BJ Upton, Braves finalize $75.25M, 5-year deal

Braves have finalized a $75.25 million, five-year contract.

Upton joins the Braves after spending his first eight major league seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .246 with 28 homers, 78 RBIs and 31 steals this year.

FILE - In this July 6, 2012, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton hits an RBI-single off Cleveland Indians' Nick Hagadone in the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland. A person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press Wednesday, Nov. 28, the Atlanta Braves have reached an agreement on a five-year deal with Upton. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Upton, who was to be introduced at a news conference Thursday, replaces free agent Michael Bourn in center field and should provide needed power from the right side.

The addition of Upton leaves Atlanta still needing to fill left field. Martin Prado is expected to move to third base, taking over for the retired Chipper Jones.

Shades of Venezia

Originally posted on I Climbed That:

I spent 2 full days in Venice, and I felt it was plenty of time to see the city and be done with it. The first day, I walked around without a map, just exploring and getting dizzily lost amongst the circuitous maze of tiny streets, alleyways, and bridges. I was enthralled by the city’s beauty, and stopped constantly to take photos and admire the view: blue or green canals, brightly colored houses right on the water, vivid blue or black and gold gondola boats driven by striped-shirted men with red neckties, a million gelaterias and cafes, church after church after ornate, ivory, towering church. I truly enjoyed exploring this place – unlike anywhere else I’ve ever seen – and soaked it all in until well into the night.

My second day, I had a map in-hand and a few destinations in mind (the Jewish Ghetto, Piazza San Marco, the…

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Ty Carter Art Giveaway

Originally posted on Christos Tzeremes:

Ty Carter, a coworker of mine at Blue Sky Studios is doing an art giveaway.  He’s a great artist and you should check out his work.  The design dept at Blue Sky Studios and his work is definitely part of the reason why.

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Aldi’s grocery store and how they stay so cheap and still able to turn a hefty profit.

Aldi has profited as other stores struggle, the mix of good quality and cheap prices (with an ever-changing product line) has seen huge growth, expanding into the US as well as in the UK, Australia and Germany. That has led to founder camera-shy Karl Albrecht’s wealth rising to see him become one of the 10 richest people alive.

Last month German retailer Aldi posted a 200% increase in UK profits. The UK business made a profit after tax of £57.8 million in 2011, having made a loss of £56 million in the previous year.

The privately owned chain opened 29 new stores last year and plans to invest £181 million opening 40 new stores by the end of 2013. This will take the number of Aldi stores in UK to 500 and create 4,500 jobs.

But how has it turned its fortunes around in such challenging trading conditions?

Essentially it’s cashed in on the recession. With household budgets being squeezed and wages stagnating, competition among supermarkets is intense. After all, people still have to eat.

Shopping at budget supermarkets was seen by some as a source of shame for the middle classes but it’s this group in particular responsible for the increased profits of Aldi.

The chain has introduced some new products to lure the squeezed middle away from Waitrose and Whole Foods, and the subsequent stampede of well-heeled customers has sent profits soaring.

“We’ve seen a shift in the socio-demographics,” UK joint managing director Roman Heini told Marketing Week. “Obviously we have kept the existing customers … but we now also see more A and especially B customers in our existing stores and also in the stores we have opened this year so far.”

So who’s behind Aldi?

Aldi is short for “Albrecht Discount“, Albrecht being the Germany brothers behind the supermarket chain. In Germany the company is divided into two: Aldi Nord (North) and Aldi Süd (South). The individual groups were originally owned and managed by brothers Karl Albrecht and Theo Albrecht.

Karl Albrecht is the richest man in Germany with a personal wealth of €17.2 billion. Theo Albrecht was the second richest when he died in 2010.

However, Aldi began when the brothers were just a twinkle in their mother’s eye; their mother opened a small store in a suburb of Essen in 1913. The brothers took over their mother’s business in 1946, and by 1950 they owned 13 stores in the Ruhr Valley, Germany. By the time the company split into two in 1960 they had 300 shops.

