Monday, December 22, 2008

Retail, Robotic Pets, Revamping the Work Week

Sorry, internets, I know I've neglected you today. Over here at the Flyer, we've been working like little elves to get our various year ends/year begins issues out and ready to go before the office closes for the holidays.

It is exhausting.

At any rate, here are some interesting stories that you've probably already read, but if you didn't, here you go:

— The NYT had a story about Emeryville, California, yesterday, a town across the bay from San Fran that built its economy on being a retail mecca:

"It is also one of many American cities that hitched its wagon over the last several decades to what seemed like the limitless ability of American shoppers to spend money. Now that faith in the retail engine is being sorely tested. Consumer spending dropped 7.8 percent in November, according to the federal government, and many economists think it will fall further as consumers are buffeted by losses in the stock market, declines in home values and the unsettling fear that they may lose their jobs."

The town was once steel mills and factories and reinvented itself with retail after those industries left for other countries. The town banded together with a redevelopment agency, tax incentives, and a plan that basically gave land to developers. It was successful until this latest downturn, which has seen area businesses post declines and the city thinking of raising taxes.

— Slate has a story about the best robotic pet for Christmas. Now, to be honest, I don't really see the point in having a virtual pet when you could have a real pet, but between mountains of dog hair, crazyloud barking at anything more than dust, and, oh, crazyloud barking, I am beginning to come around to the idea of taking the batteries out of your pet when you're tired.

Writer Daniel Engber got the chance to petsit and realizes his membership "in a sad demographic that includes shiftless magazine editors, small children and senior citizens. We're the sorry lot that adores animals but is too lazy, uncoordinated, or inform to take care of them."

Engber surveyed a wide spectrum of robot/pets and had this to say:

"As much as I enjoyed the exercise, it soon became clear that at every price point, a robot pet can be described by its signature combination of essential robot qualities: It's annoying, disturbing, offensive, pathetic, or scary — or some mixture thereof. In the end, though, one fake animal whirred and purred his way into my heart."

It was the Pleo, which is an 8-inch-high, automated Camarasaurus. (Just to cut to the chase.)

(If you're looking for more of a robot doll — the kind for kids! — than a robot pet, click here.)

— More employers are looking to the four-day work week to cut costs. From BusinessWeek:

"Like many companies, Pella is looking to cut expenses because of the economic downturn. But instead of laying off more workers, the Iowa manufacturer of windows and doors is instituting a four-day workweek for about a third of its 3,900 employees. Chris Simpson, a senior vice-president at the company, acknowledges it's an unconventional move. But Pella believes the economy could turn around faster than most people expect, and it doesn't want to be caught short of experienced workers. "Our contention is, consumer confidence will rebound," says Simpson. "If there's a [government] stimulus package of some kind, we think people are going to respond."

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