Friday, October 19, 2012

Hats off too Sony! Good call...

You may have feared the consumer confusion that would come out of the Consumer Electronics Association's decision to rebrand 4K as Ultra High-Definition, and now Sony is doing very little to allay those concerns. The company has just sent us word that it "lauds the CEA's efforts," but will continue using "4K" for its current products and will brand future devices as "4K Ultra High-Definition (4K UHD)."

According to the statement, Sony is using its own branding in order to "ensure clarity for consumers and delineate between today’s and tomorrow’s technology" — a clear nod to the similarities beween Ultra High-Definition and the current High-Definition standard. Thankfully, Sony's nomenclature still includes the UHD branding, but we wouldn't be surprised if consumers think 4K UHD is better than UHD alone, even if they both adhere to the same standard. Now the wait commences to see which other manufacturers will come up with their own branding for the future of high-resolution televisions. Full statement below.

Just a quick note to let you know that as a leader at the forefront of new display technology such as HD, 3D and beyond, Sony lauds the CEA’s efforts to come up with a common language to describe the next generation high-definition technology. However, to ensure clarity for consumers and delineate between today’s and tomorrow’s technology, Sony will continue to use the 4K moniker for its products and will market its future products as 4K ultra high-definition (4K UHD).

Is the U.S. economy really on the rebound. Stats say yes. Will Wall Street care?

A railway engineer
A railway engineer in Wilmington, California. American employers say there is a lack of skills in the US workforce to fill highly technical positions. Photograph: Rene Macura/Associated Press
The latest US employment data has confirmed that the American economy is on the path to recovery after the recession of 2008-2009, despite the slowdown engulfing other G20 nations.
Indeed, the pace of private sector job growth has been much stronger in this recovery than after the 2001 recession and is comparable to the resurgence after the 1990-1991 slump.
In the last 31 months, private sector employment rose by 5.2 million and the unemployment rate is now below 8% for the first time in nearly four years. But it is still more than two percentage points above the long-run value that most economists view as normal when the economy is operating near its potential.
Moreover, the number of long-term unemployed (27 weeks or longer) is about 40% of the total – the lowest share since 2009 but still far higher than at any time since the 1930s Great Depression and about double what it would be in a normal labour market. So the US labour market, while healing, is still far from where it should be.
That is partly because the job losses since the 2008 financial crisis were so large – twice as large as any recession since the Great Depression. In terms of US economic history, what is abnormal is not the pace of private sector job growth since the 2008-2009 recession ended, but rather the length and depth of the recession itself.
The downturn was a distinctive balance-sheet recession that caused sizeable declines in household wealth and necessitated painful deleveraging. Consistent with recoveries from such recessions, demand has grown slowly, despite unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus, and that explains why the unemployment rate remains high. Indeed, businesses cite uncertainty about the strength of demand, not uncertainty about regulation or taxation, as the main factor holding back job creation.
Public sector demand has also contracted, owing to state and local governments' deteriorating budgets. As a result, public employment, which usually rises during recoveries, has been a major contributor to high unemployment during the last three years. Despite a modest uptick in the last three months, government employment is 569,000 below its June 2009 level – a 30-year low as a share of the adult civilian population.
According to Hamilton Project calculations, if this share were at its 1980-2012 average of about 9.6% (it was actually higher between 2001 and 2007), there would be about 1.4 million more public sector jobs and the unemployment rate would be around 6.9%.
Recent reports suggest that there are more than three million unfilled job openings, and about 49% of employers say that they have difficulty filling positions, especially in information technology, engineering, and skilled trades. This has fanned speculation that a "mismatch" between workers' skills and employers' needs is a significant factor behind the elevated unemployment rate.
But there is scant evidence to support this view. The relationship between the unemployment rate and the job vacancy rate is consistent with patterns in previous recoveries. Nor is there anything unusual about the size of mismatches between job openings and worker availability by industry.
Such industrial mismatches become larger during recessions, reflecting greater churn in the labour market as workers move between shrinking and expanding sectors; but they decline as the economy recovers. This pattern also characterises the current recovery, and recent data suggest that mismatches between the demand and supply of labour by industry are back to pre-recession levels.
But, as the US economy recovers, technological change is accelerating, fuelling demand for more skills at a time when the workforce's educational attainment levels have plateaued. This is the real skills gap that existed before the 2008 recession – and it is getting worse over time.
The gap manifests itself in much higher unemployment rates for high school-educated workers than for college-educated workers at every stage of the business cycle. The gap also shows up in significant – and rising – inequality between the earnings of high school-educated workers and those with a college degree or higher.
Earnings gains have been especially strong for those with tertiary degrees, while the real wages of high school-educated workers, especially men, have fallen sharply. It is becoming increasingly difficult for workers with low levels of educational attainment to find high-paying jobs in any sector, even when the economy is operating near full capacity.
The US was the world leader in high school and college graduation rates for much of the twentieth century. Today it ranks in the middle of the OECD countries.
A major factor behind that relative decline has been the US school system's failure to ensure high-quality education for disadvantaged Americans, particularly children from poor, minority, and immigrant households. According to the most recent census, about one-quarter of children under the age of six live in poverty. They are less likely to have access to early childhood programmes that prepare them for school, and are more likely to attend schools that have high student/teacher ratios and that cannot attract and retain skilled teachers.
As a result of these and other problems, the average American secondary school student receives inadequate preparation in core subjects such as writing, mathematics, and analytical reasoning, which in turn reduces college enrolment and completion rates. The US experience is consistent with OECD evidence that students from countries with greater income inequality score lower on academic achievement tests. And a recent study by McKinsey suggests that the gaps in educational opportunity and attainment by income impose the equivalent of a permanent recession of 3-5% of GDP on the US economy.
To address the skills gap, the US must boost the educational attainment of current and future workers. That means investing more in education at all levels – in early childhood education programmes, elementary and secondary schools, community colleges, trade school programs for specific jobs in specific sectors, and financial aid for higher education. Above all, it means addressing the income disparities in educational opportunity and attainment.

