Saturday, August 18, 2012

Skilled Work, Without the Worker

The speed of change is everywhere including Chinas dominance based upon cheap labor. Aivars Lode IT Capital

DRACHTEN, the Netherlands — At the Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China, hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electric shavers. That is the old way.
At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human.

One robot arm endlessly forms three perfect bends in two connector wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to prevent the people supervising them from being injured. And they do it all without a coffee break — three shifts a day, 365 days a year.
All told, the factory here has several dozen workers per shift, about a tenth as many as the plant in the Chinese city of Zhuhai.
This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.
“With these machines, we can make any consumer device in the world,” said Binne Visser, an electrical engineer who manages the Philips assembly line in Drachten.
Many industry executives and technology experts say Philips’s approach is gaining ground on Apple’s. Even as Foxconn, Apple’s iPhonemanufacturer, continues to build new plants and hire thousands of additional workers to make smartphones, it plans to install more than a million robots within a few years to supplement its work force in China.
Foxconn has not disclosed how many workers will be displaced or when. But its chairman, Terry Gou, has publicly endorsed a growing use of robots. Speaking of his more than one million employees worldwide, he said in January, according to the official Xinhua news agency: “As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.”
The falling costs and growing sophistication of robots have touched off a renewed debate among economists and technologists over how quickly jobs will be lost. This year, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made the case for a rapid transformation. “The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications,” they wrote in their book, “Race Against the Machine.”
In their minds, the advent of low-cost automation foretells changes on the scale of the revolution in agricultural technology over the last century, when farming employment in the United States fell from 40 percent of the work force to about 2 percent today. The analogy is not only to the industrialization of agriculture but also to the electrification of manufacturing in the past century, Mr. McAfee argues.
“At what point does the chain saw replace Paul Bunyan?” asked Mike Dennison, an executive at Flextronics, a manufacturer of consumer electronics products that is based in Silicon Valley and is increasingly automating assembly work. “There’s always a price point, and we’re very close to that point.”
But Bran Ferren, a veteran roboticist and industrial product designer at Applied Minds in Glendale, Calif., argues that there are still steep obstacles that have made the dream of the universal assembly robot elusive. “I had an early naïveté about universal robots that could just do anything,” he said. “You have to have people around anyway. And people are pretty good at figuring out, how do I wiggle the radiator in or slip the hose on? And these things are still hard for robots to do.”
Beyond the technical challenges lies resistance from unionized workers and communities worried about jobs. The ascension of robots may mean fewer jobs are created in this country, even though rising labor and transportation costs in Asia and fears of intellectual property theft are now bringing some work back to the West.
Take the cavernous solar-panel factory run by Flextronics in Milpitas, south of San Francisco. A large banner proudly proclaims “Bringing Jobs & Manufacturing Back to California!” (Right now China makes a large share of the solar panels used in this country and is automating its own industry.)
Yet in the state-of-the-art plant, where the assembly line runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are robots everywhere and few human workers. All of the heavy lifting and almost all of the precise work is done by robots that string together solar cells and seal them under glass. The human workers do things like trimming excess material, threading wires and screwing a handful of fasteners into a simple frame for each panel.
Such advances in manufacturing are also beginning to transform other sectors that employ millions of workers around the world. One is distribution, where robots that zoom at the speed of the world’s fastest sprinters can store, retrieve and pack goods for shipment far more efficiently than people. Robots could soon replace workers at companies like C & S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest grocery distributor, which has already deployed robot technology.

