Google and Rubik’s Cube: Puzzle unlocked

May 28, 2014 15:15 UTC

It seems incongruous: A $350 billion Internet behemoth and a quaint toy that had its heyday in the 1980s.

And yet, when Erno Rubik, the 70-year-old Hungarian architect that invented the puzzle that bears his name, sought a partner to celebrate Rubik’s Cube’s 40th anniversary, Google was a natural fit. And the search engine company understood the connection.

rubik.JPG“We want to create order and they also want to create order,” Rubik said about Google. “The Internet, if chaotic, is useless. We need tools that can help us in the chaos.”

The result is a $5-million multimedia exhibition that debuted at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ and will tour the world in coming years. What Google gets out of the project is an opportunity to connect with the next generation of talent.

“We were both born out of the desire to simplify something complicated,” said Robert Wong, Vice President of Google Creative Lab. “In the case of the cube, it was spatial geometry. In the case of Google, it was the Internet. We’re simple enough for young people to use, but also advanced enough to engage and satisfy the world’s deepest thinkers.”

College football fans tackle player-union debate

May 9, 2014 21:43 UTC

“I just wiped tears from my eyes,” said Paul Elder, a fan who writes about Auburn University’s football team for a website called Track ‘Em Tigers. A clip from last year’s game-winning pass against the University of Georgia had just appeared on the jumbo screen at the school’s annual “A-Day” exhibition in April at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Elder is 65 and towers at six feet four inches tall. “It just brought me back to that moment when I was here to watch that play last year,” he said. “Moments like that are like a drug, you keep coming back for more.”

Many Auburn football fans, for whom following the team involves long drives, good barbecue and waiting for the nirvana of the gridiron, proudly say they are a “family.” The crowd at the spring game Elder recently attended hosted 70 thousand fans on a weekend that both overlapped with Easter and threatened to rain. They are also driving a business that is growing so fast, athletic regulating bodies can’t keep up.  Television contracts, ticket sales and wealthy booster donations place Auburn’s football program among the most lucrative in the nation.

Against the backdrop of this passion and the NFL’s draft this week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) faces a challenge from a regional National Labor Relations Board decision that said in March that football players at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois qualify as employees who are eligible to unionize.

2014 Detroit Auto Show: Looking Ahead to the Past

Paul Lienert
Jan 15, 2014 22:07 UTC

The organizers of the annual Detroit auto show rebranded the event 25 years ago as the North American International Auto Show. But the 2014 edition — my 40th Detroit show for those who are keeping score — takes me back to the early 1970s when local auto dealers hosted what was still a regional event focused largely on domestic brands. In fact, the hometown angle had been the dominant theme since the show originated in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden.

This year, the big news in Detroit is Ford’s redesigned F-150 pickup truck and a new crop of performance cars, including hot editions of the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Corvette. Guess what. I could have written that headline back in 1974.

Except there’s a topical twist: Contemporary sports cars — even the big F-series pickup — are redefining and expanding Americans’ concept of performance to include energy and environmental conservation. Strangely enough, the carmakers seem to have discovered that horsepower and fuel economy aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, as they once argued.

Syrian refugee schools flourish in southern Turkey

Jan 2, 2014 20:53 UTC

Reyhanli, Turkey – In a classroom in southern Turkey, 8-year-old children proudly display their colored-pencil drawings. They include images of the things that make them happiest: hearts, houses and other images typical for children their age. They also show anti-aircraft missiles and revolutionary flags. Syrian refugee children in soutehrn Turky

Syrian girls attending Al Salam school draw pictures in a workshop with the program Zeitouna in Reyhanli, Turkey, on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (Credit: Clare Richardson)

In Reyhanli, a small town in Turkey’s southernmost province of Hatay, children who have fled the war in Syria attend school at Al Salam, where displaced Syrian teachers conduct classes in Arabic. Despite tensions with local communities, Syrian schools have cropped up in southern Turkey to serve a flood of refugee children in their native tongue.

Albanian ‘blood feuds’ force families into isolation

Dec 10, 2013 12:09 UTC

Shkodër, Albania – Bilal Ademi remembers the day when 70 men in his family were forced into hiding. On May 18, 2010, Ademi’s cousin, a policeman, shot and killed another officer while on duty.

Bilal Ademi gestures while recounting the story of his family’s situation in his home in Mushan, Albania on Nov. 15 2013. Bilal’s cousin, a policeman, shot and killed a fellow officer in a dispute, sparking a blood feud with the victim’s family. (Nick St.Oegger)

The Ademi men are the objects of a “blood feud,” targets of retribution for the killing of Tom Jakini. According to a set of traditional Albanian laws dating back to the 15th century called the “Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini,” the family of the victim has the right to avenge Jakini’s death by killing one of the Ademi men.In Shkodër and surrounding villages in northern Albania, a country nestled on continental Europe’s western Balkan shore on the Adriatic Sea, these conflicts can drive entire families to confine themselves indoors out of fear for their lives. Absent a brokered peace, there is no expiration on vendettas. The Kanun dictates that even male children born into families involved in blood feuds become targets once they reach their teenage years. Women are supposed to be exempt, but in rare instances are not spared.

