Sunday, 18 March 2012

Quiz: Words in The News - Updated.

Note: Quizzes won't run properly on Mac.

The iPad effect on job creation.

Crocs make a comeback.


What do the following pieces of information refer to?

the biggest challenge


2007 refers to the year when Crocs reached high period of profits.
Colorado refers to the US state where Crocs head office is and where the company comes from.
2009 refers to the worst year for Crocs when it was virtually out of cash and unable to pay the salaries of its employees.
Women refer to Crocs' main target now. They want to focus the sales on women.
65% refers to the percentage of the total sales of Crocs compared to those in the US. 35% of overall sales are made in the US and 65% abroad.
The biggest challenge refers to the new strategy of Crocs to keep the company open. Expanding their range of produtcs and making consumers aware of that.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

New rape awareness ad launched.

The British Government have launched a new campaign targeting young adults, to highlight awareness of rape.

The Home Office has launched a powerful new advert challenging teenagers to re-think their views of what constitutes rape.

With NSPCC research finding that 33 per cent of teenage girls and 16 per cent of boys saying that they have experienced some form of sexual violence from a boyfriend or girlfriend, the campaign aims to get teenagers to recognise unacceptable behaviour.

The adverts are aimed at 13 to 18-year-olds and feature a teenage girl being coerced into sex by a boy as a party goes on downstairs.

The girl says "I don't want to", but the boy persists. A double of the boy then appears, watching the scene from behind an invisible wall.

The viewer is asked "If you could see yourself, would you see rape?"

Relax the visa rules to aid tourism and growth says EU chief.

Commissioner urges liberalisation of application procedures to attract more visitors across Europe.

15 March 2012

Countries should push through a major liberalisation of their visa regimes in order to attract more tourists from around the world and boost economic growth across the European Union, according to a senior Brussels Commissioner.

"We need a more modern visa policy which can attract the growing middle classes in Russia, China, India and Brazil," Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner responsible for tourism, told The Independent in London yesterday. "I am at the beginning of this work. It's not easy to change our rules. But it's possible."

In January, US President Barack Obama overhauled the application system for tourist visas to America in a drive to encourage more visitors from China and Brazil. Mr Tajani said: "Why did Obama change? Because the tourist sector is important for the US. I am in favour of doing some thinking along similar lines in Europe."

Mr Tajani said that tourism has long been a neglected "cinderella" industry and that it was time for European states to regard the sector as essential for growth, especially in those southern European states which are still suffering in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.

At the moment, tourists from outside the EU must apply for a visa from the local consulate of an individual member state.

The visa allows a person to stay for a maximum of three months and permits free movement within the 26 nations of the European Schengen area (of which Britain is not a member). In 2010, EU member states issued over 11 million visas. Mr Tajani said that member states' concerns about security and illegal immigration were valid, but that they should not stand in the way of a liberalisation of visa rules and procedures.

The liberalisation proposal is likely to encounter resistance because some European governments, under pressure from their populations, are attempting to curb migration flows within Europe and from outside.

Europe is already the number one tourist destination in the world. Last year the European Union enjoyed a 6 per cent increase in international tourist arrivals. Greek tourist numbers were up 14 per cent, and 13 per cent in Ireland, 11 per cent in Portugal and8 per cent in Spain.

The direct contribution of travel and tourism to European GDP in 2011 was €508.1bn (£425.8bn) and the sector supported around 7.3 million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. When related sectors are taken into account, tourism accounts for 10 per cent of the EU's total output and 12 per cent of its labour force, according to the European Commission.

Why Apple customers turn a blind eye.

Transcript: Click twice to know the meaning of the words in bold.