Rapid improvement in vision and touch technologies is putting a wide array of manual jobs within the abilities of robots. For example,Boeing’s wide-body commercial jets are now riveted automatically by giant machines that move rapidly and precisely over the skin of the planes. Even with these machines, the company said it struggles to find enough workers to make its new 787 aircraft. Rather, the machines offer significant increases in precision and are safer for workers.
And at Earthbound Farms in California, four newly installed robot arms with customized suction cups swiftly place clamshell containers of organic lettuce into shipping boxes. The robots move far faster than the people they replaced. Each robot replaces two to five workers at Earthbound, according to John Dulchinos, an engineer who is the chief executive at Adept Technology, a robot maker based in Pleasanton, Calif., that developed Earthbound’s system.
Robot manufacturers in the United States say that in many applications, robots are already more cost-effective than humans.
At an automation trade show last year in Chicago, Ron Potter, the director of robotics technology at an Atlanta consulting firm called Factory Automation Systems, offered attendees a spreadsheet to calculate how quickly robots would pay for themselves.
In one example, a robotic manufacturing system initially cost $250,000 and replaced two machine operators, each earning $50,000 a year. Over the 15-year life of the system, the machines yielded $3.5 million in labor and productivity savings.
The Obama administration says this technological shift presents a historic opportunity for the nation to stay competitive. “The only way we are going to maintain manufacturing in the U.S. is if we have higher productivity,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Government officials and industry executives argue that even if factories are automated, they still are a valuable source of jobs. If the United States does not compete for advanced manufacturing in industries like consumer electronics, it could lose product engineering and design as well. Moreover, robotics executives argue that even though blue-collar jobs will be lost, more efficient manufacturing will create skilled jobs in designing, operating and servicing the assembly lines, as well as significant numbers of other kinds of jobs in the communities where factories are.
And robot makers point out that their industry itself creates jobs. A report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics last year found that 150,000 people are already employed by robotics manufacturers worldwide in engineering and assembly jobs.
But American and European dominance in the next generation of manufacturing is far from certain.
“What I see is that the Chinese are going to apply robots too,” said Frans van Houten, Philips’s chief executive. “The window of opportunity to bring manufacturing back is before that happens.”
A Faster Assembly Line
Royal Philips Electronics began making the first electric shavers in 1939 and set up the factory here in Drachten in 1950. But Mr. Visser, the engineer who manages the assembly, takes pride in the sophistication of the latest shavers. They sell for as much as $350 and, he says, are more complex to make than smartphones.
The assembly line here is made up of dozens of glass cages housing robots made by Adept Technology that snake around the factory floor for more than 100 yards. Video cameras atop the cages guide the robot arms almost unerringly to pick up the parts they assemble. The arms bend wires with millimetric accuracy, set toothpick-thin spindles in tiny holes, grab miniature plastic gears and set them in housings, and snap pieces of plastic into place.
The next generation of robots for manufacturing will be more flexible and easier to train.
Witness the factory of Tesla Motors, which recently began manufacturing the Tesla S, a luxury sedan, in Fremont, Calif., on the edge of Silicon Valley.
More than half of the building is shuttered, called “the dark side.” It still houses a dingy, unused Toyota Corolla assembly line on which an army of workers once turned out half a million cars annually.

