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PODCAST: Robots in our lives, unused vacation time

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With Cyber Monday behind us, today two movements are competing for your allegiance. Depending on whom you ask, today is either “Giving Tuesday,” when you are supposed to donate to charity; or it is Mobile Tuesday, when you are supposed to buy stuff using your smartphone. For us, Tuesday is the day we talk to Juli Niemann, an analyst with Smith Moore and Company in St. Louis.

U.S. durable goods orders rose unexpectedly. The rise in spending on big-ticket items is a positive window on business activity. But within the numbers there remain signs that some businesses are holding back until they see a solution for the fiscal cliff. U.S. home prices rose in September for the eighth-straight month, according to this morning’s Case-Shiller index. U.S. consumer confidence has hit its highest level in five years.

Another important number: nine days. That’s how much vacation time most Americans will leave on the table this year, according to a study by the Travel Site “Hotwire.” So, why aren’t we taking our rightfully earned time off?
The food giant ConAgra is getting a little more giant. It plans to buy private-label food producer Ralcorp for almost $5 billion. Maybe you haven’t heard of Ralcorp, but odds are good it’s in your pantry.

Before the year comes to an end, let’s wish a happy 10th birthday to the Roomba. Since 2002 the iRobot company has sold more that six million of the little discs that vacuum all by themselves. But iRobot has always had a vision beyond removing household grime. And its CEO, Colin Angle, has been outspoken in trying to push his industry to let go of old conventions — and let robots take a bigger role in our lives.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is calling on its members — the rich countries of the world — to shape up or risk a global economic calamity. The OECD uses its new report today to call out countries on every continent, warning them to restore confidence in their economies.

A few years ago, U.S. carmakers faced a financial crisis. Of course, two were bailed out by the government and all three underwent major restructuring. Today, carmakers across the Atlantic face their own crisis. And this week we’ve got a series of stories on the future of European automakers. Christopher Werth begins the road rally in Turin, Italy — the home of Fiat.

Some folks in Rhode Island are questioning whether police have gone too far. Cops following up on a smashed mailbox caught five teenagers making a getaway. The boys were taken from their car, ordered to the ground and asked to do push-ups. Twelve, actually — which, if you don’t do pushups a lot can seem like… a lot. Then they sent the boys on their way. True, it’s not in the police manual. But it probably beats a trip to jail.

And finally, as we near the end 2012, some folks are less worried about the fiscal cliff than kind of the cliff-to-end-all-cliffs. The Mayan calendar, you may have heard, might or might not predict an end to life as we know it. One fellow in China isn’t taking any chances. Lu Zhenghai, in the landlocked state of Urumqi, has built himself an ark. He has invested all his money in the 70-foot boat. It doesn’t appear he intends to load it up with animals — mostly just his family. If in fact the world does not come to an end in a giant flood he plans to use it to offer sightseeing tours on a nearby river.

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