Jan 23, 2017

10 Reasons Why Alibaba Blows Away Amazon And EBay

Alibaba the huge Chinese Internet conglomerate is going public in a world-wide offering led out of the United States.  It is expected to occur in June or July this year.  Alibaba is really a technology company that serves retail customers and controls 80% of the Chinese e-commerce market.

Alibaba will probably be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Reflecting its dominance in world’s largest market, China, the valuation will likely top other retailers and most other enterprises.  Founded in 1999 in the garage of Jack Ma, a former English school teacher, management’s ambition is to build on its spectacular success in China to become the global leader in e-commerce.  Here are some facts that highlight the company’s extraordinary position and potential to grow:

Sales for 2014 are estimated at $420 Billion. In 2012 sales were $170 Billion. This dwarfs Amazon, its closest competitor, with reported sales of $74.4 Billion for fiscal 2013 while EBay reported sales for fiscal 2013 of $16 Billion, less than one-tenth Alibaba’s 2012 sales.

The customer base is gigantic.  There are 1.4 Billion people in China. In the United States there are 327 Million. (For the record, the United States is the third largest country; India is second with a population of 1.2 Billion.

Alibaba claims to have 300 Million customers. They employ over 25,000 workers to service the clientele.

China’s “Singles Day” promotion is annually on November 11th. This is the biggest on-line shopping day in China. In 2013 Alibaba recorded sales of $5.6 Billion on that single day. By comparison, in the United States, 2013 on-line sales on Cyber Monday were about $1.7 Billion

There are several major divisions including “Taobao” which allows private persons and small businesses to sell merchandise to customers. Unlike EBay which has sellers pay a commission to EBay, Taobao sellers have to pay for the advertised promotion.

”Tmall.com” is similar to Amazon where companies can offer merchandise.  For example Nike and Gap participate and pay Alibaba a commission for every transaction. Customers can pay using “Alipay” which is comparable to EBay’s PayPal.

Currently Alibaba is working on establishing financial services and banking relationships.  Soon customers will be able to invest, as well as buy insurance with the Alibaba credit card.

It is expected that Alibaba will go public in June or July 2104. Currently Yahoo owns 24% of Alibaba shares, Softbank 37%, Jack Ma, the founder and Joe Tsai, the Taiwan born executive vice president, own about 10% together. There are about 17 smaller investors and officials that hold the rest, about 29%, of the shares.

Last month management had discussions with bankers from Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley—each vying for a leadership role in the going public process. No announcement has yet been made as to who was selected as the lead underwriter.

The value of the enterprise is peg at about $143 Billion based on a 12 analyst consensus valuation. That implies the offering will be around $17 Billion. That is about $1 Billion higher than the Facebook offering.

Alibaba will compete most directly with on-line retailers like Amazon, EBay or Zalando in Europe. Rakuten in Japan, Kobo in India, Wuaki in Spain and other major on-line providers with strong presence in their home and adjacent markets. Every major brick and mortar department store and specialty store is also operating sophisticated shopping sites offering value and fashion. It is time for a wake-up call to many on-line retailers that free delivery is not the only incentive customers demand when they shop on-line. There must be a service orientation that will anchor customers to a shopping site (Zappos does this well.) 

It may even be necessary to develop loyalty cards with incentives to encourage repeat on-line shopping.  No doubt, in my opinion, the often myopic U.S. retailers should be paying attention to Alibaba’s IPO as it may be a harbinger of an even more competitive environment.