There were scenes like this across parts of the world...throngs of people standing on line to be the first to get their hands on the new Apple iPad. But not everyone at Apple's New York City flagship store was there to celebrate the launch. A small but verbal group of protesters, part of a petition boasting more than a quarter of a million signatures, showed up to send Apple a message. SOUNDBITE: CHARLENE CARRUTHERS, CHANGE.ORG PETITION SIGNER (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I am a loyal Apple customer. I own a iPhone. I own a MacBook and I've been a loyal customer for several years and it's important to me that the folks who make the products that I depend on everyday are treated ethically." But judging from demand, most Apple customers are willing to overlook questionable labor conditions at the Chinese factories operated by Apple partners. One reason: Apple users feel a strong sense of identity associated with the brand, says Priya Raghubir, she specializes in consumer psychology and is a professor at New York University Stern School of Business. SOUNDBITE: PRIYA RAGHUBIR, RESEARCH PROFESSOR OF MARKETING, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS (ENGLISH) SAYING: "It's what the brand represents, not necessarily only lifestyle. So lifestyle could be part of it but the overall personality, what it signals to that consumer about the consumer themselves, which is smart, innovative, cutting edge, and worth a few extra dollars." According to Raghubir, it is that deep psychological and emotional attachment, which she describes as "love" - that makes consumers willing to overlook a few corporate indiscretions: giving the brand, in this case - Apple, the benefit of the doubt. SOUNDBITE: PRIYA RAGHUBIR, RESEARCH PROFESSOR OF MARKETING, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The way you know in our relationships with the people we love a lot: partners, parents, children, when they mess up we say 'you're not a bad person, you did a bad thing' very similar to that, but you would only do that if you cared for the person." And experts say Apple is responding by showing it cares: by cooperating with the Fair Labor Association it's sending a positive signal to consumers who typically find it mentally easier to forgive, than to break up.

by Conway Gittens, Reuters

Quiz: Prepositions Part 1

Quiz: Prepositions Part 2

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Now hiring

Now hiring

Mar 13th 2012 by The Economist online

Where employment prospects are highest and lowest

MORE employers expect to hire than fire over the next three months, according to Manpower’s Global Employment Outlook, a quarterly survey of over 65,000 employers across 41 countries. The net employment outlook—the balance of employers expecting an increase in the size of their workforce over those expecting a decrease—is positive in 32 of the economies surveyed. As our chart shows, hiring expectations have dropped in many places over the past year. However compared with the previous quarter, hiring optimism has strengthened or stayed the same in most labour markets. Hopes are highest in India and Brazil, driven by the services sector: nearly 6 out of 10 Indian employers in the service sector plan to expand their workforces before the end of June. In China, under pressure to improve salaries and working conditions, companies are not hiring as aggressively as they have in the past. Job prospects in the United States remain weaker than before the recession, but the outlook is the most optimistic it has been since the last quarter of 2008. Unsurprisingly, Greek employers remain gloomy, although fewer expect to be making further redundancies in the second quarter.


Monday, 12 March 2012

A new index ranks the competitiveness of global cities

Where the living is easier

Mar 12th 2012 by The Economist online

A new index ranks the competitiveness of global cities

THE Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist, has devised a new index which ranks the competitiveness of the most prominent cities across the globe using a number of economic, demographic and social variables. The 120 cities in the index are home to some 750m people and $20.2 trillion worth of GDP, 29% of the world's total. High concentrations of skilled residents, infrastructure and institutions mean that the top of the index is dominated by America and western Europe, with 24 cities in the top 30. Comparing the index to the EIU's cost of living data (a measure of western-style living expenses), identifies those cities which also represent good value for money for the ambitious expatriate.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Words in the News - Market Leader Intermediate Level

Note: Quizzes won't run properly on Mac.


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Companies and productivity.

Small is not beautiful.

Why small firms are less wonderful than you think.

Mar 3rd 2012.

PEOPLE find it hard to like businesses once they grow beyond a certain size. Banks that were “too big to fail” sparked a global economic crisis and burned bundles of taxpayers’ cash. Big retailers such as Walmart and Tesco squeeze suppliers and crush small rivals. Some big British firms minimise their tax bills so aggressively that they provoke outrage. Films nearly always depict big business as malign. Tex Richman, the oil baron in the latest Muppets movie, is so bad that he reads The Economist.

