Harbin, China City of Ice!

Dear Commons Community,

Here is something different.  Every year the city of Harbin in northern China has a winter festival and literally builds a city of ice.  Complete with buildings and ice art (one sculpture is nine stories high), the scale of the project is incredible.  The video above is the city of ice at night.  The video below provides background information and impressive daytime images.



Apple Becomes World’s Biggest Maker of Computers!

Dear Commons Community,

According to the research firm, Canalys, Apple is now considered the number one maker of PCs.

The 15 million iPads and five million Macintoshes that Apple sold during the period accounted for 17 percent of the approximately 120 million PCs shipped during the fourth quarter, Canalys said. The firm said tablets accounted for 22 percent of total PC shipments during the fourth quarter, with Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook included.

Below is the press release from Canalys with further details.


Press Release
Canalys today announced that Apple, after reporting stellar results, became the leading worldwide client PC vendor in Q4 2011. Apple shipped over 15 million iPads and five million Macs, representing 17% of the total 120 million client PCs shipped globally in Q4. Overall, the total client PC market, including desktops, netbooks, notebooks, and pads grew 16% year-on-year. Excluding pads, the client PC market declined 0.4%. The floods in Thailand, that impacted hard drive assembly plants, caused mild disruption to shipments during the quarter, but the side effects are likely to be felt in the first half of 2012.
Among the other top five PC vendors, only Lenovo managed to increase its market share, by a relatively modest two points, compared to Apple’s six-point gain over the same quarter a year ago. Acer, Dell and HP – the hardest hit – all lost market share. Now the second largest client PC vendor worldwide, HP will struggle to compete with Apple following the end of its Touchpad.
“Currently, HP is pursuing a Windows strategy for its pad portfolio, producing enterprise-focused products, such as the recently launched Slate 2, until the launch of Windows 8,” said Canalys Analyst Tim Coulling. “However, questions remain over Microsoft’s entry into the consumer pad space. While early demonstrations of the Window 8 operating system seem promising, Microsoft must focus its efforts on creating an intuitive user experience that is far less resource intensive.”
Lenovo continued to close the gap on HP, thanks to successful investment outside of core markets. The acquisition of Medion in Germany helped Lenovo double its shipments in Western Europe during the second half of 2011. The vendor’s decision to use Android for enterprise and consumer pads gives it a better opportunity than HP to continue gaining market share.
Dell placed fourth among the top five PC vendors, followed by Acer. Acer’s shipments continued to decline, as a result of the pad’s impact on the netbook market. It did, however, make headlines at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in January, when it revealed its S5 Ultrabook. Unsurprisingly, Acer and other vendors have been quick to announce their support for the new Ultrabook form factor, with the view of driving innovation and renewed customer interest in notebooks.
“We expect Ultrabook volumes to see limited adoption through the first half of 2012, before finally gaining momentum later in the year as price points decline and Intel launches a new line of processors and embarks on an aggressive marketing campaign,” said Canalys Research Analyst Michael Kauh. “In the short term though, vendors will experience more pressure in the netbook and notebook segments, especially with Apple’s annual iPad refresh approaching.”
Pads accounted for 22% of total PC shipments during Q4 2011. In addition to Apple’s strong performance, the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet by Barnes and Noble boosted volumes in the U.S. market, allowing both vendors to claim spots among the top five worldwide pad makers, in second and fifth place respectively.

Is Barnes & Noble the Bookstore’s Last Stand??

Dear Commons Community,

Over the weekend there was an extensive article on the future of Barnes & Noble in the New York Times and whether it represents the bookstore’s last stand.  While not predicting its demise in the immediate future,  there is serious concern about whether Barnes & Noble and other traditional bookstores (what are left of them) will survive the era of Amazon.com and electronic publishing.   Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Inside the great publishing houses — grand names like Macmillan, Penguin and Random House — there is a sense of unease about the long-term fate of Barnes & Noble, the last major bookstore chain standing. First, the megastores squeezed out the small players…Then the chains themselves were gobbled up or driven under, as consumers turned to the Web. B. Dalton Bookseller and Crown Books are long gone. Borders collapsed last year.

No one expects Barnes & Noble to disappear overnight. The worry is that it might slowly wither as more readers embrace e-books. What if all those store shelves vanished, and Barnes & Noble became little more than a cafe and a digital connection point? Such fears came to the fore in early January, when the company projected that it would lose even more money this year than Wall Street had expected. Its share price promptly tumbled 17 percent that day.

Lurking behind all of this is Amazon.com, the dominant force in books online and the company that sets teeth on edge in publishing. From their perches in Midtown Manhattan, many publishing executives, editors and publicists view Amazon as the enemy — an adversary that, if unchecked, could threaten their industry and their livelihoods.

