Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Let's now destroy the oceans

ISA official logo
ISA official logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The world's first deep sea mining robot sits idle on a British factory floor, waiting to claw up high grade copper and gold from the seabed off Papua New Guinea (PNG) - when a wrangle over terms is solved.
Beyond PNG, in international waters, regulation and royalty terms for mining the planet's subsea wealth have also yet to be finalized. The world waits for the judgment of a United Nations agency based in Jamaica.
"If we can take care of the environment we have a brand new day ahead of us. The marine area beyond national jurisdiction is 50 percent of the Ocean," said Nii Odunton, secretary general of the U.N.'s International Seabed Authority (ISA).
"I believe the grades look good, the abundance looks good, I believe that money will be made," Odunton said from the ISA offices in Kingston.
High-tech advances, depleted easy-to-reach minerals onshore and historically high prices have boosted the idea of mining offshore, where metals can be fifteen times the quality of land deposits.
In Newcastle, the "beasty", as engineer Keith Franklin calls his machine, lies in wait, resembling a submersible tank with four meter wide cutting blades.
Built by Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), it will put Canadian listed Nautilus Minerals (NUS.TO) on course to become the first company to commercially mine in deep water.
Nautilus' primary resource, Solwara 1, about 1,500 meters underwater, is a Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposit, which forms along hydrothermal vents where mineral-rich fluids spurt from cracks in the ocean crust.
Equipped with cameras and 3D sonar sensors the robot is driven by two pilots from a control room on the vessel above, attached via a giant power cable.
"The cameras aren't enough by themselves because the machine will be working by vents where black soot spurts from the ocean crust and it will sometimes be near impossible to see anything," said Stef Kapusniak, business development manager for mining at SMD. "The 3D sonar will allow it to make images and send it back to the control room."
The machine then cuts up the sea floor and sucks the rocks through a pipe to deposit it in mounds behind - "like icing a cake," Kapusniak said. Another machine, yet to be built, will then help suck the ore to the surface.
Nautilus aims to produce 80,000-100,000 metric tons of copper and 100,000-200,000 ounces of gold - equivalent to a modest onshore mine. It was supposed to be producing by now, but disagreements with the PNG government over financial terms have set it back.
Chief Executive Mike Johnston told Reuters he was confident a resolution would be sorted out and the company would be mining within two to three years.
Most of the world's best deposits lie even deeper than Nautilus' Solwara 1, at around 6,000 meters in an area known as the Clarion Clipperton Zone.
Large numbers of manganese nodules - potato sized rocks rich in copper, cobalt and nickel - lie across this 4.5 million square kilometer abyssal plain between Hawaii and Mexico.
LICENSES ALREADY AWARDED

The U.N.'s ISA is drawing up a code to deal with some environmental concerns and the commercial terms for deep-sea mining. It predicts it will be finished in around two or three years, with mining still 5-10 years away.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Google Inc has acquired solar-powered drone maker Titan Aerospace

Google
Google (Photo credit: warrantedarrest)
Google Inc has acquired solar-powered drone maker Titan Aerospace as the Web search giant ramps up plans to deliver wireless Internet access to remote parts of the world.
Titan Chief Executive Vern Raburn declined to provide information on the price of the deal, which he said closed on Monday morning.
The 20-person company will remain in New Mexico for the foreseeable future, Raburn said, with all employees joining Google.
The deal could further Google's efforts to deliver Internet access to remote regions of the world. Last year Google launched a small network of balloons designed to deliver Internet access over the Southern Hemisphere, dubbed as Project Loon.
"Atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation," Google said in an emailed statement confirming the Titan acquisition.

Google's acquisition of Titan comes several weeks after rival Facebook Inc announced plans to build solar-powered drones and satellites capable of beaming Internet access to underdeveloped parts of the world. A few weeks before Facebook's announcement, press reports said that Facebook was in discussions to acquire Titan.
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Monday, April 28, 2014

