Monday, November 25, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N47): Pearson CEO Fallon, Amazon Storage Underground, Rough Trade, Maigret, USB, EdX & MIT + More

John Fallon, CEO of Pearson plc was interviewed in London's Evening Standard last week.
The new buzzword is efficacy: not just selling study programmes to schools or parents who want their children to get ahead but setting targets and measuring how they improve performance and help learners advance their careers, from Pearson’s South African university students to the millions being taught English online.
“It changes what we invest in, what acquisitions we make, how we recruit people and how we incentivise them,” explains Fallon, 51, with close-cropped hair and northern vowels. Where once Pearson hired editors and publishers, the new boss wants more software engineers and data analysts. By 2018, the company aims to report on the performance of its education programmes as reliably as it reports on its finances.
“What makes this much more doable now than it has ever been before is the application of technology has the capacity to transform the productivity of education around the world,” he says.
Fallon’s fast-moving agenda, including wholesale changes to his executive team, has spooked some investors, though Pearson shares are still up 10% this year. The shake-up has been accompanied by weakness in the US college textbooks market, its largest and most profitable division. College enrollments fall when the economy recovers, but it is a setback even the group’s former communications director can’t spin his way out of.
Such is the size and ubiquity of Amazon that even in an article about the Tube adding 24hr service and laying off 700 workers, the company is mentioned as a savior of sorts.  The FT reported that London Underground may be considering a proposal for Amazon to rent space heretofore used by transport staff to place their Amazon Lockers.  No other papers picked up this story.
In a sign of the sweeping changes under way at the world’s oldest metro system, Transport for London also said it was talking to Amazon, the online retailer, about converting its ticket offices – which will be closed in favour of automatic ticket machines – to “drop-off” points for its goods.
London's Rough Trade record store is opening in New York (today) and interesting to note the original store had its genesis in a visit to City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. (Guardian)
Godfroy admits: "It's been a testing process." The shop has been four years in the making and would have been launched much earlier if not for various setbacks, including Hurricane Sandy. Rough Trade NYC, housed in a former film prop warehouse at 64 N 9th Street, is three times bigger than Rough Trade East. Opening on Monday, it contains a café, bar, exhibition space and 250-capacity live performance room as well as a vast array of records and books. (Disclaimer: the Guardian will be curating its own space within the store.)
"We've learned how what is ostensibly a store can be so much more," says Godfroy. "Visiting us is like visiting a cultural hub; it's not simply a place for purchasing. There's a relative lack of places [in New York] that allow people to hang out in an environment that celebrates the art, not the commodity."
The idea of the record shop as cultural hub echoes Rough Trade's modest beginnings in 1976. Two years earlier, founder Geoff Travis abandoned a career in teaching to hitchhike around America and became a regular customer at San Francisco's beatnik hangout City Lights. "I loved the fact it was an environment you could sit in," he says. "You could stay all day as long as you didn't spill coffee on the books. It was so different to anything in London, which was like a Wimpy bar: the lights were too bright and the seats were too uncomfortable."
The New Scientist looks at the history of the fictional French detective Maigret (NS):
Simenon had perhaps enjoyed more than a couple glasses of schnapps and bitters that morning, for his memory is certainly at fault. There was no sudden puff of smoke by the side of a Dutch canal. Rather, Maigret seems to have emerged from the mists of Simenon’s imagination slowly, pensively, ploddingly and over time.
In 1929, Simenon was already a successful author. He had started work at the age of 15 as a junior reporter on his local newspaper, the Gazette de Liège, and in his twenties he had published more than 100 of what he called his romans alimentaires, pulp romantic and adventure novels, which he wrote under various pseudonyms and at incredible speed. (At his peak of pulp productivity, in 1928, he produced no fewer than 44 novels, many of them written in a matter of days.)
In the 1930s, he started writing what he called his romans durs, his literary novels, the most distinguished of which – L’Assassin (1937), L’Homme qui regardait passer les trains (1938), La Veuve Couderc (1942) – were masterpieces of psychological intrigue. The Maigret books bridge the two extremes of his career but have eclipsed all else in reputation and renown. When he died in 1989, France Soir announced on its front page, “Le père de Maigret est mort”.
The Economist looks at a 1000 page history of The Beatles:
After publishing important books about Beatles concerts and recordings in the 1980s, Mr Lewisohn took on the full-time job of Beatles biographer in 2004. But he insists that "All These Years" is not authorised.
"It wasn't an issue," Mr Lewisohn. "The Beatles had done their book, the 'Anthology' [published in 2000], which I helped edit. They weren't going to authorise another."
For "Tune In" he has found old fans in Liverpool, examined ghostly footage and listened to as many pre-EMI recordings as have survived. By piecing together EMI documents and those of Brian Epstein, the band's manager, Mr Lewisohn has proven that George Martin—the producer who was instrumental in shaping almost every Beatles album—was pushed to sign the group before meeting them (owing to corporate pressure after he was found having an affair with his secretary; they got married and are still together today). This "goes against every known account," he says.
Also from The Economist, how the USB could be our ubiquitous power source:
The big change next year will be a new USB PD (Power Delivery) standard, which brings much more flexibility and ten times as much oomph: up to 100 watts. In his London office Simon Daniel, founder of Moixa, a technology company, charges his laptop from a prototype souped-up USB socket. The office lighting, which uses low-voltage LED (light-emitting diode) lamps, runs from the same circuit. So do the monitors, printers and (with some fiddling) desktops. Mains power is only for power-thirsty microwaves, kettles and the like.
That could presage a much bigger shift, reviving the cause of direct current (DC) as the preferred way to power the growing number of low-voltage devices in homes and offices. DC has been something of a poor relation in the electrical world since it lost out to alternating current (AC) in a long-ago battle in which its champion Nikola Tesla (pictured, left) trounced Thomas Edison (right). Tesla won, among other reasons, because it was (in those days) easier to shift AC power between different voltages. It was therefore a better system for transmitting and distributing electricity.
From Inside Higher Ed, MIT is using EdX to re-think their strategy:
That’s where edX comes in. Half of MIT’s undergraduates use edX content in their residential courses, and as more faculty members break their courses into modules, Agarwal said he expects MIT will move away from the traditional four-year on-campus experience.
An education from MIT may soon involve a freshman year spent completing online courses, two years on campus and a fourth “year” of continuous education. While students pursue their careers, they could access a growing library of online courses to refresh their knowledge, Agarwal said.
“As we blend the courses, universities will take the next step,” Agarwal said. “We would be woven into the fabric of universities. And as long as we’re adding value, we have no qualms about that.”
MIT has already taken what Agarwal called “a bold step” toward such a model, even though the institution only describes it as an experiment. In September, the university’s arm of edX, MITx, announced the creation of two “XSeries” -- edX courses bundled into sequences. Partner universities are weeks away from announcing their own XSeries, he said.
From the twitter feed.
Guardian profile: David Tennant, our favourite Doctor … his time has come
Oven chip sales slump: is the end nigh for frozen frites?


Ron Burgundy on wild eagles, hair myths and jazz flute
BBC's loss-making Lonely Planet deal under fire

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