Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It Looks Like Something Big is Planned for 'Plague Inc.' Tomorrow

<Reviewp>Ndemic Creations' fantastic humanity-destroying strategy game Plague Inc. [$0.99] is "evolving" according to a countdown timer on the game's website. Plague Inc. originally launched way back in May of 2012, and has been expanded and improved dozens of times since with all sorts of new content and features. It's no secret that it's one of our favorite games around TouchArcade Towers. What's interesting is that this new countdown timer appears under the "Games" section of the website separate from the normal . tab, under a new tab titled Plague Inc: Evolved.

Could it be a brand new game in the series? I'm thinking yes. Seeing as the original Plague Inc. has been updated with so much additional content post-release and has only ever cost a measly dollar, I'm more than willing to throw some more cash at a brand new release. What I'd really like to know is what sort of changes are in store for the Plague Inc. formula, and what it means by saying it's "evolved." I guess we'll find out more in just under twenty four hours, and we'll let you know once more news hits.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Teachers Deal With a Longer School Day

<Deal Todayp>

CHICAGO-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and public school officials faced a predicament two years ago. They wanted to fix the fact that Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation. But they didn't have the money to pay the city's 20,000 teachers to work more.

To make their plan economically viable-and to end a weeklong teachers strike that resulted partly from their proposal for longer teacher hours without a proportionate pay increase-they agreed with the union to rearrange the workday.

Before the change, teachers were typically required to arrive at least a half hour before their students each morning. They often used that time for staff or parent meetings and collaborating with colleagues. Now, more than a year after the strike, teachers are only contractually bound to arrive and leave at the same time as students. Dozens of educators in the city say that the revised schedule has made two hallmarks of any successful school-teacher collaboration and training-more difficult.

The Hechinger Report informally surveyed 70 Chicago teachers from around the city, all enrolled in a class preparing for the prestigious National Board Certification, which recognizes distinguished teaching. When asked if they receive less training than they did before the longer school day began, more than two-thirds raised their hands. More than half responded that it's harder now to talk in person with their colleagues, particularly those outside their grade and subject area.

"If our goal is to improve student learning and improve Chicago Public Schools, we need time for teachers to talk and share ideas," said one of those polled, Paige Nilson, a second-grade teacher at Alexander Hamilton Elementary, calling it "disrespectful" to assume teachers can do their jobs if they arrive when students do.

"I don't know how anyone is able to do everything they need to do within the school hours," she said. "It's not possible."

The scenario Nilson described at her school is a common one since 2012, when Chicago lengthened its instructional day by an hour and 15 minutes for elementary schools and a half hour for high schools. She's able to meet with the other second-grade teacher during the period they get each day for lesson-planning. But her colleagues in first and third grades are off at different times, and she said meeting with them regularly is essential to ensure continuity of instruction.

The changes come as the school system has adopted a new budget formula that gives principals an incentive to hire inexperienced teachers because their salaries are lower than veteran teachers. Research shows that new teachers in particular need ample training and support to be effective.

What's more, as the city is rolling out new teacher evaluations and the national Common Core education standards, officials are relying on each school to send representatives to trainings and bring the information back to their colleagues-only they have no time to meet, other than the 10 days per year required for training under the Chicago Teachers Union contract. At 41 percent of elementary schools, teachers have voted to replace up to three of those days with periodic staff meetings before school throughout the year.

"It makes no sense to think you can run a business without giving workers a chance to talk to each other," said Leslie Travis, who retired last spring after many years as a librarian at Ray Elementary.

"When Sandy Hook happened, you couldn't even call your faculty together to grieve about it, to say, 'This is what we're going to put in place,' to remind everyone to be vigilant, because there is no common meeting time, none," added Sandra Carlson, principal of William P. Gray Elementary, referring to the 2012 Connecticut school shooting. She is a proponent of more learning time for students, but wishes she had more flexibility over the schedule. "Issues arise," she said, "and you know what? You can't have discussion in an email.

Chicago school system officials note that teachers have slightly more preparation time in the longer day, 64 minutes per day versus 62 minutes before. A system spokesman said teachers "have the same opportunity for collaboration during that preparation time," a contention that many teachers dispute since colleagues aren't necessarily off simultaneously.

System officials also point out that the teachers union agreed to the new schedule. That agreement came reluctantly after a strike that shut Chicago's schools for seven days in September 2012.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said coming up with a way to give teachers adequate planning and training time while lengthening the day and year "was at the crux of the strike." (Students went from 170 days per year in school to the conventional American 180, and teachers went from 180 to 190.)

