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The Cambrian explosion: Chinese palaeontologists hope to explain the rise of the animals

The Cambrian explosion

Chinese palaeontologists hope to explain the rise of the animals

Mar 23rd 2013 | Nanjing |From the print edition

AMONG the mysteries of evolution, one of the most profound is what exactly happened at the beginning of the Cambrian period. Before that period, which started 541m years ago and ran on for 56m years, life was a modest thing. Bacteria had been around for about 3 billion years, but for most of this time they had had the Earth to themselves. Seaweeds, jellyfish-like creatures, sponges and the odd worm do start to put in an appearance a few million years before the Cambrian begins. But red in tooth and claw the Precambrian was not—for neither teeth nor claws existed.

Then, in the 20m-year blink of a geological eye, animals arrived in force. Most of the main groups of the animal kingdom—arthropods, brachiopods, coelenterates, echinoderms, molluscs and even chordates, the branch from which vertebrates went on to develop—are found in the fossil beds of the Cambrian. The sudden evolution of this megafauna is known as the Cambrian explosion. But two centuries after it was noticed, in the mountains of Wales after which the Cambrian period is named, nobody knows what detonated it.

A group of Chinese scientists, led by Zhu Maoyan of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, plan to change that with a project called “From the Snowball Earth to the Cambrian explosion: the evolution of life and environment 600m years ago”. The “Snowball Earth” refers to a series of ice ages that happened between 725m and 541m years ago. These were, at their maxima, among the most extensive glaciations in the Earth’s history. They alternated, though, with periods that make the modern tropics seem chilly: the planet’s average temperature was sometimes as high as 50°C. Add the fact that a supercontinent (illustrated above, viewed from the Earth’s south pole) was breaking up at this time, and you have a picture of a world in chaos. Just the sort of thing that might drive evolution. Dr Zhu and his colleagues hope to find out exactly how these environmental changes correspond to changes in the fossil record. Read more of this post

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Mixing bricks with clicks: Some online retailers are venturing onto the high street

Mixing bricks with clicks

Some online retailers are venturing onto the high street

Mar 23rd 2013 |From the print edition

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KIDDICARE wants to be as disruptive as the little monsters who use its products. Traditional sellers of baby gear, laden with too many stores and creaky technology, have all the perkiness of sleep-deprived parents. Internet-based Kiddicare should run rings around them. So it seemed odd last year when the British merchant took over ten “superstores” from Best Buy, itself an erstwhile disrupter (in electronics). Far from weighing Kiddicare down like overstuffed nappy bags, the shops will give customers “a true multichannel experience”, the retailer vowed.

“Multichannel” (or even better, “omnichannel”) is something almost every self-respecting retailer wants to be. It means letting customers shop with smartphones, tablets, laptops and even in stores as if waited upon by a single salesman with an unfailing memory and uncanny intuition about their preferences. Pure-play internet vendors are good at this. But most resist the idea that actual stores, with their rents, payrolls and security cameras, ought to be one of those channels. The thought of having the same costs as bricks-and-mortar competitors “scares the living daylights out of me,” says Charles Hunt, owner of Duvet and Pillow Warehouse, a fast-growing online retailer.

Yet Kiddicare, owned by Morrisons, a British grocer, is not the only retailer to shed its online purity. Screwfix, a British supplier to plumbers and electricians, has opened Read more of this post

The world’s greatest bazaar Alibaba, a trailblazing Chinese internet giant, will soon go public

The world’s greatest bazaar

Alibaba, a trailblazing Chinese internet giant, will soon go public

Mar 23rd 2013 | HANGZHOU AND HONG KONG |From the print edition

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IN 1999 Trudy Dai used to spend all night sending e-mails from her friend Jack Ma’s apartment, trying to answer queries from American customers without letting on that she was Chinese. Ms Dai was one of the first dozen employees of Alibaba, an online listings service Mr Ma, a teacher, had just started. It was already having some success connecting small Chinese manufacturers to potential customers, including the overseas ones Ms Dai was reassuring over e-mail. But the friends and students who made up the workforce were earning just 550 yuan (then $66) a month.

Mr Ma, though, already had big dreams. That year he said: “Americans are strong at hardware and systems, but on information and software, all of our brains are just as good…Yahoo’s stock will fall and eBay’s stock will rise. And maybe after eBay’s stock rises, Alibaba’s stock will rise.”

Since then, Alibaba has come to dominate internet retailing in China, which will soon be the biggest e-commerce market in the world. It has moved beyond its original remit of connecting businesses to each other to ventures that let companies sell directly to the public (Tmall) and enable members of the public to sell to each other (Taobao). Between them, Taobao and Tmall processed 1.1 trillion yuan ($170 billion) in transactions last year, more goods than passed through Amazon and eBay combined (see table 1).

