Sunday, 27 February 2011

Oil's impact on other commodities.

Peter Hickson of UBS on how rising oil prices impact other commodities.

Cartoon of the day.

Quiz: Travel English - Updated.

Tip of the day.

Good site to learn English.
"Ingles no Supermercado" offers vocabulary and tips on different topics. It is written in Portuguese, though, so it is recommended to Brazilians only.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Cartoon of the day.

Consumers Hold On to Products Longer.

February 25, 2011.

Consumers Hold On to Products Longer.


Throw away the cellphone after two years? Not so fast. Ditch the flat-panel TV for an even thinner model? Maybe next year. Consumer spending has picked up, but for some Americans the recession has left something behind, something Americans had never cared about: a greater interest in making stuff last.

For a number of products — cars, phones, computers, even shampoo and toothpaste — the data shows a slowing of product life cycles and consumption. In many cases the difference is mere months, but economists and consumers say the approach just may outlast a full recovery and the return of easy credit, because of the strong impression the downturn made on consumers.

Whether a broad, long-term shift in consumer habits is under way is a question tickling economists and analysts. Some insist that, as with the Depression, the recent downturn has made a lingering impression on how people view the propriety of, say, stuffing a still-working cellphone into a desk drawer in favor of a newer model.

But other experts and historians argue that as spending and credit return, so will yearnings to favor brands, fashion and novelty over practicality.

With some products, the upgrade cycle is actually accelerating. According to NPD, a market research firm, consumers in 2010 reported spending more to upgrade major kitchen appliances like refrigerators than they did in 2008 or 2009, when such spending fell. The firm found similar trends at work in smaller kitchen and personal care appliances.

But in some important categories there are indications of slowed upgrades. Consumers are holding onto new cars for a record 63.9 months, up 4.5 months from a year ago and 14 percent since the end of 2008, according to Polk, a research firm. In fact, the firm said, when used cars are included, the average length of car ownership stands at 52.2 months, also a record.

Industry analysts also report that people on average upgrade their cellphones every 18 months, up from every 16 months just a few years ago. They hold onto their laptops an average of 4 years and 4 months, a month longer than they did a year ago.

The changes reflect in part the fact that business fell with the economy, but also a reassessment of the need to constantly have new things: “It’s a question of shifting values.”

In a few cases, consumers who are inclined to discard less are getting some positive reinforcement from an unlikely corner: companies that profit from upgrades.

Levi Strauss is telling customers to take steps that will actually lead them to buy fewer pairs of jeans. The Levi’s sustainability campaign urges customers to wash their jeans less often and in cold water, a move that the company says reduces water use.

“And they absolutely will last longer,” said Michael Kobori, vice president for social and environmental sustainability at Levi’s. He said the message was part of building trust with consumers and emphasizing the durability of the company’s products.

There are other motivations too: “Personally, avoiding waste and using things until they’re used up seems like a common-sense way to live.”


Businesses urged to 'radically change' way they promote women.

Businesses urged to 'radically change' way they promote women.

The Davies report want leading firms to fill one in four board positions with women by 2015 – or face compulsory quotas.

By Sean O'Grady, Economics Editor

Friday, 25 February 2011

Britain's leading companies have been threatened with compulsory quotas if they fail to voluntarily boost the number of women in their boardrooms and implement a "radical change" in the way they promote senior female members of staff.

Lord Davies's report on gender equality at the top of the corporate world recommends that at least 25 per cent of the board membership at FTSE 100 companies be female by 2015 – double the present proportion – and that chief executives of the 350 largest UK companies should announce their "inspirational targets" for the boards of their own companies by September.

The Davies report also calls on companies to review the proportion of women represented on executive committees, immediately below board level.

The report states: "Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender-diverse boards have a positive impact on performance. It is clear that boards make better decisions [when there is] a range of voices, drawing on different life experiences."

Yet the Davies recommendations face significant obstacles. Eighteen FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all, and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom.

Research by The Independent indicates that many of the UK's largest and best-known enterprises have a long way to go before meeting the recommendations. At BP, for example, 92 per cent of senior managers are male; at Unilever the figure is 90 per cent; at 3i 86 per cent; and at Marks & Spencer, Vodafone, the John Lewis partnership and Pearson roughly 75 per cent of managers are men. Lord Davies identifies the career "attrition" of women staff as a key factor limiting their emergence at very senior and board levels.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the gender "pay gap" has now been reversed for workers in their twenties, with women earning more than males; but by their thirties and forties the balance has shifted back in favour of men, suggesting that women leaving to start families still find it difficult to make up for lost promotion opportunities when they re-enter the workforce. This remains a significant factor in the persistence of gender inequality.

Stephen Alambritis, commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, commented: "At the current rate of change it will take 73 years for women to achieve equal representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. Clearly, we agree with Lord Davies that business needs to put its house in order. We also agree that it would be better for companies to take action themselves without Government having to impose quotas upon them."

Singles Might Save the Music Industry.

FEBRUARY 25, 2011.

Singles Might Save the Music Industry.

The music business is on the verge of bankruptcy. 

There may not be agreement on the exact magnitude of the industry's collapse—cataclysm or mere catastrophe?—but one main cause is clear: the humble "single."

Until digital downloads came along, to get a copy of the one hit tune found on a given album, you had to buy the whole CD, a technology that effectively killed off the old 45 rpm vinyl single. But now, in the age of iTunes, the single is back from the brink of extinction. Instead of making a purchase north of $15, consumers can get the one song they want, unbundled, for a dollar, more or less. Revenues, not surprisingly, are down.

