Jul 31, 2014

The Democrats’ Qatar Delusion | Seth Mandel

The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’sYediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.
Kerry had signaled that he was prepared to replace traditional interlocutors in the region–chiefly Egypt, though Cairo tends to speak for others who prefer to stay behind the scenes–with Qatar. This would be a monumental strategic error, one of the worst (of the many) the Obama administration has committed so far. The strange aspect of this indefensible mistake is that Qatar–a prime supporter of terrorists and of the region’s bad actors who subvert American interests at every chance–has nobody fooled except the Obama administration and its Democratic congressional allies.
Making the rounds the last couple of days has been this clip of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the following about Qatar and Hamas:
“[T]his has to be something where we try to have the two-state solution, that we have to support…(Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud) Abbas and his role as a leader there. We have to support Iron Dome to protect the Israelis from the missiles. We have to support the Palestinians and what they need. And we have to confer with the Qataris, who have told me over and over again that Hamas is a humanitarian organization, maybe they could use their influence to–”
Crowley interrupted her to ask: “The U.S. thinks they’re a terrorist organization though, correct? Do you?”
Pelosi responded: “Mmm hmm.”
Here’s a clue for Pelosi: when you start a thought with “the Qataris … have told me” what follows is likely to make you look extraordinarily silly. Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Of course it is. Pelosi doesn’t seem too sure about that, so she’s asked the Qataris and they vouch for them as a humanitarian organization. Now, it’s true that Pelosi isn’t setting American foreign policy, something for which the universe can be eternally grateful. But the fact that Pelosi even went on CNN to repeat what Hamas’s patrons told her about Hamas’s humanitarianism shows the extent to which the current Democratic leadership–and virtually no one else–has been fooled by Qatar.
It’s tempting to dismiss Pelosi because, well, she’s Nancy Pelosi. But here’s a terrifying thought: if Nancy Pelosi were running America’s Mideast policy, it would look a lot like the pyromania-in-a-dry-forest we’re seeing now from Kerry. And at the center of that diplomatic arson is Qatar.
It’s unclear why the Obama administration and its congressional Democratic allies have fallen for Qatar’s act when no one else has. Criticism of Qatar over its promotion of extremism in the region is not exactly limited to the hawkish right. Here is Foreign Policy chief David Rothkopf this morning: “Expecting Qatar to help solve Gaza crisis is like expecting a tobacco company to help you stop smoking.” He was reacting to a CNN op-ed by Sultan al-Qassemi, who wrote:
The truth is that Qatar’s overall strategy with the Muslim Brotherhood has failed miserably: It resulted in the alienation of the Brotherhood in Egypt — so much so that the group was ousted from power in a popularly-backed military coup, and meant that many Egyptians were indifferent to the bloody massacre of the group’s members that followed.
Qatari support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates elsewhere in the region, such as Libya, Jordan, and Tunisia, has also backfired resulting in them being sidelined from power. All of this adds to quite an unfortunate year for the Gulf emirate.
Qatar’s continuous financial and media support for the Muslim Brotherhood through the once-popular Al Jazeera Arabic, the 24-hour, Egypt-centric Mubasher Misr, which largely reflects a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, and a slew of new Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated news websites based in London, have further poisoned relations between Qatar and Egypt.
Israeli leaders can understand the American president’s desire for an immediate cessation of hostilities, even if they don’t agree with it. But the idea that Washington has decided to run Western policy through Qatar has left anyone who understands the Middle East completely puzzled. It would mark a significant shift and would signal to those in the region who rely on America that they’ll need to start, if they haven’t already, making backup plans.