The Tesla assembly line is a stark contrast, brilliantly lighted. Its fast-moving robots, bright Tesla red, each has a single arm with multiple joints. Most of them are imposing, 8 to 10 feet tall, giving them a slightly menacing “Terminator” quality.
But the arms seem eerily human when they reach over to a stand and change their “hand” to perform a different task. While the many robots in auto factories typically perform only one function, in the new Tesla factory a robot might do up to four: welding, riveting, bonding and installing a component.
As many as eight robots perform a ballet around each vehicle as it stops at each station along the line for just five minutes. Ultimately as many as 83 cars a day — roughly 20,000 are planned for the first year — will be produced at the factory. When the company adds a sport utility vehicle next year, it will be built on the same assembly line, once the robots are reprogrammed.
Tesla’s factory is tiny but represents a significant bet on flexible robots, one that could be a model for the industry. And others are already thinking bigger.
Hyundai and Beijing Motors recently completed a mammoth factory outside Beijing that can produce a million vehicles a year using more robots and fewer people than the big factories of their competitors and with the same flexibility as Tesla’s, said Paul Chau, an American venture capitalist at WI Harper who toured the plant in June.
The New Warehouse
Traditional and futuristic systems working side by side in a distribution center north of New York City show how robotics is transforming the way products are distributed, threatening jobs. From this warehouse in Newburgh, C & S, the nation’s largest grocery wholesaler, supplies a major supermarket chain.
The old system sprawls across almost half a million square feet. The shelves are loaded and unloaded around the clock by hundreds of people driving pallet jacks and forklifts. At peak times in the evening, the warehouse is a cacophony of beeping and darting electric vehicles as workers with headsets are directed to cases of food by a computer that speaks to them in four languages.
The new system is much smaller, squeezed into only 30,000 square feet at the far end of the warehouse and controlled by just a handful of technicians. They watch over a four-story cage with different levels holding 168 “rover” robots the size of go-carts. Each can move at 25 miles an hour, nearly as fast as an Olympic sprinter.
Each rover is connected wirelessly to a central computer and on command will race along an aisle until it reaches its destination — a case of food to retrieve or the spot to drop one off for storage. The robot gathers a box by extending two-foot-long metal fingers from its side and sliding them underneath. It lifts the box and pulls it to its belly. Then it accelerates to the front of the steel cage, where it turns into a wide lane where it must contend with traffic — eight robots are active on each level of the structure, which is 20 aisles wide and 21 levels high.
From the aisle, the robots wait their turn to pull into a special open lane where they deposit each load into an elevator that sends a stream of food cases down to a conveyor belt that leads to a large robot arm.
About 10 feet tall, the arm has the grace and dexterity of a skilled supermarket bagger, twisting and turning each case so the final stack forms an eight-foot cube. The software is sophisticated enough to determine which robot should pick up which case first, so when the order arrives at the supermarket, workers can take the cases out in the precise order in which they are to go on the shelves.
When the arm is finished, the cube of goods is conveyed to a machine that wraps it in clear plastic to hold it in place. Then a forklift operator summoned by the computer moves the cube to a truck for shipment.
Built by Symbotic, a start-up company based in the Boston area, this robotic warehouse is inspired by computer designers who created software algorithms to efficiently organize data to be stored on a computer’s hard drive.
Jim Baum, Symbotic’s chief executive, compares the new system to a huge parallel computer. The design is efficient because there is no single choke point; the cases of food moving through the robotic warehouse are like the digital bits being processed by the computer.

