Saturday, 31 December 2011

Some life-affirming thoughts for a tech New Year



by Chris Matyszczyk

 
(Credit: CC KhE/Flickr)
 
Viewing the tech world, as I do, largely from the fringes, I sometimes wonder just how seriously it takes itself.

Make a joke about Apple and invective will descend on you. Make a joke about Google+ and expect to be told to "eat a large bowl of raw d***"-- oh, and to be followed by a lot more people on Google+.

The New Year will, no doubt, see more intensity surrounding tech companies, tech products, and tech personalities.

Some people will work beyond their physical and mental capacities. Some people will believe that killing Google, Apple, Facebook is everything that exists in life. Some people will lose perspective entirely about what's important and what is mere group-speak.



So to celebrate the New Year, here are the words of a palliative-care nurse who's spent much of her life listening to people on their deathbeds. These truths were first published on the Arise India forum but were then republished by the extraordinary writer Kelly Oxford.

These, then, are what this nurse saw as the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Perhaps they might seem obvious, perhaps not. But their raw reality becomes evident when, as the nurse says, people realized they were experiencing their last few days on Earth.



1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was, apparently, the most common regret. In tech terms, think of everything that is expected of people. Many of those who leave college believe that tech is the only place worth working these days. They don't always consider whether they'll enjoy it or not. Most people in the world are now being told that if they're not on a social network, they don't exist. So they spend hours every day peering into screens. The life that is true to you isn't always easy to identify, never mind to live.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard. Self-evident, perhaps. But surely still something worth thinking about in a world in which personal insecurity is now being traded as if it were just another commodity. We're scared, so we work harder. The harder we work, the more scared we become that this is all there is and all there ever will be.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. The nurse talks about how people developed illnesses that she believes were directly related to the "bitterness and resentment" they felt as a result of living a false life. In tech terms, how many people truly believe they are creating a new tomorrow? And how many feel they are staring into their screens in order to line someone else's pocket and ego, without ever themselves being appreciated for what they do and who they are?

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Yes, these people never had Facebook. But are those Facebook friends really your friends? Have you let go of your real friends because you're too busy with your Facebook friends? As the nurse puts it: "It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships." Which would mean real relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. "When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind," says the nurse. And yet here we are in the real, techified life, where what others think of us matters more than ever. If someone says something bad about us on the Web (something that is so very, very easy and therefore likely), we are mortified--more so, because the bad words will always live in some electronic physical existence. The bad words will never go away because we can find them. Ergo, so can everyone else. Yet what this nurse tells us is that the opinions of others matter far, far less than we might think at the time.

Perhaps this seems a somber way to wish everyone a Happy New Year. But the one thing we have that those of whom the nurse writes don't is time. Here's looking forward to a very happy 2012 and, hopefully, one that is very true to each of our individual selves.

Chris Matyszczyk
Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing. He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.

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Enter the Dragon Year 2012 , with hope, fear, or both?

Chinese Dragon


China moves to centre stage

THE STRAIT TIMES by IVAN KRASTEV

The most striking contrast when comparing today’s American world with a possible Chinese world of tomorrow is how their people experience the world beyond their borders.

FOR a European these days, thinking about the future is disturbing. America is militarily overstretched, politically polarised, and financially indebted. The European Union seems on the brink of collapse, and many non-Europeans view the old continent as a retired power that can still impress the world with its good manners, but not with nerve or ambition.

Global opinion surveys over the last three years consistently indicate that many are turning their backs on the West and – with hope, fear, or both – see China as moving to centre stage. As the old joke goes, optimists are learning to speak Chinese; pessimists are learning to use a Kalashnikov.

While a small army of experts argues that China’s rise to power should not be assumed, and that its economic, political, and demographic foundations are fragile, the conventional wisdom is that China’s power is growing. Many wonder what a global Pax Sinica might look like: How would China’s global influence manifest itself? How would Chinese hegemony differ from the American variety?

Generally, questions of ideology, economics, history, and military power dominate today’s China debate.

But, when comparing today’s American world with a possible Chinese world of tomorrow, the most striking contrast consists in how Americans and Chinese experience the world beyond their borders.

America is a nation of immigrants, but it is also a nation of people who never emigrate.



Notably, Americans living outside the United States are not called emigrants, but ‘expats.’ America gave the world the notion of the melting pot – an alchemical cooking device wherein diverse ethnic and religious groups voluntarily mix together, producing a new, American identity. And while critics may argue that the melting pot is a national myth, it has tenaciously informed the America’s collective imagination.

Since the first Europeans settled there in the 17th century, people from around the world have been drawn to the American dream of a better future; America’s allure is partly its ability to transform others into Americans. As one Russian, now an Oxford University don, put it, ‘You can become an American, but you can never become an Englishman.’

It is, therefore, not surprising that America’s global agenda is transformative; it is a rule-maker.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have not tried to change the world, but rather to adjust to it. China’s relationships with other countries are channelled through its diaspora, and the Chinese perceive the world via their experience as immigrants.

