Monday, May 30, 2016
Via The Local: New figures from a Swedish government agency show that the country's economy is comfortably outpacing European giants like Germany and Great Britain. According to state-funded number-crunchers Statistics Sweden (SCB), the Nordic nation’s GDP grew by 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2016 in comparison to the same period last year. Growth was up as much as 4.9 percent during the final period of 2015, meanwhile. Compare that to Great Britain, which saw GDP grow by only 2.1 percent in both quarters, and Germany, which saw 1.6 percent growth in the first quarter of 2016 and 1.3 percent in the final quarter of 2015 respectively, and the Swedish economy comes out well from the latest round of stats. Reasons cited for Sweden’s positive movement include a strong construction sector, high household consumption and high public investment, and the Scandinavian country’s government was quick to highlight the health of its economy upon the release of the figures. “It’s a stable, healthy growth”, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson told news agency TT. “We’re not on the road to overheating”. The leading party of Sweden’s official opposition meanwhile has attempted to take its share of the credit by relating economic strength to the Moderate Party's governing both before and during the global financial crisis of 2008. This positive nature of this week’s figures are in line with the release of a report last week from leading ratings agency Moody’s which suggested that Sweden has the best economic growth in the Nordics. At the same time however it also warned that declining world export shares could hurt a nation where foreign trade plays an important role. And concerns over the condition of the export market were echoed on Monday by Nordea’s chief economist Annika Winsth, who explained that the strength of the krona is partially to blame. “I’d like to see a bit more pressure from abroad. That’s a little worrying”, she told TT.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Via The Swedish Wire: In an open letter published in Chicago Tribune, Swedish fast-food chain Max urges its American peers, like McDonald’s and Burger King, to sell more vegetarian burgers. Why? Because beef production is one of the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. With the letter, the Swedish chain aims to challenge the industry to begin its climate adaptation, and shows that doing so is also good for the bottom line. “If we are part of the problem, we have a responsibility to be part of the solution” says Richard Bergfors, CEO of Max Hamburger Restaurants. “As a hamburger chain we want to offer our guests the opportunity to make climate-smart choices”. In January, Max launched five new green menu items, one of which is completely vegan. Now, every fourth burger they sell is green. In some restaurants, it’s even every second. The publication of the letter comes as the world’s hamburger tycoons meet in Chicago for the international fast food fair, NRA Show 2016. Founded in northern Sweden in 1968 by Curt Bergfors and Britta Andersson, Max is the most profitable restaurant chain in Sweden, outperforming both McDonald’s and Burger King, it said in a statement. It has some 120 restaurants across the region.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Via Unknown Country: This footage shows a military jet turning toward an unknown object in the sky above Bossier City, Louisiana which is near Barksdale AFB. The witness reported that the object slowly appeared to get smaller, then disappeared altogether. She said that there was heavy military activity in the area at a later time. In an interview conducted by UFO researcher Leslie Kean with Defense Department expert Christopher Mellon on Huffington Post on May 10, Mr. Mellon stated, "I highly doubt DoD or any other government agency is concealing UFO information. I participated in a comprehensive review of DoD’s black programs and spent over a decade conducting oversight of the national foreign intelligence program, an almost totally separate world of secrets. I visited Area 51 and other military, intelligence and research facilities. During all those years, I never detected the faintest hint of government interest or involvement in UFOs". Perhaps he did not have "need to know" to be informed of incidents like this. There are many cases where military aircraft have been observed by witnesses to be chasing UFOs, including one in Stephenville, Texas which was documented by MUFON investigators using the Freedom of Information Act. Researcher Ken Cherry was interviewed about this case on Dreamland in October of 2008.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Via Tech Crunch: Just swallow a pill and it expands into a balloon in your stomach so you don’t feel hungry. No gastric bypass, no surgery required. Sounds magical, but Boston-based Allurion has created the only non-invasive gastric balloon for obesity. Gastric balloons are nothing new, but you usually need anesthesia and a doctor to insert them. That makes the whole process expensive and prohibitive to anyone afraid of undergoing the knife just to lose some weight. Allurion’s Elipse device makes the process more comfortable with one quick gulp. The little pill is already selling in Europe, where it’s easier to get approval for medical devices than in the States and is launching in Kuwait soon. But Allurion is seeking FDA approval and plans on conducting a clinical trial in the U.S. next year to bolster its case for approval here. The pill takes about 15 minutes to inflate in the stomach after consumption and is supposed to stay there for about 4 months, or a good amount determined to help the overweight person shed a significant amount of fat. The balloon then opens up right around the four-month mark and the body then excretes it. Shantanu Gaur and Samuel Levy started noodling on the idea of a better gastric balloon about seven years ago while at Harvard Medical School. “Obesity is one of the biggest unmet needs in our healthcare system”, Gaur said of why he wanted to focus on creating a better medical device for the overweight. “There seem to be very few options between dieting and exercise and weight loss devices across the spectrum and we figured it would be something very beneficial to consumers if we could come up with a product that could serve as an intermediary between diet and exercise and surgery”. The prospect of a pill without the drugs and surgery would dramatically lower the cost and cut out many complications associated with the procedure. Inserting a gastric balloon has the potential to damage the esophagus and risks infection from bacteria. Anesthesia and the time it takes a doctor to insert the device also adds up in costs. Removing the need for drugs and simply swallowing a pill instead of requiring tubes shoved down your throat could make the whole thing much cheaper for those wanting to try adding a semi-permanent water blob to their insides. Allurion just closed on another $6 million in funding led by Boston VC firm Romulus, leading to a total of $17 million raised to date from Romulus and various angel investors.