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Green MashUp: Political activism on the rise

Environmental activists arrested in the US
Environmental activists arrested in the US

The Tasmanian Upper House is considering legislation to fine environmental protesters or put them in jail. What are they so worried about?

While politicians agonise over what to do about climate change, we are seeing a rise in activist activity right around the world. Young, smart and organised, its leaders are articulate and highly technologically aware. And they’re the ones that are likely to shape the debate over the next decade.

Consider the march now being planned over the next fortnight. As The Guardian reports, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of New York, London, Melbourne and other cities worldwide in a fortnight to pressure world leaders to take action on global warming, in what organisers claim will be the biggest climate march in history. Organisers of the march including Ricken Patel, the executive director of Avaaz, David Babbs, the executive director of 38 Degrees, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace-UK, Justin Forsyth CEO, Save the Children and David Nussbaum CEO, WWF-UK have written an open letter explaining the importance of what they’re doing.

Later this month world leaders will gather in New York for a historic summit on climate change. This is an opportunity to inspire key decision-makers to act in the face of a growing climate crisis that threatens almost every aspect of our lives. Politicians all over the world cite a lack of public support as a reason not to take bold action against climate change. So on 21 September we will meet this moment with unprecedented public mobilisations in cities around the world, including thousands of people on the streets of London. Our goal is simple – to demonstrate the groundswell demand that exists for ambitious climate action.

“From New York and London to Paris, Berlin, Delhi and Melbourne we’ll demonstrate demand for an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities. There is only one ingredient that is required: to change everything, we need everyone. History is our proof that the impossible is smaller than we think. The abolition of slavery. The end of apartheid. The spread of universal suffrage. All proof that the future is ours to shape. We just need to step out and claim it.”

In Australia, we have small groups springing up everywhere. There is the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance, a community group campaigning against coal seam gas drilling in the Hunter, Six Degrees, which is a Brisbane collective battling against the Queensland coal industry and the Caroona Coal Action Group a community group fighting to save the Liverpool Plains from BHP-Billiton. Add to that all the local climate action groups like for example the Parramatta Climate Action Network, Climate Action Monash, Climate Action Newcastle, Climate Action Network Australia, the Adelaide Hills Climate Action Group and the Climate Action Summit.

Or actions by the Mackay Conservation Group planning to take the Abbott government to court over its decision to allow dredging and spoil dumping in Great Barrier Reef waters for the expansion of coal export terminals. Orenergyscience.org.au which has brought together concerned scientists, engineers and policy experts to present information to people on the issue of sustainable energy, the Mineral Policy Institute, which monitors the practices of the mining industry, 100% Renewable Energy and the Alternative Energy Association.

The list of grassroots activist groups here goes on.

Then there are the big campaigns run by groups like GetUp and Greenpeace. It’s a trend that should be putting politicians on notice. These groups are different because they are so well connected.

As Ben Eltham at New Matilda tells us, GetUp has the digital infrastructure that is increasingly critical to modern campaigning.

“With nearly half a million subscribers to its email list, the organisation has a far broader reach than any comparable progressive group in the country. GetUp also has foot soldiers. It has a reservoir of enthusiasm among its Gen Y activists, but it has a far more diverse demographic profile than the caricature of inner-city latte-sippers suggests.”

Some of GetUp’s mega-campaigns included the action to save Tasmania’s forests , the Great Barrier Reef and theMurray Darling Basin.

It’s a trend happening around the world. One of the strongest is is 350.org  which was founded with the goal of uniting climate activists into a movement, with a strategy of bottom-up organising around the world. It has activists in 189 countries. They have organised 350.org’s local climate-focused campaigns, projects and actions. In India, for example, organisers have mobilised people to resist the country’s dependence on coal for growth. In the US, the group has campaigned to divest public institutions — such as municipalities and universities — from the fossil fuel industry, and to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Keystone XL is a proposed tar sands pipeline that would connect Alberta, Canada with Gulf Coast refineries. It would carry 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil across the United States to be refined, exported and burned. Think of the carbon footprint that would create, requiring more energy to produce than it delivers.

