TIME gift cards

RadioShack Will Pay Cash for Your Unredeemed Gift Cards

RadioShack to Announce Q3 Earnings
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

But not all gift cards are created equal

Still holding onto that RadioShack gift card you got for Christmas two years ago? Well, dig it out. It may be worth something again.

RadioShack, which filed for bankruptcy in February, has tentatively settled with the Texas attorney general’s office concerning a case that was filed to protect the holders of nearly $46 million in unredeemed gift cards to the folded outlet, according to CNBC.

Attorneys put in place a new plan for some gift card holders to be repaid in full for any outstanding balances on RadioShack gift cards. The plan doesn’t apply to everyone though. Some gift card holders will only get pennies on the dollar, if anything.

Those who purchased cards for themselves or someone else, or reloaded an existing card, will get top refund priority, while those whose cards are from promotional giveaways or from a merchandise return will not be covered by the deal. Such gift card holders would be added to the list of general unsecured creditors.

The deal still has to be approved by the court and various attorney general, and once confirmed, RadioShack and the attorneys will need to put in place a system for claim submissions, the report said.

TIME Jobs

There’s a Dire Shortage of Workers In This Growing Industry

Monthly Report Shows Construction Of New Homes Continues To Rise
Joe Raedle—Getty Images A construction worker climbs on the roof of a home.

Many workers left the field when the housing market collapsed

The United States housing market is showing signs of growth: housing starts have increased 11.3% so far in 2015, while commercial construction spending is up 9.7% in the first half of this year.

If only there were enough workers to keep up with the growth.

According to a report in USA Today, a survey by the National Association of Home Builders in June pointed to a construction worker shortage. Seventy percent of home builders, for instance, said they were experiencing a shortage of carpenters, compared to 63% a year ago. A survey by the Associated General Contractors in July showed that 86% of commercial builders said they were finding it difficult to fill hourly or salaried positions versus 83% last year.

Many construction workers left the field when the housing market collapsed during the recession. They entered sectors that were healthier at the time, such as trucking, and oil and gas production. Despite housing’s rebound, the laborers aren’t returning, in part, because the pipeline of talent has dried up as schools have cut shop classes and two- or four-year colleges attract would-be workers.

The end result is a delay in construction projects and increased labor costs. Construction workers’ average hourly earnings increased 2.6% annually in July. Workers overall have seen wages inch up 2.1%.

MONEY Email

The Secret to Getting People to Actually Read Your Emails

reading email on laptop
Getty Images

And cover letters, and sales pitches...

With all the communication tools at our fingertips today, you think it would be easy to get your point across. But more often than not, our emails, cover letters, sales materials and so forth are a muddled mess — and they’re promptly ignored.

Business communication is often overwrought and stuffed with filler words. The upshot: Recipients lose interest or miss your point. In a new paper, researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado explore what’s going on and how to fix it.

If you’re making a cold contact, the first hurdle is often just getting the recipient to open the email. (It’s not as easy as you think, but a panel of busy CEOs weigh in on how to do that here.)

But success doesn’t just hinge on the recipient opening it. You need to make the reader pay attention, and you need to do it quickly.

“When you’re talking about a business audience, people have 10 to 15 seconds to read a one-page letter,” says Mike Gould, a former Colorado State University faculty member and current consultant who’s one of the authors of the new research paper. If you’re not immediately clear and convincing, “They’ll bypass the context,” he warns.

There are two common problems. One is our tendency to use vague words; for instance, we’ll say we “had a great impact on quarterly sales” rather than “grew quarterly sales by 35%.”

When you go through your correspondence, are there words that could be replaced with numbers? Use those numbers instead.

Gould says you should watch out for words like “many,” “few,” “many,” “most,” “some,” “great” and “small” — they don’t deliver the kind of clarity good business communication needs. A cynical recipient might even think you’re trying to play up or down the reality by deliberately obscuring the details.

The other giant stumbling block is using the passive voice. We use active verbs when we speak, because it’s both quicker and clearer to use active words. But when we write, most of us unconsciously shift into a stilted kind of prose that manages to say less even though it’s stuffed with too many words.

Gould says that prepositions like “to,” “for,” “of” and “in” tend to be the big culprits. For example, instead of writing, “I plan to make a decision,” change it to read, “I will decide.” It’s quicker and more precise.

