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Updated: 2016-11-13T18:43:41.494+00:00

 



Understanding economics is not that hard

2012-02-23T16:59:00.249+00:00

You have been hearing just about everything about the current crisis. It's either the fault of the banks, capitalism, greed, lack of regulation you name it. The sad truth is that we are where we are today because our governments have been spending like crazy money they have no chance to ever collect. There is no need to go through complex math calculations. A simple division will suffice:


This is for the US, but the same exercise on any European country would give similar results!
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Cultural differences

2011-12-21T21:08:44.741+00:00

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Ryanair, the worst airline in the world

2011-07-13T17:01:04.134+00:00

This week I took Ryanair again to go to Toulon in France. I was worried since last time I had taken the Irish company they had managed to have me to buy another ticket at the check-in because I had erroneously spelled my wife's first name when doing the booking. I was therefore fully aware that a single mistake would generate a steep financial penalty. I had done the check-in in advance and printed the boarding passes having been warned that doing it at the airport would incur an extra £40 charge per person. To be honest, I'm not sure why they need a check-in process at all since there is no seat allocation. They could just collect all the required info upon ticket booking and issue the passes automatically. And forcing people to print those boarding passes seems like gratuitous harassment since most other airlines are happy to scan the soft copy from an iPhone or a Blackberry. I had also made sure that none of us had any oversized hand-carry luggage and that the girls handbags would fit in those so that we would not exceed the one carry-on item allowed. I had purchased in advance the right to have my luggage carried in the plane not wanting to be charged an extortionate amount at the desk. Three suitcases of 15kg each. But for some reason I had assumed that having paid for 45kg worth of luggage, 2 suitcases, one of 14kg and and of 24kg would be fine. Obviously not. I was explained nicely but strongly that the extra 7kg in suitcase #2 would have be charged at £20/kg. Had those been in an other suitcase it would have been free. Got me! Being nice the girl at the desk agreed to let me buy a suitcase instead of spending £140 in extra cost. This is where it helps to be early. I managed to find a suitcase store with a small suitcase on sale, found a scale where I was only charged 50p to weigh a suitcase and after transferring the 7kg of extra luggage into the newly purchased luggage, we were on our way.The security process was another adventure. For some reason, even though we now know that we have to expect the worse, it's still a painful experience. The misery index during that process is sky high. You see people resigned as any attempt to complain would make it a lot worse. And you see airport employees doing work that they know is often useless trying to be polite while doing ridiculous checks. This time I was able to experience the process in more details. At Stansted, they have what looks like a brand new scanning process that must have cost a fortune. So efficient that every other bag would be selected for manual checking. After the usual body check (for some reason I always ring even after having removed everything from my pockets... and no, I don't have a metal leg) I noticed that my bag had been selected for manual checking. I was lucky to be 10th or so in the line, so here I am, waiting for a bored attendant pretending to look for terrorists by checking toothpaste from old ladies. Yes, every time the issue was the same: some liquids not "conditioned" properly. The airport employee would then explain to the traveller the safety rules: all liquids have to be packed into one small plastic bag and it has to be sealed. Simple! Except when you have a perfume, a toothpaste, a shampoo and some shaving cream ... With Ryanair charging for luggage, a lot of people had obviously decided to only take a carry-on. Now they were faced with the ultimate decision: which of those items to garbage? Granted the attendant would help, like suggesting to remove a box here, a cap there or showing how to cram items in the small bag without tearing it open (in which case you had to go find another bag while everybody else waits). I felt so sorry for those passengers. You could feel the anger and the frustration but just like in communist Russia no-one would dare complain or ask for the rationale of such a stupid policy.Anyway, after a good 30 minutes, it was my turn. My problem was different: I had too many cables in my bag! I guess it's very unusual to have someone carry a laptop, a [...]



Bye Bye Outlook and Exchange

2011-07-16T09:26:57.012+00:00

We finally made the complete jump to Google Apps away from Outlook and Exchange. I had decided to move away from Exchange a couple of months back. Google Apps has all the functionality we need on the back-end, and even more (calendering is much better). But we were still using the Outlook client (if you are a premier customer, you can use the built-in connector to sync mail, contacts and calendar but even if not, it's easy to setup using IMAP for mail and gSyncit for contacts and calendar).

