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Steve Parsons

Now: March 2008

What's happening this month: Shiny new airport terminals in London and Beijing take off; why baseball's first pitch is in Tokyo; and Austin's South by Southwest by the numbers.

Week 1

march 1
BID
Meg Whitman's 10th Anniversary as CEO of eBay

When Whitman signed on as CEO in 1998, eBay had a staff of 29 and $47.4 million in annual revenue; now it's at 11,000 and $7 billion plus. But as she marks 10 years of proving there's a market for fragrantly well-worn size-12 Air Jordans, the "time left" on her tenure is ticking down. Whitman's impending departure from the top job at eBay is stirring analysts' hopes that new leadership will bring new growth. After all, as Whitman said herself early in her eBay days, no CEO should serve more than 10 years. --Ellen Gibson

march 2
VOTE
Russian Presidential Election

Mitt Romney must be a bit jealous. In the other big 2008 presidential race, the leader, Dmitry Medvedev, has wealth, corporate bona fides, the blessing of an incumbent that most of the country still likes, and poll numbers around 80%. But the incumbent is Vladimir Putin, who's expected to become Medvedev's premier/puppet master and shows every sign of taking the power of the presidency with him. Medvedev, now chair of energy giant Gazprom, says he'll quit his corporate gig if he wins. His primary goal as president will be to maintain "stability." His chief strategy: "To maintain the capable team of the current president." --Jeff Chu

march 2
CLICK
New York Board of Trade Goes Fully Electronic
New York

"Nothing you have ever experienced will prepare you for the unlimited carnage you are about to witness," Dan Aykroyd's character says to Eddie Murphy's as they approach the Board of Trade in the film Trading Places. Well, the carnage is ending. By March 2, NYBOT open-outcry futures trading in commodities including coffee, cocoa, and frozen OJ will be totally replaced by electronic transactions. As frenzied as the pit may have seemed, its share of trades had dwindled to about 20%, with the rest handled electronically. If you really miss the floor action, buy the DVD; 2008 is the 25th anniversary of Trading Places, and a collector's edition--including a primer on the commodities-contract biz, featuring real traders--recently came out. --JC

march 3
READ
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
By Jennifer 8. Lee

There are twice as many Chinese restaurants in the U.S. as McDonald's, an accomplishment all the more astounding because it has happened without a single corporate force plotting the dominance of egg rolls and fried rice. Lee, a Chinese-American reporter for New York Times, traces the roots of the innovations that helped make the cuisine ubiquitous, including chop suey (San Francisco), fortune cookies (Japan), takeout containers (Hazelton, Pennsylvania), delivery (New York), and soy-sauce packets (Totowa, New Jersey). The book's unifying conceit--tracking Powerball winners who used fortune-cookie lucky numbers--never quite congeals like MSG-laden brown sauce, but Lee throws in enough tasty morsels to make this book a pretty satisfying meal. --David Lidsky

march 3-6
NETWORK
O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference
San Diego

It's a conference truism that "the most important conversations happen in the hallways between attendees," as conference chair Brady Forrest says of the O'Reilly Emerging Tech gathering. But the topics at this meeting will be especially hot, including online sexual identity and Internet gaming. The sessions we're most keen on? "My Daughter's DNA," in which Hugh Reinhoff will discuss how he sequenced his daughter's own genome to help treat her degenerative disease after conventional medicine failed, and "Reality Mining," in which MIT professor Nathan Eagle explains how he is using the cell-phone logs of an entire country (Nigeria) to study social networks and predict behavior. --William Lee Adams


Week 2

march 11-15
BUILD
CONEXPO-CON/AGG
Las Vegas

There's probably no more appropriate venue than Vegas--with its condo towers, its glitzy new casinos, and mile after mile of subdivisions--for this triennial gathering of 125,000 construction-industry professionals. The country's largest trade show will feature 48 acres of exhibits--think the very latest in earthmovers and concrete admixtures. There will be a Construction Safety Boot Camp to help reduce those pesky workers' comp costs; a session called "Building Codes--The Devil in Your Backyard," sure to charm the local building inspector; and an I Can Read-sounding seminar called "Concrete Always Cracks." All those, however, are trumped by what we hope will become a regular event: the first Conexpo Concrete Mixer Truck Driver Competition. Gentlemen, start your 13-liter engines. --EG

march 15
VISITChina Design Now
London

As Deng Xiaoping might have said, to get creative is glorious: First China conquered manufacturing, now it's sniffing out design. This exhibition at London's V&A Museum, on until July, showcases achievements in the country's fast-growing architecture, fashion, art, and design sectors since the late 1990s--including the Wing Shya photograph "The Soft Touch: Pearls of the Orient." While the boom might spook sensitive creative types in the West who fear the effect of cheap talent on their marketplace, V&A director Mark Jones says they shouldn't worry. "You can be scared by the competition, or hopeful about new markets opening up," he says. "I'm optimistic." --Theunis Bates