Jan 14, 2017

Truths need to be told about Australian bushranger Ned Kelly

Victoria Police’s honour roll in Melbourne is just a short walk from Federation Square and down St Kilda Road. It contains the list of all members who died on duty. Included are Michael Kennedy, Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan, who were murdered at Stringybark Creek on October 18, 1878 by the Kelly Gang.
Kennedy, 36, Lonigan, 36, and Scanlan, 34, have suffered the fate of most victims of crime — they have been almost forgotten. Not so their murderer, Ned Kelly (1854-80), and his gang members — brother Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. Ned Kelly is one of the most famous Australians and the Kelly Gang lives on in our memory through books, films, songs and portraits, and in the ­surviving dramatic armour that they wore.
Since around the end of World War II, Kelly has been presented as a hero by writers such as Ian Jones, John McQuilton, John Molony, Justin Corfield, Peter Carey and Peter FitzSimons. Yet the Kelly myth has been challenged on occasion, most notably by Alex McDermott and Doug Morrissey.
Morrissey’s Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life (Connor Court, 2015) was shortlisted in the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History. Historian John Hirst, who died last year, supervised Morrissey’s PhD thesis about three decades ago and edited his book for publication in 2015.
In October last year, Morrissey ­objected to Heritage Victoria’s ­decision to spend $1 million restoring the house where Kelly was born to Ellen and John Kelly in Beveridge, Victoria.
Richard Wynne, the Victorian Minister for Planning, declared at the time: “John Kelly built this home from what he could find in the bush and it represents an extraordinary and controversial part of Victoria’s history: the story of outlaw son, Ned.”
But Ned Kelly was not just an outlaw. He was what would be called today a cop killer.
And John Kelly was not just another home builder. Transported from Ireland for stealing pigs and convicted in Victoria for cattle duffing, John Kelly was a professional thief.
Morrissey also wrote to federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham objecting to the entry on Ned Kelly in the “About Australia” segment on the Australia.gov.au website. It reads, in part: “Ned Kelly’s … pleas for justice to end discrimination against poor Irish settlers did end up opening the eyes of people. Ned Kelly in his ­armour came to symbolise a fight by a flawed hero, a convicted criminal, for ‘justice and liberty’ and ‘innocent people’.”
Obviously, Birmingham cannot be held responsible for everything that appears on the “About Australia” website. Even so, Morrissey has done valuable work in demonstrating how a thuggish thief who became a police murderer can come to be described as a mere “flawed hero” on the website of a government that is ­responsible for the Australian Federal Police.
In fact, Kelly was born into a criminal family that preyed on their neighbours who had ­obtained selector (that is, small farming) slots in northeast Vic­toria. In the main, the Kellys did not steal from the rich squatters but rather from relatively poor ­selectors who were trying to make an honest living.
Moreover, there is no evidence that at the time of starting his criminal career Ned Kelly was a Fenian. In other words, he did not embrace the Irish revolutionary cause. In any event, most of the small farmers of Irish Catholic background in Victoria supported the kind of gradual reform leading to Home Rule embraced in Ireland by the likes of Daniel O’Connell (a Catholic) and Charles Stewart Parnell (a Protestant).
In short, the Kelly Gang in the 1870s acted in much the same way as their counterparts in the early 21st century. They were violence-prone, narcissistic thugs who were into horse and cattle theft, robbery under arms and the kidnapping of civilians in the course of criminal activities along with murder.
As with many a criminal gang, eventually the offenders come face-to-face with the police. And so it came to pass at Stringybark Creek in October 1878. The killing of the lightly armed Kennedy, Lonigan and Scanlan was brutal and cowardly; the murderers even stole from the bodies of their victims. Lonigan, a father of four, was killed, shot in the back, while ­attempting to find cover. Kennedy, a father of six, was cold-bloodedly shot by Ned Kelly as he lay wounded. A note Kennedy wrote to his wife was destroyed by the Kelly Gang.
When it came to victims, Kelly did not distinguish between those of Irish Catholic background and others. Kennedy and Scanlan were Catholics, Lonigan was a Protestant.
The idea that the Kelly Gang was a revolutionary group intent on establishing an independent ­republic nation in northeast Victoria is but a myth that in ­recent years has been kicked along by the likes of Carey and Fitz­Simons. However, if the Kelly Gang was a nationalist movement then it was into terrorism.
Kelly’s last stand occurred at the Victorian town of Glen­rowan in June 1880. There the Kelly Gang kidnapped the town’s occupants and held them against their will. Then Kelly and his gang attempted to derail the train headed for Glenrowan that contained police and civilians. If the Kelly Gang’s intent was political, then this was an act of attempted political terrorism.
For all his faults, Kelly was invariably courageous and a brilliant self-promoter in word and deed. The problem with so many of the Kelly Gang fan club, including Carey and FitzSimons, is that they believe what Kelly said in his Cameron Letter (1878), Jerilderie Letter (1879) and elsewhere. But Kelly was a congenital liar whose accounts warrant critical scrutiny.

It is unreasonable to expect that the Kelly Gang be expunged from Australian history. But it is only proper that Kelly’s crimes be accurately acknowledged at historic sites and on websites. This is all the more ­important as we await the publication of Grantlee Kieza’s Mrs Kelly: The Astonishing Life of Ned Kelly’s Mother next month, which may or may not perpetuate the Kelly myth. Ellen Kelly was also a convicted criminal.

Jan 9, 2017

Smart bulbs vs. smart switches: The pros and cons of connected lighting - CNET

If you're willing to roll up your sleeves and fiddle with your home's wiring a bit, you'll be able to swap your light switches out for smart switches fairly easily. Instead of automating the bulb, you'll be automating the on/off switch itself, and programming when it should turn on or off.