On the client side, the last hold up to moving away from Microsoft Outlook was screenshot copies which were so painful using the Gmail interface. That was solved this week with Gmail now allowing copying clipboard content directly in the body of the message when using Chrome. If you combine this new functionality with the slick screen capture extension, you have now a killer product in Gmail, including some features we never thought would appear in a web product (like speed, drag and drop and now image pasting).

There are still a few things that Outlook and Exchange do better. Contact management is one of them, especially the contact sharing. I'm sure that Google is fully aware of the limitations of their current implementation and that they are working on that too. But for us this is not a show stopper since we use Insightly to share contacts (and a lot more). And if you have installed the CloudMagic plugin in your browser, you'll have also lightening fast contact search just a couple of clicks away!

Google Apps has been growing in leaps and bounds, and while it's far from a feature complete replacement for the Microsoft Office powerhouse, it's getting there, one feature at a time. The addition of pivot tables in Google Spreadsheets for example has allowed us to use Excel in less and less instances.

It's easy to see a point where only the specialists will use Microsoft Office, just like only specialists use Adobe Photoshop today. Unless Microsoft moves aggressively on the pricing front, this trend seems inevitable, especially since a lot of the features that Google Apps bring to the table are difficult to replicate in a fat client.(image)



iPhone still not quite ready for VOIP

2011-05-21T20:21:48.841+00:00

The corporate market has moved to VOIP at an amazing pace in the last few years. Apple and most of their telecom partners have relaxed the rules recently allowing VOIP calls over 3G. However the VOIP user experience on the iPhone is still very poor. I have been using Skype, Fring, Viber and various SIP clients like Acrobits Softphone and Groundwire -- probably the best SIP clients out there. While the cost savings can be significant, the lack of proper iOS integration means that those tools remain immature. Here are some of the shortcomings:
  1. Bluetooth support is not always implemented. When it is the behaviour is different in the VOIP client and the default dialer (e.g. you cannot control the VOIP dialer from the handset). 
  2. If you receive a POTS call while on a VOIP call, the call will be put on hold right away. You are not given the option to reject the incoming call or tell your current correspondent to hold on. This is actually a show stopper for serious use. This is an iOS feature that cannot be overidden. 
  3. Receiving calls is still hit and miss. Some clients use background processing, some use notifications. Neither method is ideal. Again missing hooks in the OS make implementation difficult. 
  4. Putting the phone on silent does not put the VOIP client on silent. I am not sure if all clients are affected but I suspect again, that this is due to the OS failing to expose the proper API. Acrobits clients do exhibit this issue and this is a serious one: when you receive a call you have no way of silencing it!
  5. Lastly while the iPhone usually does a good job and moving from 3G to WIFI the other way round just does not work. It means that if you are on a call on WIFI and move away from the hotspot, you will  lose the connection.  
All those problems stem from the lack of hooks in the native dialer. Until Apple decides to build SIP connectivity natively, those VOIP clients will remain nice toys unable to deliver serious business benefits. 
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Why I bought a Kindle instead of an iPad