In the Keystone fight, 350.org has partnered with a number of local grass roots organisations in the path of the pipeline across North America, including Tar Sands Blockade, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Hip Hop Caucus, Bold Nebraska and Idle No More.

How did 350.org gets its name? It’s based on what climate scientists say is the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — 350 parts per million (ppm). We are now at 400 ppm, a level unseen for millions of years.

Then there is the Sierra Club which is the oldest and most powerful environmental organisations in the United States. With a war chest of over $79 million, the Sierra Club has crusaded to eliminate sources of 95 per cent of current energy use, worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in “sue and settle” lawsuits to generate more stringent environmental regulations, created a “scientific consensus” regarding man-made climate change and used the Endangered Species Act to thwart industry.

England has the Climate Coalition, which has a combined supporter base of more than 11 million people across the UK and brings together over 100 organisations, from environment and development charities to unions, faith and belief, community and women’s groups. Then there’s the London based Campaign Against Climate Change, which has groups operating in cities all across England.

Certainly governments are recognising the power these groups have. The FBI has identified environmentalists as “domestic terrorists”. The United Nations has urged the Tasmanian government to drop proposed anti-protest laws, calling them a breach of human rights. The Tasmanian legislation, which is being considered by the state’s upper house, would impose mandatory fines and prison terms on environmentalists who are deemed to interfere with the operations of a business. Protesters could face a three-month jail term for a second offence.

These movements are potentially important because they can create political change. The late American social activist Bill Moyer argued that they have a real power.

“Social movements are collective actions in which the populace is alerted, educated, and mobilised, over years and decades, to challenge the powerholders and the whole society to redress social problems or grievances and restore critical social values,’’ Moyer writes.

“By involving the populace directly in the political process, social movements also foster the concept of government of, by, and for the people. The power of movements is directly proportional to the forcefulness with which the grassroots exert their discontent and demand change. The central issue of social movements, therefore, is the struggle between the movement and the powerholders to win the hearts (sympathies), minds (public opinion), and active support of the great majority of the populace, which ultimately holds the power to either preserve the status quo or create change.

“Nonviolent social movements are a powerful means for preserving democracy and making societies address critical social problems. They enable citizens to challenge the prevailing centres of power and become active in society’s decision-making process, especially at times when the normal channels for their political participation are ineffective. Social movements mobilise citizens and public opinion to challenge powerholders and the whole society to adhere to universal values and sensibilities and redress social problems.

“At their best, they create an empowered citizenry, shifting the locus of social and political power from central elites and institutions to new grassroots networks and groups. In recent years, social movements have helped establish many civil rights for Blacks and women, end the Vietnam War, curb US military interventions, and topple dictators in Haiti and the Philippines.”

 

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Terminate The Terminator: Hack Your Emotional Intelligence And Control Your Future

670px-terminatorWant to leave your number one business rival lying in a crumpled pile of rubble? Then put down your Android for a minute so you can size up exactly who that opponent is.

The assassin most likely to destroy your business isn’t the guy down the street. It’s not a brilliant 19-year-old coder lying in wait in a ranch house in Palo Alto.

It’s a ‘bot that does what you do—even better.

The singularity may sound like science fiction, but robots already write articles for newspapers’ sports sections, do surgery, fly jets and drones in the military, drive cars and answer phone calls for hotels and service firms. Bots beat our best chess champions on strategy. And they’re better managers than some leaders. Recent work from a doctoral student at MIT found that people would rather work for a robot boss who gave out tasks than a person.

If robots can be encoded with artificial, emotional intelligence and it is greater than what you and your team have to offer to guests, you will be out of work. And emotional intelligence in robots is closer than you’d think.

Want to keep a brainy, rolling hunk of metal from flattening you? Prep yourself to steal gigs from the “terminators” of the future by doing these five things:

Get Emotionally-Sharp . Smart leaders defend their businesses from the borgs by developing specialized knowledge, charged with super-talented human skills and emotional intelligence. They know that customers want to go where they feel like they’re being seen and heard. If you don’t “get” customers better than a ‘bot, they’ll choose the ‘bot.

