April 18, 2014
General Mills: If You Clip This Coupon, You Can’t Sue Us

General Mills, the food mega-corporation that owns Betty Crocker, Nature Valley, and basically every sweet cereal you ate and served your kids, has a startling new legal policy making it illegal to sue the company after you:

- download or print a coupon;

- “join” an online communities (which online communities is in question, but possibly including Facebook);

- subscribe to an email newsletter;

- or redeem a promotion or participate in any “offering.”

In other words: It just became nearly impossible to get a deal on a General Mills product without forfeiting your rights to sue the company. Even if your kid with a peanut allergy eats a Fiber One bar with trace amounts of peanuts and gets sick. For this reason, the Times reports that the new terms could come under strict legal scrutiny.
This policy, known as “forced arbitration,” is becoming common among companies seeking ways to prevent users and customers from joining together and suing for millions of dollars for things like false advertising.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

General Mills: If You Clip This Coupon, You Can’t Sue Us

General Mills, the food mega-corporation that owns Betty Crocker, Nature Valley, and basically every sweet cereal you ate and served your kids, has a startling new legal policy making it illegal to sue the company after you:

- download or print a coupon;

- “join” an online communities (which online communities is in question, but possibly including Facebook);

- subscribe to an email newsletter;

- or redeem a promotion or participate in any “offering.”

In other words: It just became nearly impossible to get a deal on a General Mills product without forfeiting your rights to sue the company. Even if your kid with a peanut allergy eats a Fiber One bar with trace amounts of peanuts and gets sick. For this reason, the Times reports that the new terms could come under strict legal scrutiny.

This policy, known as “forced arbitration,” is becoming common among companies seeking ways to prevent users and customers from joining together and suing for millions of dollars for things like false advertising.

Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

April 17, 2014
Africa’s Tech Edge

How the continent’s many obstacles, from widespread poverty to failed states, allowed African entrepreneurs to beat the West at reinventing money for the mobile age
Read more. [Image: Mike McQuade]

Africa’s Tech Edge

How the continent’s many obstacles, from widespread poverty to failed states, allowed African entrepreneurs to beat the West at reinventing money for the mobile age

Read more. [Image: Mike McQuade]

April 16, 2014
How to Stop Wasting Time Comparison Shopping

Recently, my husband and I wanted to buy some new sheets. But how to choose? Would they lose their shape over the years? Begin to pill?
A friend pointed us to Sweethome's recent sheet review. This was no joke. These testers had examined the cotton fibers under a microscope, washed the sheets multiple times, and even given them a literal smell test to make sure they didn’t have any noxious post-factory odors. We were suitably impressed, and bought their recommended sheets without thinking about it twice.
But the experience left me curious about this magical little site. Who were these people and why were they so serious about sheets? I decided to ask Jacqui Cheng, editor-in-chief of Sweethome and its partner tech-site, Wirecutter, about the work they do and why it matters. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Read more. [Image: Alex Farris/The Sweethome]

How to Stop Wasting Time Comparison Shopping

Recently, my husband and I wanted to buy some new sheets. But how to choose? Would they lose their shape over the years? Begin to pill?

A friend pointed us to Sweethome's recent sheet review. This was no joke. These testers had examined the cotton fibers under a microscope, washed the sheets multiple times, and even given them a literal smell test to make sure they didn’t have any noxious post-factory odors. We were suitably impressed, and bought their recommended sheets without thinking about it twice.

But the experience left me curious about this magical little site. Who were these people and why were they so serious about sheets? I decided to ask Jacqui Cheng, editor-in-chief of Sweethome and its partner tech-site, Wirecutter, about the work they do and why it matters. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Read more. [Image: Alex Farris/The Sweethome]

