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  • Alibaba’s plan: Today, China. Tomorrow, the world Sep 20, 2014 1:01 AM
    Amazon and eBay should watch their backs. Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba is quietly hinting at plans to expand into the U.S. The company controls nearly 80 percent of all e-commerce in China, and founder and chairman Jack Ma has ambitions that go beyond the country’s borders.

  • Chain-smoking doctor seeks to rally Poles with new cabinet Sep 20, 2014 1:01 AM
    Until recently, Ewa Kopacz kept a stethoscope in her handbag in case help was required. As Poland’s new prime minister, she’ll need her skills to heal the ruling party and win over voters before next year’s election. The chain-smoking doctor and parliament speaker takes over from Donald Tusk, who will become European Union president and was Poland’s longest-serving prime minister since the 1989 fall of communism.

  • On the road: Catch a groove at Hyde Park Jazz Fest Sep 20, 2014 6:00 AM
    South Side Hyde Park hosts two days and nights of dazzling grooves and improvised tunes during the eighth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, featuring nearly 40 jazz acts, including world-class headliners and local emerging artists. West Town’s thriving art scene takes over the hip neighborhood for the fourth annual West Town Art Walk.

  • Women in politics: Gillibrand and Davis memoirs Sep 20, 2014 6:45 AM
    Two prominent women in politics, New Yorker Kirsten Gillibrand, who replaced Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate, and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who shot to fame in pink sneakers with an abortion-rights filibuster, are out this month with memoirs. “Forgetting to Be Afraid” chronicles Davis’ hardscrabble journey from teen mom in a trailer park to Harvard Law School. Gillibrand’s “Off the Sidelines” is a “Lean In”-style exhortation about women in a man’s world.

  • Revenue loss to fuel push for casino help in 2015 Sep 20, 2014 9:18 AM
    Indiana casino owners say they need to find ways to become more competitive after losing more than $110 million in revenue to increased competition from neighboring states.

  • Apptitude: Is that kid’s art worth Keepy? Sep 20, 2014 7:44 AM
    Keepy makes it easy to upload photos, video and notes, which are organized by child and by year and can be keyword-tagged for easy filtering. In addition to the app, you get a personalized Keepy Web page, which is low-frill but helpful if your network, or “fans” in Keepy-speak, includes non-smartphone users. My kids loved seeing their Keepy pages and beamed whenever their grandmother posted a comment. Their grandparents liked getting a Keepy email alert with every new post and found the website an easy way to see our mementos.=