Humans’ Changing Role
In the decade since he began working as a warehouseman in Tolleson, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, Josh Graves has seen how automation systems can make work easier but also create new stress and insecurity. The giant facility where he works distributes dry goods for Kroger supermarkets.
Mr. Graves, 29, went to work in the warehouse, where his father worked for three decades, right out of high school. The demanding job required lifting heavy boxes and the hours were long. “They would bring in 15 guys, and only one would last,” he said.
Today Mr. Graves drives a small forklift-like machine that stores and retrieves cases of all sizes. Because such workers are doing less physical labor, there are fewer injuries, said Rome Aloise, a Teamsters vice president in Northern California. Because a computer sets the pace, the stress is now more psychological.
Mr. Graves wears headsets and is instructed by a computerized voice on where to go in the warehouse to gather or store products. A centralized computer the workers call The Brain dictates their speed. Managers know exactly what the workers do, to the precise minute.
Several years ago, Mr. Graves’s warehouse installed a German system that automatically stores and retrieves cases of food. That led to the elimination of 106 jobs, roughly 20 percent of the work force. The new system was initially maintained by union workers with high seniority. Then that job went to the German company, which hired nonunion workers.
Now Kroger plans to build a highly automated warehouse in Tolleson. Sixty union workers went before the City Council last year to oppose the plan, on which the city has not yet ruled.
“We don’t have a problem with the machines coming,” Mr. Graves told city officials. “But tell Kroger we don’t want to lose these jobs in our city.”
Some jobs are still beyond the reach of automation: construction jobs that require workers to move in unpredictable settings and perform different tasks that are not repetitive; assembly work that requires tactile feedback like placing fiberglass panels inside airplanes, boats or cars; and assembly jobs where only a limited quantity of products are made or where there are many versions of each product, requiring expensive reprogramming of robots.
But that list is growing shorter.
Upgrading Distribution
Inside a spartan garage in an industrial neighborhood in Palo Alto, Calif., a robot armed with electronic “eyes” and a small scoop and suction cups repeatedly picks up boxes and drops them onto a conveyor belt.
It is doing what low-wage workers do every day around the world.
Older robots cannot do such work because computer vision systems were costly and limited to carefully controlled environments where the lighting was just right. But thanks to an inexpensive stereo camera and software that lets the system see shapes with the same ease as humans, this robot can quickly discern the irregular dimensions of randomly placed objects.
The robot uses a technology pioneered in Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing system for its Xbox video game system.
Such robots will put automation within range of companies like Federal Express and United Parcel Service that now employ tens of thousands of workers doing such tasks.
The start-up behind the robot, Industrial Perception Inc., is the first spinoff of Willow Garage, an ambitious robotics research firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. The first customer is likely to be a company that now employs thousands of workers to load and unload its trucks. The workers can move one box every six seconds on average. But each box can weigh more than 130 pounds, so the workers tire easily and sometimes hurt their backs.
Industrial Perception will win its contract if its machine can reliably move one box every four seconds. The engineers are confident that the robot will soon do much better than that, picking up and setting down one box per second.
“We’re on the cusp of completely changing manufacturing and distribution,” said Gary Bradski, a machine-vision scientist who is a founder of Industrial Perception. “I think it’s not as singular an event, but it will ultimately have as big an impact as the Internet.”

Friday, August 17, 2012

Which USA do you work in ?

Education and opportunities to start a business have never been better. Stamford this year gave a Physics course on line to 15,000 students; last year 300. MIT recently announced putting all its course content online for free. Mark Cuban has an interesting take on education. Aivars Lode