Week 3

march 16
CHEER
NCAA Selection Sunday

Let the madness begin! As the NCAA announces the field for the 2008 men's basketball championship tourney, you may be busy plotting your pool bracket and predicting upsets in pursuit of the grand prize of $100. But the 65 teams will be playing for much more than just pride, glory, and a Benjamin. They'll be shooting for some of the NCAA tournament revenue that's divvied up by conference, based on how well teams perform. The University of Florida's victorious Final Four trip last year, for instance, will be a gift that keeps on giving--a lot. The Southeastern Conference will get at least $900,000 in each of the next six years, thanks solely to the Gators' success. And even the biggest losers come out winners--the Florida A&M Rattlers fell in last year's play-in game but still earned an annual pay-out of at least $180,000 for the minnow Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. --JC

march 16-18
NEST
International Home and Housewares Show
Chicago

More than 20,000 buyers from 100 countries are expected in Chicago to size up Mixmasters and cushions, mops and storage caddies at this giant housewares expo. Predictably, organizers are expecting the color of the moment--green--to dominate. What's most surprising is the choice of featured speaker for the industry breakfast: former White House press secretary Tony Snow and his planned talk on Election '08 don't strike a homey chord. We'll hold out for the main course. The keynoter is Paula Deen, the Food Network's grande dame of Southern cookin', who never met a pound of butter or bacon she didn't want to use. --EG

march 17
RAISE A GLASS
St. Patrick's Day

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Last year, Americans spent $3.8 billion on the feast day of the patron saint of engineers, excluded people, the snakebitten, and, of course, Ireland. The typical consumer burned $35 on staples such as green beer, leprechaun hats, and cards (though we're not sure who sent the 9 million that make St. Patrick's Day the eighth-largest card-giving occasion, just behind Thanksgiving). Marketers have sold the event harder recently, and the pot at the end of the retail rainbow is overflowing: Spending has nearly doubled in the past two years. According to National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis, restaurants in particular have banked on this non-gift-giving holiday. "People don't have to worry about buying for others," she says, "so they can celebrate with a nice dinner." Call it the luck of the selfish. --WLA

march 17-18
COLLECT
Art Patronage in the Business Age
Dubai

Dubai may have its indoor ski slope, artificial islands, and all the glitz that a Middle Eastern fortune can buy, but it hasn't been able to purchase a reputation as a center for high culture. This two-day seminar--part of the fast-growing Art Dubai fair--could bring a little art-world sophistication to the emirate-cum-megamall of the Middle East. Speakers including former Venice Biennale director Maria De Corral and Pamela Kramlich, an SFMoMA trustee who has works by Matthew Barney and Bruce Nauman in her substantial contemporary-art collection, will explain how corporations and wealthy donors can help transform business centers into cultural powerhouses. --TB

march 18
READ
Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet
By Jeffrey D. Sachs

From the author of the best-seller The End of Poverty comes an exhaustively researched, persuasive self-help guide for our planet that, despite the forbidding title, is surprisingly accessible to the non-economist. Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, identifies four key goals we must meet to avoid economic collapse: environmental sustainability, stabilization of the world population, the end of extreme poverty, and effective global cooperation. Even as he explains the doomsday scenario that awaits us if we don't act fast--think more war, famine, a crippled ecosystem--Sachs gives a road map for government and individual action that manages to inspire optimism. --Bianca Bosker

march 18-20
iCODE
iPhone Developer Summit
New York

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Now that Steve Jobs has (finally) released the official Software Development Kit for his all-conquering phone--more than 4 million units sold!--the question on every programmer's mind is what in the world to do with it. "You've got an audience craving custom content," says Kevin Hoffman, editor-in-chief of the iPhone Developer's Journal and technical chair of the inaugural summit. "Developers are thinking, 'What can I do to make money off that?'" That thought will drive the innovation talk at this two-day gathering, where a couple hundred delegates will get all technical about both Web-based and native-program opportunities. But hackers can stay home; "there will be no technical content," Hoffman says, "on how to hack your iPhone." --Clayton Neuman


