Archive for July 2nd, 2011

Longest bridges in world

The world’s longest cross-sea bridge, spanning 36.48 kilometers across the mouth of the Jiaozhou Bay in China’s eastern Shandong province, opened to traffic four years after construction started. Here’s a peek into some of the world’s longest bridges.

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Located in Louisiana, United States, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, consists of two parallel bridges that run parallel to each other. The bridges are supported by 9,500 concrete pilings and spans over 38.35 kilometres. The southern terminus of the Causeway is in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. The northern terminus is at Mandeville, Louisiana.

Donghai Bridge Completed on December 10, 2005, the Donghai Bridge has a total length of 32.5 kilometres and connects Shanghai to the Yangshan port in China. The ‘Donghai Bridge’ is popularly known as ‘The stone’.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a four lane bridge that connects the Delmarva Peninsula’s Eastern Shore of Virginia with Virginia Beach and the metropolitan area of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The bridge has a total length of 37 kilometres.

Vasco da Gama Bridge The Vasco da Gama Bridge is a cable bridge with a total length of 17.2 kilometres. The bridge was opened to traffic on 29 March, 1998. The bridge spans across the Tagus River near Lisbon, Portugal.

Penang Bridge The Penang Bridge opened to traffic on September 14, 1985 and connects Gelugor in Penang island and Seberang Prai to mainland Malaysia. The total length of the bridge is 13.5 kilometres.

Rio-Niteroi Bridge The Rio-Niteroi Bridge is a box girder bridge that connects the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi. The bridge opened on March 4, 1974 and the total length of the bridge is 13 kilometres.

Confederation Bridge The 12.9 kilometre long bridge opened on 31 May 1997, connecting the Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick, Canada. The Confederation bridge is a two-lane highway toll bridge.

San Mateo-Hayward Bridge Commonly known as the San Mateo Bridge, the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge connects San Francisco Peninsula with the East Bay. The total length of the bridge is 11.265408 kilometres.

Seven Mile Bridge The Seven Mile Bridge is is located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Strait. Finished in 1982 at a cost of $45 million, the Seven Mile Bridge connects city of Marathon in the Middle Keys of Florida to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys of Florida.


How to Vacation Like An Eccentric Billionaire

In our increasingly homogenized, globalized, and cookie cutter world, one thing remains unique: the whims of eccentric billionaires.

I travel a lot, and occasionally I am fortunate to visit some of the finest hotels and resorts on earth. In the past few years I’ve noticed a trend: many of my best and most memorable experiences are being created by the people who know the least about the hospitality industry. The places you want to stay for a dream trip are often not the work of hoteliers, but folks who made huge fortunes doing something completely different, from mining to finance to retail.

Despite the title above, this is not limited to billionaires. I’ll go so far as to allow for centi-millionaires, and basically anyone wealthy enough to indulge their very whim. These are the people who build hotels and resorts as true labors of love, to reflect what they would like in a place they would stay at, and in many cases, with no regard for the bottom line and no intention to ever turn a profit. These are the places they go to themselves, and often live at, and I would highly recommend staying in, but probably not investing in.

It increasingly seems that my best recent travel experiences, the ones I return from and instantly call friends and suggest they should go for their birthdays or anniversaries, are at places like this, hotels and resorts that do not aspire to be chains or brands, but simply to be awesome.

The best examples are places the rich person built as a home, and then realized they could subsidize the expense by opening it up to the public when not in use, like Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island, the first of many highly publicized private island resorts. Branson built Necker as his own home but you can be a paying house guest. Things may have changed, but for many years it regularly lost money, and I doubt profit is high on his list of motives for keeping Necker as an awesome escape, since he spends so much time there. Likewise, Julian Robertson, of Tiger Fund fame, the original mega-rich hedge fund guy, turned his New Zealand dream home into a posh boutique resort – you can even stay in his actual house.

The other models to seek out include people simply chasing fantasies, like Jade Mountain, which I recently wrote about for my recurring “Hotels I Love” feature, the perfect example of a place that could not be built by committee, probably could not be signed off on by investors, but exists nonetheless, because it was the dream of its owner and designer, architect and railroad heir Nick Troubetzkoy. Another creation story is trying to overcome some feeling of inadequacy, such as when mining magnate Spencer Penrose decided to show the city slickers on the coasts that someone in the middle of the country could play in the luxury big leagues.