2011-06-22T13:13:55.057+00:00

I never thought I would buy a Kindle! I wanted to buy an iPad for a while and I had been resisting up until now. The problem is I like to identify a need before going out and shelling that kind of money. Business-wise, I don't really need it. I either have my laptop or my iPhone with me and I don't see the iPad filling a need between the 2 devices. Home-wise, again between my AppleTV and my other computers I'm not sure I can justify yet another gizmo.But it's easy to imagine that I have been looking for half-a-decent excuse to purchase another toy. And this is when it hit me. Sometimes I can be in a situation where I have to do a presentation which I did not know about in the morning. I might be without a PC or a printed copy of that presentation. So having a tablet with me would be very helpful. A good start... And then I realised I needed an ebook too. Something I could load with the latest book and bring to the beach.Here was my excuse to buy an iPad. Or was it? This is when I thought of the Kindle. To be honest the Kindle always seemed to me like a poor brother of the iPad. After all, if you have an iPad you can read ebooks too right? Well it turned out to be quite not simple.For once, loosing a £150 device is not the same thing as loosing a £500 one! Remember, it's for the beach. Then I read about all those users raving about ink technology. And I needed something for the beach! I know how hard it is to see the screen of my iPhone with my sunglasses on and I suspected that reading in full sunlight on the iPad would be a less than optimal experience. But what really made me decide for the Kindle was the 3G deal. Going for an iPad with 3G requires a monthly fee and it only works in your home country. Going for a 3G Kindle requires and extra £40 on purchase and then not only do you get free data for ever but also free free roaming!  Granted webkit on the device is slow (it's experimental after all...). The screen is black and white. But you can still check your mail for free, check a map or do a search on Google...I've had the device for a few weeks now, and I can understand why it generates so much passion. Yes on paper it is an low tech device (Java based OS, Black & White screen, no extensibility, single purpose etc...) but what it does, it does so well. The screen is amazing, especially outdoors. The reading experience is wonderful, especially with the lighted leather cover (yes, I know, I spent a bit more that what I intended to in the first place...). I am rediscovering the joy of reading in bed.But it's not just about reading books. You can get free newspapers from all over the world delivered automatically to your device every day. You just need to install Calibre and leave it running on your PC and it will scrape most news web sites and generate the appropriate ebooks automatically for you. Calibre will also allow you to convert PDF or ePub files into the native MOBI format supported by the Kindle. Even though the Kindle will render PDF files natively, converted files are easier to read since you dont need to zoom and pan.And then free worldwide 3G data is the icing on the cake. You just need to setup a few bookmarks to force the Kindle to display the iPhone/iPad version of those sites you need to visit often and off you go! Here are the ones I use the most:Google SearchGoogle Local SearchGmailGoogle TranslateGoogle ReaderGoogle News (you see the pattern...)TwitterFacebookand the toolboxes...KinstantGoogle Mobile PortalI'm glad I made the plunge. Yes it's an underpowered device, yes it's not versatile but it's the best book reader out there! [...]



The Bear-est Signs Of Intelligence

2011-01-29T20:42:12.027+00:00

Here is a funny story that goes around the web...
The customer is buying one piece of jewelry. I’m all about the environment so I try to avoid giving out bags for small purchases.
Me: “Would you like a bag, or do you want to put it in your purse?”
Customer: “My purse is fine.”
Me: “Yay! You just saved a polar bear!”
Customer: *eyes go wide* “Plastic bags… are made out of… polar bears?!”

The question is not who is the dumbest one (even though the answer on this one might not be as obvious as the writer would like it to be) but who's the most dangerous. For most green organizations, the ends justifies the means, and if it implies that junk science has to be promoted, so be it. But the risk is an enormous backlash and a complete lack of credibility going forward. This poor scientific rigour also explains the explosion of conspiracy theories springing on all kinds of topics. How can you trust someone when you realise that his arguments have been fallacious?

I have nothing against reducing plastic in landfills, but I find the way it is being pushed down our throats quite revolting. And now that the polar bear population is increasing contradicting Al Gore's beloved theory, is it ok to take that plastic bag?(image)



Why I migrated from Firefox to Google Chrome

2010-12-24T14:34:59.558+00:00

I have been a loyal Firefox user. I moved away from IE to Firefox way back when I got my first mac, many years ago. The main reason at the time was to have a consistent browsing experience between PC and mac. I've been a loyal user for many years, enjoying each new release.When Google came out with Chrome, I briefly looked at it and even though the speed was great, lack of extensions at the time kept me in the Firefox fold. I was itching to move over but ubiquity was the main reason I was still sitting still. It was a matter of time however, especially since ubiquity has now been demised and behaviour is more and more erratic with each new release.I have now moved over for good. The features that made me change over are:Integrated PDF viewer. That has been the real trigger. The plugin is still a bit rough on the edges and I still need to disable it once in a while (by going into chrome://plugins) in cases where saving a PDF is just impossible for some reason. However, when it works, it's great. The rendering is fast, and as close to web-like as you can possibly have with a PDF file. While you can have a similar experience by using a Google Docs extension in Firefox, it's not as fast nor does it work on private intranets. It's only available in the beta channel for now but it's just a matter of time until it arrives into the mainstream product. Real drag and drop. One of the great feature of Gmail is the ability to drop files in the UI to attach documents. With Chrome, that behaviour works even for regular sites. In most sites where you have an upload button, you can just drag and drop a file onto the button instead of opening the file dialog. A real time saver. That's probably the next best feature for me.  Automated extension synchronization. That one is also a great time saver. If you have many computers, having to install your plugins in each one is really a pain. With Chrome you just have to do it once and all computers are automatically synced. Just login and all your favorite extensions appear!Speed. While this one has been touted as the major benefit, and while it's been described as the main reason why you should move over, it was not enough for me. Still I do appreciate the speed and the process isolation that Chrome brings to the browser scene. They are many other features that will warrant the move for you, but for me those four were the ones that really made a difference. [...]