Train yourself and your people with the latest research on the uses of emotional intelligence. And look for talent that is strong in this area. When I interview people, I ask: If you were to build a robot right now to replicate you, what 10 things would it need to have? I get all different types of answers. What I look for are qualities like integrity, tenacity, creativity, emotional maturity, leadership talent, conscientiousness, and perseverance.
Kick Off The SWAT Suit. You can’t get a good read on customers’ feelings if your own are buried under 20 layers of scar tissue. Let your emotions rise before the machines do.

Sharpen your self-awareness by grilling yourself in challenging situations: How am I feeling about this? What internal and external resources can I bring to the table to help me solve this problem? How can I tap into what I’m most passionate about to achieve my goal? How am I feeling relative to what I want to accomplish?

Listen to your body, but don’t accept physiological reactions at face value. Feeling tense? Ask yourself: What is this tension communicating to me? What’s unresolved here? What am I concerned about? What have I left hanging?

Stay In The Cool. It’s on you if you let customers or staff launch your nuclear buttons and you end up acting like Kanye, Chris, or Charlie. It means you need to work on self-regulation. It’s an important muscle of emotional intelligence.

To diagnose where you’re going wrong and fix it, ask yourself some key questions: What in your behavior is preventing you from doing what’s necessary to accomplish your goals? What behavior do you need to stop? What do you need to do more of? What is keeping you from doing these things now? Then commit to doing what it takes, power on, and go through the pain to fix the problem.

Speak Truth To Power. Ditch the sales pitch and be honest and genuine with your customers. Let them know what’s up. Be direct, open, honorable. At my companies, we pay close attention to how customers are feeling, and you should do that, too. Acknowledge that you’ve heard them. Make time for them. Prioritize them. Let them know how you feel about them. Tell them what you value about them. Don’t take anything for granted. Ever.
Stay Pumped. To keep yourself inspired, align your passion and values with your objectives —keep them in lock step. Form positive images and feelings inside you with the behaviors and actions that let you succeed in your work—and pin negative images and feelings to the actions that derail you. For example, if you’d rather surf the net than talk with customers, reward yourself when you get over it and take one of them to lunch. Or find a partner who loves people. We must gain leverage on ourselves and step out of the Tempur-Pedic zone. Otherwise, watch your back. Optimus Prime is ready to put you out of business.

 

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Why ‘Destiny’ May Be The Most Controversial Game Of The Year

Destiny-sparrow-2

Plenty of gamers appear to be disappointed with Bungie’s new video game Destiny. That’s why it was bombed on Metacritic the day it launched, receiving about as close to zero out of ten as you can get from gamers on day one, though that number has come up quite a bit since the initial bombing, hovering in the 6 out of 10 range.

Many critics seem to agree that the game is by and large a lackluster effort.

The Escapist’s Jim Sterling gives the sci-fi shooter a 6/10, calling the game “overwhelmingly unimaginative” and noting that its gameplay is “a cocktail of ideas taken from other titles that specialized to create superior experiences.” Sterling, like many other critics, found himself underwhelmed by the story and the world.

“Destiny exists in the shadow of multiple games,” writes Sterling, “taking a little from each, and doing nothing truly remarkable with any of it. It’s a prime example of how the nebulous concept of “content” can be used to puff up a game without adding anything to it. There’s a ton of “stuff” in Destiny. You’ll never want for things to do … but it’s terrible at providing motivation to do any of it.”

Destiny sparrow 2

Polygon employed two critics to cooperatively review Destiny—Arthur Gies and Phil Kollar—and they collectively gave it a 6/10.

Gies is unimpressed with the game’s lack of things to do outside of shooting, and notes that even the shooting stuff gets old thanks to all the repetitive environments.
“Boiled down to its essence, Destiny isn’t like other MMOs, because shooting is all it does,” writes Gies. “There are no character relationships to explore, no crafting to speak of. There’s no monuments to build or spaces to make your mark on. In fact, there’s not even much variety to speak of — each environment in the game feels small, and playing just through the campaign missions, you’ll see the same parts of them multiple times. You’ll spend literal hours retreading the same ground, shooting the same mobs.”