Today, more Chinese live outside China than French people live in France, and these overseas Chinese account for the largest number of investors in China. In fact, only 20 years ago, Chinese living abroad produced approximately as much wealth as China’s entire internal population. First the Chinese diaspora succeeded, then China itself.

Chinatowns – often insular communities located in large cities around the world – are the Chinese diaspora’s core. As the political scientist Lucien Pye once observed, ‘the Chinese see such an absolute difference between themselves and others that they unconsciously find it natural to refer to those in whose homeland they are living as ‘foreigners.’

While the American melting pot transforms others, Chinatowns teach their inhabitants to adjust – to profit from their hosts’ rules and business while remaining separate.

While Americans carry their flag high, Chinese work hard to be invisible. Chinese communities worldwide have managed to become influential in their new homelands without being threatening; to be closed and non-transparent without provoking anger; to be a bridge to China without appearing to be a fifth column.

As China is about adaptation, not transformation, it is unlikely to change the world dramatically should it ever assume the global driver’s seat. But this does not mean that China won’t exploit that world for its own purposes.

America, at least in theory, prefers that other countries share its values and act like Americans. China can only fear a world where everybody acts like the Chinese. So, in a future dominated by China, the Chinese will not set the rules; rather, they will seek to extract the greatest possible benefit from the rules that already exist.

Ivan Krastev is Chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a Permanent Fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna.

2012, a new year’s field of wishes


A new year’s field of wishes

ON YOUR OWN by TAN THIAM HOCK

TODAY is the last day of 2011. Congrats for having survived another business year. Hope you have stayed healthy too.

As an entrepreneur, based on a scale of one to 10, have you had a good year? Moderate year? Or just another year that you would like to forget? What are your wishes for 2012 and beyond?

What if I start an entrepreneur wish list that I will send to our dear Prime Minister? Would you support me and write to me the one wish that you think should be included in the list? But please do not send me letters or post cards as I have no intention of physically delivering the sack loads to Putrajaya. It is bad for my poor back and also my golf swing which will then go from bad to worse.

And no long messages or long winded explanations either. He is a very busy man. If possible, keep it to one word. That should catch his attention.

If you are still uncertain on how to approach the one word, perhaps, I can be of some help. For instance, we will have an acronym eWISH1M which is one Malaysian entrepreneur wish. Then, from the dictionary, just pick one word and I am sure his circle of advisors and strategists will be able to analyse it from many different angles, some of which even you are not aware of. Here is an example:

To our dearest YAB PM eWISH1M “field”



If his super smart advisors interpret field as an expanse of open or cleared land suitable for pasture or tillage or playing, then he will recognise the wishes of the people to preserve the few green lungs and playing fields left in Klang Valley. Instruct the State Economic Development Corporations and and Government-Linked Companies to forego the development and profit potential and leave open fields alone.

Maybe one of the advisors will realise that fields like Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, Sg Buloh should have been earmarked for low cost housing. Maybe it is possible to build three bedroom high rise apartments at a cost of RM 150,000 (no land cost) to cater to the needs of the poor.

What they deemed as valuable land should be used to house a valuable workforce that will feed the needs of the commercial capital of Malaysia. No poor man can afford a minimum RM400,000 house that will be built on this rubber field.

Malaysian entrepreneurs of all races are asking for a level playing field. Where opportunities are not hijacked by the privileged few. Why should a small retailer under the Economic Transformation Plan, have to borrow RM60,000 to revamp his store so that he can survive the onslaught of foreign hypermarkets when under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP), a very successful local multi millionaire retailer be given RM40mil to open retail stores? The GTP should be helping the needy, not the greedy.

On the field of expertise, the PM should be worried when the Employee's Provident Fund (EPF) second their chief investment officer (CIO) to manage a bank when the CIO should be managing our RM400bil savings. Like the other sovereign funds Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Permodalan Nasional Berhad, EPF should stick to their field of expertise which is fund investment and not fun management.

Even though it is quite intoxicating to act as powerful entrepreneurs when you are not, the supreme fund managers of our sovereign wealth and pension funds should realise that they are accountable to the citizens of Malaysia who are shareholders and stakeholders in the wealth of the nation.

In addition to fielding winnable candidates for the coming elections, the PM should appoint intelligent and capable field generals as ministers. Generals who can lead the nation into international economic battlefields not shrieking racial rhetorics in local fields. Generals who can field any MACC question and know what their family is up to. INTELLIGENT1Minister should be your next mission should you agree to accept your reappointment as PM-1.

Corporate Malaysia Inc operates like magnetic fields where greedy entrepreneurs are drawn to inept politicians and corrupt officials. Either you lead the field or you leave the field. Those in power reap the fields. Losers are sent to the killing fields.

And I will end my message to our dear PM with a plea Restore HONOUR1M.

Unfortunately, this might just be one word too many for his super smart advisors to comprehend. And wishful thinking on my part. Final reality check.

On a personal note, I have written on issues outside the field of entrepreneurship and as such will leave the field to the real writers.

It had started out as a challenge from the ever gracious CEO of Star Publications (M) Bhd and thanks to him, I now have a better appreciation of responsible journalism. And how not being able to write freely on issues close to your heart can be detrimental to your golf swing and your soul.

