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18 January 2008

NPR : Companies Use Fees to Counter Bargains

Companies Use Fees to Counter Bargains

Morning Edition, January 18, 2008 ·
From hotels to cell phone bills, companies attach a barrage of hidden, extra charges. One reason is the Internet. Online shopping permits consumers to comparison shop for bargains. So companies are countering low prices with hefty fees.
So if a $99 room is snagged at a nice hotel via, then the hotel tends to attach a "resort fee" for towels at the pool or removing something from the mini-bar – even it put back 60 seconds later.

Bob Sullivan, author of Gotcha Capitalism, talks with Steve Inskeep about deceptive fees and why U.S. businesses are so dependent on them...MORE

Chem Lab: Scientists Are Learning How Weed Causes Paranoia | Wired Science from
Chem Lab: Scientists Are Learning How Weed Causes Paranoia*
By Aaron Rowe January 16, 2008 | 10:57:34 PMCategories: Chem Lab, Drugs
& Alcohol, Neuroscience

In the January issue of Neuropharmacology, which happens to have a
marijuana theme, two teams of researchers tried to explain what causes
some people to feel paranoid when they smoke weed.
If you think it's impossible to have too much of a good thing -- think

17 January 2008

They Want Influencers for More New Recruits


Sent to you by jimuleda via Google Reader:


"The U.S. Marine Corps is rolling out a new ad campaign this week in an effort to target teachers, coaches, clergy and other groups that tend to have influence on kids' career paths," reports the Wall Street Journal. The Marines "previously aimed its marketing directly at young adults," running ads on Walt Disney's ESPN or News Corporation's FX. But the new spots will run during Fox's "American Idol," which "has a broader audience that includes adults as well as kids." The WPP Group advertising firm JWT designed the Marines' new television spots; the campaign also includes print and online ads. One ad "features a line of Marines standing in formation in front of landmarks across the U.S. such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Independence Hall." The campaign's focus on "influencers" is consistent with the U.S. Army's recruiting efforts, which the Center for Media and Democracy previously reported on. Their slogan "Army strong" was chosen, in part, to appeal to influencers.


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Competition in Modular Clusters


Sent to you by jimuleda via Google Reader:


via HBS Working Knowledge on 1/18/08

Published:January 17, 2008
Paper Released:December 2007
Authors:Carliss Y. Baldwin and C. Jason Woodard

Executive Summary:

The last 20 years have witnessed the rise of disaggregated "clusters," "networks," or "ecosystems" of firms in a number of industries, including computers, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals. In these clusters, different firms design and produce the various components of a complex artifact (such as the processor, peripherals, and software of a computer system), and different firms specialize in the various stages of a complex production process. This paper considers the pricing behavior and profitability of these so-called modular clusters. Baldwin and Woodard isolate the offsetting price effects in a model, and show how they might operate in large as well as in small clusters. Key concepts include:

  • Clusters operating under open, public standards may have higher prices and profits than those operating under closed, proprietary standards.
  • Cluster forms of industrial organization may not be conducive to all kinds of innovation. In particular, innovations that add new layers of functionality to the system, and thus increase total demand, will not be adequately rewarded relative to the value they create.
  • It is important to learn how cluster configurations affect incentives to supply different forms of innovation, and how firms respond to these cross-layer dependencies in formulating their long-term strategies.


The last twenty years have witnessed the rise of disaggregated "clusters," "networks," or "ecosystems" of firms. In these clusters the activities of R&D, product design, production, distribution, and system integration may be split up among hundreds or even thousands of firms. Different firms will design and produce the different components of a complex artifact (like the processor, peripherals, and software of a computer system), and different firms will specialize in different stages of a complex production process. This paper considers the pricing behavior and profitability of these so-called modular clusters. In particular, we investigate a possibility hinted at in prior work: that for composite goods, a vertical pricing externality operating across complements can offset horizontal competition between substitutes. In this paper, we isolate the offsetting price effects and show how they operate in large (as well as small) clusters. We argue that it is possible in principle for a modular cluster of firms to mimic the pricing behavior and profitability of a vertically integrated monopoly. We then use our model to compare open and closed standards regimes, to understand how commoditization affects a cluster, to determine the relative profits of platform firms and firms that depend on the platform, and to assess the impact of horizontal and vertical mergers. Our model highlights a collective action problem: what is good for an individual firm is often not good for the cluster. We speculate that this conflict may be a source of strategic tension in platform firms.

Paper Information


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If Marketing Experts Ran Elections

If Marketing Experts Ran Elections
From HBS Working Knowledge
Published:    January 17, 2008
Author:    John A. Quelch

Editor's Note: Harvard Business School professor John Quelch writes a blog on marketing issues, called Marketing Know: How, for Harvard Business Online.
                         It is reprinted on HBS Working Knowledge.

