First came the smart car and the smart phone. Now there’s the smart table. U.S. technology companies Ideum and 3M have joined forces to develop a supersized tablet computer that also functions as a coffee table.
The Multitouch Coffee Table comes in 32-inch and 46-inch models and responds to up to 60 simultaneous touches, making it ideal for group games or work projects.
Chemically strengthened to support mugs and plates, the tablet’s glass surface is water resistant so there’s no need to panic over accidental spills.
The tablet comes installed with Windows 8, allowing users to access thousands of apps, surf the web, watch movies and enjoy all the other features of a tablet. A new version running on the Android operating system will hit the market this summer.
With prices starting at $6,950, it’s more expensive than most coffee tables, but surely a lot more fun.
This article was first published in The Financialist in 2014.
Introducing The Mile Low Club
These articles first appeared in The Financialist in 2014
The idea of spending a night on a submarine might not be everyone’s idea of a romantic getaway. But the so-called “Mile Low Club,” launched earlier this month by British luxury property rental specialists Oliver’s Travels, offers no ordinary ride under the waves. Staffed by a captain, a chef and a personal butler, the exclusive Lovers Deep is a specially adapted submersible vessel with bespoke interior design and furniture that can be moored at any location in the world, from aside a coral reef off the coast of St. Lucia to nearby a sunken ship in the Red Sea. A “night of passion” in this over-the-top luxurious submarine starts at about $290,000. (Yes, the price includes a private speedboat transfer.) Couples can customize their stay with a champagne breakfast in bed, rose-scattering, a two-person shower and an “aphrodisiac tasting menu.” Or a helicopter transfer—but that costs extra. And claustrophobic lovers need not apply.
Shopping for Stocks? Ignore Recent Growth.
Common sense suggests that recent economic growth would be a reliable predictor of stock market performance. But a recent Credit Suisse Research Institute report debunks that assumption. London Business School finance experts Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh and Mike Staunton determined that in U.S. and foreign markets, the correlation between equity returns and concurrent per capita changes in real gross domestic product was close to zero. The experts then found that hypothetical stock portfolios from economies boasting historically high rates of GDP growth actually underperformed those with stocks from low-growth countries. Stocks selected from economies that were expected to grow strongly in the future, however, generated far higher annualized rates of return than economies forecast to experience poor growth. In other words, basing investment decisions on recent high rates of economic growth can be like buying a stock after a company reports strong results - the real opportunity has probably already come and gone.
Big food losing ground
These articles were first published in 2014 by The Financialist
Big doesn’t always mean better. That’s the conclusion of Credit Suisse analysts who recently analyzed Nielsen’s tracking data of food and beverage sales over the past four years.
The figures show the top 25 manufacturers in the United States have been slowly but steadily losing market share to smaller rivals on their home turf. Companies including Kraft Food, Kellogg’s and McCormick have seen their US sales grow 4 percent since 2009, well short of the 12 percent growth in the overall market.
That represents a market share loss of 354 basis points for the leading brands – or the equivalent of $14 billion in sales, the analysts wrote in a report entitled “Top 25 Food and Beverage Analysis: Benefits of Scale Keep Declining.”
This reversal of fortunes started after the 2008 financial crisis when the big names reduced their product offerings in the United States and focused their resources and management talent on fast-growing emerging markets.
This created an opportunity for smaller competitors such as Greek yoghurt maker Chobani and Green Mountain Coffee, the maker of Keurig coffee brewers, to fill the gap on US shelves with a wider range of products that consumers liked.
It certainly did the trick. Some of the top brands are now acknowledging the need to boost US investment, but only time will tell if consumers can be tempted back.
Political Crisis Deals Thai Tourism A Blow
Thailand’s tourism sector is no stranger to political crises and natural disasters. But historically, the hardy sector has recovered quite quickly after periods of domestic turbulence.
But the changing composition of Thai tourists could make this year a harder rebound, warns Credit Suisse analyst Santitarn Sathirathai in a recent report entitled “Thailand’s political crisis: What it means for ASEAN tourism.”
Tourists from China and Hong Kong, who tend to be the most sensitive to instability — and the most difficult to lure back again -- now account for around 20 percent of visitors to the Southeast Asian country, compared with just 8 to 9 percent a few years ago.