Jul 28, 2014

Singapore has the right prescription | The Australian

THE Abbott government’s $7 Medicare co-payment appears certain to be blocked in the ­Senate. If the escalating burden of Medicare on the budget is to be contained, a Plan B will be needed. One way is to give Australians greater choice. Individuals should be allowed to opt out of Medicare and assume more responsibility for funding their own care, by ­emulating Singapore’s low-cost and cost-effective, savings-based health financing system.
Compared with other developed nations, Singapore’s distinctive health financing delivers comparable First World standards of care and health outcomes at much lower cost. Singapore spends 3.6 per cent of GDP on health — less than half the amount spent in Australia (9.5 per cent, Britain (9.1 per cent) and New Zealand (10.3 per cent). Yet Singapore’s life expectancy exceeds that in each of these countries. What makes Singapore’s health system unique is the Medi­save system of Health Savings Accounts. Similar to our super­-annuation system, all citizens make compulsory, aged-based income contributions to their tax-effective Medisave HSAs.
Funds accumulated in HSAs pay for hospital care, chronic care, some specialist treatment, and hospital insurance and deductibles and coinsurance. Minor health costs, such as GP visits and most prescription pharmaceuticals, are paid directly out-of-pocket like other goods and services. Greater personal responsibility is the secret to its success in containing health costs.
Public health spending accounts for 41 per cent of total health expenditure in Singapore compared to 70 per cent in Australia and above 80 per cent in New Zealand and UK. More importantly, over 50 per cent of total health expenditure is paid out-of-pocket in Singapore, compared to 19 per cent in Australia. Private insurance in Singapore covers less than 9 per cent of health costs.
Conventional health policy wisdom is that low public spending and high private spending leads to higher health costs and lower health outcomes. In the US, private insurance accounts for 41 per cent of health spending.
Singapore shows that low public health spending, low private insurance spending, and high out-of-pocket spending contains costs and enhances affordability without diminishing health status and quality. It has encouraged Singaporeans to make considered and informed choices; providers deliver quality services efficiently to price-conscious customers.
The Medisave system could provide a blueprint for Australia by linking HSAs to the superannuation system. Individuals could be allowed to opt out of Medicare voluntarily in exchange for opening an HSA attracting the same 15 per cent concessional tax rate as superannuation. Those opting out would trade their Medicare entitlements for an annual health voucher (indexed) for ­deposit in an HSA linked to an ­existing superannuation account. The voucher would be worth average per person government health spending, about $4300 in 2011-2012. HSA funds would be used to meet the cost of specified health expenses. These would include paying for an approved list of GP services and other non-hospital care and for health insurance premiums and coinsurance and deductibles to cover hospital care and other chronic and catastrophic treatment costs. As in Singapore, upon retirement, HSA balances would merge with, and become indistinguishable from superannuation balances.
Health vouchers would cease when pension eligibility age is reached. HSAs would yield long-term savings to government by establishing other sources of funding for old age health costs. Giving people a choice is politically viable, as it sidesteps obstacles that impede the co-payment proposal. Those who want to remain with Medicare could do so.
But the financial advantages of opting out would make HSAs an attractive alternative. Benefits would include more cost-conscious use of health services and more efficient provision of health care. It would also lower the cost of health insurance, as premiums would no longer be inflated by the problem of moral hazard (the overuse of services paid for by third parties) that plagues poorly designed payment systems such as Medicare. These savings would eventually accrue to individuals as higher superannuation balances and retirement incomes.
HSAs would contribute to the sustainability of Medicare. In the 1990s we began to move from dependence on taxpayer-funded public pensions to self-funded superannuation. Medicare opt-out HSAs would replicate this transition for health services. Using HSAs rather than taxes to pay for health services will relieve future budget pressures.
David Gadiel is a senior fellow and Jeremy Sammut is a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies. Their paper, Lessons from Singapore: Opt-Out Health Savings Accounts for Australia, is released today.