Lady Gaga is likely to sell far more copies of the individual digital track "Born This Way" than she will copies of the CD. And she's hardly the only artist embracing the single, which is quickly becoming the main way people purchase music. And while the switch may be an immediate disaster for the recording industry, it just might be the best thing to happen, musically, to a business which is stagnant.

Before the LP came along in the late '40s, the record business was all about singles, and teens didn't have a total monopoly on buying them. The pre-LP era was one of astonishing musical creativity.

How much better if bands could record and release a tune or two at a time, not only keeping costs lean but gaining the flexibility to revise their sound as listeners give them immediate feedback. Singles once gave musicians the chance to rework and refashion their best material.

At the same time, the new age of the single might even help musicians take more artistic chances: The investment in time and money is so much less for a single that artists may be able to take risks with individual tracks that they were not able to do with the big make-or-break discs.

Singles allowed musicians to keep themselves more regularly before the public. Frank Sinatra pioneered the "concept album," the idea of programming a long disc with thematically unified songs, and did so brilliantly with such albums as "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Come Dance With Me." But he also used a release of first-rate singles, such as "Witchcraft," to give his audience something fresh to buy every few months. It is a marketing strategy that artists have been relearning as the technology evolves.

The only music worth recording will be the music worthy enough that it has a chance to be bought.

If that means less junk gets produced and released, the triumph of the single just might be a rebirth, not the death, of the music industry.


Rio de Janeiro Prime Office Rents Overtake New York Rates for First Time.

Rio de Janeiro Prime Office Rents Overtake New York Rates for First Time.

By Simon Packard - Feb 18, 2011

New York lost its crown as the most expensive prime office market in the Americas, overtaken for the first time by Rio de Janeiro, according to a study by real estate adviser Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

The annual cost of renting a square foot of prime office space in the Brazilian city rose 47 percent last year to $120, or $5 more than in Midtown Manhattan, the broker said in a statement today. Rio de Janeiro advanced to fourth from 13th in a global ranking of prime office markets, coming after Hong Kong, London and Tokyo, Cushman said.

“Very high demand and a lack of supply” powered the gains in Brazil’s second-largest city, Mariana Mokayad Hanania, a research manager for the broker’s South America arm, said in the statement.

Brazil’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 6.7 percent in the third quarter, helped by commodity exports and rising consumer spending. South America registered the highest regional growth in the study, with a gain of 12 percent.

Hong Kong overtook London’s West End district as the world’s most expensive location for prime offices. Rents increased 51 percent last year to $241 a square foot as corporations expanded and new businesses competed for a limited amount of high quality space, Cushman & Wakefield said.

New York advanced to fifth in the global ranking from sixth a year ago after prime rental costs in Midtown Manhattan rose 10 percent to $115 a square foot, Cushman said.

Cushman & Wakefield is the world’s largest privately owned commercial real estate broker and is controlled by Italy’s Agnelli family.


Toefl - Vocabulary in Use #1

Toefl - Vocabulary in Use #2

Business and commodity prices.

Everyday higher prices.

Manufacturers and retailers are desperate to pass on higher commodity prices to their customers.

Business and commodity prices 
Feb 24th 2011 .

No one will be laughing on April 1st when Whirlpool and Electrolux raise the prices of their washing machines by a whopping 8-10%. The firms want to pass on the higher cost of inputs such as steel, which has risen by 20% in the past year. So far, American manufacturers have had to suck up most of the increase in the prices of their raw materials, with predictable consequences. Whirlpool’s profits have disappointed, and its share price has tumbled by nearly a third since April.

So its promised price rise will be watched closely by retailers and manufacturers everywhere. Can consumers be made to pay more? Perhaps not yet: the downturn has made frugality fashionable. Even the well-off can be seen mingling with the masses in Walmart or Tesco.

Well before the recession, retailers and manufacturers already worried that they were losing their “pricing power”. That did not matter much in good times, when margins rose even when prices fell, thanks to the rapid increase of manufacturing in low-cost countries such as China. But now the surge in commodity prices—The Economist’s commodity-price index has risen by 49% in the past year—is forcing desperate manufacturers to find out whether they have any pricing power left.

Passing on higher commodity costs used to be relatively uncontroversial. Higher input costs hit all manufacturers alike, so they all wanted higher prices. And it was easy to explain to consumers why prices had to go up.
Yet many doubt that Whirlpool and Electrolux will be able to persuade customers to pay their higher prices. If so, the price rises will swiftly be reversed and the bosses responsible. A particular worry for him is that two South Korean rivals, Samsung and LG, are said to be keen to use their rivals’ price increases as a chance to steal market share.

Retailers once simply accepted it when a manufacturer said it would raise prices because of higher input costs, says Sandeep Chugani of BCG, a consultancy. Now they want to know the exact formula for how much a particular commodity affects the price of a good. This makes for tough negotiations. Big retailers, with their greater muscle, may gain an edge at the expense of manufacturers’ margins.

When retailers decide to pass on higher costs to consumers, they are increasingly trying to do so in ways that hint that they still offer value for money. One way is to offer a wider range of products in a particular category, including a no-frills version that will remain cheap and higher-quality ones that grow more costly. Another is to raise prices discreetly by offering smaller products. But this can backfire: customers noticed when Kimberly-Clark sold them smaller sheets of toilet paper.

