Yes, Google Once Considered Issuing Its Own Currency – Atlantic Mobile

March 3, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the February 29 2012 Atlantic:

Google, Eric Schmidt revealed in a speech, once considered getting into the digital currency game. The company has seen “various proposals,” its chairman told a crowd at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, to develop a currency that would serve as tender for peer-to-peer economic exchanges taking place across Google’s platforms.

The chimerical currency would have been called Google Bucks, IT World reports. (I would have preferred SchmidtCoin; I guess this is why I am not the head of Google.)

So why, ultimately, didn’t Google go the way of Facebook and its Facebook Credits? The same reason it doesn’t do a lot of things: legal concerns. “Governments are typically wary of the potential for money laundering with such proposals,” IT World notes. As Schmidt put it: “We decided we didn’t want to get into that because of these issues.”

Yes, Google Once Considered Issuing Its Own Currency – Atlantic Mobile.

The Economist: Changing migration patterns: Welcome home

March 3, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the February 25 2012 Economist:

Jintang county, to which Fuxing belongs, once enjoyed the dubious honour of being the biggest labour-exporting county in Sichuan province. Poor, deep inland and badly connected with overseas markets, Sichuan had little choice but to encourage its huge, underemployed rural population to find work elsewhere. Officials from counties like Jintang used to tour factory towns near the coast touting the merits of their surplus labour— and trading on the stereotype of the tough and determined Sichuanese.

A big change is now coming. Jintang is administered by Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu, which like other inland cities is beginning to boom, thanks to a flood of government investment in recent years and the transfer of some manufacturing away from the coast in search of cheaper land and labour. In Fuxing walls and lampposts are plastered with job advertisements, not for work in distant coastal factories but for positions in and around Chengdu. Some of them offer jobs with Foxconn, a huge Taiwanese firm which makes Apple’s iPads and other computer products at a plant near the city (for pay of more than 2,000 yuan—$320—a month, says one pink poster).

Officials say that in 2011, for the first time, the number of local labourers migrating from one part of Chongqing region to another exceeded the number leaving for other provinces. Just a few years ago, 70% were going elsewhere. Xinhua, a state-run news agency, reported that since 2008, four-fifths of people leaving their homes for the first time in Henan, another big exporter of labour, had been migrating within Henan. Before then, it said, the same proportion had left for other provinces. In Sichuan the trend has been similar. In 2008, 58% of its 20m migrants were working outside the province. Last year the ratio dropped to 52%. A labour official in Chengdu says enthusiasm for staying close to home has been especially marked this year. One factor, he says, has been the difficulty that Europe’s downturn has caused coastal factories producing export goods. (By no means all of the new jobs being created inland are in the export sector, the traditional employer of migrant labour.)

Migration over huge distances will remain a striking feature of China’s labour market for years to come. Employment along the coast suffered huge disruption late in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis, with millions of migrants losing their jobs. But it quickly recovered as exports revived and stimulus measures helped spur growth. Now coastal factories are back to hand-wringing about a shortage of labour, notwithstanding the dark shadow cast by Europe’s misfortunes.

But recent changes in migration patterns, though they are only just beginning, may be more than temporary distortions caused by troubled Western markets. They reflect China’s evolving economy and its ageing population. Even deep in the interior, the days of an abundant and apparently endless supply of cheap, young labour are over. The number of 15- to 29-year-olds peaked last year, according to UN estimates, and the working-age population as a whole will begin to decline in a few years. More than 90% of people under 30 from rural areas are already engaged in non-agricultural work, according to a report last year by the Development Research Centre, a government think-tank. So pressed are some businesses in Chongqing and Sichuan for semi-skilled labour that officials this year helped companies from the two regions to visit other provinces in search of workers.

The shift in migration patterns may also reflect a rebalancing of China’s economy. Domestic demand has made a bigger contribution to China’s growth in recent years, driven by heavy investment in infrastructure and property. To serve this expanding internal market, firms do not need to nestle close to a port. The result is a fast-narrowing wage gap between the coast and the interior. In 2004 coastal wages for migrant labourers were 15% higher than inland, according to a survey by the National Bureau of Statistics. Now, many workers in Sichuan say that taking into account transport costs and higher living expenses on the coast, less well-paid jobs closer to home are beginning to look much more competitive.

Changing migration patterns: Welcome home | The Economist.