At the bargaining table, according to Sharkey, "They said, 'We're going to have a longer day.' We said, 'We can't afford a longer day.' ... That we had to have a longer day trumped all practical concerns about whether it was feasible." The union's position was, "you need 20 percent more resources. You're increasing the school day by 20 percent." He said the school system took the stance that, "We'll just get 20 percent more out of you."

In the end, teachers got a raise that will average 17.6 percent over four years. The union signed off on a longer day with a staggered lunch and planning period for teachers, which meant they were no longer guaranteed to be off at the same time as colleagues. They would be in their school buildings for more hours, although technically they would not be instructing more. The system hired hundreds of new teachers, mainly in art, music and physical education, to make the scheduling and longer day possible. But this year, an even greater number of teachers lost their jobs.

"They made a one-year promise to staff the schools to be equipped for the longer day, and promptly the next year there was a fiscal crisis, and they did mass layoffs," Sharkey said.

System officials said they did the best they could to protect classrooms amid a $1 billion deficit stemming largely from a citywide pension crisis. Schools saw $68 million in cuts this year, as the system drained its budget reserves to cover most of the deficit and slashed central office expenses by more than $100 million.

This week, officials announced that they will use $21.5 million in surplus tax increment financing funds to hire an additional 84 art teachers and 84 physical education teachers, some of the positions recently cut. The move comes as the city's board of education is scheduled to vote today on a plan to mandate daily physical education for all students, a state requirement with which Chicago has been out of compliance. But the new funding will not cover the teachers' salaries completely, and educators and advocates remain worried about schools needing to make up the difference.

School districts around the country face similar challenges to Chicago: Is it better to have students in school for more time or teachers spending more time collaborating and training? Ideally it wouldn't be a tradeoff, but time and money are always limited, and so it always is.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief academic officer of New York City schools, spoke about the ongoing problem at a Ford Foundation conference last fall on extended learning time. (The Ford Foundation is one of the funders of The Hechinger Report.)

New York City schools are "dramatically underfunded" by the state, Polakow-Suransky said. But if student achievement is to improve, more time in school must be connected to reforms to improve instruction. According to Polakow-Suransky, policymakers who haven't been teachers often don't understand the balance required.

"You don't get this done just by extending the time for the kids," he said. "The teachers need time to plan.... If you have bad instruction happening in the first six hours of the day, you're not going to get great instruction in the next few hours. It needs to be connected to a broader set of interventions and reforms."

Chicago officials say they are working to improve instruction, too: The city's new teacher evaluations require administrators to conduct multiple classroom observations to give specific instructional feedback, with extensive teacher preparation required before and after the reviews. Schools also are preparing for more stringent state exams based on the Common Core standards.

Many educators say all the new mandates have left them overworked and overwhelmed, and several teachers said they have stopped signing up to supervise after-school activities, even if they would be paid extra.

Related Story

'It Feels Like Education Malpractice'

"It just became too much," said Sarah Chambers, a union activist and special-education teacher at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, who used to tutor before and after school. The longer school day has led to "a lot of teacher breakdowns, teachers crying, teachers saying they never felt so stressed in the job and they were going to leave the profession," Chambers said. She said two teachers at her school retired last month because of job-related stress.

Lesley Pinto, the English department chair at Theodore Roosevelt High School, helped win a fight to restore teacher stipends for staying after school to tutor students, but the math department has still struggled to find enough willing teachers. Meanwhile, all her commitments are making it hard to maintain a student gardening club she leads.

The National Center on Time and Learning cites three strategies to increase learning time without teacher burnout: forming community partnerships, particularly to run after-school programs; putting teachers on a staggered schedule; and using online instruction and other technology to lighten teachers' loads. The organization advocates giving teachers more collaboration time in a longer day, in addition to providing students with individual academic support and exposing them to the arts and other enrichment activities.

At Patrick Henry Elementary, a school Chicago officials point to as an extended day success story, Principal Januario Gutierrez offers after-school enrichment activities in 10-week cycles, so that the staff leading them can rotate: 10 weeks of soccer, 10 weeks of homework club, 10 weeks of board games. Before the holidays, the school security guard led a 10-week fitness club where kids did drills running up and down the stairs.

Given all he is asking his staff to do, Gutierrez feels that asking for a 10-week commitment after school is more realistic than asking for the whole year. "For teachers that have a full work schedule," he said, "to do more than 10 weeks at a time can lead to burnout."


With the extension of Chicago's school day and the promise of more time for the arts and other enrichment, Ruth Augspurger should have had her pick of job options. At 31, Augspurger has nearly a decade of experience teaching art in the city, where she stayed after graduating from college because she wanted to work with urban youth. She has a bachelor's degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a master's in curriculum and instruction, and she's in the process of receiving National Board Certification, awarded to the most highly skilled teachers in the field.

