13
Mar
15

Roundup – EXPECT NO MERCY!

Best of the Best:

The World’s Most Famous Performance Artist Needs to Make Real Money [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg News] (2/27/15)

Despite her fame, an Abramovic original isn’t expensive—at least, not compared with contemporaries such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Gerhard Richter. While a single Koons sculpture fetches as much as $58.4 million at auction, Abramovic’s biggest sale to date was one of her material works, a 1996 sculpture called Chair for Non-Human Use, which sold for $362,500 in 2011, according to Artnet, which tracks the art market. The chair has a quartz crystal backrest and iron legs that are 23 feet long. As for The Artist Is Present, Abramovic says she prepared for a year, sat for a total of 736 hours, and needed three years to recover from the physical and mental toll. Her fee, she says, totaled $100,000.

Scientists know there are more giant craters in Siberia, but are nervous to even study them [Sydney Morning Herald] (2/27/15)

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 30 metres in diameter. The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Climate change had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time. Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an “urgent” investigation.

Heroin Overdose Deaths in U.S. Have Tripled Since 2010 [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (3/3/15)

The biggest spikes in heroin deaths have taken place in the Northeast and Midwest, the CDC reports. The demographics of heroin abuse and overdose are shifting. While heroin deaths are increasing among all races, the highest overdose rate in 2000 was among middle-aged blacks. By 2013, whites aged 18 to 44 had the greatest rate of overdoses. Men are nearly four times as likely to die from heroin overdoses than women are.  Heroin is also a big business: The RAND Corp. in 2010 estimated that America’s heroin market was worth $27 billion. That’s more than what is spent in the U.S. at hardware stores ($22 billion) or specialty food retailers ($21 billion), according to Census Bureau data.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist in Teen Pregnancy Rates [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline] (3/3/15)

But when you look at actual rates, they demonstrate a stark reality: Girls of color are much more likely to become pregnant. Among non-Hispanic white teens, the birth rate in 2013 was 19 births per 1,000, while among black teens, it was 39 births per 1,000. Latina teens have the highest birth rate, at 42 births per 1,000 teens. The birth rate for Native American teens was 31 births per 1,000, while among Asian/Pacific Islander teens, the birth rate was 9 births per 1,000. Poverty plays a big role in high teen birth rates, as does geography. Rural teens have higher rates of pregnancy than do urban and suburban teens. Southern states, which tend to be poorer and have the highest rates of HIV infections, also report the highest number of teen births. Education and access to contraceptives play a larger role in teen pregnancy rates than do cultural or religious differences, teen advocates suggest.

The Most Unique Job in Each State, in One Map [Jake Grovum on Stateline] (3/2/15)

The state of Hawaii has almost 13 times as many professional dancers than would be expected based on the national average. In New York, there are more than six times as many fashion designers. Florida has five times more professional athletes. Indiana, home to the Purdue University Boilermakers, has more than six times as many actual, working boilermakers…The numbers for North Dakota and Texas, for example, show the states’ heavy reliance on the energy industry: North Dakota has almost 36 times more extraction workers than would be expected based on national averages; Texas has almost seven times as many petroleum engineers. Louisiana, too, shows its reliance on energy: There are 20 times more riggers in the state than would be expected. Other states show similar reliance on certain industries: West Virginia has 77 times more mine shuttle car operators than would be expected. Nevada, meanwhile, is home to 32 times more gaming supervisors. Oregon has more than 40 times as many loggers. The results in some other states are more curious, although perhaps not for those who live there. Mississippi has almost 17 times more upholsterers within its borders than would be expected based on the profession’s prevalence elsewhere. Missouri has almost four times as many psychiatric technicians. In South Carolina, there are almost 12 times more tire builders. It’s worth noting the numbers don’t show that one state or the other necessarily has more people working in a given profession than others. The analysis takes the overall prevalence of certain professions nationwide and compares the expected concentration — relative to a state’s population — with how many people are actually working in those jobs in a given state.