Jul 25, 2014

7 Small Habits That Will Steal Your Happiness

“Simply put, you believe that things or people make you unhappy, but this is not accurate. You make yourself unhappy.”Wayne Dyer
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
Marcus Aurelius
It is usually pretty easy to become a happier person.
It is also quite easy to rob yourself of your own happiness. To make yourself more miserable and add a big bowl of suffering to your day. It is common thing, people do it every day all over the world.
So today I’d like to combine these two things. I’d like to share 7 happiness stealing habits that I have had quite a bit of trouble with in my own daily life (and I know from all the emails I get that many of you do too).
But I’d also like to add what you can do instead if you find yourself being stuck in one of these destructive habits.
1. Going for daily swim in a sea of negative voices.
This one can be quite subtle.
You just go around in your daily life like you usually do. Hang out with the same people. Listen to the same podcasts or radio shows, watch the same old TV-shows and read the usual blogs, books and magazines.
But what influence do these things have over your thinking and the limits you set for yourself and what you feel you deserve in life?
What to do instead:
Make a list of the 5 people you hang out with the most and the 5 media sources you spend most time on during your week.
Then ask yourself this for each of these 10 things/people: is this one dragging me down or lifting me up in life?
Consider spending less time with the ones that drag you down (or cut them out completely) and to spend more of your time with the people and sources that lift you up and make you feel good, motivated etc.
If you have trouble getting started with this one, then go smaller. Take a few minutes to think about what one person or source that has the biggest negative impact on you. And how you can start to spend less time with it/him/her this week.
2. Waiting for just the right time.
When you have a dream then it is so easy to get lost in planning how you will accomplish it. To drift away in daydreams about how it will be. But also to get stuck in fears about failing with it.
So you make a common choice and wait – and wait and wait for maybe years – for just the right time to take action and get started with making that dream into something real.
What to do instead:
Sure, not every dream is something you can get started with right now. But there are many that you can get going with. Dreams that only fear is holding you back from.
So make things easy on yourself. You don’t have to dive in a big and extremely courageous jump. If that was the case then only the bravest people in the world would do and achieve what they want.
Instead, take a small step forward. Take one small action. That is it. Then tomorrow you can take another small step forward. The important thing is that you get started and get going instead spending so much time on just waiting and feeling more and more frustrated and unhappy about the state of your dreams.
3. Letting criticism get under your skin time and time again.
When someone criticizes or verbally attacks you then it may just roll off you like water of the back of a duck.
But if it on the other hand gets under your skin pretty much every time and drags you down into hours or days or self-doubt or self-beatings then you have a problem.
What to do instead:
  • Let it out. Talk it over with someone close to you to let the inner tensions out. And to find a healthier perspective on what happened together.
  • Remember: it is not always about you. If your self-esteem is low them it is easy to start thinking that all the negative things people tell you are your fault in some way. That is however often not the case. People will attack or harshly criticize to let their own steam out. Because they have had an awful day, week or simply do not like their lives that much. So don’t think it is all about you. There are two of you in this situation.
4. Focusing on the wrong people and getting lost in envy and powerlessness.
When you spend much time in your day thinking about what other people have and do and you compare your life to theirs then you have a good recipe for unhappiness.
Because you spend the attention and energy in the wrong place.
What to do instead:
Focus on you. Compare yourself to yourself. See how far you have come. The obstacles you have overcome. How you have improved in small or sometimes bigger ways. Appreciate that and yourself.
Focus not on what others have but on what YOU deep down want in your life.
And ask yourself: what is one small step I can take today to get the ball rolling with this goal/dream?
Keep your focus on yourself and what you can actually do to raise your self-confidence, to start walking on your own path and to spend your limited daily time and energy on something that will actually pay off.
5. Not allowing yourself times of peace and rest during your day.
When you are busy, busy, busy all the time and give yourself no time to recharge then you soon become fatigued.
And so each step and each thing you do start to feel heavier and you do not get much enjoyment at all out of pushing and pulling yourself through it.
What to do instead:
  • Take a break every hour. Try setting the timer on your cell phone for 45 minutes. During that time-period just focus on doing your most important task at the moment. Then, as the bell rings, set the timer for 15 minutes and step away from your workspace. Have a snack, talk a walk or stretch a bit. By cycling rest and fully focused work like this you’ll get more things done, do a better job and it will be easier to keep the optimism and motivation up.
  • Be 10 minutes early. Transform those traveling times during your day into relaxing breaks instead of passages of time and space that only increase your stress levels and other negative feelings.
6. Never trying anything new.
This one can be sneaky.
It can make you think that things are pretty OK. You have your safe and comfortable routine. I know, I have been there for long stretches of time.
But during those times there was also denial of feeling dissatisfied. A vague feeling of standing still that sometimes bloomed up into a big burst of undefined, negative feelings directed towards the world or myself.
What to do instead:
  • Remind yourself of the past times when you tried something new. And how you most often did not regret it one bit but had an exciting, interesting or fun time.
  • Go small. You don’t have to try skydiving. Just take one small step and try some new and different music, a movie or book you would normally not go for or the vegetarian dish if you usually have the beef or sausage for lunch.
  • Say yes just once this week when your mind says no. If a friend invites you to go out running, doing yoga or to go fishing or to a party and your mind goes “let’s say no, that is not what I usually do” then stop yourself for a second. And reconsider. You don’t have to say yes to every suggestion you get this week to try something new, but give it a shot and say yes to just one of those things.
7. Taking things too seriously.
When you take life too seriously then it is easy to become so afraid of making a mistake of stumbling a bit that you get paralyzed in analysis.
When you take yourself too seriously then, in my experience, it becomes difficult to fully enjoy the moment and what is happening, to let go of the past and to laugh about yourself and life when you need it the most.
What to instead:
  • Put up a reminder. When I wanted to develop a lighter mindset quite a few years ago one thing that helped me was a simple note on fridge that said: Lighten Up! This reminder helped me to snap out of overly serious thoughts several times a day until this way of finding a lighter perspective became more and more of an automatic thought habit.
  • Surround yourself with lighter mindsets. As mentioned in the section about habit #1, what and who you surround yourself with will have a big effect on how you think. No matter if it is a positive or negative aspect they add. So one powerful thing to do is to add lighter mindsets via people, books, the internet etc. to your daily life.
  • Raise your self-esteem. I have found that as my self-esteem has gone up I can laugh about myself more because I am less defensive. I have more trust in myself and so I fear a temporary failure less. And I like myself more and so I am less concerned about getting everyone else to like me all the time.

Jul 23, 2014

Chromebook gains, Microsoft worries | ZDNet

Some people still pooh-pooh the idea that Chromebooks could ever come close to challenging Windows PCs. NPD's latest laptop sales numbers say otherwise. Chromebook sales are zooming upward, while Windows laptop sales are stagnant. 
Chromebook Pixel
Chromebooks continue to gain in popularity and Microsoft is getting a wee-bit worried.
Microsoft knows what's happening. Microsoft's recent push to combat Chromebook sales with low-priced Windows laptops makes it clear that Microsoft is aware of the threat Chromebooks pose to its desktop dominance.
According to NPD, a market-analysis firm that tracks retail sales, "Chromebook sales within the US Commercial Channel increased 250 percent year-over-year and accounted for 35 percent of all channel notebooks sales." Not too shabby.
Meanwhile, over at Amazon, Chromebooks, which have long dominated laptop sales, continue to be popular. As of July 20, of Amazon's top-ten best-selling laptops, five are Chromebooks, four run Windows, and there's one solitary Macbook Air.
In the larger arena, NPD found "total notebook sales … increased 36 percent, desktop sales jumped 24 percent, and overall PC client volume rose by 1 million units so far this year. Windows notebook sales were flat and Macbook sales increased more than 20 percent."
So where does the bulk of that notebook increase comes from? Chromebooks, of course.
"For the three weeks ending June 7, Chromebook sales made up more than 40 percent of Commercial Channel notebook sales, a significant bump from the 35 percent year-to-date." This sales bump is happening well in advance of school computer shopping where the Chromebook vendors expect to do extremely well.
“Building on last year’s surprising strength, Chrome’s unit strength ahead of this year’s education buying season shows how it has become a legitimate third platform alongside Windows and Mac OS X and iOS," said Stephen Baker, NPD's vice president of industry analysis.
Baker continued: "The next test for Chrome will clearly be the most difficult, as both Apple and Microsoft get more aggressive in pricing and deal making over the next few months. By the end of the third quarter, we will have a much clearer picture of the long-term impact Chromebooks will have in the commercial channel."
Find it hard to believe that Chromebooks can be so popular? Ask Dell what they think about the matter.
Dell had to stop selling its Chromebook 11 because it couldn't keep up with the demand. In a statement to CNET, a Dell representative said, "Due to strong demand, the Dell Chromebook 11 is currently not available for order on Dell.com. It continues to be available for our Education customers and can be ordered through their sales representative. We will offer it for sale again on Dell.com as soon as possible."
Last, but oh so telling, Microsoft recently put up a site explaining why Windows laptops are better than Chromebooks.
Starting to get a little worried by Chromebooks,  Microsoft? It sure looks like it.