The turmoil, marked by months of massive street demonstrations that aim topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, will shave 0.6 percentage points off economic growth this year, estimates to Credit Suisse, which recently slashed its 2014 growth forecast for the country to 2 percent from 3 percent.
Demand for guns
These articles were first published in 2014 by The Financialist
With all the hype surrounding the Super Bowl this week, you might assume America spends more money on football than any other sport. Wrong. Target shooters and hunters spent a whopping $18.4 billion in 2011, more than double the National Football League’s revenue of $8.8 billion in the 2011-12 season.
Gun sales have been driven by fears of tougher gun control laws, as well as a shift towards younger and more female shooters, according to the Credit Suisse report “Inventory Building for Firearms, but not Ammo.”
Demand, for example, climbed sharply after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School renewed calls for greater gun control. Also, while background checks don’t directly correlate with sales, it’s notable that the FBI reported 95 percent more background checks on firearms in 2012 than six years prior.
And there’s clearly more interest: record attendance was reported at this month’s Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas, the world’s largest such trade show. Even so, this Sunday most shooters are likely to trade their weapons for a spot in front of the television.
Pope’s Holy Harley to be Auctioned by Bonhams
It's no wonder that Pope Francis has been scoring a lot of points for being cool. He's embraced the sick, driven himself around in a 20-year-old Renault 4, and posed for selfies with teenagers.
Now, his holiness is giving up his Harley Davidson for auction in Paris, and the proceeds will go to charity. He was given the 1,585cc Dyna Super Glide last June to mark the 110th anniversary of the motorcycle brand, and he signed the tank of the vehicle at a special Vatican ceremony.
Bonhams will auction off the bike, which has an estimated value of 12,000 to 15,000 euros, at the Grand Palais on February 6. The funds will go to the charity Caritas Roma, which will use them to renovate the Don Luigi di Liegro hostel and soup kitchen at Rome's Termini railway station.
Clearly, the Pope just moved up yet another notch on the hip meter.
This article was first published in 2010 by Bloomberg News.
By Jens Erik Gould and Carlos Manuel Rodriguez
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Mexico would consider measures to curb gains in the peso if the U.S. Federal Reserve's stimulus plan accelerates capital flows into the country, central bank President Agustin Carstens said.
Carstens, at the Bloomberg Economic Summit in Mexico City today, said policy makers will be ``very patient'' before taking any action. He said they would coordinate any currency measures with the finance ministry to avoid sending the ``wrong signal'' to investors.
Right now the peso, whose 1.8 percent rally over the past month is the biggest in Latin America, is not overvalued, Carstens said. The peso's 7 percent rally this year is the second-best in the region after Colombia's peso.
``Mexico has to be careful for the medium and long-term consequences of any actions to deal with a stronger peso,'' Carstens said. He said capital controls like those adopted by Brazil are unlikely to be effective in the long-run.
Bond yields have declined to ``extraordinarily'' low levels, he said. Policy makers are watching ``closely'' the decline in yields to see whether they are transitory or not.
Carstens said Mexico would benefit if the Fed's decision to purchase $600 billion in Treasuries succeeds in boosting U.S. economic growth. Mexico sends 80 percent of its exports to the U.S.
``It's an understandable measure, and up to some point even desirable,'' he said. ``If I were in Ben Bernanke's shoes I would do the same.''
This article was first published in 2010 by Bloomberg News
By Jens Erik Gould and Jonathan J. Levin
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero said the country's recovery is ``solid'' even as he warned the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to pump $600 billion into its economy may be ``bad news'' for emerging markets.
``Our exports are showing a much more vigorous recovery than the domestic sector,'' Cordero said during Bloomberg's Mexico Economic Summit in Mexico City today.
Bank lending and consumer demand are rebounding and the wage gap between Mexico and China is narrowing, Cordero said.
Mexico's economy, which the central bank forecasts will grow 5 percent this year on the back of exports, may get a boost when consumer spending rebounds in the $1.09 trillion economy. The country is recovering from last year's 6.5 percent contraction, the steepest since the 1930s.
The peso has gained 7.1 percent against the U.S. dollar this year, in part because of increased capital flows from foreign investors into Mexico.
The government is monitoring the inflows ``very, very carefully,'' Cordero said. It has no plans to take steps to stem gains in the peso, he said.