  • Amazon is now a gadget company Sep 20, 2014 7:43 AM
    Seven years ago, Amazon released its first gadget, the Kindle. An instant hit, it helped pave the way for the tablets of the future. But while Amazon produced successors to the Kindle, it didn’t follow up with a full-fledged tablet of its own until late 2011, a year-and-a-half after Apple announced the iPad. And it wasn’t immediately clear whether the Kindle Fire, with its attractive price but mediocre quality, would have staying power. As recently as a year ago, it was fair to say that Amazon was still “dabbling” or “experimenting” in the consumer electronics business. Not anymore. On Wednesday, Amazon announced not one, not two, but six new devices: four Kindle Fire tablets and two Kindle e-readers. Not one is revolutionary. Each is either a successor or a variation on some device that has come before. But each appears to be a worthy competitor in its category, and at least a couple of them appear to set new bars in quality-to-price ratio. Throw in Amazon’s new smartphone and set-top box, and you have a product line whose range and quality is beginning to rival that of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies. Heads up, Samsung and Apple: Amazon is not messing around. Kindle Fire HDX 8.9” The new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9” starts at $379. The flagship of Amazon’s new line is a new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch tablet. At $379, it’s the finest of Amazon’s hardware offerings — but maybe also the least interesting. Yes, it’s 20 percent lighter than the iPad Air, boasts a snappy processor and high-resolution display, and comes with perks like Dolby Atmos surround sound, a first for a tablet. Watch Transformers on it, and your senses will be as thoroughly assaulted as Michael Bay intended. It also pairs nicely with an ultrathin Bluetooth keyboard and comes with some interesting software features, like Firefly, that Amazon first introduced earlier this year with its quixotic Fire Phone. In short, the new HDX looks like a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, but nothing scintillating in the scheme of things. Amazon Kindle Fire HD At $99, the Kindle Fire HD 6” is priced more like a toy than a tablet. More intriguing are a trio of new low-end offerings, starting with the Fire HD 6” and Fire HD 7” tablets. At $139, the 7-incher is the same price as its predecessor, which was already extremely cheap for a tablet. But at $99, the 6” Fire HD’s price is almost eye-popping. It’s the price that a lot of industry watchers were hoping for way back when Amazon introduced the first Kindle Fire three years ago. Amazon couldn’t pull it off then, but apparently it can now. It came about, Amazon vice president Peter Larsen explained, because Amazon saw that a lot of people were buying sub-$100 tablets on its website. But those tablets, by and large, haven’t gotten very good reviews. Among other problems, customers complain that their cheap tablets are poorly constructed, break easily, run slowly, and sound tinny. Amazon sought to address those issues with its Fire HDs, which offer crisp, high-definition displays, peppy processors, Gorilla Glass screens and sturdy frames that don’t break when you drop them. More importantly, at $99, the Fire HD 6” is priced more like a toy than a computer, which is refreshing at a time when Apple and Microsoft are making tablets that soar past the $500 and creep toward $1,000. Some might even be tempted to buy one just for their kids — which is where Amazon’s fourth new tablet, the Fire HD Kids Edition, comes in. Fire HD Kids Edition If your kid breaks the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition, Amazon will replace it for free. The Kids Edition, which is a variant of the Kindle Fire HD that uses the same hardware, actually starts at $149 for the 6” version, not $99. But Amazon more than justifies the extra cost. First, the Kids Edition comes with a bulky, brightly colored case that keeps the tablet safe from all kinds of drops and spills. But Amazon also recognizes that kids are quite resourceful when it comes to ruining things — and so it throws in a 2-year “no-questions-asked” warrantee. “If they break it, we’ll replace it,” Amazon pledges. Do your worst, kiddos. On top of that, the tablet comes with a year’s subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, a sort of Amazon Prime for rugrats that offers free access to a wide library of children’s content. And it has built-in settings that block access to the Amazon stores and in-app purchases, so your 4-year-old can’t surprise you with hundred-dollar presents while your back is turned. The Kids Edition also makes it easy to set time limits on the kids’ usage of the tablet, or to require that they complete certain educational tasks before they can play games. Kindle Voyager The $199 Kindle Voyage is pricey for an e-reader. Finally, there are two new Kindle e-readers. Devices with grayscale screens that do little more than display text aren’t as exciting in 2014 as they were in 2007, of course. But Amazon has managed to keep the Kindle line relatively fresh with incremental improvements that hold value for bibliophiles, if not Michael Bay fans. At $199, the new Kindle Voyage is pricier than you’d expect for an e-reader, but appears to offer about the best reading experience you can get anywhere (outside of, you know, an actual book). Ultrathin, with a razor-sharp display and an adaptive front light that automatically adjusts the brightness to match that of the room, it’s really a niche device aimed at Kindle addicts with money to spare. It comes with free 3G data service, so you can download books even without Wi-Fi. Finally, the new base Kindle comes with a touch screen at last. At $79, it’s the price of a few hardbacks. With the exception of its e-readers, Amazon has yet to dominate any of the hardware categories it has entered. And its first foray into phones looks like it could be a straight-up flop. But with Wednesday’s new releases, its tablets now appear to be right up there with those of Samsung, Apple, and Google. And the Fire TV already vies with the best set-top boxes. In short, Amazon is now a viable consumer electronics company, in addition to being an online megastore, a cloud services provider, a television studio, and all the other things that Amazon has become. What makes Amazon so dangerous as a hardware company is that it doesn’t have to make money on its hardware. What was true of the original Kindle remains true of all the company’s Kindles and Kindle Fires today: More than gadgets, they’re gateway drugs for all the other stuff you can buy on Amazon. Only now the gateway drugs are getting pretty addictive in their own right. • Will Oremus is Slate’s senior technology writer.

  • Americans are tired of long restaurant menus Sep 20, 2014 7:42 AM
    For years, long, windy menus were the fad. The more options a restaurant offered, the less likely that diners would want to go elsewhere, the thinking went. And the thinking was widespread: Everywhere from Ruby Tuesday to the Olive Garden and McDonald’s obliged, channeling their inner Cheesecake Factory with menus that spanned several continents and cuisines, challenging even the sturdiest attention spans. But Americans are finally growing tired of all the clunky, and often confusing, food lists.