Jul 22, 2014

Shoe shoppers beware: your feet change in shape and size as you age | The Australian

WHEN was the last time you had your foot measured to check your shoe size?
If the answer is more than a year ago, there is a good chance your shoes are causing you some kind of pain, from pinched toes to unsightly calluses. Foot shape and size can change in small but meaningful ways throughout adulthood, yet time-starved shoppers increasingly order shoes online and forgo proper sizing by a trained salesperson.
The need for better-fitting shoes comes with the news that our feet, like the rest of us, are getting bigger. The average shoe size is up about two sizes since the 1970s, according to a study released last month from the College of Podiatry, a UK professional group. Emma Supple, a consulting podiatrist for the College of Podiatry, says she believes the findings apply outside Britain as well. “We’ve all gotten taller and we need big feet to hold us up,” she says.
US shoe makers including Stuart Weitzman and Cole Haan report average sizes are creeping up. And retailers are watching the extended-size market carefully. Nordstrom has seen strong sales of larger sizes, says Anne Egan, national merchandise manager for salon shoes. It has held special in-store events for extended-size customers, including women who wear up to a size 14 and men who wear up to a size 20. Long Tall Sally, a British-based apparel and footwear retailer that gets almost half its sales from North America, sells the most shoes in US sizes 12 and 13, says Chief Executive Andrew Shapin. Size 15, added earlier this year, now makes up 10 per cent of its footwear business.
No matter how big or small your feet, though, your shoes could be hurting them — or even causing permanent harm. In the British study, involving 2000 adults, more than a third of men and nearly half of women admitted buying shoes that didn’t fit properly. Shoes with a narrow “toe box,” the industry term for the front part of the shoe, can push the big toe in and create or accelerate a bunion, says Steven L. Haddad, a Glenview, Ill., orthopedic surgeon and president of the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society. It can also constrict the toes, resulting in what are known as “hammertoe deformities.”
“It’s like when your mom said, ‘Don’t make that face, it will stay that way,’” he says. “It does actually stay that way when you put so much pressure on the toe over a long period of time.”
Designers often weigh fashion against function in the quest to grab a share of the US shoe market, where sales are expected to top $US68 billion this year, according to Euromonitor International. To make shoes more visually appealing, manufacturers can fiddle with proportions, such as the height of the heel or the width of the “last,” the mould on which a shoe is formed.
Stuart Weitzman, founder and creative director of his eponymous shoe line, says he has learned to resist temptation. “I won’t make a last narrower in the front than it should be to give it a sleeker look — that’s like wearing a girdle,” he says. Three decades ago, the company’s average size was a 7, and the company made shoes up to size 10. Now, the average is 8, and his company makes shoes up to size 12, he says.
Mr Weitzman starts with a design based on looks alone, then goes about making it comfortable and functional. If it can’t be done, he discards the design. “I’ve learned not to miss it,” he says.
Stilettos top the list of pain-causing styles; the high and often-thin heels place all the weight on the front of the foot. But all kinds of shoes have pain potential, according to a 2014 survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association. About a quarter of people who wear flats, boots or flip-flops reported the shoes made their feet hurt. Two thirds of respondents said they wanted more-comfortable shoes.
Ballet flats are “just as bad as wearing high heels,” says Alison Garten, a Washington D.C.-area podiatrist, lamenting their lack of support. “It’s like walking around barefoot.” She estimates that shoes are to blame for the problems of as many as 40 per cent of her male patients and 60 per cent of female.
Podiatrists are split about the effect that shopping on websites like Zappos and Piperlime has on shoe fit. Some are concerned that professional fitting has been eliminated. Yet online shoppers, in the comfort of home, often try on more than one size and often late in the day, which is the best time to shop for shoes because feet are at their largest. One reminder for all shoppers: Don’t buy shoes too tight and expect to wear them in, says Jamie Lewin, director of design and trend at Piperlime, owned by Gap Inc. “I would never guarantee anything to stretch.”
Variability across brands, and even within a single brand, can make it difficult to find the right size on your own. Shoppers who always choose the same size don’t get the best fit 45 per cent of the time, says Matt Wilkinson, chief executive and a co-founder of Shoefitr, a company that works with retailers to give shoe-shoppers more information about size and fit.
Retailers such as Nordstrom offer Shoefitr as a tool on their e-commerce sites. Shoefitr uses a 3-D imaging device to take up to 300 measurements on a single style. It then creates a 3-D drawing to show where the fit is tighter or looser than average, as well as the arch and footprint. Online shoppers answer questions about what size they typically wear and see the drawings. Shoefitr recommends a size based on how the style fits. To date, it has measured more than 100,000 shoes from 1200 brands.
Cole Haan tests the fit of styles roughly 20 times during the 14-month development process. “Fit is our number one priority,” says Steve Beccia, senior director of product development for men’s and women’s footwear. In each of its sourcing countries, the company has fit-models whose feet match the measurements of a standard women’s-size 6 and a men’s-size 8.5. Cole Haan measures length and width, as well as the instep volume. Feedback from the models on how shoes feel is used to adjust the lasts and patterns.
At brands known for a precise fit, such as men’s footwear brand Allen Edmonds, fitting a shoe requires a professional. Julie Scott, a master fitter for Allen Edmonds and manager of two stores in New York City, says 95 per cent of her customers don’t know their proper shoe sizes. They don’t realise that, with just a few millimetres’ difference, “you can manipulate sizes,” she says. A 10.5 D isn’t far from an 11 C, a slightly longer, narrower shoe.
In one extreme case, Ms Scott worked with a customer who usually wore a size 9.5 EEE, the widest offered. The ball of his foot was too far forward and the shoe was very tight, she says. She fitted him with a size 12C, a much narrower shoe.
Ms Scott always uses a shoehorn and the sloped edge of a stool to put the shoe on a customer’s foot. She listens carefully for a “swoosh,” the satisfying noise a foot makes when sliding into a well-fitting shoe. She prefers not to show the customer the size she is asking him to try until after he tries the shoe on. “They look at you like you are nuts,” she says.
Allen Edmonds is one of the few remaining shoe retailers to offer a variety of widths. It is expensive to do so, with extra costs for making the lasts and producing the shoes.
Offering width options fosters special loyalty from the customer who needs a certain width. “She can’t go anywhere else,” Mr Weitzman says. He often stops people on the street wearing his shoes to get feedback. “I don’t remember when the first thing anyone said to me was, ‘I just think this is the most gorgeous shoe,’” he says. “The first line I always hear is, ‘I can’t believe how comfortable they are.’”