Silicon Valley Watcher: The Dirty Little Secret Of Silicon Valley’s Startup Boom…

March 2, 2012 - Leave a Response

Very thoughtful commentary about recent ‘boom’ from Feb. 3 2010 Silicon Valley Watcher:

Take a look:  The plan is to sell these tiny businesses to larger companies in the shortest time possible. But in the vast majority of cases, the buyers aren’t interested in the startup’s business, they are acquired for their engineering talent alone.

For example, Amazon.com has acquired TeachStreet, the 5-year-old online marketplace that matches students and teachers. It’s an interesting story, does this signal Amazon’s push into educational markets? Will it take TeachStreet’s technology and scale it across its massive cloud infrastructure?

Nope. Geekwire’s John Cook reports:

TeachStreet will be shut down on February 15th. Teachers who use the service will be able to export their class listings, and the company is offering a number of alternative services where teachers can market their classes.

Mark Zuckerberg has said it many times, Facebook acquires companies mostly for their talent. Google does it too, all the giants do. They buy the startups and close the business.

Twitter recently bought Summify (a few weeks after it was featured in SVW) and closed it down. Apple bought LaLa and closed it down..

This might seem like an expensive way to recruit engineers but there are many benefits such as removing potential competitors, which helps maintain the status quo. The giant companies have a lot invested in the status quo because they collectively have the most to lose from its disruption.

Plus, they have agreements not to poach staff from each other. So where else can go? Startups are by far the best hunting ground for new talent.

So, do we really have a startup boom? Or is it a masquerade, a proxy for a battle between the Internet giants for top quality engineers?

And is it really that expensive to recruit in this way?

A giant Internet company such as Amazon can leverage the output of a software engineer far more efficiently than a startup. The value of code is proportional to the scale of its use. The same code can be used to provide a service for one hundred people or ten million.

Building scale is hard, very hard. But if you already have scale, then you have the means to leverage the work of software engineers across a vast realm of business opportunities. So even if an Amazon or a Google pays out a couple of million dollars per engineer, it can monetize their productivity better than any startup because of the tremendous global scale of their platforms.

There are other benefits too: The acquisitions are usually made in stock, which is a far better reward for employees than using stock option grants, which have an uncertain upside at mature companies due to slow stock price growth.

Plus, Silicon Valley’s dirty little secret is that the startup boom is mostly a disguised jobs fair that directly benefits the big corporations. Occasionally, an innovative startup makes it past this stage but it has to be so bad that no one wants it — not even for its team. It’s from among those ugly ducklings that the swans of the new age emerge: FB, Goog, Twitter, Yahoo! and others — no one wanted them at first, then they couldn’t get enough of them.

The Dirty Little Secret Of Silicon Valley’s Startup Boom… – SVW. ili

The Economist: Afghanistan: Violating the prime directive again

March 2, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the February 1 2012 Economist:

“NOTHING in my life has made me as pessimistic about development aid as the course of the American intervention in Afghanistan. The New York TimesGraham Bowley reports that unsurprisingly, the country is set to drop into a drastic recession as foreign aid dries up over the next few years. That’s because foreign aid amounted to 97% of the economy in 2010, and will largely disappear by 2018.

In sum, we violated the prime directive. Violating the prime directive was, in fact, the entire mission: we wanted to fix Afghanistan. We were willing to spend a lot of money as long as it produced results. What we’ve learned is that development aid doesn’t work this way. You can’t get more definite results, or speed up the process, by spending more money. In fact, spending more money will most likely screw things up. We already learned this once, in Vietnam; now we’ve learned it again. Development aid will be successful where it takes a lower profile, doesn’t spend so much money, and sets goals for itself that are modest and achievable within the constraints of what the locals actually want to do and what they’re capable of doing. One other suggestion: it may seem sexier and more noble to develop a country that’s in the middle of a war, but it might work better if you try a country that isn’t.”

Afghanistan: Violating the prime directive again | The Economist

The Economist: The East India Company: The Company that ruled the waves

March 2, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the December 7 2011 Economist:

“The Company’s history shows that liberals may be far too pessimistic (if that is the right word) about the ability of state monopolies to remain healthy. The Company lasted for far longer than most private companies precisely because it had two patrons to choose from—prospering from trade in good times and turning to the government for help in bad ones. It also showed that it is quite possible to rely on the government for support while at the same time remaining relatively lean and inventive.