by mark cuban
When it comes to getting a job, the USA has bifurcated into two employment worlds, the digital world and the brick and mortar world.
The brick and mortar world is everything you physically touch. Its manufacturing. Its retail sales. Its distribution. Its construction. Etc.
The digital world is everything defined by what you find on computing devices. It can be on your desk, in your hand or in the cloud.
What has happened is that the brick and mortar world has had every bit of intelligence that can be sucked out of it completely removed.  Any information that can be created, identified or recognized is being captured in as automated a process as possible and delivered to "big data" or even small data databases in the cloud. What used to require some intelligence at the brick and mortar work place has been seeded and ceded into the cloud.
Every smart company wants to become smarter and the way to do that is not by asking their employees to communicate  orally or in writing to management, its by automating everything.
When Starbucks introduces Square, its not to make their in store employees do more, its to simplify the process involved in serving customers and to allow them to spend more time on improving the customer experience.
The problem for those  who work in brick and mortar is that as the intelligence is sucked out of the job. The intelligence required to do the job is reduced. Yes, you still have to be good at what you do. But you can  be great at customer service or great in a factory line with out a college education. The competition for jobs that don't require degrees has pushed down the wages paid for brick and mortar jobs as well. When there are no specific skills beyond basic people and communication skills required the job pool competing for any openings expands considerably. Forcing down wages. Leaving more unemployed unemployed.
The other unfortunate part of working brick and mortar is that as intelligence is moved out of of physical locations it also reduces the number of jobs available.  Have you ever seen a cashier at an Apple Store ? Unemployment is sky high in the brick and mortar world.
Thats not to say there aren't some bright lights in this area. As the intelligence of the factory is sucked up from the floor the cost of labor falls and makes manufacturing in the US more competitive. Hence we are seeing some manufacturing return to the US which is of course a good thing
In the other world, the digital world, the non-brick and mortar world, there is  negative unemployment. Thats right there are far more jobs than there are people to fill them.
If you just look at the unemployment rate for recent college graduates its 6.8pct. My guess is that if you take out Sports Management majors and a few other "I did this for passion and not a job" majors (Sorry had to get that in there ), that rate might be under 5pct. That is close to full employment for college graduates and even non college graduates that had the foresight or luck to learn the skills required to get a job in the digital world.
Everything of intelligence is being moved into the cloud. There is not one business process that you can think of that makes sense to put in the cloud that hasn't been written as an app. I get dozens of proposals for these types of apps every WEEK.
The explosion is due to the fact that digital entrepreneurship is experiencing a renaissance. Why ? Because with a Laptop, a SmartPhone, a broadband connection and an account on Amazon Web Services or one of their competitors, if you understand technology and are willing to work your ass off, you have everything you need to start a cloud based company. Everything.
I don't know the exact numbers but it wouldn't shock me if thousands of these companies are being formed every month.
And those cloud based service companies are hiring, hiring, hiring.  You would be hard pressed to find a single example of one of these companies that is not looking to hire more smart people. Experience not required.
That giant sucking sound you hear is the sound of intelligence being sucked from the brick and mortar locations into smart applications in the cloud licensed or owned by the companies that own the brick and mortar locations.
The best news is that with online educational resources coming on, and im not talking about the for profit schools, Im talking about FREE educational resources, anyone with the focus and inclination and access to a pc on the net has a chance to  learn a digital skill that can be of value to these new digital companies and allow you to change worlds.
What is my solution ?  I will tell you what I told my alma mater Indiana University and the University of North Texas committee that I am on. Every junior and senior should hold open at least 1 class in each of their junior and senior years for job skills training.
The university should make those classes fungible. Meaning each year the range of job skills classes is defined by the needs of employers in the global marketplace.  If they change every 2 years. Great. Employers will be thrilled and so will students who will be able to find jobs. If they change every year. students will have broader skill sets. Which also makes employers happy.
Companies struggle to keep up with all the changes the latest in digital technology requires. Train people and they will hire them.
The university should also make those classes available for high school seniors. If they can test in , let them.  It will allow smart kids to do smart things and get smart digital jobs. And who knows, they just might change their mind and go to IU or North Texas or be happy grabbing a great job. Either way the school has done something good.
Trust me if Sports Management Majors were good at Pig Latin (And if you think im talking about Igpay Atinlay, you probably could have benefited from a class like this ), they could get far better jobs than they are getting today. When they get them.
Who is upset ? Professors and administrators  at universities.  Why ? Because some of the classes they have taught for years would be replaced by newbie classes. I personally think a little change in the culture  at schools is a good thing. Stop building and taking on debt and invest in new and relevant courseware. But that is me.
I've had a lot to say about Education and you can find my blogs on the subject here .

Aussie banks worth more than Europe's combined

Many of the Aussie banks have large operations overseas providing them with strong earnings. Aivars Lode
  • by: By Lucy Kippist
  • August 17, 201210:28AM

European banks are drowning but Australian banks are swimming in cash. Picture: IstockSource: PerthNow
FOR the first time in history the value of Australian banks are now worth more than the Eurozone.
The Commonwealth Bank made a net profit of almost $7.1 billion, the biggest ever reported by an Australian bank. That boils down to a daily profit of almost $19.5 million or more than $13,000 a minute.

While ANZ has posted a $4.4 billion profit for the nine months to June, an increase of 10 per cent.

CBA chief executive Ian Narev told the Adelaide Advertiser that he is “proud and not embarrassed” by the massive profit surge. He said the results boil down to strong Australian economy and the confidence of their shareholders.
“The people who own this group. . . 60 per cent of them are Australian households directly, that's 800,000 Australian families,

“Another 20 per cent of our shareholders are Australians who own them directly through their pension funds.