Many thanks to friends who texted and emailed their support. To those who wrote to me for all the right reasons, you kept me going week after week. Much appreciated.

To all eWannabes, Good luck.

To all entrepreneurs, Happy New Year.

The writer is an entrepreneur who hopes to shares his experience and insights with readers who want to take that giant leap into business but are not sure if they should. Email him at thtan@alliancecosmetics.com

Biz Talk 2011-12-17 Currency integration questioned (Video)

Biz Talk 2011-12-17 Currency integration questioned CCTV News - CNTV English

Friday, 30 December 2011

Jobless schizophrenic with 12 credit cards owes RM50,000




By AMANDA NG YANN CHWEN and KATHY CHIN newsdesk@thestar.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR: An unemployed schizophrenic has landed himself with a RM50,000 debt – no thanks to his 12 credit cards.



MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong said the man, known only as Y.F. Chong, 35, had approached him for help as he was afraid he would go to jail.

“Why was it so easy for him to get so many cards when his salary was only 1,500?” he asked reporters at a press conference at his office here yesterday.

Y.F., who used to work in a milling factory, said he would apply for every credit card offered to him by promoters at shopping centres and was approved for all of them.

He said that when he lost his job in October due to his condition, which was diagnosed in 2004, he started depending on his credit cards to get by.

“Previously, I used to pay for trips to spas and a holiday in Thailand with my credit cards,” he said, adding that he even took two supplementary cards for his mother and sister.

He said last year, the banks started demanding payment, adding that all his cards have now been cancelled.

“If I still had a job, I would pay off the debts by instalment, but I am jobless now,” said YF, who because of his condition, claims somebody is following him and poisoning his food.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterised by a breakdown of thought processes and by poor emotional responsiveness. Symptoms include auditory hallucinations, paranoia or delusions,

He claimed that when he tried to file for bankruptcy, the Official Assignee office asked him to pay another RM1,500 for filing charges.

“I couldn’t as I didn’t have the money,” he said.

Chong expressed amazement that YF managed to get 12 credit cards.

He said he had tried to apply for a Gold Card more than 10 years ago, and was rejected.

“Why is it so easy to apply for credit cards now?” he asked.

Chong added that it was not surprising that so many young people in the country were in serious debt.

“There’s something really wrong with the current system,” he said, adding that banks should have a more thorough vetting process.

‘He is a good father’, man chained kids!


The man may have chained kids out of desperation

BUTTERWORTH: The man accused of shackling his children in a bathroom is not as cruel as he had been made out to be, according to his neighbours and police.

Breaking free: The chains on the girl’s leg being removed at the house in Jalan Raja Uda. — GARY CHEN / The Star >>

“Their relationship is very close.

“The children would give their father a goodbye kiss whenever he leaves the house,” said a neighbour, known only as Lee.

Lee said the man had been under much stress since his Thai wife left home about a month ago.

Another neighbour, who wished to be known only as Gan, said the father was a friendly man and he seldom scolded his children.

“I am not sure why he decided to chain the kids, but I guess he was at wit’s end on how to take care of them,” said Gan, who runs a plastics shop next to the double-storey shoplot in Taman Mawar on Jalan Raja Uda where the family stays.

The two children, aged two and six, had been chained inside the bathroom of their home on Wednesday.

Authorities broke into the place after being alerted by neighbours who heard them crying.

Their father has been detained while the children have been warded at the Seberang Jaya Hospital.

Gan said the children were usually left in the one-bedroom home on the first floor when the father went out to deliver goods to customers from 3pm to 10pm.

“He is very busy as he runs a shop on the ground floor while his children live upstairs,” he said.

Asked about the children’s behaviour, Gan said the two-year-old boy was naughty and had thrown toys and chairs out from the balcony.

Another neighbour, Soy, said that she would give the children some bread when she heard their cries.

Penang police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Ayub Yaakob said the community must play its role and help the family instead of blaming the man for his action.



“We must not just look at the case from the criminal aspect.

“Obviously, he was under a lot of stress and he needs help and support from the community at this point,” he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Raymond Tan, the uncle of the two siblings, has stepped in to take temporary custody of the two children.

The North Seberang Prai district Welfare Department will apply for a court order to grant temporary custody to Tan, pending the outcome of investigations into the case.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said Tan had agreed to temporarily care for his nephew and niece, and they would live with his family at his home in Bayan Baru.

He said Tan told him that the children’s father had expressed remorse but explained that he had no choice as his son was hyperactive.

“Sometimes, the child would throw things around at his home and the father decided to chain him as he was afraid that his son might run out of the house,” said Phee, who visited them at the hospital.
Both the children were in good health.

Tan said his 40-year-old brother worked as a chemical supplier and that he was a caring man who loved his children.

“My brother has never done such a thing before and I was shocked over the incident.”

Tan said his Thai sister-in-law, who is said to be two months’ pregnant, had gone backto her hometown in Bangkok to visit her family. -  The Star

Kids home alone and chained

By M. SIVANANTHA SHARMA, KOW KWAN YEE and FONG KEE SOON north@thestar.com.my

BUTTERWORTH: Two children, aged two and six, were left home alone for hours and worse, they were chained in the bathroom.