Jeff Gerstmann at Giant Bomb also delivers a 6/10 (or three stars out of five) as does GameSpot’s Kevin VanOrd.

Some smaller sites gave higher scores, but by and large the consensus among major gaming sites with scored reviews published is a solid 6, which for all intents and purposes is a “D” letter grade.

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User scores on Metacritic average to 6.4, pretty in keeping with what critics are saying, though lower than the 75/100 average from critics.*

As Paul Tassi notes, this means that critics and gamers are pretty lined up on this one, which isn’t always the case.

But it’s also true that plenty of gamers really do like Destiny and are enjoying it quite a lot, and one interesting thing I’ve read in forums and comment sections is the notion that critics are giving the game a low score because they didn’t get early review copies and had to play the game pretty much right at launch.
This is a totally preposterous idea, of course. Lots of games have this problem, including many titles that are online only, including the very well-reviewed Diablo III (88/100 from critics, 3.9/10 from users on Metacritic.)

Destiny statue

(On a side note: This reaction to low review scores for Destiny just helps prove a point: As a game writer, you’re pretty much doomed no matter what you do—even if you avoid social justice warfare in favor of just writing about games. With the whole #GamerGate thing swirling about, the notion that game journalists and critics are all corrupt and in bed with game makers has taken center stage. But just as quickly, readers will accuse critics and websites of petty retribution over a late review copy.)

For my part, as I’ve been reviewing Destiny, I can’t help but feel like it’s simply an incomplete effort. For all the talk of a vast and epic story, the game feels rather short. Multiplayer feels a little bare-boned. And the worlds get boring and repetitive quickly.

Read Part One and Part Two of my ongoing Destiny review. Also browse Forbes Games for other writers’ thoughts and impressions of the game.
The leveling and loot systems are pretty good, but without crafting and other systems in place outside of first-person shooter combat, the experience feels pretty featureless compared to a lot of other MMOs on the market.

While Bungie is running special events with special rewards in the PvP Crucible mode, and while end-game raids are on the near horizon, I’m mostly concerned with the game’s paid expansions. The first one, The Dark Below, launches in December for $19.99.

Now this is quite a lot of cash to lay down after already dropping $59.99. And while Bungie has confirmed that the expansion will include a new story and new content for each of the game’s modes—story, Patrol, Strike, Crucible—they’ve also confirmed that it will reuse some of the game’s areas.

Which makes me want to gnash my teeth and rend my garments. If the game were truly open world, this wouldn’t be an issue since retreading old ground is sort of the par for the course in game’s like Skyrim and most MMOs. But in a game delineated into very specific, instanced missions, reusing so much of the same territory is extremely frustrating. Playing through the same enemies in the same zones in several different game modes is irksome and tedious, and I can only imagine my frustration at this after spending another twenty dollars.

Destiny gun

Perhaps even worse is the way the expansions will begin to fracture the game’s community. When certain maps or game modes are only available to gamers who purchase the DLC, this creates a segmented community. We see this with Call of Duty each year, but it’s almost more crucial to an MMO-like game for everyone to be able to play in the same arenas.

I think Guild Wars 2 still has one of the best models in this regard. New content and special events are always available to everyone who purchased the game. Everyone playing the game is involved in the same universe with the same features, and revenue streams are maintained through microtransactions that are largely either aesthetic or buffs.
Whatever controversy Destiny has stirred up based on its failure to deliver on the vision originally created by Bungie will only deepen as paid expansions set up new boundaries between players. And unless Bungie can work miracles and really make this game a living, breathing experience I’m not sure it’s going to have the sort of shelf-life it needs for the long haul.

Both Bungie and Activision should be looking at the long-term vision at this point, also. You can make a few dollars on selling an expansion, but if it ultimately hurts your game’s community you have a problem. Think of how long it took for Blizzard’s first World of Warcraft expansion to launch. The Burning Crusade launched three years after vanilla WoW and included two new races and their new starting zones, the enormous Outland area, an increase of the level cap from 60 to 70…essentially tons and tons of new content, years after the release of the original game.