Whatever their motivation, when really rich people put quality ahead of profit, it is you, the traveler, who benefits. None of these places are cheap but many are bargains, in the sense that if they were run for profit, they would almost certainly cost even more, if they even existed at all. And they probably would not be as good. And unlike equally expensive luxury chain properties, these are typically not the kind of places where you are going to shell out $1000 a night and then get charged $20 a day for internet or nickelled and dimed for valet parking. For the most part, once you arrive, your wish is their command, and for whatever nightly rate you pay, you get to live like the owner would, because that’s why he or she built the place. Free flowing wine, decadent meals and incredible activities are often included in the rates, making some of these actual bargains from a perspective of excess.

Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand: Julian Robertson, founder of Tiger Fund, fell in love with New Zealand after a post- college year there, and dreamt of a second home. But he never planned to build a resort, yet alone more than one. He found a fantastic piece of land, unrivalled by almost any site on earth, 6,000 waterfront acres overlooking the stunning Bay of Islands National Park, and built his house. Being a crazed golf fanatic, with a truly world class site, he also built a course for himself. As he told me, “I bought this land and it was just too beautiful to leave and do nothing with, and I decided to build a golf course.” Why not? But then it was time for a reality check: private jet or no private jet, when you live in Manhattan how much can you use a golf course on New Zealand’s North Island? So he opened it to the public, and at his wife’s suggestion, built a small luxury lodge, Kauri Cliffs, with 22 “rooms,” all individual cottages, and you can even rent his house when he is not there. The golf course is truly exceptional, and was quickly ranked in the World’s Top 100, public or private, which is hard to do. But the resort is so unbelievable, my takeaway was that I could very happily go there for a week and not play golf, even though I love golf. It’s that good. It’s like its own small country and has two magnificent waterfalls, the kind you’d go to a National Park to see, three gorgeous private beaches, miles of hiking trails, and every outdoor pursuit from hunting wild boar to some of the world’s best Scuba diving. World-class cuisine and luxury lodging made it the first golf resort ever admitted to the prestigious Relais & Chateau hotel association and everything abut the place is first class. (Rates vary seasonally but begin at $500-$900 per person nightly including meals)

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The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand: Once Robertson got going it was hard for him to stop. He has since acquired several New Zealand wineries, which he now serves at both Kauri Cliffs and its newer sibling, Cape Kidnappers. This is a very similar concept, except that instead of the relative middle of nowhere it is in the heart of the acclaimed Hawke’s Bay wine region, occupying a dramatic and rocky namesake peninsula. This time he got Tom Doak, of Pacific Dunes fame, arguably the hottest living golf architect, to do the course, also quickly ranked in the world’s top 100. The scale is about the same, on 6,000 waterfront acres, with very few rooms, luxury food, wine, accommodations, and doting staff everywhere. The main difference is that Robertson’s house here, also for rent, is even bigger and posher. Go! (Rates vary seasonally but begin at $500-$750 per person nightly including meals)

Jade Mountain: Since I just wrote about this (Here) I won’t devote a lot of space, but this place is an architect’s fantasy brought to life on a gorgeous St. Lucia mountaintop, with rooms so stunning and so unique I guarantee you have seen nothing quite like them. Since Jade Mountain is a boutique resort within a larger 4-star beach resort, you get a ton of activities and facilities for a place with so few rooms, including redundant spas and fitness clubs, world-class diving, multiple beaches, tons of activities, etc. It is the kind of place rock stars and CEOs go to relax and be not seen. Love it! It is also one of the best values here. (Rates run $1000 – $2200 nightly and are per room, not per person. The optional all-inclusive upgrade makes a ton of sense at $90 per night per person with all your meals and drinks, including room service).

Twin Farms, VT: Another entry in my “Hotels I Love” series, this ultra-private Vermont enclave for celebs and folks who want peace and quiet is the work of Thurston Twigg-Smith, a fifth generation Hawaiian whose family developed extensive real estate holdings in the 50th state and sold their Hawaiian newspaper to Gannett for a quarter of a billion dollars. He is a noted philanthropist and art collector, and every building at Twin Farms, including the 20 luxury homes, each architecturally unique and thematic, that pass for “rooms,” is adorned with collectible art. There is so much that the guide to the art collection fills two thick binders. Twin Farms occupies the 300+ acre estate formerly owned by Nobel-prize winning novelist Sinclair Lewis. You can read more detail in my previous post, but basically the service is fawning, the food exquisite, the lodging over the top, the sporting facilities wonderful, all while maintaining Vermont’s relaxed country aesthetic. It is often described as “summer camp for adults,” has its own small cross country and downhill ski areas, grows much of its own delicious food, and is truly like being a guest at the home of an eccentric billionaire. It is no coincidence that the tiny and totally off the radar property has won the Forbes (formerly Mobil) 5-Star award for 17 straight years. (The handful of guests rooms in the main house, which I do not recommend, start at $1,400 nightly in peak season. Cottages are mostly $2,100 nightly. NOTE these rates are per room, for two guests, not per person. Rates include all meals, activities, wine and drinks, basically everything. Very slight reduction in off-season pricing).

