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Archive for November 27th, 2016

Apple may have finally gotten too big for its unusual corporate structure

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Matthew Yglesias writes at Vox:

Mark Gurman reported for Bloomberg on Monday that Apple is ceasing development of its Airport line of wifi routers as well as its Time Machine wireless backup disks. That comes hot on the heels of an October public announcement that the company would no longer be making external displays, and will instead partner with LG to create a sort of Apple-blessed display manufactured and branded by the Korean company.

Less officially, the sheer amount of time that has passed since the last release of a Mac Pro desktop computer has users of high-end workstations convinced that Apple has effectively exited that market as well. Professionals in the market for muscular computers, after all, are almost by definition only going to be interested in buying machines that come with the latest and most up-to-date chips and hardware. A line of “pro” computers that isn’t updated regularly simply doesn’t work as a pro computer at all. Even if Apple does make a new Mac Pro at this point, buyers wary of the possibility of years-long gaps between updates will still find themselves thinking that people in the market for desktop workstations may need to look beyond the Mac.

The state of Apple’s semi-withdrawal from the professional grade computer market even has some die-hard Mac fans daydreaming about the idea of bringing back operating system licensing so that some other company can put in the time and effort needed to build Mac compatible workstations without Cupertino needing to worry about it.

Even Apple’s more popular laptop products show some signs of the same kind of neglect. The latest iteration of the MacBook Pro offers a number of impressive features, but it maxes out at a relatively low level of RAM, doesn’t offer many ports, and isn’t equipped with truly top-of-the-line internal chips. The computer is impressive in many ways — certainly the innovative new TouchBar looks cool — but, like most of Apple’s other products, it appears to be optimized for lightness and thinness rather than for true professional use.

But this all raises a more fundamental question. If GE can build jet engines, tidal energy farms, freight rail data systems, mining equipment, and medical devices, how is it that the world’s most valuable company can’t find the time to make a full line of personal computers and PC peripherals alongside its market-leading smartphones and tablets? The answer goes back to Apple’s corporate structure, which, though fairly common for a startup, is extremely unusual for an enormous company.

Functional versus divisional structures

Any large organization needs to have an organizational structure.

There are two main ways to structure a business. You can build divisions that are built around particular lines of business or you can build functional groups that are built around particular kinds of expertise.

An extreme case of a divisional company would be Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway conglomerate. Buffett famously maintains a corporate headquarters in Omaha that only employs 25 people, who work supporting him personally and compiling paperwork from the company’s various divisions to submit to government regulators.

Like Berkshire’s comically inept website, the bare-bones home office is in part a philosophical statement. It shows that Buffett is in the business of making investments in companies and corporate leaders he believes in. No management is happening in Omaha. Instead, the company’s various divisions — whether it’s a freight railroad or a mobile home manufacturer — have their own corporate functions, including things like HR and legal.

Berkshire is extreme in this regard, but a basic divisional backbone is the main way to organize a big company. Most people work for units that are responsible for particular lines of business, while a few functional groups (maybe public relations or accounting) provide support to all the business divisions.

Apple is extremely functional

Apple isn’t like that. If you look at their executive team you’ll find that there’s no senior vice president for iPhone who works alongside a senior vice president for Mac. Nobody is in charge of Macs or iPhones or iPads or really anything else, because Apple is almost entirely functional.

There’s a chief design officer and a senior vice president of software engineering and a senior vice president of hardware technologies who is different than the senior vice president of hardware engineering. Of course there are also more traditional senior functional executives like a general counsel and a chief financial officer. But the closest thing Apple has to a divisional chief with responsibility for a specific line of business is Angela Ahrendts, the senior vice president for retail.

