Economist 6/28/14

  1. Secure, authenticated identity is the birthright of every Estonian: before a newborn even arrives home, the hospital will have issued a digital birth certificate and his health insurance will have been started automatically. All residents of the small Baltic state aged 15 or over have electronic ID cards, which are used in health care, electronic banking and shopping, to sign contracts and encrypt e-mail, as tram tickets, and much more besides—even to vote.Estonia’s approach makes life efficient: taxes take less than an hour to file, and refunds are paid within 48 hours. By law, the state may not ask for any piece of information more than once, people have the right to know what data are held on them and all government databases must be compatible, a system known as the X-road. In all, the Estonian state offers 600 e-services to its citizens and 2,400 to businesses.Estonia’s system uses suitably hefty encryption. Only a minimum of private data are kept on the ID card itself. Also issued are two PIN codes, one for authentication (proving who the holder is) and one for authorisation (signing documents or making payments).
  2. Monotype, an American firm founded in 1887, is the industry’s biggest owner of fonts. Its customers, who are mostly technology companies and designers of printed material and websites, pick from a catalogue of 18,000 fonts, which include classics such as Arial, Times New Roman and Helvetica.. In its early days it sold ingenious machines that enabled Edwardian printers to cast lines of type in seconds; now, as well as the right to use its fonts, it sells software that renders text on screen. That makes it both supplier and competitor to Adobe, a Californian software giant that owns more than 2,000 fonts, and to the plethora of independent font publishers that round out the industry.Printer firms and computer-makers have long paid for the right to use fonts in their gadgets; such licensing deals are getting more common as manufacturers add flashy displays to car dashboards, televisions and even white goods.Web developers rent them from retailers such as Typekit, a site owned by Adobe that offers bundles of typefaces for an annual fee.
  3. The argument was that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, had got most of what he wanted in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, not least a big boost in popularity at home. Partly thanks to two rounds of sanctions against individuals close to him, he had blinked: hence his decision to pull troops back from the border and more or less to accept Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine’s legitimate president after his election on May 25th. The government’s unilateral ceasefire announced this week looks unlikely to work (see article). Evidence of deeper Russian involvement is ever clearer: not just rising numbers of Chechen and other Russian mercenaries but also the supply of weapons, including missiles that may have been used to shoot down a Ukrainian military aircraft, and even tanks that have rumbled over the border.
  4. FOR years, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has been playing with diplomatic fire over a sordid part of wartime history: the herding of thousands of women across Asia into Japanese-army brothels. An investigation he ordered into a landmark apology to the “comfort women” might have helped end the controversy. Instead, it has further muddied the waters. That may indeed have been Mr Abe’s intention.The 1993 apology, known after its author as “the Kono statement”, acknowledged the army’s role in forcing women into sexual slavery. On June 20th a government panel set up by Mr Abe said the facts used to draft the statement were accurate and there are no plans to change it. But the panel also revealed that it was the product of months of secret negotiations with South Korea.
  5. GE snatched Alstom from the jaws of Siemens, its German archrival, which had been encouraged by the French government to make an alternative offer, and which had enlisted the help of another of GE’s main competitors, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan.Mr Immelt had surprised investors and some of his own executives by pursuing Alstom in the first place, He did so because the deal allows him to make a leap in executing his most important strategic goal, to transform GE from a misfiring finance-heavy conglomerate into a more focused maker of industrial equipment. If all goes well later this year with the initial public offering of Synchrony Financial, as its credit-card business is now known, GE will be on track to earn less than 25% of its profits from finance in 2016, down from 45% in 2013.GE back to its inventive roots, with the boost in research and development. Under Mr Welch, such spending slipped to 3% of revenues. Mr Immelt raised it to 4% in 2010 and 5% in 2011 and the years since.GE has built a new research centre in San Ramon, a short drive from Silicon Valley, which now has around 1,000 employees working on aspects of what GE has christened the “industrial internet” because it connects physical machinery to a digital network.

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