When the extended day began last year, Augspurger was happily running an art program for kindergarten through third graders at Rachel Carson Elementary, a high-poverty school on the southwest side. Although art was not available to older students during the academic day, she ran before- and after-school programs in knitting and painting and coordinated grants for artists to come work with them.

"It was great. I loved it," said Augspurger, the mother of a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and the primary breadwinner for her family. With hour-long class periods, she said, "I got so much done with the kids," while their other teachers were free to plan and collaborate with one another. Augspurger also worked with them to incorporate the arts into the general curriculum.

Then, when staffing cuts were instituted this school year for both tenured and non-tenured teachers, she was laid off. As a tenured teacher, she's supposed to have priority for openings elsewhere in the system, but she said she's been unable to find another job because of a new budget formula that puts experienced and highly educated teachers at a disadvantage in the hiring process.

Principals used to receive funding to hire a certain number of teachers based on the size of their schools, and the teachers' salaries were covered regardless of where they fell on the scale. Now, principals receive a lump sum for each student enrolled, and they can do with the money what they please. So a principal who hires an inexperienced teacher at the bottom of the salary scale has more money to spend on other things, although a school is eligible for a funding boost if the entire staff is more experienced than average.

"I'm expensive, and so I can't get another job," Augspurger said. "It's been very difficult. There have been places where I've interviewed, and they chose to hire someone right out of school."

Technically, tenured teachers are supposed to get first consideration for openings, but principals can deem them unqualified and turn to rookies. Augspurger said she arrived at one interview to learn the school changed its advertised position from art to music; she then received a rejection letter saying she was not a qualified music teacher.

The first semester, she filled in for an art teacher on maternity leave, and now she is a substitute. "I'm an example of policies that backfired and didn't work out the way they were intended," she said. It remains to be seen whether she will be offered one of the 84 art teacher positions created this week.

At schools serving the city's more affluent families, parents have been fundraising to keep subjects like art and music in place. Some schools have instituted fees where every family is asked to make a contribution to keep programs running.

At Drummond Montessori, an admissions-based magnet school, parents raised more than $100,000 to allow students to continue having art and music at the same time as others their age. That gave teachers of the same grades the ability to have their planning periods simultaneously. But to connect across subjects and grade levels, teachers say they have been meeting on their own time. They consider collaboration a hallmark of their school's historically high achievement.

"You need to constantly be reflecting and sharing ideas," said Kelly Walsh, who teaches a fourth- through sixth-grade class.

Four miles north, at John B. Murphy Elementary, an arts-themed school where 83 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, teachers and administrators are taking on another role: grant writers. Without significant donations from parents to offset budget cuts, they seek funding wherever they can-for teacher training as well as student opportunities.

"We are a low-income school, and we are fighting hard to get resources," said Roberta Salas, the mother of two students there. Across Chicago, she added, "We have many terrific schools that could do even more marvelous things with proper funding."

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bargain Hunting Spreads Christmas Coal From Best Buy to UPS

Bloomberg News

The list of U.S. companies that didn't get what they wanted for Christmas is growing.

became the latest when it said today that a crush of last-minute orders resulted in higher costs and lower-than-expected earnings. Earlier this week, Best Deals Co. said holiday sales fell, while 's Christmas was marred by a security breach.

Businesses were plagued by ills ranging from hackers to brutal winter weather and competition from Add a lack of must-haves in fashion and shoppers who preferred to buy via mobile devices, and the holiday season was more coal in the stockings than presents under the tree for many retailers.

"It was a perfect storm of issues this Christmas," Dorothy Lakner, a New York-based analyst at Topeka Capital Markets, said in a phone interview today. "I can't remember a holiday season where it started so early. Retailers started promoting Black Friday at the beginning of November. You could make the argument that people spent in November and they were spent out in December."

Customer traffic in the last two months of the year declined 15 percent from the same period in 2012, said ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based researcher.

Shoppers such as Karie Zipper help explain why. The married mother of two daughters said she did about 80 percent of her shopping online, much of it with Amazon, and about half of that was from her iPhone or iPad. Five years ago, she did about a third less of her shopping over the Internet and almost none from a mobile device.

Spending Less

Zipper eschewed the throngs on Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving and unofficial start of the holiday spending season -- for bargains on Cyber Monday. With the deals, she says she bought more items than last year and spent less.

"I don't actually go out on Black Friday because I don't want to deal with the crowds," the 38-year-old owner of a home-based nutrition business in Aldie, Virginia, said in an interview.