“So the shareholders who we are doing well for are millions and millions of Australian households,” said Mr Narev.

ANZ's Australian, New Zealand and Asian operations, chief executive Mike Smith the group attributes their success to effective management of ongoing funding and competitive pressures. He also said ANZ had picked up market share in deposits, mortgages and business lending

Other financial analysts have said the massive profits can be explained by the fact that unlike European and American banks, Australia have not loaded up on subprime debt, bad real estate loans

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cisco raises dividend as profits beat expectations

As discussed before, corporations are starting to pay increased dividends. Aivars Lode
Technology giant Cisco, the world's largest maker of networking equipment, has increased its dividend after reporting better-than-expected results.

The company said cost cutting helped fourth quarter net income to rise to $1.9bn (£1.2bn)from $1.2bn a year ago, on revenue up 4.4% to $11.7bn, despite difficulties in Europe.
Cisco also said it would raise its dividend by 75% to 14 cents a share.
The company's shares rose 5% to $18.23 in after-hours trading on the news.
Chief executive John Chambers forecast revenue growth of between 2-4% in the next quarter, but warned of continuing uncertainty in Europe, a key market, which was creating an environment in which it was difficult to clinch business deals.
"That's probably going to get tougher before it gets better and that might last for a good little while," he said in a conference call.
As a result, "many of our customers continue to anticipate a challenging next 12 months on a global basis and therefore these CEOs will remain conservative both in their IT expenditures but also in their hiring".
Cisco is undergoing a restructuring programme that aims to cut expenses by about $1bn. Last month it announced it would cut 1,300 jobs.
The job cuts represent about 2% of Cisco Systems' 65,000 strong workforce. Last year, the company shed 10,000 posts.

Sarasota cashes in on red-light cameras

We saw rapid growth in red light  and speed cameras during the 90’s in Australia during our recession.  Originally justified as preventing accidents, government officials who had difficulty in balancing their books quickly realized that these cameras where a great revenue source. So plan on seeing more of them. Aivars Lode

Florida cities and counties handed out nearly $100 million in tickets generated by red-light cameras during the last year, and Sarasota has quickly become a statewide leader in fining red-light runners.