What’s Killing White Women? [John Tozzi on Bloomberg News] (3/5/15)

Black women have a much higher mortality rate, but it has declined significantly—23 percent since 1999. Hispanic women also posted declines. (Hispanics of all age groups, both men and women, have lower mortality rates than average, a demographic phenomenon known as the Hispanic paradox.) Part of the jump in the death rate for whites is explained by the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse and overdoses that disproportionately affected whites. But that accounts for only half the total increase, according to the report. Other causes of death on the rise include suicide and respiratory disease. Some declined, including traffic deaths, homicides, and the cancers most closely linked to smoking. Though overdose deaths among blacks also increased, the rise was smaller. And overall mortality for black women fell dramatically, with declines in deaths from cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, and cancers, among other causes…We don’t have enough evidence to tell whether the increase is a temporary one linked to painkiller abuse or if it’s a long-term shift. The authors cite examples of other short-term spikes in mortality. Deaths increased for black women in the U.S. during the crack epidemic. For Russian men, death rates linked to alcoholism are still high but appear to be declining. A grimmer possibility: The pattern may reflect “a systematic reversal in the long-term trend of mortality decline” for white women, according to the Urban Institute paper. Such a shift could be linked to social and economic circumstances. Poorer people generally have poorer health for a variety of reasons, and growing inequality could be weighing on death rates.

Girls Still Lag Behind Boys at Math, Study Finds [Melissa Korn on The Wall Street Journal] (3/5/15)

Using results from a 2012 assessment given to about a half-million 15-year-olds around the world, a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds that even though more boys struggled to show basic proficiency in reading, math and science than did girls, boys still ultimately outperformed girls in math. The gap was widest at the top, with high-achieving boys scoring significantly higher than the top girls.

Here’s Why Jon Stewart Quitting ‘The Daily Show’ is So Painful for Democrats [Joshua Green on Bloomberg News] (2/11/15)

When placing political ads on television, buyers want to make sure they’re reaching people in the right party and that those people are likely to vote on Election Day. You don’t want to screw this up. A few years ago, when Donald Trump was on his birther tear, the ratings for Celebrity Apprentice tanked because his toxic right-wing politics drove away his heavily liberal audience. Although this chart is a couple years out of date (Piers Morgan!), you can see that Stewart’s audience is both a) extremely liberal, and b) very likely to turn out to vote. Even more so than the audience of the dearly departed Stephen Colbert. And this data undoubtedly understates the true influence of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report because both shows occupied such a prominent space in the Gen X/Gen Y psyche, even if Morgan had even more liberal, civic-minded viewers. All in all, this is rough news for Democrats.

The CIA’s Secret Psychological Profiles of Dictators and World Leaders Are Amazing [Dave Gilson on Mother Jones] (2/11/15)

The CIA studied the Vietnamese leader and revolutionary in the 1950s. Findings: The report remains classified, but a 1994 article by Thomas Omestad in Foreign Policy (not online) cites a retired Marine who saw it while working with the agency. The source told Omestad that the CIA misread Ho’s political motivations and goals. A product of the Cold War, the profile “exaggerated Ho’s Marxism and underestimated his ardent nationalism.”

Scientists Are Wrong All the Time, and That’s Fantastic [Marcus Woo on Wired] (2/27/15)

No matter how an experiment got screwed up, “negative results can be extremely exciting and useful—sometimes even more useful than positive results,” says John Ioannidis, a biologist at Stanford who published a now-famous paper suggesting that most scientific studies are wrong. The problem with science isn’t that scientists can be wrong: It’s that when they’re proven wrong, it’s way too hard for people to find out.

Masters of Love [Emily Esfahani Smith on The Atlantic] (6/12/14)

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time. But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.” The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago [Harry McCracken on Time Magazine] (4/1/14)

Gmail is often given as a shining example of the fruits of Google’s 20 percent time, its legendary policy of allowing engineers to divvy off part of their work hours for personal projects. Paul Buchheit, Gmail’s creator, disabused me of this notion. From the very beginning, “it was an official charge,” he says. “I was supposed to build an email thing.” He began his work in August 2001. But the service was a sequel of sorts to a failed effort that dated from several years before he joined Google in 1999, becoming its 23rd employee…The fact that Gmail began with a search feature that was far better than anything offered by the major email services profoundly shaped its character. If it had merely matched Hotmail’s capacity, it wouldn’t have needed industrial-strength search. It’s tough, after all, to lose anything when all you’ve got is a couple of megabytes of space. But serious search practically begged for serious storage: It opened up the possibility of keeping all of your email, forever, rather than deleting it frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space, a figure Google settled on after considering capacities that were generous but not preposterous, such as 100MB.