  • Google’s Android to encrypt data by default Sep 20, 2014 7:40 AM
    The next generation of Google’s Android operating system, due for release next month, will encrypt data by default for the first time, the company said Thursday, raising yet another barrier to police gaining access to the troves of personal data typically kept on smartphones.

  • Five things to know about Alibaba’s leadership Sep 20, 2014 7:34 AM
    On Friday morning, Jack Ma, the charismatic and already superwealthy founder of Alibaba Group, is expected to ring the bell of the New York Stock Exchange. It will mark the much-anticipated debut of shares of the Chinese company, and could become the world’s largest initial public offering ever. Here are some key points you should know about the people leading this e-commerce giant: 1. Jack Ma is not actually the CEO The name behind this massive stock offering may be the founder and the company’s face — and a very visible one at that — but he’s not technically the CEO. Ma stepped down as chief executive in January 2013, and a few months later Jonathan Lu took the CEO title. Lu, whose first job after college was at the reception desk of a Holiday Inn in China, has been described as Ma’s “corporate alter-ego.” He’s a sort of Tim Cook to Jack Ma’s Steve Jobs — the soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes operator who focuses on the company’s current needs while Ma, now executive chairman, is the visionary. Still, as a recent New York Times profile reminded us, Ma continues to act not only as the public face but as the chief negotiator, the top strategist and the biggest individual shareholder who remains very much in control. Another behind-the-scenes person of note: Simon Xie, a co-founder and vice president, is the only person besides Ma who owns the “variable-interest entities” that hold the operating licenses to various websites that are critical to Alibaba’s business. According to Reuters, the unassuming Xie helps run Alibaba’s investment division and is not a member of the 30-person steering committee that manages the company, but he is still “one of Ma’s most trusted business partners.” 2. Its governance structure is novel, and possibly unprecedented, for a company of this size Alibaba Group has an unorthodox approach to governing itself. In filings, it writes that the company has acted like a partnership in many ways since its founders first got together in Jack Ma’s apartment in 1999. As a result, in 2010 it established the “Alibaba Partnership,” a now 30-member steering committee made up of managers at Alibaba Group and related companies. Alibaba says this arrangement allows executives to focus on the long-term, collaborate better and “override bureaucracy and hierarchy.” In filings, the company also noted it sees this as a better alternative to dual-class share structures, which have been used in othertech giants. In those, votes by shareholders (often founders) who own a certain class of stock carry a disproportionate weight. Alibaba has argued its structure “is designed to embody the vision of a large group of management partners. This structure is our solution for preserving the culture shaped by our founders while at the same time accounting for the fact that founders will inevitably retire from the company.” Yet while those Alibaba managers in the partnership don’t have outsized votes, they do have a very special privilege: They get to nominate a majority of the company’s governing body, its board of directors. That means, in effect, they have the power to choose whom they answer to. “You’re basically ceding control to management,” says Charles Elson, the director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “It’s very unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it for a company of this size.” 3. That — plus Ma’s comment that “shareholders come third” — could be a concern for some investors Since insiders have so much control over the board, some governance experts wonder what that means for the board’s independence and efficacy. Harvard Law School’s Lucian Bebchuk, for example, detailed his concerns in a recent New York Times piece. While that risk doesn’t seem to be keeping many people away from the huge stock offering, some investors have called it out as a warning sign. Less worrisome is the comment in Ma’s letter to shareholders that Alibaba “will put ‘customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.’” Plenty of other business leaders have used similar phrasing, and what he appears to mean is that he intends to focus on the long term rather than give in to short-term whims of shareholders that might arise. Without offering something that’s first and foremost valuable to customers, and ensuring the company has happy, talented and focused employees to support that work, “we could not possibly have satisfied shareholders,” Ma writes. 4. The gender diversity of its management team is better than that of some big companies in Silicon Valley. But on the board, it’s lacking Nine of the 30 members of the Alibaba Partnership, or nearly 30 percent, are women. And three of the 12 executives it lists on its website as leaders of the company are as well. That’s higher than the 21 percent of Google’s leaders who are women and the 21 percent at Twitter. (The 28 percent at eBay and Apple are more in line.) Alibaba Group’s chief financial officer, head of human resources, and “chief customer officer” are all women. Yet the gender makeup of its board leaves something to be desired. The lone female on the nine-member board is Yahoo’s chief development officer, Jacqueline Reses — and she is expected to step down once the IPO is completed. 5. The annual shareholder letter won’t always come from Ma, or the CEO That may sound like a trivial thing, but it’s not. Annual shareholder letters from big-name companies, such as Warren Buffett’s at Berkshire Hathaway or the one written by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (who also owns The Washington Post), are widely studied by investors. They offer shareholders a sense of the big-picture strategy, some insights on how management thinks, and the key priorities for the company. Yet Ma has written that, after the IPO, his “partners in the Alibaba Partnership will take turns writing the annual letter.” That’s a very unusual practice — just like plenty of other things about this huge company that’s about to go public.