But Ahrendts’s role actually illustrates the strength of Apple’s functional model. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Ezra Klein on Trump’s allegation of “millions of illegal votes”

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Ezra Klein makes some good points in his Vox article, and they are ominous:

  1. Trump has lost the thread of his own argument. The point of Trump’s tweets was to dismiss those questioning the legitimacy of the vote. “The Green Party scam to fill up their coffers by asking for impossible recounts is now being joined by the badly defeated & demoralized Dems,” he tweeted, adding, “Nothing will change.” But here, Trump undermined himself. If Democrats worry the votes were miscounted, and the president-elect believes that millions of people voted fraudulently, then it’s clear we need a recount to restore faith in the outcome of the election.
  2. This perhaps goes without saying, but it’s unnerving that the president-elect can’t restrain himself from making a bad situation worse on Twitter, or even hold himself to the logic of the argument he intended to make and the outcome he wanted to achieve.
  3. This tweet is an example of Trump’s most dangerous quality: his tendency to mobilize against a threatening, sometimes imaginary Other whenever he himself is under siege. There is no evidence of significant voter fraud from this election. But Trump is telling his supporters that voting fraud did in fact happen, and that they should therefore worry that their political power will be overwhelmed by illegal voters.
  4. The nightmare scenario in 2016 was that Trump would refuse to accept the outcome of the election when he was a mere candidate. Imagine if he were to refuse to accept the outcome of the next election once he is the president, and after he has appointed loyalists to control America’s security apparatus.
  5. Imagine this tendency of Trump’s emerging after a domestic terrorist attack. George W. Bush worked hard in the aftermath of 9/11 to tamp down Islamophobia in America — to ensure it was al-Qaeda (and, eventually, Saddam Hussein) who was blamed, not American Muslims. Who would Trump blame in the aftermath of a terrorist attack? How quick would he be to turn Americans against each other, to find an enemy who could absorb the public anger that might normally attach itself to him?
  6. I’ve noticed a lot of people on Twitter seem to think Trump’s tweet is scary because it’s false, but the actually scary interpretation is that he believes it’s true, which he probably does. It seems likely that Trump got his “information” from conspiracy theorist site InfoWars.com, or someone else retweeting or rewriting InfoWars — a lot of weird things Trump says later prove to emerged in the pro-Trump, conspiracy theory-corners of the internet. The problem with Trump isn’t the lies he tells as much as it’s the information he chooses to believe.
  7. Consider the difference between a world where Trump is lying to us, and a world where Trump has fooled himself. Trump lost the popular vote, and he lost it by a wide margin — more than 2 million votes and counting. A wise man would take that information seriously and think about how to staff his White House, set priorities, and moderate his message to win over a majority of the public. Instead, Trump appears to have convinced himself the vote count was riddled with fraud and that he won a majority of the legitimate vote — and thus he can govern like a man who won the popular vote, and holds the mandate that carries.
  8. Back in March, I wrote a piece about how Trump was too gullible — too fond of bad information and sycophants — to be president. I think that piece holds up.
  9. It has been weeks since Donald Trump won the presidential election, and here is what we can say: . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 8:42 pm

This is going to be a weird presidency

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From TomDispatch.com:

Call it a unique presidency, even before it begins, and look on the bright side: should President Donald Trump ever have to pay a visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he’ll be able to put up his feet and relax at the soaring Trump Towers Istanbul. He’ll undoubtedly be joined there by his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a paid lobbyist for a Turkish-American business group, who recently wrote a column (without mentioning that gig) calling for closer ties to Erdogan’s Turkey and for the deportation of a cleric living in the U.S. whom the prime minister accuses of launching a coup against him.

Better still, such advantages from a Trump presidency won’t be restricted to Turkey. Take India, where Trump Towers Mumbai (“a jewel not just in the city’s skyline, but in the Trump Crown”) is now under construction. Only last week, the president-elect met with the three developers of another Indian project, Trump Tower Pune: “23-story black-glass pillars” housing $2 million apartments in “a quiet industrial city in the west of India.” Those Indian businessmen flew to New York and met The Donald at Trump Tower to celebrate his election victory and the likelihood that it would increase the project’s value. (“‘We will see a tremendous jump in valuation in terms of the second tower,’ said Pranav R. Bhakta, a consultant who helped Mr. Trump’s organization make inroads into the Indian market five years ago.”) In that meeting, the president-elect also reportedly praised the efforts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After all, why not mix business and global politics? And mind you, those are just two of the five Trump projects (worth $1.5 billion) in that country.

There are also, of course, the elite golf courses in Ireland and Scotland, not to speak of the luxury resort now under development in Indonesia and the possible hotel project (little is known about it) in Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jiddah. And don’t forget other branded projects in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the Philippines, South Korea, and elsewhere, to say nothing of the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, which the candidate plugged hard during the campaign and which is already a roosting spotfor foreign diplomats.