But the popular fetish for small business is at odds with economic reality. Big firms are generally more productive, offer higher wages and pay more taxes than small ones. Economies dominated by small firms are often sluggish.

Consider the southern periphery of the euro area. Countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal have lots of small firms which, thanks to cumbersome regulations, have failed lamentably to grow.

Firms with at least 250 workers account for less than half the share of manufacturing jobs in these countries than they do in Germany, the euro zone’s strongest economy. A shortfall of big firms is linked to the sluggish productivity and loss of competitiveness that is the deeper cause of the euro-zone crisis. For all the boosterism around small business, it is economies with lots of biggish companies that have been able to sustain the highest living standards.

A big factory uses far less cash and labour to make each car or steel pipe than a small workshop. Big supermarkets such as the villainous Walmart offer a wider range of high-quality goods at lower prices than any corner store. Size allows specialisation, which fosters innovation. An engineer at Google or Toyota can focus all his energy on a specific problem; he will not be asked to fix the boss’s laptop as well. Manufacturers in Europe with 250 or more workers are 30-40% more productive than “micro” firms with fewer than ten employees. It is no surprise that micro enterprises are common in Greece, but rare in Germany.

Big firms have their flaws, of course. They can be slow to respond to customers’ needs, changing tastes or disruptive technology. If they grew big thanks to state backing, they are often bureaucratic and inefficient. To idolise big firms would be as unwise as to idolise small ones.

Rather than focusing on size, policymakers should look at growth. One of the reasons why everyone loves small firms is that they create more jobs than big ones. But many small businesses stay small indefinitely. The link between small firms and jobs growth relies entirely on new start-ups, which are usually small, and which by definition create new jobs (as they did not previously exist). A recent study of American businesses found that the link between company size and jobs growth disappears once the age of firms is controlled for.

Governments should concentrate on removing barriers to expansion. In parts of Europe, for example, small firms are exempted from the most burdensome social regulations. This gives them an incentive to stay small. Far better to repeal burdensome rules for all firms. The same goes for differential tax rates, such as Britain’s, and the separate bureaucracy America maintains to deal with small businesses. In a healthy economy, entrepreneurs with ideas can easily start companies, the best of which grow fast and the worst of which are quickly swept aside.

Size doesn’t matter. Growth does.

Quiz: Vocabulary In Use - Upper Int to Advanced

NOTE: Quizzes do not run properly on Mac, sorry.

New iPad 'miles ahead' of other tablets

Paul Chambers tells us how scenes of alcohol use in movies can affect teen drinking patterns.

How to Buy Your First Piece of Art

When buying art, all most people have to go on is their gut. This isn't a bad way to go about it actually. Kelsey Hubbard speaks with the director of NY's Andrea Rosen Gallery and gets a few tips on how to cultivate an art collection.

Earworms: Why songs get stuck in our heads

Music has a tendency to get stuck in our heads. You know the experience - a tune intrudes on your thoughts and plays, and replays, in a never-ending loop. It happened recently to me. So, as a science reporter, I thought I'd try to find out why.

Several weeks ago, I was at home on a Sunday morning when, for no apparent reason, three words popped into my head - "Funky Cold Medina".

When the song reappeared in my head, I could hear my friend singing it again and again... and again.

I was stuck with it for nearly a day and a half, before it finally went away.

But it left behind a question. Why do we get songs stuck in our heads in the first place?

"I personally couldn't believe how little there was in terms of research on this phenomenon," says Dr Vicky Williamson, a music psychologist who started studying it a few years ago.

She also collected more stories and experiences through an online survey at her website,

The data has shown some surprising findings.

"You suddenly get five or six people reporting the song from a new film because they've just been to see it," she says. "When we first started, a tune from the hit American TV show Glee - a song called Don't Stop Believing - raced to the top."

She identified a set of triggers that had apparently caused these tunes to pop into people's heads and stay there.

"The first one is music exposure, which means the person has heard the music recently," she says.

Another unsurprising finding was that if you hear a song repeatedly, you're more likely to get stuck with it.