``The inflows could be bad news because it represents an appreciation of our currency,'' Cordero, 42, said in an interview at the same event.
Efforts by some countries to devalue their currencies are a short-term solution and there is no evidence that trying to limit capital inflows is effective in preventing currency appreciation, he said.
Cordero said he was comfortable with ``whatever exchange rate the market decides'' for the peso.
The Federal Reserve agreed last week to buy an additional $600 billion of Treasuries through June to help boost economic growth.
Brazil, Thailand and Colombia are among nations that have imposed taxes on foreign inflows, ended tax exemptions for foreigners or stepped up purchases in the spot currency markets as near-zero interest rates in the U.S. and other developed economies prompt investors to seek higher returns elsewhere.
Mexican exports, buoyed by a 44 percent rise in auto sales abroad, climbed 21 percent in September from a year earlier. The central bank forecasts the economy will grow 3.2 percent to 4.2 percent in 2011.
``Our exports are showing a much more vigorous recovery than the domestic sector,'' Cordero said.
Unlike other regional economies where domestic demand is booming, private consumption in Mexico remains below pre-crisis levels, Gray Newman, chief Latin America economist at Morgan Stanley in New York, said in a Nov. 4 interview.
The sluggish recovery in consumer demand reflects the country's deteriorating terms of trade, which are running below their five-year average before the global financial crisis, Morgan Stanley said in a Nov. 8 report. In contrast, income from exports in commodity producers like Chile and Peru has rebounded to near all-time highs since the end of the global recession.
The peso rose 0.7 percent to 12.2189 per dollar as of 5 p.m. in New York.
Consumer confidence fell to 89.2 in October from 91.6 in September. The indicator was 105.6 in December 2007. Unemployment rose to 5.7 percent in September, higher than the 3.4 percent registered in December 2007.
Author Harry Barba wrote this review before he passed away. It's a draft and unfinished, but I thought it was worthy of posting because of who he was. You can read more about him here, here, here and here.
Barba-cues and Barba-isms
Book reviewed: A Daring Young Man, A Biography of William Saroyan
by John Leggett; Alfred J. Knopf, 465 pp, $30
Published in the early spring of 2003, Leggett’s Saroyan is still deserving of a review more than a year later by way of the painstaking attention that has been given to searching ______ half the surface of the globe (editors, publishers, relatives and friends, libraries and noted bibliographies and whoever else and wherever else and whatever else once had to do or now deals with the entertainer and writer that William Saroyan and a handful of editors managed to make available to millions of readers for a brief shooting star’s flight in America’s Great Depression years, a few years before and a few after in a life that spanned over 20 years (from Fresno, California to most of the world and then back to Fresno where, on his death bed (date?), the news media reported him as musing aloud to his housekeeper (none of his two children nor their mother, his twice married and twice divorced wife, nor any other remaining relatives), “I knew everyone had to die someday, but I thought surely an exception would be made in my case.” To which, more than twenty years later, John Leggett and this reviewer say, “It has, Saroyan—through your works.” For if nothing else, not a new “rage” of multiple million readers, “as Leggett puts it in the opening sentences of his oeuvre when Saroyan was producing short stories, novels, plays and autobiographies “by the bucketful***”—but a confirmation of his much deserved place in the “social” and entertainment literary histories of America’s Depression years should be the result for America’s enfant méchant whom Random House Founder and Publisher Bennett Cerf called “The Boy Wonder of Fresno” and acquiesced gladly in Saroyan’s own self designation, “The World’s Greatest Writer.”
Leggett’s here-are-the-facts-about-the-wild-man-of-Fresno-who-decided-and-did-become-a-world-renowed-fiction-writer-and-playwright-and-deserves-to-stand-shoulder-to-shoulder-with-Balzac-Mark Twain-and-Ernest Hemingway-in-the-Pantheon-of-America’s-immortals (forget for a moment that other Bill, William Shakespeare, who is in a league of his own) and here is why I think so” (so he might have said and then proceeded to give us a smouldering bonfire (little heat but plenty of—‘smoke’ [some might think] –‘smoke signals,’ others) of a raking up of the scattered and sodden leaves of yesteryear’s wind thrashing weeping willow tree with such care that a viewer cannot but be impressed by its size and nature—a monument of some kind for sure but its fire fitfully lit.