Jul 17, 2014

A home robot for the price of a tablet by Ruth Reader

Jibo is stout with a big round glassy face and turns to greet you when you walk in the door. When I met this little device, it was sitting on a table inside a hotel room in midtown, looking like a sleekly designed minimalist version of R2-D2.
For the price of a tablet, Jibo will be your personal secretary. Once linked to your various email and phone accounts, Jibo can relay texts and phone calls to you.
Today the Jibo team is accepting pre-preorders and launching a round ofcrowdsourced funding so it can bring Jibo to market in 2015.
Sure there are a variety of apps that will alert you with a ping, but Jibo will actually talk to you. “Excuse me, Ann,” Jibo says in a demo video. Then he waits for Ann to respond before delivering a reminder that a friend is coming to pick her up in half an hour.
As you can see in the video, Jibo also provides next-level video chatting. Equipped with touch and audio sensors, Jibo’s face turns to the person who’s talking, making conversation feel like it’s happening in-person. Jibo also takes pictures and has a reading app, so you can upload books to Jibo’s library and he’ll do an interactive reading with cartoon images of characters and events and character-appropriate voices.
Jibo is a Cynthia Breazeal project. Breazeal directs the Personal Robots group at MIT’s Media Lab and developed the emotional robot Kismet. She’s worked on humanoids and other robots, but her real interests lay in robots that can communicate like we do, and she’s brought together a pretty amazing team to bring her vision to life.
Todd Pack, who has brought several robots at iRobot to market, is Jibo’s Chief Robot Architect; Roberto Piericcini, the team’s Director Advanced Conversational Technologies, has worked at IBM T. J. Watson Research Labs; Andy Atkins, VP of Engineering, has worked for both Android and Apple and developed a streaming platform for Netflix; and Chief Cloud Architect Rich Sadowsky hails from Symantec, which suggests that the company is making security of its cloud services a priority. Also Jonathan Ross, who’s designing Jibo’s software, has developed toys and games at Disney and company Zynga.
Breazeal says that Jibo differs from other attempts at personal assistance, like Siri, because it draws from multiple sources of sensory data. “Siri’s input is voice only, so if voice fails how can it help? Jibo is not trying to recognize everything that you say. Jibo’s not positioned to be that kind of entity,” she says.
What Jibo is positioned for is to become a hub for a variety of applications. For now, Jibo is just a vehicle for communication — a beefed up tablet with a voice like Teddie Ruxpin. But its potential is huge. Jibo’s operating system is cloud-based and Breazeal is very interested in getting developers to create applications for Jibo’s linux-based OS. For instance, an application could turn the lights on when Jibo “sees” you walk in the door. It’s not hard to see that Jibo could easily fit into the smart home market, if appliances are made compatible with its network.
Jibo is being dubbed the “World’s First Family Robot” by his creators, but from prior reporting we know there are other emotibots on the market like Softbank’s Pepper, which is also coming to markets in 2015. What Jibo offers is an approachable new device, like a tablet, but with a lot more functionality and (potentially) personality.
The goal of this funding campaign is to reach $100,000. Contributors will be able to get a Jibo for $499. Developers interested in creating new applications for the Jibo Network can snag a Jibo for $599.

