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How 'the Cloud' Works, Why So Many People Are Perplexed by It


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- You’re probably using "the cloud" already and just don’t know it.

While most people have heard of the mysterious "cloud," only 29 percent say they use it, according to a report from nScreenMedia.

However, the report finds that 90 percent of broadband users in the U.S. are aware of cloud services.

The disparity between the number of people who use cloud storage and the number of people who say they have heard of it suggests that more people are likely using it without fully realizing it.

It doesn't end there -- even Hollywood screenwriters seem to misunderstand “the cloud.”

The new movie Sex Tape, starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, follows the tech trials of a couple who accidentally upload their personal video to the cloud -- along with old iPads they gave to friends and family that are still synced to the devices.

The scenario wouldn't happen in real life, however, because videos are only backed up to the cloud. You can’t connect to another iPad to access media -- meaning the couple’s dirty video was safe all along.

If you're still confused, read on:

What Is the Cloud?

Remember when your data used to be stored on floppy discs, CDs and memory sticks? We no longer need those physical storage devices.

The cloud refers to an application that is hosted on or run on Internet servers. All the companies that have these services -- Google, Facebook and Apple, to name a few -- have servers or server farms. That's where the media is actually stored.

If you're looking at a photo on Facebook or watching a movie on Netflix, congratulations, you just experienced the cloud.

Why Is the Cloud So Great?

It's convenient. You can pull up important documents on demand and check email from any computer.

Ever experience the pain of having your hard drive crash and losing everything?

The cloud safeguards your documents, photos and songs, allowing you to have a backup of your files instantaneously by simply logging on to another computer.

What Are Some Examples of Cloud Storage Services?

Apple's iCloud, Google's Drive and Dropbox are some of the most commonly used cloud storage services.

Surely There's a Downside?


It's perfectly safe and acceptable to have your life stored in the cloud in 2014, but as always, make sure you use a strong password to safeguard what's in your cloud.

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These Companies Reward You for Being Yourself


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Your mother may have encouraged you to be yourself, but the advice has never meant quite as much as it does day. A growing number of apps now promise users real-life rewards on the basis of their virtual profiles.

Launched earlier this year, Hotelied is a booking site that prompts users to build profiles that add up to a "travel persona" -- social followings, professional credentials and hotel-loyalty programs are all accounted for. By leveraging that data to participating hotels, the platform is able to offer travelers special rates and enviable perks.

"Our tagline says, 'It Pays to Be You,'" explained Hotelied co-founder Zeev Sharon.

While such traditional sites as Expedia and Booking.com deliver a long list of options, "their pricing is completely static," said Sharon. "It doesn't matter who you are. You're going to get the exact same offer as anyone else. The reality is that not every traveler is the same."

Sharon cited the "one-size-fits-all" status quo as the inspiration for Hotelied. He said his model as a matchmaking program that "introduces" luxury properties to the kind of influential guests they'd like to see in their rooms.

Hotels are not given direct access to any of the information that users supply, but they can, for example, make certain benefits -- think room upgrades or nightly discounts -- available to "Hotelies" who work in influential industries or command a significant online presence.

Co-founder Nick Colletti put a populist point on it: "We feel very strongly about creating a product that allows users to capitalize on the information that they already have out there."

As it stands, big companies monetize social data in ways that a single person cannot.

Like Hotelied, Haggle aims to change that.

Co-founder Rajiv Salimath said he developed Haggle to empower individuals to translate their online personas into benefits. The scrappy start-up was designed to help users slash prices at their favorite restaurants.

Those who download Haggle are asked to provide information on their social followings, which allows the app to compute a kind of score for each user. The composite number synthesizes such metrics as the frequency with which a diner eats out, the loyalty he demonstrates to preferred restaurants, the influence he wields on social media, and a factor that Salimath has euphemistically termed "bankroll."

If a restaurant deems a patron's score worthy, the management can propose a discount. Enterprising users can either accept that rate or haggle for a better one.

The app has partnered with 60 restaurants already and plans to add 120 additional spots by the end of August. Salimath told ABC News that he hopes to extend the technology into other categories like the retail space that behemoth Shopkick currently dominates.

Founded in 2009, Shopkick is considered a veteran of the industry. The app rewards customers for their everyday behavior, focused on delivering benefits, called "kicks," for such quotidian activities as walking into stores and browsing clothing racks. The start-up has partnered with Macy's, Target, and Best Buy, among other major retailers.

For CEO Cyriac Roeding, the conviction that inspired Shopkick is simple: Stores depend on foot traffic, but do not reward it. Roeding maintains that shoppers should be compensated "just for showing up."