Like many struggling businesses, book publishers are cutting costs and trimming work forces. Yes, electronic books are booming, sometimes profitably, but not many publishers want e-books to dominate print books. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, wants to cut out the middleman — that is, traditional publishers — by publishing e-books directly.”

I think we are turning the corner on e-books and that there will be a steady but clear path to greater adoption of e-books by authors.  Amazon.com is poised very well to not only be the major seller of books but the major publisher also.  Barnes & Noble might indeed become a digital cafe.



Some Tweets Going Dark!

Dear Commons Community,

Twitter announced that upon request, it would block certain messages in countries where they were deemed illegal. The move immediately prompted outcry, argument and even calls for a boycott from some users.

Twitter in turn sought to explain that this was the best way to comply with the laws of different countries. And the whole episode, swiftly amplified worldwide through Twitter itself, offered a telling glimpse into what happens when a scrappy Internet start-up tries to become a multinational business.

The New York Times is reporting:

“Twitter, like other Internet companies, has always had to remove content that is illegal in one country or another, whether it is a copyright violation, child pornography or something else. What is different about Twitter’s announcement is that it plans to redact messages only in those countries where they are illegal, and only if the authorities there make a valid request.”

Seems like censorship coming to the Internet!


Another Rupert Murdoch Tabloid Scandal: The Sun Staff Arrested!

Dear Commons Community.

The Huffington Post is reporting that the criminal investigation into British tabloid skullduggery turned full force on a second Rupert Murdoch publication Saturday, with the arrest of four current and former journalists from The Sun on suspicion of bribing police.  A serving police officer was also held, and authorities searched the newspaper’s offices as part of an investigation into illegal payments for information.  The investigation into whether reporters illegally paid police for information is running parallel to a police inquiry into phone hacking by Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.

The phone hacking scandal disgraced Rupert Murdoch, his  News Corporation empire (Fox News)  and members of his senior staff when it was reported that days after the disappearance of 13-year old Milly Dowler, News of the World began intercepting Dowler’s voicemail messages. The paper deleted old messages to make room for new ones, leading some to speculate that she was alive.  The Guardian reported: “The Dowler family then granted an exclusive interview to the News of the World in which they talked about their hope, quite unaware that it had been falsely kindled by the newspaper’s own intervention”

For a timeline of the evolution of the News Corporation and the hacking scandal, check out The Anatomy of a Phone Hacking Scandal provided by the New York Times.


So What Happened to Newt?

Dear Commons Community,

The latest Quinnipiac College poll has Newt Gingrich’s appeal slipping in Florida.  A week ago, he and Mitt Romney were polling neck and neck.  Now the poll indicates that 38% of likely Republican voters favor Romney to Gingrich’s 29%.    In addition, most commentators observed that Gingrich was clobbered by Romney during the CNN debate on Thursday night.  So what happened to Newt.

Howard Fineman in an article in the Huffington Post provides his insights.

First, the Palin factor.   Earlier this week Gingrich said he would offer former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a “major role in the next administration if I’m president.” That one statement scared the accept-Newt, Republican-establishment types. ”

Second, the Rubio factor.  Marco Rubio, the popular Cuban-American senator from Florida has not endorsed a candidate, but he doesn’t need to. He devastated Gingrich by complaining — vehemently — about an ad the Gingrich campaign had run calling Romney “the most anti-immigrant candidate”.

Third, the Moon Factor.  Gingrich went  too far when he vowed to establish an American space colony on the moon by the end of his second term.

Fourth, the Wolf Factor. Gingrich was unable to bully his way past the savvy Wolf Blitzer, the  CNN debate moderator, when the former speaker tried to decry the role of the mainstream media.

Lastly, the  O’Donnell Factor. Debate coach Brett O’Donnell earned his pay by coaching Romney.

Yes to all!




And Another Republican Candidates Debate!

Dear Commons Community,

I watched the entire Republican presidential candidates’ debate on CCN last night.   I thought I would catch the first hour or so but was drawn into the heat, passion and humor of the candidates and so watched the entire two hours.  The New York Times and the Huffington Post have excellent recaps if you are interested.  Here are a couple of highlights.

Mitt Romney was particularly aggressive while Newt Gingrich seemed rather passive.  In past debates, their give and take was the opposite.

There was lots of heated discussion between Romney and Gingrich over immigration which I believe Romney won.

Gingrich proposed establishing that the United States establish the first base on the moon.  Romney’s reply was that if one of my staff proposed spending hundreds of billions of dollars for a moon base “ I would fire him’.  Gingrich had no reply.