Week 4

march 26-28
TAG
Internet of Things 2008 International Conference
Zurich

Imagine a future in which everything you own is connected to a wireless network via electronic tags and integrated sensors. Wouldn't it be handy if you could find the TV remote with a Google search? Or what if your fridge could IM you when the milk expired? Such household applications might still be 10 to 15 years off, according to Christian Floerkemeier of the Auto-ID Lab at MIT, but an unlikely powwow will bring research scientists and warehouse managers together to talk about embedding intelligence in inanimate objects now. Wal-Mart is already using RFID tags to track much of its inventory. And while current industrial applications like a chip that monitors container temperature in product shipments might not be as sexy as, say, a smart alarm clock that consults your meeting schedule then "decides" when to blare, we'll settle for unmelted chocolate bars in the meantime. --EG

march 27
PRESCRIBE
Viagra Turns 10

Let us now pause and reflect on that momentous day in March 1998, when the FDA approved a synthetic compound called sildenafil citrate, better known as Viagra. In the years since, Bob Dole and Hugh Hefner have resurrected themselves as spokesmen for the Pfizer product. Pharmacists in 120 countries have filled more than 150 million prescriptions for the drug to more than 40 million men. And the market for erectile-dysfunction pills has grown to more than $3 billion a year. Viagra owns about 60% of that, but as any little-blue-pill popper can testify, sometimes you need a little help to keep the good times going--and Pfizer is no exception. Its U.S. patent for the drug expires in 2011. --CN

march 28
WATCH
21
Directed by Robert Luketic; starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, and Jim Sturgess

What are the odds that a big-screen thriller about math nerds in Vegas will hit the jackpot? Given the numerical prowess of the card-counting MIT students in this adaptation of Ben Mezrich's 2002 book Bringing Down the House, we're not inclined to bet against 21. "These kids were walking Pentium chips," says director Robert Luketic. "They were managing their risk with their bets." You could ask whether Columbia Pictures has done the same in choosing Luketic as director, because he has a hit-and-miss record that's almost entirely made up of chick flicks, including Legally Blonde (big hit) and Win a Date With Tad Hamilton (bigger miss). But the movie does have a solid cast, including Oscar winner Kevin Spacey as well as Kate Bosworth and Jim Sturgess, and Luketic brings a healthy level of humility to the table. "The moment you become too confident, it turns around and bites you," says Luketic, himself a former blackjack player. "The gamble becomes ego and temptation." --CN

march 29
CONSERVE
Earth Hour 2008

Last March, homes and businesses across Sydney, Australia, went dark for one hour on a Sunday night to signify their owners' shared sentiment that the world needs to do something about global warming. Organizers estimate that the power cut with a purpose reduced electricity consumption in downtown Sydney by more than 10% for the hour, though other analysts said it was closer to a relatively insignificant 2%. This year, the initiative is going global. Residents of dozens of cities around the world plan to switch off at 8 p.m. local time on the 29th--just the time, perhaps, for a belated celebration of Viagra's 10th anniversary. --JC


Week 5

march 30
FLY
The E.U.-U.S. Open Skies Treaty Comes Into Force

The only good crash in the airline industry is a price crash. And the cost of a transatlantic ticket should tumble thanks to this deal, signed last year, which sweeps away restrictions on where E.U. airlines may fly in the U.S. and where American carriers may go in Europe. The effect will likely be the greatest for travelers flying from the U.S. to London; previously, only British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United, and American could go from the States to Heathrow Airport, but carriers including Northwest, Continental, Air France, and Britain's low-cost BMI now plan to launch U.S.-Heathrow service. Says Tim Bye, deputy CEO of BMI: "There are now more opportunities for airlines like us to get in on the act." --TB

march 31
READ
X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking
By Jeff Gordinier

Once upon a time, baby boomers famously didn't trust anyone over 30. Gordinier, a trenchant pop-culture critic, doesn't trust anyone who's not between the ages of 30 and 47 to remedy the vast suckscape he sees around him, dominated by Britney Spears and boomer proclamations that they're reinventing everything. Many Xers, he writes, "are just as wary and skeptical as they've been rumored to be, and yet they are in fact (gag ... grumble ... wince) changing the world." He cites such gen-X creations as YouTube, Dave Eggers's 826 Valencia writing program, Architecture for Humanity, and Meetup.com as the signs of hope that his generation can sneakily trump boomer narcissism and millennial entitlement. --DL

Steve Parsons

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