Category Archives: Business - Page 2

China Replicates An Entire Austrian Village

The Chinese are excellent at copying things, though those things are usually movies and scientific papers. But once in a while, they copy a whole town. The latest xeroxed town: Hallstat, an ancient Austrian village that’s home to the world’s oldest salt mine. It was copied right down to its statues and flowers, and built in just under a year, in southeast China.

 

Austrian Hallstat. Photo from Spiegel.de.

 

Lake Street in Austrian Hallstat

 

Street in Chinese Hallstat. Photo from News24.

 

As implied, this is not the first time this has happened. In various parts of China, there are all kinds of heavily European-inspired towns:

  • Antig, a German-style town
  • Nordic Town, inspired by Scandinavia
  • Chengdu British Town, inspired by Dorchester, England
  • Thames Town, inspired by Britain
  • Mini-versions of Venice and Barcelona

 

Chinese Newlyweds Photographed In Thames Town. Photo by Spiegel.de.

 

Of course the Chinese are just the latest among countries rich enough to replicate Europe:

 

Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan

 

Paris, Las Vegas

 

St. Mark's Square from Venice, inside The Venetian in Las Vegas

 

Leavenworth, Washington

 

Germany at EPCOT in Orlando, Florida

 

 

And it’s hardly a one-way proposition:

 

Byodo-In Temple, Oahu, Hawaii

 

 

China at EPCOT in Orlando, Florida

 

 

Chinatown, Philadelphia

 

See also:

From News24 and Spiegel.de, via Slashdot

American Multi-Cinema (AMC) Is Now Chinese

A privately-held Chinese conglomerate has bought AMC Theaters for 2.6b$, making it the biggest takeover yet of an American company by a Chinese one. AMC is the second biggest movie theater chain in the US, behind Regal Entertainment Group, and they are two of the three national theater chains, along with Cinemark Theaters.

Via NPR

Apple Makes As Much Money As All Of New Zealand

A cool new infographic shows exactly how ridiculously successful Apple is. Keep in mind that when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was weeks away from bankruptcy; now it’s the most valuable company in the world:

  • Its annual revenue is on par with New Zealand’s GDP
  • It has over 100B$ in cash, with which it could buy T-Mobile, Nokia, Netflix, Adobe, Twitter and RIM (who makes Blackberry).
  • It also could use that money to build and run a station on the moon for 8 years, buy all their employees mansions, buy everyone in the world a meal at McDonald’s (including dessert), end world hunger for three years, hire the Russian military for two years, or buy all the sports teams in America and pay for the Olympics.
  • 30% of smartphone users have an iPhone
  • There are 600,000 apps in the app store, and they’ve been downloaded 25 billion times

 

From Sortable, via iMore

You’re Not Really Eating Kobe Beef

The world-renown Kobe beef is a delicacy that is not sold anywhere outside of Japan. Yet many American restaurants have menu items supposedly containing Kobe beef. According to NPR, they’re all lying: besides the fact that it has to come from a particular lineage of cow and has to be slaughtered in a particular region of Japan, Kobe beef is illegal to import in the United States.

 

Fake Kobe burger on the menu at Square One Burgers

 

The USDA has not approved any of the Kobe slaughterhouses to export their meat to America due to health concerns, so it cannot be legally imported either commercially or privately. The only way it can get into the country is if it were smuggled in. But since the Kobe trademark is not recognized by the US government, anyone is free to slap the Kobe name to any old beef and charge twice the price for being clever enough to do so.

But the Kobe beef you find in American restaurants is likely not entirely fraudulent: American Kobe-style beef comes from a hybrid cattle bred from the Wagyu cattle (which produces true Kobe beef), and Angus cattle, which is better suited to American climates. Besides the genetic lineage however, true Kobe beef also has a secret cattle-raising tradition which, rumors say, include being fed superior grain, beer, and even massaged with sake. The American Kobe cattle gets none of that treatment: it’s really just a genetic cousin of the Wagyu cattle that’s fatted up about a year longer than normal, and is probably organic. So it’s quality beef, but nowhere near true Kobe.

Other products are legally protected from similar counterfeiting:

  • Champagne has to come from the Champagne region in France; otherwise, it’s just sparking wine
  • Scotch has to come from Scotland, otherwise it’s just whiskey
  • Bourbon has to come from the US (preferably from Kentucky)

From NPR and ABC News

(Updated April 23rd, to include information about American Kobe-style beef.)

