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Froma Harrop - Tech's next big thing won't be found on fashion runway

I never cared much for the tarted-up Burberry. The upscale British clothier sells its wares at prices for which one might reasonably demand a classic style lasting through several monarchies. But that's just me talking. Burberry is said to have turned its traditionalist label around thanks to fashion innovation. So that's just me talking.

Apple Inc. has hired Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to apply her fashion smarts to updating its 400 stores and online shopping experience. On this I feel better equipped to predict success or failure.

A number of tech businesses are now getting mixed up with fashion. That's a dangerous trend, for tech. It threatens to turn tech's minimalist cool — a user-centered simplicity mastered by Apple's founding genius, Steve Jobs — into something complicated, not to mention sexist.

Apple has enhanced the iPhone's innards several times, but set an early model on a bar next to the latest and they look fairly alike. Only jerks sniff at someone holding last year's iPhone.

A strange article in The New York Times portrayed the tech foray into fashion as good for tech and a means of empowering women in the male-dominated gadget business. At Google Glass, the reporter wrote, "women are leading hardware and business efforts for one of Google's biggest-ever product gambles." (Google Glass is a kind of computer on goggles.) The new female hires are advising Google on color and look.

Most horrifying is the headline, "Women at Google Looking Past the Glass Ceiling" over a photo of Google founder Sergey Brin slouching in old jeans and rubber sole shoes — surrounded by Diane von Furstenberg and models in metatarsal-killing spikes, chains wrapped around their ankles. Was gender equity ever such?

We appreciate that much of tech has a fashion-accessory angle. The cutting-edge tablet and video camera have become the hipster's conspicuous consumption. And yes, Google sells computer glasses, and Samsung, computer watches. But true tech elegance rides on complex capabilities under a cover of effortless simplicity. Me talking.
Consider the Apple Stores, which Burberry's ex-CEO is supposed to save from their allegedly outdated look. Most I visit are mob scenes. One is reminded of the Yogi Berra line about an old Italian restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

Two things make the Apple Stores beautiful. One is they are a place of tech fantasy. Go there and leave convinced that with a few clicks of the keys you can make an entry for the next Sundance Film Festival.

Secondly — and this is even more important — they serve as clinics offering outpatient care for those in the midst of technical meltdown. If you're an Apple customer with a software problem, hardware problem or don't-know-which problem, you can limp into an Apple Store knowing that you will skip away with some kind of answer, if not a fix.

Apple's most loyal customers are we who have spent hours on the phone being sent to three continents for help getting a gadget to work. We know that the greatest luxury isn't fashion. It is service.

The Apple Stores have that hip minimalist vibe with a layout as predictable as a Sam's Club. Also predictable are the employees in colorful tees, there to listen patiently to your tale of confusion and carefully trained never to make the customer feel stupid.

Fantasy married to utility was Steve Jobs' brilliant formula. Don't mess with that.

Computerized glasses in tangerine are not exactly the next tech must-have. They illustrate consumer tech's problem. It needs to find the next big new thing. The place to look for that is not on a fashion runway but in a geek's garage.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 October 2013 09:11

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Jim Hightower - J.P. Morgan gone wild

J.P Morgan was recently socked in the wallet by financial regulators, who levied a fine of nearly a billion bucks against the Wall Street baron for massive illegalities.

Well, not a fine against John Pierpont Morgan, the man. This 19th century robber baron was born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the "King of American Finance." During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation's gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.

From his earliest days in high finance, Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a general in the Union Army for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers' thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault.

That seems to have set a pattern for his lifetime of antitrust violations, union busting and other over-the-edge profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges — but of course, he never did any jail time.

Moving the clock forward, we come to JPMorgan Chase, today's financial powerhouse bearing J.P.'s name. The bank also inherited his pattern of committing multiple illegalities — and walking away scot-free. Oh sure, the bank was hit with that billion-dollar fine, but that's hardly devastating to a behemoth that hauled in $6.5 billion in just the previous three months. Besides, note that not a single one of the top bankers who committed gross wrongdoing were charged or even fired — much less sent to jail.