Their father, a despatcher in his 40s, left them chained in their house in Jalan Raja Uda, apparently for “being naughty”.

The girl and her younger brother were left without food for about four hours before they were finally rescued on Wednesday.

Sorry state: The two-year-old chained near a toilet bowl in the bathroom of the house in Jalan Raja Uda.>>
North Seberang Prai OCPD Asst Comm Zulkifli Alias said neighbours who heard the children's cries called a volunteer patrol team, who then alerted the police and Welfare Department.

“The authorities broke into the house through the front door and freed the children,” he said.

When met at the Seberang Jaya Hospital where they were admitted to, the six-year-old girl said: “I was scared and hungry so my brother and I began shouting for our father.”

When asked whether she or her brother was in pain, she said no.

The girl, however, seemed unable to answer when asked whether they had been chained previously.

She said there had been no visits from relatives since they were sent to the hospital.

ACP Zulkifli said the father claimed that the children were naughty, so he chained them and left them without food as punishment.

He also told police that his wife left home about a month ago.

Police picked up a man at a shophouse in Taman Mawar shortly after the children were rescued at about 8.40pm. He has been remanded for four days.

“Initial investigations revealed that the children were chained before he left for work at about 3pm,” ACP Zulkifli said at the district police headquarters in Bertam, Kepala Batas, yesterday.

A neighbour, who works as a mechanic, said he heard the crying while he was at his workshop, which was next to the shoplot near Jalan Raja Uda where the children live.

“I heard them crying at around 2pm on Wednesday. I did not think much of it as I thought the kids were just quarrelling,” said the neighbour who declined to be named.

“So I was shocked to see Rela members at the house around 8.45pm. I only realised the kids were chained when some of them showed me the photographs,” he said.

He said he often heard the children crying since his car workshop opened for business about a month ago.

A Chinese vernacular newspaper in its evening edition quoted the father as saying that he was forced to chain his children because they would dirty the house if they were left unattended.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the children would be placed under the custody of the Welfare Department for now.

Property developers – the real landlords!


Developers – the real landlords

Insight Down South By SEAH CHIANG NEE

As a group, exclusive and rich, property developers have always wielded strong influence in small cities with rich land banks in a scale that probably rivals the government – until now.

TRADITIONALLY, property developers in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong have enjoyed economic power far beyond their numbers.

We were politely reminded of this when Singapore’s developers told the government they were disappointed at not being consulted before it announced recent measures to cool the market.

This was tantamount to a right to be informed in advance of any policy or price affecting their interests.

The developers’ reaction stirred public ire, with people considering it an audacity its demand to be consulted over changes.

Yet there is a tradition behind the demand.

As a group, exclusive and rich, developers have always wielded strong influence in small cities with rich land banks in a scale that probably only rivals the government.

After all it controls the city’s most precious asset.

My first lesson of this fact of life came in the 1970s when I arrived to take up the post as news editor of The Hong Kong Standard. A colleague asked who I thought were the colony’s most powerful people.

“The chief editor of New China News Agency” I ventured, regurgitating what I had often read.

“No, my friend, not even the Chinese mainlanders, and not the colonials,” he exclaimed, “It is the Hong Kong real estate developers.”

Land auctions often decided how well - or poorly – the Hong Kong people were to live.

Property prices would affect billions in budgets and living standards, in other words, people’s lives.

When I returned to Singapore, I found a little of the same, the difference being we were an independent country and not led by a passive colonial Governor. In short, developers here were powerful!

Once land values were decided auctions, the developers controlled the ultimate prices and timing of the sales.  To a large extent, it meant controlling of supply and demand.



If the developers thought the asking prices were too high, they would abstain from bidding, making them a sort of a little “pressure group”.

When I returned here I discovered a bit of the same.

Developers collectively could – if they chose to - influence the way the media reported the property market because they were big advertisers.

The bigger the spenders, the greater the influence! They could ensure newspaper reports did not report too negatively on the market and scare away buyers.

Some were not reticent exercising it by making it clear to advertising managers that their money could best be used in a media that keep encouraging property buyers, or at least not to predict weak markets too strongly.

Others stayed away from the game.

Many years ago when I was chief editor of a newspaper here I had one such run-in with several Singapore developers, who were among my paper’s frequent advertisers.

It was at a time when dark economic clouds were gathering and our Business Desk was reporting that property markets were heading for a fall. The bad vibes were strong, and they were reflected in our coverage.

During lunch, one developer referred to how much his company had spent on advertising in our paper.

He added that he “sometimes considered it a waste of money to advertise in a newspaper which frequently talked down the market”.

If this continued, they might as well stop or cut down advertising in the paper, he said.

I was very concerned. I replied that as a newspaper editor, I feared two things most; the government withdrawing the newspaper licence and secondly, businessmen threatening to withhold advertising unless we cooperated with them.

“In either case, our survival will be threatened, and we will bring the fight to Page One and let readers judge!”

We finally struck a deal: No advertising boycotts. In return I would run an interview on record with a property tycoon who predicted his views that the market would rise in the following year.