Retailers are starting to reverse the trend towards handing over control of parts of their stores to manufacturers: eg, by letting PepsiCo run the soft-drinks shelves and Procter & Gamble rule the nappies. Now, retailers don’t want anyone to get between them and their customers.

This new attitude will hurt manufacturers’ margins. So will the growing investment in private-label goods, especially in America, where they have been rarer than in Europe. Sears, for example, could squeeze its branded suppliers by marketing its own Kenmore brand properly, says Mr Chugani.

Some retailers are looking for opportunities to reintegrate their supply chains, which had been increasingly outsourced in recent years. A senior retail executive says that in negotiations with suppliers he is now ready to offer to buy their shares. The coming year will tell retailers and manufacturers a lot about whether the price elasticities of goods sold in shops have really changed. Analysts predict that this will vary widely, depending among other things on how rich the shoppers are and what they are buying.

It will be easier to pass on higher costs to the wealthy. Soaring cotton prices will probably push up clothes prices sharply. Ralph Lauren’s customers will probably pay more for their threads without much grumbling, but Walmart’s may not. Food companies are in a stronger position than clothes makers. Clothes can be mended or reused; baked beans can’t.

Some firms boast that they will absorb all the pain themselves. Wegmans, a regional American supermarket chain, pledged this week not to raise prices this year on 40 staples, from fruit to coffee. It says this will cost it at least $10m. In contrast, Hanes, a mass-market clothes maker, is talking of raising prices by up to 30%. It will surely lose market share.

Historically, the margins of retailers and manufacturers have been remarkably stable, says Carsten Stendevad of Citigroup’s corporate-advisory arm.
If commodity prices continue to rise, they will eventually be passed on to consumers one way or another. After years of goods getting cheaper, consumers may have to start getting used to everyday higher prices.


The best charts from The Economist.

A snapshot of our most popular charts from 2010

WHAT makes a popular chart? The theme running through the 20 most viewed daily charts published on this website in 2010 is hard to discern, with charts detailing everything from iPad prices to beer consumption. The most popular, by a distance, showed the ratio of the salary of a country’s leader to its GDP per person. (On this measure, India’s prime minister is especially poorly rewarded.) The particular appeal of that chart is not entirely clear, though we were rather pleased with the headline. A tree map, a style of chart used on this blog for the first time, indicates the relative popularity of the top 20 charts. Such maps are handy for showing a large number of data values that would visually overcomplicate a pie chart. Colouring can be used to group subsets within the data or, as in this case, to create a heat map. Click on a box to see the corresponding chart.

Big Mac index.

A weak currency, despite its appeal to exporters and politicians, is no free lunch. But it can provide a cheap one. In China a McDonald’s Big Mac costs just 14.5 yuan on average in Beijing and Shenzhen, the equivalent of $2.18 at market exchange rates. In America the same burger averages $3.71. That makes China’s yuan one of the most undervalued currencies in our Big Mac index, which is based on the idea of purchasing-power parity. This says that a currency’s price should reflect the amount of goods and services it can buy. Since 14.5 yuan can buy as much burger as $3.71, a yuan should be worth $0.26 on the foreign-exchange market. At just $0.15, it is undervalued by about 40%. The tensions caused by currency misalignments prompted Brazil’s finance minister to complain last month that his country was a potential casualty of a “currency war”. The Swiss, who avoid most wars, are in the thick of this one. Their franc is the most expensive currency on our list.


Motorola Xoom is better than iPad, according to CNN Tech Talk.

The first tablet using Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb has a 16x10 display, video chat, and will be upgradeable to 4G.

An inspiring video: Tips for better ideas.

Tips for Better Ideas from Andrew 'Big Show' Blodgett on Vimeo.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

What's your ideal date?

Women prefer 'men who are kind'.

Women prefer 'men who are kind'.

"Signs of altruism have an enormous effect on women looking for a boyfriend," according to Ros Fewster from London, who found love though a dating agency.
"When I saw on my boyfriend's listing that he had worked with disabled groups, that definitely worked for me. "
She disputes the popular notion that women prefer to date 'jerks' and that 'nice guys finish last'.
Her view is supported by research published in the British Journal of Psychology.

The Canadian study found that women preferred men who appear to be generous.
This applied whether they were seeking a long term relationship or just one date.

But for men it was different.
While they still valued altruism in a long term partner, they found it slightly off-putting when looking for short term relationship.
Over 300 volunteers, half men, half women, were shown dating profiles, including photographs

They were asked to rate them for long term relationships or short term dates.

Some of the profiles were subtly modified to suggest the potential date was a kind person.

"In some of the profiles we gave hints to indicate kind, altruistic interests such as 'I enjoy helping people' and 'I volunteer at the food bank'," says the author, Dr Pat Barclay from University of Guelph, Canada.

"We found that women showed a strong preference for relationships with altruistic men in this study, even though the clues to altruistic traits were fairly subtle."

He explains this in evolutionary terms:

"This suggests that women are attuned to generosity, and that altruism serves a purpose in mate selection.

"If a man is kind and generous towards others - even strangers - then there's a good chance that he'd make a good and generous parent."

This finding is not surprising, according to Dr David Lewis, a member of the British Psychological Society and author of 'Loving and Loathing: the Enigma of Personal Attraction'.