Walgreens shareholders want to move to Europe

U.S. drugstore chain operator Walgreen Co (WAG.N) is under pressure from a group of shareholders to consider relocating to Europe to gain tax benefits, the Financial Times reported.
Shareholders owning nearly 5 percent of the company's shares lobbied Walgreen's management to use its ownership stake in Alliance Boots ABN.UL to change its legal domicile to Europe, the financial daily said.
The push was made at a private meeting between the shareholders and company executives in Paris on Friday, the paper said in a report on Sunday. (link.reuters.com/quf58v)
Such a move, known as tax inversion, could significantly reduce Walgreen's taxable income in the United States, which has one of the world's highest corporate tax rates.
The meeting was attended by Walgreen Chief Executive Greg Wasson, Chief Financial Officer Wade Miquelon and Stefano Pessina, the Italian billionaire chairman of Alliance Boots, Financial Times said.
The shareholder group, which includes Goldman Sachs Investment Partners and hedge funds Jana Partners, Corvex and Och-Ziff, requested the meeting with Walgreen, which has refused to consider relocating, the paper said, citing people familiar with the matter.
The drugstore retailer bought 45 percent of Alliance Boots, which runs Europe's largest pharmacy chain, in 2012, with an option to buy the rest in 2015.
The financial daily said the shareholder group also wanted a greater role for Alliance Boots' management team in running the merged business.
Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreen reported a lower-than-expected profit for the quarter ended February 28 but said it expected a bigger boost this year from its partnership with Alliance Boots.

Walgreen, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Jana Partners, Corvex and Och-Ziff were not immediately available for comment.
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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wi-Fi, Internet speeds on jetliners are getting lightning fast

With satellite-based Wi-Fi, Internet speeds on jetliners are getting lightning fast. And airlines are finding that travelers expect connections in the air to rival those on the ground — and at lower cost.
But the fast evolution of rival systems and standards, such as Ku band and Ka band, pose a big question for airlines: Which one to choose?
Equipping fleets can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and airlines don't want to see their investment quickly become outdated due to newer technology. That's made some cautious about signing up.
"We don't want to end up with a Betamax," said Peter Ingram, chief financial officer of Hawaiian Airlines, referring to the Sony video format that eventually lost out to the VHS standard, leaving many consumers with obsolete systems.
The U.S. market for airborne Internet got a big boost last November after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration allowed passengers to use smartphones, tablets and e-readers throughout a flight, ending a long-standing ban on their use during takeoff and landing.
While the change hasn't been adopted worldwide, the FAA's move is expected to lead to greater use of devices, and bandwidth, on planes.
About 40 percent of U.S. jetliners already have some Wi-Fi, but the race is on to wire the rest of a growing global fleet, and to make the existing connections better.
The number of commercial planes worldwide with Wi-Fi, cell service or both is expected to more than triple over the next 10 years, to 14,000 from about 4,000 currently, with much of that growth in Asia, according to research firm IHS.
Much of the U.S. fleet will need upgrades to access satellites, since many planes currently are equipped for ground-based transmission, which is typically slower than satellite.
"Passengers of the future want to be connected when they want," Chris Emerson, senior vice president of marketing at Airbus, told Reuters during the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
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Saturday, April 26, 2014

U.S. states and cities are increasingly turning to public-private partnerships, or P3s

Visitors to New York who land at LaGuardia Airport could be forgiven for not realizing they've arrived in one of the world's swankiest cities.
The airport's leaky ceilings, threadbare atmosphere and meager food and public transit options put it at or near the top of lists of the worst airports in the United States.
But with constraints on its resources and no appetite for further debt, the agency decided to tap private investors and developers to rebuild the 50-year-old central terminal for $3.6 billion, instead of using traditional public finance methods.
It's not alone. Short on funding but big on need, U.S. states and cities are increasingly turning to such deals, known as public-private partnerships, or P3s, hoping to leverage assets that can bring a quick infusion of private dollars to rebuild crumbling infrastructure.
The last 12 to 15 months have seen more deals and more opportunities to invest in the sector, said Jim Barry, head of BlackRock's infrastructure investment group. U.S. insurance companies and public pensions are all eager to invest.
"After let's call it a decade of promise, I think we are actually beginning to see that movement," he said. "Over the next five years, you could have a lot of deal flow."
The pacts have been common for decades in the U.K., Australia and Canada but have been slow to catch on in the United States. Now, analysts say, a shift is under way.
The 2007-2009 recession was a motivating force. States and cities had no choice but to reduce spending on maintenance and construction, and the federal economic stimulus program enacted in President Barack Obama's first term offered only a temporary boost.
At the same time, the other main source of transportation funding -- grants from the federal government -- also dwindled.
The federal highway trust fund, which uses gas taxes to pay for highways and mass transit projects, is nearly broke.
Now, there are more projects in development and more investor interest than ever in the U.S. P3 market, analysts say. Public agencies are also looking more closely at the pacts because they're able to add less debt to their books while shifting construction risk to the private sector.
"You're actually seeing ... a real pipeline of projects" building up since 2012 and continuing through at least this year and possibly next, said John Medina, a global project analyst at Moody's Investors Service.
The projects include everything from a light rail system in suburban Washington, D.C., to the replacement of hundreds of bridges in Pennsylvania.
In the past, the United States has had an average of one or two public-private partnership deals valued at more than $500 million in the works annually, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's municipal banking group. This year, the bank said, there are 8 to 10 such projects.
Thirty-three states allow varying levels of public-private partnerships for transportation projects, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, up from 23 in 2006. Kentucky lawmakers passed such legislation in late March, but the governor vetoed it on Friday.
Investors clearly have an appetite for infrastructure. Unlisted infrastructure funds raised $17.1 billion of capital for projects in North America - targeting private and P3 infrastructure projects in the United States - in the last quarter of 2013, according to Preqin, which provides data on alternative assets. That's the highest quarterly total on record, Preqin's data showed.
The needs are huge. The nation should spend $3.6 trillion on infrastructure by 2020 to recover from decades of neglect, the American Society of Civil Engineers said last year.
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Friday, April 25, 2014