I am relating this to record appreciation of the National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s stand not to bend to the developers’ will “by consulting” them about market “cooling-off” action or price movements.T.T Durai and Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan at...

That would have been tantamount to tipping them off in advance of price-sensitive measures, an act no government can do.

Analysts expect the recent measures to cool buying and bring down the home prices by between 15 to 30% over the next two years.

“There will be a sell-off in the next three-to-five months,” said a property agent.

By imposing stiff measures against foreigners’ speculative buying, including a 10% duty, Khaw has gained public acclaim.

“Khaw has my full support. His policy is good for the younger generation,” a Singaporean commented.

“If the young people feel that even with hard work they still cannot achieve their goal, Singapore is done for. That dream is to own a private property.”

Khaw has also succeeded in shortening the queue of new Singaporean graduates applying to own their first public flat.

Since becoming minister after the May election, Singapore’s once world-acclaimed public housing is slowly working to dispel public discontent over shortage and high prices.

Many more years are needed to clean up the mess. But for now, wrote Khaw - one of the more popular ministers: “We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

And instead of the usual brickbats, praises are starting to come in for fending off foreign speculators.
“I’m seeing the quality of Minister Khaw,” one surfer wrote.

Another said: “Thank you for the cooling measures. This shows Singapore is clean and NOT controlled by the (property) billionaires club.”

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Why Americans Should Wait To Buy A House?


The U.S. government is doing its best to convince the American public that there’s an economic recovery underway, but is that really true? The economy is being artificially propped up by $1,500 billion in annual debt, and the Federal Reserve has printed trillions of dollars to keep banks afloat. It was too much debt that got the country into trouble to begin with, yet the government is essentially saying that even more debt is needed to fix the problem. This is one of the fundamental pillars of the theory developed by economist John Maynard Keynes in the early 1900s.

Not everyone agrees with Keynesian economic theory. Free market capitalists believe that markets should be unfettered by government intervention and allowed to reach equilibrium on their own. Their argument is that supply and demand should set asset values and prices without interference by artificial stimuli and freshly printed cash. (To learn more, read How To Buy Your First Home: A Step-By-Step Tutorial)

When analyzing whether or not to buy a house in this economic environment, the best approach is to focus on reality, not the talking points offered by politicians. Here are some factors to consider before taking the plunge with a new mortgage.



The Bubble
The housing bubble was caused by a lethal combination of easy credit, low interest rates and rampant speculation. This “perfect storm” reached its pinnacle of power in four states: California, Nevada, Florida and Arizona. The landscape of these states is littered with unfinished housing developments and empty condominiums. Even though prices have dropped 50% or more in some areas of these states, they are all plagued by debt-to-income ratios (DTI) that are still higher than the historical norm of three to one. This will continue to put downward pressure on prices.

Nationwide, the inventory of unsold homes was 3.33 million at the end of October 2011, an eight-month supply at the current sales rate. While this is a positive downtrend from the inventory peak of 4.58 million units in July 2008, the inventory overhang is still having a negative effect on prices. The median existing home pricewas $162,500 in October for all housing types nationwide, a drop of almost 5% from a year ago.

Prices are also being impacted by the high rate of contract failures, which is almost double that of September, and four times what it was one year ago. These failures represent canceled sales contracts resulting from unqualified mortgage applications, appraisal values below the sales price, unsatisfactory home inspections and unfulfilled contract contingencies. One-third of all sales contracts in October did not make it to closing, causing those homes to re-enter the market and increase the unsold inventory.

100-Year Trend
Yale economist Robert Shiller, known for the Case-Shiller price index, has calculated that U.S. home prices rose an average of 3.35% per year during the period 1900-2000. This timespan includes extended periods of both falling and rising prices, from the Great Depression up to the bull markets of the late 1980s and late 1990s. (For related reading, see Understanding The Case-Shiller Housing Index.)

In January 1998, just before the bubble started to inflate exponentially, the price index stood at 82.7. If prices had followed the 100-year trendline over the next 12 years, the index would have reached 126.7 in October 2010. Instead the index hit 159, a full 25% above the long-term trend. So, even though prices have already dropped more than 30% nationwide in the past five years, data suggests that the bubble has not been deflated and more price drops could be on the way.

Important Factors
There are many forces at work contributing to instability in home prices:
  • Continued high unemployment, with weekly unemployment claims consistently hovering around 400,000
  • The possibility of higher interest rates to combat inflation fueled by the increased money supply
  • Strategic defaults, foreclosures and short sales all force prices lower
  • High levels of underwater mortgages
  • A “shadow” inventory of unsold homes held by banks will put pressure on prices when these homes are marketed
  • Stricter mortgage qualification requirements, including bigger down payments, higher credit scores and verifiable income
  • Lower conforming loan limits as of Oct. 1, 2011
  • Continued high levels of government and personal debt
  • The threat of more U.S. credit rating downgrades
  • The potential for a European financial collapse rippling through the U.S. economy and financial institutions
  • Changing demographics, slowing population growth and smaller families are causing reductions in overall demand
  • Many baby boomers are downsizing their lives, including the size of their homes
  • Possible future actions by the government between now and the 2012 elections: tax policy changes, stimulus spending, mortgage modification programs, etc.
The Bottom line
The evidence suggests that without government intervention, home prices would be much lower than they are now. Record low interest rates, the homebuyer tax credit, mortgage assistance programs and bailouts for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have all softened the freefall in prices. These actions have not changed the fundamentals of a weak economy that relies heavily on consumption for GDP growth and too little on industrial production.

