Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 6 December 2013

Car And Student Loans Account For 95% Of All Consumer Credit Issued In Past Year -

Car And Student Loans Account For 95% Of All Consumer Credit Issued In Past Year - 

Today's consumer credit report did not tell us anything we didn't already know: in October, total consumer credit rose by $18.2 billion, the most since May 2013, with the usual massive historical revisions. However, of this $18.2 billion, $13.9 billion was non-revolving credit, while revolving (credit card) debt rose by $4.3 billion. Which means revolving credit is still a woefully low $856.8 billion, or well below the $1.02 trillion when Lehman failed, even as credit issued mostly by Uncle Sam to fund car purchases and liberal educations, has exploded.

Total monthly consumer credit broken down by revolving and non-revolving.

Finally, and most troubling, in the past year over 95% of all consumer credit has been used to purchase rapidly amortizing cars and even more rapidly amortizing college educations. 

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Ikea's Spanish Servers Crash When 20,000 People Apply For 400 Jobs -

Ikea's Spanish Servers Crash When 20,000 People Apply For 400 Jobs - 

A few years back, we were stunned when we reported that as a result of McDonalds' first hiring day in 2011, the company retained the services of 62,000 very qualified line cooks and other minimum wage workers. What was stunning is that one million Americans applied for these jobs, or a 6.2% success rate, or just a fraction above the 5.8% admission rate at Harvard. Alas, as we speculated at the time, this was merely the first of many such indications of the historic mismatch between labor supply and demand, both domestically and globally. Sure enough, today we find an even more glaring example of just how unprecedented the New Normal demand for labor is in a world drowning with unemployment, courtesy of an NPR report according to which on Monday, Spain's Ikea's started taking applications for 400 jobs at a new megastore set to be opened near the Mediterranean coast town of Valencia.

As NPR says, "The company wasn't prepared for what came next. Within 48 hours, more than 20,000 people had applied online for those 400 jobs." An "acceptance rate" of 2%.

 It gets better, as Spain experienced its own mini Obamacare debacle: the sheer volume of applicants promptly "crashed Ikea's computer servers in Spain."

"We had an avalanche of applicants!" Ikea spokesman Rodrigo Sanchez told NPR in a phone interview. "With that quantity, our servers just didn't have the capacity. They collapsed. After 48 hours, we had to temporarily close the job application process. We're working on a solution, to reopen the as soon as possible."
And since the analogies to Obamacare never end, one has no idea how many additional applicants would have tried to get a job had the servers continued to run:

... that's factoring in only the applicants in the first 48 hours, who managed to apply online before Ikea's servers crashed. Once Ikea gets its servers back up and running, the job application window will still stay open until Dec. 31, allowing potentially tens of thousands more job seekers to file applications, Sanchez said.

"I feel lucky to have a job. Ikea is a great company. In this case we have 20,000 initial people who want to work with us," he said. "But we know we're in this situation at least in part because of the state of the Spanish economy."
Why the deluge of applicants? Simple: Spain's record high unemployment rate of 26.7% is the second highest in the eurozone, matched only by Greece's 27.3%. What's worse: Spain's youth unemployment is also a record high 57.4%: nearly two out of every three people under 25 have no job. But that's ok: according to the Spanish prime minister, Spain's economy is growing and the recovery is so bright everyone's ECB rehypothecated shades will be made available shortly (together with the latest batch of Spiderman towels).

In the meantime, it is three times more difficult to get a minimum wage job at Ikea in Spain than it is to get into Harvard.

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Is Moore's Law coming to an end? - Intel explains rare stumble keeping pace with Moore’s Law -

Is Moore's Law coming to an end? - Intel explains rare stumble keeping pace with Moore’s Law - 

Intel executives have long showed slides that illustrate its progress in shrinking transistors on chips, featuring nearly identical fever lines as new generations of production technology are perfected. The chart William Holt produced at a recent analyst meeting didn’t look right.

Ordinarily, Intel slides show a smooth upward curve, indicating that a small number of defects on chips gradually decline to nearly zero–as happened when Intel’s current manufacturing recipe was refined. But the line Holt showed for the successor technology started with a much smaller yield of good chips, and actually got worse for several months before Intel engineers began to get defect problems under control.

