Economist 7/21/15

  1. IT IS well known that in America, “extreme” working hours (slogging for more than fifty a week) have been getting more widespread in recent decades. But much less is known about people in Europe. New research from Anna Burger, of the Central European University, presents some interesting findings. In the Netherlands, often seen as a haven of sensible working practices, the proportion of full-time workers who slog for more than 50 hours has been rising in recent decades.What factors affect the likelihood of long hours? Ms Burger has many hypotheses; but after conducting a series of regressions she finds two things to be the most important. The first is what she calls “labour-market regulation”. This is an index for labour-market regulation (comprised of things like how difficult it is to fire people and how rigid working-hour rules are).The second really important thing, she suggests, is how much part-time employment is about. With more, she calculates, the prevalence of extreme working hours drops.
  2. THE gold price, which hit a five-year low on July 20th, reflects supply and demand right now, and also expectations about the future. The yellow metal serves two purposes: it is a commodity (used in electronics, jewellery and dentistry, for example) and a store of value—especially as an insurance policy against political upheavals. But gold is unlike other assets: it brings no income, and it costs money to store it.The most immediate reason for gold’s woes is the strong dollar. Gold is priced in dollars, so if the American currency goes up, investors mark down the yellow metal accordingly. An added factor is that the dollar is rising because of the revival of the American economy,which is bringing the prospect of higher interest rates. That is bad news for gold. Higher interest rates increase the opportunity cost of holding zero-yield assets.Gold is also suffering because of a spate of unusually good political news.The nuclear deal with Iran reduces the risk of war (which tends to boost gold).That leaves pessimism as the main reason for holding gold.
  3. In America, concerns about forensic evidence are well established. Dodgy forensics contribute to nearly half of all wrongful convictions there, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based charity dedicated to overturning miscarriages of justice.Earlier this year a report by a defence-lawyers’ association found hair analysis to be untrustworthy in 95% of cases.As a result of such doubts, the use of some forms of forensic evidence has been suspended.The FBI has abandoned the use of gunshot residue.Netherlands has given up the use of handwriting analysis, for instance.Britain, on the other hand, remains keen on the Sherlock Holmes stuff. Mixed-DNA, gunshot residue and handwriting analysis are all still used in British trials, to the concern of some jurists.
  4. Modern cars are becoming like computers with wheels. Diabetics wear computerised insulin pumps that can instantly relay their vital signs to their doctors. Smart thermostats learn their owners’ habits.. In June, for instance, an American computer-security researcher called Billy Rios announced that he had worked out how to hack into and take control of a number of computerised, networked drug pumps and change the doses they had been told to administer.Cyber-criminals make use of vast networks of compromised computers, called botnets, to do everything from generating spam e-mail to performing denial-of-service attacks.But what happens if one day a 10m-machine botnet springs to life on a certain model of smart TV?” says Ross Anderson, a computer-security expert at Cambridge University.. Many devices lack even the ability to be patched, says Dr Anderson—in other words, their manufacturers cannot use the internet to distribute fixes for any security flaws.Part of the problem, says Dr Steel, is that many of the firms making these newly connected widgets have little experience with the arcane world of computer security.
  5. This week, President Barack Obama launched an initiative that he hopes will bring this necessity to more low-income American households. The program, called “ConnectHome”, is a partnership between government, tech companies and non-profit organisations that will provide low-cost broadband internet, digital literacy programs and other resources to 275,000 public-housing developments in 28 locations across the country.ConnectHome is the latest White House effort to bridge the so-called “digital divide”, the gap in IT access and know-how between the rich and the poor.
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