Ballyfin: Fred Krehbiel’s wife is from County Kerry, Ireland, and apparently that was reason enough for him to undertake the massive renovation of a dilapidated Georgian Manor house in what is pretty much considered nowhere as far as Irish tourism goes. A Chicagoan, Krehbiel is Chairman of the Molex Corporation, a manufacturer of connectors traded on the NASDAQ with a market cap of $4.5 billion. For the past 8 years – longer than it took to build the house in the first place! – Krehbiel has been painstakingly turning the historic building into a 15-room luxury resort on a 600-acre estate full of follies and grottos and a pristine 28-acre lake. A true “build it and they will come” project, Ballyfin sits in County Laois smack in the middle of the Island, 90 minutes west of Dublin and over 2 hours east of Shannon, away from all the major tourist routes and sites. Even before he bought Ballyfin in 2002, Krehbiel had been amassing an impressive collection of Irish art, and the entire place is decorated with these works from his personal collection, all in an effort to elevate the perception of Irish art. Ballyfin is a true labor of love, and while it could theoretically turn a profit someday, it is hard to imagine how, given what has been sunk into it and the size. In the meantime, it is now what it was in the 1820s, a rich guy’s estate designed for entertaining and worthy of a James Bond villain. With a maximum capacity of 29, the chef consults with each guest and cooks whatever they want, focusing on the estate’s extensive gardens and free range eggs and largely locally sourced ultra-fresh ingredients. Ballyfin just opened in May, 2011 has a spa and beautiful grounds, and is mainly for escaping into a romantic and historic past with all the modern luxury bells and whistles. (€580-€1350 nightly per person, including meals, most drinks, minibar, and most activities.)

Think You’re Communicating Enough? Think Again

Good communication is critical to making a big change take hold in any organization, especially in complex enterprises. Most managers and leaders recognize this, but it’s difficult to put into practice. Gaining an understanding of and commitment to a new direction is a challenging intellectual and emotional task. It unnerves people, and as a result, they often under communicate and send inconsistent messages about the change, both of which lead directly to stalled transformation efforts.

Most companies under communicate their visions for change by at least a factor of 10. A single memo announcing a big new change is never enough, nor is even a series of speeches by the CEO and the executive team. To understand how a change vision can easily get lost in the clutter, consider this:

The total amount of communication going to an employee in three months: 2.3 million words or numbers.
Typical communication about the change over a period of three months (the equivalent of one 30-minute speech, an hour-long meeting, one 600 word article in the company’s internal newsletter, and one 2,000 word memo) = 13,400 words or numbers.
13,400/2,300,000 = .0058, which means the change vision has captured only 0.58 percent of the communication market share.
How can you avoid this? First and most importantly, leaders in the organization – usually the CEO and senior level executives – need to “walk the talk” and become living examples of the new corporate culture that the vision aspires to. Nothing undermines a communication program more quickly than inconsistent actions by leadership, and nothing speaks as powerfully as someone who is backing up their words with behavior. When an entire team of senior management starts behaving differently and embodies the change they want to see, it sends a powerful message to the entire organization. These actions increase motivation, inspire confidence, and decrease cynicism. Tactically, a vision for change must be communicated in hour-by-hour activities, anywhere and everywhere – the vision must be referred to in emails, meetings, presentations, company newsletters, and internal training programs. Finally, keep these key elements in mind as you communicate about your change:

Keep your messages simple and jargon-free
Use metaphors and analogies to paint a vivid picture for employees
Repeat, repeat, repeat – ideas only sink in after they’re heard many times
Explain seeming inconsistencies – if you don’t, it undermines credibility
Allow for constant feedback

The Best Places For Business

The recession spared few U.S. cities, wiping out 9.4 million jobs between November 2007 and August 2009. Many will never return, and those that do you probably won’t find on the East or West Coast. For the most active areas of job creation (and lower costs of doing business) you have to go to the heartland, home to 80% of the top 25 regions on our list of Best Places for Business.