Jul 16, 2014

Move over Aldi, more discount supermarkets could be on the way

Discount grocer Aldi may soon be facing competition from cut-price European rivals if trends in the $88 billion Australian grocery market mirror those in the UK.
UK retailer Sainsbury’s controversial decision to back the relaunch of Danish discounter Netto has underscored the popularity of budget grocers Aldi and Lidl, which have almost doubled their share of the UK  market to more than 8 per cent in the last few years.
Aldi has been even more successful in Australia, garnering 10 per cent of the eastern seaboard market in just over 10 years as consumers become increasingly frugal and seek to reduce the cost of their weekly grocery shop.
In a report released this week, Commonwealth Bank analyst Andrew McLennan says there is room in Australia for a second discount grocery chain.
Mr McLennan sees scope for Netto, Lidl or other discount operators to open stores in Australia, either under their own steam or in partnership with incumbents such as Woolworths, Coles or Metcash.
Lidl, owned by Germany’s Schwarz Group, was reported to have been scouting for sites in Australia and speaking to potential suppliers earlier this year with a view to opening its first stores in 2015.
“Based on the trends from international markets and the apparent willingness of Australian consumers to embrace the format, we see potential for another discount retailer to enter the Australian market,” Mr McLennan said.
“While Lidl has previously been mentioned as a candidate to enter the Australian market, there is also the potential for Netto or a local alternative,” he said.
The arrival of a new discount player would have significant implications for Woolworths, Coles and Metcash, which have been forced to respond to Aldi’s growth by reducing prices and expanding their range of private label groceries.
Mr McLennan said market leader Woolworths, which has the highest profit margins in the world, had the ‘most to lose’, but was also in a strong position against other incumbents because of its low cost of doing business.
“Like Tesco, we see potential for Woolworths’ food and liquor margins to come under pressure, but we recognise Woolworths does not have the same exposure to superstore formats and is well positioned online in Australia,” he said.
Metcash was the most exposed to the arrival of new players, Mr McLennan said, because of its relatively high cost of doing business and high retail prices.
However, there was scope for Metcash to enter the discount market directly or in conjunction with an international partner.
“While a low probability outcome, this could be an avenue for growth to a company that otherwise appears to be lacking options,” Mr McLennan said.
In the UK, Aldi and Lidl have been growing at a faster rate than the four major players - Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Morrison’s - as middle class consumers battling rising living costs embrace their low price private label offer.
The major chains have retaliated by slashing prices, but the price cuts have come at a cost to sales and margins.
Last month market leader Tesco reported a 3.8 per cent drop in first quarter same-store sales and chief executive Philip Clarke said he could not remember a worse trading period in more than 30 years.
Mr McLennan said the traditional full-service supermarket channel was fractionalising as consumers shopped in discount, convenience and online channels.
“The loss of market share and sales is putting these formats under pressure,” he said.
Sainsbury’s is one of the few major UK chains that has grown market share in recent years, but is nevertheless taking a 50 per cent stake in Netto’s relaunch into the UK, effectively backing the future of the discount business model.
Netto previously had 193 stores in the UK but they were sold to Walmart’s ASDA in 2010 and rebranded.

Jul 10, 2014

The perfidious calculus of Hamas - SPIEGEL ONLINE

"Hamas is playing a dirty game," rages Khaled (name changed by the editor). "Gaza is your game board, and we are their pawns. They do not care if many of us lose. mainly, they gain the game! "
The man who makes air his wrath is a Palestinian journalist who has spent his whole life in the Gaza Strip.A man whose family has badly suffered from the crisis and blockages of the past years, and the reason is not so much a fervent hatred of Israel, but to the ruling of the Gaza Strip radical Islamic Hamas has developed.
Therefore, it also does not write better his real name. Hamas is the most rigorous action against their opponents.
If you will, Hamas aims with their current hail of missiles not only to Israel but also to men like Khaled: With their latest weapons transition the organization wants to polish up her shattered image as a representative of the legitimate resistance against Israel. By letting shoot rockets that Hamas deliberately provoke  Israeli air strikes. The suffering it causes is to do two things: on the one hand radicalize the war-weary people of Gaza and back into the arms of Hamas. Men like Khaled to get caught again by the rhetoric of resistance.

On the other hand, the Hamas leadership aims to increase the visibility from: The break with the Syrian regime in 2011 and the military coup in Cairo last summer, as the Generals beat the interleaved with Hamas Muslim Brotherhood from office, the extremists of their main ally deprived. "Now they want to make us civilians as long bleed front of the cameras until pities the Arab world and exerts pressure on Egypt to open its border with the Gaza Strip," says Khaled.

"Hamas is deep in the shit," says political scientist Mkhaimar Abu Sada rare in blunt language. The otherwise reticent academics teaches at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. The population of Gaza was close to open revolt against their rulers, says Abu Sada. Since the cash flow from Syria, Iran and is now dried up from Egypt, put the motion in massive financial trouble. For nine months, the government of Gaza can no longer pay the salaries of its 40,000 officers.

Thus under pressure, Hamas had, after much hesitation admitted in early June on the formation of a unity government with the hated Fatah Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the. But the kowtow to Abbas, who governs in the West Bank, did not produce the desired result: The unity government was unable to work due to internal feuds from the beginning and could not repay the outstanding balance of Hamas. The expected improvement of living conditions in the Gaza Strip remained from that Hamas continued to lose prestige.
So the radicals sat on escalation: the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers on June 12 and the subsequent alleged revenge killing of a Palestinian youth in the past week triggered the current cycle of violence. hundreds of rockets flew in on Tuesday night direction Israel .The Israeli government approved the mobilization of up to 40,000 Reserve soldiers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in the fight against Hamas, it was time to "take off the gloves."