When it comes to writing, “We’re taught to use excessive information and be vague because then we can mitigate what might be a problem,” Gould says. “People have to be taught to be assertive in communication.”

This takes practice, he adds; in his research, students need an average of eight rewrites to reach their goal. Their (and your) goal: Reduce your passive-voice linguistic junk by 80%.

You could practice this by using the word-find function in your word processor to highlight each offending word one at a time, but there’s also another solution if you’d like to get serious about putting your bloated business correspondence on a diet.

Gould and the study’s co-authors developed a proofreading program called Scribe Bene that works with Microsoft Windows to flag an entire list of junk words at once.

“That’s the reason Scribe Bene is more effective,” Leo Vijayasarathy, an associate professor of computer information systems at Colorado State University and one of the study’s co-authors. While it’s still an academic rather than a commercial project at this point, the program can be downloaded for free from Vijayasarathy’s faculty page (find it under “Selected Publications”).

It’s not a silver bullet, but it will show you writing mistakes you’ve probably been practicing since high school and guide you to writing shorter and sharper messages. “It takes longer to write a short communication than a long communication,” Gould says. “But your outcomes will improve as well.”

TIME Apple

Apple Is Now the World’s Second-Biggest Wearables Maker

Apple Watches on display in Madrid, Spain on June 26, 2015.
Pablo Cuadra—Getty Images Apple Watches on display in Madrid, Spain on June 26, 2015.

It's catching up on Fitbit

The term “wearables”—as in wearable technology, the next evolution of mobile electronics—has been on the lips of technologists for some time. It’s supposed to be the future—an $80 billion market, some estimate.

The potential of this nascent market has been rather hard to quantify. (So has the definition. Smart watches? Sure. Glasses? Perhaps. “Hearables“? Sure. Clothing? Well…) But a new IDC report shows that a trend line is emerging.

According to the market researcher, the worldwide wearables market grew 223.2% in the second quarter of 2015, as measured by total shipment volume across all vendors. (That figure: 18.1 million units, up from 5.6 million unit in Q2 2014.)

Bigger news: Apple is now the number-two vendor behind Fitbit.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company shipped 3.6 million units in the second quarter of 2015, “just 0.8 million units behind Fitbit’s 4.4 million units.” Apple has been mum on its Apple Watch sales, so this is rather interesting. (And squares with what Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly said during the retailer’s latest earnings call.)

To give you a sense of Apple’s impact on the category, consider that two of every three “smart wearables,” in IDC parlance, shipped this quarter were Apple Watches. That’s both affirming for Apple, which has a lot riding on its latest major device, and Fitbit, which has managed to beat back Cupertino’s competition despite only selling wearable devices with more basic functionality.

IDC believes Apple will eventually be the wearables market leader. That’s not a surprise, though the dark horse in all this is Samsung, which has demonstrated in smartphones that a quick follow can be just as competitive as a category-defining product. (Even though, it should be noted, Samsung has been selling such devices for far longer than Apple. Lenovo-owned Motorola, too.)

The breakdown:

1.) Fitbit. 4.4 million units shipped in 2Q15. 24.3% global market share. Up 159% from the same quarter a year ago.

2.) Apple. 3.6 million units shipped in 2Q15. 19.9% global market share. No YoY growth figures available because it wasn’t selling wearables a year ago.

3.) Xiaomi. 3.1 million units shipped in 2Q15. 17.1% global market share. No YoY growth figures available because it wasn’t selling wearables a year ago.

4.) Garmin. 700,000 units shipped in 2Q15. 3.9% global market share. Up 40% from the same quarter a year ago.

5.) Samsung. 600,000 units shipped in 2Q15. 3.3% global market share. Up 119% from the same quarter a year ago.

One catch to all this? Another recent report from Argus Insights suggests that consumer interest is slowing for wearables, sliding precipitously from the 2014 holiday season. A seasonal cycle like other consumer electronics, unhappiness with the products on the market, or something deeper? We’ll find out.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Ashley Madison

There Are Almost No Active Female Users on Ashley Madison

HONG KONG-LIFESTYLE-INTERNET-SEX
PHILIPPE LOPEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Most appear to be bots, fakes, or inactive accounts, a report says

The large disparity in the number of male and female accounts on the adultery website Ashley Madison is well-documented. But an analysis by Gizmodo of the massive data dump released by people who allegedly hacked the company’s website shows the number of active female users is absolutely miniscule.