Apple Stores Are By Far The Most Profitable Retail Spaces

A good measure of how profitable retail stores are is that of sales per square foot. Rather than just using sales alone, this measure evens the playing field between giants like Costco and small stores like Gap. And by that measure, Apple makes almost twice as much as the next store on the list, the jewelry store from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tiffany & Co. The top performers on the list are all boutique chains, and the first big box store, Costco, comes in sixth, with a meager 18% of Apple’s sales per square foot. Overall however, things are completely reversed: Apple had 17% of Costco’s total sales.

 

See also:

 

From iMore, via Retail Sails

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J.D. Power’s 2012 Car Dependability Study

Overall, dependability went up for 25 out of the 32 brands from 2011. The best brands were Lexus, Porsche, Cadillac, Toyota and Scion — note that Toyota owns Lexus and Scion. The worst brands were Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Jaguar — note that Chrysler owns all of those except Jaguar. The average brands: Acura, Honda, Chevy and Volvo.

But, these ratings should be taken with a grain of salt because they’re averages of all the cars a brand makes: so for Chevrolet, they include the Impala, Corvette, Malibu, Suburban, etc. If you’re using the study (PDF) to buy a car, the brand rating gives you just a general idea of how the brand is, not how good a particular model is.

 

Fortunately, they also provided the most dependable cars in each class:

  • Sub-compact: Toyota Yaris, Scion xD, and Honda Fit
  • Compact: Toyota Prius, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Scion tC
  • Midsize: Ford Fusion, Mitsubishi Gallant, and Toyota Camry
  • Large: Buick Lucerne, Toyota Avalon, and Ford Taurus
  • Entry Premium: Lexus ES350 and Lincoln MKZ (tied), and Acura TL
  • Premium: Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes E-class, and Volvo S80
  • Compact SUV: Chevy Equinox, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Scion xB
  • Midsize SUV: Ford Explorer and Nissan Murano (tie), and Toyota Highlander
  • Premium SUV: Lexus RX350 and Lincoln MKX
  • Midsize Pickup: Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline
  • Large Pickup: Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra HD, Chevy Silverado LD
  • Minivan: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey

Even though Chevy and Honda are average brands, they make some of the best SUVs, trucks, tiny cars and minivans. Overall though, the Toyota family and Ford seem to have their act together most.

The study measures problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of three-year-old (2009 model-year) vehicles. Overall dependability is determined by the level of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality.

2011 Hyundai Genesis

From JD Power, via NPR

Computers Took Our Middle-Class Jobs

The peak of the American economy before the recent recession happened at the end of 2007, when the GDP was 13.33 trillion$ and 138 million people were employed. After almost 4 years (three times longer than our average recovery time), the GDP is finally back above that level, to 13.35 M$ — but with 7 million fewer workers. Those people have been replaced partly by their former, more productive co-workers who picked up the slack, partly by cheaper workers in India, China and the like, and partly by computers who have gotten a lot more adept at doing sophisticated things around the office.

For example, there’s a lot less need for secretaries these days: between Outlook, GMail, the decline of postal mail, easy-to-use calendars with reminders on all the smartphones, files becoming electronic without need for filing (thanks to Google desktop search), and now even Siri, a lot of a secretary’s job has been largely replaced by software from Google and Apple. Travel agents have been replaced by Travelocity and Expedia (dot cooom). Accountants, by Excel, Turbotax, and Mint. Broadcast engineers, by streaming Internet video. Police and security officers, by cameras and security systems. Paralegals, by scanners, optical recognition, text search software, and the Internet. Librarians, by Google Books and Amazon. Bank tellers, by ATMs.  Even bakers, by vending machines. All middle class jobs that are disappearing.

And that’s just the beginning: Watson — the IBM computer that mopped the floor at Jeopardy! with the two best people that ever played the game — is going to replace all kinds of Jeopardy! contestant-like jobs that depend on recalling trivia from large amounts of knowledge: doctors, lawyers, government employees, etc. Of course, technology doesn’t eliminate those jobs completely: we’ll need surgeons, trial lawyers and DMV clerks for the foreseeable future. Same goes for the other jobs (e.g., we’ll always need some accountants and traffic cops), because we’re unlikely to ever automate everything, but what will happen is that one person will be able to do the job of several. Agriculture was one of the first industries to become automated, and now a couple of people can run an entire giant farm that used to take dozens; over the past century, those jobs went from 38% to 2% of the workforce.