For, if nothing else, A Daring Young Man finally manages to remind us by indirection of what and how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Brain Trust of Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, “Ma” Perkins, Claude Pepper and that lady who was not only America’s first lady but also the first lady of the world, Eleanor Roosevelt managed to lead us out of the greatest economic and social crisis America has ever learned while perennial “yes-sayers,” refusing to say “enough” to the threat to America’s vital sprits gave an obligato of song, dance, social plays, comedies and tragedies and boundless art and entertainment [Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Porter, Ziegfield, Clifford Odets and Eugene O’Neil, Damon Runyan and the Fresno nightingale, William Saroyan.)
In less than fifteen years in a life that spanned the biblical four score and ten and more, Saroyan wrote the following: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories (his most significant one collection of “social” fiction together with a great grab bag of plays, one to suit any and almost every mood--Love, Here is my Heart, my Heart’s in the Highlands, Love’s Old Sweet Song, Sweeney in the Trees, Hello, out there, and one more to mention as a kicker, the Drama Circle and Pulitzer Prize awarded and perennial stage presentation, The Time of Your Life [which he insisted was no better than any one of his body of works]). Along with these, Leggett’s impressively detailed work presents all of the front and back of books equipment that the reader can count on in a work of scholarly biography.
In 2009, I reported on the outbreak of the H1N1 flu in Mexico. When the media reported that the virus had been found in Mexico City, frightened residents stormed supermarkets to stock up on food and hid in their homes, only venturing out with surgical gloves and masks. Yet when I sought out the general director of the country’s largest public hospital, he told me it had only had four suspected flu cases, none of them confirmed.
“Cero casos confirmados,” I remember him saying.
This doctor at the center of it all thought the data didn’t warrant the panic. “There’s a generalized psychosis here,” he told me. Most media reports were portraying an Armageddon scenario in Mexico, yet right around when we published this piece on the doctor's comments the infection rate began to slow.
Here's the Bloomberg article we published:
Mexico `Overreacts' to Flu Risk as Infections Slow, Doctors Say
Sleeping on blocks of ice in a room where the temperature is as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday, but it’s certainly something to write home about.
The ICEHOTEL, located 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle in a village in northern Sweden, claims to be the world’s first hotel made from ice and snow. When the mercury plummets in November, a team of workers starts building and decorating the 60,000-square-foot structure using more than 30,000 tons of ice and snow from a nearby river.
Some of the world’s best ice sculptors descend upon the hotel to build beautiful creations that decorate rooms and the lobby. Arriving guests are put through a crash “survival course” on how to stay warm in their frigid rooms and are given sleeping bags designed for temperatures as low as minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. If paying up to $750 a night to sleep on ice sounds crazy, guests can opt for a room in one of the hotel’s more permanent and warmer chalets.
Either way, there are plenty of activities: visitors can see the Northern Lights nearly every night, learn ice sculpting and experience a dogsled. While, the hotel recently opened its reindeer skin-covered doors for its 24th season, prospective guests better hurry. By mid-April, the hotel will literally start melting away.
'For the Grape Season': A review
This article is a continuation of a series of reviews of the work of author Harry Barba. The original post about my connection and work with Barba was posted here. You can also find reviews of "Round Trip to Byzantium," "One of a Kind" and "The Nightingale Sings."
Harry Barba’s For the Grape Season is an American tale. A work of fiction built around the meeting of two distinct cultures, the novel explores the point at which cultural lines blur, differences gain acceptance, and tradition is fractured. Barba juxtaposes the human tendency to remain with people most similar to us with a recognition of the great learning that occurs when we interact with those least like us. From the bigoted intolerance of the town storekeeper to the runaway romance of the hamlet’s young adults, the grape pickers’ encounter with the villagers might be a microcosm for immigration in America.
Within the confines of a small New England village, Barba joins two groups distinct in appearance and mannerism: the Yankees of Barstowe, Vermont and a group of migrant workers from Armenia. The grape pickers’ strange tongue, copious wine drinking and odd customs come as a shock to the reticent and pious village that holds its homogeny dear.