April 15, 2014
The State of American Beer

What’s going on in Beer World? Beer lovers of America might be forgiven if their grasp of the current brew-scape feels iffy. Alice herself would be at home in this Wonderland. It’s a world in which up is down, little is big, and there’s no Blue Moon on the horizon. 
It’s a world in which old standbys are faltering (case sales of Miller High Life were down almost 10 percent in 2013 from the prior year). Mexican labels are dominant (Corona, Modelo, and Dos Equis, account for three of the top four imported beers). And a craft-beer company founded only 20 years ago is coming on strong (“Bartender, pour me a Lagunitas”).
The March 2014 issue of Beverage Industry offers us a through-the-looking-glass portrait of Beer World in the United States today. The magazine unleashed its writers on data gathered by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) of Chicago from supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchandisers, gas and convenience stores, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains for the 52 weeks ending December 29, 2014. I made graphs and charts from their tabular data.
Before we delve into the particulars, let’s remember the big picture: over the past twenty years, per-capita consumption of beer in the U.S. has been declining. Derek Thompson wrote about that here last August, citing this report. But twenty years is a long lens. Let’s take a look at the state of Beer World in the last year. 
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

The State of American Beer

What’s going on in Beer World? Beer lovers of America might be forgiven if their grasp of the current brew-scape feels iffy. Alice herself would be at home in this Wonderland. It’s a world in which up is down, little is big, and there’s no Blue Moon on the horizon. 

It’s a world in which old standbys are faltering (case sales of Miller High Life were down almost 10 percent in 2013 from the prior year). Mexican labels are dominant (Corona, Modelo, and Dos Equis, account for three of the top four imported beers). And a craft-beer company founded only 20 years ago is coming on strong (“Bartender, pour me a Lagunitas”).

The March 2014 issue of Beverage Industry offers us a through-the-looking-glass portrait of Beer World in the United States today. The magazine unleashed its writers on data gathered by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) of Chicago from supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchandisers, gas and convenience stores, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains for the 52 weeks ending December 29, 2014. I made graphs and charts from their tabular data.

Before we delve into the particulars, let’s remember the big picture: over the past twenty years, per-capita consumption of beer in the U.S. has been declining. Derek Thompson wrote about that here last August, citing this report. But twenty years is a long lens. Let’s take a look at the state of Beer World in the last year.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

April 15, 2014
The Sad, Slow Death of America’s Retail Workforce

Retail sales just notched their best month since 2012 and the industry has added almost one million jobs since 2010. But the rosy headline stats obscure a more complex and potentially troubling story in retail—particularly for its employees.  
The business of selling stuff is becoming much more efficient. Sales-per-employee have gone from $12,00 to $25,000 in the last two decades. That means that even as consumers spend more, we need fewer workers to stock shelves and process orders.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

The Sad, Slow Death of America’s Retail Workforce

Retail sales just notched their best month since 2012 and the industry has added almost one million jobs since 2010. But the rosy headline stats obscure a more complex and potentially troubling story in retail—particularly for its employees.  

The business of selling stuff is becoming much more efficient. Sales-per-employee have gone from $12,00 to $25,000 in the last two decades. That means that even as consumers spend more, we need fewer workers to stock shelves and process orders.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

10:56am
  
Filed under: Business US Economy Retail Jobs 
April 14, 2014
Our Cubicles, Ourselves: How the Modern Office Shapes American Life

Each year, the average American spends nearly 2,000 hours working. For many, that time passes inside the three little walls of a modern cubicle.
Writer Nikil Saval explores these odd spaces—how they came to be, how they make us feel—in his new book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. I spoke to Saval about the modern office, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Read more. [Image: Jordan Richmond/Flickr]

Our Cubicles, Ourselves: How the Modern Office Shapes American Life

Each year, the average American spends nearly 2,000 hours working. For many, that time passes inside the three little walls of a modern cubicle.

Writer Nikil Saval explores these odd spaces—how they came to be, how they make us feel—in his new book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. I spoke to Saval about the modern office, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Read more. [Image: Jordan Richmond/Flickr]

April 14, 2014
The ‘Next Silicon Valley’ Myth

The app economy is concentrating ever-more deeply in the Valley.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

The ‘Next Silicon Valley’ Myth

The app economy is concentrating ever-more deeply in the Valley.

Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

April 11, 2014
Everything You Need to Know About High-Frequency Trading

The stock market isn’t rigged, but it is taxed.
It always has been. As Justin Fox points out, for as long as people have been trading stocks, there have been middlemen taking a cut of the action. Now, that cut has gotten smaller as markets have gotten bigger and more technologically-advanced, but it’s still there. It’s the implicit fee that intermediaries charge for making sure there’s a buyer for every seller, and a seller for every buyer—for “making markets.”
But there’s a new kind of middleman today. They don’t work at stock exchanges or banks. They work at hedge funds, and trade at whiz-bang speeds. These “high-frequency traders” (HFT) use computer algorithms—a.k.a., algobots—to arbitrage away the most infinitesimal price discrepancies that only exist over the most infinitesimal time horizons. You can see just how small and how fast we’re talking about in the chart below from a new paper by Eric Budish and John Shim of the University of Chicago and Peter Cramton of the University of Maryland. It uses 2011 data to show the price difference between futures (blue) and exchange-traded funds (green) that both track the S&P 500. These should be perfectly correlated, and they are—at minute intervals. But this correlation disappears at 250 millisecond intervals, a little more than half the time it takes to blink your eyes. This is the “inefficiency” that HFT makes less so.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

Everything You Need to Know About High-Frequency Trading

The stock market isn’t rigged, but it is taxed.

It always has been. As Justin Fox points out, for as long as people have been trading stocks, there have been middlemen taking a cut of the action. Now, that cut has gotten smaller as markets have gotten bigger and more technologically-advanced, but it’s still there. It’s the implicit fee that intermediaries charge for making sure there’s a buyer for every seller, and a seller for every buyer—for “making markets.”

But there’s a new kind of middleman today. They don’t work at stock exchanges or banks. They work at hedge funds, and trade at whiz-bang speeds. These “high-frequency traders” (HFT) use computer algorithms—a.k.a., algobots—to arbitrage away the most infinitesimal price discrepancies that only exist over the most infinitesimal time horizons. You can see just how small and how fast we’re talking about in the chart below from a new paper by Eric Budish and John Shim of the University of Chicago and Peter Cramton of the University of Maryland. It uses 2011 data to show the price difference between futures (blue) and exchange-traded funds (green) that both track the S&P 500. These should be perfectly correlated, and they are—at minute intervals. But this correlation disappears at 250 millisecond intervals, a little more than half the time it takes to blink your eyes. This is the “inefficiency” that HFT makes less so.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

April 11, 2014
Why Won’t Washington Take On Wall Street’s Biggest Crimes?

Yesterday, the judge in the SAC case accepted the firm’s plea deal with the Justice Department, in which the firm and its subsidiaries pled guilty to wire fraud and securities fraud and agreed to pay a $900 million penalty and $300 million in disgorged profits. The Southern District hailed the deal as the crowning victory in their multi-year campaign against insider trading, which notably has resulted in more than 70 convictions and exactly zero acquittals. Congratulations.
But what many of us want to know is: why, immediately after the most severe financial crisis in more than seventy years, which resulted in the loss of almost nine million jobs, did the Justice Department choose to train its heavy artillery on insider traders? Sure, insider trading is bad. It’s very rich people cheating to make themselves extravagantly rich. It should be illegal, and people should go to jail for it. But it’s far from the biggest thing wrong with our financial markets and institutions.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

Why Won’t Washington Take On Wall Street’s Biggest Crimes?

Yesterday, the judge in the SAC case accepted the firm’s plea deal with the Justice Department, in which the firm and its subsidiaries pled guilty to wire fraud and securities fraud and agreed to pay a $900 million penalty and $300 million in disgorged profits. The Southern District hailed the deal as the crowning victory in their multi-year campaign against insider trading, which notably has resulted in more than 70 convictions and exactly zero acquittals. Congratulations.

But what many of us want to know is: why, immediately after the most severe financial crisis in more than seventy years, which resulted in the loss of almost nine million jobs, did the Justice Department choose to train its heavy artillery on insider traders? Sure, insider trading is bad. It’s very rich people cheating to make themselves extravagantly rich. It should be illegal, and people should go to jail for it. But it’s far from the biggest thing wrong with our financial markets and institutions.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

April 10, 2014
The Future of Media Will Be Streamed

For music and movies as things you buy and own, this is the beginning of the end.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

The Future of Media Will Be Streamed

For music and movies as things you buy and own, this is the beginning of the end.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

2:25pm
  
Filed under: Business Tech Streaming Media 
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