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Via The Local: Bookies are tipping Russia to win Saturday night's Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, with hopes pinned on a former child star who has spoken out against his country's climate of homophobia. With US pop star Justin Timberlake making a guest appearance, this year's edition of the love-it-or-hate-it kitsch fest is slated to be the most-watched in the show's history. Promising its usual potpourri of bizarre performance antics, special effects and cheese, the contest is being hosted by Swedish public television for the second time in four years. Throw into the mix a good shot of politics -- Russia and Ukraine are both finalists -- and rest assured, this year's show will have die-hard fans and political analysts with a soft spot for pop on the edge of their seats. For the first time, Eurovision will be broadcast live in the United States on the Logo channel, which is aimed at the LGBT community. "The Eurovision Song Contest is now a truly global phenomenon", producer Jon Ola Sand said, amid expectations that the show will push last year's record of 197 million viewers worldwide. Pop heartthrob Timberlake is expected to perform his new single "Can't Stop the Feeling". Bookies are betting on a star who came in from the cold to win the contest between 26 finalists -- 25 Europeans and one Australian. Russian performer Sergey Lazarev, popular in his own country and eastern European nations, has built an eventful career as a singer, actor and TV host. The 33-year-old has all it takes to go down in Eurovision history with his catchy "You Are the Only One". On a more serious note, his sympathy for the LGBT cause has drawn admiration from gay rights campaigners. This month he told Sweden's QX gay magazine that he was happy for fans to wave rainbow flags at his performance, saying he respects his gay fans and they respect him. He appeared at a British gay pride event in 2008, at a time when Moscow's then-mayor openly called such demonstrations "Satanic". His main competition comes from Australia, France, and Russia's arch-rival Ukraine, whose entry took a decidedly political turn this year. Kiev is represented by Jamala, who will sing "1944," a song inspired by her great-grandmother's story. It recounts the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin, and she sings partly in the Tatar language, she says, because "it's in my blood". The song has resonance for contemporary Ukraine, where memories of that horror were revived by Russia's seizure of Crimea and Jamala's poignant lyrics tell the story of a people with a history of persecution that continues to this day. Political leaders in Moscow and Crimea protested against the song for, they say, criticising Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014. But the jury approved the lyrics nonetheless, setting the stage for a monumental confrontation. Australia meanwhile takes the stage full of ambition in its second year of competition, with a performance by 27-year-old Dami Im, who was born in South Korea. Once a talented pianist, she entered the spotlight in 2013 when she took the Australian "X-Factor" crown. France, which hasn't won for almost four decades, has tried to boost its chances by following the Australian formula: pick an artist with a proven record on the small screen. The country groomed 31-year-old French-Israeli Amir Haddad, a 2014 finalist in the French version of "The Voice" singing competition, who also appeared on Israel's "Pop Idol". Gone are the days however, when the antiquated voting system made it obvious who would win long before the show ended. That was "not good TV", organizers admit. This year, scores will be decided by both national juries, who will speak first, and viewers. The new system will feel more democratic as it gives fans the final say. And you don't need a TV to watch the grand final: the show will be streamed live on YouTube, giving Google a piece of a pie once reserved for European public broadcasters. The winner will be announced shortly before 2330 GMT, Swedish time. So get your snacks, tissues and flags ready.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Via The Swedish Wire: Technology and Stockholm have long thrived together, the Economist concludes in a story about the Swedish capital’s many tech startups – such as Spotify, Truecaller, Klarna, and Skype. One of the reasons behind the success, says Mikael Damberg, Sweden’s minister of enterprise, is the high level of programming skills among its citizens. “Programming is the single most common occupation in Stockholm today”, the minister told the magazine. An estimate suggests the tech sector employs 18% of workers—far above the 10% said to be typical in most European capitals. The digital boom, the magazine explains, is one reason why the Swedish capital region has one of Europe’s fastest-growing populations (2.3m people, up by 10% since 2010). It also explains why the city’s economy as a whole is rattling along at about 5% annualised growth; the city claims to be the fastest-growing in Europe. What’s more, since 2003 Stockholm ranks as the fifth city, globally, in nurturing unicorns, private firms valued over $1 billion. And it got one-fifth of all European investments in “fin tech” firms between 2010 and 2014, he says. Tech firms in Stockholm have helped enhance Sweden's reputation for business all over the world, and it's not surprising that a record amount of money was invested in Swedish startups last year. Leading private equity and venture capital firms and acceleration programs invested 6.6 billion kronor ($800 million) in 2015, according to venture capital investors Industrifonden.