Online socializing. Is it safe or private? Can It be?

Dear Lifehacker,

After the Violentacrez debacle, I've realized that it's easy for people to find out who I am online. I'm not doing anything too egregious, but I'd just rather people on Reddit and other forums not know who I am. Is there any way I can be anonymous while still being a part of a community?
Anon Plussed

Dear AP,
Being anonymous online means different things to different people. A lot of people are just worried about advertisers and other companies tracking them. Extensions like Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and Do Not Track Plus, can help with that. But if you're part of an online forum, you're facing a different kind of problem: anonymity from other users. That's a lot harder to keep.

Go Anonymous with Secure Browsing and Fake Names
We've talked about creating a fake identity to stay anonymous online before and the process is pretty simple. First off, start with all the anonymous browsing tips above. You also want to use a VPN to create a private network, proxy server, or browse the internet with Tor to completely anonymize your browsing. You can also take it a step further and use an operating system specifically designed for anonymous browsing.

Once that's set up, you need to create a fake identity for every web site you go to. If you use the same handle across multiple places, someone is bound to figure you out. To do this, create a disposable email address for every site you sign up for, and never log into those services without taking the steps mentioned above.

Being anonymous also means you can't really share that much information about your real life. To a point, this is great—but that means you have to always watch what you're sharing with others. Revealing your work, hometown, voice, or accomplishments means you're opening yourself up for someone to figure out who you are. Even a simple picture might reveal where you live or work, so be careful.

What You're Missing When You Go Anonymous in a Community
Even with fake IDs, VPNs, and disposable email addresses, there's always the chance you'll slip up and be found. But more so than that, going anonymous means you're missing out on some of the best parts of online communities: actually meeting people in real life and sharing anything you've done.

Most major online communities have meetups of some kind (we've been known to do it once and a while too), and it's part of the allure of being in an online community. At some point, you're bound to meet someone at a convention, meetup, or even just talk on the phone. Personally, I've played countless games online with people from the Something Awful forums, and it's always incredibly interesting to hear them interact with each other. They're not even my friends and I could still recognize them on the street if I heard them talking.

Anonymity also means you miss out on some of the benefits of using your real identity. As we've mentioned before, writing reviews of products can net you free stuff, but you have to use your real name to benefit. Being anonymous also makes it difficult to share anything you've made—whether it's a DIY project on Instructables, a video on YouTube, a song on Bandcamp, or whatever else.

It ends up boiling down to figuring out exactly what you want from an online community. If you're simply looking for a sounding board to unleash all your thoughts without worrying about judgement, anonymous is probably the way to go, and it's not hard to do. However, if you want to build something larger from an online community, it might be best to be somewhat transparent with your identity, and practice the same restraint for conversations as you do in real life.

That said, just because you want anonymity on one forum doesn't mean you can't use your real identity elsewhere. Just make sure you choose to represent yourself accordingly, and follow the precautions above every time you sign on.

Google search becoming less relevant? Here's a new perspective.

Here's Why Google Could Disappear in Five Years | October 19, 2012

Google may be on its way out as the dominant player in search, according to one analyst — and could even "disappear" in as little as five to eight years if the competitive pressures that ultimately claimed other search giants start to take root.

In the wake of a surprisingly weak earnings report, Eric Jackson, Ironfire capital founder and managing member, said Google Google [ GOOG 678.06 -16.94 (-2.44%) ] could easily find itself fending off the woes that eventually took hold at embattled Yahoo! [ YHOO 15.935 -0.065 (-0.41%) ].