credit card interest rates are rising

No Credit Card
No Credit Card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As consumer spending growth continues to slow, credit card issuers are using more perks to prod shoppers to use their cards, according to a new CardHub study. Meanwhile, credit card interest rates are rising—a separate but related effort by the credit card industry to make up for revenue lost by the customer pool that’s less likely to make late payments.
The card-comparison website’s report, now in its fourth year, is a useful snapshot. Among the trends: Rates rose an average of 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 over the year-ago period. From the fourth quarter of 2013, rates ticked up for cardholders with excellent and good credit; rates for those with fair credit fell 6.73 percent.
Meanwhile, the average initial bonus of points or miles awarded with new cards rose 10 percent year over year, while cash-back rewards increased 15.2 percent. Issuers want to keep Americans spending as the country continues its fitful economic recovery. Data from First Data SpendTrend show credit card spending growth is slowing down—at a 2.24 percent year-over-year increase for March 2014, down for a third straight month and well below a peak of 4.85 percent in June 2013.
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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mobile technology, while a great advance, has meant that many of us are continually signed-on and available at all hours. We may give in to the temptation to checking our work email after hours and respond to queries as they come, but this can also mean that we don't ever truly switch off.
Except in France, where new legislation has banned employers from contacting staff after the work day has finished.
A new agreement between employers and labor unions now makes it illegal for managers to contact staff about "work related matters" outside of standard business hours.
Employees must have "the opportunity to disconnect from remote communication tools at their disposal," according to the agreement. In other words, for businesses to comply with working hour rules, staff must have the option to turn their devices off and not be accessible when outside of the office -- and can safely ignore emails or calls without consequence when the working day is over.
The legally-binding agreement follows changes in France to tighten already tough employment laws. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has already enforced a minimum of five weeks' paid time off per year as well as a maximum 35-hour working week.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PCI Security Standard Scrutinized in Wake of Data Breaches

PCI Security Standard Scrutinized in Wake of Data Breaches

Questions increasingly are being raised about the PCI data security standard, as companies that were judged PCI-compliant find themselves still becoming victims of data breaches. Heartland Payment Systems, in fact, partially blamed an overreliance on PCI compliance for its 2009 data breach, noting the PCI auditing process did not pick up on the issues that led to the breach. The PCI Security Council maintains the standard and the auditing process are useful, but should not be considered the final word on security. Aite Group analyst Julie Conroy says the auditing process is necessarily limited in scope and scale and "can create a false sense of security." Gartner's Avivah Litan points to a 2008 research report on the PCI process, and says the study found "the PCI process was flawed, and it's become a giant money-making machine, and meanwhile it hasn't stopped the breaches." In the wake of the Target data breach, several retailers sent letters to lawmakers seeking a new industry process or forum that goes further than PCI and accounts for modern cybersecurity threats.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Metro Bank plans to launch an online lender

The founder of British banking newcomer Metro Bank plans to launch an online lender, hoping to take advantage of a sharp decline in the number of customers using branches and challenge established rivals.
Anthony Thomson, who stepped down as Metro Bank chairman in 2012, said he would lead the new venture called Atom alongside Mark Mullen, who last month resigned as chief executive of First Direct, the online bank run by HSBC.
Britain's financial regulator and lawmakers are keen to see new banks emerge to break the dominance of the country's biggest banks - Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland - which control about three-quarters of the personal current account market.
They believe a lack of competition was a factor in scandals such as the mis-selling of loan insurance and complex interest rate hedging products, which have cost banks around 25 billion pounds in compensation payouts.
Thomson said on Wednesday there was a growing trend for customers to bank online instead of in branches and the marketplace had changed dramatically since 2010, when Metro became Britain's first new high-street bank for over a century.