The statewide total is nearly triple the number of automatically generated fines collected the year before.
The city of Sarasota was a latecomer to the red-light camera trend, starting its ticketing in January. But by June, the city was the 10th most-active ticketer among the 71 Florida cities and counties that use the cameras.
In all, more than $1 million in fines were paid by people accused of running red-lights in Sarasota during the first six months of this year. In Bradenton, the city's cameras generated $1.2 million in fines during the 12-month period that ended June 30, records show.
In Sarasota, nearly 1,500 drivers were ticketed and paid fines in June, putting the city ahead of Orlando, Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale in collections even though those cities have at least three times the population.
Despite a push by opponents to repeal the 2010 law that approved the cameras, their use continues to grow in popularity among Florida cities and counties. Forty-eight municipalities started using them in the first year they were allowed, and another 23 added them in the past year, including Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Boca Raton.
Bradenton was an early adopter of the cameras, collecting its first ticket revenues in September 2010, two months after the law went into effect.
Etienne Pracht, a University of South Florida professor who is a critic of the cameras, wonders why the number of tickets issued keeps going up when these cameras were supposed to curtail red-light running.
"These things were installed as a means to prevent red-light running, but looking at the numbers, if it's going up, you have to ask the question. 'Is it working?'" he asked.
Use of the cameras was approved by the Legislature in 2010 with the passage of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, named after a Bradenton man killed by a red-light runner in 2003. Tickets are mailed to offenders once the violation is confirmed by authorities.
The tickets are $158 each, with $83 of that going to the state, mainly to its general fund. The remaining $75 goes to the local government that writes the ticket. The camera vendor receives a flat per-camera fee each month.
Adding together all 71 cities and counties that use the cameras, there were 615,000 tickets issued in Florida during the 12-month period that ended June 30. That is a 160 percent increase over the number of tickets issued during the previous year.
Whether the ticketing is improving road safety is disputed by some. Some studies say the cameras cut down on accidents — particularly deadly T-bone accidents at intersections. But other studies have shown the cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions as drivers screech to a stop when they realize they are at an intersection with cameras.
Cities and counties with cameras must make their first official reports on the results, including the impact on public safety, by Oct. 1. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will compile all those reports into one that it will present to the governor by year's end.
This year, a trio of University of South Florida professors, including Pracht, wrote a scathing analysis of an insurance group study reporting that cities with red-light camera programs had fewer red-light running fatalities than cities that did not use the cameras.
Among the problems with that study was that two of the cities not using the cameras had zero fatalities to begin with, so they could not have had a reduction.
Removing some of those biases from that study, the USF professors found that cities that used the cameras had 25 percent more fatalities than cities that did not use them.
Much of the big increase in ticketing in Florida occurred because of a surge in the number of cities and counties using the cameras.
And some of the new players are among the most active ticketers. Boca Raton, which just started collecting red-light fines in May, collected on 2,600 tickets in June, the third-highest total in the state.
Miami and Tampa did the most ticketing in June. Boca Raton was third and Apopka, with a population of only 42,000, was fourth.
Part of the reason for the surprisingly high number of tickets issued in Sarasota is that courts are upholding the tickets in some jurisdictions, but are prone to overturn them in others, said Sarasota attorney David Haenel.
"There's been major challenges, successful challenges, especially against the cities of Winter Park and Orlando," he said.
Haenel says that he has fought tickets issues in Sarasota, but, as of yet, none successfully.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Trendspotting: Third Wave Coffee

Thank you Starbucks for beginning educating the masses on coffee, we were fortunate to have a coffee culture in Australia for over three decades due to the large numbers of immigrants from Italy. We are now seeing the next wave of coffee consumption, that of individual roasters and specialist coffee houses. When Starbucks tried to break into Australia 10 years ago they were not successful as there was already a mature coffee culture present. Aivars Lode

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mitsui Remains Committed to Australia

Further issues with resources in Australia. Aivars Lode.


TOKYO—Mitsui 8031.TO +0.94% & Co.'s chief financial officer said Tuesday that Australia remains the most attractive place to invest in natural resources for the time being, and that the trading house will stick to plans to step up its involvement in the country despite the rising costs and falling returns that have caused mining majors to consider pulling back on investments there.

"There's no thinking along the lines of: 'This is becoming an expensive place to do business, so let's go somewhere cheaper,'" Joji Okada said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Still, mindful of industry trends, Mr. Okada said Japan's second-largest trading house by revenue—behind Mitsubishi 8058.TO -0.32% Corp.—has also begun to look into coal-mining opportunities in Mongolia and Africa. Outside of Australia, Mitsui currently has iron-ore assets in Brazil.

Australia Business Confidence Masks Weak Economy

While Australia has long been the bedrock of the global mining boom, increasing wages and a controversial mining tax in the works are prompting some companies to rethink their positions in the region.

Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton Ltd. BHP.AU -1.00% said in May it would shut a mine at Norwich Park in Queensland after a joint venture with Mitsubishi racked up sustained losses.

"We're not close to [that stage yet]," said Mr. Okada. For now, the additional cost burdens don't outweigh the risk of doing business in Australia, he said.

Mitsui, currently involved in four major Australian resource projects, is looking to expand its existing investments to increase production capacity in the future, a point Mr. Okada underscored. The company previously said it earmarked ¥200 billion ($2.54 billion) in the fiscal year through March 2013 toward expanding existing metals projects as part of its two-year midterm management plan.

In February, Mitsui agreed to contribute funds to build a new port in Western Australia to increase iron-ore exports as part of its joint venture with BHP Billiton and, more recently, acquired a 49.9% stake in a private Brisbane-based mining-equipment rental company last month.