Price stability is not likely to be reached until the excess is wrung out of the bubble that expanded by a breathtaking 19.2% per year between 1998 and 2006. Government policies have slowed the correction, but not stopped it. This has kept wary buyers out of the market because they don’t believe the market has hit a true bottom. This has delayed a sustainable housing recovery and prompted potential buyers to wait for lower prices next year. (To learn more, check out The Truth About Real Estate Prices.)

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The secret to getting rich in 2012: Open APIs

What is an API according to Heidi

Developers need to know the right lingo
Open ... and Shut If the last decade was all about open source, the next decade will be about open APIs. However, as with open source, APIs aren't necessarily a guarantee of billions in the bank. They're simply the ante for playing the technology game at scale. That scale will be determined by who gives developers the best access to data, and that access is a function of open APIs.

Yes, developers. Politicians may focus on ways to get consumers to spend more money in an effort to rebuild their economies, but the world's economies are increasingly founded upon software services, services that are developed and consumed by developers. These developers are, then, "the new kingmakers," and not simply of some random technology company. They are behind the rise or fall of 21st Century news (Twitter), communication (Facebook), and more (Salesforce, Google, etc).

To thrive, these developers need APIs. Lots of them, though standardized and well-documented.

Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady hints at this in a recent post that discusses ways to unleash the "age of data", by describing legal handicaps placed on Redmonk's efforts to get at analytics data through an open API. Cut off the API through whatever means, and you've cut off a developer's ability to not only grow her service, but also yours.

Given the importance of APIs, it's surprising just how hard it can be to release them. Dan Woods calls this out, reporting on research he and others had done on APIs: "API programs [are often] started in secret, nurtured by the true believers in a clandestine way, slipped into production, and then brought to the awareness of senior management after the API was shown to be a success." Developers, in other words, are having to secretly succeed for their business.



This is silly, if for no other reason than one of the great benefits of APIs is how much they can help with the integration of internal software services. That is, software that runs behind the firewall. Indeed, O'Reilly's Anant Jhingran argues that for all the positive noise made about public APIs at Twitter and Facebook, the "real revolution" is that "enterprises of all sizes are API-enabling their back-end systems". This makes the enterprise permeable to partners but also to its own employees, and is the number one reason enterprises are adopting APIs.

APIs are the key to making internal integration easy.

At one time we looked to open source to fill this function. Companies like CollabNet sprung up to enable internal software collaboration. But it turns out that APIs prove to be an easier way to achieve similar goals. Instead of having to learn an entire code base, I just need a well-documented API to get access to software services. Minimal fuss, maximum productivity.

This may be the point in APIs: to give developers a way to focus on services provided by software, and not the software itself. This shift from open-source software to open APIs becomes ever more critical as we move to cloud services, where developers can no longer access the underlying software. As the industry moves from software to Infrastructure as a Service to Platform as a Service, APIs are the key to the shift, as analyst Krishnan Subramanian details.

But not just any APIs. The industry can't stomach a million competing APIs any more than it could digest a huge array of open-source projects for CMS, ERP, etc. We need APIs, but we also need standardization.

Take OpenStack, for example. OpenStack has taken on the daunting task of unseating Amazon Web Services, but it has made its life dramatically more difficult by trying to move the industry away from Amazon's APIs. For better or for worse, the AWS APIs are the public standard and, as Canonical and Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth posits, "The hackers and funders and leaders and advocates of OpenStack, and any number of other cloud infrastructure projects both open source and proprietary, would be better off figuring out how to leverage [the AWS API] standardisation than trying to compete with it, simply because no other API is likely to gain the sort of ecosystem we see around AWS today."

Shuttleworth is right about OpenStack, and about the larger industry. It's better to rally around a common API, much as we rallied around Linux. In the case of cloud computing, cloud expert and former Googler Sam Johnston thinks the future is OpenCloud, and other industry observers have their own preferred horses in the various races.

But at the heart of each is APIs. Open APIs are the new open source, except they require less geeky access to lines of code, and more programmatic interaction with software services. As an added bonus, open APIs don't come with the baggage of licensing fundamentalists. Praise the heavens! ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analyzing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Meet Google's Android smartphone


Meet Mr. Android 2011

by Leslie Katz
 
BlueStacks says it plans to come up with
a Ms. Android in 2012.(Credit: BlueStacks)
 
The typical Android user apparently does not look kindly upon flip-flops, opting instead to pair his jeans and T-shirt with the far-more-practical sneakers.

We say "he," because the typical Android user is male, according to the folks at BlueStacks, a startup that makes software for running Android apps on Windows PCs. Using data from Nielsen, as well as information culled this month from more than 145,000 of its Facebook followers, BlueStacks created a composite Android user dubbed Mr. Android 2011.

