Using Export Complexity to Explain Income Inequality

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Researchers from MIT have developed a new method for predicting the economic success of countries around the world: the complexity of that country’s export economy. For the last decade or so, Professor César Hidalgo and his colleagues have been doing research and writing papers to back up this idea. They argue that “not just [the] diversity but the expertise and technological infrastructure required to produce [exports] is a better predictor of future economic growth than factors economists have historically focused on, such as capital and education.”

And what’s more, the most recent research shows that this complexity can also say a lot about income equality in those countries as well. Basically, countries with greater export complexity have lower income inequality because there are more workers in more industries that are generating exports and, subsequently, income. Looking at data collected between 1963 and 2008, researchers found that “countries whose economic complexity increased, such as South Korea, saw reductions in income inequality, while countries whose economic complexity decreased, such as Norway, saw income inequality increase.”

This research comes at a time of renewed interest, both politically and scientifically, in the issue of income inequality in many parts of the world. There are a number of factors that can be used to determine the current or future success of an economy, but not all of those factors are equally important. Relying solely on GDP, which is often the case, is much less useful than combining it with export complexity, education, and population. However, relying just on export complexity seems to work almost as well as using all of the aforementioned methods.

This development could be extremely useful to both governments and businesses in the future, as they seek to do right by their citizens and employees, respectively. Essentially, finding a new niche isn’t just good for a company, but it can help the country as well.

Burger King Buys Popeyes Chicken

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Restaurant Brands International, the company that owns Burger King, will be buying Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for $1.8 billion. Popeyes is known for its Cajun cuisine and extremely popular fried chicken which can be found in its 2,600 restaurants worldwide.

Daniel Schwartz, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, is excited about the new venture.

“RBI is adding a brand that has a distinctive position within a compelling segment and strong U.S. and international prospects for growth,” he said in a statement. “As Popeyes becomes part of the RBI family we believe we can deliver growth and opportunities for all of our stakeholders including our valued employees and franchisees. We look forward to taking an already very strong brand and accelerating its pace of growth and opening new restaurants in the U.S. and around the world.”

Restaurant Brands International is already doing well in the fast food market due to Burger King’s rising sales, but this Popeyes purchase can make it a formidable opponent in the fried chicken arena, where KFC is still king. Wall Street seems to think it has a chance. As of Tuesday morning, the company’s value rose 19% (up from Friday’s closing numbers), bringing Popeyes’ stock up to $79 per share.

Popeyes was founded in the early 1970s in New Orleans, and has since become a staple for chicken lovers in more than 25 countries. Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes, is just as excited as Schwartz when it comes to the RBI/Popeyes partnership.

“As Popeyes enters its 45th year,” she said, “it’s success reflects the amazing brand entrusted to us by founder Al Copeland, Sr. and the unique high trust partnership that we enjoy with our franchise owners. RBI has observed our success and seen the opportunity for exceptional future unit growth in the U.S. and around the world.

Restaurant Brands International also owns Tim Horton’s, the Canadian coffee and doughnut chain.

Sleep and Exercise Help Mitigate Mistreatment at Work

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The sad reality is that a lot of people work in environments that leave them feeling stressed out. Unfortunately, that stress can easily spill over into their home lives, making it difficult for the people who live with them. But there could be a relatively simple solution to this problem. It turns out that getting enough sleep and exercise “promotes healthy brain functions needed to properly regulate emotions and behavior.”

In a study, participants who burned an extra 587 calories in a day reduced the “harmful effects of mistreatment” and avoided “carrying [it] into the home.” When people are mistreated at work, they tend to carry that with them, which impacts how they interact with spouses, children, and other cohabitants.

However, getting enough sleep in the first place, and taking about 10,900 steps in a day, mitigates the danger of “passing along” that mistreatment. It allows one to better regulate one’s emotions and realize that trouble at work is not the fault of a spouse or child.

As the first study of its kind, it does pose some interesting questions that more research will be needed to explore. But it’s something that people in toxic work environments might consider. We all know that exercise and sleep are good for us, but this research gives us an extra goal for that exercise.