In most of these hot hubs you’ll find a strong university or two, providing rich cultural life and the kind of technology transfer that sparks entrepreneurial activity—giving that educated population lots of reasons to stick around.

Topping our 13th annual list of the Best Places for Business and Careers is Raleigh, N.C. It is one of those locales with a strong university presence helping fuel growth in the area (albeit in an East Coast state, a rarity in the upper part of the list). Raleigh and nearby Durham (ranked No. 31) get a strong boost from three elite schools in the surrounding area in University of North Carolina, Duke University and North Carolina State.

Raleigh ranks No. 1 after dipping to third last year. Low business costs (18% below the national average) and a smart labor force (42% have a college degree) make North Carolina’s capital an attractive spot for employers like First Citizens Bank and Progress Energy. Job seekers get it: The net migration rate to Raleigh was the second highest in the U.S. over the past five years.

The 50 Best Places For Business And Careers

Complete Coverage: Best Places For Business

Our look at America’s Best Places for Business showcases the stark contrast between Texas—with its low-cost, pro-business regulatory environment (5 cities among the top 25, led by Austin at No. 7)—and overregulated and wildly expensive California (home to 8 cities that rank in the bottom 25, including No. 200 Merced). Texas was one of the last economies to succumb to the recession and one of the first to bounce back, while California is limping along with an unemployment rate of 11.7% (only Nevada’s is worse).

Besides Austin, Texas also placed San Antonio and Dallas in the top 10. San Antonio, ranked No. 8, is among the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S. (the population increased 25% since 2000). It has been buoyed by defense spending and hiring at Toyota Motor’s truck assembly plant. Dallas (No. 10) has been one of the most resilient economies during the recession and could add 190,000 jobs in the next three years.

It’s not all bad in the Golden State. Aside from nice weather, California does have bright spots in San Jose (No. 35) and San Francisco (No. 37), both of which made the top 40 thanks to a rich arsenal of educated and talented workers.

Demographer Bert Sperling argues that much of the recent success of the heartland can be attributed to “extractive industries” like oil, gas and mining as well as record-high crop prices that have provided jobs and revenue to the center of the U.S. “These economies run in cycles, and these booms and busts are often decades in the making,” he says.

Our ranking of Best Places looks at the 200 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. These range in size from the New York City metro, with to 11.6 million people, to Laredo, Texas, home to 252,000 people (click here for a list of the Best Small Places for Business). We consider 12 metrics relating to job growth (past and projected), costs (business and living), income growth, educational attainment and projected economic growth.

We also factor in quality of life issues like crime rates, cultural and recreational opportunities and net migration patterns. Lastly we included the number of highly ranked colleges in an area per our annual college rankings. A tip of the cap to Moody’s, which provided much of the data, including the economic forecasts. Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling’s BestPlaces, put together a culture and leisure index for Forbes and also crunched the crime numbers for us. College attainment data is compiled by the Census Bureau.

Des Moines, Iowa, last year’s No. 1 dropped one spot as employment fell 0.9% in 2010. The area still has plenty to offer with business costs 16% below the national average and household incomes that are expected to increase 4.2% annually through 2013, eighth best in the U.S. Workers at big employers like Principal Financial and Wells Fargo enjoy cheap housing (median price $148,600) and 20-minute average commutes.

Another big metro that made the top 10, in addition to the three Texas locales, is Denver, which ranks No. 9. U.S. economic growth has been tepid since the recession ended, but Denver’s economy grew 3.9% last year and is expected to grow 3.9% annually through 2013 according to Denver’s great quality of life and educated workforce make it a favorite with companies in industries from aerospace and bioscience to energy, financial services and information technology. Major employers include IBM, Lockheed Martin and Wells Fargo.

A big mover in the rankings this year is the New York metro, which ranked No. 45, up from No. 99 in 2010. Yes it is still the most expensive place to do business in the U.S. at 51% above the national average, but the job and economic forecasts are much improved for the area. The economy is forecast to expand 4.5% per year and household income are expected to increase 4.1% annually the next three years, 12th best in the U.S.

New York also scores well on quality-of-life issues. It ranks first on Sperling’s index among cities for culture and recreation, and its crime rate is 11th-lowest in the country. The biggest draw might be its talented, educated work force with 36% having a college degree–only Washington, D.C. is higher among the 10 largest metros. The concentration of big firms is unmatched as well. It is the corporate home for 80 public companies with more than $1 billion in sales.