  • Amazon debuts new e-readers, kid-friendly Fire Sep 20, 2014 7:35 AM
    Amazon keeps rolling out the devices. The largest U.S. e-commerce company is introducing two new e-readers and new styles of its Kindle Fire HD tablet as part of a fall lineup of Kindle devices. The new and updated devices come on the heels of Amazon’s Fire smartphone launch in June and the launch of a Fire set-top box that allows online video streaming to your TV in April.

  • Review: Larger iPhones eliminate reason to switch Sep 20, 2014 7:31 AM
    It’s easy to dismiss Apple’s new iPhones as merely catching up to Android. But the new iPhones are a big deal for one simple reason: Only Apple has the advantage of building both the hardware and the software, so iPhones are easier to use and more dependable.

  • Review: Upgrade to iOS 8 now or wait? Sep 20, 2014 7:34 AM
    Apple’s iOS 8 software update for iPhones and iPads is worth getting — but not necessarily right away. Those with an older device, such as an iPhone 4s or an iPad 2, might want to wait to see whether others have difficulties using iOS 8 with slower processors. Some of the new features won’t be available on those three-year-old devices anyway. It might be time to get a new phone or tablet instead. Even for newer devices, some apps might not be fully functional at first. Dropbox, for instance, says there’s a problem with a camera backup feature. Specialized apps you have for work might also be affected. And a new feature for tracking health and fitness data isn’t working because of a software bug, so Apple has been removing affected apps from its app store. Apple says it hopes to fix the problem by the end of the month. Meanwhile, some Mac integration features from the past might not work until Yosemite comes out. That is especially true if you activate Apple’s new storage service, iCloud Drive. Even if you get iOS 8, you might want to wait on activating iCloud Drive on your device. Your phone or tablet will warn you before you activate it. Once you upgrade, it’s very difficult to go back. And when you do, be sure to back up your photos and other data first.

  • A Closer Look: Your (online) life after death Sep 20, 2014 7:38 AM
    Facebook, Google, Twitter and other sites have different policies on dealing with dead users. Some states are also considering laws that would automatically give loved ones access to, though not control of, their dead relative’s digital accounts, unless otherwise specified.

  • Polly Bergen, versatile actress, singer dies at 84 Sep 20, 2014 2:28 PM
    In recent years, she played Felicity Huffman’s mother on “Desperate Housewives” and the past mistress of Tony Soprano’s late father on “The Sopranos.”

  • Fire captain injured in ice bucket challenge dies Sep 20, 2014 2:24 PM
    A central Kentucky firefighter injured in an “ice bucket challenge” has died a month after a power line shocked him and another man.

  • More than 1,000 join search for missing Virginia student Sep 20, 2014 6:47 PM
    Volunteers met at the university’s basketball arena before going out in teams throughout Charlottesville to search for 18-year-old Hannah Graham.“I have two daughters of my own and I would hope that if one of them was missing, everyone would come out as well,” said Marci Stewart, a volunteer searcher.

  • More rain falls on Baja’s south tip Sep 20, 2014 5:27 PM
    Power had been restored to 60 percent of customers in La Paz, but work in Los Cabos would take “a few more days,” Interior Secretary Angel Osorio Chong said.“There is practically not a single power pole standing. That is the magnitude of the problem that we have,” he said. “It is the worst catastrophe that we have had in terms of the power of a weather event.”

  • Turkey refuses safe haven to Srian Kurds fleeing Islamic state Sep 20, 2014 12:33 PM
    Turkey prevented 3,000 Kurdish refugees fleeing an Islamic State advance in northern Syria from seeking sanctuary over its border. “We’re ready to aid our brothers who have huddled on the border without considering their ethnic, religious or sectarian origin,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday in Ankara. “However, our priority is to deliver aid within Syria’s borders as much as possible.”