But the Company’s history also shows that mercantilists may be far too optimistic about state companies’ ability to avoid being corrupted by politics. The merchants who ran the East India Company repeatedly emphasised that they had no intention of ruling India. They were men of business who only dabbled in politics out of necessity. Nevertheless, as rival state companies tried to muscle in on their business and local princelings turned out to be either incompetent or recalcitrant, they ended up taking huge swathes of the emerging world under their direct control, all in the name of commerce.

The Chinese state-owned companies that are causing such a stir everywhere from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (where they account for some of the biggest recent flotations) to the dodgiest parts of Sudan (where they are some of the few business organisations brave enough to tread) are no different from their East Indian forebears. They say that they are only in business for the sake of business. They dismiss their political connections as a mere bagatelle. The history of the East India Company suggests that it won’t work out that way.

The East India Company: The Company that ruled the waves | TheEconomist.

NYT: Major Obama Donors Are Tied to Pepe Cardona, Mexican Fugitive

February 7, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the February 6 2012 New York Times:

Two American brothers of a Mexican casino magnate who fled drug and fraud charges in the United States and has been seeking a pardon enabling him to return have emerged as major fund-raisers and donors for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

The casino owner, Juan Jose Rojas Cardona, known as Pepe, jumped bail in Iowa in 1994 and disappeared, and has since been linked to violence and corruption in Mexico. A State Department cable in 2009 said he was suspected of orchestrating the assassination of a business rival and making illegal campaign donations to Mexican officials.

When The New York Times asked the Obama campaign early Monday about the Cardonas, officials said they were unaware of the brother in Mexico. Later in the day, the campaign said it was refunding the money raised by the family, which totaled more than $200,000.

Last fall, Carlos Cardona and another brother in Chicago, Alberto Rojas Cardona, began raising money for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The Cardona brothers, who have no prior history of political giving, appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the world of Democratic fund-raising, Democratic activists said.

The money Alberto Cardona raised put him in the upper tiers of fund-raisers known as bundlers, according to a list released last month by the campaign. He and Carlos Cardona each gave the maximum $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, and a lesser amount to a state victory fund. A sister, Leticia Rojas Cardona of Tennessee, donated $13,000 to the national committee, and another relative in Illinois gave $12,600, records show. There is no record of Pepe Cardona making a donation.

Pepe Cardona is one of the largest players in Mexico’s violent and tumultuous casino trade. In 2007, he survived an assassination attempt that was attributed to members of organized crime. The State Department cable, which was part of the cache made public by WikiLeaks, said he was suspected of illegally funneling $5 million into Mexican political campaigns in 2006.

The first campaign donations by Alberto and Carlos Cardona came shortly after news articles revealing Pepe Cardona’s criminal past appeared in the United States and Mexico last fall.

One of them, a long exposé in September by a Mexican magazine, Proceso, chronicled Pepe Cardona’s relatively swift rise to fortune and notoriety in Mexico after fleeing the American authorities. He obtained Mexican gambling licenses, and with help from investors in Louisiana, he started opening casinos in and around Monterrey, eventually becoming known as Mexico’s “casino czar.”

The article reported that Tango Media, an advertising company it said is owned by Alberto Cardona, worked on the campaigns of politicians favored by Pepe Cardona in communities where he owned casinos. It also said Carlos Cardona was involved in one of Pepe Cardona’s business deals.

Major Obama Donors Are Tied to Pepe Cardona, Mexican Fugitive – NYTimes.com.

 

The Atlantic: One of the Nation’s Top Historians Decides It’s Time to Embrace Wikipedia

February 4, 2012 - Leave a Response

Fromm the February 4 2012 Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen writes:

Now, about a decade in to this great experiment in collaborative creation, Wikipedians efforts are resulting in increased credibility among academic historians, signaled most recently by an essay by the president of the American Historical Association William Cronon in the association’s publication Perspectives on History. Cronon writes:

 Whatever reservations one might still have about its overall quality, I don’t believe there’s much doubt that Wikipedia is the largest, most comprehensive, copiously detailed, stunningly useful encyclopedia in all of human history.

I myself use it on a daily basis, and am pretty sure most of my colleagues and students do too even if they won’t admit it. . . . Wikipedia is today the gateway through which millions of people now seek access to knowledge which not long ago was only available using tools constructed and maintained by professional scholars.

