All posts on January, 2017

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Customizing a Computer? Here’s What You Need

There are plenty of reasons to build a custom computer. While custom computers may initially be more expensive than prepackaged desktops or laptops, they can provide you with nearly endless possibilities, whether you’re looking for a top-notch gaming machine, a system for mixing music, or the ideal choice for developing Web applications. Custom is the way to go for performance and flexibility.

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Formula One’s new American owner gives Bernie Ecclestone the heave-ho

FOR nearly 40 years, he showed skill and stamina at the wheel of Formula One (F1). But this week Bernie Ecclestone ran out of track. The sport’s new owner, Liberty Media, was at pains to portray its replacement of him as chief executive (by Chase Carey, a former president of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox) as smooth. But the straight-talking octogenarian has never been one to stick to the script: he complained he had been “forced out”.

Liberty, which is controlled by John Malone, a billionaire, agreed to buy the sport last year, in a deal worth $8bn; the deal was completed on January 23rd. That provided an exit for CVC, a private-equity group which had purchased control in 2006. Mr Ecclestone gets the title of “chairman emeritus” as a sop—he said he doesn’t know what the title means—and will, said Liberty, “be available” to advise the board.

His exit was not a total surprise, though the timing had been unclear; he had talked about remaining involved in running F1 for another two to three years. Liberty may wish to draw a line under the Ecclestone era as a precautionary measure. F1 was often mired in litigation during…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Bridge International Academies gets high marks for ambition but its business model is still unproven

AT THE Gatina branch of Bridge International Academies, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Nicholas Oluoch Ochieng has one eye on his class of five-year-olds and the other on his tablet. On the device is a lesson script. Every line is written 7,000 miles away, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There an American team analyses 250,000 test scores every ten days from Bridge’s 405 Kenyan schools, and then uses the data to tweak those parts of a lesson where pupils find themselves stumped. Teachers, if they are instructing the same grade level, give identical lessons, and timetables are standardised, too. So when Mr Ochieng’s pupils read from their books, the same words should be reverberating off the walls of each Bridge nursery. 

That chorus should soon grow louder. Founded in 2008, Bridge has grown into one of the world’s largest groups of for-profit schools—and the largest targeting poor pupils. It has 100,000 pupils spread across Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and India. Bridge says it aims to teach 10m children—the size of Britain’s pupil population—within the next decade.

Bridge’s ambitious target sets it apart from the low-cost…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

How to build a nuclear-power plant

THE Barakah nuclear-power plant under construction in Abu Dhabi will never attract the attention that the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in neighbouring Dubai does, but it is an engineering feat nonetheless. It is using three times as much concrete as the world’s tallest building, and six times the amount of steel. Remarkably, its first reactor may start producing energy in the first half of this year—on schedule and (its South Korean developers insist) on budget. That would be a towering achievement.

In much of the world, building a nuclear-power plant looks like a terrible business prospect. Two recent additions to the world’s nuclear fleet, in Argentina and America, took 33 and 44 years to erect. Of 55 plants under construction, the Global Nuclear Power database reckons almost two-thirds are behind schedule (see chart). The delays lift costs, and make nuclear less competitive with other sources of electricity, such as gas, coal and renewables.

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America, China and the risk of a trade war

DONALD TRUMP’S quest to protect American workers from cheating foreigners has begun. But in his first flurry of policy tweets and executive orders, China, his favourite bogeyman, was conspicuously absent. On the campaign trail he deplored China’s currency manipulation, accused it of flouting global trade rules and threatened a 45% tariff on its exports, all to cheering crowds. Now, the world is waiting to see how much of this he meant. 

The promise to label China a currency manipulator has not been repeated. An optimistic interpretation is that Mr Trump has realised that the promise was based on an “alternative” fact. China is no longer squashing its currency to gain a competitive edge, but is instead propping it up. A pessimistic one is that Steven Mnuchin, his treasury secretary, who would do the labelling, is not yet confirmed by the Senate.

Mr Trump certainly has the power to wreak trade havoc. A big blanket tariff would slice through supply chains, hurt American consumers and fly in the face of the global system of trade rules overseen by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But, rather than blow up the world’s trading system, Mr…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Brexit poses a threat to Ireland’s aircraft-leasing business

THE glass office blocks of Dublin’s docklands still stand proud; the banks that built them no longer do. The financial crisis of 2008 took down Ireland’s six biggest lenders. Within five years Dublin slid from being rated by Z/Yen, a London-based business think-tank, as the world’s tenth-best financial centre to its 70th. Britain’s readiness to leave Europe’s single market has since sparked hopes Dublin’s fortunes could be revived. An English-speaking base from which to keep doing business inside the EU may appeal to London’s bankers. But worries are growing that the impact will not be all good for Dublin.

To see why, look at aircraft finance, perhaps the city’s most successful industry. The topic of Brexit dominated the chatter at the world’s two biggest air-finance conferences, both held in Dublin this month. Drawing more than 4,500 airline bigwigs, lessors and bankers, such gatherings are usually preoccupied by issues such as aeroplane prices and the aviation cycle. This year geopolitics predominated. “In Ireland we’re surrounded by Trump to the west and Brexit to the east,” one industry veteran sighed in…Continue reading

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McDonald’s is going for healthier fare and greater digitisation

IN A newly released film, “The Founder”, the character of Ray Kroc promises that the startup he had taken over from the McDonald brothers “can be the new American church”. Portrayed by Michael Keaton as a turbo-charged egomaniac whose scruples diminish as his success increases, Kroc understood the power of branding, the advantages of franchising and the attraction of speed in food retailing. McDonald’s is now one of the country’s biggest food chains, with more than 14,200 outlets.

The domestic market is still its most important one, despite the firm’s massive global presence. When it reported this week that global sales had dropped by only 5% in the fourth quarter, the number beat expectations. News of a drop in sales in America of just 1.3% was received more gloomily. Hopes had risen because of the previous six consecutive quarters of domestic growth. At the end of 2015 and in early 2016 the chain had reaped the rewards of introducing the popular all-day breakfast in America. A year or so later, Egg McMuffins and sausage biscuits have shed some of their allure.

Still, Steve Easterbrook, the firm’s British boss, who took over…Continue reading

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Asus Tinker Board Joins Raspberry Pi on the Bargain Table

Just when you thought Raspberry Pi couldn’t be knocked from its market-leading perch, along comes Asus with a rival device that may give the Pi a run for its relatively little money. Asus just launched its own low-cost computer, the Tinker Board, which is being sold in the UK and Europe for about $57. Its features could interest open source enthusiasts in doing a little comparison shopping.

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New FCC Chair Ajit Pai Vows to Kill Net Neutrality Rules

President Donald Trump on Monday named Ajit Pai chairman of the FCC. Pai, who has been a Republican commissioner for the agency since 2012, replaced Tom Wheeler, whom President Obama appointed to the top post in late 2013. With the new administration, Republicans gain the expected majority of the commission. Pai has been known to be a foe of former President Barack Obama’s Net neutrality rules.

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