"We know that women are often drawn to men who have masculine characteristics but with some femininity, such as soft hair on their forearm or longer than usual eyelashes," he said.

Altruism in men could also be seen as a "softening of their maleness," he added.

But he thinks that attraction is likely to be affected much more by appearance than by whether someone seems kind.

He says that people make up their mind about someone else incredibly quickly, often in the first second of meeting.
Then they seek to justify their initial impression.

“ We know that women are often drawn to men who have masculine characteristics but with some femininity, such as soft hair on their forearm or longer than usual eyelashes ”
But Dr Viren Swami, a specialist in interpersonal attraction from the Department of Psychology at the University of Westminster, disagrees.
He has studied how first impressions change when people subsequently interact.

He found that although physical factors, such as facial appearance and weight are initially important, they are quickly outweighed by personality.

"Our research has found 'agreeableness' to be particularly important to whether people are attracted to each other," he said.

Altruism could be regarded as one component of agreeableness, he added.

Dr Swami believes people may find altruism attractive in potential mates for cultural rather than evolutionary reasons.

"Most of us value altruism," he said. "We like people who are kind."
But what of the finding that men don't care about altruism when seeking partners for a quick fling?

"This could be because men fear that altruistic women will be too interested in other things and not enough in them," said Dr Lewis

"Men are very egotistical and see themselves as the sun in their own world. "

How does this impact in the world of dating?

Do people think they would be more attractive to potential partners if the present themselves as kind, caring and generous?
Ros Fewster thinks some men do try to play the altruism card on dating sites.

"While my boyfriend is a genuinely lovely person, I think some men play up their altruistic qualities when writing their listing because they think that will make them more appealing.
"Women don't tend to do this because men often take it for granted that women are kind. Women often think men are looking for other things.
"But men have to work harder to prove that they are not just after sex. "

Story from BBC NEWS:

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Apple refuses to reveal Jobs succession details.

23 February 2011.

Apple refuses to reveal Jobs succession details.

Steve Jobs has not said when, or if, he will return to the helm at Apple.

Apple has made no efforts to reveal succession plans for the time when Steve Jobs is no longer in charge of the company.

The proposal was made by the Central Laborers Fund during the company's annual shareholder meeting.

Steve Jobs, who is on his third medical leave of absence, did not attend the event at Apple's headquarters in California.

Apple, a notoriously secretive company, fought the proposal from the beginning.

A preliminary report count on the controversial measure suggested the fund proposal had been defeated.

It was a move that disappointed Jennifer O'Dell who made the proposal on behalf of the fund which represents 500,000 construction workers across the US and Canada.

"We want Steve Jobs to come back to work yesterday," Ms O'Dell told BBC News.

"We want him to be here every day. We want him to live forever.

"That is not realistic and that is why they need to have a plan. And if they have a plan, and I am sure they do, what is wrong with a little transparency?"

Apple until now has said such a revelation would give competitors an "unfair advantage" by publicizing the company's confidential objectives and plans.

Despite the defeat, Ms O'Dell said this was not the end of their efforts.

The fund holds nearly 11,500 Apple shares, worth around $4m (£2.4m).

"If the board continues to not want to listen to long term shareholders, to talk about this issue seriously, we can take a second step and hold the board of directors directly accountable and we could withdraw our votes from the members of the board."

She said while Apple provided hundreds of thousands of labourers with security for retirement the firm could not be run by just one person dictating the role of the company.

In Mr Job's absence, the company is being run by chief operating officer, Tim Cook.

During the hour long meeting, no shareholders asked questions about Mr Job's health, although a number wished him well for the future.

Outside the firm's headquarters, most of the opinion backed Apple's decision to keep its cards about succession close to its chest.

"I feel making such a plan public is unnecessary," said Pam Pallakoff, a shareholder for 20 years.

"Mr Jobs, whether he is here or not here... the company will complete his vision. At least for the next five years everything is set on a good path."

Analysts have long agreed with this view, that Apple has a long history of products and a deep management with a wealth of experience. But they said to find a charismatic leader as Steve Jobs will be a real challenge, since the names Apple and Steve Jobs are interconnected and inseparable.


Watch a video on this subject:

US closer to recognising gay marriage.

US closer to recognising gay marriage after White House announcement.

Obama administration will no longer defend legislation defining marriage as between a man and a woman., Wednesday 23 February 2011

Same-sex couples in the US are one step closer to being able to marry under federal law. 

Gay rights activists are celebrating another step forward after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend legislation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The decision opens the way for the federal government to recognise same-sex marriages. It comes only three months after the White House said it would end legislation discriminating against gay men and lesbians in the military.

Eight US states permit same-sex marriages but these are not recognised by the federal government, which does afford these couples the same treatment as heterosexual couples in terms of taxation, health benefits and in other areas.

The Obama administration said on Wednesday it would no longer ask the justice department to defend the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act in court.

The decision will spark another fight with social conservatives, who are almost certain to challenge it in court.

During the 2008 election campaign Obama said he favoured civil unions but would not back same-sex marriages. In December, after announcing an end to discrimination in the military, he said his views on gay rights were changing and he was rethinking same-sex marriage.

The White House press spokesman, Jay Carney, told journalists that Obama had still not reached a resolution on the question.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Wal-Mart struggles to break into NYC.

Why the pursuit of happiness naturally includes melancholy.

Interview: Eric G. Wilson.

Why the pursuit of happiness naturally includes melancholy.