Another characteristic of the past season were the last-minute shoppers who caught Atlanta-based UPS off guard, said Jeff Green, a retail consultant from Phoenix.

The crunch forced UPS, which prepares year-round for the holiday season, to hire 85,000 temporary workers, 55 percent more than planned. The higher costs led to preliminary fourth-quarter that trailed analysts' estimates.

People were waiting to see when they could get the best deals, Green said. He was in stores observing shopping habits: Customers would go right to the doorbusters retailers use to get people inside their stores, and leave without buying anything else, he said.

'Value Shopper'

"Everyone was a value shopper this year," Green said. "Even the luxury shopper didn't spend as much. The biggest surprise was probably how much of it was done from mobile devices."

The rise of the Amazon shopper is raising questions about whether the consumer shift online has led to a "tipping point" for stores, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts Lindsay Drucker Mann, Taposh Bari, Stephen Grambling and Tiffany Hagge wrote on Jan. 15.

"Many reported the cadence of business deteriorated across the quarter, and that promotions ahead of Christmas intensified versus Black Friday," according to the report.

One victim of the shift was Richfield, Minnesota-based , the world's largest electronics chain. The decline in holiday sales triggered the biggest drop in the stock in more than a decade on Jan. 16, raising doubts over Chief Executive Officer Hubert Joly's turnaround strategy.

Even though the chain slashed prices, revenue from outlets open at least 14 months and the Web fell 0.9 percent in the nine weeks ended Jan. 4.

Amazon Shopping

By shopping with Seattle-based Amazon, customers may have been able to stick closer to their budgets and less likely to make impulse purchases, said Leon Nicholas, senior vice president at Kantar Retail in Boston.

"I might have gone into a store intended to spend $100 and I spent $125," he said. "On Amazon I may intend to spend $100 and I spend $100. There's not as much temptation."

The Christmas gloom has hit retailers of all stripes. , owner of the Victoria's Secret brand, and discounter cut profit forecasts Jan. 9 after disappointing December sales.

Early results show that the season's discounts -- as steep as 75 percent off at luxury department-store chain Neiman Marcus Group LLC -- didn't generate sufficient traffic or spur enough purchases of full-priced merchandise to make up for the lost revenue.

Hacker Attacks

"These in-store promotions where I'm trying to incent you to do something you probably wouldn't do otherwise isn't a sustainable strategy," Kantar's Nicholas said. "We're going to have to step back as an industry and do some real soul-searching about what a store is for."

Hacker attacks made things worse for Neiman Marcus and discount chain Target, siphoning credit-card data. Target said Jan. 10 that the security breach affected more people and information than previously thought. Sales at U.S. stores open at least a year were "meaningfully weaker" after the data theft was announced, the company said.

Merchandise purchased via personal computers in November and December gained 10 percent from the same period a year earlier, ComScore Inc. said Jan. 7. Sales of apparel and accessories rose the most, followed by consumer electronics including smartphones and computer hardware such as tablets, the researcher said.

Cheaper Tablet

Zipper, the Virginia mom, said she bought her 8-year-old daughter a Kindle Fire HD using a 20 percent discount and the $50 she saved opening an Amazon credit card: As a result, the $169 tablet cost her $89, she said. She also picked up two American Girl dolls for about $60 each, complete with extra outfits and accessories, for less than the usual $110 price for the doll alone, she said.

"I don't even buy in the store until I look online anymore, even if I plan to buy something in the store," said Zipper, who starts prowling the Web in October for the first signs of upcoming deals. "But often, my husband and I might be driving in my car and I see something on my phone and I buy it."

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeff Green in Southfield, Michigan at; Lindsey Rupp in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Deal watch: Free upgrades on new Norwegian ship

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Ready to getaway? Tell Tripology your desired destination and three specialists who match your needs will plan trip possibilities - free of charge. Choose the itinerary right for you and get ready to take off. The journey starts right here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

AMD Kaveri Review: A8-7600 and A10-7850K Tested

The first major component launch of 2014 falls at the feet of AMD and the next iteration of its APU platform, Kaveri. Kaveri has been the aim for AMD for several years, it's actually the whole reason the company bought ATI back in 2006. As a result many different prongs of AMD's platform come together: HSA, hUMA, offloading compute, unifying GPU architectures, developing a software ecosystem around HSA and a scalable architecture. This is, on paper at least, a strong indicator of where the PC processor market is heading in the mainstream segment. For our Kaveri Deal News today we were sampled the 45/65W (cTDP) A8-7600 and 95W A10-7850K Kaveri models. The A10-7850K is available today while the A8 part will be available later in Q1.