Yet, the grape pickers arrive in the valley at a time when the village has recently experienced the death of its pastor, Reverend Gadson. Without his leadership, the villagers are uncertain about how to respond to the grape pickers’ peculiar ways. From both the newcomers and the villagers emerge two camps: those who gradually accept the other group and those who remain suspicious. Bachelor Bedros, the big-hearted and heroic figure of the novel, and Lalice Gamba, oldest daughter of the Armenian family, both venture into Yankee society by establishing romantic relations with villagers. However, Lalice’s father Gamba Nohan opposes his daughter’s involvement with Gene Gadson as a threat to convention. Even Elisabeth Gadson, who inspires the village to welcome the grape pickers, holds steadfast to a belief that Gene and Lalice’s relations are dishonorable and humiliating. This conflicting behavior begs the reader to ask why some characters shut out diversity while others welcome it.
The characters of the novel who most interact with other experience a significant growth of character and understanding. Bachelor Bedros, who marries the widow Sarah Belmountain, relinquishes his despair over his last relationship, overcomes much of his fear, and regenerates a feeling of aliveness for himself. Indeed, Bedros has cathartic experiences such as saving Sarah’s daughter from drowning, inspiring her to speak after a long period of remaining mute, acting heroically during a great flood, and ultimately choosing to remain in Barstowe and integrate into Yankee society. Similarly, as Lalice begins her relationship with Gene, the narrator expresses that “something had opened wide within her and singing wildly.”
As characters of these distinct backgrounds interact with each other, they learn more about themselves, their purpose as individuals and come to recognize similarities between themselves and their new neighbors. On the other hand, at the end of the novel, Mr. Nohan and Mrs. Gadson are at odds with family members, accused of their rigidity. Having chosen not to adapt to change, both parents eventually lose their children when Gene and Lalice flee the village to get married.
Leonard Lunch, the town storekeeper, resists acceptance of the grape pickers throughout the novel because he fears finding “some of our ripening girls dandling younguns with slanted eyes.” By relating the newcomers to animals and discounting any similarities between the two groups, villagers such as Lunch are, in a sense, denying a part of themselves. Indeed, Lunch is a descendant of the first outsider to marry into the Barstowe community and is therefore denying his roots by refusing to welcome newcomers. What’s more, as the novel comes to a close and some villagers continue to oppose integration, evidence comes forth that the great-grandmother of all Barstoweites had been a Pequot Indian. In other words, even a village with such apparent homogeneity can be built on ethnic and cultural fusion. Even so, discrimination persists.
Barba captures well the mannerisms of the grape pickers and the often humorous contrast they provide to the New Englanders. Rather than the rain coming down like cats and dogs, Lalice tells Gene that it is coming down like “puppies and kittens,” hinting at the idiomatic challenges of a new language. Later, in order to propose marriage to Sarah, Bachelor Bedros has his countrymen convince Sarah of Bedros’ virtues while Bedros himself sits listening in an adjacent room. Thoroughly confused by this foreign custom, Sarah listens to the grape pickers woo her with such lines as, “this man need woman” and, “inside, he is sad.”
The author peppers his novel with several comedic scenes. For example, waking lonely from a forlorn dream about his runaway bride, Bachelor Bedros brings his stallion Mootik inside to spend the night with him. In the morning, the grape pickers look up to find Mootik pressing his head against the window on the third floor of the parsonage.
Faced with a choice between tradition and adaptation, the novel’s principal characters explore the concept of being selfish or self-centered. Is it self-centered to thwart the outsider or to accept him, to keep tradition or rebel against it? In the final meeting between Gene and his mother, Mrs. Gadson claims to have been denying herself in order to be the Good Samaritan of the village. Similarly, Gamba Nohan strives to uphold tradition so that he can appear respectable to his family and countrymen.
Yet, while Mrs. Gadson and Mr. Nohan claim to behave out of self-denial and for the good of the community, their children suggest that they are merely striving to uphold their image in the eyes of their communities. When Elisabeth accuses Gene of “flaunting [his] selfish indulgence in the face of society,” Gene replies that his mother commits her acts of goodwill in order to fill “her own yawning emptiness.” So who is selfish? The person who believes he acts in the name of society and tradition, the person who breaks cultural rules in the name of independence and love, or both? Barba leaves this to the reader.
What the author does make clear is that those who move beyond the threshold of the status quo evolve to new and fruitful beginnings. At the close of the novel, Bedros and Sarah enjoy their extra fertile land, and Lalice has a fertile womb. Indeed, as the two couples might agree, a willingness to change begets even more change and opportunity.
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.