While what qualifies as “enough sleep” generally varies from person to person, a goal of 10,900 steps in a day is a little more concrete in terms of exercise. The CDC and American Heart Association have both been recommending between 8,000 and 10,000 steps anyway, so if one is already taking that advice, adding a few thousand more shouldn’t be that hard.

Of course, changing one’s life to adapt to a toxic workplace might not be the best advice, but some people can’t leave such work environments. Obviously bosses and coworkers shouldn’t mistreat people, but that is unlikely to change. In the meantime though, finding ways to mitigate the effects of toxic workplaces can go a long way.

Researchers Discover New Flexible Material with Numerous Applications

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Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory at Flickr Creative Commons.

The phrase “near-perfect broadband absorption from hyperbolic metamaterial nanoparticles” sounds like some Star Trek “technobabble.” But believe it or not, it’s actually the title of a real paper. In the paper, researchers from UC San Diego’s Jacob’s School of Engineering describe a new material that is thin, flexible, and transparent, with some pretty cool capabilities.

The material absorbs light and, more than that, can essentially be “programmed” when made to absorb different wavelengths of light. This could allow for “transparent window coatings that keep buildings and cars cool on sunny days,” or “devices that could more than triple solar cell efficiencies.”

Imagine a window that keeps a building cool, cutting down on AC costs, while still allowing through the kinds of radio waves that we use for TV, radio, and broadband. Alternatively, the window could be used to block these radio waves, or to prevent heat generated inside the building from escaping. There are a lot of potential uses for the material, which is still early in the development phase. But for now it’s only being made in very small quantities to test out the various capabilities of the material.

Researchers are still figuring out how to scale up production. Because they’re using complex nanotubes and silicon substrates and other advanced technologies, scaling up will take some effort. While these kinds of techniques are becoming increasingly common, they’ve been limited to nanomaterials, which are called that for a reason.

So far we haven’t used these technologies on anything near so big as a plate glass window, but there’s no reason to think that they wouldn’t work. Most likely, as the researchers figure out how to scale up and make things like windows and such, they’ll run into some production issues, but that’s what research and experimentation is for, to figure out how to make something like this work.

Online Ads Result in Offline Sales

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Photo courtesy of Martin Lafrance at Flickr Creative Commons.

The question of whether or not online ads are a worthwhile investment is one that plagues many companies. Unless customers are clicking on ads and those ads are directly resulting in a sale, its hard to gauge whether or not they’re beneficial. That’s where statistics and experiments come in, which can help make more sense of online advertising. But there’s still a gap in the data, namely, how do you know if online ads are working if the vast majority of your sales are in-store?

To investigate that question, researchers from the University of Rochester, Netflix, and Pandora worked with Yahoo! and an unspecified clothing retailer to figure out how effective that retailer’s online ads were. It turns out that, according to the data, they’re pretty effective. On average, the ads increased revenue by 3.6%.

While that may not sound like a lot, it’s actually about three times what the company spent on those ads, which is a really good return on investment. What’s really interesting though, is that about 84% of in-store sales increases came directly from online ads. In other words, the ads were working and driving people to the physical stores, instead of driving them to the online store.

There are likely a few reasons behind that, which may not be applicable to all retailers. Shopping for clothes is, generally speaking, a more personal experience than shopping for home goods or books. Buying clothes generally requires trying them on, unless you have a very good understanding of how a specific company sizes and cuts their clothing.

So while people might buy books and movies online with no worry, a lot of them seem to be still buying clothes in stores. But the online advertisements are still working, because those same people are spending enough time online that this is where the ads are having the most effect.

New Control Techniques Add Versatility to Smartwatches

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Smartwatches are cool, but they’ve been slower to catch on than smartphones because they’re not the most convenient way to interact with a device. Their small size can make it hard to use them with maps or complex menus, limiting their value compared to a regular sized phone. Plus, if you have your hands full when you get a call, it’s hard to do anything about it.

But technology is constantly evolving, and smartwatches are no different. Researchers at Georgia Tech have been working on several different projects that can make using smartwatches easier, allowing them to provide more robust user experiences.