"Bank branch usage has fallen off a cliff. Telephony as a means of accessing bank accounts is in decline. All of the explosive growth is in digital generally and mobile in particular," Thomson said.
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) has agreed to pay 1.5 billion pounds

RBS - The Royal Bank of Scotland
RBS - The Royal Bank of Scotland (Photo credit: ell brown)
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) has agreed to pay 1.5 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) to cancel an arrangement that gives the government priority over dividends, clearing an obstacle to the lender's eventual privatization.
The agreement between part-nationalized RBS and Britain's finance ministry to cancel the dividend access share (DAS), which gives the state priority over dividend payments and makes the stock less attractive to private investors, was approved by European regulators on Wednesday.
It had been put in place after Britain pumped 45.8 billion pounds into RBS during the 2008/9 financial crisis, leaving the government with an 81 percent shareholding.
"This is another important step on the road to a more resilient banking system and in dealing with the problems of the past to get taxpayers' money back," Britain's finance minister George Osborne said in a statement.
The figure of 1.5 billion pounds was in line with what UK Financial Investments, which manages the government's stake in RBS, had previously indicated the agreement was worth.
RBS said the cancellation of DAS would enable it to state more clearly its future dividend policy to existing and potential investors. But it said it had no intention to resume dividends in the short term.
The agreement requires approval by RBS's minority shareholders at the bank's annual meeting which is expected to take place in June.
"Today's agreement is a vote of confidence in the progress we have made in rebuilding RBS and in our plan for the bank's future," Chief Executive Ross McEwan said in a statement. "We now need to get on with building an RBS that can earn the trust of our customers and help change UK banking for the better."
McEwan is battling to turn around the bank, which has been plagued by past misconduct issues and remains three to five years away from a return to full private ownership, according to banking and political sources.
European regulators have also granted the bank extra time to sell 315 branches it has re-branded Williams & Glyn, and which it was forced to sell as a condition of its bailout in a move designed to increase competition among UK banks.
The bank failed to meet its initial deadline of selling the business by the end of 2013 after a sale to Santander (SAN.MC) collapsed in 2012. It now intends to float the business on the London Stock Exchange.
European regulators have set a new timetable for RBS to start selling the shares by the end of 2016 and to dispose of its entire interest by the end of 2017.
The commission said it agreed to extend the deadline because UK authorities and RBS had come up with a plan that would enable Williams & Glyn to become a "solid standalone bank".
As part of the new agreement, RBS also reiterated its plan to sell its U.S. retail business, Citizens, by the end of 2016.
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bank of America (BAC.N) agreed to pay nearly $800 million in fines

Credit card
Credit card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bank of America (BAC.N) agreed to pay nearly $800 million in fines and restitution to settle allegations of deceptive marketing and unfair billing involving credit card products, U.S. regulators said on Wednesday.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said they had ordered the bank to pay $727 million in relief to consumers to resolve problems with add-on products providing identity theft and payment protection products.
The bank must also pay fines of $20 million to the bureau $25 million to the OCC.
"We have consistently warned companies about illegal practices related to credit card add-on products," bureau Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. "We will not tolerate such practices and will continue to be vigilant in our pursuit of companies who wrong consumers in this market."
The consumer bureau said the bank had misled roughly 1.4 million people about the cost of two credit card payment protection products, which allow consumers to suspend minimum card payments if they lose their job or suffer a severe illness, and the amount of time they would receive benefits from them.
The bank also billed customers for identity protection products before they received them and did not provide some fraud-monitoring services consumers thought they were buying, regulators said. About 1.9 million people were unfairly billed, the consumer bureau said.