The sentiment is one that Salimath shares: "Our goal is once you know how valuable you are to any business, you should be able to leverage that."

Still, Salimath insisted that the process is only as public as users would like it to be. Neither Haggle nor Hotelied requires that users advertise their savings.

Sharon and Colletti confirmed that those who book their accommodations through Hotelied are not obliged to tweet or post about their stays.

Ultimately, Colletti characterized the app as "a marketplace where individuals can receive something for who they are." No strings attached.

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Twitter Has Growing Influence on Movie-Going Habits


iStock Editorial/ Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Twitter is putting more butts in movie seats.

Although attendance at the movies is not as robust as in recent summers, a new Nielsen survey suggests that if Hollywood wants to boost sales, it should latch on to the growing social media site.

According to the survey, some 87 percent of Twitter users claim that their decision to go to a current movie was influenced by reading others' tweets.

Meanwhile, 88 percent of Twitter users say that tweets about movies have an impact on other activities, including watching a movie trailer, sending their own tweets or retweeting about a movie, and searching for showtimes and tickets.

About two-thirds added that they will follow a film-related Twitter account that lists specific titles, theaters and actors.

Nielsen says that movies studios should use these findings to mold their marketing practices toward what Twitter users want, such as delivering information one month or even several months ahead of a film's opening.

What Twitter users want for studios, in order, are more trailers, tweets from the cast and behind-the-scenes videos and photos.

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Don't Bet Your Bottom Dollar When Making a Purchase


iStock/Thinkstock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Everyone’s heard of “buyer’s remorse.” However, researchers from three colleges may have come up with a different way of explaining why we sometimes kick ourselves after making a purchase.

The researchers from University of Arkansas, University of Texas at Austin and University of South Carolina say it may be derived from something they call the “bottom dollar effect” -- that is, our purchases are less pleasurable when we’re down to our last dollar as opposed to when there’s plenty of money in our wallets.

To demonstrate this, they conducted six studies, and in each case, people felt much better about what they bought if, say, there was a sudden windfall to pay for their purchase. Those who were stressed about having enough funds to make payments were not as happy with what they bought.

Although people often can't control when the money comes in, the researchers say that businesses can help them out by running sales during times when they might be flush with cash, such as the first and the 15th of the month.

As for the buyer, the studies’ authors recommend that people hold off a day or two after receiving their paycheck so they won’t be worried about “making a really important purchase.”

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Guess Which Men Do Better in Business Negotiations


iStock/Thinkstock(RIVERSIDE, Calif.) -- Men, do you really want to be the owner of a wide face?

Before you answer, researchers at the University of California, Riverside's School of Business Administration say guys with wider faces have an advantage when it comes to negotiating for more money or closing a business deal.

In one of a series of simulated exercises, wider-faced men got signing bonuses that were $2,200 more than their narrow-faced counterparts.

When attempting to sell a chemical plant to a prospective buyer -- hypothetically, of course -- the men with wider faces also got a higher sale price.

But for some reason, the same magic didn’t work when wider-faced men were paired off. In that case, they were less successful in closing a real estate transaction.

Although the researchers couldn’t readily explain why having a wide face is “both a blessing and a curse,” it’s speculated that men with these features appear to be more focused about their own self-interest than skinnier-faced gents.

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American Airlines Reports Record Quarterly Profit


Joe Raedle/Getty Images(FORTH WORTH, Texas) -- American Airlines reported record quarterly earnings Thursday, detailing a net profit of $1.5 billion -- a record for any quarter in company history, according to airline representatives.

The American Airlines Group announced a record GAAP net profit of $864  million, compared to $220 million in the second quarter of 2013, which was prior to its merger with US Airways.

 "We are very pleased to report the highest quarterly profit in the history of American Airlines," said Chairman and CEO Doug Parker. "Our merger is off to a great start and our 100,000 team members are doing a wonderful job working together to take care of our customers."

The company also publicized a capital deployment program aimed at reducing its debt and providing additional pension contributions, as well as returning capital to shareholders.

"The fact that we are able to implement this program while still funding our significant product improvements, fleet renewal program and integration costs is further evidence of the success of our merger," Parker added. "We have much hard work ahead, but we are extremely encouraged by the great work being done by our team members."

Other airlines also shared in the wealth, as United Airlines announced a nearly $800 million profit for its second quarter. Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest also reported strong gains.

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Stocks Mixed Following Jobless Claims, Home Sale Figures


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stock prices ended the day mixed on Wall Street Thursday, following good news on jobless claims and mixed quarterly earnings results from several companies.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost three points, finishing at 17083.80, the Nasdaq Composite fell two points at 4472.11, and the S&P 500 gained one to end at 1987.98.