Social media and the corporate world...

2010-09-13T07:56:30.790+00:00


Social media and the corporate world don't mix and, according to Erik Qualman, the main reasons for that are:

No. 1: Lack of understanding = fear. The rapid rate of change in digital innovation has caused CEOs to feel extremely vulnerable around technology, because it's something on which we have become very reliant, but which we understand and "control" so little. This vulnerability leads to fear, and this fear to irrational decisions and suboptimal outcomes. When CEOs don't have the confidence in their staff to delegate, or lack the humility to admit their ignorance regarding technology advances, they get defensive and act out in fear - or fail to act altogether.

No. 2: I want control. I want to control my company! I want to control my brand! I want to determine my destiny! It's too important to leave it to chance (or simply be outvoted by the uninformed bourgeois)! Unfortunately, and tragically for us executives, the beauty and power of social media is only fully unleashed when we let it go, and that, my friends, is the hardest thing for us to do (…and also explains why we hate checking luggage at the airport).

No. 3: Fear of it being a fad. The truth is, I would love to commit to social media in a significant way, but so far nobody in my organization has stepped forward with a cerebral, strategic, multigenerational, integrated, systematic, and sustainable methodology and roadmap for synergistically capitalizing on this medium over the long haul.

Read the rest there.(image)



Web passwords: a false sense of security

2010-09-10T15:03:11.673+00:00

Nothing is worse than a false sense of security. Most people are familiar with password fields in browsers. And some people know better than to store those passwords in the browser. But most people are unaware that even if you don't store passwords in your browser, the information can be cached by the server and presented to you or another user the next time you open up the page. That would be the case if you go the settings page to change your password.

Having stars or dots instead of the actual text makes you think that no one can see your passwords. But if the passwords are actually returned to the browser they can be displayed very easily by just pasting the following javascript code in the address bar of the browser. It will work with most browsers.

Try it for yourself. Click on this link, copy and paste the code to your address bar and see your password being revealed for everyone to see.

They are ways to prevent this behaviour but unfortuantely, it is not quite common yet. A bon entendeur, salut!(image)



Flying with El Al...