Bank of America neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing, the bureau said.
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hewlett-Packard will pay $108 million and one of its subsidiaries

Image representing Hewlett-Packard as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase
Hewlett-Packard will pay $108 million and one of its subsidiaries will plead guilty to bribery charges over its role in a scheme to secure a contract with a Russian government office, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
HP units in Poland and Mexico also resolved criminal charges related to contracts in those two countries, the department said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission entered into a related settlement with the computing giant over allegations that its subsidiaries made improper payments to government officials in order to obtain contracts, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
HP's Russia subsidiary paid more than $2 million in bribes to obtain a contract with the federal prosecutor's office, the SEC said.
In Poland, an HP unit provided gifts and cash worth more than $600,000 to obtain contracts with a national police agency, it said.
And in Mexico, an HP subsidiary paid more than $1 million in inflated commission in order to seal a software deal with Mexico's state-owned petroleum company, the agency said.
On Wednesday, Polish prosecutors alleged that a local HP executive paid bribes worth over $500,000 in exchange for help winning contracts to supply computer equipment to Polish police headquarters.

"The misconduct described in the settlement was limited to a small number of people who are no longer employed by the company," John Schultz, HP's executive vice president and general counsel said in a statement on Wednesday.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Air Canada is introducing Wi-Fi access to dozens of its aircraft

Air Canada is introducing Wi-Fi access to dozens of its aircraft beginning in May, with the aim of making wireless internet available on 130 of its narrow-bodied, North American aircraft by the end of 2015.

Email, internet and mobile device apps will be made available on 29 aircraft this year, Air Canada announced Tuesday, making it the second Canadian airline to recently announce Wi-Fi services on flights. Calgary-based WestJet Airlines said in February it will start offering wireless aboard by the end of 2014.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said its service will be comparable to mobile broadband available on the ground.
Prices not finalized
Fitzpatrick said the price hasn't been worked out yet, but could include packages that involve buying access for a certain number of weeks or flights, or as a bundle available in the higher-fare classes.
"It's mostly aimed at business traffic, because they're the heaviest users," Fitzpatrick said.
The service, offered by the Illinois-based company Gogo, is a ground-to-air service and will therefore be available on flights within North America. Gogo will test satellite connections with international flights in 2015, Fitzpatrick said.
Air Canada already offers Wi-Fi on two Airbus 319 aircraft, and plans to outfit its remaining Airbus A319, A320, A321, Air Canada Express CRJ-705, Embraer 190 and Embraer 175 aircraft with an air-to-ground Wi-Fi connection.
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Credit card fees on foreign transactions

Pay with your credit card when you travel abroad and you may find an unwelcome souvenir from the trip when you open your statement: a foreign transaction fee.
Many travelers fume at being charged an extra 3 percent or so of their international purchases, so some credit card issuers are now getting rid of the fee, prompting others to follow suit to stay competitive.
“It’s just a money maker, pure and simple. They charge it because they can,” said Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, a website that focuses on maximizing credit card and travel rewards.
“How dopey is that — to have a card for international travelers where you get penalized for using it internationally.”
American Express is removing foreign transaction fees — which currently amount to 2.7 percent — from its consumer and business Delta SkyMiles credit cards as of May 1. The move is “a perfect way to add value for card members,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Crosta.
The new Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard is also skipping foreign transaction fees.
The United Airlines-branded credit card from Chase got rid of the fees last year, which likely motivated Delta to follow suit, Kelly said.
In making the move, issuers are hoping to avoid annoying their best customers, said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
“In a lot of ways, the folks who would care about these foreign transaction fees — the ones who are traveling overseas and have the expendable income to do those sorts of things — would be exactly the people who the credit card issuers would want to keep around,” Schulz said.
Kelly advised travelers to let their issuer know they travel internationally and will never use a card with a fee.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Big retailers are muscling in on the likes of Visa, MasterCard

MasterCard
MasterCard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Big retailers are muscling in on the likes of Visa, MasterCard and Google in a fiercely competitive and growing mobile payment market that promises to cut transaction costs and increase customer loyalty.
Stores such as British supermarket Tesco and France's Auchan hope their "digital wallets" - apps which allow users to pay with their smartphones rather than cash or cards - will also give them more comprehensive data about customers' shopping habits than ever before so they can target advertising.
They are joining a crowded market - banks, card companies and tech firms like Google and Apple are all entering the mobile payment business, each hoping their app will become the industry standard. eBay's PayPal, well established in e-commerce, is also experimenting with the technology.
Retailers hope to attract customers to their own services by giving discounts and rewards to those using them, while also linking payments automatically to loyalty schemes and offering features like saved shopping lists.
The global market for mobile payments is forecast to grow about threefold by 2017 to some $721 billion worth of transactions, with more than 450 million users, according to research firm Gartner.
The growth could benefit retailers as the competition from a host of payment providers should help drive down the fees stores pay to have transactions processed - a service currently dominated by banks and card firms Visa and MasterCard.