He stands inside under political pressure to respond with full force to the provocations of Hamas. So far, he hesitates. A new Gaza war would create major risks, Netanyahu reputation and even the office could cost.His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who is pushing for the use of weapons, Netanyahu announced on Monday because of the following.
Israel's mobilization must draw no invasion by itself

The now approved mobilization to Netanyahu buy time, serve to satisfy the desire for revenge right-wing nationalist Israelis. The fact that it automatically pulls the invasion of ground troops with the associated escalation by itself, is not to say 2012, when it came to the last major slugfest between Israel and Hamas, Jerusalem was to march his troops along the coast, but agreed after eight days mutual bombardment to a ceasefire.
Whether the conflict in Gaza grows into a real war, now depends to a large extent by Egypt from President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi. Abbas assured on the phone that his country would push for a cease-fire between Israel and the radical Islamic Hamas, it said on Wednesday in Ramallah.
In plain language this means that Cairo think about it, to make concessions to Hamas. Hamas will get involved only to a ceasefire if in return some of their demands are met. Its primary objective at the moment is to move Egypt to open its border with Gaza. If Cairo engage in it, the living conditions in Gaza, would suddenly improve - and Hamas would have their power for a while longer ensured.

Jul 2, 2014

Killjoys stifle Islamic madness | The Australian

SO we won’t after all get to hear why Uthman Badar thinks it’s OK to stone your sister, if indeed that’s what he was proposing to argue at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. The title of his talk, “Honour killings are morally justified”, seems unambiguous, but Badar insists it has been misunderstood, and he does not in any way sanction the extrajudicial execution of close relatives of either sex.
Perhaps there was a typo in the title of his talk, and the word “Not!” was chopped off the end. Or perhaps the program’s compilers mistakenly typed in the word “justified” instead of “an abhorrent custom that should be condemned by all right-thinking Muslims in the strongest possible terms”.
At least we now know that the Sydney Opera House in no way “advocates honour killings or condones any form of violence against women”. Thanks for clearing that up. Eva Cox told the ABC it was a mistake to ask a Muslim to run the debate “because it immediately makes an association between honour killings and Muslims very clear”.
“I don’t think stereotyping one particular sector of the community as being the only people who are pushing this and primarily pushing it is going to do us any good,” she said.
Simon Longstaff, the executive director of the St James Ethics Centre, appears to agree: “I think he felt that if it wasn’t for his religion, there wouldn’t have been quite the same level or outrage.”
Badar blames “baseless hysteria” for the withdrawal of his chance to mount the Opera House stage. It reveals “the extent and influence of Islamophobia in Australia”.
The accusation of Islamophobia is the stop writ of cultural relativism. Like racism and misogyny, it is wielded to shut down discussion and silence contrary opinions.
The University of California’s Centre for Race and Gender defines Islamophobia as “a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure”.
It is “a tool to achieve ‘civilisational rehab’ of the target communities” and “reaffirms a global structure through which resource disparities are maintained and extended”.
The dogma of postcolonialism, which holds that power and knowledge are occidental weapons to suppress the oriental, is less fashionable than it once was in academic circles. Nonetheless a residue of this intellectual contaminant sits like a sludge in forgotten corners of our universities and seeps into civic debate.
The publicity note for Badar’s cancelled talk is replete with its mumbo-jumbo about orientalism. “Overwhelmingly, those who condemn honour killings are based in the liberal democracies of the West. The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) westerner and the accused is the oriental other; the powerful condemn the powerless.”
This binary framework, which separates the world into communities of oppressors and the oppressed, lays the ground for the unlikely affinity between radical utopian Islamists and the Australian bien pensant.
It is not a question of shared values, but a shared world view. The establishment of a global caliphate would be a setback to say the least for Cox’s feminist project. Yet she refrains from criticising Badar or the sexist, homophobic cause for which he fights.
Cox told Q&A last week that Australia has “a reputation at the moment as being one of the nastiest countries in the world”, and on this she and Badar would agree.
It would be interesting to know where Cox and Badar think Australia rates in the nastiness table compared to, say, Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, countries where lapidation (stoning as a form of community justice) remains on the statute books.
Yet merely asking the question is to display the arrogant, hegemonic assumptions of the West. It is simply a tool to achieve the “civilisational rehab” of the oppressed and to reaffirm the global structure of wealth disparity.
It is an irritant to taxpayers to think they could have subsidised this bonkers debate. But what the heck, we are paying for it every day in our universities, where Badar and his clique find intellectual succour and seek converts for their cause.
Even so, it is a pity that having issued the invitation, Longstaff and his chums lost their nerve. Longstaff says he was merely trying to encourage a conversation, and that is exactly what we need to have.
Badar and his ilk should explain themselves to those of us who remain unconvinced of the case for the global caliphate. Will Australia be expected to join the Islamist version of the European Union, and if not, will we be subjected to the Islamic tax Hizb ut-Tahrir says non-Islamic countries will have to pay to enjoy the protection of the global Islamic army?
What about the harmonisation of law, a problem that bedevils Brussels? Will lapidation be extended to the entire caliphate or abolished?
Will honour killings be allowed, and if so in what circumstances? Will the age of consent be lowered to enable the marriage of prepubescent brides?
Presumably gay marriage will be out of the question, but will there be any tolerance granted to homosexuality more generally?
Sadly the discussion we could have had has been censored, allowing the evangelists for Islamism to hide behind the coat tails of political correctness.
The evil of advocating honour killing should be balanced against what John Stuart Mill described as “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion”. To silence any opinion, however abhorrent it may seem, “is robbing the human race”, said Mill.
“If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth,” wrote Mill. “If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Politics in crisis and a nation in denial | The Australian