But sometimes songs pop into our heads even when we haven't heard them for a long time. In this case, something in our current environment may trigger the memory.

Williamson experienced this recently herself, when she was in her office and noticed an old shoebox.

"It's from a shop called Faith," she says. "And just by reading the word 'Faith', my memory went down a line of dominoes and eventually reached the song 'Faith' by George Michael. And then he was in my head for the rest of the afternoon."

Another trigger she identified was stress.

One woman in Williamson's online survey said a song - Nathan Jones, by Bananarama - first got stuck in her head when she was 16 and taking a big exam.

"She now gets that song at every single moment of stress in her life," says Williamson. "Wedding, childbirth, everything."

There are various theories that may explain why this happens.

Williamson says earworms may be part of a larger phenomenon called "involuntary memory", a category which also includes the desire to eat something after the idea of it has popped into your head. "A sudden desire to have sardines for dinner, for example," as she puts it. Or suddenly thinking of a friend you've not seen for ages.

There are a couple of reasons why this might happen with music, she says.

"Firstly, because music can be encoded in so many ways, it's what we call a 'multi-sensory stimulus'," she says.

"This is especially true if you are a musician because you encode how to play it, what it looks like on a score, as well as what it sounds like.

"Secondly, music is often encoded in a very personal and emotional way, and we know that when we encode anything with emotional or personal connotations, it's recalled better in memory."

She says the combination of rhythm, rhyme, and melody provides reinforcing cues that make songs easier to remember than words alone.

Residential Rents

SKYSCRAPERS aren’t the only thing sky-high in Hong Kong. Rents for high-end flats are the most expensive in the world, at nearly $12,000 a month. ECA International, a human-resources consultancy, compiled the ranking. Geneva and São Paulo both climbed six places up the table from their positions last year, as rents shot up around 30% in 12 months. But Abu Dhabi, the only city in our chart where rents fell, dropped nine places as its three-year housing slump continued.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Brazil economy grows 2.7% in 2011

6 March 2012

The Brazilian economy still booms, despite the global economic slowdown.

Brazil, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, grew by less than expected in 2011.

The Latin American nation's economy grew 2.7% last year, official figures show, less than the 2.8% predicted.

Analysts say Brazil is poised to become the world's sixth-largest economy, rivalling the UK, which grew an estimated 0.8% in 2011.

Brazil is enjoying a boom because of high food and oil prices, which has led to rapid economic growth.

In the fourth quarter of last year, Brazil's economy grew by 0.3% from the previous quarter, according to Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia de Estatistica.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has attributed the slowdown in growth last year mainly to the weak global economic situation and the need to fight rising inflation.

The Brazilian economy was worth $2.09tn, compared with the UK's $2.25tn total output in 2010, in current US dollars, according to the International Monetary Fund.

According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Brazil has already overtaken the UK as the world's sixth-largest economy.

Brazil, the largest Latin American economy and one of the so-called Bric nations together with Russia, India and China, has seen its economy soar in recent years, with growth far outpacing the US and western Europe, but sending inflation higher.

The currency, the real, fell 11% against the US dollar last year.

That is after two years of huge gains - up 5% in 2010 and 34% in 2009. The currency is worth more than double what it was 10 years ago.

With substantial oil and gas reserves continuing to be discovered off Brazil's coast in recent years, the country is now the world's ninth largest oil producer, and the government wishes to ultimately enter the top five.