2010-08-25T16:22:35.458+00:00

With El Al and JetBlue having signed an agreement to provide connecting options for customers flying between the United States and Israel, Andrew Silow-Carroll brings us a memo written by El Al to JetBlue employees reminding them of some of the cultural specificities of the Israel National Airline and their passengers:Security lines: Passengers are instructed to arrive at the airport six hours before a flight. This may seem excessive, but Israel’s crack security service demands it on the theory that no terrorist would be dedicated enough to spend six hours in a crowd of Jews. Kidding! The six-hour time period allows our security team to ask essential questions of our passengers, including “Do you have family in Israel? Where do they live? What is the purpose of your visit?” It also allows time for the person behind you in line to ask the very same questions, in even greater detail. What you might call “intrusive rudeness” is merely what our people call “Jewish geography.”Luggage: We allow each passenger to stow luggage weighing up to 6,000 pounds. Again, this may seem generous by American standards, but it is in response to our passengers’ need to bring books for their cousins in B’nei Brak, appliances for their neighbors’ in-laws in French Hill, and industrial-size boxes of M & M’s for Israeli soldiers.Boarding: We board our flights for maximum efficiency, in the following order: Families with young children, families with six or more young children, families with eight or more young children, individuals with physical limitations, individuals with aches and pains that may be something but they won’t know until they see a specialist, individuals who cut in line, and gentiles.Carry-on luggage: You may not think a double stroller, six Borsalino hat boxes, and a Samsung flat-screen television are able to fit in an overhead bin, but please don’t underestimate our passengers. During this portion of the flight it might be a good idea for flight attendants to retreat to the galley and have a beer. Or two.Safety instructions: Hebrew is written from right to left. Similarly, in order to accommodate our passengers’ unique sensibility, our instructions are delivered backward. When we say, “Please do NOT stow items under the seat in front of you,” our passengers think, “I’ll damn well stow my items anywhere I want to,” before stowing them under the seat. When we say, “Please move freely about the cabin,” our passengers respond, “If they think I am budging from this seat, they have another think coming.” It works like a charm.In-flight behavior: At some point during the lengthy overseas flight, bearded men will crowd the aisle, wrapped in leather straps and white shawls. Do not be alarmed! They will not ask you to join them!Food service: As a Jewish airline, we serve clientele with unique dietary needs. Our choices include kosher, glatt kosher, kosher dairy, kosher meat, kosher pareve, glatt kosher dairy, gluten-free kosher meat, lactose-free kosher with nuts, lactose-free kosher without nuts, low-salt kosher pareve, high-salt gluten-free kosher meat, and “just bring me a box of cereal and some milk.” Remain calm and do not reach for the emergency chute.Landing: Passengers will often burst into applause when the plane touches down in Israel. This is because a) they are deeply moved by the thought of arriving in the Land of their Ancestors; b)they are still surprised, even after 60 years, that a Jew can safely pilot an airplane; or c) they are relieved that they no longer have to listen to the guy in the middle seat complain about Obama.So if you haven't flown El Al yet, don't be surprised when you board the plane and welcome to Israel... [...]



The broken window fallacy

2010-08-08T05:57:11.427+00:00

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The broken window fallacy was debunked by Frédéric Bastiat more than a century and half ago and yet it continues to endure today. Sam Selikoff has now produced a very easy to understand video. I doubt it will make the world notice but for those willing to educate themselves, it's definitely worth the 3 minutes it takes to view that video.(image)



Why Obamacare will fail: a picture is worth a thousand words

2010-08-08T09:16:44.896+00:00

A lot of pundits have applauded Barak Obama for bringing to America what most Europeans hate about their medical care system: Socialism. Everybody knows the issues the English have with their NHS or the Canadians with their Universal Healthcare. And the French are discovering that no amount of money will allow them to fix their cherished and yet broken Sécurité Sociale.

The problem with nationalized healthcare is no different than with any other nationalized institution: the lack of accountability. You can try and analyze the reasons for the failure of any system and god knows that people have tried in the past. But at the end of the day we have yet to find anything better than the sanction of failure: no dashboard, KPIs or the likes can replace a P&L statement.

Unfortunately, Obamacare is bound to follow the lead of the previous failed attempts at creating a nationalized healthcare. You just need to check the chart created by The Republicans of the Joint Economic Committee to understand the kind of monster created by the Obama administration and realize why very soon those same pundits will now say that while the idea was good in principle, the execution needs adjusting... just like for socialism. Everyone knows however that socialism cannot be fixed!(image)



Shit always flows downhill....

2010-07-23T11:53:51.724+00:00

For those still in the corporate world...

When top level guys look down, they see only shit. When bottom level guys look up, they see only assholes...

Hat tip to Savill.(image)



Socialism, Sweet Socialism...

2010-06-22T10:53:46.130+00:00


If it was not so sad, it would be funny... Oh, and by the way, as of today, this bill is worth... £0.07!(image)



An other example of the law of unintended consequences

2010-03-07T11:57:05.383+00:00

We have heard it many times: raising minimum wage creates unemployment. Just like introducing price controls creates food shortages or implementing rent control creates housing deficits.

Gateway Pundit reports on the disastrous effect of the multiple increases in the minimum wage on teenage unemployment rate in the US. According to the The Wall Street Journal:

There’s plenty of competition, but our vote for the recent act of Congress that has caused the most economic hardship goes to the May 2007 law raising the minimum wage in three stages to $7.25 an hour from $5.15. Rarely has a law hurt more vulnerable people more quickly.