And then, of course, there was that $10,000 bracelet, part of her jewelry line, that daughter Ivanka wore to the president-elect’s post-election interview on 60 Minutes and which was soon being plugged as a must-buy by her business associates. But look, none of this should be surprising. Trump is a family man in every sense of the word. His business is a family business. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s no more way to separate him from his brand, with his kids running it, than there is to separate a shark from the ocean or Ivanka from her line of jewelry. There’s no way this administration can be anything but a walking, talking conflict of interest of a kind never before seen or even imagined in this country.  It’s easy, in fact, to guarantee one thing: that foreign business and political interests will have a field day when it comes to applying pressure to the new American president. (The Clinton Foundation? Hey, you’re talking chicken feed or shark bait by comparison!)

And here’s a sign of the times: the president-elect has taken to calling his latest cabinet and other appointments “deals.” (“We made a couple of deals, but we’ll let you know soon.”) Trump clearly doesn’t even want to move into the White House full time, so count on Manhattan’s Trump Tower, the crown jewel of his empire of towers, being the real White House, with his Mar-a-Lago and Bedminister golf clubs as his true homes away from home. In fact, the new first lady (or perhaps we should call her the “first lady once removed”) doesn’t plan to move to Pennsylvania Avenue any time soon, if at all, an act unparalleled since the days of Martha Washington when the White House had yet to be built. But don’t think that means that august building will be useless. After all, hasn’t it always looked to you like some kind of elaborate TV set? Under the circumstances, it probably won’t surprise you that, even before he launched his bid for the presidency, Trump was already dreaming about (and had consulted at least one NBC executive about) continuing The Apprentice there, which in a way is what he’s done during his administration’s ongoing staffing spectacle. (“You’re hired!”)

With all this in mind, TomDispatch’s Nick Turse took a little trip to New York’s version of the White House to get a taste of what the new age of Trump might feel like firsthand. Tom

The Manhattan White House, the Secret Service, and the Painted Bikini Lady
A Journey to the President-Elect’s Private “Public” Park
By Nick Turse

High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish.  One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.”

I was somewhere in between… and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved.

Trump Tower is many things — the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House in Midtown Manhattan.”  It is also, as noted above its front entrance: “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 8 AM to 10 PM.”

When planning for the tower began in the late 1970s, Trump — like other developers of the era — struck a deal with the city of New York.  In order to add extra floors to the building, he agreed to provide amenities for the public, including access to restrooms, an atrium, and two upper-level gardens.

When I arrived at Trump Tower, less than a week after Election Day, the fourth floor garden was roped off, so I proceeded up the glass escalator, made a right, and headed through a door into an outdoor pocket park on the fifth floor terrace.  Just as I entered, a group of Japanese tourists was leaving and, suddenly, I was alone, a solitary figure in a secluded urban oasis.

But not for long.

Taking a seat on a silver aluminum chair at a matching table, I listened closely.  It had been a zoo down on Fifth Avenue just minutes before: demonstrators chanting “love trumps hate,” Trump supporters shouting back, traffic noise echoing in the urban canyon, the “whooooop” of police sirens, and a bikini-clad woman in body paint singing in front of the main entrance.  And yet in this rectangular roof garden, so near to America’s new White House-in-waiting, all was placid and peaceful.  There was no hint of the tourist-powered tumult below or of the potentially world-altering political machinations above, just the unrelenting white noise-hum of the HVAC system.     

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

The Stars and Stripes flies above the actual White House in Washington, D.C.  Inside the Oval Office, it’s joined by another flag — the seal of the president of the United States emblazoned on a dark blue field. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 3:26 pm

An interesting quotation from a guy who runs a large fake-news organization

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Laura Sydell reports at NPR:

A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.” The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

We wondered who was behind that story and why it was written. It appeared on a site that had the look and feel of a local newspaper. Denverguardian.com even had the local weather. But it had only one news story — the fake one.

We tried to look up who owned it and hit a wall. The site was registered anonymously. So we brought in some professional help.