One project, called WatchOut, uses scrolling and swiping gestures to improve control, which might sound pretty typical, except with this system you don’t swipe and scroll on the watch’s screenyou use the band. Using the built in gyroscopes and accelerometers of such watches, engineers were able to develop a system that gives users more control while not having to worry about hitting the wrong button with their fingers.

Then there’s Whoosh, which allows users to control their phones by breathing on them. Shushing the watch can decline a call, while blowing on it twice can accept. A sequence of short and long breaths can be used to unlock the device, while different breath techniques can be used to erase words in a text message or to send it. You can even move an app from your phone to your watch by “sipping it off the watch and puffing it on the phone.”

And don’t forget TapSkin, which allows users to use the back of their hand as a number pad, sending commands to the watch based on where the user taps. These aren’t “theoretical” developments either; they’ve all be designed, tested, and shown at a number of conferences. They all make use of existing technology, which means that these options could be hitting the market in the near future.

 

Walmart Offers Free Two-Day Shipping

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Walmart has been gunning for Amazon’s top spot in the online shopping world, and it’s coming up the ranks pretty fast. As of this week, Walmart customers will receive free two-day shipping on millions of items store-wide for purchases of $35 and up.

One of Amazon Prime’s most popular features is its two-day shipping. That’s what made Prime so successful, despite its $99 annual fee. Walmart took notice and introduced its ShippingPass program, which offered two-day shipping for an annual cost of $49.

However, Amazon Prime offers a lot more benefits and perks other than just shipping, making it a better deal overall. Walmart must have realized this because they are now offering free shipping without the annual fee. This is a great way to attract customers who want no frills and their packages delivered quickly. Users don’t have to enroll in a program, either.

Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart US e-commerce, told reporters that “at a very fundamental level, we just don’t believe in having to charge for a membership.”

Lore seems to be sticking to his word, because anyone who purchased a ShippingPass will have their money refunded.

While the free shipping will not count for every item sold, it will for more than two million of the most popular items people usually buy from Walmart, such as food, toiletries, clothes, baby items, electronics, and household supplies. For those who have little time to go shopping but can’t really afford the extra shipping costs usually tagged onto online orders, this is a huge blessing. Orders must be placed before 2pm PST to arrive in two days.

Another added bonus: Walmart doesn’t plan on raising prices to offset the shipping costs.

“It won’t affect our pricing at all,” Lore said. “In fact, we are looking to get more aggressive on the pricing side.”

One Small Step Toward Science Fiction Holograms

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Australian researchers, with the help of colleagues from the United States and Japan, have made a huge step forward in developing the Holy Grail of imaging: the hologram. Popularized in media like Star Wars and Star Trek, the concept of the hologram is a simple one: to project 3D images using light, as opposed to the 2D images we can create now with cameras and monitors.

The new device developed at the Australian National University uses a collection of “millions of tiny silicon pillars, each up to 500 times thinner than a human hair” to capture 3D images. By being transparent, the material doesn’t lose much energy from the light that passes through it, allowing it to perform some pretty complex stuff with that light, like storing 3D information in infrared.

While this device doesn’t create a hologram that humans can interact with like in Star Trek, it’s still a vital step toward achieving that. While research into holographic technology is most often associated with augmented reality systems, that’s still a ways down the road.

But this new device could still be beneficial even in its current form. This device, according to lead researcher Lei Wang, “could replace bulky components to miniaturize cameras and save costs in astronomical missions by reducing the size and weight of optical systems on space craft.”

And that’s not even to mention their use in terrestrial cameras and crafts. Drones are already pretty small, but by making cameras even lighter, we could have room for more storage and battery life, allowing us to use such devices to better explore hard to reach or dangerous parts of the world. Nature documentaries are already accomplishing incredible feats with small cameras. Imagine if they were even smaller.

This could also be the next big step in cameras for smart devices, which are already leagues ahead of the camera technology of even thirty years ago. Consumers won’t have access to such devices for a while, but they’re going to want them when they become available.