Admittedly, all of this content came at a suggested retail price of $39.99 and you still had to pay that monthly subscription. Destiny doesn’t require a monthly subscription and its expansion is half the price. But does it come with half the content? Multiple high-level dungeons and raids? New races? Mounts/vehicles? A sprawling new story?

Destiny landscape

Not that I mean to compare Destiny directly to World of Warcraft, though in some ways it is the first MMO from publisher Activision-Blizzard since the release of WoW, whether or not Bungie is calling it an MMO.

And certainly looking to the success of World of Warcraft to glean lessons in running an MMO-ish community is a reasonable thing to do.
Either way, it will be interesting to see if the most pre-ordered game in history, and one of the most hyped, has the staying power to survive a poor critical reception and a dearth of content. Will a community fractured by DLC just three months after a game’s launch be able to survive?

And will Destiny become a game alive and vibrant enough to sustain long-term interest and loyalty?

We shall see. Whatever the case, while Destiny plays it safe in almost every regard, it’s somehow managed to be one of the most controversial games of the year, and quite possibly the most divisive video game release of 2014.

Stay tuned for my review of the game’s PvP system, The Crucible.

*As a side note, I don’t believe the game is ready to receive an official score yet—at least not until we’ve had some time with the special events and raids. Certainly it needs to be scored—if scoring is what you do—before the launch of the expansion, and likely within a week or two of the first raid.

 

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White House makes it official: US “at war” with IS

So The U.S. Is At War With ISIS, White House Says

So The U.S. Is At War With ISIS, White House Says

Washington (AFP) – The White House declared Friday the United States was at war with Islamic State radicals, seeking to rub out another semantic flap over its Syria policy.

In a series of television interviews Secretary of State John Kerry had appeared to be reluctant to term the expansion of US operations against IS in Iraq and Syria as “war.”

But pressed to clear up doubts about how President Barack Obama sees the conflict, the White House and Pentagon left little doubt.

“The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with Al-Qaeda and its Al-Qaeda affiliates all around the globe,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said that the US was not fighting the last Iraq war and used similar language to Earnest.

“But make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL in the same way we’re at war and continue to be at war with Al-Qaida and its affiliates,” he said.

Obama is scheduled to be in Tampa, Florida Wednesday to receive a briefing from top commanders at US Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East.

In interviews on Thursday, as Kerry toured the Middle East building an anti-IS coalition, he was reluctant to use the term “war” in referring to the US campaign, telling people not to indulge in “war fever.”

“We’re engaged in a major counterterrorism operation, and it’s going to be a long-term counterterrorism operation,” Kerry told CBS News.

“I think ‘war’ is the wrong terminology and analogy but the fact is that we are engaged in a very significant global effort to curb terrorist activity,” Kerry said.

 

- ‘Different’ from last war -

 

The dispute over wording may seem trivial when American planes and drones have been pounding Islamic State targets in Iraq for weeks in more than 160 operations.

But it indicates the administration is skittish about using language that could alarm Americans weary of years of foreign conflict and who embraced Obama’s vow to “end” the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during two presidential election campaigns.

“The first thing that’s important for people to understand is the president has made clear how the strategy that he is pursuing in Iraq and Syria to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL is different than the strategy that was pursued in the previous Iraq War,” said Earnest on Friday.

Obama’s new strategy, announced in a prime-time televised address on Wednesday, expands US air strikes in Iraq against IS and envisages new action against the group in Syria.

In addition, Obama plans to train “moderate” Syrian rebels to take on IS and to reconstitute the Iraqi army, parts of which fled an IS blitzkreig across northern and western Iraq.

But he has insisted that there will be no deployments of US ground troops in the operation — especially none that would recall the vast US land armies that were targeted by insurgents in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The debate over the word “war” is only the latest verbal kerfuffle to hamper Obama’s attempts to clarify his increasingly under-fire foreign policy.

Two weeks ago, the president sparked a political storm by admitting he did not “yet” have a strategy for combating IS in Syria after the beheading of two US journalists.

Critics also accused the administration of seeking to “manage” the problem of Al-Qaeda rather than seeking to decimate it.