 

Watson on Jeopardy!

 

As a specific example of what’s coming, NPR has an article that highlights how disruptive automation will be to the auto industry: in the past 30 years more Americans have been killed by cars than by all the wars in the past 300 years — 1.5 million people. Because of that, and also because they’re really cool, driverless cars are coming to improve safety and efficiency. When they do, right off the bat, they’ll put a lot of people out of work: taxi drivers, valets, bus drivers, traffic cops, etc. And people that don’t drive too often may forego owning a car altogether and just use services like Zipcar; this means less need for mechanics and parking maids, less government revenue from drivers license fees, registration fees, traffic tickets, parking tickets, etc.

 

Google's driverless car. Illustration by The Globe And Mail

 

One interesting thing is that lower-skill jobs are not yet being targeted by robots, because those jobs tend to pay too little and aren’t worth replacing by an expensive machine that does them probably much worse: all kinds of cleaning jobs (janitors and maids, garbage men, bus boys), fast food cooks, animal caretakers, etc. And then there are the jobs no one wants to see a machine doing, mostly in the service industry: waiters, receptionists, nannies, hair dressers, retail salesfolk. Because of the high-cost and largely impersonal nature of middle-class jobs, it’s mostly those that are at risk for being replaced by machines.

So what do you do when the metal ones decide to come for you? Besides getting Old Glory Insurance, re-education is pretty much the only alternative to hoping you’re one of the few that get to stay behind. The loss of jobs to automation is nothing new and has been an issue since the days of John Henry, almost 150 years ago. And so far, every time an industry is disrupted by machines, a new industry pops up to take its place and create the new jobs needed. For example, when agriculture started to decline, radio and television were invented, as were cars and airplanes. Now, at the very least, we’re going to need people to design all those new robots… until someone builds one that can reproduce.

And in case you’re interested in some of that robot insurance:

From NPR, NPR, Forbes and Bloomberg

Commuting Is Really Expensive

This is a pretty cool infographic that makes the point that for the median salary, each mile of commuting costs 800$/year; so if you commute 12 miles to work, you could’ve bought a 10k$ car that year, if instead you worked from home.

From Streamline Refinance, via Lifehacker

Free 3-D Glasses Might Not Be Free For Long

Life must be really difficult in the multi-million dollar blockbuster movie industry, because Sony Pictures is scraping the bottom of the barrel by trying to save money on the plastic 3-D glasses they give out (and insist you give back at the end of the theater for “environmental reasons”). Starting in the summer of 2012 the idea is that the theaters would charge 1$ for the glasses, which is already what they do in Europe and therefore should be good enough for you. Or, next time you see a 3-D movie, just keep the glasses.

From The Salt Lake Tribune

Apple iPhone Might Have By Far The Highest Retention Rate

UBS did a small-ish worldwide phone survey (515 people), with mostly European and Asian smartphone owners, but a quarter of them also came from ‘the Americas’. What they found was that 45% of those surveyed owned iPhones, which is a lot higher than the 25% or so that we see in the US (in surveys with a proper sample size). The Android numbers were backwards too — about 14% owned phones from Android manufacturers, whereas in Nielsen surveys in America, it’s more like 36%. So take the rest of this survey’s results with a sizable grain of salt.

They’ve found that Apple has an 89% “implied retention rate” (dropped from 95% last year), and the next manufacturer is HTC (Android) with 39%, followed by RIM (Blackberry) with 33%, Samsung (Android) with 28% and Motorola with 25%. Nokia’s on there too, but really, who cares? No word on how UBS came up with the “implied retention rate”, but they have figures for how many people are planning to switch to and from a manufacturer. A lot more people planned to switch to Apple than from it, and a few more planned to switch to HTC and Samsung than planned to leave them. Everyone was planning to chuck their Blackberries and Nokias into the river though and get an iPhone, or HTC or Samsung Android.

Most Android users were planning on staying with Android, but about a third were going to move to Apple. HTC was the most popular Android handset (39%), followed by Samsung (27%) and Motorola (16%).

From GigaOm