THE trajectory of Australia’s relative decline now seems set with the nation in denial of its economic challenges and suffering a malaise in its political decision-making — signalling that a country that cannot recognise its problems is far from finding their solution.
Australia’s political system is in malfunction. The evidence has been plentiful for some years and continues to mount. The origins of the crisis are deep-seated. This is the reason it is unlikely to be easily reversed. The nation’s economic advantages are extensive but unless buttressed by effective public policy they will erode relentlessly.
The troubles of the Rudd-Gillard era, usually attributed to their fierce leadership rivalry, can only be grasped in the context of the malaise within the political system. The omens suggest this might only deepen under the Abbott prime ministership.
The erosion in Australia’s political culture over a decade is alarming. It is tied to wider social and media trends. That many Western democracies are at a more advanced stage of this malaise — defined as the inability of political systems to respond to the needs of their societies — is no cause for assurance.
Indeed, the global evidence only raises a troubling question: is this the new norm? The former Labor government was broken by the pressures of the system. Labor under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, despite their achievements, was not able to hold the line on sustainable policy delivery.
The institutional question arising from Tony Abbott’s policies is whether a reforming prime minister can succeed any more in this country given the decisive shift in the system and culture against reform. The last three prime ministers were destroyed over management of their reform agendas: John Howard on Work Choices, Rudd and Gillard on a mix of climate change, mining tax and fiscal policy.
It is true these leaders made serious mistakes. It is equally true they faced a transformed political environment that made reform much tougher. The historical record of the Hawke-Keating era is rightly lauded. But it is by no means clear that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating would succeed in today’s system.
Any nation that has lost the art of collective self-improvement has stepped on to the escalator of decline. Australia is on that escalator. Its politics are so noisy, egotistical, destructive and consumed by self-interest that it has missed where the escalator is heading.
In voting terms it is far harder than before to construct and hold together a majority for reform. ­Laments about the decline of bipartisanship are ancient history. Bipartisanship faded away in the early Howard years, think 1996-97.
But the Liberal-Labor gulf over the nation’s direction has widened recently and now involves division over climate change, budget policy, industrial relations, tax reform, welfare entitlements, pensions, Medicare, university fees, competition and productivity. Agreement over the national direction is being torn apart.
The incentives in the system reward and promote policy division. Such splits are not just ideological; they are tactical. Australia is dominated by a poll-driven political culture. It privileges sectional interests over the national interest, short-term actions and the power of the negative.
Recent history is defined by the triumph of the negative and fatal blunders on the part of agents for changes, witness the ACTU campaign against Work Choices, the mining industry campaign against the mining tax, the Abbott-led destruction of carbon pricing and, most recently, the undermining of the Abbott-Hockey budget on the crusade of fairness.
Labor, convinced it was destroyed in office by Abbott’s unjustified negativity and unable to accept it was undone primarily by its own blunders, now exploits a tough and unpopular budget to inflict the same treatment on Abbott.
It is no surprise that 22 years of unbroken economic growth have exerted a profound impact on our political culture. Its corruption is advanced though how far is yet to be tested. It is defined by two qualities: complacency and expectations that cannot be financed by the tax base.
Indeed, legislated programs cannot be financed by the tax base as the current and former Treasury secretaries have warned. Yet much of the political system insists Australia has no budgetary problem. It says the harsh medicine being handed out is unnecessary because the problem has been fabricated. This reveals an immaturity in public debate the nation was supposed to have left behind decades ago.
There are many manifestations: a culture of complaint, the decline of self-reliance, the belief that virtually any hardship is the fault of government and a political system that bids for votes by promising that government will solve even more problems.
The irony of modern government is apparent: it cannot deliver the product on time as promised, making people even more unhappy. The state is overloaded. This was basic in undermining Rudd where the gulf between his promises and delivery became a huge liability.
The prosperity generated by the decade-long China boom has seen a decline in public interest policy, the rise of a more self-interested culture and a retreat in informed opinion about the reasons for Australia’s past success and the need for another round of national interest reform.
The trust between the political system and the people to sustain ambitious policy may now be severed. If so, Australia faces an unhappy deterioration from its recent highs.
Fragmentation is the story of the times. Labor has lost a large segment of voters to the Greens. Abbott faces the prospect of being undermined by Clive Palmer, Australia’s version of a populist Berlusconi. Disillusionment in the community may be matched by deadlock in the parliament.
The fragmentation of the media marketplace fits into this process. Technology and campaign techniques mean disaffected voters from any government or opposition policy can be targeted and won.
Creating losers is more high risk than before. The decline of mass media and rise of social media weakens the ability of leaders to carry opinion and shifts media power downwards.
During the reform age, roughly 1983 to 2003, the media was pivotal in backing national interest policies but that age is passing. It is replaced by new media values that mirror the fashionable narcissism and find national interest debates as quaint and irrelevant.
Australia’s prosperity is living on borrowed time, courtesy of past reforms and the China boom. There is a silly, contested debate about whether Australia faces an economic crisis. There is no doubt, however, that Australia is undergoing a crisis of its political system.