Their first branch in the UK opened in Birmingham in 1990. International expansion is not just confined the UK – the two groups also have stores across Europe as well as in the US and Australia.

Aldi’s plan

Aldi’s business model centres mainly on selling its own high-quality brands at low prices. It specialises in staple items such as basic foods, toiletries and cheap household items.

Selling its own generic brands means the store isn’t paying a premium to a major manufacturer for a well-known brand – and so it can pass discounts on to shoppers. In comparison other supermarkets tend to have around a 50% split of own products versus other brands.

Although Aldi does sell other brand names, these are normally limited to a maximum of two for any item. Its “special buy” programme consists of stock negotiated at a discount from other brands and sold at a reduced price.

That keeps the German store cheaper than the alternatives. A study by Grocer magazine found that on a shopping basket of 33 items Aldi was 16% cheaper than Asda, 20% cheaper than Tesco and 40% cheaper than Waitrose.

And despite the bargain basement image, some Aldi products are better than pricier rivals. Last month Aldi came second in Good Housekeeping magazine’s Christmas pudding taste test. While Waitrose came first, luxury department store Fortnum & Mason came a disappointing 29th out of 32 puddings tested. Aldi’s pudding was a fraction of the price too; costing £7.99 compared to Fortnum & Mason’s £24.95.

Innovating to stay ahead

In response to more customers flocking through the doors over the past couple of years, Aldi has developed bakery, meat and fruit and vegetable ranges to stop people looking elsewhere for fresh produce. Revenue from fresh meat, fruit and vegetables all went up in 2011.

Heini says the store has focused on understanding what consumers want and is working with a growing number of UK suppliers to quality products at everyday low prices.

Two-thirds of its core range in the UK is now sourced from UK suppliers and Heini claims a week’s shopping costs about a third less than the big name supermarkets.

In-store merchandising is based largely on price and, although perhaps bland, it’s successful in communicating what the store is all about: Low prices. Aldi has also spent time researching what matters to customers in different parts of the world: While the Germans don’t mind a queue in the supermarket, Brits do – so in the UK the store operates a different system.

And while Aldi has a policy of not advertising in its home market of Germany – it has realised that mass media advertising is necessary in the UK.

Much of its success in 2011 can be attributed to its TV campaign: “Aldi. Like brands only cheaper”, which has the core message that Aldi’s private label is just as good as major brands but is significantly cheaper.

It’s a message that has stuck home in these tougher times and as long as the price stays low and the quality high, it’s a success story that’s set to run and run.

Anwar al-Awlaki ‘had been in US custody’

Radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki 'killed'

Judicial Watch, an accountability watchdog group, said it had learned this through Freedom of Information lawsuits it filed with the US government.

It said documents from the US embassy in Yemen indicate Awlaki was held for at least eight months between late 2006 and mid 2007. But the documents do not say how long he was held or why he was he was freed.

Back in October 2002, Awlaki was detained at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on a warrant for passport fraud, a felony that can be punished with up to 10 years in jail.

But the FBI ordered his release, Judicial Watch said. Awlaqi flew to Washington, DC and eventually returned to Yemen.

In yet another incident, months before Awlaki was killed in September 2011, the embassy in Yemen was instructed to send Awlaqi a letter urging him to come to the embassy to pick up an important document but not tell him what it was.

Hillary Clinton vows work on Gaza truce ‘in days ahead’

Hillary Clinton 1

Hillary Clinton

“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that. But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people,” Israeli Prime Minister.

Ms Clinton signalled that a Gaza truce could take days to achieve after Hamas, the Palestinian enclave’s ruling Islamist militants, backed away from an assurance that it and Israel would stop exchanging fire within hours.

“In the days ahead the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,” Ms Clinton said in Jerusalem.

She spoke after Hamas said an Egyptian-brokered truce deal that it had expected to be in place by Tuesday night was delayed because Israel has not responded to proposals. Ms Clinton will travel to Cairo on Wednesday.

Israel pressed on with its air strikes in Gaza on the seventh day of its offensive and Palestinian rockets still flashed across the border.