A higher minimum wage has the biggest impact on those with the least experience or the fewest skills. That means in particular those looking for entry-level jobs, especially teenagers. And sure enough, as nearly all economic models predict, the higher minimum has wreaked havoc with teenage job seekers, well beyond what you would expect even in a recession…

…But as the minimum wage increased even as the overall job market began to worsen, the damage to teen job seekers became more severe. By the time the third increase to $7.25 from $6.55 took effect in July 2009, the teen jobless rate was 24.3%, and by October it peaked at 27.6% before dropping to 26.4% in January.

The story is even worse for black teens, who often have lower than average education levels or live in areas with fewer job prospects. Their jobless rate climbed from 38.5% before the third wage hike to 49.8% in November 2009, before falling back to 43.8% in January. For black male teens, the rate climbed to 52.2% in December from 39.2% in July. The difference between the jobless rates for black teens and the entire population widened by six percentage points from June 2007 to January 2010. Even assuming those rates fall as the job market improves this year, they will remain destructively high.

And yet this observation is nothing new. One has to wonder what will it take for politicians to learn basic economics principles...(image)






The recession: V or W shaped?

2010-02-05T13:56:52.974+00:00

The whole world has been wondering for months if the recent market surge is the sign of a recovery or just part of a double-dip recession. In other words are we really out of the woods or are we witnessing a bearish rally just like in the 1930's.

We have now designed the ultimate test to allow you to answer that question unequivocally. Just answer yes for each of the following statements which you reckon is true:
  1. I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail
  2. I ordered a burger at McDonald's and the kid behind the counter asked, "Can you afford fries with that?"
  3. CEO's are now playing miniature golf
  4. If the bank returns your check marked "Insufficient Funds," you have to call them to check if they meant you or them
  5. Hot Wheels and Matchbox stocks are trading higher than GM
  6. McDonald's is now selling a 1/4 ouncer
  7. Parents in Beverly Hills have now fired their nannies and learned their children's names
  8. A truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico
  9. Motel Six won't leave the light on any more
  10. The Mafia is laying off judges
Now you get one point for each question where you answered yes. If you score more than 6, we are definitely in a W-shaped recession. If you score less than 4 then you can safely say we just came out of a V-shaped crisis. In between... well, sometimes even the most sophisticated tests fail to bring you an answer!(image)



More climategate on BBC

2010-02-03T11:28:38.611+00:00

Andrew Neil thinks that the Global Warming fantasy is starting to unravel and that the dam around the UN IPCC report of 2007 is cracking. He is convinced that the amount of evidence will start to force mainstream media to take note. And he believes also that Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman often wrongly described as the world's leading climate scientist (he's actually a railway engineer) will be the first to lose his job over the whole mess. I'm far form certain that those climate politicians with their expansive government agendas will go quietly (we all know that taxes never get repelled). But I hope I'm wrong:The dam began to crack towards the end of last year when leaked e-mails from one of the temples of global warming, the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, suggested that a few sleights of hand were being deployed to hide facts inconvenient to the global warming case. An official investigation into these e-mails is on-going.But the flood gates really opened after the IPCC had to withdraw its claim that the Himalayan glaciers would likely all have melted by 2035, maybe even sooner. This turned out to have no basis in scientific fact, even though everything the IPCC produces is meant to be rigorously peer-reviewed, but simply an error recycled by the WWF, which the IPCC swallowed whole.(...)Then at the weekend another howler was exposed. The IPCC 2007 report claimed that global warming was leading to an increase in extreme weather, such as hurricanes and floods. Like its claims about the glaciers, this was also based on an unpublished report which had not been subject to scientific scrutiny -- indeed several experts warned the IPCC not to rely on it. The author, who didn't actually finish his work until a year after the IPCC had used his research, has now repudiated what he sees has its misuse of his work. His conclusion: "There is insufficient evidence to claim a statistical link between global warming and catastrophe loss."(...)Now after Climate-gate, Glacier-gate and Hurricane-gate -- how many "gates" can one report contain? -- comes Amazon-gate. The IPCC claimed that up to 40% of the Amazonian forests were risk from global warming and would likely be replaced by "tropical savannas" if temperatures continued to rise. This claim is backed up by a scientific-looking reference but on closer investigation turns out to be yet another non-peer reviewed piece of work from the WWF. Indeed the two authors are not even scientists or specialists on the Amazon: one is an Australian policy analyst, the other a freelance journalist for the Guardian and a green activist. The WWF has yet to provide any scientific evidence that 40% of the Amazon is threatened by climate change -- as opposed to the relentless work of loggers and expansion of farms.(...)But it is now clear that the majority of those involved in the IPCC process are not scientists at all but politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs and green activists. They may -- or may not -- still be right or wrong but what has become clear in the past couple of months is that, contrary to what many leaders have claimed, the science as promulgated by the IPCC is very far from "settled" and that there are important questions still to ask. The mainstream media has been slow to do this. The bloggers, too easily dismissed in the past, have set the pace with some real scoops -- and some of the mainstream media is now rushing to catch up.Read the whole thing! [...]