By day, John Jansen is head of engineering at Master-McNeil Inc., a tech company in Berkeley, Calif. In the interest of real news he helped us track down the owner of Denverguardian.com.

Jansen started by looking at the site’s history. “Commonly that’s called scraping or crawling websites,” he says.

Jansen is kind of like an archaeologist. He says that nothing you do on the Web disappears — it just gets buried — like a fossil. But if you do some digging you’ll find those fossils and learn a lot of history.

The “Denver Guardian” was built and designed using a pretty common platform — WordPress. It’s used by bloggers and people who want to create their own websites. Jansen found that the first entry ever for the site was done by someone with the handle LetTexasSecede.

“That was sort of the thread that started to unravel everything,” Jansen says. “I was able to track that through to a bunch of other sites which are where that handle is also present.”

The sites include NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co, WashingtonPost.com.co. All the addresses linked to a single rented server inside Amazon Web Services. That meant they were all very likely owned by the same company. Jansen found an email address on one of those sites and was able to link that address to a name: Jestin Coler.

Online, Coler was listed as the founder and CEO of a company called Disinfomedia. Coler’s LinkedIn profile said he once sold magazine subscriptions, worked as a database administrator and as a freelance writer for among others, International Yachtsman magazine. And, using his name, we found a home address.

On a warm, sunny afternoon I set out with a producer for a suburb of Los Angeles. Coler lived in a middle-class neighborhood of pastel-colored one-story beach bungalows. His home had an unwatered lawn — probably the result of California’s ongoing drought. There was a black minivan in the driveway and a large prominent American flag.

We rang the front doorbell and . . .

Continue reading.

From later in the article, with emphasis added without comment:

When did you notice that fake news does best with Trump supporters?

Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people. The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Business, Media

The U.N. Sent 3 Foreign Women To The U.S. To Assess Gender Equality. They Were Horrified.

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Laura Bassett reports in the Huffington Post:

A delegation of human rights experts from Poland, the United Kingdom and Costa Rica spent 10 days this month touring the United States so they can prepare a report on the nation’s overall treatment of women. The three women, who lead a United Nations working group on discrimination against women, visited Alabama, Texas, and Oregon to evaluate a wide range of U.S. policies and attitudes, as well as school, health and prison systems.

The delegates were appalled by the lack of gender equality in America. They found the U.S. to be lagging far behind international human rights standards in a number of areas, including its 23 percent gender pay gap, maternity leave, affordable child care and the treatment of female migrants in detention centers.

The most telling moment of the trip, the women told reporters on Friday, was when they visited an abortion clinic in Alabama and experienced the hostile political climate around women’s reproductive rights.

“We were harassed. There were two vigilante men waiting to insult us,” said Frances Raday, the delegate from the U.K. The men repeatedly shouted, “You’re murdering children!” at them as soon as they neared the clinic, even though Raday said they are clearly past childbearing age.

“It’s a kind of terrorism,” added Eleonora Zielinska, the delegate from Poland. “To us, it was shocking.”

In most European countries, she explained, abortions are performed at general doctors’ offices and hospitals that offer all kinds of other health services, so there aren’t protesters waiting to heckle the women who enter.

The women discovered during their visit that women in the United States have “missing rights” compared to the rest of the world. For instance, the U.S. is one of three countries in the world that does not guarantee women paid maternity leave, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization. The U.N. suggests that countries guarantee at least 14 weeks of paid parental leave. Some countries go further — Iceland requires five months paid leave for each parent, and an additional two months to be shared between them. . .

Continue reading.

The US has lost its way.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Daily life

Choke Point of a Nation: The High Cost of an Aging River Lock

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Tyler Kelley reports in the NY Times:

Luther Helland stood on a platform in the middle of the river and surveyed his dam. It was in bad shape. Several of the panels that kept the water back were missing, while others were out of true. Weeks of work stretched before him, compounded by the vagaries of the river.

Mr. Helland, 37, is master of Lock and Dam No. 52 on the Ohio River. That makes him responsible for billions of dollars’ worth of cargo and the operation of countless factories, power plants, farms and refineries east of the mighty Mississippi. By extension, then, he is responsible for the livelihoods of millions of Americans.