Ashley Madison has about 31 million male accounts and 5.5 million female accounts. But the overwhelming majority of those female accounts appear to be bots, fakes, or inactive accounts that were hardly used in the first place, the report says. Gizmodo found that only about 1,500 of the female users had ever checked their messages on the site, while only 2,400 had ever chatted on the site, and only 9,700 had ever replied to a message.

Hackers first threatened to release personal information about Ashley Madison users in July, and then proceeded with a massive data dump earlier this month. Ashley Madison is now facing several lawsuits from several former users who say the website knew about the security vulnerabilities in its systems.

TIME Tesla

This Tesla Car Just Scored Consumer Reports’ Highest-ever Rating

Inside The 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A Tesla Model S P85D.

103 out of 100 ain’t bad

Tesla’s new car is so good that it’s literally off the charts.

The company’s Model S P85D scored a 103 out of 100 from Consumer Reports, the highest score ever given to a vehicle by the publication.

“This is a car that set new benchmarks, and we had to make changes to our scoring to account for it,” Consumer Reports said in a video. The final, official score for the car was 100 out of 100.

The magazine touted the new Model S’s safety features, over-the-air updates and fuel efficiency in its extremely positive review. The standout feature of the P85D version, though, is the new “Insane Mode,” which lets the car accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, making it the fastest vehicle Consumer Reports has ever tested.

Creating a car that’s the best of the best comes at a high cost, though. At a retail price of nearly $128,000, the Model S P85D is also the most expensive car Consumer Reports has ever reviewed.

TIME Amazon

Why Amazon Is Laying Off Dozens of Its Engineers

It’s the first time Amazon has cut employees at its Lab126, a report says

Many of the engineers behind Amazon’s failed Fire phone are getting the boot, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The online retail giant is cutting dozens of employees from Lab126, the hardware outfit that develops products such as the Fire phone, the Kindle, and Amazon’s Echo, the paper said.

This is the first time Amazon has ever laid off employees from Lab126, sources told the Journal. Some projects in the works, such as a large-screen tablet, have also been scuttled as part of a restructuring process. Amazon is reportedly still working on a high-end kitchen computer code-named Kabinet that would serve as a hub for the smart home of the future.

Amazon declined to comment to the Journal, and did not immediately return a request for comment from TIME and Fortune.

Amazon’s Fire phone was supposed to take on the iPhone and high-end Android handsets head-on, but the device failed to find mass appeal. Amazon took a $170 million write down on unsold Fire phone inventory last fall.

TIME Gap

This Retailer Is the Latest to End On-call Scheduling

Passers-by walk next to a Gap store in Broomfield, Colorado
© Rick Wilking / Reuters—REUTERS A Gap store.

It can wreak havoc on workers' lives, and continues to come under fire

In a blog post late Wednesday, retailer Gap announced that it would end on-call scheduling for store employees across its five brands—Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Intermix, and Old Navy.

Andi Owen, Global President for Banana Republic, wrote in the post that the company’s efforts to phase out on-call scheduling—in which employees are required to be ready to work a shift, but may have their hours cancelled because of customer demand—began this summer and that all of its stores will eliminate the practice by the end of September 2015.

“Additionally, each of our brands has committed to improving their scheduling policies to provide their store employees with at least 10 to 14 days notice. The majority of brands will be rolling out these new policies in September, and all Gap Inc. brands are committed to phasing in advanced schedules by early 2016,” Owen wrote.

The announcement comes more than a year after the retailer announced it was raising all starting wages for retail associates to $10 per hour, a decision that was later praised by President Barack Obama.

It’s also the latest effort by a retailer to cut down on the erratic scheduling that can wreak havoc on workers’ professional and personal lives. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 47% of part-time hourly workers ages 26 to 32 receive a week or less of advance notice for their schedule. In April, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman took aim at on-call scheduling, by requesting detailed staffing information from 13 big retail chains, including Target, Ann Taylor, Gap, J.C. Penney, and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The practice “really blocks the day out for a worker,” Schneiderman said at the time. “They can’t schedule another job; they can’t schedule child care. This is something that we have to deal with. It’s a growing problem.”