"We view merchants as overall beneficiaries of the trend toward mobile payments," said Morgan Stanley, which estimated retailers in developed countries spent up to $150 billion in 2012 to accept card payments.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cheaper gas this summer?

Fuel prices displayed on a seven segment displ...
Fuel prices displayed on a seven segment display board commonly found at petrol stations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Energy Information Administration predicts the typical American motorist will shell out $3.57 for a gallon of self-serve, no-lead gasoline, a penny per gallon cheaper than during the April to September period last year.
“That’s essentially the same number,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski during a conference call with reporters. But the good news is that this will be the lowest fuel price motorists have paid since 2010 during the period when driving peaks in the U.S.
Don’t be surprised to see fuel prices start to rise in the coming weeks as the weather warms and motorists start clocking more mileage. That’s likely to be particularly true in the Midwest and other parts of the country just seeing the last of a harsh winter’s snow melt away. Prices are then expected to dip for the rest of the extended summer season.
Prices are impacted by a variety of factors, including consumer demand in the U.S. But petroleum futures are increasingly linked to usage abroad, particularly in booming markets like China, India and Brazil.
On the other hand, there’s been a surge in production, especially in North America. That has been helping to offset any increased demand overseas. Significantly, Brent crude, the benchmark used for pricing oil in much of the world, is expected to see a 4 percent decline in price this year.
But other factors, including an expansion of the Ukrainian crisis, or a renewed flare-up of Mideast violence, could shift the forecast for U.S. fuel prices.
Barring a major crisis, however, the EIA anticipates that fuel prices for all of 2014 will dip to an average $3.45 a gallon, down from $3.51 last year – and also the lowest figure since 2010.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Lenovo is buying thousands of mobile technology patents from NEC

Lenovo is buying thousands of mobile technology patents from NEC as it looks to expand its smartphone and tablet businesses.
Lenovo is purchasing more than 3,800 patent families from NEC that cover such mobile technologies as 3G and 4G LTE, as well as other technologies found in such devices as smartphones, according to officials. The move is part of Lenovo's overall PC Plus business strategy as the company—the world's top PC vendor—looks to extend its reach into other computing system spaces, from data center servers to mobile devices.
A series of patent legal battles over the past several years involving such vendors as Apple and Samsung have highlighted the need for companies in the mobile device space to hold a large portfolio of patents to protect themselves against infringement accusations.
"A strong patent portfolio is a key element for success in the smartphone business," Ira Blumberg, vice president of intellectual property (IP) at Lenovo, said in a statement. "This investment strengthens Lenovo's existing intellectual property portfolio. As Lenovo expands its mobile PC Plus business into new markets, this investment shows it is committed to having the IP we need for global success."
 Lenovo was a strong tech vendor in its native China when it bought IBM's PC business in 2005 for $.125 billion, a move that the company has since parlayed to overtake Hewlett-Packard to become the world's top PC vendor. In January, Lenovo officials announced their intent to buy IBM's low-end x86 server business for $2.3 billion, and a week later said they were buying Motorola Mobility from Google for $2.9 billion
Company officials have said their goal is to make Lenovo the top vendor in a range of computing markets, including commodity servers and smartphones.
Despite the money Lenovo will pay for IBM's server business and Motorola, company executives have said they still have the cash on hand to buy more tech vendors to fill out the portfolio.

"We will continue to use acquisitions as a means to grow," Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing told the Wall Street Journal in March. "Whenever there is a good opportunity, we will grasp it."
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Qualcomm unveiling the latest editions to its 64-bit Snapdragon mobile chip

Image representing Qualcomm as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase
Qualcomm officials are unveiling the latest editions to its 64-bit Snapdragon mobile chip, calling the 808 and 810 processors the company's fastest yet.

The 20-nanometer chips, which company officials said will begin appearing in smartphones and other devices in the first half of 2015, will be faster and consume less power than the vendor's current 64-bit chips, and are aimed at premium mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. They will include Qualcomm's fourth-generation Cat 6 LTE-Advanced multimode modem and render 4K video.

The Snapdragon 808 and 810 chips illustrate Qualcomm's efforts in 64-bit mobile computing and set the foundation for future developments, according to Murthy Renduchintala, executive vice president at Qualcomm.