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The Fall of the “Taobao Village”

The Fall of the “Taobao Village”

By Tracey Xiang on March 22, 2013

The Shanghai-based Xin Wen Chen Bao (Morning News) visited Qing Yan Liu, the village that has been referred to as “Taobao Village” since 2008 when it was crowded with thousands of Taobao sellers who were making a good living. But this time the journalist finds some store owners there having a hard time and some left. Golden times are gone.

Liu Wengao, a Qing Yan Liu villager and current deputy head of Zhejiang e-commerce merchants association, says currently only a dozen out of one hundred entrepreneurs can survive in the Taobao ecosystem. But years back almost every Taobao store set up ran by people in the village was successful.

Qing Yan Liu, with about two hundred local households, is located in Yiwu, a city in central Zhejiang province and where  has been known as one of the biggest small commodity wholesale markets in the world. For years merchants from all over the world flied into this city. There was a wholesale market next to Qing Yan Liu till 2008 when merchants doing business in the market were asked to move to a bigger and farther commercial area, leaving with rental village houses empty.

At that time several young villagers set up Taobao stores. Liu Wengao saw potential in it reasoning that most goods sold on Taobao then were what Yiwu markets could provide with at low prices.

To make their stores look fancier, Liu got designers from Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College. Later, the help of Liu and support from the school, students at Yiwu Merchant School were encouraged to run Taobao stores. They were allowed to do business at school time or move out of campus altogether to register companies for their Taobao stores. The school even provided a classroom with Internet access and inventory warehouse for those students. Even better, students can get a credit for running a Taobao store.

Those empty houses were filled in and crowded again. It is said that the Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College alone, with an accumulated two thousand students involved, have set up fifteen hundred stores since 2008.

Liu Wengao said that they created a variety of marketing approaches and got well experienced in operating online stores. Then everyone made a fortune from it.

Now  the village accommodates over eight thousand people who run a total of one thousand Taobao stores.

Even local grocery stores feel the decline in business and find the familiar faces disappeared. Read more of this post

72% Of Professors Who Teach Online Courses Don’t Think Their Students Deserve Credit

72% Of Professors Who Teach Online Courses Don’t Think Their Students Deserve Credit

GREGORY FERENSTEIN

posted 13 hours ago

This is not a good sign for online education: 72 percent of professors who have taught Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) don’t believe that students should get official college credit, even if they did well in the class. More importantly, these are the professors who voluntarily took time to teach online courses, which means the actual number of professors who discount the quality of MOOCs is probably much (much) higher. The survey reveals the Grand Canyon-size gap between the higher-education establishment and the coalition of tech companies and lawmakers that are mandating college credit  for online courses. Read more of this post

E-gadgets distract from literacy, critical thinking

E-gadgets distract from literacy, critical thinking

Created: 2013-3-21

Author:Wan Lixin

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THE other day I was going down the elevator in my apartment building. It stopped at another floor, where a boy of about five was busy touching the panel of an iPad, with his mother beside him.

The mother shouted: “Get in!” The boy marched in without taking his eyes off the panel.
While the elevator was going down, the mother gave the boy a severe dressing-down, but there was no knowing if the boy heard the diatribe, for he was so concentrated on his toy.
Then the elevator stopped at the ground floor, and the mother shouted: “Get out!” and the boy exited, his eyes still glued to the screen. Read more of this post

Watch Nokia CEO Stephen Elop Throw A Reporter’s iPhone On The Floor

Watch Nokia CEO Stephen Elop Throw A Reporter’s iPhone On The Floor

Steve Kovach | Mar. 22, 2013, 1:12 PM | 4,673 | 9

In an interview with a Finnish television reporter, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop took a moment to verbally and physically bash the iPhone. A lot of people are passing the clip around today, so we thought we’d share it with you too. The reporter asked Elop about the Lumia 928, a device that’s rumored to launch on Verizon soon. Elop refused to comment on the rumor, so the reporter pulled out his iPhone and said he’s rooting for Nokia to make a new phone.

“I don’t want to have an iPhone,” the reporter said. “Oh, how embarrassing,” Elop said when he saw the iPhone. “I can take care of that for you.”

Then he snatched the iPhone from the reporter’s hand and chucked it off camera. You can hear the iPhone make thud on the floor. The reporter, to his credit, didn’t even blink. He kept asking about the rumored Lumia 928. Elop said he’d replace the discarded iPhone with a Nokia phone.

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