Eighty-four percent of Americans claim to be happy, a statistic that Wake Forest University English professor Eric G. Wilson finds "strange at best, troubling at worst." With a litany of self-help books, pills and plastic surgery to feed Americans' addiction to happiness, he says, "It's now easier than ever before to live a trouble-free life and hide the darkness." In his recent book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, Wilson—a non-recovering melancholic by choice—praises sorrow as the muse of many writers and songwriters, warning that to rid life of it is to rid life of a vital source of creativity.

You compare the loss of melancholy to other apocalyptic concerns: global warming, rising oceans and nuclear war. What about happiness is life threatening?

Obviously that opening is a bit hyperbolic for rhetorical effect. I will admit that. But it is, at the same time, a kind of expression of real danger. I think that being melancholy is an essential part of being a human being. I think to be a fully expressed human being you must be willing to delve into melancholy as much as into joy. If we try too hard to get rid of that melancholy it's almost like we're settling for a half-life.

Why do you think people are aiming for a constant happy?

That is the question. My suspicion is that American culture has inculcated into most people that to be an American is to be happy. It's in our founding document, isn't it? We have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Many Americans think that America is a blessed nation. This grows out of 19th-century ideas like Manifest Destiny, the idea that America is a nation blessed by God that should spread its principles throughout the world. America is a fairly wealthy nation. America has a lot of military power. America has also kind of cast itself as the moral voice of the world. I think Americans growing up in that milieu tend to think, well, gosh, to be an American is really great, why shouldn't I be happy?

You desire authenticity. But what is authentic?

Authenticity is embracing the fact that we're necessarily duplicitous beings. I think there's a tendency in our culture to use an either/or logic. One is either happy or sad. One is either liberal or conservative. One is either Republican or Democrat. One is either religious or secular. That's the kind of discourse that is used in our public arenas all the time. I think that leads people to jump on one side or the other. There are all sorts of oppositions that organize our being—reason/emotion, joy/sorrow, consciousness/unconsciousness, pessimism/optimism—and it seems to me that when we latch on to one of those polarities, at the expense of the other, that's an inauthentic life. An authentic life is an endless interplay between these oppositions in which one tries to put them in a creative conversation with one another, realizing that the light shines more brightly when compared to darkness and the darkness becomes richer and more interesting when compared to brightness. I'm just trying to call people to return to a balance, to consider that part of human experience that many people seem to be repressing, ignoring or flying from.

Is there always sadness on the road to joy?

Joy is the polar opposite of melancholy. You can't have one without the other. I think we can think about this when we put ourselves in memories of witnessing a birth or a wedding or a funeral, those times when we're so overwrought with emotion that we don't know whether to laugh or to cry. It's exactly those moments when we feel most alive, I would argue. Usually when we feel that way there's this strange mix of joy and sorrow at the same time. I'm trying to suggest ways to live that can cultivate as many minutes like that as possible.

So you're in praise of melancholy. Define melancholy.

It is best defined against depression. Depression is usually a passive state. It's not a creative state. It's a state of lethargy, paralysis, apathy, great pain, and therefore should be treated any way possible. Melancholy, in contrast, as I define it, and I'm drawing this definition out of a long philosophical and literary history of the term, is a very active state. When we're melancholy, we feel uneasy in relation to the way things are, the status quo, the conventions of our society. We yearn for a deeper, richer relationship to the world, and in yearning for that, we're forced to explore potentialities in ourselves that we would not have explored if we were simply content. We come up with new ways of seeing the world and new ways of being in the world. For this reason, I conclude that melancholy often fosters creativity.

I think I'm a cynical person. In my mind a cynic is someone who is suspicious, a little willing to question what most people believe. In questioning things, often I do find that there's a big gap between reality and appearance. I'm really trying to explore what a rich, deep, profound life would be, and, for me, to go through life expecting and wanting only happiness is not the way to achieve that. To me, cynicism falls in between optimism and pessimism. It's a golden mean.

Find this article at:

Where the livin' is easiest.

Liveability ranking.

Where the livin' is easiest

Feb 21st 2011.

VANCOUVER remains the most liveable city in the world, according to the latest annual ranking compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Canadian city scored 98 out of a maximum 100, as it has done for the past two years.

The ranking scores 140 cities from 0-100 on 30 factors spread across five areas: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. These numbers are then weighted and combined to produce an overall figure. The top ten cities occupy the same positions as last year, with the exception of Melbourne and Vienna, which have swapped places.

At the other end of the ranking, Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, is in 140th place, thanks to particularly poor scores for its stability, healthcare and infrastructure. Somewhere between the extremes sit London and New York in 53rd and 56th places. They are let down by stability scores of 75 and 70, the result in turn of poor scores for the perceived threat of terror and the rates of petty and violent crime.


Monday, 21 February 2011

The business of being Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga's new track Born This Way is officially the fastest selling single ever on iTunes.

But the singer is also a savvy business woman. With an army of more than 8m twitter followers, she understands digital media better then most and has arguably taken product placement and marketing tie-ups to a new level.

Her latest venture is with Mac to promote a range of cosmetics which helps fund AIDS research. Michelle Fleury in New York went to meet her.

Quiz: Face2Face Intermediate - Unit 2A

Face2Face Intermediate
Unit 2A - Quiz

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Proverb of the day.

Wisdom consists of ten parts -- nine parts of silence and one part with few words.

Arabian Proverb.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Say goodbye to textbooks in schools?