Like smart bulbs, most of your smart-switch options use either Wi-Fi or ZigBee. Wi-Fi models like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch can pair directly with your home network (and thus, your phone), while models that use ZigBee will require some sort of hub or control device. You'll also find a wide range of higher-end options from Lutron, a company that specializes in smart lighting control using its own, proprietary Lutron signal.

What is saving an Australian life worth?

How much is it worth to save an Australian life? The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet says not more than $4.2 million, on average.

Young lives are worth a bit more, according to the PM&C guideline for bureaucrats drawing up regulations, and we're also prepared to pay more to avoid particularly painful and gruesome deaths.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has costed what the average Australian life is worth.

The latter is likely to be a factor in our willingness to spend disproportionately large amounts trying to minimise the already very low risk of death by shark while doing very little to counteract that much more successful serial killer, the common ladder. Sharks killed just two of last year, but ladders averaged 23 deaths a year over the decade to 2012.

The statistics are useful in busting two of the more common myths regularly regurgitated by media: "Human life is priceless" and its close relative, "If it only saves one life, it's worth it".

The reality is that human life is constantly being priced - every time a road is designed, every time another safety regulation is mooted, every time an expensive new drug is considered for government subsidy, every time a court decides appropriate compensation for wrongful death. Abacuses of actuaries are constantly on the case.

If it was true that "life is priceless" and "if it only saves one life, it's worth it", all our cars would be speed limited to 30 kilometres an hour and every intersection would at least have traffic lights, if not a flyover.

You could forget horse riding and rock fishing, bicycles would be kept to walking pace and anyone attempting to mount a motorcycle would be shot to save them from falling off.

The disconnect between acceptable risk and an over-the-top nanny state goes further that the "statistical value of life". It also has to consider aesthetic values, convenience and the publicity value of some high-profile deaths.

Sharks killed just two of last year, but ladders averaged 23 deaths a year over the decade to 2012.

The more unusual a death is, the more publicity and concern it receives, the more political pressure is applied and disproportionate reaction is the result.

On these pages over the weekend, columnist Elizabeth Farrelly let fire at the proposal to fence off Sydney's Darling Harbour waterfront in reaction to two drownings that were tragedies for the families of the young men, but have to be seen in the context of being only two drownings after many years and many millions of visitors and the specific contributing factors – one was pushed in during a fight, the other fell in while drunk and could not swim.

For Darling Harbour and countless waterways and mountain tops, it's not just the money when pricing risk - it's also a matter of aesthetics. Risk reduction has to pass a reasonableness test, as well as a financial one.

But that doesn't necessarily wash in the face of primordial fear of being eaten or when politics and media combine to whip up fear and/or sympathy.

In the latter case, none of us will be permitted to have a window that actually opens enough to be considered open because some small children have fatally fallen from them. It doesn't matter that a child might never cross your doorstep.

In the former case, Peter Hannam's calm assessment of our heightened shark alert showed it wasn't the sharks in the water we should fear (those two deaths in the past year), but the water itself (280 people drowned in Australia in the same time).

Pricing life should help us move quickly to when an efficient form of prevention present itself.

For example, Queensland has had spectacular success in reducing fatalities from head-on collisions on the Bruce Highway by "wide centre line treatment" – having a one-metre centre line separation – on sections of the single-lane road where the shoulders are wide enough to permit it. The cost/benefit analysis should have the system rolling out nationally.

But first those lives must have enough perceived value.

Crikey's Bernard Keane ran the comparative cost-and-frequency tape over our causes of death in light of our fear of terrorism. He counted 113 Australian deaths from terrorism in the nearly four decades since the Hilton Hotel bombing, including Australians killed overseas as well as non-Australians killed here.

To get back to the ladders of fatal opportunity, that's less than half the number of us killed falling off them in one decade.

"Now that we have a sense of scale, let's get some sense of what the numbers mean given the resources we throw at terrorism," wrote Keane.

"In the period 2003-12, nearly 1700 indigenous people died of diabetes at a rate, on average, about seven times higher than non-indigenous Australians.

"If we'd invested a little of the money we spent going to war in Iraq or inflating the budget of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on programs that lowered indigenous diabetes to just twice that of non-indigenous Australians, around 1200 lives would have been saved, or around 10 times the death toll of terrorism.

"Then again, there's nothing sexy for the media in saving indigenous people from dying of diabetes."