"These product announcements, in combination with the continued development of our next-generation custom 64-bit CPU, will ensure we have a tremendous foundation on which to innovate as we continue to push the boundaries of mobile computing performance in the years to come," Renduchintala said in a statement.
Chip makers are pushing 64-bit computing in the mobile space, even though the dominant operating system—Google's Android—is not yet optimized for 64 bits. According to analysts with ABI Research, shipments of 64-bit mobile processors will grow beyond 182 million by the end of the year and will jump to more than 1.12 billion units by 2018. However, they also said that 64-bit-compliant Android smartphones most likely won't hit the market until sometime in the second half of the year after the next update of the OS is released.
Apple was the first to come to market with a 64-bit mobile chip, the ARM-based A7, in late 2013. More than 36 million iPhones and iPads powered by the chip were launched, the ABI analysts said. Qualcomm, Marvell, MediaTek and Nvidia have since announced 64-bit mobile processors. Intel in February unveiled the Atom Z3480 Merrifield system-on-a-chip (SoC), a 64-bit x86 mobile processor aimed at smartphones that is based on the chip maker's Silvermont architecture.

"Our new Atom processors for Android smartphones and tablets offer leading 64-bit performance and battery life, and the new 7260 platform gives the ecosystem a compelling LTE-Advanced experience," Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group, said at the time of the Merrifield announcement.

For Qualcomm, the 808 and 810—which power smartphones that run Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone operating systems—are only the latest 64-bit Snapdragons. For example, the company in December 2013 announced the Snapdragon 410 aimed at midrange devices. "The Snapdragon 410 chipset will also be the first of many 64-bit capable processors as Qualcomm Technologies helps lead the transition of the mobile ecosystem to 64-bit processing," Jeff Lorbeck, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Qualcomm in China, said at the time. - See more at: http://www.eweek.com/mobile/qualcomm-intros-fastest-64-bit-snapdragon-mobile-chips.html#sthash.QVFCKgkg.dpuf
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cloud computing and data services specialist EMC

Cloud computing and data services specialist EMC announced products and technologies designed to address the continuum of data protection requirements facing users today and as they address the challenge of transitioning to software-defined data centers.

The software releases from the VPLEX and RecoverPoint product lines combine to deliver MetroPoint topology, a three-site business continuity capability for mission-critical applications.

MetroPoint topology combines VPLEX Metro continuous availability with RecoverPoint remote replication and continuous data protection (CDP) to deliver operational and disaster recovery over any distance.

EMC also introduced a new product, VPLEX Virtual Edition, a virtualized solution to market that offers continuous availability and data mobility in a software deployment platform.

 
5 Things You Didn't Know About Cloud Backup
Download NowVPLEX Virtual Edition will also be made available as part of VSPEX Proven Infrastructure solutions.The Data Protection Suite consists of EMC's Avamar, NetWorker, Data Protection Advisor, Mozy and SourceOne software offerings.


Updated capabilities include Snapshot Management for the company’s Isilon, VNX and NetApp arrays to improve protection for NAS-based data, as well as support for VMware and Microsoft cloud infrastructures through unique integration with VMware’s vCloud Suite and Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

The company also introduced Data Domain DD Boost for Enterprise Applications, which is designed to help application admins protect their own environments and includes support for Oracle, SAP solutions, the SAP HANA platform, IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server.

All new EMC data protection products will be generally available in the second quarter of 2014, while the Blueprint for Backup Architecture service is available now. - See more at: http://www.eweek.com/small-business/emc-updates-data-protection-portfolio.html#sthash.T1x9ffi5.dpuf
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Stronach's consulting fees end with Magna 2014

Magna International Inc (MG.TO), one of the world's biggest auto parts makers, paid $52 million in consulting fees to billionaire founder Frank Stronach in 2013, but the company is stressing that his compensation will stop at the end of this year.
Stronach, who started the auto parts giant in a Toronto garage in 1957, was paid roughly $900 million to cede control of Magna under a contentious 2010 buyout deal.
Under terms of that court-approved plan of arrangement, Stronach was paid 2.25 percent of Magna's 2013 pre-tax profit. That rate drops to 2 percent in 2014, the final year of compensation.
"The Stronach compensation arrangements will not be renewed, extended or replaced with any other form of compensation," Magna said in a circular filed in advance of its May 8 annual meeting in Toronto, underlining the word "not."
Stronach was paid $47 million in 2012 and $38 million in 2011 for consulting services under the agreement.
He ceased to be an officer of the company in 2010 and resigned as a director in 2012. Stronach's sole relationship with the company in 2013 was as a consultant, the company said.
The Austrian-Canadian quit the Austrian parliament in January, after founding a party that won only 6 percent of the popular vote and 11 seats in September elections.
After the payments to Stronach end, effective December 31, Magna will reduce the profit-sharing cap for senior executives to 3 percent of pre-tax profit from the current 6 percent.