NYC hotel courts gay clientele

"The Out NYC hotel" recently launched just steps away from the famed theaters of Broadway, hoping to become a rising star in the $47 billion gay travel and tourism industry, a figure compiled by the Association of Travel Marketing Executives. Ian Reisner said he came up with the idea after watching local businesses catering to the gay community disappear. SOUNDBITE: IAN REISNER, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, THE OUT NYC, (ENGLISH) SAYING: "We lost bars and we lost clubs and we lost cafes and we lost restaurants. And we never even had a gay boutique hotel, so I decided to open a gay-focused, gay-oriented, straight-friendly urban resort right here in the heart of New York on 42nd Street, blocks from Times Square." The Out Hotel NYC actually builds on two current trends. Number one: more and more boutique hotels are popping up; with major hotel companies even getting in the game as the industry looks to boost sales. The half-acre complex has 105 guest rooms, a restaurant, nightclub, three courtyards, a spa facility, a waterfall, and an open door policy for all, which means one doesn't have to be gay to check in. The second trend is cultural, and Reisner sees a business opportunity there. SOUNDBITE: IAN REISNER, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, THE OUT NYC, (ENGLISH) SAYING: "With the legalization of gay marriage happening everywhere around us, with the repeal of 'Don't ask. Don't tell' in the military, I think the opening of a gay urban resort, a gay-oriented urban resort is one step more in that direction, making gays feel accepted everywhere and anywhere." STANDUP: CONWAY G. GITTENS, REUTERS REPORTER (ENGLISH): Part of the strategy is to create a boutique hotel experience that is affordable for as many as possible - whether gay or straight. At this hotel they have shared sleeper rooms. Four beds in one room. $99 a bed. Each bed comes with a TV and a privacy curtain but one shared bathroom; a small price though city where an average hotel room rate can cost $276 a night.
Conway Gittens, Reuters

Monday, 5 March 2012

Breaking News - March 5th, 2012.

China expects economic growth of 7.5% this year as it looks for more sustainable expansion, prepares for a change in leadership and rides out a global slowdown. Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled the target at the start of the annual National People's Congress. Despite setting a target of 8% growth over the past eight years, China has regularly grown more quickly. This has caused problems including high inflation and a widening wealth gap.

President Barack Obama says the US "will not hesitate" to use force to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but says diplomacy could still succeed. Addressing an influential pro-Israel lobby group, Mr Obama also warned against "loose talk" of war in the dispute with Tehran. Earlier, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Iran was "a danger to the world". The US and its allies suspect Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies. As tension in the region rises, speculation has been mounting that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

Shares in Gap jumped 7% after it reported strong February sales. Unusually warm weather has encouraged US shoppers and Gap said its spring products have been selling well. After a sluggish holiday season, Target reported a 7% rise in February sales, one of its best months since late 2007. It said that customers spent more on its food and health care products. It was also a strong month for Limited Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works. It reported an 8% increase in same stores sales. Consumer spending accounts for almost 70% of economic activity in the United States, so economists watch closely the fortunes of the big retailers. "This was a very strong month. A new life has been breathed into the retailers,'' said Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics. "Consumers are starting to feel much better about their overall situation.''

A Catholic clergyman who described gay marriage as "madness" faced criticism on Sunday when he was accused of prejudice and Downing Street reiterated the prime minister's personal support on the issue. In an article for a Sunday newspaper, Cardinal Keith O'Brien accused the coalition of trying to "redefine reality" with its proposal for legalising gay marriage, which is due to go out for consultation later this month. The letter reignited a sometimes passionate debate over the issue, which David Cameron made a personal crusade when he used his party speech two years ago to support gay marriage. A Downing St spokesman said there was no change in the government's pledge to legalise gay marriage, though he said Cameron was "relaxed" about church criticisms, which have also been voiced by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Brazil has declared a fresh "currency war" on the US and Europe, extending a tax on foreign borrowings and threatening further capital controls in an effort to protect the country's struggling manufacturers. Guido Mantega, the finance minister who was the first to use the controversial term in 2010, said the government would not "sit by passively" as developed nations continue to pursue expansionary monetary policies at the expense of Brazil. "When the real appreciates, it reduces our competitiveness. Exports are more expensive, imports are cheaper and it creates unfair competition for businesses in Brazil," he said on Thursday after announcing changes to the so-called IOF tax.
President Dilma Rousseff later weighed in on the debate, vowing to defend Brazilian industry and stop developed countries' policies from causing the "cannibalisation" of emerging markets.