Rick Santorum was okay but nothing special.

Ron Paul had me and the audience laughing over several remarks.  The most humorous was when Wolf Blitzer asked him because of his age would he disclose his medical records. After chiding Blitzer for age discrimination, Paul challenged his three opponents to a “25 mile bike race in the Texas heat”.



President Obama – New Financial Aid Proposal – Make College More Affordable!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama is proposing a financial aid overhaul that for the first time would tie colleges’ eligibility for campus-based aid programs — Perkins loans, work-study jobs and supplemental grants for low-income students — to the institutions’ success in improving affordability and value for students, administration officials said.  The New York Times is reporting:

“Under the plan, which the president is expected to outline today at the University of Michigan, the amount available for Perkins loans would grow to $8 billion, from the current $1 billion. The president also wants to create a $1 billion grant competition, along the lines of the Race for the Top program for elementary and secondary education, to reward states that take action to keep college costs down, and a separate $55 million competition for individual colleges to increase their value and efficiency.

The administration also wants to give families clearer information about costs and quality, by requiring colleges and universities to offer a “shopping sheet” that makes it easier to compare financial aid packages and — for the first time — compiling post-graduate earning and employment information to give students a better sense of what awaits them. “

The major caveat is that most of these changes would all require Congressional approval.  Not sure that is possible in this presidential election year.



Small Schools Graduation Rates Up – New Study!

Dear Commons Community,

The Hechinger Report’s HechingerEd blog has a posting on a recent study comparing the graduation rates of students in small schools in New York City.  Below is a brief recap.  The posting accurately mentions student self-selection as possibly effecting the positive results.



Hechinger Report Blog Posting

“You might have forgotten about the small schools movement amid all the recent hubbub about overhauling teacher evaluations. But a study released on January 25th reminds us that only a few years ago, reducing the number of total students in a school was seen as a key weapon in the arsenal of urban school reform, and suggests that perhaps small schools shouldn’t have been so quickly abandoned as a reform strategy.

In 2010, MDRC, a nonpartisan, New York-based research group, found that New York City students who attended small high schools were more likely to graduate than their counterparts who applied to but didn’t ultimately attend small schools. A new study confirms the previous findings. A second group of students who cycled through the city’s small schools also had a greater likelihood of graduating than students at other, comparable schools.

New York City’s small schools aren’t selective, but they do have lotteries because of space constraints. The latest MDRC study followed cohorts of students who either won or lost the lottery to ensure the two groups were comparable.

There are more than 100 small schools in the city, many of which opened in the last decade under the Bloomberg administration. And other cities also embraced downsized schools as a way to improve student achievement. But the concept seems to have fallen out of favor, in part because the billions of U.S. dollars that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was giving to the movement dried up due to “disappointing” results. (Disclosure: The Gates Foundation is among the funders of The Hechinger Report.)

Also, there was–and continues to be–quite a lot of conflict over the other side of the small schools movement: the closure of big schools. One report about New York City’s small schools said they had a domino effect on larger schools: As big schools were shut down to make way for smaller ones, many students–often those with lower test-scores and less wherewithal to find their way to small schools–were funneled into the remaining large schools, which struggled and were then also slated for closure and replacement by new small schools.

And while small schools, on average, appear to be doing better with the students they receive, quite a few have done badly enough to meet the same fate as many of their bigger counterparts.

Nevertheless, the study’s authors say their evidence suggests that small schools remain a good idea: The graduation rate for students in the study’s small schools was nearly 69 percent, compared to 62 percent of students in the study’s other schools. The overall graduation rate in New York City’s public high schools is 70 percent.”



Bill Gates Makes $750 Million Donation to the Global Fund!!

Dear Commons Community,

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged a donation of $750 million  to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.    The donation was made as a promissory note intended to tide the fund over regular cash shortages.

The New York Times reports that

“Mr. Gates, who made the announcement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said tough economic times were “no excuse for cutting aid to the world’s poorest…”

The Global Fund, which pays for AIDS drugs for more than 3 million poor people, has distributed more than 200 million mosquito nets and says it has prevented more than 4 million tuberculosis deaths. Now observing its 10th anniversary, it has been struggling to raise money. Its last fund-raising drive fell more than $1 billion short of the $13 billion the fund said it needed to continue existing grants. It recently said it could not make new ones.

Some government donors have backed away, either because of their own budget crises or because of thefts of the fund’s money in different countries. While not large, the thefts have made persistent headlines and been seized on by opponents of foreign aid.”

A most generous contribution to a worthy cause!