China growth outlook hazy; Murder capitals of the world; How Google, Yahoo blend art and engineering

1 China growth outlook hazy (Khaleej Times) China’s factory activity unexpectedly fell to a five-month low in October as firms fought slowing orders and rising costs in the cooling economy, reinforcing views that the country’s growth outlook is hazy at best. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) eased to 50.8 in October from September’s 51.1, the National Bureau of Statistics said, but above the 50-point level that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.

Underscoring the challenges facing the world’s second-largest economy, the PMI showed foreign and domestic demand slipped to five- and six-month lows, respectively, with overseas orders shrinking slightly on a monthly basis.

It has been a tough year for China’s economy. Growth fell to 7.3 per cent in the third quarter, its lowest level since the 2008-09 global financial crisis, as the housing market sagged and domestic demand and investment flagged. The cooldown, expected to be China’s worst in 24 years this year according to a Reuters poll, came despite a flurry of government support measures.

But the raft of measures — which were issued over a space of a few months — have failed to sustain momentum in the economy, prompting authorities to take one of their most drastic policy actions this year by cutting mortgage rates in September.

2 Murder capitals of the world (John Vidal in The Guardian) The Honduran city of San Pedro Sula is officially the most violent in the world outside the Middle East and warzones, with more than 1,200 killings in a year, according to statistics for 2011 and 2012. Its murder rate of 169 per 100,000 people far surpasses anything in North America or much larger cities such as Johannesburg, Lagos or São Paulo. London, by contrast, has just 1.3 murders per 100,000 people.

Research by security and development groups suggests that the violence plaguing San Pedro Sula and many other Latin American and African cities may be linked not just to the drug trade, extortion and illegal migration, but to the breakneck speed at which urban areas have grown in the last 20 years. The faster cities grow, the more likely it is that the civic authorities will lose control and armed gangs will take over urban organisation, says Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute in Brazil.

Simon Reid-Henry, of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, said: “Today’s wars are more likely to be civil wars and conflict is increasingly likely to be urban. Criminal violence and armed conflict are increasingly hard to distinguish from one another in different parts of the world.” The latest UN data shows that many cities may be as dangerous as war zones. While nearly 60,000 people die in wars every year, an estimated 480,000 are killed, mostly by guns, in cities.

More than half the world now lives in cities compared with about 5% a century ago, and UN experts expect more than 70% of the world’s population to be living in urban areas within 30 years. The fastest transition to cities is now occurring in Asia, where the number of city dwellers is expected to double by 2030, according to the UN Population Fund.

3 How Google, Yahoo blend art and engineering (Wendy Lee in San Francisco Chronicle) An important lesson learned by Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer happened in the early hours of Halloween when she was working at Google. It was 15 years ago, and Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin asked Mayer to put a new logo for Google on its homepage. Replacing the o’s in Google were two smiling pumpkins. At first, Mayer hesitated. She pointed out the pumpkins were just made out of clip art and were pixelated, but Brin insisted the logo go up.

The art would show “we’re people and we’re excited for Halloween,” Brin told her. The unique logo ended up being a success, with Google users commenting online that they were excited to see the artwork. It humanized the site and showed the “flair of personality” from its employees, Mayer said. “It was an important lesson for me,” she said.

Mayer said at Yahoo, she tries to let that element of humanity and emotional connection come through in its products. “Yahoo is about personalization, how we can take sports, news, finance and mail and make it feel like it’s tailored to you, customized to you,” Mayer said.

Mayer said art and engineering were a part of her life at a young age. Her mother, an art teacher, taught her about art history and her father is an engineer. She said the two topics “are not all that different.” “Engineering that isn’t beautiful has its drawbacks, and art that isn’t engineered is also less interesting,” Mayer said.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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