Telecommuting Often Means More Hours, But Not More Pay

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Telecommuting is all the rage these days, with several companies using it as a way to attract and retain employees. It’s long been heralded as a way for companies to offer more flexible hours to their employees. But according to one survey, what it’s actually doing is adding more hours to the work week… without offering adequate compensation for those hours.

The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1989 to 2008, found that people (especially salaried workers) ended up putting in an average of three extra hours per week when they telecommuted. These additional hours did not result in more compensation.

While the flexibility exists to work outside the typical 9 to 5 range, the problem is that work tends to get more stretched out, and people are working more to make up for actually using that flexibility. And since the workplace has become increasingly connected via smart devices and social media, this problem is actually getting worse.

And since telecommuting continues to be used as a perk to attract employees, that problem could become even more entrenched. Luckily, there are some companies that have not only realized that they can recruit talented people by offering telecommuting, but that they need to reign that in and make sure their employees aren’t working too much from home.

The key is in maintaining contact, so that bosses know what employees are working on and when. Time tracking is also important, as it allows employees to gauge exactly how long they’ve been working.

Companies should also make it a point to bring these issues to light in training. Burnout is no joke, and employees should be aware of the signs and symptoms before it becomes a major concern. But more than anything, the workplace culture has to change. There’s this dominating ideology that one must work copious amounts of hours in order to be successful, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Online Media Moving to Quality Video Content In Order to Catch Up With Television

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Will online media ever shut out print and television as sources of news and entertainment? The answer to that question is a resounding, “maybe.”

The Internet has done a great job of gobbling up print media through its ability to share timely news, information, and classified ads.

As far back as 2008, Bill E. Ford, President and CEO of General Atlantic, saw the possibilities in digital media. “One of the biggest shifts that we’ve been focused on is the shift from offline to online media,” he said in an interview with Financial Times. “We have several investments taking advantage of that trend.”

Those investments include the digital publishing platform Vox Media, Snap (the company that owns Snapchat), and Buzzfeed.

But digital media still has some distance to go before it catches up with television in the sheer hours of media consumed.

According to recent surveys, people spend more than four hours a day watching TV but approximately an hour a day on Facebook.

The difference, arguably, is video, and digital platforms are picking up the pace on producing just such material.

Social media giant Facebook is working on the premise that video is the digital space trend of the future. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he believes that within five years, most of what people consume online will be video. At that pace, online video ads could give Facebook a good shot at competing for dollars currently spent on television advertising.

“People are creating and sharing more video, and we think it’s pretty clear that video is only going to become more important,” Zuckerberg said. As a result, Facebook is going to a “video first” mentality, prioritizing video content across its apps and taking steps to make it easier for people to express themselves through enhancements such as live video.

However, a big challenge to digital media is quality. People are still largely turning to television for news and information, probably because of an underlying belief that TV is a more reliable and trustworthy source than social media.

General Atlantic Vice President Zack Kaplan, who serves on the Board of Directors of Vox Media, said in a recent article, “For digital content companies, success will increasingly require a prioritization of quality programming and meaningful journalism over commoditized and replicable clickbait; the creation of content that sustainably and uniquely captures real consumer time—not unique visitors, clicks, page views, video views, or swipes.”

The market is already reflecting the need to move to high-quality online media. In 2016, MLB Advanced Media agreed to pay $50 million a year through 2023 for League of Legends streaming rights. League of Legends generated more than 360 million hours of live consumption per year.

“Continued strategic investment is following brands and platforms that can similarly capture this kind of consumer attention,” Kaplan said. “Time is the metric that links big deals in the market.”

Online media platforms will need to invest real money to bring that higher-quality content and programming to their users. This will cause users to spend more time on their platforms over those of the competition. Twitter is experimenting with live sports, and Snap is working with TV broadcast networks to produce original and exclusive shows. Only time will tell how Twitter and Snap do in the face of digital behemoths like Amazon and Netflix, who are already making a great deal of high-quality, original content.

But the movers and shakers of the world’s digital platforms aren’t the only ones who need to understand the value of capturing viewers’ time through high-quality video and reliable news and information. Investors also need to understand the changing landscape of digital media and the growing online video trend in order to make strategic and profitable investments, both today and in the future.

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