Later, Baby: Will Freezing Your Eggs Free Your Career? [Emma Rosenblum on Bloomberg Businessweek] (4/17/14)

The egg freezing generation, those latchkey kids of glass-ceiling breakers, were taught “that you create your career, and then everything else falls into place,” says Lauren, a 34-year-old lawyer in Los Angeles who froze her eggs in January and, like many of the women interviewed for this article, declined to reveal her full name in a national magazine for fear of staying single forever. “But now I know it’s not as easy as that.” Work hard, put off kids, and you might find yourself at 40 hearing a fertility doctor deliver the bad news. According to a 2008 analysis of data from the National Survey of Family Growth, among women 40 to 44, there are equal numbers of those who are childless by choice and those who would like to have children but can’t conceive. Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning. The average age of women who freeze their eggs is about 37, down from 39 only two years ago. (“Desperation level,” as Brigitte Adams, a marketing director at a Los Angeles software company who froze her eggs at 39, puts it.) And fertility doctors report that more women in their early 30s are coming in for the procedure. Not only do younger women have healthier eggs, they also have more time before they have to use them.

Font War: Inside the Design World’s $20 Million Divorce [Joshua Brustein on Bloomberg Businessweek] (5/15/14)

Gotham is one hell of a typeface. Its Os are round, its capital letters sturdy and square, and it has the simplicity of a geometric sans without feeling clinical…Critics have praised Gotham as blue collar, nostalgic yet “exquisitely contemporary,” and “simply self evident.” It’s also ubiquitous. Gotham has appeared on Netflix (NFLX) envelopes, Coca-Cola (KO) cans, and in the Saturday Night Live logo. It was on display at the Museum of Modern Art from 2011 to 2012 and continues to be part of the museum’s permanent collection. It also helped elect a president: In 2008, Barack Obama’s team chose Gotham as the official typeface of the campaign and used it to spell out the word HOPE on its iconic posters. Among those who draw letters for a living, Gotham is most notable for being the crowning achievement of two of the leaders of their tribe, Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler. The two men seemed to be on parallel paths since the summer of 1970, when they were both born in New York. Hoefler and Frere-Jones were already prominent designers when they began operating as Hoefler&Frere-Jones in 1999, having decided to join forces instead of continuing their race to be type design’s top boy wonder. Each would serve as an editor for the other, and they would combine their efforts to promote the work they did together. Colleagues still struggle to explain what a big deal this was at the time…In January, Frere-Jones filed a lawsuit against Hoefler, saying that their company was not actually a partnership, but a long con in which Hoefler had tricked him into signing over the rights to all of his work, cheating Frere-Jones out of his half of the business.

The Invention of the Slurpee [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (4/8/14)

Knedlik’s franchise didn’t have a soda fountain, so he began placing shipments of bottled soda in his freezer to keep them cool. On one occasion, he left the sodas in a little too long, and had to apologetically serve them to his customers half-frozen; they were immensely popular.  When people began to show up demanding the beverages, Knedlik realized he had to find a way to scale, and formulated plans to build a machine that could help him do so. He reached out to The John E. Mitchell Company — a Dallas-based outfit that had previously made cotton cleaning equipment, but had “pivoted” into selling aftermarket automobile air conditioners. The company developed an interest in becoming an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and agreed to help Knedlik with his vision. Five years of trial and error ensued, resulting in a contraption that utilized an automobile air conditioning unit to replicate a slushy consistency. The machine featured a separate spout for each flavor (only two at this point), and a “tumbler” which constantly rotated the contents to keep them from becoming a frozen block.  Initially, Knedlik thought to name his product “scoldasice” but when an ad-man friend persuaded him otherwise, he hired a young local artist, Ruth E. Taylor, to do branding. Taylor coined the “ICEE” name, and drew up a mock sketch of the iconic original logo — four letters placed in blue and red boxes, adorned with ice (a feature that has remained unchanged today). She also conceived the idea to use a polar bear, though the goofy (but endearing) mascot used by Knedlik was eventually developed by Norsworthy-Mercer, an external ad agency. Taylor’s designs were modified and finalized by a staff artist at Mitchell Company (the machine manufacturer), and the ICEE company formulated a business plan. For a rental fee, businesses could license a specified number of ICEE dispensers and have exclusive distribution rights in their territories.  By the mid-1960s, 300 companies had ICEE machines in operation; 7-Eleven was one of them.