The Kaveri Overview

To almost all users, including myself up until a few days ago, Kaveri is just another iteration of AMD's APU line up that focuses purely on the integrated graphics side of things, while slowly improving the CPU side back to Thuban levels of performance. Up until a few days ago I thought this too, but Kaveri is aiming much higher than this.

Due to the way AMD updates its CPU line, using the 'tick-tock' analogy might not be appropriate. Kaveri is AMD's 3 rd generation Bulldozer architecture on a half-node process shrink. Kaveri moves from Global Foundries' 32nm High-K Metal Gate SOI process to its bulk 28nm SHP (Super High Performance) process. The process node shift actually explains a lot about Kaveri's targeting. While the 32nm SOI process was optimized for CPU designs at high frequency, GF's bulk 28nm SHP process is more optimized for density with a frequency tradeoff. AMD refers to this as an "APU optimized" process, somewhere in between what a CPU and what a GPU needs. The result is Kaveri is really built to run at lower frequencies than Trinity/Richland, but is far more dense.

Kaveri is the launch vehicle for AMD's Steamroller CPU architecture, the 3rd iteration of the Bulldozer family (and second to last before moving away from the architectural detour). While Piledriver (Trinity/Richland) brought Bulldozer's power consumption down to more rational levels, Steamroller increases IPC. AMD uses Steamroller's IPC increase to offset the frequency penalty of moving to 28nm SHP. AMD then uses the density advantage to outfit the design with a substantially more complex GPU. In many senses, Kaveri is the embodiment of what AMD has been preaching all along: bringing balance to the CPU/GPU split inside mainstream PCs. The strategy makes a lot of sense if you care about significant generational performance scaling, it's just unfortunate that AMD has to do it with a CPU architecture that puts it at a competitive deficit.

The die of Kaveri is of similar size to Richland (245mm 2 vs 236mm 2) but has 85% more transistors (2.41B vs. 1.3B). Unfortunately AMD hasn't confirmed whether we are talking about layout or schematic transistors here, or even if both figures are counted the same way, but there's clearly some increase in density. Typically a move from 32nm to 28nm should give a 26% boost for the same area, not an 85% boost.

The GPU side of the equation is moving from a Cayman derived GPU in Richland to a Hawaii / GCN based one in Kaveri with the addition of HSA support. This vertically integrates the GPU stack to GCN, allowing any improvements in software tool production to affect both.

For the first time since AMD went on its march down APU lane, the go-to-market messaging with Kaveri is heavily weighted towards gaming. With Llano and Trinity AMD would try to mask CPU performance difficiencies by blaming benchmarks or claiming that heterogeneous computing was just around the corner. While it still believes in the latter, AMD's Kaveri presentations didn't attempt to force the issue and instead focused heavily on gaming as the killer app for its latest APU. HSA and heterogeneous computing are still important, but today AMD hopes to sell Kaveri largely based on its ability to deliver 1080p gaming in modern titles at 30 fps. Our testing looks favourably on this claim with some titles getting big boosts over similar powered Richland counterparts, although the devil is in the details.

The feature set from Richland to Kaveri gets an update all around as well, with a fixed function TrueAudio DSP on the processor to offload complex audio tasks - AMD claims that reverb added to one audio sample for 3+ seconds can take <10% of one CPU core, so using the TrueAudio system allows game developers to enhance a full surround audio with effects, causing more accurate spatialization when upscaling to 7.1 or downscaling to stereo from 5.1. TrueAudio support unfortunately remains unused at launch, but Kaveri owners will be able to leverage the technology whenever games launch with it. Alongside TrueAudio, both the Unified Video Decoder (UVD) and the Video Coding Engine (VCE) are upgraded.

One of the prominent features of Kaveri we will be looking into is its HSA (Heterogenous System Architecture) - the tight coupling of CPU and GPU, extending all the way down to the programming model. Gone are the days when CPU and GPU cores have to be treated like independent inequals, with tons of data copies back and forth for both types of cores to cooperate on the same problem. With Kaveri, both CPU and GPU are treated as equal class citizens, capable of working on the same data in the same place in memory. It'll be a while before we see software take advantage of Kaveri's architecture, and it's frustrating that the first HSA APU couldn't have come with a different CPU, but make no mistake: this is a very big deal. The big push on AMD's side is the development of tools for the major languages (OpenCL, Java, C++ and others) as well as libraries for APIs to do this automatically and with fewer lines of code.

Kaveri is fully OpenCL 2.0 compliant, making it the first CPU/APU/SoC to carry that title.