ICYMI: Top 10 stories, easily explained

Sep 20, 2013 19:51 UTC

1. Navy Yard shooting leaves 13 dead, plenty of questions
A gunman identified as Aaron Alexis, a U.S. Navy Reserves veteran with a history of mental illness, opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring another dozen before being killed in one of several gun battles with police. The incident—the worst attack at a U.S. military installation since U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan fatally shot 13 people at Ford Hood, Texas, in 2009—prompted a review of security measures at the Navy Yard and renewed the national debate over gun control just five months after the Senate defeated a gun-buyer background check bill.

2. To taper or….oh, not to? OK
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke shocked, well, everyone by announcing that the central bank is not yet ready to scale back a quantitative easing program put in place back in 2008. The decision came just four months after Bernanke outlined a QE-reduction plan—known as “tapering”—that included trimming the bank’s $85-billion-a-month bond-buying by the end of the year and ending it by mid-2014 (by which time the bank anticipated unemployment falling to 7 percent). Bernanke’s announcement prompted criticism of the Fed’s communication strategy, and suggested the bank may have shot itself in the foot by outlining tapering in the spring, opening the door to reactionary economic conditions that made said tapering nonviable. The move also leaves Bernanke’s successor—increasingly likely to be Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen—without a useful QE roadmap.

3.  A Whale of a fail 
Onetime Wall Street darling JPMorgan Chase & Co. will pay $920 million to four regulators in two countries to settle liabilities from its $6.2 billion “London Whale” trading loss. The settlement(s) are notable for JPM’s rare admission of wrongdoing—though whose wrongdoing was left unanswered—but don’t mean the end of the bank’s Whale woes. JPMorgan still faces criminal probes into the scandal (plus probes related to energy trading, mortgage securities and bribery in China). Nor has the bank yet squared its Whale liabilities with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But JPM swears it’s learned its lesson: CEO Jamie Dimon sent a morale-boosting memo to the bank’s employees on Tuesday, touting measures to prevent future Whales that include increased transparency, better reporting and a bunch of new compliance officers.

On Syria, Congress asks the wrong questions too late

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Sep 4, 2013 21:46 UTC

Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.

Tuesday’s Senate hearing on Syria was essentially a success for President Barack Obama. Democrat Rob Menendez and Republican Bob Corker collaborated to draft a resolution that would limit U.S. military involvement in Syria to 60 days, with room for a 30-day extension. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the resolution, which will keep U.S. troops out of Syria, on Wednesday.

But the bar for success on Syria is low. Nearly 1,500 people are dead from an apparent chemical attack, most likely carried out by the government on its own people, including civilians. This comes more than two years after Syria’s fight with rebel forces began. Questions pitting the interests of the United States against humanitarian interests of preventing another similar attack in Syria are astounding, given that roughly 100,000 people have died in the conflict since March 2011.

Hasidic Williamsburg poverty data are bleak, but some see reason to hope

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Jun 7, 2013 17:18 UTC

A man listens to a Rabbi’s address at a gathering for Satmar Hasidic Jews in New York December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Hasidic Jews are among the most poverty-stricken of New York’s Jewish communities, according to a report by the UJA-Federation and the Met Council on Jewish Poverty.

The study, the first of its kind since 2002, found that 28 percent of poor Jewish households are Orthodox. Some 63 percent of Orthodox respondents identify with the Hasidic sect, an isolated community characterized by large households and low levels of educational achievement.

Indie bookstores fight for another chapter

May 2, 2013 18:45 UTC

Paul Yamazaki, chief buyer at City Lights. Kira Bindrim/REUTERS

Nestled on the corner of Columbus Avenue and “Jack Kerouac Alley,” City Lights Booksellers became a San Francisco icon in 1956, when founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti and store manager Shig Muraoas were arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Nearly 60 years later, City Lights is still breaking the mold: The store just had three of its best sales years ever.

“Independent booksellers all around the country are experiencing some of their best economic years in a long time,” said Paul Yamazaki, City Lights’ veteran chief buyer. “There’s so much choice out there that it makes readers’ heads spin, and I think they’re looking to booksellers to help them.”

Nearly 20 years after the birth of Amazon—and 15 years after Barnes & Noble was dealt a backhanded censure by the film You’ve Got Mail, independent booksellers are benefiting from their attention to personal attention. The 2011 liquidation of Borders, coupled with a nationwide “Buy Local” push to boost small businesses, have helped independent stores market themselves as a viable alternative to their mega-competitors.

The Russian legal system’s split personality

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Apr 26, 2013 16:23 UTC

Attorneys of dead anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky sit in front of an empty defendants cage during a court session in Moscow, March 22, 2013.  REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the rule of law is most often seen as the law of rulers.

Russia’s judicial system is perceived as a means to curb the influence of figures who pose a threat to the Kremlin. In 2005, Yukos Oil CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of fraud in one of Russia’s most controversial cases. In 2009 Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who accused police officials of stealing $230 million from the government in a tax fraud scheme, died in prison after being held for a year without charge. And in April of this year, Russian prosecutors suspended a leftist opposition group for three months, barring the Left Front from organizing or accessing their bank account until July 19.