Intel had said in mid-October that the new process would be delayed three months, a blemish on its steady two-year pace observing what the industry calls Moore’s Law. But the company did not then say why.

Holt, the executive vice president in charge of Intel’s manufacturing operations, for the first time laid the blame at yield problems. He added that such a hiccup is rare but not unprecedented at the company.

“It’s the first time in quite a number of generations,” said Holt. “It’s just getting really hard.”


Olympic outsourcing - Team USA gets foreign-made uniforms - AGAIN -

Olympic outsourcing - Team USA gets foreign-made uniforms - AGAIN - 


The newly-unveiled uniforms for the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team are star-spangled and red, white and blue — but they're not made in America.

The hodgepodge design, which designer Burton Snowboards says was inspired by a vintage quilt, features the faded colors of Old Glory and stars on the shoulder, base-layer henleys, hats and gloves. But like Ralph Lauren, which designed U.S. Olympic gear for the 2012 games in London, Vermont-based Burton is now defending its decision to use a global set of vendors to complete the job ahead of the Sochi Games, which begin on Feb. 7.

“To achieve this level of performance and function, Burton turned to its best, long-standing and most trusted technical partners around the world to produce the uniforms, to ensure that our high technical and design standards were met,” Burton Snowboards said in materials obtained by FoxNews.com. “For example, the original quilt was sourced in the U.S. and brought back to Vermont to be deconstructed and reconstructed for jacket fabrication with Vermont-based designers.”

The quilt was then sent to Japan for final technical fabrication, company officials said.

“The fabric of the competition fleece was woven in Italy, and the technical and waterproof corduroy pant fabric was developed in Taiwan and sewn in Vietnam,” the statement continued. “Next, we turned to our longstanding, trusted vendors in China to produce several of the accessories.”


MICROSOFT developing 'smart bra' to combat emotional overeating... -

MICROSOFT developing 'smart bra' to combat emotional overeating... - 

Microsoft is working on a smart bra with sensors to monitor a wearer's mood and trigger a smartphone app to reduce emotional overeating, U.S. researchers said.

Alerts from the wearable technology would be constantly refined by user feedback, enabling the bra to improve its ability to read a specific person's feelings, InformationWeek reported Thursday.

Microsoft researchers worked with the University of Rochester and Britain's University of Southampton on the project, attempting to associate emotions with poor eating habits and to determine whether wearable devices can help reduce the resulting weight gains.

A wearable smart bra was chosen primarily because it allows sensors to be placed near the heart, the researchers said, but follow-up research is intended to yield more gender-neutral devices such as bracelets.

To establish a link between a person's emotional state and the likelihood they would overeat, participants in a study were asked to record their emotions and eating patterns with a smartphone app.

Those who reported they felt stressed, upset or bored were most likely to eat outside of regular meals, the researcher found.

Microsoft said the smart bra is part of its ongoing research into possible uses for wearable technology and it has no plans to make it into a commercial product.


Private company plans US's first controlled moon landing in 40 years -

Private company plans US's first controlled moon landing in 40 years - 

A U.S. spacecraft hasn’t made a controlled landing on the moon since Apollo 17 left the lunar surface on Dec. 14, 1972. That’s about to change.

Moon Express will unveil the MX-1 spacecraft at the Autodesk University show in Las Vegas on Thursday evening -- a micro-spacecraft that will in 2015 mark the first U.S. "soft" landing since the days of the Apollo program, FoxNews.com has learned.

The craft looks for all the world like a pair of donuts wearing an ice cream cone, and the tiny vehicle clearly isn’t big enough for a human being. But it is big enough to scoop up some rocks and dirt, store them in an internal compartment, and return it to Earth. After all, the moondirt Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin once trod holds a king’s ransom of titanium, platinum, and other rare elements.

Moon Express plans to mine it.

'The moon and beyond is an extension of our earthly society, with vast resources in metals.'
- Dennis Wingo, a space entrepreneur and author of the book MoonRush

“We call it the iPhone of space,” Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express, told FoxNews.com, citing the MX-1’s flexibility. The "microlander" can deliver up to 130 pounds of cargo to the surface of the moon, or act as a sample return vehicle or a "space-tug," he said. It uses hydrogen peroxide as rocket fuel -- a high-test version of what you'd get in a drug store. And it is surprisingly small.