The Kaveri Lineup: Desktop Sweet Spot at 45W

For years now Intel has been targeting mobile first with its CPU architectures. More recently NVIDIA started doing the same with its GPUs (well, ultra-mobile first). With Haswell, Intel's architecture target shifted from 35 - 45W down to 10 - 20W, effectively making Ultrabook form factors the target for its CPU designs. Intel would then use voltage scaling to move the architecture up/down the stack, with Atom and Quark being used to go down to really low TDPs.

For AMD, Kaveri truly embraces the mobile first approach to design with a platform target of 35W. AMD is aiming higher up the stack than Intel did with Haswell, but it also has a lower end CPU architecture (Jaguar) that shoots a bit above Atom. I suspect eventually AMD will set its big architecture sights below 35W, but for now AMD plays the hand it was dealt. The Kaveri project was started 4 years ago and the Haswell platform retargeting was a mid-design shift (largely encouraged by Apple as far as I can tell), so it's not surprising to see Kaveri end up where it does. It's also worth pointing out that the notebook designs AMD primarily competes in are larger 35W machines anyways.

AMD's mobile roadmap states that we'll see Kaveri go all the way down to 15W (presumably in a 2-core/1-module configuration):

Kaveri mobile however appears to be a mid 2014 affair; what launches today are exclusively desktop parts. With an aggressive focus on power consumption, AMD's messaging around Kaveri is simply more performance at the same power.

Here are the Bulldozer based processors for each of AMD's main desktop target segments: 45W, 65W and 95-100W:

Actually, the 45W segment is almost a cop out here. AMD never released a 45W desktop edition of Trinity, and while it formally released a couple of 45W Richland APUs back in August, I literally have not seen them for sale in the regular markets (US, UK) that I check. After my initial Kaveri pre-launch information article, one reader got in touch and confirmed that a mid-sized Italian etailer was selling them and had some in stock, but the majority of the world can't seem to get a hold of them. For the purpose of this review, AMD was kind enough to source retail versions of both the A8-6500T and A8-6700T for comparison points to show how much the system has improved at that power bracket.

By comparison, AMD has a history of making 65W CPUs. You may notice that the Kaveri model listed is the same model listed in the 45W table. This is one of the features of AMD's new lineup - various models will have a configurable TDP range, and the A8-7600 will be one of them. By reducing the power by about a third, the user sacrifices a margin of CPU base speed and turbo speed, but no reduction in processor graphics speeds. At this point in time, the A8-7600 (45W/65W) is set for a Q1 release rather than a launch day release, and we have not received details of any further configurable TDP processors.

Here we see the 32nm SOI to bulk 28nm SHP shift manifesting itself in terms of max attainable frequency. Whereas the A10-6800K ran at 4.1/4.4GHz, the A10-7850K drops down to 3.7/4.0GHz (base/max turbo). TDP falls a bit as well, but it's very clear that anyone looking for the high end of AMD's CPU offerings to increase in performance won't find it with Kaveri. I suspect we'll eventually see an AMD return to the high-end, but that'll come once we're done with the Bulldozer family. For now, AMD has its sights set on the bulk of the mainstream market - and that's definitely not at 95/100W.

Kaveri Motherboard/Socket Compatibility

AMD's socket and chipset situation with Kaveri also adjusts slightly, maintaining a small difference to Richland. The new APUs will only fit into an FM2+ socket motherboard, which differs from FM2 by two pins, and Richland/Trinity APUs will also fit into FM2+. However, Kaveri APUs will not fit into any older FM2 motherboards. On the chipset side, AMD is adding the A88X chipset to the Bulldozer chipset family, complementing A55, A75 and A85X. Similar to Trinity and Richland, the chipset is not a definitive indicator of the socket of the motherboard, except for A88X: A88X will only appear on FM2+ motherboards.

AMD has the workings of a potential platform changer, and certainly the programming paradigm change from 'normal' to HSA is one that is going to be at the forefront of AMD's APU production for the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Racers RepublicVlc - " Tips and Tricks to make the most out of VLC on your iPhone and iPad

Tips and Tricks to make the most out of VLC on your iPhone and iPad

VLC for iOS is one of the most popular third-party media player on the App Store, and is capable of playing almost any video format. Here are some tips and tricks that'll help you make the most of VLC for iOS' feature set

Add files via iTunes

One of the first things you'll want to do after installing VLC is add video files to the app. You can do this through several ways, one of which is through iTunes. Just make sure your iPhone or iPad is connected to iTunes running on your PC/Mac, click on your device, and view the "Apps" tab. Scroll down to the File Sharing section, find VLC in the apps list and drag and drop the files you want to add to your device.