  • Scots ‘no’ vote still leaves Cameron facing demands for change Sep 20, 2014 1:01 AM
    Scotland’s vote against independence has left Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband bruised and battered, and the fallout is set to continue through their party conferences over the next two weeks and into May’s general election and beyond. While the 55 percent “no” vote has kept the 307-year-old U.K. together, there’s anger in Cameron’s Conservative Party and Miliband’s Labour movement that Scotland came so close to breaking away. Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg joined his fellow leaders in pledging sweeping concessions over taxes and spending to keep the Scots in the union, and English lawmakers are asking what’s in it for their constituents. “Talk about feeding an addiction,” Conservative lawmaker James Gray wrote of the proposals for more Scottish powers on his website. “The more you give them, the more they want, and we would be back with calls for independence within a decade or sooner. For too long the rights and interests of the 55 million people of England have been subordinated to the shouting of 4.5 million Scots. That must end.” The opposition from lawmakers may mean the need for more constitutional change, distracting the parties as they bid to focus on the economy and Britain’s membership in the European Union, the subject of another possible referendum in 2017. There have been calls for an English Parliament to mirror the role of the Scottish legislature and restrictions on the votes of Scottish members of the House of Commons. Cameron is “anxious to ensure that, after this referendum campaign, we can bring the United Kingdom together,” Conservative Chief Whip Michael Gove said in televised comments as the referendum results came in. He added: “We need to look again at the arrangements which look after the people who live in the majority of the United Kingdom, and I think the Prime Minister in particular will be spelling out some ways forward which will allow Westminster to change how it operates in order to ensure that the interests of English voters are effectively protected -- indeed enhanced.” That view is shared by Cameron’s coalition partners. “A vote against independence was clearly not a vote against change and we must now deliver on time and in full the radical package of newly devolved powers to Scotland,” Clegg said in an e-mailed statement. “At the same time, this referendum north of the border has led to demand for constitutional reform across the United Kingdom as people south of the border also want more control and freedom in their own hands rather than power being hoarded in Westminster.” A survey of House of Commons lawmakers yesterday found 63 percent who said the “Barnett formula” for calculating the distribution of U.K. government funding to Scotland should be overhauled. During the referendum campaign, all three party leaders pledged to keep the formula, which ensures Scotland receives 1,623 pounds ($2,670) per head more than the rest of the U.K. If Parliament votes not to honor the pledges made before the referendum, there will be a backlash from Scots, 50 percent of whom said they did not believe the promises would be kept, according to a poll of 1,156 voters by Opinium Research LLP between Sept. 12 and 15. “We need quite quickly and determinedly to demonstrate good faith in terms of devolution, giving the Scottish Parliament the powers that it needs,” Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael told reporters at the count in Edinburgh today. “Look at what happened in Quebec. In 1980 they voted no, the government didn’t implement the reforms it had promised, and 15 years later they were back.” Still, one leading Scottish Labour figure urged caution. “British politics is going to change, but we should not rush into it,” Jim Murphy, Labour’s international development secretary, who toured Scotland in the campaign making the case against independence, told reporters in Glasgow. “This referendum campaign was a marathon, we shouldn’t sprint towards a U.K. constitutional change until we have thought it through properly.” Still, undercurrents of dissent within the main parties against their leaders may bubble up at the party conferences, which begin with Labour’s in Manchester, northern England, in two days’ time, just as Cameron, Clegg and Miliband are trying to rally their troops for what looks like being a tight election next year. Labour has a steady lead of 3 to 4 percentage points in opinion polls over Cameron’s Conservatives, but the 2015 election may be more difficult to call than normal. It’s unclear how many voters the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage, will be able to draw away from the mainstream parties on polling day, and how many seats Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, will be able to retain next year following a collapse in their support since joining the government. If re-elected, Cameron has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership terms and put them to a referendum by the end of 2017. He’ll come under increased pressure from rank-and-file Conservative lawmakers to deliver on that pledge should UKIP gain its first ever elected member of Parliament in a special election on Oct. 9. Douglas Carswell, a prominent euro-skeptic Tory who defected to UKIP last month, is running for re-election in Clacton for his new party.

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