Investors received positive news regarding jobs, with the Labor Department reporting that weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped to their lowest level in eight years. Details on home sales, however, weren't as promising, with home builder stocks dropping after news that sales of newly built homes fell eight percent last month.

Facebook shares jumped six percent to $75.41 after the company reported a profit that beat analysts expectations, while Caterpillar slid after reporting revenue figures that fell short of predictions. One day after news of yet another recall, automaker General Motors posted an 80 percent drop in second-quarter earnings compared to the same period last year, and reported net earnings of $278 million.

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Walmart US Names Greg Foran Next President, CEO


Walmart(NEW YORK) -- Retail giant Walmart announced a new president and chief executive officer for U.S. operations Thursday, naming Greg Foran as the successor to Bill Simon.

Simon, who has held the role since June 2010, is expected to "transition" out of the company and assume consulting responsibilities for the next six months, according to a statement from Walmart.

Foran, 53, takes over on Aug. 9 and will report to Walmart President and CEO, Doug McMillon.

“Greg is one of the most talented retailers I’ve ever met. His depth of knowledge and global experience will bring a fresh perspective to our business,” McMillon said. “His passion for fresh food, experience in general merchandise and commitment to e-commerce will help us serve our customers even more effectively for years to come.”

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New Home Sales Plummet 8.1% in June


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The number of Americans purchasing new homes took a big plunge last month.

The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that sales of newly built homes dropped by more than 8 percent in June to 406,000.

"The numbers are definitely a little disappointing. I think it's important to keep it in perspective. Part of the drop is from an abnormally high May figure," said Robert Denk, a senior economist with the National Association of Home Builders.

In another bit of bad news, May's figure was also revised downward by about 12 percent.

"The decline in June is not necessarily unexpected. It's not a disaster. The June number sort of puts us back on trend and we expect these numbers to definitely firm up in the second half of the year," Denk said.

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Why Recalls Haven't Dented GM’s Sales


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- GM's 29 million recalled cars since January is costing the car company more than $1 billion, but the company's varying fleet of vehicles have prompted a steady sales growth, according to the company’s quarterly earnings.

Despite huge falling profits at the company largely due to the recall and legal expenses, customers are still buying lots of GM cars, according to the car manufacturer's report Thursday.

"GM would have had an outstanding quarter had it not been for the recall expenses," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.com.

Here are some of the cars that are boosting the embattled American car company.

1. Chevy Silverado

Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, called the Silverado a "tried and true favorite."

In GM's second quarter, there were 132,922 Silverado sales, an increase of 5.5 percent compared to the same period in 2013. In June, Silverado sales were up 1 percent compared to June 2013. It's not a huge sales bump, but the Silverado is still GM's best-selling model in its overall lineup and the most profitable by a fairly wide margin, Gutierrez said.

He said full-size pickup trucks provide car companies with anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 in profit, depending on the model. Meanwhile, cars may yield manufacturers less than $1,000.

"That says while Silverado sales are not knocking anyone’s socks off, it’s an absolutely critical vehicle for GM," he said.

2. Buick Encore

GM's Buick brand had its best June since 2006, the company reported, and that surge was driven by an 82 percent increase in Encore sales, compared to June 2013.

The Encore is within the crossover utility vehicle category, a segment between cars and SUVs. That segment has been growing faster than any other in the car industry, Gutierrez said.

The category is so new that Ford doesn't yet have a vehicle in this category.

"I think that’s why GM is doubling down on that platform," Gutierrez said, pointing to the "fuel-efficient" and "really small" Encore that skews toward a younger demographic.

Jessica Caldwell, an Edmunds.com senior analyst, said this subcompact SUV segment is only going to grow in popularity in the next five to 10 years.

3. Chevrolet Suburban

Caldwell said trucks and SUVs like the Suburban, Tahoe and Silverado "have been doing very well for GM as the auto market has embraced them in a big way."

Sales of Chevrolet Tahoe increased 93 percent in June, while Suburban sales are up 73 percent, compared to June 2013.

Caldwell calls this the new "heyday for SUVs." For the past 10 months, light trucks have outsold cars. That's the longest streak since 2005, when a 31-month streak lasted from February 2003 through August 2005, she notes.

4. GMC Yukon

Gutierrez said SUVs, such as the Yukon, have seen sales, and thereby GM profitability, "growing at a pretty big clip."

GM's GMC brand had its best June since 2006, the company reported earlier this month, with sales up 11 percent compared to June 2013, driven by the redesigned Yukon, up a whopping 120 percent from June 2013.