"Mr. Android is everything Android users are...all their dynamism, visualized as one person," John Gargiulo, vice president of marketing and business development at BlueStacks, tells CNET.

So how would you spot Mr. A 2011 walking down the street?

Well, while there's a 47 percent chance he has black hair, green-haired Android users are an extremely rare species, clocking in at only 3 percent of those polled. Subtle pompadours, however, appear to fit the Android aesthetic, a trend marketers of hair products may wish to keep in mind.
It's worth noting, as BlueStacks points out, that the data used to create composite Android guy is "unscientific, but then again, so is love" (an area, according to the poll, where Android users fare just fine, thank you very much, nerd stereotypes).



Nonetheless, makers of Android hardware and software may be able to glean a few useful (if not brand new) insights here.

For example, 62 of those polled use Android for play; 38 percent use Android for work; a third have zero paid apps on their phone; and average monthly data usage tallies up to 582MB (compared with iPhone users, who grabbed 492MB of data, according to a Nielsen survey conducted earlier this year).

But onto the stuff that's really going to matter in that Mr. Android pageant...

When it comes to accessorizing, 37 percent of Android users polled wear glasses; and, somewhat oddly, 45 percent wear one of those fast-becoming-obsolete wristwatches (a mind bender from Tokyoflash, we're guessing).

We're especially interested to hear that 30 percent of Android fans polled have freckles, a stat that baffled us at first but could be explained by Android's reported dominance of the Sun Belt.

So, Android users, do you see yourself in this image?




Leslie Katz, senior editor of CNET's Crave, covers gadgets, games, and myriad other digital distractions. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines.

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Android in a tiny package


It may be small but the Sony Ericsson Xperia ray smartphone is packed with features.

By SUBASHINI SELVARATNAM, bytz@thestar.com.my

The first thing you will notice about the Sony Ericsson Xperia ray is its size. In a market dominated by large Android smartphones, the Xperia ray is rather unique. Of course, the small size makes it easy to use and store - the Xperia ray can easily slip into one's front pocket or even in a women's dinner bag.

The review unit we received has a pink shell which makes it look rather feminine. But not to worry as it also comes in other colours, namely black, gold and white.
 
HARDY: Xperia ray's display is made from scratch resistant mineral
glass so you don't have to worry about it being scratched easily. 
 
In use

Since it is a compact smartphone the obviously downside will be the screen size which is only 3.3in. Some may find the screen a bit too small to play games while others may find watching videos a bit of a hassle.

Although it was good enough for browsing webpages but one can't help but wish for a bigger screen for a better experience.

Despite its size, the Xperia ray's display is sharp and vibrant. Sony Ericsson says it is powered by its mobile Bravia Engine which makes it great for viewing photos and watching videos.

The display is also made from scratch resistant mineral glass so you don't have to worry about it being scratched easily.

Snapping photos and videos with the Xperia ray was a fun experience. The front-facing camera on the smartphone makes it easy to snap self-portraits in VGA resolution.

For more serious photo taking there's the 8.1-megapixel rear camera which works great and has lots of cool features such as face detection, scene detection and smile detection.

You even get three options for smile detection - big, normal and faint smile. How cool is that?

Although it doesn't have two cameras the smarphone has a feature called 3D Sweep Panorama which allows it to capture 3D images.

However, you will need a 3D TV to view them.

Other standard features include geo-tagging and red-eye reduction.

The camera can also shoot 720p HD videos and can be easily uploaded to YouTube to share them with family and friends.

The Xperia ray, which is powered by 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon processor, is fast.

Launching apps is almost instantaneous and there is no lag generally. You can download tons of app from the Android marketplace and the phone comes with a 4GB card for storing them.

For text input, the phone has a virtual keypad. It wasn't easy for me to type messages as the screen is small and the keypad is very tiny. I would have much prefferd a physical Qwerty keypad instead.

One of the nice features of the Xperia ray is its built-in radio tuner which allowed me to listen to my favourite radio station while waiting for friends. Also, the bundled earphones were pretty decent for listening to music.

In terms of battery life, the Xperia ray lasted a whole day of usage which mainly consisted of surfing the Web, watching videos on YouTube and downloading applications.


Conclusion

Overall, the Sony Ericsson Xperia ray was a fun smartphone to use even for a non-Android fan like me. It is fast, has a great camera, the screen is beautiful and comes with a nice pair of earphones.

On the downside, the Xperia ray's small screen makes it difficult to use the virtual keypad. If you are looking for a compact Android smartphone, the Xperia ray is definitely one of the better ones.

Pros: Sharp and vibrant screen, decent camera, nice earphones.

Cons: Small screen.

Xperia ray
(Sony Ericsson)
Android smartphone
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSPA 850/900/1900/2100, GPRS/EDGE
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
DISPLAY: 3.3in touchscreen (480 x 854-pixels)
CAMERA: 8.1-megapixels (rear) with autofocus, VGA camera (front)
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, WiFi, micro USB
MEMORY: 300MB
EXPANSION SLOT: MicroSD (bundled with 4GB card)
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 440 hours/7hours
OTHER FEATURES: A-GPS, radio tuner, 720p HD video recording (720p)
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 111 x 53 x 9.4mm
WEIGHT: 100g
PRICE: RM1,279
RATING: 3.5
Review unit courtesy of Sony Ericsson, 1-800-88-9900

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

How CEOs Can Build A Better Work Team In 2012

Deborah Sweeney


By Deborah Sweeney, Forbes Contributor, West Coast CEO who knows small business and entrepreneurs.