Monday, May 09, 2016
Via Tech Crunch: The tech industry’s diversity problems are exacerbated by its obsession with genius coders and brilliant founders, Carissa Romero, a partner at the diversity consulting startup Paradigm, said today at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. Romero, who took part in a panel of diversity advocates, said that the mentality that geniuses are born rather than created through experience and practice can be alienating for people who don’t fit the stereotype of the average tech worker: young, white, straight male, probably rocking a hoodie. Diversity — or the lack of it — became a major focus in tech several years ago when companies like Google and Facebook followed Pinterest’s lead and released hard data about the gender and racial makeup of their workforces. The numbers confirmed the well-worn stereotype that tech companies are mostly staffed by white men, and kicked off conversations about how to level the playing field. But now, those conversations have started to shift. With hard data out on the table, companies have started to diversify their new hires and are beginning to focus on building inclusive cultures so they can retain staff. Erica Baker, an engineer and diversity advocate at Slack, and Danielle Brown, head of diversity and inclusion at Intel, joined Romero in that conversation today at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. “I don’t think tech has so much of a culture problem as an exclusion problem”, Baker said. When workers feel excluded, they may walk away from a company — or never apply for a job in the first place. Advocates are working to foster cultures of inclusion within tech companies so they can raise their retention rates. Baker, along with diversity advocates like Ellen Pao and Freada Kapor Klein, recently launched Project Include, a nonprofit organization focused on providing companies with tools and research to aid in their diversity and inclusion efforts. Project Include gives startups advice on how to build inclusive cultures, even if they can’t afford to hire a staffer to focus on diversity and inclusion or an outside firm like Paradigm. So far, Project Include has attracted more than 800 signups from members of the startup and venture capital communities. “We’re having this boom of startups right now and have to make sure those companies are diverse and inclusive when they grow to be the Facebooks and Googles. Their cultures will set the tone for the next wave”, Baker said. Data makes tech’s hiring problem fixable — an HR department can see that only two percent of its engineers are black and then focus its recruiting efforts to adjust that percentage. But making sure those employees want to stick around once they’re hired is a trickier problem. Intel’s solution has been to motivate employees to support diversity and inclusion with cold, hard cash. Brown said her company has tied employee bonuses to its diversity and inclusion efforts — if Intel meets its diverse hiring and retention goals, everyone gets a bit more money. She said that tying bonuses to hiring goals is “a really powerful way to say you’re serious in your commitment”. Although most of the industry’s conversations have focused primarily on racial and gender diversity, Brown said Intel will expand its diversity efforts and start releasing data about its LGBTQ, veteran and diversely abled employees later this year. Romero said that companies can also improve their retention rates by dropping the fascination with geniuses and focusing on building a culture of growth instead. She suggested that companies focus on the way they give feedback to employees, emphasizing effort, strategy and risk-taking over innate traits. “People in tech look at themselves as being isolated from the rest of society”, Baker said, but that attitude allows institutional racism to make its way into company cultures. She called on companies to be more aware of institutional racism, sexism and bias and work actively against them. “The key to bringing people into the conversation is making it okay for them to feel uncomfortable”, she added. Once we get past our discomfort, we can have the necessary conversations to improve tech culture.