"They could disappear in five to eight years and disappear in the sense that Yahoo used to be the king of search. Now, for all intents and purposes, Yahoo has disappeared," Jackson said Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street".

The primary reason Google may lose its search dominance is because the company is facing the same mobile problem as Facebook [ FB 18.92 -0.055 (-0.29%) ], Jackson said. (Read More: Google Has the Same Mobile-Ad Problem as Facebook)

"If Facebook saw a deceleration in their sales and their growth lead to a halving of their stock price...why wouldn't it also be something that is very negative for Google as it continues to play out?" he said.

Sharing Mega style.

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (shown above in his Twitter image) is out of jail and ready to start his next venture—but from the looks of things it’s not much different than his last.

Dotcom debuted Mega on Thursday, which essentially is the same type of service as Megaupload. Mega, which Dotcom said in September would appear soon, will allow for the sharing of large files much like its predecessor when it launches later this year. There’s one key change, though: it will handled stored data much differently.

Mega encrypts all files before uploading, and each downloader receives a unique decryption key to read the file once it’s downloaded. This means the site itself cannot readily view the files themselves, which Dotcom and his associates claim will clear them of any liability.

The site’s structure pushes any liability onto the uploader themselves. He or she has full control over who may have access to their files rather than Mega itself. Furthermore, none of the encryption keys will be stored on Mega’s servers.

“If servers are lost, if the government comes into a data center and rapes it, if someone hacks the server or steals it, it would give him nothing,” Dotcom told Wired in an interview. “Whatever is uploaded to the site, it is going to be remain closed and private without the key.”

How Mega's data is to be stored
Another key change is how data is stored: Mega will store copies of its files in two different servers across two countries, which it hopes will prevent the kind of data loss that occurred after the FBI seized its servers during a raid early this year.

With the new system, all that's different will be the encryption. Now, a file is encrypted on the server but the encryption keys are not stored on the server, and access is controlled by the uploader. That user has a secondary key to decrypt the file which he or she provides to anyone who wants to download the content.

Right idea? Wrong implementation? Do people want to save money?

Power Hogs Targeted by France in Big Brother Legislation

By Tara Patel

October 19, 2012

Heating a French home could soon require an income tax consultation or even a visit to the doctor under legislation to force conservation in the nation’s $46 billion household energy market.

A bill adopted by the lower house this month would set prices that homes pay based on wages, age and climate. Utilities Electricite de France SA and GDF Suez SA (GSZ) will use the data to reward consumers who cut power and natural gas usage and penalize those whom regulators decide are wasteful.

“It’s Orwellian,” opposition lawmaker Daniel Fasquelle said by telephone.

“The law will create huge inequalities and infringe on people’s individual freedoms. It won’t work.”

Socialist President Francois Hollande is pushing boundaries of privacy and privilege in carrying out a campaign promise to reduce energy costs. France, which built the world’s biggest reliance on nuclear power as other nations buckled under public anxiety over atomic energy, is now seeking support to reward homes for “negawatts,” or not using a kilowatt of power.

The law would be unique to France and is symbolic to the Socialists, a government official who declined to be identified said yesterday. Households bought 35 billion euros ($46 billion) of energy in 2011, including power, gas and other heating fuels.

The legislation drew criticism from trade unions and industry groups. It will add layers of bureaucracy to a power system already attacked in court and antitrust probes for being oppressive for customers and competitors of EDF (EDF) and GDF Suez, the former state monopolies that still dominate supply, opponents said.

While the government said the changes won’t cut earnings at EDF and GDF Suez, the uncertainty may weigh on their shares that investors have already marked down by 1.2 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively, in the past three months while the Bloomberg European Utilities Index (BEUTIL) gained 5.2 percent.

The proposed law was adopted by the National Assembly on Oct. 4 and is set for Senate debate later this month. Opposition from Communist members has pushed a Senate commission to postpone its examination until Oct. 23 so some revisions can be made. The draft contravenes the principle of equal access to energy across France and should be completely revised, Communist senators said in a statement late yesterday.

EDF and GDF Suez would be the most exposed because of their dominant positions. EDF supplies power to 28 million household clients in France, while GDF Suez provides gas to 9.4 million customers, giving them respective market shares of 93 percent and 90 percent by volume, according to the regulator.

“It won’t be beneficial for the utilities, it will be neutral at best,” Emmanuel Retif, analyst at Raymond James Euro Equities in Paris, said by e-mail. “If it were to be beneficial, heating bills would have to rise and that’s not what the government is trying to do.”
Investor wariness of the planned progressive and social power rates stems from 4.5 billion euros in payment arrears that have accumulated on EDF’s books as of June 30, mostly because of renewable energy subsidies.