 

 Truly a Lightbulb Moment

Got a resolution for 2012 at the workplace yet?

Or better yet, what are the resolutions that your employees have for the company next year?

These resolutions could be lofty. Nab every sales call, land the biggest accounts, open offices in every major city overseas. They could be set on a smaller scale too. Leave earlier in the morning to avoid getting caught in traffic, ask for more beverage options in the kitchen, delegate tasks to other department members more often. All good goals for any team to work towards, but difficult for a CEO to process when they don’t know what their staff resolves to work towards, if they plan on working toward anything at all.

If you’re stuck in a place where the progress forward looks cloudy, this is the time to work on building a better work team for 2012. A team that is roaring and ready to go and certain of how their place in the company can lead to its eventual success. Building this team takes time, talent, and creativity. Sometimes it requires hiring new people and firing those who aren’t doing their part. More than just shooting off a couple of emails and hoping for the best, your team for 2012 will rely on you to think outside of the box as well as inside at some of the common sense bits that get overlooked. From new hires to clones, here are my tips on the building for the better within your company team.

1. Look Beyond Business BAs and MBAs

Not every person who gets hired for your business needs to be strictly all about business. Who will handle the legal division of your firm, the public relations aspect of your brand, the IT work for when the computers suddenly crash? A grad degree in business is attractive on paper, but not useful in every setting. Look into hiring candidates with backgrounds in other studies like communications that you would typically pass over.

2. Don’t Hire A Clone Of Yourself

Great minds think alike, but a greater mind will want to work with a team that expresses a slew of opinions and ideas across the board. Working with a team that is just like you won’t challenge your company to grow in a new direction if you all agree on the same things all the time. It’s easy to want to hire someone just like you, but more rewarding in the long run if you get someone to offer what you cannot to the table.

3. Allow Employees To Be Involved In The Hiring Process

Get an idea of whether or not a potential employee will be a good fit within their department by inviting the managers and senior staff members to the job interviews. They may have questions and concerns related to their field that you won’t touch on that decide whether or not a future hire is the best decision to make



4. Explain Company Culture To Your New Team Members Early

Welcome to the team! Beyond just your employee handbook, there are rules to the game of working within the company. Some work teams are much more by-the-book in terms of how to conduct yourself and may be much more quiet and soft-spoken. Others are willy-nilly and a lot more extroverted and open to embracing new ideas with members encouraged to leave their shyness at the door. A new hire needs to know the company culture early on so this isn’t so much of a shock to their system.

5. Answer Questions, Communicate Often

Future goals and upcoming projects will have a series of questions that come with them, especially if a team member is new. Hold plenty of open discussions and meetings to provide insight into what you’re working on. Keeping communication lines between all team members and yourself is key to the success of the project and the overall organization as a whole.

6. Hire People With Different And Complimentary Personalities

Much like not having dozens of clones of yourself, don’t do a similar thing with your favorite employee (and don’t play favorites either). It’s cliche to say it, but your team needs to have the snowflake effect where no two think or behave exactly the same despite having similar strengths in their field. Personality goes a long way and can work to give your company the face and voice it needs if it doesn’t already have a defined one.

7. Hire Milliennials

They are young, eager to please, tech savvy, and well educated. And if you treat them well, they will stay with your company (though not forever which is to be expected). Interview the bright young things and bring them on to see what they’re made of. You might find yourself to be pleasantly surprised.

8. Pay Your Interns

It isn’t a practice that every company commits to or can commit to, but at the very least offer a stipend if you decide to bring in seasonal interns.

9. Don’t Outsource Your Social Media Team

Gets kind of hard to create a voice for your online persona if the person creating it has never visited your office or interacted with your employees before doesn’t it?

10. Offer Flexible Schedules

This is a rule of thumb for both new hires and longtime employees. Circumstances do arise where not every member of the team can be there to make a meeting. If multiple members can’t do it or aren’t ready just yet, offer to reschedule the event. Employees with additional commitments outside of work like family or school will also appreciate a flexible schedule in being able to accommodate their lives and still work.

11. Encourage Employees To Pursue Outside Interests

Beyond just being a CEO, you may serve as a mentor to some of your staff. And your staff isn’t here solely for the company itself. They may be actively pursuing acting on the side or writing or engaging in other hobbies that could turn into their next career move later on. Have lunch with your staff both new and old to see what they’re all about on the side of their full-time job. Encourage them to share their published work with you or invite you to the opening of a gallery they have a painting featured in. Your acknowledgment of what they are truly passionate about is worth more than you think it might be.

12. Create Jobs Based On Valuable Skills

Want to a hire a new employee, but have nowhere to put them where you know they will really fit in at? Create  a position based off of their skill set. You may even wind up creating an entirely new and much needed department!

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