Wednesday, September 7, 2016

UK economy is surprisingly stable; Apple iPhone 7 ditches the headphone socket; Serena as the greatest sportsperson

1 UK economy is surprisingly stable (San Francisco Chronicle) Fear of an economic meltdown was the biggest weapon in the campaign to stop Britain from leaving the European Union. Economic and financial experts in the City of London, which has a lot to lose from an EU exit, warned that a decision to leave would hit business so hard as to put the country in or close to recession this year.

Ten weeks after the vote, though, some say the fearmongering was overdone. Though the pound has fallen to a 30-year low, as predicted, people continue to spend and activity in manufacturing and services rebounded last month from a sharp contraction in July. House prices have held up.

The question is whether this is simply the calm before the storm — before Britain goes through with the decision to leave the EU and negotiates its new relationship — or is the country such a good place to do business that it can weather the dislocation of Brexit.

Among the most crucial questions to be decided is whether Britain will continue to have access to the EU's single, tariff-less market of more than 500 million people and under what conditions. The financial services industry is particularly concerned about maintaining the current system of "passporting," which allows professionals who are registered in one member state to work anywhere in the bloc.

The details of Britain's new relationship with the EU will be determined by negotiations that will last at least two years and won't begin until the government formally notifies European authorities that it intends to leave. Prime Minister Theresa May has signaled that she won't do this before 2017.

One explanation for stabilization in economic indicators is that the Conservative Party chose a new prime minister two months earlier than was expected when David Cameron stepped down following the referendum. Since taking office, May has dismissed calls for early parliamentary elections and, critically, insisted that she won't immediately trigger Article 50, the clause in the EU treaty that sets a departure in motion.

That eliminated some of the political uncertainty that fueled uncertainty after the vote — and bought the country time. The Bank of England also swung into action, launching a range of stimulus measures to bolster confidence in the economy. Economists are now waiting for more data that show what the economy is doing — and where it is going — over the long term.

2 Apple’s iPhone 7 ditches the headphone socket (BBC) The iPhone 7 will not have a traditional headphone socket. Apple said its lightning connector could be used instead, which would make room for other components. It will also promote the use of wireless earphones, and has released a set of its own called Airpods. The firm said it had taken "courage" to take the step.

However, it risks annoying users who will now require an adapter for existing headphones. The company unveiled its latest handsets following a year in which its phone sales and market share shrank.

Other new features include: the home button can now detect how firmly it is being pressed and provide vibration-based feedback, but no longer moves into the phones; the handsets can be submerged in water up to depths of 1m (3.2ft) for 30 minutes at a time; the larger iPhone 7 Plus model gets a two-lens camera on its rear, allowing it to offer a choice of focal lengths.

The launch comes a week after the European Commission demanded Apple pay up to €13bn in back taxes to Ireland - a ruling the firm is appealing. The 3.5mm headphone jack was made popular by Sony's Walkman cassette players, but was first introduced in one of the Japanese company's transistor radios in 1964.

Apple has repeatedly been willing to ditch connectors and other ageing tech from its products earlier than its rivals. However, it was not first in this case. "Lenovo's Moto Z and select models from Chinese manufacturer LeEco have launched without the 3.5mm socket in 2016," noted IHS's Ian Fogg.

Apple said the Airpods would last "up to five hours" on a charge, and come with a recharging case that can extend their life up to 24 hours before a plug socket is required. The iPhone 7 Plus has both a wide angle and telephoto lens on its back, both using their own 12 megapixel sensor.

3 Serena as the greatest sportsperson (Michael Eboda in The Guardian) One look at this list, and it’s pretty easy to see what they each have in common: Muhammad Ali, Diego Maradona, PelĂ©, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Jack Nicklaus, Sir Donald Bradman, Roger Federer. Whenever the topic of who is the greatest sportsperson of all time comes up for discussion, these are the usual suspects.

Of course, there’s something else they all share: gender. Traditionally, when we talk of sporting achievement at this level, no female athlete receives a mention – until, that is, earlier this week. In an advertising campaign timed to coincide with the US Open tennis championships, the sportswear giant Nike threw a new name into the argument: Serena Williams.

Several characteristics define sporting greatness in an individual: domination, longevity, changing the game, and overcoming adversity; and – of course – the person must win the sport’s big prizes. Who can deny that in each of those categories Serena at least equals, and in many ways surpasses, the aforementioned men?

Only two other players have held the No 1 spot more than twice over the past decade, Kim Clijsters and the now disgraced Maria Sharapova. Serena’s head-to-head record against the Belgian: 7-2. Against the Russian, she has been even more destructive: Sharapova hasn’t beaten Serena in 11 years – that’s 18 consecutive matches.

Arguably, only Bolt has proved to be so much better than the opponents he has had to face, and he doesn’t run against them nearly as often as Serena must face her rivals. Longevity? Again, Serena is right there. She first became world No 1 at the age of 20; she’s now 34, and in the intervening years has held top spot an incredible six times, including for the past three and a half years.

And then throw in her unbelievable comebacks from injury, the worst being when she was forced out of the sport for a year, 2010-2011, having suffered from a pulmonary embolism that left her “on her deathbed”. Because of her inactivity on the court, her ranking dropped to 175; a year later she was back at No 1. It’s hard to contest that she doesn’t deserves to be mentioned alongside the absolute best there has ever been.

That she has redefined what normal means in a way that no other athlete ever has is perhaps why Serena Williams can justly be considered the greatest of all time.

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