Fining banks is not a crime-stopper, for banks don't commit crimes. Bankers do. And they won't ever stop if they don't have to pay for their crimes.
In fact, someone should make a movie about JPM's honchos and title it: "Bankers Gone Wild!" Not long ago, America's biggest Wall Street empire was hailed as a paragon of financial integrity. But today it's a house of crime, currently under investigation for management illegalities by seven federal agencies, several states and two foreign nations.

But there's an additional "crime" taking place, hidden within that billion-dollar fine that regulators levied on the bank for top-level mismanagement, which caused shareholders to lose a whopping $6 billion in a trade scandal last year. Media reports say the bank agreed to pay the fine to settle those charges, but when it's reported that "the bank" will pony up a billion dollars, who exactly is that?

Not the bankers who committed the illegalities, but Chase's shareholders. Wow, how's that for a raw deal? The money the bankers lost belonged to shareholders, yet they're being socked for another billion to cover the bankers' fine. Imagine if you got burglarized, then were fined for being burglarized! As one law professor said, "It's not just adding insult to injury, it's adding injury to injury."

Federal regulators say it's easier to get bankers to settle a case if they can hand the fine to shareholders, who don't even get a say in the decision. But going after the bankers, they claim, would require a jury trial — and jurors might not convict.

Huh? What kind of bassackwards justice is that? Besides, it's ridiculous to think that jurors wouldn't jump at the chance to convict Wall Street banksters. That's a jury I'd like to serve on. Wouldn't you? Nail a couple of them, and that'd chill all of their wild finagling.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 08:31

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Bob Meade - Private enterprise versus government

Isn't it odd that if a business gets "too big", and essentially has the potential to control its market and stifle competition, the government can declare it a monopoly and work towards getting a court ruling to have the business divested; broken into smaller, independent companies that would no longer be tied to the corporation deemed to be a monopoly. Breaking up of the monopoly is intended to promote competition and give the public more choice in a free enterprise system.

In some cases, mainly in the provision of utilities such as electricity, telephone, and natural gas, state or federal government "regulation" serves as a substitute for free market competition.

Utilities are often referred to as natural monopolies. In other cases, such as the provision of various types of insurance, states also provide some regulation to ensure the insurer's ability to meet the obligations of their insurance policies. Although they're regulated, these are not considered monopolies, as there are multiple insurance companies available to compete in the marketplace.

Generally, the government decides to breakup a monopoly based on its potential to control the market and make it difficult for competition to succeed in that market. Way back when, John D. Rockefeller built such a monopoly by owning over one hundred oil refineries which provided the gasoline to his gas stations around the country. Rockefeller would open a gas station and then price his gasoline under what other gas stations in the area were charging. The other stations couldn't afford to sell at a loss and a great many of them were forced to close. Rockefeller's strategy worked and he built the Standard Oil Company "Trust" (a conglomeration of all the companies he owned, refineries, oil companies, gas stations, etc.).

President Teddy Roosevelt became known as a "Trust Buster" when he successfully dissolved 44 monopolistic companies. However, President William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's successor, was the president when Standard Oil's Trust was dissolved into 33 separate companies. It must be noted that dissolution of a trust does not mean that the shareholders are financially punished. In most cases, when the trust is dissolved into smaller independent companies, the value of the parts is worth far more than the whole. The breakup of Standard Oil essentially made Rockefeller the wealthiest person in the world.

Some notable trusts that were dissolved include the original United Technologies, which owned airplane maker Boeing Aircraft, airplane engine maker Pratt and Whitney, and airline company, United Airlines. Those companies were divested into separate entities and continue to this day as highly successful and dominant leaders in their respective fields.