The iSchool initiative is hoping to spur a digital movement that could revolutionize the American education system.

Face2Face Intermediate - Article: Feedback.




When an organization tries to improve its performance, feedback helps it to make required adjustments. Feedback serves as motivation for many people in the workplace. When one receives negative or positive feedback, they decide how they will apply it to his or her job. Joseph Volkmann says that to find the greatest level of success in an organization, working with other people, a person should learn how to accept any kind of feedback, analyze it in the most positive manner possible, and use it to impact future decision making.
He adds that Americans do not like feedback. According to a study by Harvard University with the US Labor and Statistics, over 80% of Americans reacted negatively when they received a feedback. According to the study, the main reason was that managers and coaches did not know how to give feedback, and that employees confused feedback with criticism. Also, according to the study, over 70% of American employees have received more negative than positive feedback, which helped to distort the difference between feedback and criticism.
But giving constructive feedback to employees doesn’t have to be difficult.
Positive feedback, when you tell people they’ve done well, should be easy. For example:
• thanking people for doing a job well
• congratulating them for solving a problem for you
• discussing progress with teams and praising their commitment
• celebrating successes
This is the kind of feedback that everyone likes; the kind that motivates people to perform well consistently. Here are some more practical strategies for improving feedback at work.
Providing good feedback is a powerful managerial tool to address an employee's problem behaviors or to simply improve performance (for example, making a good employee better). It seems really simple. Unfortunately, few of us do it very well. Integrating a few basic concepts discussed below can make your feedback effective and powerful.
Good Feedback Is:
• Understandable — Keep it clear and simple.
• Focused — Address only 1 or 2 issues, not a list of problems.
• Specific — Provide details and examples. Personalize it and be precise.
• Substantive — Comments are meaningful, addressing the "heart" of the issue.
• Objective — Say what the problem is.
• Channeled — Directed toward the behavior to be corrected, not the person.
• Informative — Explain why the behavior is a problem.
When someone says, “That’s a stupid idea!” you could respond, “How could we change it to make it more realistic?”
Coaching is the best kind of feedback. Coaching is based on mutual respect, confidentiality and trust. A coach believes that people are able to change the way they operate and achieve more if they are given the opportunity to do something about it.
Avoid feedback that however unintentionally criticizes the employee not their actions. If you leave them feeling humiliated, they will be even more reluctant to change. You can’t ignore the problem if something is obviously wrong, but there is a difference between criticism and constructive feedback.
Telling someone they are incompetent or lazy is a personal attack on their character and will probably lead to an emotional response.
Constructive criticism means starting from a different position. Your criticism should be factual, impersonal and timely. The value of changing their behavior must also be clear. You might say, “This week I’ve noticed you’ve been late to three sales meetings and now you want to leave early today for a dental appointment. When you do that, the rest of the team feels bad and tomorrow someone will have to do your work for you. So what can we do about it?” Now here’s a chance for the person to respond.
Can feedback really help to improve working relationships and productivity?
Peter O’Brien, from Coaching Hills, Los Angeles, wrote in his article on The New York Times that older generations until the Generation X were reluctant to accept and give feedback because they took it personally and could not understand the feedback was about their performance and not about themselves.
He adds that Generation Y, on the other hand, is much more open to feedbacks and in fact, loves them. In fact, they expect feedback from their employers and teachers. By creating an environment where feedback is well-given and well-understood, feedback actually improves not only their performance but also the personality of the employees.

source: Face2Face Teacher's book


Speaking a second language can delay dementia onset for years.

Speaking a second language can delay dementia onset for years.

By Steve Connor

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Speaking a second language may slow the rate at which the brain declines with age, showing that bilingual people are better protected against Alzheimer's disease than people who use only one language.

Several studies have now demonstrated a clear link between using a second language and cognitive decline, which can be explained by the idea that bilingualism acts like a "mental gymnasium" that keeps the brain active in later life, scientists said.

The latest study, presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, found bilingual patients with probable Alzheimer's were more likely have delayed symptoms compared to monolingual patients. In fact, the effect of speaking a second language produced a stronger effect on delaying the onset of Alzheimer's than any drug currently used to control the disease, said Ellen Bialystok, professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada.

"The finding of a four- to five-year delay in the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is dramatic. There are no pharmacologic interventions that have shown comparable effects." Our interpretation of the present findings is that bilingualism is a cognitively demanding condition that contributes to cognitive reserve in much the same way as do other stimulating intellectual and social activities."

The researchers believe the effect is directly connected with using a second language, rather than a side-effect of differences in occupation or education between bilingual and monolingual people. Experiments suggest it has something to do with the extra mental effort that goes into using a second language, Professor Bialystok said.

"Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system. We know that this system deteriorates with age but we have found at every stage of life it functions better in bilinguals. They perform at a higher level.

"It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank," she said.

Judith Kroll, professor of psychology at Penn State University in Pennsylvania, said recent studies have shown that juggling two or more languages helps to exercise the brain and keeps it fit in the elderly. The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you."


Borders bankrupt. Are books next?

People on the streets of NYC are divided; some like to read books and others think digital is the way to go.

Alternative investments in Brazil.

This year's hot market for private-equity firms and hedge-fund managers.