Add files via HTTP server

If the iTunes way sounds too tedious, you can simply tell VLC to start its own web server, and you can wirelessly upload files to your device using any browser connected to the same network. To start the server, open the side-menu by tapping on the VLC icon at the top-right, and then tap on WiFi Upload. Once you tap it, it should start and display the address you need to enter on your web-browser:

Download files directly from the internet

If you don't have videos stored locally on your PC/Mac, you can even download them straight to VLC if you have a direct URL to the video. Open the side-menu, and tap on "Downloads." You should see a URL field, where you can enter the direct URL, and VLC should start downloading it for you:

Passcode lock

Have videos you don't want everyone to see? You can protect them with a passcode within the VLC app. To set a passcode, tap the VLC icon at the top-left, go to Settings > and turn Passcode Lock on. You'll be asked to enter a 4 digit passcode.


VLC doesn't natively support AirPlay video streaming, but you can still view your videos in VLC on your Apple TV by using the AirPlay mirroring option in Control Center.

dropbox sign in

Have a lot of videos stored in your Dropbox? VLC can download them for you and play it from the app. Open the side menu by tapping the VLC icon at the top-right, tap on Dropbox, sign-in, and you should see your In version 2.2 (not released yet), the developers plan to add Dropbox streaming and Google Drive integration.


VLC also includes support for subtitles. Some video formats natively support subtitles while for others, you need a separate .sub file. If you need to add a separate .sub file, name it similar to the video filename, and add it to VLC for iOS via any of the file transfer means described above. VLC will automatically associate the two and show you subtitles.

Change Audio Track

Some video formats contain multiple audio tracks, mostly for different languages. You can switch between different audio tracks by tapping the speech bubble button seen below:

Background Audio

Did you know you can close VLC, and still have the file's audio play in the background? This is very handy when you want to switch to a different app for a couple of minutes of work, but don't want to pause playback.

Adjust Playback Speed

You can also adjust the playback speed of a video, if a video is too fast or slow for your liking. Just tap on the clock icon in the playing screen and adjust the slider:

Stream local media with Plex or any other DLNA server

Have TBs of movies, TV shows and other videos on your HDD that can't be transferred to your iOS device? Install Plex Media Server on your desktop and stream all your videos off your Mac/PC within your local network using VLC. Instructions here.


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Continental AG Predicts 2014 Sales Gain on Auto Industry

Continental AG (CON), Europe's second-largest auto parts maker, plans a fifth consecutive year of record sales after deliveries of parking-assistance and braking electronics helped revenue rise 1.7 percent in 2013.

Sales this year will increase 5 percent to 35 billion euros ($47.8 billion), Hanover, Germany-based Continental said today in a statement. Full-year 2013 sales advanced to 33.3 billion euros, missing the manufacturer's 33.5 billion-euro forecast. Adjusted earnings before interest and taxes in 2013 totaled 3.7 billion euros.

"We were able to more than offset the economic limitations in Southern Europe and some emerging markets," Chief Executive Officer Elmar Degenhart said in the statement. "We want to grow faster than the global passenger car market" in 2014, when production is forecast to expand 2.4 percent to 85 million vehicles.

Continental, also Europe's second-largest tiremaker, has focused Discount developing components that help automakers reduce vehicle emissions, increase auto safety and enable communication links. The manufacturer was able to partly bypass effects of an industrywide slump in Europe by following German customers Volkswagen AG, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG into growing markets such as China and the U.S.

The component maker reduced its 2013 revenue forecast on Nov. 7 from an earlier prediction of 34 billion euros in sales, citing currency effects. The dollar fell 4.3 percent against the euro last year, and the yen declined 21 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Exchange-rate moves reduced sales by 700 million euros, Continental said today.

Adjusted Ebit in 2012 amounted to 3.52 billion euros. Figures in 2013 were reported under new accounting rules.

Continental's figures released today didn't include debt. Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service raised Continental's debt to investment grade after borrowings stemming from the takeover of the former Siemens AG car-electronics unit VDO in 2007 were scaled back. Continental is scheduled to report detailed earnings figures on March 6.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dorothee Tschampa in Frankfurt at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at

Sunday, January 12, 2014

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cheap Stocks for 2014: The Best Buys in Defense Companies

It's that time of year again. There's a chill in the air, snow on the ground, and among investors, questions abound -- questions like: "What's the cheapest defense stock I can Online Deals in 2014?"

I was recently asked that particular question. But as it turns out, it's a trick question -- because after a remarkable run-up in valuations over the course of 2013, there really are no cheap defense stocks left out there. Or at least, not very many.

