound managers may occasionally wheel their chairs from one side of their desks to the other. Drivers risk a high-speed pile-up if they lose concentration. Executives merely risk spilling coffee on a Hermès tie.

Yet one of the motor-racing world’s gurus now spends much of his time talking to chief executives. Aki Hintsa, a Finnish surgeon, was chief medical officer for the McLaren F1 team for 11 years. His clients have included two former world champions, Sebastian Vettel and Mika Hakkinen, as well as Lewis Hamilton, the current holder. Dr Hintsa’s relationship with the business world started informally when a CEO friend turned to him in despair, complaining of burnout. His business, Hintsa Performance, employs 30 people, applying his methods from discreet offices in Geneva and Helsinki. It earns more than 80% of its revenues from working with management teams and individual bosses.

Can business people really learn from…Continue reading

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Social Networking

Twitter Loosens Tweet’s Leash

Twitter on Tuesday announced a number of changes to tweets, including what will be included in a message’s 140-character count. The changes will be rolled out in the coming months. When replying to a tweet, tagged @names at the beginning of the reply no longer will be included in the character count. Photos, GIFs, videos, polls and quote tweets won’t be counted against the character limit.

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Microsoft Dynamics Rides the IoT Wave

Microsoft on Monday made its Dynamics CRM Spring 2016 Wave generally available to customers. The application focuses heavily on machine learning and the Internet of Things. It offers field service and project service automation capabilities, as well as four preconfigured Web portal solutions for customers. The portal solutions can be used on any desktop, tablet or mobile device, Microsoft said.

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Wall Street

Yahoo Bids Could Seriously Underwhelm

Bids for Yahoo’s core assets were expected to come in at between $2 billion and $3 billion, far below prior estimates that it could fetch $4 billion to $8 billion at auction, according to a news report published last week. Verizon, which remains the leading candidate for Yahoo’s assets, and other contenders met with CEO Marissa Mayer at the company’s Sunnyvale, California, headquarters

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