Saturday February 19th 2011

The buys from Brazil
This year’s hot market for private-equity firms and hedge-fund managers
Alternative investments in BrazilFeb 17th 2011 | SÃO Paulo | from PRINT EDITION

Waxing in Rio BUBBLY in hand and bubbly on the boards. The scene at the BM&FBOVESPA, Brazil’s main stockmarket, earlier this month encapsulated Brazil’s thriving alternative-investment industry. A champagne-sipping crowd milled around José Carlos Reis de Magalhães, the boss of Tarpon, a local private-equity firm, on the floor of Brazil’s slick, renovated exchange. They were toasting the successful initial public offering (IPO) of Arezzo, Brazil’s largest shoe retailer. Tarpon had bought a 25% stake in Arezzo for 76m reais ($43.8m) in 2007 and seen its investment nearly quintuple in value in three years. Tarpon’s own share price is up by 143% from a year ago. The firm counts big endowments, like Stanford University, among the investors in its $3.5 billion fund.

Tarpon is not the only part of Brazil’s private-equity and hedge-fund industry to have attracted international attention. In September Blackstone, a private-equity giant, paid $200m to take a 40% stake in Pátria Investimentos, a local private-equity firm. In October JPMorgan Chase’s Highbridge hedge fund, the world’s largest, bought a majority stake in Gávea Investimentos, a $6 billion Brazilian fund. Brazil is “absolutely the most attractive emerging market right now,” says the boss of a big American private-equity firm. Other economies may be bigger but investments there are seen as politically riskier. The Brazilian government is less hostile in its attitudes toward private, and foreign, investment.

Sceptics recall the last time people declared a golden age for private-equity investment in Brazil. Foreign firms and banks flocked there in the 1990s. When shocks from the Asian crisis pulsed through the country, and Brazil devalued the currency in 1999, plenty flocked out again. Some local firms survived the bloodshed: GP Investments, Brazil’s largest private-equity firm, is still going strong, as are a handful of others from that era. But most global firms left and didn’t come back until 2006, when investment activity started to rev up again.

They are returning to a bigger, more resilient economy. OECD countries saw their GDP decline by 2.7% over the course of 2008 and 2009; Brazilian GDP grew by 4.9% during that time, and by a further 7.5% last year. It is now the world’s eighth-largest economy and could overtake Britain, France and Italy to become the fifth-largest by the end of this decade. The commodities boom is one source of growth: Brazil is the largest exporter of sugar, coffee and meat, and second only to America in soyabeans. Consumer spending is vibrant. The country is the world’s second-largest market for cosmetics and the third-largest for mobile phones. Its hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics will require at least $50 billion in infrastructure investments, many of them privately funded.

Money is pouring in, as investors throng funds’ offices on bustling avenues like Faria Lima in São Paulo and Paiva de Ataulfo in Rio. Local hedge funds managed around $243 billion in assets at the end of 2010, up by 23% from 2009, according to the Brazilian Financial and Capital Markets Association, an industry group. Private-equity firms oversee $36 billion.

There are several reasons for this explosive growth. One is the maturing of the country’s capital markets. Laws protecting minority shareholders’ rights, for example, have fostered confidence. Brazil’s exchange is now the fourth-largest in the world by market value. That is a boon for hedge funds, which need liquid instruments to trade, and for private-equity firms, which use IPOs to cash out their investments.

Investors are freer to choose where to put their money, too. Brazil’s 400 or so pension funds, with assets of around $342 billion, have been allowed to place money more freely with alternative-investment firms since 2009. Pensions now account for around 22% of investments in private equity and venture capital, according to Claudio Furtado of Fundação Getulio Vargas, a university. Valia, the $6.8 billion pension fund of Vale, a miner, has increased its allocation to private equity from 1% of assets three years ago to 6% in 2011.

The Brazilian government’s sunny view of hedge funds and private-equity firms also helps explain their growth over the past few years. In many countries governments treat private-equity firms and hedge funds with either loathing or teeth-grinding tolerance. Partly because bank loans are very short-term, the tone from Brazilian officials is different. “As a country and an economy, we need private equity and venture capitalists to invest and to help our entrepreneurs,” says Maria Helena Santana, who runs the CVM, Brazil’s equivalent of America’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

When Brazil’s government raised the tax on foreign investment in fixed-income instruments last year from 2% to 6%, private-equity firms complained. The government promptly changed it back—but only for them. BNDES, Brazil’s development bank, has put $1.1 billion into private-equity funds, and is the industry’s top investor. Private equity accounted for a higher proportion of GDP in 2010 than in most other emerging markets.

Another reason for the rise in alternatives is a decline in interest rates. The benchmark Selic rate stands at 11.25%, much lower than the 26.5% it was set at in 2003. The threat of rising inflation may have reversed that trend in the short term but rates are expected to keep falling in the long run. Brazilian investors can no longer reap extraordinary returns just from parking their money in risk-free bonds. Maurício Wanderley of Valia says he looks for returns of 25-30% on his private-equity investments, and so far they’ve been “above our expectations”. Brazilian hedge funds have posted annualised gains of 17% over the past three years, according to EurekaHedge, a research firm. (North American funds have managed 8.6% on an annualised basis in that time.)

The buzz around Brazil will put those returns under pressure, however. Alvaro Gonçalves of Stratus, a Brazilian private-equity firm, appears dismayed at the speed with which “armies” of global investment firms are arriving. Rather than fly in for visits, they now want to set up offices and hire local deal-makers. The competition is causing salaries to rise. Jon Toscano of Trivèlla Investimentos, a private-equity firm, estimates that executive salaries have nearly tripled in as many years.

