Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

from MacroScope:

APEC’s robots stealing the show

Nov 12, 2010 10:16 UTC


A guide at the "Japanese Experience" exhibition talks to Miim, the Karaoke pal robot, on the sidelines of the APEC meetings in Yokohama, Japan on Nov. 10. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

    Miim is one of the more popular delegates at the APEC meetings in Yokohama Japan. She sings. She dances. She tosses her shoulder length hair. She may not be able to spout an alphabet soup of APEC acronyms like the other Asia-Pacific delegates. But she's still pretty lively. For a robot.

    This week's meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have been earnest and most comprehensive . Foreign and trade ministers issued a 20-page statement about all the things they talked about -- a giant free trade zone, protectionism, the Doha round, easing restrictions on businesses, simplifying customs procedures, promoting green industries, cooperating on health and security, you name it. They also have been, and pardon my French here, excruciatingly dull. So far, the meetings and their stupefying statements have been a testimonial to Japan's skill at stating the ambiguous. Call it the opaque meetings. Journalists from around the Pacific rim have been desperately trying to find news as the 21 APEC leaders gather for their annual pow-wow this weekend.

     The annual "silly shirts"  photo shoot, in which leaders don native attire for the class picture of their summit is usually good news fodder, but is going to be a  big let-down this year. The leaders are merely being asked to show up wearing "smart casual" for the photo shoot on Saturday night, before they head inside for a Kabuki show.

   Which brings us back to Miim, the karaoke robot. She, er it, is one of 130 exhibits on display at  "Japan Experience", a government-sponsored exhibition in  the Pacific Yokohama convention center where the APEC meetings are taking place. The exhibit also features "personal mobility vehicles",  a cyborg suit named HAL that enables the wearer to lift really heavy stuff and perform heroically in disaster relief, a talking delivery robot, cute robotic seal pets for use in pediatric therapy, and much other cool stuff . 

    "Welcome to APEC Japan 2010," the anatomically correct Miim says. "This exhibition shows Japan's strengths and attractions. Please see, feel and touch advanced technology and initiatives of Japan."JAPAN

 The sun sets on Nov. 11 over Yokohama, Japan, the host for this week's APEC meetings. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

    "Japan Experience" guide Taeko Hamamoto says the exhibition is meant to illustrate some of the key themes at this week's APEC meetings. "It shows the APEC growth strategy, including an emphasis on human security, innovations like green technology, and transportation. It also shows Japan's amazing cutting edge technology in these areas."  

    As befits this theme, the leaders will gather for their talks around a "digital pond" in which virtual koi fish swim, and virtual leaves fall around a virtual stand of bamboo. It is meant to make the leaders feel like they are in a retreat in the autumn woods, a press handout says.  In the anteroom of this retreat, the leaders will view a showcase of  traditional items as well as stuff representing modern, high-tech Japan. Borrowing a slogan used for Brtain's promotions, it'ss being called "Cool Japan".

Perhaps the atmosphere will calm the heated debate about currencies and global imbalances at this week's Group of 20 meetings in Seoul this week. So far in Tokyo it's been all cybernetics and no pyrotechnics.

    Maybe the next time Japan hosts an APEC summit two decades from now, Japan's leaders will be confident enough to  stage a class photo of leaders resplendent  in cyborg suits. And a future edition of Miim can act as karaoke translator at the press conferences. That certainly would liven things up.

For all its negatives, downturn pushes Charlotte entrepreneur to what she loves best

Nov 20, 2009 22:25 UTC

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The financial crisis and the longest, deepest U.S. recession almost destroyed Mary Tribble’s business, but despite the pain that has involved she is enjoying being able to concentrate on what she enjoys.

“I could have ended up spending my life arranging Budwieser beer bashes for companies,” she said while overseeing preparations for a Chamber of Commerce event in downtown Charlotte. “But instead now I get to focus on social initiatives. They’re the reason I get up in the morning.”

Tribble Creative Group has been in business for 25 years and most of its revenue over the years has come from arranging corporate parties and conferences. Business was good in town, particularly thanks to the headquarters of two major banks – Wachovia and Bank of America – which were the cornerstones of the economy here.