Christianism finds help in sustainable development...

2010-01-23T18:09:57.146+00:00

(image) MySolarNews is reporting on a strange alliance between religion and sustainable energies, albeit quite different from the one I might have touched upon in the past:

As international aid agencies rush food, water and medicine to Haiti's earthquake victims, a United States group is sending Bibles. But these aren't just any Bibles; they're solar-powered audible Bibles that can broadcast the holy scriptures in Haitian Creole to 300 people at a time. The Faith Comes By Hearing organisation says its Bible, called the Proclaimer, delivers "digital quality" and is designed for "poor and illiterate people". It says 600 of the devices are already on their way to Haiti.

The Albuquerque-based organisation says it is responding to the Haitian crisis by "providing faith, hope and love through God's word in audio". The audio Bible can bring the "hope and comfort that comes from knowing God has not forgotten them through this tragedy," a statement on its website says. "The Proclaimer is self-powered and can play the Bible in the jungle, desert or ... even on the moon!"

(image)



Investment banking... the secret of success

2010-01-20T23:05:28.769+00:00

Interesting and quite accurate description of the various career paths in banking from eFinancialNews:
  • Operations and technology leads to India.
  • Sales leads to Glengarry Glen Ross.
  • Private banking leads to a rich spouse (retired trader meets young graduate, true love!).
  • Compliance leads to a filing cabinet full of forms.
  • Research leads to Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V repetitive strain injury from internet and annual reports.
  • Broking leads to strip clubs and depression.
  • FX leads to offshore tax havens.
  • Equities leads to insider trading charges.
  • Investor relations leads to lunches.
  • M&A leads to a single powerpoint slide with a line sloping gently upwards to the right regardless of the situation.
The Golden Rule to succeed in any of these is to talk about next quarter enthusiastically while making sure no one has any record of what you said would happen in the previous quarter. Repeat until fade.(image)