These strengths of Wikipedia are enormously useful to anyone looking for basic information online. But for the academy, Wikipedia has a particular value, one Cronon particularly loves: It is pushing the world of academic scholarship to be more open, for the walls at its edges to fall. Cronon explains:

Wikipedia provides an online home for people interested in histories long marginalized by the traditional academy. The old boundary between antiquarianism and professional history collapses in an online universe where people who love a particular subject can compile and share endless historical resources for its study in ways never possible before. Amateur genealogists have enabled the creation of document databases that quantitative historians of the 1960s could only fantasize. . . In the wikified world of the Web, it’s no longer possible to police these boundaries of academic respectability, and we may all be the better for it if only we can embrace this new openness without losing the commitment to rigor that the best amateurs and professionals have always shared more than the professionals have generally been willing to admit.

One of the Nation’s Top Historians Decides It’s Time to Embrace Wikipedia – Rebecca J. Rosen – Technology – The Atlantic.

WSJ: Hong Kong-Mainland Tiffs Worry Beijing

February 3, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the February  2012 Wall Street Journal

A series of incidents in this city have highlighted escalating resentment among Hong Kongers toward the ever-growing presence of mainland Chinese in the city, a shift that has Beijing both incensed and worried.

In recent weeks the tension has risen following a poll showing that the number of Hong Kong residents identifying themselves as Chinese citizens—as opposed to Hong Kong citizens or a mix of both—fell to 16.6%, a 12-year low. Three years ago, 38.6% of Hong Kong residents considered themselves Chinese citizens.

Hong Kong-Mainland Tiffs Worry Beijing – WSJ.com.

 

WSJ: Searching for Side Effects

February 3, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the January 31 2012 Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has millions of . . . “adverse event” reports, ranging from fatigue to fatal heart attacks, for thousands of prescription drugs dating back to 1969. But the information hasn’t been readily accessible—until now.

A start-up company, AdverseEvents Inc., has streamlined the FDA’s often impenetrable database and made it easy to search the adverse-event reports for more than 4,500 drugs, free and online.

Another start-up, Clarimed LLC, has done the same for reports filed with the FDA on 130,000 medical devices, a far more complex group that runs the gamut from syringes to stents to tanning beds and diagnostic machines that could impact tens of thousands of lives.

Both companies, which launched in September, see their services as empowering patients, many of whom now comb Internet discussion boards for medical information.

Searching for Side Effects – WSJ.com.

The Associated Press: Anxiety in New Zealand as Chinese buy dairy farms

February 3, 2012 - Leave a Response

From the January 2012 Associated Press:

Chinese investors are buying New Zealand farmland for the first time as economic ties with the Asian powerhouse grow ever deeper, sparking considerable anxiety in a country where livelihoods are heavily reliant on agriculture. New Zealand’s government [in late January 2012] approved the sale of 16 dairy farms to a company controlled by the Shanghai Pengxin Group, run by wealthy property developer Jiang Zhaobai.

. . . nationalist voices have lined up against the sale, saying it will open the floodgates to foreign ownership. A consortium of local farmers and businessmen led by merchant banker Sir Michael Fay are taking legal action to try and stop or reverse the sale, which is due to close next week, in hopes they can buy the land themselves at a cheaper price.

. . . the prospects for New Zealand’s economy and the prosperity of its 4.4 million people are increasingly tied to China.

In 2008, the two countries signed a free-trade agreement, the first such agreement China signed with a developed nation. China has overtaken the U.S. to become New Zealand’s second-largest export market, behind only neighboring Australia, and by far its largest buyer of dairy products — a commodity that makes up a fifth of New Zealand’s export earnings. And the number of Chinese tourists visiting New Zealand has rapidly increased as well.

In New Zealand, rural land can be sold to overseas investors only with approval from a government agency which attempts to determine whether those investors are of good character and that their investment will benefit New Zealanders.

In buying the farms, Pengxin agreed to certain conditions, such as having its milk products processed by a New Zealand-owned company.

Pengxin spokesman Cedric Allan said a growing Chinese middle class is interested in consuming a diet filled with more protein and Western-style products such as yoghurt and cheese.

He said some Chinese are wary of consuming their own dairy products after some were found to be contaminated with the chemical compound melamine that killed at least six infants and sickened 300,000 children in 2008.

The Associated Press: Anxiety in New Zealand as Chinese buy dairy farms.

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