For all the coverage of the Presidential primaries, only half of eligible voters will likely cast ballots in November. While 20 percent of U.S. adults are political junkies, the rest can't spare the time, don't think their vote will matter, see no important differences among the candidates, or are turned off by the electoral process and candidates' campaign tactics.

They are the "vanishing voters" of U.S. politics. There are 5 structural reasons why this is the case.

In U.S. general elections, voters usually see only 2 viable candidates on the ballot. That's one reason turnout is low. In any other product category, there are many more choices. As a result, consumer interest—and consumption—is higher.
In representative democracies, the consumer has to live with the majority decision. That also dampens enthusiasm. Not so in commerce. You can buy or own whichever brand, or suite of brands, you wish."...MORE

Whats Been Missing From This Presidential Campaign? - Freakonomics - Opinion - New York Times Blog
January 17, 2008,  1:32 pm
What’s Been Missing From This Presidential Campaign?
In earlier posts here and here, I wrote that I was going on TV to talk about an issue that’s been missing from the presidential campaign. And that issue is …

A lot of you guessed correctly; a lot of you named other issues that have also been very quiet. I think the fact that the candidates aren’t spending much time talking about crime is a wonderful thing. It means that the nationwide crime downturn has allowed people to worry about other things — especially, at the moment, the economy.

This does not mean that we should ignore: a) the crime that still exists; or b) the factors that have (and have not) contributed to the crime drop; but we probably should ignore c) the occasionally hysterical media coverage that blows a minor crime uptick out of proportion."...MORE

BBC NEWS | Americas | Judge allows Vegas casino votes
Judge Allows Vegas Casino Votes
Nevada Democrats agreed last year to hold some caucuses in casinos
A US judge has ruled that Las Vegas casinos may be used by Nevada Democrats for presidential voting on Saturday.
Observers say the decision may benefit Barack Obama, who has won the backing of the union representing many of the shift workers employed in the casinos.

The lawsuit, filed by a teachers' group with ties to Hillary Clinton, argued it was unfair that only workers around the casinos could vote at their workplace.

Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton and John Edwards are competing to be the state's pick...MORE

Discover the .EDU Underground

Discover the .EDU Underground
Little appreciated outside the world of academia, there are literally thousands of .edu sites bursting with incredibly useful and interesting information and resources.
Most of these sites won't pop up to the surface of the average search engine quest, and so they wait, neglected and underused...until now. Keep reading for a
quick tour through the mysterious underground world of .edu...MORE

New Bacteria Strain Is Striking Gay Men - New York Times
New Bacteria Strain Is Striking Gay Men

In a study published online by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the bacteria seemed to be spread most easily through anal intercourse but also through casual skin-to-skin contact and touching contaminated surfaces.

The authors warned that unless microbiology laboratories were able to identify the strain and doctors prescribed the proper antibiotic therapy, the infection could soon spread among other groups and become a wider threat.

The new strain seems to have “spread rapidly” in gay populations in San Francisco and Boston, the researchers wrote, and “has the potential for rapid, nationwide dissemination” among gay men...MORE

Doozla: Skitch for Kids
Doozla: Skitch for Kids

Ahh, MacWorld, one of my favorite times of the year (and not just because it happens to be right around my birthday). Not only did his Jobsiness bless us mere mortals with such goodies as the MacBook Air, and the Apple TV (take 2), but it gives us a chance to see software releases from other independent Mac developers.

Plasq, a company well known in the Mac software industry (and a favorite of mine) this year introduced Doozla. Doozla is basically a refined version of Skitch (which we’ve written about before), but without the same level of screenshot integration, and a bumped up UI and demeanor that screams let your kids play with me!

Doozla is a fresh-looking program just announced at MacWorld this week. Its purpose is to “Play to Learn”, and it encourages young Mac users to explore their creative sides and just have fun. It’s a far cry from the coloring books of yesteryear, and IMHO, a nice step for the future...MORE

BBC NEWS | Health | Crisps 'not a treat' for children

Crisps (fries) 'not a treat' for children
 Crisps: no longer very special?

Children's diets are now so poor that more than two-thirds of them do not think fast food is a treat, British Heart Foundation research suggests.
A poll of 500 youngsters also found that 82% do not think of crisps as anything special. More than half do not consider sweets a treat.

The charity wants the government to ban the marketing of what it describes as junk food to children.

These messages were undermining what "normal" food was, it claimed.

"The infestation of artery-clogging foods that make up our children's everyday diets is putting their hearts and long-term health at risk,"
said BHF Director of Prevention and Care, Dr Mike Knapton...MORE

BBC NEWS | Health | Black women get cancer 'earlier'

A survey of 293 women in the ethnically mixed London borough of Hackney found black women were 21 years younger than white women when they were diagnosed.