On Wednesday, Obama said that his goal was to “destroy” IS.

 

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The Case for Executive Assistants

Among the most striking details of the corporate era depicted in the AMC series Mad Men, along with constant smoking and mid-day drinking, is the army of secretaries who populate Sterling Cooper, the 1960s ad agency featured in the show. The secretary of those days has gone the way of the carbon copy and been replaced by the executive assistant, now typically reserved for senior management. Technologies like e-mail, voice mail, mobile devices, and online calendars have allowed managers at all levels to operate with a greater degree of self-sufficiency. At the same time, companies have faced enormous pressure to cut costs, reduce head count, and flatten organizational structures. As a result, the numbers of assistants at lower corporate levels have dwindled in most corporations. That’s unfortunate, because effective assistants can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of the organization.

At very senior levels, the return on investment from a skilled assistant can be substantial. Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo—for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek. In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that. They ensure that meetings begin on time with prep material delivered in advance. They optimize travel schedules and enable remote decision making, keeping projects on track. And they filter the distractions that can turn a manager into a reactive type who spends all day answering e-mail instead of a leader who proactively sets the organization’s agenda. As Robert Pozen writes in this issue: A top-notch assistant “is crucial to being productive.”

That’s true not only for top executives. In their zeal to cut administrative expenses, many companies have gone too far, leaving countless highly paid middle and upper managers to arrange their own travel, file expense reports, and schedule meetings. Some companies may be drawn to the notion of egalitarianism they believe this assistant-less structure represents—when workers see the boss loading paper into the copy machine, the theory goes, a “we’re all in this together” spirit is created. But as a management practice, the structure rarely makes economic sense. Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well. Although companies have embraced this logic by outsourcing work to vendors or to operations abroad, back at headquarters they ignore it, forcing top talent to misuse their time. As a longtime recruiter for executive assistants, I’ve worked with many organizations suffering from the same problem: There’s too much administrative work and too few assistants to whom it can be assigned.

Granting middle managers access to an assistant—or shared resources—can give a quick boost to productivity even at lean, well-run companies. Firms should also think about the broader developmental benefits of providing assistants for up-and-coming managers. The real payoff may come when the manager arrives in a job a few levels up better prepared and habitually more productive. An experienced assistant can be particularly helpful if the manager is a new hire. The assistant becomes a crucial on-boarding resource, helping the manager read and understand the organizational culture, guiding him or her through its different (and difficult) personalities, and serving as a sounding board during the crucial acclimation. In this way, knowledgeable assistants are more than a productivity asset: They’re reverse mentors, using their experience to teach new executives how people are expected to behave at that level in the organization.

Getting the Most from Assistants

Two critical factors determine how well a manager utilizes an assistant. The first is the executive’s willingness to delegate pieces of his or her workload to the assistant. The second is the assistant’s willingness to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone to assume new responsibilities.

Delegating wisely.

The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant. Triaging and drafting replies to e-mails is a central task for virtually all assistants. Some executives have assistants listen in on phone calls in order to organize and follow up on action items. Today many assistants are taking on more-supervisory roles: They’re managing information flow, dealing with basic financial management, attending meetings, and doing more planning and organizing. Executives can help empower their assistants by making it clear to the organization that the assistant has real authority. The message the executive should convey is, “I trust this person to represent me and make decisions.”

 

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iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus: The Differences Between The New Apple iPhones

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Apple AAPL -1.1%’s much heralded September 9 launch has come and gone and as expected we have two new iPhones: the ‘iPhone 6’ and the ‘iPhone 6 Plus’. Also as expected they come in two new, much larger sizes: 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches. But their differences are far more than skin deep so let’s break them down:

Design – Curves And An Aluminium Unibody

The leaks were on the money. Both new iPhones ditch the hard angles and glass backs of their predecessor, the iPhone 5S, in favour of a more rounded, unibody anodized aluminium chassis available in silver, gold or ‘space gray’. The Apple logo on the back will be in stainless steel.