5. Chevrolet Sonic


Caldwell said the Sonic is on the complete opposite side on the size spectrum, as one of GM's smallest products.

Sales of Sonic increased 36 percent in June 2014 compared to June 2013, GM reported earlier this month.

Gutierrez said the Sonic is an example of GM trying to diversify its fleet of cars.

While the subcompact category of cars hasn't been gaining in the industry, the Sonic is gaining traction and Sonic is only behind Nissan's Versa in that segment, Gutierrez said.

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Christian Louboutin Debuts $50 Nail Polish


Christian Louboutin(NEW YORK) -- Christian Louboutin is best known for his signature red-soled stilettos. But the most recent creation from the French designer delivers a different kind of lift.

Earlier this week, Louboutin revealed his first foray into the beauty industry. The craftsman announced a range of nail polishes in the pages of Women's Wear Daily.

Each bottle of Rouge Louboutin contains less than half an ounce of the luxury lacquer and will retail for $50.

But what the collection lacks in volume, it makes up for in height. Modeled after the heel of the impossibly arched ballerina shoe that Louboutin designed in 2007, the packaging that holds his standout scarlet hue measures eight inches tall.

Like his fashionable footwear, these formulations make a statement. Louboutin insisted that just two coats of his new polish are equal in intensity to 20 layers of more inferior -- and affordable -- brands.

The varnishes are now available at the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and will launch at select retailers nationwide on Aug. 6.

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Profits Plunge at General Motors


Joe Raedle/Getty Images(DETROIT) -- The troubles continue for General Motors, as the automaker on Thursday reported an 80 percent drop in second quarter profits from this time last year.

GM had previously announced it will pay $400 million to the victims of its defective ignition switches after a wave of lawsuits and $1.5 billion paid out in fines.

The company is now facing some immediate financial repercussions of the more than 29 million cars it has recalled since January. However, overall sales of its vehicles have not been greatly hampered as total revenues increased to $39.6 billion from $39.1 billion last year.

"Our underlying business performance in the first half of the year was strong as we grew our revenue on improved pricing and solid new vehicle launches," GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. "We remain focused on keeping our customers at the center of all we do, and executing our plan to operate profitably in every region of the world."

GM stock was down more than 2 percent in pre-market trading.

Meanwhile, in other earnings news, Ford Motor beat analysts’ expectations, posting a $2.6 billion profit in the second quarter -- up 6 percent from last year and setting a record for operating profit in North America.

American Airlines also had a record-breaking second quarter, reporting a profit of $864 million versus $220 million last year -- its highest quarterly profit in company history. The carrier's total revenue for the quarter also rose by 76 percent to $11.36 billion.

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Jobless Claims Down to Lowest Level in Eight Years


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Jobless claims fell last week, decreasing by 19,000, according to the latest figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

For the week ending July 19, the number of people filing for benefits dropped to 284,000 -- the lowest level for initial claims since February 18, 2006. The previous week, claims stood at a revised level of 303,000.

The Labor Department said there were no "special factors" impacting this week's figures.

The four-week moving average fell to its lowest level in nearly seven years, decreasing by 17,000 to 2,542,250.

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Nostalgia Turns People into Bigger Spenders


moodboard/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. So powerful that it can make us spend more money than if we didn’t feel sentimental.

Researchers from the U.S., Britain and France wanted to learn just why we are suddenly more apt to part with money when we feel nostalgic, so they conducted a number of experiments to prove their thesis.

In one case, they found that consumers who were told to think about pleasant events from the past seem to have no problem paying extra for the same set of products than others who did not dredge up old memories.

Pertaining to charities, those who wrote about a previous experience from the past were later inclined to give more money to others than the control group.

The researchers contend this information is especially valuable to corporations looking to boost promotions and products lines, as well as charities that are interested in filling their coffers.

Meanwhile, the use of nostalgia might also come in handy during periods of recession when people are less inclined to spend, the researchers surmised.

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No Wonder You Feel Weak at the End of the Workweek


iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- The 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek. What a quaint concept.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a full-time job, you know that actually working 40 hours has gone the way of maps, landlines and movie rental stores.

Atlanta-based Premiere Global Services Inc. received more than 600 responses to its survey last month, and the most shocking -- yet least shocking -- finding was that 88 percent claimed to work more than 40 hours.

Another sign of the times: just over seven in 10 have to take work home at least once a week.

Want to feel more depressed? Two-thirds eat lunch at their desk, 60 percent commute more than 30 minutes each, with a quarter traveling over an hour, and 71 percent say they work more than they really want to.

Since the survey was called “Take Back 60,” two-thirds said they would either exercise or spend more time with their family if they could work 60 minutes less per week.
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