iWeb and Google Analytics don't mix

2010-01-08T09:34:53.749+00:00

Apple iWeb 09 is a great tool. I was able to build a pretty nice looking site for our flat in Borovets in just a week-end. Apple emphasis has always been on ease of use and good design and here again iWeb does not disappoint. The new version even allows the creation of somewhat dynamic content (comments on blogs and photo libraries for example).I had started using Google Sites but realized very rapidly that building a site with flair would be an immense challenge. Graphics and fonts are just too difficult to deal with in Sites. But what I gained in look and feel by moving to iWeb, I lost in marketability. Having iWeb sites rank properly is notoriously difficult. The sites are hard to index because the main navigation is JavaScript based and text content is often converted to images. And inserting tracking code to monitor your site performance is just not possible without clumsy workarounds.To improve ranking, I suggest those 3 easy steps:Some people have suggested rewriting the navigation toolbar manually. Another option is to make sure that no page is left orphan on your site, i.e. there is a link on the home page to another page in your site that in turns contains a link to a third page and so forth. That allows crawlers to find all the pages of your site since the navigation bar will not fulfil that role. Create a sitemap, either manually or if you have followed my previous advice by using an online tool such as XML-Sitemaps. Then you should upload it to Google with Google Webmaster Tools. If you have a blog on your site, don't forget to add a sitemap for its RSS feed as well. Blogs are crawled a lot more often. Make sure that the font you are using is not converted into an image upon publishing. The easiest way to check is to turn on image indicators in the preference pane. Once you have done that, any text content that will be converted to an image will show with a small image icon on it's top right. In some instances however (especially for titles) you might want to use that special font that you know will most probably not be available on the client computer. In that case you can force conversion to graphics by selecting the text and applying a 1% drop shadow. Installing tracking code for Google Analytics (or any other tracking code) is the hardest part. Some people have suggested that inserting the code in an HTML snippet on each of your pages will work. And indeed it does. But in such a limited way that's it's almost useless. Because all inserted HTML code is actually created in an iframe and not the page itself, all information about the source of the clicks is lost. If you use Adwords, all the clicks will appear as direct. And if someone falls on your page through a search engine query, the keywords as well as the referrer details would be lost as well. The only workaround is to inject the Javascript code directly into the pages created by iWeb (and do it again for every change in the site). Fortunately there are tools that allow for some automation of this process. One such tool which has the merit of being freeware is iWeb SEO Tools. You can use it to inject javascript automatically into your site after every change. You should use it with caution however as it only works on static pages. Attempting to amend any blog page for example will completely break them!Also, you should remember that if you use adwords, you need to specify the landing page to be the page that has the Google Analytics code in it and not the main [...]



An impressive optical illusion

2009-12-20T13:36:45.144+00:00

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What's wrong with bonuses?

2009-12-22T15:27:11.251+00:00

The announcement in the pre-Budget report this week that banks will have to pay a 50% extortion tax on bonuses above £25k means people will now be taxed marginally at a rate of more than 60% if you add national insurance. Sure the employee is not the one paying the tax but the consequences will be identical: for banks to keep the same profitability bonuses will have to go down. We have seen those tax rates in the past and the consequences have always been the same: people stop producing. I have to admit that I would have expected that from France rather than England. But then again, Gordon Brown has shown with the non-domiciled fiasco that he does not really care about the Economy and is not afraid to sacrifice the City on the altar of his socialist convictions.The last thing you need in an economy that's struggling is to penalize those who create value and therefore jobs. As usual this move will end up being another marvelous example of the unintended consequences principle...Granted this is only a one-time tax. But I would be surprised if it does not subside one way or another. We all know that temporary taxes always find a way to stay. The increase in alcohol duties that were voted last year to compensate for the reduction in VAT has not been repelled now that the VAT has gone back to where it was last year! If that tax remains in place, thanks to the recent tax rate increase from 40% to 50%, the new marginal tax rate will climb to 70%. You can be sure then that it's just a matter of time until Atlas Shrugs. Who will complain when producers disappear to more hospitable countries or just retire? It has been proven time and time again that in order to succeed firms need to be flexible and adaptable. One of the most effective tools available has been bonuses. If you work hard you get a reward, if not you don't. If times are good you get a big bonus, if not you don't. No hard feelings. No firing. Now firms are pushed by regulation and public option to scrap incentive pay, increase salaries and get rid of bonuses. How is that good? Are we trying to emulate the public service? Are we so delighted by the NHS and the Post Office that we want to use them as a benchmark? How is forcing companies to guarantee remuneration when revenue is variable a good thing? Let's not be surprised when unemployment explodes next downturn because we have removed the flexibility from the system. Or if the just recovering economy tumbles again because hiring has turned out to be too risky and expensive.Because the tax applies not only to cash but also to restricted stock, options and any other kind of deferred incentives, most firms will think it twice before putting those incentives in place. The firms will have to pay the tax even if the award is never awarded because the employee leaves for example. We all know that to improve performance it is paramount that firms align their employees to the company. What better way than use profit sharing through share distribution and reward those who are loyal to the firm by using long term incentives. Clearly this new scheme is pushing the street in the other direction. Will everyone complain next that guaranteed cash compensation generates the wrong behavior?People tend to forget that government tax is reliant on businesses to be successful, not only because no profit means no tax but also because of the increasing stake that the state has now in banks and[...]