But then the housing crisis and recession hit. Wachovia has been absorbed by Wells Fargo and Bank of America has cut back on lavish events, as have many businesses across town, pushing Tribble’s revenue down 40 percent in 2008 and down 40 percent so far this year.

As a result she had to cut her staff to eight people from 14.

“That was by far the most painful part,” she said. “We held on as long as we could but we had to let people go.”

“But if we hadn’t branched out before the crisis hit, then we would not have made it through the crisis.”

The social initiatives that Tribble has launched are the North Carolina Governor’s Conference for Women, which promotes the discussion of women’s issues, and Girls Rock the House, which works to persuade 8th grade school girls to get into politics.

“There is a clear and solid business case for projects involving social change and the difference they can make,” she said. “So we haven’t seen the kind of drop in business there that we have seen for corporate events.”

“Compared to the corporate events, they (social initiatives) are a no-brainer for corporations to continue with,” Tribble said. “If it weren’t for those programs, we wouldn’t be here now.”

An unemployed banker on the Appalachian Trail

Nov 18, 2009 20:48 UTC


Photo by Richard Daileader

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – When Richard Daileader was let go from a financial services company during the meltdown, he realized it was the perfect chance for an unusual sabbatical.

“For years my daughter and I had talked about hiking the Appalachian Trail,” he said. “When I was let go, she told me that there would never a better time for me to do it, so I went for it.”

After 30 years in the financial sector and 2,178 miles on foot, he’s wondering what to do next.

Daileader, 52, had four or five jobs in his career.

“I never had any time off between any of those jobs,” he said. “I always finished on the Friday and was in my new job on Monday.”

Prior to becoming unemployed, Daileader was commuting back and forth from Charlotte to Churchill Financial in New York, where he looked at potential acquisitions alongside private equity firms. Financing was raised through securitization, packing and selling bundles of loans on the capital markets, but the financial crisis brought that to an end.

“In 2007 the market began to fall apart and in 2008 funding became increasingly hard to come by,” he said. “Then someone hit the brakes and that market went away.”

Daileader was given a decent separation package by Churchill in the fourth quarter of 2008.

On Feb. 28 he began his hike along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. He completed the journey on Aug. 13, having progressed about about 15 miles a day on the days he hiked.

“I didn’t have any great epiphanies while I was on the trail. Most of the time I was just focused on putting one foot in front of another,” he said. “But I am very lucky. I have no complaints because unlike many people I don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have to worry about finding another job immediately.”

(Click here to see his Daileader’s blog on his experiences)


Photo by Carlos Barria

After almost a year without work, Daileader said he has been thinking about getting back into banking.

“No one is hiring right now, though it looks like there may be some openings in the first quarter of next year,” he said. “What jobs there will be will likely have lower compensation following the financial crisis.”

“I don’t want to go back to New York, I’d rather stay here in Charlotte,” he said. “And one thing that I did realize on the trail was that I don’t want to kill myself with work anymore.”

At the moment he is talking informally to a defense contractor who wants to sell his business and retire. He may decide to leave the banking sector altogether and find work away from the city. In short, Daileader is not entirely sure what to do next.

“I’m not antsy yet about what to do and I have been frugal the past year,” he said. “But around the end of the year the separation package is going to start to run low and that it is going to start limiting my options.”

“Life was a lot simpler out on the trail. I put my country club membership on hold and now I realize I don’t need it.”

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I guess I should stop being surprised why people would read this article and judge the man and not just enjoy the article or quit reading it. I do not know this guy, but the story is enjoyable and to fault stories about glimmers of light in this economy is crazy. Just because he worked in the world of finance seems petty to immediately assume he forced people into poverty. Actually, his job seemed to be just the one we need today: influx of money to sustain new businesses. Also, to judge him because he spent the hard earned time and effort on education and work to get to a position where he could afford such luxuries is hypocritical and against the principles this country was founded on. A better use of your time would be going and upping your education and joining the producers of the world and quit the whining.

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