One area of concern for some is the confirmation of a protruding camera (more later), but on the whole the new chassis promises a significant step forward in durability. There is also a sensible evolution with Apple moving the power button to the side to make it easier to reach (HTC take note).

Read full story here

 

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Is Aging In Place A Pipe Dream?

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Former secretary of HUD Henry Cisneros’ mom lived in the house she and her husband bought in 1945 until last month, two weeks after her 90th birthday, when she was hospitalized, and the doctor said it wouldn’t be responsible to let her go home because her disorientation and forgetfulness would likely result in another incident. Cisneros reluctantly helped her moved to a memory care facility, and the visits are wrenching. “The truth is she doesn’t want to be there; she wants to go home. She ends up crying, and I want to go out to the car and cry,” Cisneros said in his keynote speech at a conference on housing and aging yesterday.

Housing is the linchpin of our well-being, according to the AARP Foundation and the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies which held the conference in conjunction with the release of a new report, Housing America’s Older Adults—Meeting the Needs of An Aging Population. The experts explored the mismatch between the nation’s housing stock and Americans’ desire to age in place at home. And they issued a warning: as the baby boomers age and the number of Americans over age 85 swells (triples!) to 20 million by 2030, “our country must face the basic fact that we are aging and we are not ready,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros’ mom, Elvira, intended to live out her days in her 1920s bungalow in the West Side neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas where Cisneros was mayor before he headed the U.S Housing and Development Agency under President Clinton (he now heads housing developer CityView). Cisneros even held her up as a model of aging in place in his 2010 book “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America.”

The reality is that for some people, you can age in place—but only up to a point. Most Americans live in isolated detached, single family homes in suburban or rural neighborhoods without access to transportation services. “The existing housing stock is unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity and supportive services,” the report concludes. The conference speakers offered a range of solutions. The audience favorite: Age-Friendly NYC’s program that enlists doormen (through the building services union) to refer tenants to city agencies and social services if they show signs of elder abuse or cognitive decline.

Here are some ideas for the rest of us.

Pay off your mortgage. More than 70% of homeowners aged 50 to 64 are still paying off their mortgages in 2010, with an average loan-to-value ratio of 56%. And 40% of homeowners aged 65 and over are paying off their mortgages, with an average loan-to-value ratio of 45%.

Trying to get to a situation where you’re not facing mortgage payments in retirement is key, says 53-year-old Chris Hebert, acting managing director of the Joint Center. Herbert said he’s aiming to pay down his home loan in the next 10 years. If your house is paid off, you can better handle property insurance, taxes, and day to day expenses, and have a cushion to pay for health care and caregiving services.

Renovate with universal design. “Where older people live now is likely where they’ll be living,” Herbert says, noting that people are making decisions about housing they’re going to occupy later in life in their 50s and early 60s. He tried to get his 63-year-old brother-in-law who was embarking on a major home renovation project to think ahead, but he didn’t do anything to make his house accessible. Nobody in the process—the architect or builder—egged him on to do so. One thing that allowed Cisneros’ mom to stay in her house as long as she did was ramps and an accessible bathroom that were originally installed for her late husband.

The five key features for an accessible home are: a no-step entry, single floor living, wide doorways, accessible electric switches and outlets, lever-style door handles and faucets. Only 21% of houses have at least three of these features.

Talk about who will help mom. Between 2015 and 2035, the number of people over the age of 75 living alone will nearly double from 6.9 million to 13.4 million, the majority of whom will be women. And the majority of those women will have caregiving needs. About one in four older adults has a cognitive, hearing, mobility or vision difficulty. By age 85, however, more than two in three adults face at least one of these difficulties.

The family care ratio is going in the wrong direction, notes Herbert, who says he pools resources with four siblings to care for his mom, but he and his wife have only two kids to eventually call on for caregiving support. And then there are the childless who will rely on friends and extended family to help them through old age. Of the youngest baby boomers, aged 50 to 59, 16% do not have children who might take care for them in older age, the Joint Center found.

“The Joint Center is often referred to as the Joint Center for gloom and doom,” Herbert jokes. But the message he hopes people will take away is that individuals and their families need to recognize these issues and take steps now to prepare.

 

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