Since then a number of retailers have done away with on-call scheduling, including Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch. The issue has also gotten attention nationwide. In November, San Francisco passed the first-even retail workers’ “bill of rights,” which gives store employees more predictable schedules and access to extra hours.

TIME Careers & Workplace

3-Step Formula for Making Small Talk (Without Awkward Silences)

women-colleagues-talking
Getty Images

Start by sharing something about yourself

The Muse logo

Coming from someone who just graduated from business school, it may seem strange to focus on the skill of small talk. Next to more formal business skills, such as networking and building an elevator pitch, chitchat just doesn’t seem like it should be a top priority. I’ve learned, however, that being a good small talker is absolutely vital to your professional success.

Regardless of your role, you will surely find yourself in professional situations where you have to make conversation with someone you don’t know well (or at all), whether it’s a co-worker, senior manager, client, or new networking contact. As you jump into that initial conversation, it’s important that you’re able to make a quick connection, so you can move toward building a more substantial relationship.

For some, small talk comes naturally—but for others (including myself!), it can be pretty tricky. I get especially nervous when I’m talking to someone senior at my organization, because I want to make a good impression without coming across as boring. How do you hold a conversation with someone you barely know without resorting to commenting on the weather?

In my experience, the best way to deal with this common situation is to have a couple of pre-planned ideas of things to say—that way, you never have to worry about freezing up. Here is the simple, three-step method I use.

1. Briefly Reveal Something About Yourself

Don’t go silent after you shake hands and introduce yourself—continue by volunteering something about yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary; often I’ll simply comment on what brought me to the situation (e.g., “I’m here because I’ll be working on the operations phase of this project—I’m really excited to kick things off during this meeting”).

I’ve found that this helps put others at ease because it gives them some context for who I am. It also establishes a pattern of discussion that involves both parties talking, instead of a conversation that is completely reliant on me asking the other person questions.

2. Ask an Open-Ended Question That’s Fairly Easy to Answer

Asking the right question means that the other person won’t have to work too hard to engage, but also won’t be able to get away with a simple yes-or-no answer that will stop the conversation cold.

For example, if you’re waiting for a meeting to start, you could ask how he or she got involved in the project that is going to be discussed. Or, if you’d rather expand the conversation beyond work-related topics, you could go for a more fun, personal question—I often ask if the person has any interesting trips planned.

3. Direct the Conversation to Current Events

If it feels like your small talk has devolved into a Q&A, feel free to move the conversation away from professional topics and talk about what’s going on in the world. Of course, the advice that it’s best to avoid conversations about religion and politics still holds true, but if you’re the one to pick the topic, then you’ll be able to direct the discussion appropriately.

I try to stick to well-known topics, such as news about local sports teams or recent events covered in a daily digest (try Daily PNut, The Week, or theSkimm), so that it’s more likely the other person will have also something to say on the subject. That way, the conversation can progress much more naturally.

Keep this method in mind, and the next time you find yourself standing next to an SVP in the coffee line, you’ll be able to make a confident, intelligent impression—without any mention of the weather.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse

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TIME Companies

Somebody in China Has Set Up a Fake Goldman Sachs and Is Doing Business

U.S. Stocks Fall From Record as Microsoft, Google Miss on Profit
Scott Eells—Bloomberg via Getty Images The Goldman Sachs Co. logo is displayed at the company's booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on July 19, 2013

Because China

China has been known for ripping off designer goods, iPhones and even public sculpture. Now, financial companies can start worrying about having a Chinese counterfeit too.

American multinational financial giant Goldman Sachs Group Inc. appears to share an English name with Goldman Sachs (Shenzhen) Financial Leasing Co., a financial services company based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. The company also uses the same Chinese moniker (Gao Sheng) as the American one, and even has a similar font for its logo, according to Bloomberg.

A spokeswoman for the American Goldman Sachs, Connie Ling, told Bloomberg that there is no connection between the two companies. A secretary at the Shenzhen company told Bloomberg that no one had ever inquired with her about the similarities.

Name-poaching isn’t the only controversy the company has encountered — it has also been accused of dabbling in money-laundering.

The company first came to light when a U.S. casino workers’ union sent a letter to the Chinese government complaining that the Shenzhen company was linked to the notorious gaming figure Cheung Chi-tai. Chinese prosecutors allege that Cheung in turn has links to organized crime and he is awaiting trial, Bloomberg says.

[Bloomberg]

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