Up to 2,000 Syrians are crossing into northern Lebanon to flee the violence in their home country. Meanwhile, Red Cross aid workers are still being blocked from entering the stricken neighbourhood of Baba Amr. It comes amid reports that Syrian government forces have raped 200 women in revenge attacks. China and Russia insist on preventing the UN to impose tougher sanctions on Syria in spite of criticisms from all over the world.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Tip of the day

If you are interested in or studying Business English, this is a great site to learn new words, search for information, watch videos and a comprehensive dictionary of business terms in English.

How to Motivate Others

Motivational speaker Bob Kriegel explains the difference between managing and leading people in your organization, and how to motivate others.



Female: Want to motivate your team? Motivational speaker Bob Kriegel knows how. First, you need to find out what makes each person think. People are motivated by different things. Figure out what it is and watch your organization soar in new heights. Bob: I hate the term managers because manage means manage. I like the term leaders. You know, you want to lead your people not manage. Manage is all like holding them down. See when I lead them. One of the things that is most important for a leader is to understand how do you motivate your your people, how do you get them excited. And one time I was working at the Chicago Bulls many years ago and Mike Ditka was the coach then and Mike was in a press conference and somebody said, “How do you motivate all of these guys?” And Mike said something that was really at my thought. He said, “Well, first of all, you got to realize that everybody is different. Everybody is different.” And then he added, “I have developed three strategies, some guys you got to kick their butts. Some guys you got to kiss their butt and some guys, you got to wipe their butt.” He said, “But the key is to know who is who.” And you have 10 people, 20 people, and five people working for you. You have to realize there is no one strategy that is going to motivate everybody. Some people are motivated by money. Others by recognition, some by girls, some by community, and some by fun, millions of things, motivate some. The key for you as a leader is to really understand your people. Just understand your people and rather than delegating authority what you want to do is elevate them. And the way you can elevate rather than delegate is you can understand what is it that makes this person attend? So, basically, if you are a high-tech person or a low-tech person, if you sell underwear, your role as a leader is really to understand that essentially, you are in the people business and the better you understand and the better you connect with your people, the better your whole lot operation is going to get. Female: do you know how to motivate people? Share your best advice and cautionary tales right here on People Jam.

Quiz: Upper-Intermediate to Advanced Vocabulary Review

Quiz: Business English - Vocabulary in Use

go + gerund

Apple Hits 25 Billion App Downloads

Another Apple achievement made headlines this weekend. Apple says on Friday the company reached 25 billion application downloads from its app store. PC World reports that’s about three downloads for every person in the world...

“It's a mind-boggling number, especially when you consider the world's population is now at 7 billion. Clearly, people love their apps. You have to wonder at what point app usage will overtake Web browsing, considering smartphone usage is at an all-time high.”

Apple announced the milestone with this thank-you on its website that simply reads “A billion thanks. 25 times over.”

The company had a contest in place to help reach the landmark. The lucky person who made the 25 billionth download gets a $10,000 gift card. Apple hasn’t released the winner yet. A writer for Macworld notes just how quickly Apple met its goal.

“...on average, more than one billion apps are downloaded from the App Store each month. And to think, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs once told developers that building Web apps was “a very sweet solution” for building iPhone software.”

But iSource notes things weren’t always so easy for Apple — pointing out past challenges.

“...there has been some growing pains, especially in the early days when developers were kept in the dark, and Apps were being rejected by the approval process for no apparent reason. Nearly four years later, many of these problems have been resolved...I think there is a lot of innovation still left untapped... It’s a truly amazing time to be a developer.”

And finally, Gadgetsteria looks ahead to what’s to come at Apple and how it will continue to propel downloads.

“I can only imaging what will coming with the dropping of the iPad 3/HD later this month, and of course a new iPhone and what could possibly a new AppleTV which would hopefully bring iOS gaming to our TVs without the use of AirPlay and an iDevice. This number will keep growing and Apple will keep dishing out $10,000 iTunes Gift Cards.”

ZDNet reports Google’s Android Market hit 10 billion app downloads about two months ago in December 2011.