Another trust that was dissolved more recently was AT&T, a "natural monopoly" known as the Bell System. Twenty two regional telephone companies, Bell Telephone Labs, Western Electric, (the Bell Systems manufacturing arm), and At&T Communications (the company's long distance division) were all restructured into seven independent operating companies. Since that breakup in 1984, the seven companies went through a series of mergers and acquisitions and are now only three companies — Verizon, Century Link, and AT&T. (One of the divested regional companies, Southwestern Bell became SBC, and acquired two of the regional companies, and independent Southern New England Telephone Company, and then it bought AT&T. SBC then adopted the AT&T name.)

What these three examples show is that the government, in what they deem to be is their responsibility to promote free enterprise and stimulate competition, can break up a company simply because of its size. In the case of Standard Oil, it was because they did, in fact, stifle competition. In the case of United Technologies, it wasn't that they were stifling competition in a fledgling industry, it was because someone in government didn't think it was a good idea that one trust should be able to build the airframe and the engines, and sell the seats on the airplane. The Bell System, a natural monopoly, had built the finest telephone system in the world and had contributed many technological innovations into the public domain, the transistor, lasers, and cellular technology, to name a few. But the government deemed it was too big and decided that the now defunct MCI corporation should be able to use the distribution resources of the Bell System.

If we accept that the government has the right, the duty, to ensure that companies be allowed to compete in free and open markets, how then can we accept that the government, which is already a huge, bloated bureaucracy that many believe is already too big, should be allowed to take over the entire health care industry? Such an act not only stifles innovation and competition, it eliminates it, as it becomes the world's largest monopoly.

If you need to replace a few spark plugs in your automobile, you don't replace the entire engine.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Michelle Malkin - One man's Obamacare wreck

Behold the Hollywood bubble. This week, actress Olivia Wilde starred in an Obamacare propaganda video targeting young people. "You can sign up for health care online in 10 minutes," her co-propagandist chirped as she cheered. Cue the laugh track. Back on planet Earth, Americans nationwide are still struggling with the $634 million online health care exchange nightmare.

One reader asked me to share his story. Like me and 22 million other citizens in the private individual market for health insurance, he recently received his "You Can't Keep It" cancellation notice. Here's what happened when he went online to find alternatives.

"I live in New Jersey, but work for a small company based out of Massachusetts. For years, we were all insured through the company from a plan that originated in Massachusetts. However, as soon as Obamacare was passed, we were "audited" by the insurance company, and it turns out only 50 percent of our company is based in Massachusetts, and therefore we did not qualify as a company under the law. Apparently, you need 51 percent based in the state. About five days prior to our insurance policy renewal, we were told we could not (renew), and I had to scramble to purchase a much more expensive individual policy with much higher costs.

"Fast-forward two years. I now receive a new letter from my insurance company, Horizon Blue Cross, (informing me) that the plan that I have now is being discontinued and I need to pick a new plan.

"On Oct. 1, I tried to get into the exchange for New Jersey that is run by the federal government. I earn too much for a subsidy, but I wanted to see what my options were and how much more this was going to cost.

"I created an account and tried for four days to get in. Each time it said my password was invalid. I tried to use the "forgot password" option so they could send me a link to reset. When I got the link, the system kept saying that it didn't recognize my user account. When I tried to re-create the user account, it told me that one already existed. I called the number several times, and they all told me the same thing: Try back later. The glitches are being worked out.
"I (then) created a new account under (my wife's) name. After several attempts, I was able to get in. Over the weekend, I spent at least four hours trying to fill out the application. Each time, the website crashed. When I got back to work on Monday, I tried one more time. Lo and behold, the application was submitted. At this point, President Obama must be thinking 'great, a success story.'

"Well, my options came back, and voila: According to the government, I'm not eligible for any private plans. I received a notice that my entire family is only eligible for Medicaid! I make a decent salary. I'm not eligible for a subsidy, let alone Medicaid.

"This morning my wife received a call. Apparently, it was the exchange. She explained to them that we are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. The person on the phone told her, "That is what the system says you are eligible for. If you want, you can file an appeal."