WikiLeaks Is Threatening To File Against Visa, MasterCard

More than six months have passed since Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and others cut WikiLeaks’ purse strings. And if that blockade lasts six more days, the secret-spilling group plans to take its financial fight to the courtroom.

If Visa Europe and MasterCard Europe haven’t re-opened payment WikiLeaks by next Thursday, the group and its payment provider DataCell plan to file a complaint with the E.U. Commission against the two companies as well as the Danish payment processor Teller, according to Sveinn Andri Sveinsson, the Icelandic lawyer for WikiLeaks and DataCell.

“They’re boycotting Datacell and Wikileaks without any objective justification,” says Sveinsson. “This is clearly an abuse of their market dominance.”

According to Sveinsson, the following complaint was sent to the two companies earlier this month, and will be filed with the E.U. Commission at an appointment Thursday if the situation isn’t resolved by then.

Gmail Down as Facebook Email Goes Up

Could this be the reasoning for the down time? I’ve reached out to Google for answers, and will update the post when I hear back.

The tension in the air at the Facebook press conference in San Francisco on Monday morning was palpable. Since TechCrunch broke the news on Thursday that Facebook was announcing Project Titan, a Facebook-based web mail system, outlet after outlet piggybacked onto the story, with all headlines reading similarly:

“Is Facebook Launching a Gmail Killer?”

Facebook was adamant that the new product enhancements to their messaging system did NOT make it an email killer. “I think Gmail is a really good product,” Mark Zuckerberg said at the Monday conference.

But what if Google shoots itself in the foot before the Facebook email has a chance to “kill Gmail”?

Today, mere hours after the Facebook announcement, there have been multiple reports coming from the web that Google’s popular email service, Gmail, is down.

“GMAIL GOES DOWN (Right after Facebook announces email for all)” said @HuffPostTech in a tweet shortly after the first reports came in from Twitter.

Tweets started to roll in after the Huffington Post story broke. Yelp’s official Twitter account joined in on the circulating snark that followed the HuffPo story:

“yelp: Gmail down? Perfect time to write a Yelp review!”

Site status monitor reports that Gmail is functioning properly for us, though users continue to tweet access issues. The Google Apps Status Dashboard has no problems reported as of today; there was a problem, however, on November 9th, to which Google responded:

“The problem with Google Mail should be resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support. If you are still experiencing an issue, please contact us via the Google Help Center.”

Whatever the case, I’ll be tracking Gmail’s status as the afternoon unfolds. But one must admit – the timing here is terrible.

Facebook Plans A Google+ Riposte?

Facebook on Friday announced it is announcingsomething “awesome” next Wednesday.  Two interesting questions arise:

Q1: Does Facebook founderMark Zuckerberg’s “inadvertent”mention of this on Thursday amount to an announcement  that there would be an announcement about an announcement?

A1: Yes.

Q2: What might it be?

A2: The conventional wisdom says “iPad App,” but is that really worth a pre-announcement to the announcement of the announcement? Perhaps something even longer-awaited, and currently more strategic, is in the offing.

I venture this because a number of services are quirky on Facebook today. For awhile the messaging function didn’t work (I tried it on a couple of people’s accounts here at the office.) The groups didn’t come up on the home page, either.

Not to get too conspiracy-minded here, but those are the two key functions – groups and email — Google+ uses to organize people. Gmail has been revamped with real-time information about contacts on the righthand side of a message. If you are a Google+ member, you have an option of inviting in the person with whom you  are communicating (though for now that just goes into a holding tank). The “circles” feature of Google+, its most intriguing function, are a better version of Facebook groups.

That puts it to Facebook to make its groups work better and easier. And messaging is something  Zuckerberg has long vowed to improve, though last November’s effort ended up looking like a pretty paltry step. If the Z was serious, there is definitely more to come on messaging from Facebook, sooner or later.

Coming right back at Google+ with a better version of messaging – do you know anyone who really uses Facebook IM or email as anything like a primary source? – would show a nice competitive spirit.

Right now U.S. office workers are taking off for a holiday weekend. Is Facebook using what has to be one of its slower times to get ready for something bigger than an App?

I like to think so – though if it were true, someone would have probably leaked Zuckerberg’s inadvertent announcement of the pre-announcement.

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