Waxing in RioGreater competition has less effect on the hedge-fund industry, since there are many trading opportunities. But for private-equity firms, where the number of deal opportunities is smaller, there are huge consequences. Prices for deals have already gone up in the past year—although most investors say that companies are still not as expensive as they are in China or India, where there is even more competition.

The three largest private-equity deals in Brazil’s history took place in 2010, all of them carried out by foreign firms. Stakes in consumer-related companies are particularly prized. Carlyle Group, an American buy-out firm, did three deals in 2010, involving a lingerie company, a travel firm and a health-care company—all of them bets on Brazil’s middle class. Many local firms are ramping up their efforts to look for deals beyond São Paulo and Rio, where most of the foreign firms are based.

Ballooning deal prices may also drive crafty local firms to invest more money abroad. 3G Capital bought Burger King, an American fast-food chain, for $4 billion last year because the management felt Brazil had become too expensive and that global firms were too busy chasing deals in emerging markets to notice the opportunities at home. “You can do a buy-out in the United States of a global brand, a well-known company, and really face no competition,” says Alexandre Behring of 3G.

Back in Brazil, some worry that the new entrants’ preference for big leveraged buy-outs (LBOs) could damage the industry’s unusually wholesome reputation. In Brazil private-equity deals are mostly unleveraged, and often involve minority positions in medium-sized companies. That’s partly because high interest rates make debt crushingly expensive—the average rate for a commercial business loan is 29%. But even if credit becomes more readily available, Brazilian firms are nervous of it. Brazilian managers reel off the names of highly leveraged buy-outs that have tanked in the West. “I hope we can avoid the image that we are raiders and vultures,” says Mr Gonçalves. “This is the profile that these large LBO firms left in markets, and we don’t want them to do that here.”

It is more likely that the foreigners will have to adapt to Brazil than the other way round. Unlike China and India but like many other emerging markets, Brazil has only a limited number of large firms to invest in. Private-equity investors won’t be able to swim in a sea of $500m and $1 billion deals. Given the scarcity of long-term financing, some are looking to lend instead. “A large part of our plan is to provide credit and growth-equity capital” in Brazil, says Glenn Dubin, the boss of Highbridge.

Although Brazil’s equity markets are liquid, concentration remains a problem for hedge funds. Eight companies account for more than 50% of the market value of the BM&FBOVESPA. Shorting the shares of smaller firms is expensive because it is hard to find shares to borrow. Larger funds have to be patient when building up positions. Luis Stuhlberger of Credit Suisse Hedging-Griffo, Brazil’s largest hedge fund, says it is like being “an elephant in a bathroom. You have to move very slowly, otherwise you break everything.”

Funds must also comply with strict requirements for transparency and liquidity. Brazilian hedge funds must report their net asset values daily and their positions on a monthly basis. These are then posted publicly on the website of the CVM for anyone to see. Thanks to the country’s long experience of volatility and inflation, most investors do not agree to long lockup periods for their money. As a result, many funds offer daily liquidity, which means they do not have much flexibility with their strategies and cannot take illiquid positions.

Some managers complain that Brazil’s regulatory system costs them their edge, because others know what they are up to. But most don’t seem to mind too much. Transparency brings legitimacy to the industry and calms investors, many say. Frauds like Bernie Madoff’s, which have dented investor confidence in hedge funds in America and Europe, are less likely to go unnoticed in Brazil. “Madoff would never happen in Brazil,” says Eduardo Lopes of Ashmore, an emerging-markets fund.

Indeed, other markets are moving closer to a Brazilian-style system of regulating alternative investments. Hedge funds and private-equity firms have been mostly unregulated in America and Europe, but that is set to change. Later this year, America will start to require funds to register with the SEC and disclose some of their holdings to regulators. In France hedge funds now have to report their short positions; it is possible that other countries in Europe will enact similar requirements. “The financial crisis showed that many of the choices we made before are good choices,” says Ms Santana of the CVM.

There are still plenty of risks in emerging markets, of course. Inflation remains a worry, and Brazil’s battle to keep down the value of the real has led to other capital controls on top of the tax on foreign investment. The BOVESPA index has declined by 6% in the past month. But here too, Brazilian alternative-investment managers claim an edge because they have been through rocky markets many times before. “They’ve basically taken as much chemotherapy as you can take and survived it,” says a foreign fund manager.

Many managers in China and other emerging markets are familiar only with good times, so some investors worry that they might not perform well if the economy stumbled. Arminio Fraga, a former central-bank governor who founded Gávea, thinks the volatile global economic environment will play to Brazilian managers’ strengths in the coming years: “There are a lot of things out there that look familiar to us, given Brazil’s history.”


Friday, 18 February 2011

Quiz: Travel English

Simple mobile phone displays for people with poor vision.

A couple have designed software to give phones simple, bright screen displays for people with poor vision.

Dina and Simon Marks came up with the idea after Deenah's cataracts prevented her from reading the display on her mobile phone.

The pair developed an app to make phones display a large letter that relates to frequent callers.

Jane Wakefield met them at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

G20 meeting urged to curb prices.

The G20 is to hold a two-day meeting against a background of rising food and commodity prices.

Finance ministers and central bankers from 20 of the world's biggest developed and developing nations will gather in Paris.

BBC's Europe business correspondent Nigel Cassidy reports.

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