There may be biological differences in how the disease develops, the British Journal of Cancer study suggests.

Researchers say further work is needed into a field which has been neglected.

While it is known that breast cancer affects more white women than black, UK cancer registries have only recently started to collect ethnicity data and there is little understanding of if, and indeed how, race affects the development of the disease...MORE

A Suburb Looks Nervously at Its Urban Neighbor - New York Times
A Suburb Looks Nervously at Its Urban Neighbor- New York Times
"For many outsiders, the attack on Mr. McDermott is seen as comeuppance for a community that seemed smug about its wealth, security and racial diversity.

“I wonder how much ‘tolerance’ the ‘progressive,’ snooty, pseudo-intellectual limousine liberal, socialists of Shaker Heights will show now that the thugs are in their neighborhood too,” a reader wrote on a Cleveland Plain Dealer blog.

Ludlow residents understand that for a place just seven blocks across, their little neighborhood carries tremendous symbolic weight.

“People in the Cleveland area resent us because we’re a repudiation of everything they believe,” said Brian Walker, 56, who was among the first African-Americans to attend Ludlow school. “We’re proof that white people and black people can live together.”...MORE

A Revival of 1992’s Glum Mood - New York Times
A Revival of 1992's Glum Mood
The main problem now is that the good times are no longer good enough to carry the middle class through the bad times. For much of the last 35 years, the incomes of most workers have been growing far more slowly than they once did. In the current expansion, which started in 2001, the median weekly paycheck of workers has actually fallen 1 percent, once inflation is taken into account, according to the Labor Department.

Economists argue about the reasons for the great wage slowdown — technology, globalization, health care costs, the decline of unions, the rise of the new wealthy — but it clearly seems to have made people feel more vulnerable to small economic swings. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, only 19 percent of those responding said the country was headed in the right direction. That was the lowest percentage since the early 1990s...MORE

'There's been war since this morning.'
Reporting Acts of Violence in Kenya

Via reader K.P., this new website allows witnesses of violence in Kenya to report on it in real time. The site uses Google Maps to identify the precise location within Kenya where a specific act of violence has occurred, with the acts of violence searchable by category (e.g. death, looting, rape, etc.) For a specific act to appear on the map, the incident must be verified.

This is a fascinating way for outsiders to experience and understand the scope of violence that has wracked Kenya since the New Year. Violence, like this:
Kenya sunk further into violence on Wednesday as police battled with protesters across the country, shooting several, according to witnesses, while opposition leaders vowed to press ahead with the protests.
The worst violence was in Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city and an opposition stronghold, where mobs of furious young men hurled stones at police officers, who responded by charging into the crowds and firing their guns.

"There’s been war since the morning," said Eric Otieno, a mechanic in Kisumu. "The police are whipping women, children, everyone."...MORE

'Muslim Girl' Magazine Marks Year in Print
'Muslim Girl' Magazine Marks Year in Print

Listen Now [3 min 30 sec]
Morning Edition, January 17, 2008 · Muslim Girl, a bimonthly magazine for Muslim teens in the United States and Canada, celebrates a year in circulation. It promotes focus on the whole goals and accomplishments. Some groups think the magazine is too westernized...MORE

16 January 2008

Credit where it's Due.

Fast Accredited Degrees

From Thomas Nixon

Portfolio Credit for Work and Life Experience

Across the vast expanse of the Internet, there are many “schools” that promise to confer upon you a prestigious degree based solely upon your life experience. Simply submit your resume and they will send you a degree by return post. It’s a scam. No accredited school will do what these places assert that they can do. Any school that makes this claim is almost without exception a diploma mill.

However, that is not to say that your life experience is meaningless. Think portfolio. If you are a native speaker of Spanish, it should and is relatively easy to prove that you possess the knowledge in and should be given credit for Spanish 101. Yes, it is possible to use a portfolio or prior learning assessment to determine if you have knowledge that translates into academic credit. Using a portfolio can be a quick, but not necessarily easy, way to show that you have college-level knowledge inside your head.

It’s important to understand that portfolios do not show time. Giving someone college credit in accounting because she has been a bookkeeper for three years is not the proper equation. Many people have done that exact same thing. Do we believe that each person that has been a bookkeeper for that amount of time acquired the exact same amount of knowledge? This, of course, is just not possible. You cannot equate a certain amount of time at a task with a certain amount of knowledge. You must be able to prove that knowledge.