The move is meant to "give shareholders the certainty that the profit-sharing percentage which had historically been paid to Mr. Stronach will not be allocated to anyone else," the company said in its circular.
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Haiti drought

Only cactus grows along the dirt road fringing arid fields on the way to the isolated village of Bas des Moustiques, on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Port-de-Paix in Haiti.
A lack of rain in recent months has killed crops in Haiti's poorest region, and left people struggling to survive.
Julia Sodietra, 41, has lost hope as she fights a losing battle to provide for her large family.
"When I want to buy some food, people refuse and insult me because I have not been able to pay my debts," said Sodietra, the mother of 11.
"I can't pay school fees anymore for my children," she added. "Even buying clothes and shoes is impossible for me. What I am going to say is horrible, but I would rather not have my children."
The drought follows two years of poor harvests in the region.
"I had a donkey that I used to transport coal, but it died because I could not buy food," said Charitable Yvner, 30.
"So I can no longer work and the little money I saved has run out. My four children are weak and cannot concentrate in school."
Historically, food has been sparse in northwestern Haiti, where chronic malnutrition is common among the young, stunting their physical and intellectual growth.

Now the drought is directly affecting an additional 143,000 people, say international relief experts, prompting a major emergency operation by the U.N.'s World Food Program.
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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Norway's $860 billion oil fund

Norway's $860 billion oil fund, the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund, is not ready to invest in new types of assets and needs a year to study whether to buy infrastructure or unlisted assets, Finance Minister Siv Jensen said on Monday.
She said the fund needed to see how its small but growing real estate portfolio functions and what the risk of more active management would be.
"We are in a learning process on building up in real estate ... and that's the portfolio we're actually discussing with broadening in the (unlisted) sector," Jensen told reporters.
The fund, which invests Norway's oil revenues, is one of the biggest investors in the world, holding about 1 percent of all global shares. Many investors watch its investment decisions keenly as a result.
Jensen unveiled a series of reforms last Friday but did not recommend new types of assets on top of its listed stocks, bonds and real estate portfolio, disappointing some critics.
The central bank, which manages the fund, earlier this year said the fund needs to take on greater risk because the current framework is unlikely to yield the 4 percent long-term return expected by the government.
"There is a great consensus that a (bigger) active portfolio represents more risk and that's something we need to look into before we conclude," Jensen said.
"If we are to broaden the active portfolio, it will be natural to discuss infrastructure and other means as well, ... this is something we will come back to in the (white) paper next year," she added.

The real estate portfolio is still just 1 percent of the fund, short of the 5 percent limit, and the central bank has been building up expertise for years to handle this new portfolio.
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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

FTC clarifies social networks contests for merchants


Lead Photo
The Federal Trade Commission for the first time defined disclosure rules related to contests that encourage consumers to pass along content on social networks. Put simply, if a contest requires consumers to share something for a chance to win a prize, that needs to be disclosed in every post.
Mary K. Engle, the FTC’s associate director for advertising practices, defined the agency’s stance in a letter she sent last month to Cole Haan.
The multichannel shoe retailer recently ran a contest on Pinterest that offered shoppers a chance to win a $1,000 gift card if they created a Pinterest board featuring five images of their “favorite places to wander” along with five images from a Cole Haan board, tagging each with the hashtag #WanderingSole.
The problem, Engle writes, is that the shoppers entering the contest were endorsing Cole Haan’s products for the chance to win a prize, but the retailer didn’t require them to disclose their motivation.
“Entry into a contest to receive a significant prize in exchange for endorsing product through social media constitutes a material connection that would not reasonably be expected by viewers of the endorsement,” Engle writes.
By sending the letter, the FTC is publicly underscoring its rule that advertisers and marketers require contest entrants to disclose when any content is posted or promoted for commercial purposes, or if it there is any incentivize for the individual to share a post, says Eric Goldman, an Internet and advertising law professor and director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.
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Ontario won't stop double-ending

Ontario moves to tighten rules around real estate agents 'double-ending,' but won't ban the practice If legislation is pa...