Being Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (4/25/13)

However, academic work on beauty finds that much of what we find attractive is consistent over time and across cultures. In general, people find symmetry and averageness of features attractive in faces. When images of perfectly symmetrical faces are created in Photoshop, people like them better. The same is true of photos created by merging many faces to get a composite. Scientists speculate that we prefer symmetry and average features because they (at least at some point) indicated healthy genes or other evolutionary advantages. More evidence of a universal, objective basis for beauty comes from studies of babies presented with pictures of different faces. The pictures the babies gazed at the longest were consistently the ones rated as most attractive by panels of adults.

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs [Ethan Watters on Pacific Standard Magazine] (3/3/14)

At the most quotidian level, Thornhill finds it easy to convince people that humans likewise manifest such instinctual behaviors to avoid infection and illness. Some of these habits very much parallel those seen in other creatures. I admitted to Thornhill that I had recently been displaying a bit of grooming behavior myself after the youngest primate in my care came home from preschool itching with head lice. Like Mashudu, we humans remove waste from our living quarters. We ostracize our sick, at least to the extent that we expect those with the flu to stay home from work or school. And similar to the lowly ant, we assign a small number of our fellows the solemn duty of hauling away and disposing of our dead. On examination, everyday life is full of small defensive moves against contamination, some motivated by feelings, like disgust, that arise without conscious reflection. When you open the door of a gas station bathroom only to decide you can hold it for a few more miles, or when you put as much distance as possible between yourself and a person who is coughing and sneezing in a waiting room, you are displaying a behavioral immune response. But these individual actions are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Thornhill and a growing camp of evolutionary theorists. Our moment-to-moment psychological reactions to the threat of illness, they suggest, have a huge cumulative effect on culture. Not only that—and here’s where Thornhill’s theory really starts to fire the imagination—these deep interactions between local pathogens and human social evolution may explain many of the basic differences we observe between cultures. How does your culture behave toward strangers? What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off? The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways.

The Untold Story Of Larry Page’s Incredible Comeback [Nicholas Carlson on Business Insider] (4/24/14)

Rosing explained that engineering was getting a reorganization: All engineers would now report to him, all project managers were out of a job. The news did not go over well. The project managers were stunned. They hadn’t been warned. They’d just been fired in front of all their colleagues. The engineers demanded an explanation. So Page gave one. With little emotion, speaking in his usual flat, robotic tone, he explained that he didn’t like having non-engineers supervising engineers. Engineers shouldn’t have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge. Finally, he said, Google’s project managers just weren’t doing a very good job. As Page talked, he kept his gaze averted, resisting direct eye contact. Though he was an appealing presence with above-average height and nearly black hair, he was socially awkward. The news was met with a chorus of grumbling. Finally, one of the engineers in the room, Ron Dolin, started yelling at Page. He said an all-hands meeting was no place to give a performance review. What Page was doing was “completely ridiculous,” he said, and “totally unprofessional.”

The Ice Sculpture Business [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics] (4/28/14)

Typically, an ice sculptor started with a standard block of ice (40”x20”x10”), drew out his design on paper, traced it onto the ice, and spent “15-20 minutes chainsawing the stuff off that didn’t need to be there” before detailing it. In the last decade, specialized CNC ice machines have been introduced. The machines, which are operated using computer programs, quickly cut out logos and figures with unbridled precision, and have completely changed the industry.