Boom and bust in UK retail

Taking the long view

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owes much of his success to his ability to look beyond the short-term view of things

Mar 3rd 2012
from the print edition  The Economist

INSIDE a remote mountain in Texas, a clock is being pieced together, capable of telling the time for the next 10,000 years. On a website set up to track the progress of this “10,000-year clock”, Jeff Bezos, who has invested $42m of his own money in the project, describes this impressive feat of engineering as “an icon for long-term thinking”.

That description applies just as much to Mr Bezos himself. The founder and chief executive of Amazon has often sacrificed short-term profits to make big bets on new technologies that, he insists, will produce richer returns for the company’s shareholders in future.

Some of these gambles have paid off handsomely, transforming Amazon from an online retailer of books and other physical products into a technology power with $48 billion of revenues in 2011 and strong positions in fields from cloud computing to tablet devices. They have also enhanced Mr Bezos’s reputation as a technological seer. “In the last few years there has been a re-acceleration of the rate of change in technology,” he says. His impressive ability to identify and profit from the resulting disruptions means he is widely seen as the person best placed to fill the shoes of the late Steve Jobs as the industry’s leading visionary.

Mr Bezos’s willingness to take a long-term view also explains his fascination with space travel, and his decision to found a secretive company called Blue Origin, one of several start-ups now building spacecraft with private funding. It might seem like a risky bet, but the same was said of many of Amazon’s unusual moves in the past. Successful firms, he says, tend to be the ones that are willing to explore uncharted territories.

Eyebrows were raised, for example, when Amazon moved into the business of providing cloud-computing services to technology firms—which seemed an odd choice for an online retailer. But the company has since established itself as a leader in the field.

Amazon’s move into hardware with the original Kindle, launched in 2007, was another unexpected move. The devices have proved wildly popular, but Mr Bezos has kept details of sales figures and profitability secret. The assumption is that Amazon is trading short-term profits in order to establish its dominance in the booming e-book market. But nobody really knows.

“There is room for many winners here,” he says. But he believes Amazon can be one of the biggest thanks to its unique culture and capacity for reinventing itself. Even in its original incarnation as an internet retailer, it pioneered features that have since become commonplace, such as allowing customers to leave reviews of books and other products, or using a customer’s past purchasing history to recommend other products.

Amazon’s culture has been deeply influenced by Mr Bezos’s own experiences. A computer-science graduate from Princeton, he returned to his alma mater last year to give a speech to students that provided some fascinating insights into his psychology as an entrepreneur. He explained that he had been a “garage inventor” from a young age. That passion for invention has not deserted Mr Bezos, who last year filed a patent for a system of tiny airbags that can be incorporated into smartphones, to prevent them from being damaged if dropped. Even so, in the 1990s he hesitated to leave a good job in the world of finance to set up Amazon after a colleague he respected advised him against it. He moved from New York to Seattle and he founded the company, in his garage.

Mr Bezos is secretive about where he might place more big bets in future, but there have been persistent rumours that Amazon might launch a smartphone, possibly as soon as this year. With Amazon’s video-streaming and music services, Mr Bezos clearly has Netflix and Apple in his sights. And in recent weeks there has been speculation that Amazon is toying with the idea of opening a bricks-and-mortar shop to promote sales of the Kindle, by letting customers try it in person. The success of Apple’s hugely profitable chain of retail stores shows that even in the era of e-commerce, there are some things people prefer to buy the old-fashioned way.

If Amazon does one day move into bricks-and-mortar retail, it would not be the first time that Mr Bezos had taken a leaf from the book of Jobs. Like Apple’s visionary leader, he has a strong sense of showmanship, which was on display at the carefully choreographed launch of the Kindle Fire last year. Mr Bezos can also be an intense and demanding manager. But most importantly, he shares with Mr Jobs an innate understanding of the importance of thinking about high-tech products from the customer’s point of view.