The draft legislation encourages households to use less energy either by changing their habits or insulating their homes. Thrifty energy consumers will be rewarded with lower rates while wasteful ones will have to pay more. The law is supposed to be financially neutral for utilities, according to the draft.

Power and gas bills in France and elsewhere typically vary according to the size of a dwelling, type of heating and whether it’s on a windy Alpine ridge or the warmer Mediterranean coast.

The new French law will add income and the number and age of occupants to the mix. Having a medical condition that requires electricity-powered equipment like respirators or wheelchairs will also enter into the equation.

“The principle is good, but the law raises a whole series of practical problems,” Nicolas Mouchnino, head of energy and environmental issues at French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir, said by phone. “It’s very difficult to tell the difference with any degree of certainty between energy use that is essential and that which may be superfluous.”

The rules could make relations between property owners and renters more antagonistic and open the way for fraudulent claims about energy use, he said.

The law as it stands would create an incentive system for energy use.

Households would be granted a base volume of power or gas considered appropriate for the dwelling. This volume would be determined by fiscal and social security authorities from tax returns and other documents such as income statements, studies of local weather and medical records.

Households meeting certain criteria could be among 4 million -- a fourfold increase under the planned law -- that will be eligible for reduced “social” rates for energy. The rest will have their prices adjusted according to volumes consumed.

The government and regulator will set the reward and penalty incentives under which households using less than their allotted base volume of energy get rebates while those surpassing the limits pay higher rates. The difference could be as much as 60 euros a megawatt-hour, according to the draft.

This could translate into penalties of 600 euros a year for a home “leaking heat” compared to a well-insulated one, according to opposition lawmaker Antoine Herth. Environmental Minister Delphine Batho told senators the government will provide its own simulations of the effects on household bills, which will be “reasonable” so as to act as an incentive.

Renters will be able to deduct from their monthly payments a part of the higher costs of heating a home deemed to have low energy use efficiency, maybe because it’s poorly insulated, while the elderly or households with certain yet-to-be specified heating installations will get higher base volumes of energy.
“It’s so complicated I don’t think it will ever be implemented,” said Laurent Langlard, a spokesman on energy issues for the Confederation General du Travail. The biggest union in the energy sector backs lower energy rates for consumers but this plan is “unworkable,” he said.

The law would necessitate the state-bank Caisse des Depots et Consignations to oversee a specially-created fund designed to make the system financially neutral for utilities.
France will become the first country to reward consumers for “negawatts” or power they don’t use, Batho said.
“The measure will necessitate a lot of personal data,” CNIL Chairwoman Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin said in an interview in Paris. “When you get inside people’s homes there is the possibility to collect a lot of data on individuals. This has to be done by respecting peoples’ rights and giving them guarantees that this will be the case.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at

Sony to reduce workforce in Japan by 2000.

Struggling Japanese tech giant Sony has detailed restructuring plans for its Japan-based business as it seeks to slim down operations by closing a lens factory and shedding 2,000 jobs via an early-retirement scheme.

The company says that it is making the changes to “revitalize and grow” its electronics business and it says that it is expecting to save $378 million (30 billion yen) annually from next year. The basis of the changes was laid back in April when the firm announced that it would reduce its headcount by 10,000 — including 3,000-4,000 in Japan — as it implements a $945 million (75 billion yen) restructuring program.

The Minokamo-based plant produces lenses for digital SLR cameras, lens blocks and mobile devices, and — alongside customer support — the 56,713 metre squared site houses some 840 employees. As part of its focus on mobile — which saw it buy out former partner Ericsson for $1.29 billion earlier this year — Sony will transfer some activity from Minokamo to other sites but others will be laid to rest. The company is not detailing precisely what will kept just yet though

The early-retirement plan is set to have the greatest impact on the gaming giant’s head office, where it says that 20 percent of the workforce will have departed by the end of the year – thanks to a series of streamlining initiatives.

The effects of the organizational changes, which has consolidated the firm and cut excess services and divisions, have also prompted it to establish Sony Corporate Services (Japan) Corp, which it says will provide ‘horizontal’ operations support for its businesses in Japan.

The restructuring hasn’t just been about slashing budgets and the firm ploughed $644 million into Olympus, in a move that will consolidate the two firm’s camera technologies and focus on opportunities in the medical imaging industry.

The first streamlining measure that impacted its home market came when it announce in August that it would cut 1,000 global jobs from its handset division, which is relocating to Japan from Sweden.

The PlayStation-maker is haemorrhaging cash and its most recent financial results, published in August, saw income before tax plummet 59 percent to hit $118.5 million (9.4 billion yen). Net losses for the three-month period grew to $310 million (24.6 billion yen), up from $195.3 million (15.5 billion yen) a year previous.

Sony sold its chemical products business for $730 million in June.

Image Credit: Koichi Kamoshida/Getty