Mitsui, along with Japan's other major trading houses, has been hit by the falling price of resources such as coal and iron ore. The trading house said its net profit for the three-month period ended in June slid 21% to ¥104.4 billion.

Mitsui boasts the highest annual production capacity in iron ore and second in coal of Japan's five major trading houses. Mitsui's Australian assets account for about 52% of its net profit in commodities, according to Deutsche Bank.

While the situation remains workable in Australia for now, Mr. Okada concedes cost control may compel the Tokyo-based firm to explore other options down the line, mentioning prospects in Mongolia and Africa.

"We need to raise our revenue, so as costs go up we'll have to think how to control them and another thing is to think about other regions," he said.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monetizing the Boson

A lighthearted view of the discovery of the higgs Boston. However, if it enables something faster than light; those that identify that rule, the financial world having data before others. Aivars Lode

By Bing August 15, 2012: 5:00 AM ET

An interview with the sexiest superstar in science since Einstein.

FORTUNE – On July 4, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland announced the discovery of a particle that is probably the Higgs Boson, an entity that, it is believed, interacts with the building blocks of the universe to give them mass. Since mass is important, and heretofore unexplained, the Boson immediately became the star of the scientific, intellectual, and business firmament -- probably the biggest celebrity and sex symbol in the field since Einstein. This week Fortune was lucky enough to corner the Boson, who was on his way to the Coast and kindly answered a few questions.

FORTUNE: Hey, first of all, I'd like to thank you for talking to us. I understand that you don't have much time.

HIGGS BOSON: No problemo. Time is relative, y'know. (Cracks up and has a short coughing fit.) Sorry. Joke.

What is a boson, anyway?

It's a kind of particle that allows multiple identical particles to exist in the same place.

Well, that seems to make no sense at all.

It's quantum, babe.

A lot of people want to know why you're so important.

Hey. It's not that hard. If I didn't exist, the entire universe would fly apart.

A lot of narcissistic celebrities and moguls feel that way. What makes you different?

You know how much that Large Hadron Collider cost? Basically, they built it for one reason. To find M-frickin'-E. That must mean something.


Look, for 50 years the scientific community has been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. In the absence of anything either provable or disprovable, there was a lot of crazy science fiction about parallel universes and vibrating strings. Ha! (Another coughing fit, after which he lights a cigarette.) So now they're back on track. The question is, How can I monetize my situation?

I don't see how ...

Are you kidding? Dude, they don't spend more than $10 billion to find something without a payoff.

I suppose not. So what's the plan?

Well, right off the bat, it's not bad to have established residency in Switzerland for tax purposes, although I hear Malta is coming up the ramp.

Yes, but still, I don't see the monetary implications for you personally. I mean, you're just a boson.

I'm not just a boson, bro. I'm the Boson. That has tremendous branding value. Every major scientific discovery produces an industry. Watson and Crick discovered the makeup of DNA in the '50s. Got a huge bestseller out of it. And they spawned the entire gen-tech business, which is now worth a gazillion and still going relatively strong. Think about it. Magnetism. Electricity. Nuclear power. Plastic! I don't plan to be one of those guys who are written about as having been there at the beginning and then missed out on the parade. I'm cashing in, bigtime, and not for pennies on the dollar either.

What actual, real-world developments could come from your ... coming out, so to speak?

Who knows? I'm what makes matter matter! I'm a field while at the same time being a particle! Wrap your mind around that!

I think my head hurts.

Flying cars! Teleportation! Time travel! Who knows? I'm gonna be there, and I'm gonna get me a piece of the π.

One last question. Is there any truth to the rumor that you are seeing the newly divorced Katie Holmes? People are already referring to you two as BossKat.

I got no comment on that, man. (Coughs, and suddenly decays into a number of smaller particles.)

This story is from the August 13, 2012 issue of Fortune.