“It’s very small. You and I could put our arms around it,” Richards said. The small size lets the company plan missions for a fraction of what it would cost a superpower such as the U.S. or China.

The MX-1 is a single stage vehicle that doesn’t require booster rockets, unlike most other spacecraft. To keep down costs, it’s meant as a secondary payload -- ridding piggyback on a satellite launch. 

The company plans a survey mission in 2015 and will announce the launch details next year; in 2020 it aims to return samples from the moon.

The MX-1 is made possible by tremendous advances in computing power and engineering, notably 3D design and engineering. It’s no coincidence that the craft will be unveiled at a show thrown by 3D design company Autodesk.

Moon Express is just one of many private companies planning space missions. Tourism, orbiting hotels and more have exploded -- but no area has burgeoned more than the moon. Astrobiotic Technology also plans to mine the moon, for example. Bigelow Aerospace wants to sell property there, a Japanese firm suggested a solar panel power ring, and China on Monday launched the Chang’e 3 lander, which should touch down on the moon in mid-December -- the first controlled landing since the Soviet Union’s Luna-24 mission in 1976.

What’s behind the surge in interest? Overpopulation, one expert says.

“Nine billion. That’s how many people will be alive on the Earth as soon as 36 years from now,” warns Dennis Wingo, a space entrepreneur and author of the book MoonRush. “The moon and beyond is an extension of our earthly society, with vast resources in metals and a place to expand human activity.”


'Determination' can be induced by electrical brain stimulation -

'Determination' can be induced by electrical brain stimulation - 

Doctors in the US have induced feelings of intense determination in two men by stimulating a part of their brains with gentle electric currents.

The men were having a routine procedure to locate regions in their brains that caused epileptic seizures when they felt their heart rates rise, a sense of foreboding, and an overwhelming desire to persevere against a looming hardship.

The remarkable findings could help researchers develop treatments for depression and other disorders where people are debilitated by a lack of motivation.

One patient said the feeling was like driving a car into a raging storm. When his brain was stimulated, he sensed a shaking in his chest and a surge in his pulse. In six trials, he felt the same sensations time and again.

Comparing the feelings to a frantic drive towards a storm, the patient said: "You're only halfway there and you have no other way to turn around and go back, you have to keep going forward."

When asked by doctors to elaborate on whether the feeling was good or bad, he said: "It was more of a positive thing, like push harder, push harder, push harder to try and get through this."

A second patient had similar feelings when his brain was stimulated in the same region, called the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC). He felt worried that something terrible was about to happen, but knew he had to fight and not give up, according to a case study in the journal Neuron.

Both men were having an exploratory procedure to find the focal point in their brains that caused them to suffer epileptic fits. In the procedure, doctors sink fine electrodes deep into different parts of the brain and stimulate them with tiny electrical currents until the patient senses the "aura" that precedes a seizure. Often, seizures can be treated by removing tissue from this part of the brain.

"In the very first patient this was something very unexpected, and we didn't report it," said Josef Parvizi at Stanford University in California. But then I was doing functional mapping on the second patient and he suddenly experienced a very similar thing."

"Its extraordinary that two individuals with very different past experiences respond in a similar way to one or two seconds of very low intensity electricity delivered to the same area of their brain. These patients are normal individuals, they have their IQ, they have their jobs. We are not reporting these findings in sick brains," Parvizi said.

The men were stimulated with between two and eight milliamps of electrical current, but in tests the doctors administered sham stimulation too. In the sham tests, they told the patients they were about to stimulate the brain, but had switched off the electical supply. In these cases, the men reported no changes to their feelings. The sensation was only induced in a small area of the brain, and vanished when doctors implanted electrodes just five millimetres away.

Parvizi said a crucial follow-up experiment will be to test whether stimulation of the brain region really makes people more determined, or simply creates the sensation of perseverance. If future studies replicate the findings, stimulation of the brain region – perhaps without the need for brain-penetrating electrodes – could be used to help people with severe depression.

The anterior midcingulate cortex seems to be important in helping us select responses and make decisions in light of the feedback we get. Brent Vogt, a neurobiologist at Boston University, said patients with chronic pain and obsessive-compulsive disorder have already been treated by destroying part of the aMCC. "Why not stimulate it? If this would enhance relieving depression, for example, let's go," he said.

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