Good news turns into bad news
Let me explain. Last week, if you recall, we took a look at valuations in the defense sector. However, we soon came to the disappointing realization that after turning in a very strong performance in 2013, there are very few true " value stocks" remaining among defense stocks. Huntington Ingalls ( ) probably qualifies, based on its 20 P/E ratio, strong free cash flow, and industry-leading anticipated growth rate of 27%. But subpar, single-digit growth projections at defense contractors like General Dynamics ( ) , Lockheed Martin ( ) , and Northrop Grumman ( ) appear to knock all of these companies out of contention as "bargain" candidates.

Thus, after crunching the numbers, I concluded that among traditional defense contractors, Huntington was really the only stock worth considering as a value investment.

Back to basics
Turns out, there's another good reason to consider Huntington a potential value candidate. Some years ago, I argued that defense contractors in America have a certain "natural valuation." Occasionally overvalued, occasionally undervalued, as a general rule, defense stocks tend to gravitate back toward a market cap equal to the value of their annual sales.

This argument was controversial at the time -- because of its timing. Most of these defense contractors had been circling the "equivalent-to-sales" valuation during the years of rapidly accelerating spending on defense, necessitated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It remained to be seen, however, whether these valuations would hold up in the post-war era.

Yet what do we see here, two years after the Iraq war's end, and on the eve of a U.S. exit from Afghanistan? Shares of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin once again sell for 1.01 times sales each. Shares of General Dynamics cost 1.06 times sales. Raytheon's ( ) only a bit more expensive at 1.17 times sales.

Once again, this leaves Huntington Ingalls, and its 0.67 price-to-sales ratio, looking like "best in show."

Beyond the numbers
Aside from valuation, though, is there any other reason to prefer Huntington Ingalls over its defense contractor peers? I believe there is.

Consider, for example, Barack Obama's ballyhooed " pivot to Asia," in which the president promised to shift defense spending and reallocate military resources from Europe and the Middle East toward the Pacific. A de-emphasis on purchases of ground weapons needed to blunt a Soviet armored thrust into West Germany, or topple Middle East dictators, sounds like bad news for companies like General Dynamics, BAE Systems, and Textron, which make much of their bread and butter from building tanks and armored personnel carriers for the Army. It's probably neutral for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, whose fighter planes and bombers are just as useful in any setting.

A pivot to the Pacific really helps a company like Huntington Ingalls, though, whose whole raison d'etre is building warships to patrol the seas. Huntington's products run the gamut from Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines, to Arleigh Burke- and Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyers, to the USS Gerald R. Ford, America's newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The company is absolutely crucial to building the newest generation of American warships -- Littoral Combat Ships excepted. As such, there's every reason to believe that even an ambitious target like "27% earnings growth" is not out of reach for Huntington -- even as spending elsewhere in the military trends down.

And there's also every reason to believe that even in a generally fully valued defense sector, Huntington Ingalls remains the one defense stock you can still buy in 2014.

Oh, and one more thing Did I mention that Huntington Ingalls pays a dividend, and has plenty of room to pay even more? A good dividend can mean the difference between an overvalued stock, and one that just might be worth buying after all -- because dividend stocks can make you rich. It's as simple as that. While they don't garner the notability of high-flying tech stocks, dividend-paying stocks are also less likely to crash and burn. And over the long term, the compounding effect of the quarterly payouts, as well as their growth, adds up faster than most investors imagine.

With this in mind, our analysts sat down to identify the absolute best of the best when it comes to rock-solid dividend stocks, drawing up a list in this free report of nine that fit the bill. To discover the identities of these companies before the rest of the market catches on, you can download this valuable free report by simply clicking here now.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

US' Kerry says making progress towards Israeli-Palestinian framework deal

"I'm confident that the talks we've had in the past two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others," he said after meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"We're not there yet, but we are making progress," Kerry said, adding he was to fly Sunday to both Jordan and Saudi Arabia for talks on going forward. "We are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome," he added.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Palestinians had more than most riding on an agreed peace Price Compare.

"No-one stands to lose more from failure than the Palestinians," Erakat told reporters at Abbas's West Bank headquarters in Ramallah. "Failure to us is not an option. We really are doing everything possible to ensure the success of Secretary Kerry's efforts."

The US chief diplomat was heading almost straight into more talks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday - their third meeting in three days.

But he announced he would meet next week with Arab League leaders to brief them on his latest round of talks in Israel and the West Bank, without specifying where.

"During this week our teams will continue to work to try to lay the foundation and the groundwork for the progress needed in order for me to come back and take the next steps," he said. "This is hard work there are narrative issues, difficult, complicated years of mistrust that have been built up," Kerry added.

"All of which has to be worked through and undone and a pathway has to be laid down in which the parties can have confidence that they know what is happening and that the road ahead is real not illusory."

Voice of Russia, Reuters, AFP