"So now back to a change in plans. I currently have a Point of Service plan that covers 70 percent after a large deductible, with somewhat large co-pays for doctors. Horizon Blue Cross does offer a similar plan (to the one being canceled) for about the same, but the problem is that my children's pediatricians are not in it (so much for keeping your doctors).

"The only plans that the doctors take involve a 40 percent deductible with higher co-pays. So now I have fewer options and not more. There is another new company offering coverage where I am, but it has zero out-of-network benefits and a smaller network. Either way, everything is changing for me with higher costs.

"I hope you can somehow relate this story to the public at large to let them see that the whole process is a joke. The automatons who know nothing are just collecting a government check and getting health care paid for by me with my tax dollars, when I cannot even get my own."

In sum: Obama lied. His health plan died. He can't keep his doctors. He couldn't sign up in 10 minutes for health care. He's being steered toward a government plan he doesn't qualify for or want. And he can't get his personal information back from the online Obamawreck black hole.

1-800-T-O-T-A-L-F-A-I-L.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 252

Mama, I'm coming home...

If you are looking for a residential home in the Lakes Region of NH there is still plenty to choose from. There were an even 1,200 single family homes available as of October 1 in the twelve communities covered in this report. That's down slightly from the 1,249 available last month and the 1,230 available last Oct 1. The average asking price is $502,146 and the median price point is $259,948. They should change that to the average "hoping for" price.

Over the years there have been hundreds of songs written about home sweet home. There are songs about leaving, going, and missing home in every genre including country, rock, and blues. Every generation has their favorites and you can kind of tell someone's age by what songs they remember. I can pretty much guarantee that humming "My Old Kentucky Home" or "Won't you Come Home, Bill Bailey?" will put you in a different age bracket than "Sweet Home Alabama." You could say you definitely need a pre-1978 Lead Paint Disclosure form.

Rock and roll in the sixties was full of songs about homes. "Our House" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash should be the real estate theme song house. It's a great song about a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard. That's kind of like the American Dream unless you like pit bulls and then something like "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd would be more appropriate for you.

Probably one of the more famous songs about a dwelling was the "House of the Rising Sun" which was recorded by the Animals in 1964. That particular house was definitely not your grandmother's type of home (if you get my drift) and was located way down in New Orleans. That's a bit out of our local market.

The Beatles were pretty big on the home theme, too. They did songs like "When I Get Home" and "She's Leaving Home." In "Two of Us" we were "riding nowhere. Spending someone's hard earned pay. Two of us Sunday driving. Not arriving. On our way back home. We're on our way home." I sing that a lot when I am out with buyers looking at houses, especially when they are not arriving at a conclusion about which house they will buy. And after a "Hard Day's Night" showing property and I get home, you know I feel all right. That because "When I'm home ev'rything seems to be right."

The Rolling Stones were feeling a little left out so they came up with "2000 Light Years from Home" which was not necessarily in the physical sense at the time. But my favorite was "Paint It Black" which was not really so much about a house as it was with Jagger 's obsession about that darn door. He'd sing "I see a red door and I want to paint it black" over and over again. He was kind of angry and real serious about it. Black must have been kind of a fad at the time but now red is more popular, just watch HGTV...

Simon and Garfunkle had the mega-mansion home hit "Homeward Bound" which you will think about every time you're sitting in a railway station unless you're at Burrito Me in Laconia (except, of course, if you go there right after reading this article.) Everyone on the "Sloop John B" just wanted to go home but Ozzie Ozbourne was more determined and just told his "Mama, I'm Coming Home!" Phil Collins was looking for someone to "Take Me (him, that is) Home" and John Denver thought he was on the right track with "Take Me Home, Country Road." Today, Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles are a little more positive with "Who Says You Can't Go Home?" As long as you have a good realtor you can make that happen. Now that I have you humming, give me a call and we'll go look at property...

Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 10/1/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 October 2013 08:45

Hits: 197

 
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