The theory behind portfolios is that you have to match your knowledge base with an actual college course. In addition, you must somehow, as I’ve said, prove that you have the knowledge. Easy for some subjects, but more difficult for others. For example, if you want to show that you have artistic skill and possess the knowledge necessary to pass an intermediate course in oil painting, you could provide paintings that were at that level. However, if you want to show that you have Accounting 101 inside your head, but you have nothing to show for it (such as self-generated spreadsheets, short-term course certificates, and the like), you most likely will not be able to receive credit. As legalistic as it may seem, you must prove this knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the better resources for finding courses related to your knowledge base is located on the Thomas Edison State College website <>. While TESC calls its portfolio system "Prior Learning Assessment," it is the same process. All that you need to do is type a particular ability into the PLA Database <> and it shoots out various university courses. For example, if you type in "accounting" you will find that they have fifty-eight course descriptions (including Secretarial Accounting and Intermediate Accounting).

Using the “accounting” example, you could then provide work samples, conference registration, and more, to prove that you have the desired knowledge. Guess what? You’ve now proven knowledge. Even if you opt to use a different school, this is an excellent place from which to begin.

While there are many schools that allow you to use portfolios, they typically have severe restraints in the number of credits allowed. If you want to take full advantage of the portfolio process, you should choose a school like TESC, a school that has no limit on the number of units you can earn in nontraditional ways.

I have mentioned Dr. Steve Levicoff before. Levicoff earned his bachelor’s degree at TESC. Although he did not earn his entire degree through portfolio, he did amass a rather astonishing ninety-eight units. Given that the average bachelor’s degree is in the 120-unit range, it is easy to see that the portfolio process is well worth the hassle.

And, yes, it could quite possibly be a hassle. These schools are quite cognizant of the fact that there are those other “schools” out there. TESC and its kindred spirits (Excelsior College, <>, in New York and Charter Oak State College, <>, in Connecticut) are very picky about what they will accept. Sorry, but no resumes allowed.

15 January 2008

How Red Tape became 'Gotcha Capitalism'

Fundamentally, “Gotcha Capitalism” is a story about the death of the price tag, about the constant bait-and-switch tactics that layer on fees and surcharges long after we’re in a position to bargain over them. It’s about rampant false advertising, about the explosion of small print and asterisks and about the seeming disappearance of federal authorities working to keep our marketplaces fair. It's about a threat to our economic system, which was designed to reward good companies with innovative products, low prices and smart employees, but now benefits cheating companies who hire the best liars and create the most misleading ads and confusing fine print....MORE

According to a new report, music stars like 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige have been juicing, a la top athletes like Marion Jones, Andy Pettitte, and, allegedly, Roger Clemens.
President Bush spends a second day in Saudi Arabia while on an eight-day trip to the Middle East. He says he spoke with Saudi King Abdullah, whose nation holds the world's largest oil reserves, about rising oil prices. They recently topped $100 a barrel.
The Bush administration sets in motion a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia as the US president visits the kingdom.
The subprime mortgages that are driving the foreclosure rate have gone disproportionately to women.
An explosion targeted a U.S. Embassy vehicle Tuesday in northern Beirut, and there were casualties, a senior Lebanese security official said. The state-run National News Agency said at least two people were killed.

14 January 2008

There Is Hope: Polar Cities for Day After Tomorrow Survivors
There Is Hope: Polar Cities for Day After Tomorrow Survivors

Global warming is bearing down on us with the fire of a thousand suns,
and soon, the arctic chill of like a billion perfect storms. Whatever is
Jake Gyllenhaal to do? Hole up in a Polar City, of course. Envisioned by
"visionary futurist" Dan Bloom—how would he know he's a visionary unless
he, in fact, is one—the first model polar city will begin construction
in 2012 in Norway, with "volunteer testing occupancy" starting in 2015.
And no, you earth-hating, global-warming-denying Bush lackeys, he is NOT
a "a little Dr. Evil," "plain far-fetched" or a "just lone wacko day
dreamer." He tells us so in the self-authored press release, which we
have below.

13 January 2008

NPR : Researcher Studies Gangs by Leading One

/Weekend Edition Saturday
<>, /
January 12, 2008
Sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh befriended the leader of one of the
country's largest and most violent gangs and ultimately led the gang for
a day.


"He fancied himself a philanthropist as much as a leader. He spoke
proudly of quitting his mainstream sales job in downtown Chicago to
return to the projects and use his drug profits "to help others."
How did he help? He mandated that all his gang members get a
high-school diploma and stay off drugs. He gave money to some local
youth centers for sports equipment and computers. He willingly
loaned out his gang members to Robert Taylor tenant leaders, who
deployed them on such tasks as escorting the elderly on errands or
beating up a domestic abuser. J.T. could even put a positive spin on
the fact that he made money by selling drugs. A drug economy, he
told me, was "useful for the community," since it redistributed the
drug addicts' money back into the community via the gang's

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