Why Do We Eat, and Why Do We Gain Weight? [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (4/9/14)

In 2011, Mark Bouton, a psychologist at the University of Vermont, conducted a review of the types of conditional and operant stimuli that increase a craving for a specific food or our desire to eat more generally. He found that two types of cues play an important role. On the one hand, there are food-specific cues: a certain packaging or color associated with a preferred food (say, the distinctive red and orange of a Doritos logo and bag), a certain sound (someone opening the bag), a certain smell (the scent of the chips), or a certain taste (a hint of saltiness). But equally important are environmental cues that seem unrelated to food: the couch on which you typically watch movies while eating popcorn, a social gathering like a Super Bowl party, a sporting event, a shopping mall. These cues, in turn, are very difficult to unlearn. If you have a habit of snacking on Oreos while watching “Mad Men,” it will be tough to get through an episode without craving your cookie. (TV, in fact, is a particularly difficult stimulus to control; regardless of other ambient conditions, we tend to eat more when the television is on.)

Power, Pollution and the Internet [James Glanz on The New York Times] (9/22/12)

Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found. To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters. Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.

Clash of Civilizations? There’s No Such Thing [Charles Kenny on Bloomberg News] (3/12/15)

Huntington’s 1993 essay suggested that “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state often have little resonance” in other cultures. Attachment to the nation-state was weakening, and “in much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap.” Battles among “princes, nation-states, and ideologies” were largely a thing of the past, as “the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations”: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic, Latin American, and African. In some ways, Huntington’s essay looks impressively prescient. Many Arab countries were reaching economic and social development where “efforts to introduce democracy become stronger,” but Huntington warned the “principle beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements.” He noted that in Italy, France, and Germany, political reactions against Arab immigrants would become more intense, as would tensions between Northern (Muslim) and Southern (Christian) Nigeria — all of which now seems farsighted. And even if the evidence is weak that the world has become a lot more religious over the past few decades, it certainly hasn’t become any less so: Around the world, most of the countries for which we have data are seeing rising attendance at religious services. But there’s little evidence that support for the nation-state is being replaced by religious loyalties, or that democratic liberalism is waning, or that civilizations are drifting apart into religion-based regional blocs. And conflicts, while frequently involving cultural divides, remain stubbornly concentrated within, not across, Huntington’s civilizations.

The Luxury Repo Men [Matthew Teague on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/25/12)

Cage and his guys make a living taking from the rich. He’s one of a handful of the world’s most sophisticated repo men. And while the language may be different from the doorbusters who grab TVs, the game is the same: On behalf of banks Cage nabs high-dollar toys from self-styled magnates who find themselves overleveraged. Many of the deadbeat owners made a killing in finance and real estate during the economic bubble—expanding it, even—and were caught out of position when it burst. So now men like Cage steal $20 million jets like they were jalopies. And fast boats. Even, on one occasion, a racehorse.

The Science of “Intuition” [Maria Popova on Brain Pickings] (October 2012)

One of the first things that modern research on intuition has clearly shown is that there is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability, so that people can be very intuitive about one thing (say, medical practice, or chess playing) and just as clueless as the average person about pretty much everything else. Moreover, intuitions get better with practice — especially with a lot of practice — because at bottom intuition is about the brain’s ability to pick up on certain recurring patterns; the more we are exposed to a particular domain of activity the more familiar we become with the relevant patterns (medical charts, positions of chess pieces), and the more and faster our brains generate heuristic solutions to the problem we happen to be facing within that domain.

Study Finds Swans Only Other Animals Who Mate For Few Years, Get Scared, End Things, Then Regret It [The Onion] (3/12/15)

Revealing how closely the waterfowl’s social behavior resembles that of humans, a study released Thursday by the University of Georgia has found that swans are the only other members of the animal kingdom that mate for a few years, get scared, decide to end things, and are later filled with immense regret.

Man Completes Life $130,000 Over Budget [The Onion] (3/10/15)

Sources confirmed that his life would likely be considered a loss, as it did not generate sufficient yields to justify its creation.

Curiously Strong Remains:

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