During the design of the original Kindle, for example, Mr Bezos insisted that the e-reader had to work without needing to be plugged into a PC. That meant giving it wireless connectivity. But he also wanted it to work everywhere, not just in Wi-Fi hotspots, and without the need for a monthly contract. This prompted the Kindle team to devise a new business model, striking deals with mobile-phone operators to allow Kindle users to download e-books without having to pay network fees. The ability to download books anywhere does not simply make life easier for users; it also encourages them to buy more books. The Kindle is an e-reader, but it is also a portable bookshop. Mr Bezos is playing a long-term game in the hope of establishing the Fire as the main rival to the iPad.

Not all of his bets succeed. Who remembers Amazon Auctions, for example, or Amapedia, Amazon’s attempt to build a Wikipedia-like user-generated product directory?

Staying on top in the fast-changing world of technology is hard, too. His next move could be into smartphones or a video-streaming service that competes with Netflix, but it is just as likely to be something entirely unexpected. By being unusually patient, he hopes to create businesses that rivals will find harder to compete with. As the investments in both Blue Origin and the 10,000-year clock show, it is the challenge of reaching for distant horizons that really makes Amazon’s boss excited.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Google and privacy.

Windows 8 gets public test drive

At the World Mobile Congress in Spain, some of the talk is not about phones, but about Microsoft Windows 8, as the public gets its first look at the new operating system. The software upgrade for personal computers and laptops - looks a lot like Microsoft's software for mobile devices - as the software giant looks to get in on the rising popularity of tablets and smartphones. David Salamon is senior product manager for Windows Phone. SOUNDBITE: DAVID SALAMON, SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, WINDOWS PHONE (ENGLISH) SAYING: "One thing that is very, very different about the approach they are taking with Windows 8, first is the design language. They are adapting from Windows 7.5 and they are building a "Metro" design language onto the tablets and the PCs. Secondly, the thing that is going to make it very different from Android tablets and from iPads for example is that Windows 8 is going to be a no compromise solution. It is basically going to be an operating system that is best in breed for tablets, best in breed for PC as well." Both will use the Metro design just mentioned by Salamon, which uses blocks of tiles that can be moved around the screen or tapped to go straight into an application; a feature people with smartphones and tablets are now used to. The tiles update in real-time for new information like incoming emails and social network notifications. But can be turned off on PCs and laptops. That's why Microsoft is releasing two versions: one for traditional PCs and laptops, the other for smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has much to lose with the launch of Windows 8. A preview version can be downloaded starting Wednesday. With the mobile world dominated by Apple and the iPad, Amazon with its Kindle Fire tablet, and Google's Android software; analysts say Windows 8 has to be good and work well right from the start or risk watching a window of opportunity close quickly. Conway Gittens, Reuters

Summary of business headlines

Fear of a U.S. economy that will stall in the middle of a recovery took a back seat after the day's events. The Federal Reserve says the economy continued to expand modestly through mid-February, taking note of improvements in the battered housing market. The so-called Beige Book, a summary of economic conditions, also pointed to a pick-up in hiring. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers the falling unemployment rate is a surprise. SOUNDBITE: FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN BEN BERNANKE (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Continued improvement in the job market is likely to require stronger growth in final demand and production. And notwithstanding the better recent data, the job market remains far from normal." Bernanke gave no hint of further stimulus in the first day of his semi-annual testimony to lawmakers, but said higher inflation due to rising gasoline prices was only temporary. That's a hint he will not hike interest rates any time soon. Meanwhile, slightly stronger spending by consumers and businesses helped make economic growth in the fourth quarter the strongest since early 2010, according to a Commerce Department revision. Besides the economy, one of the big stories of the day was the stepping down of News Corp International chairman James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch. He ran the division that included London's News of the World newspaper, shut due to a hacking scandal. British media analyst Theresa Wise: SOUNDBITE: THERESA WISE, MEDIA ANALYST, T.WISE CONSULTING (ENGLISH) SAYING: "This is something of an acknowledgment that James Murdoch isn't the heir apparent anymore that he used to be. Two years ago we were pretty sure that he was the next in line to be CEO of News Corp." U.S. listed shares hit a more than four-year high. But the rest of Wall Street was in the doldrums with Bernanke quiet about more stimulus. European stocks finished to the downside as well. Conway Gittens, Reuters

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