Built in 1929, Lock No. 52 sits in a quiet corner of southern Illinois that happens to be the busiest spot on America’s inland waterways, where traffic from the eastern United States meets and passes traffic from the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. More than 80 million tons of grain, coal, fuel and other goods — worth over $22 billion — move through here each year.

“It wouldn’t seem like it, but this is more stressful than when I was in the military,” said Mr. Helland, a farm boy from Wisconsin who worked as an Army welder and machinist in South Korea before he took this job.

Even with a tax credit, though, companies building roads or locks would want a return on their investment — most likely in the form of toll collection, said Mike Toohey, president of the Waterways Council, an advocacy group for the river shipping industry. His industry is “not in favor of a toll,” he said. Still, he is optimistic that spending on inland waterways will increase under a new administration.

The average delay at No. 52 in October and November was 15 to 20 hours. At the moment, No. 52’s sister dam downriver, No. 53, is adding 48 more hours to the wait.

Dealing with both dams, it can take five days to travel just 100 miles on this stretch of the Ohio River. And if something goes wrong at either one — which does happen — the delay can build to a week or more. On Sept. 14, for instance, all river traffic stopped for an additional 15 hours while emergency repairs were made to No. 52’s dam.

No. 52 and No. 53 have been waiting to be blown up since 1998, when a new mega-dam near Olmsted, Ill., was supposed to be finished. Authorized in 1988, the project is now wildly over budget and decades behind schedule. What was supposed to cost $775 million and be finished in 1998 will now most likely cost $2.9 billion and be operational in October 2018 at the earliest. . .

Continue reading. And read the whole thing: the level of unaccomplishment is staggering.

It’s odd that the US cannot get its act together and seemingly has lost the ability to manage large projects (cf. the F-35 debacle).

Later in the article:

The corps, an agency within the federal government, decided to build Olmsted with an experimental “in the wet” construction method: Hollow sections of the dam are built on the bank, skidded down to the river, towed into position and lowered into the water, where they are filled with concrete. Traditionally, a project like this would have used a coffer dam — a small temporary dam that keeps water out of the site while construction goes on in the dry.

The “in the wet” method was supposed to save time and money and minimize delays, but it did the opposite. By the time the corps realized its folly, it was too late to alter course. The novel construction process and inadequate congressional funding, among other things, have dragged the project past the quarter-century mark.

Olmsted has been under construction for so long that the company contracted to build it has been bought and renamed three times, the new locks at the Panama Canal — Olmsted’s global equivalent — have been begun and finished, and grandchildren of the early workers have been hired. Meanwhile, the old locks and dams are costing the country $640 million a year in delays and closures, according to the Army corps.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Business, Government

This $1,500 Toaster Oven Is Everything That’s Wrong With Silicon Valley Design

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Mark Wilson writes at FastCodeDesign.com:

I slide a piece of salmon into the June, one of the most advanced ovens ever built. Loaded with a camera, temperature probe, Wi-Fi, and algorithms, it’ll cost you $1,500. It required nearly $30 million in venture capital to create. It was the brainchild of the engineer who brought us the iPhone’s camera and Ammunition, the design firm that gave us Beats headphones.

“We take very hard technologies, AI, deep learning, and lots of sensors, and we apply that to creating a well thought through, simple interface that just makes your life better,” says June cofounder Matt Van Horn, another Apple alum who cofounded Zimride, today known as Lyft. “Our MO is we just want to inspire people to cook more.” It’s a tall order, but one that Van Horn delivers earnestly, the idea being that if cooking required less of us, we’d simply do it more. Yet in buying into the June, the home cook is becoming a consumer rather than a creator. The June asks cooks to put their faith in the fledging startup’s proprietary software getting better, rather than improving their own analog skills—skills that will work on any machine, in any kitchen.

Door closed, the oven knows it’s salmon. I press “salmon,” and the June glows like a space heater, convection fans whirring. In precisely 10 minutes and 38 seconds my salmon will be done, the screen claims. Which seems way too fast, but what do I know? But 10 minutes becomes 20, and 20 fades into 40. It’s almost seven, and still the timer’s ETA is jumping around. This was all a replay of the night before, when our steak was cooking, and the June was texting messages like “NOTIFICATION_ETA_PESSIMISTIC”—a bug that the company would like to clarify it has since rectified.

The salmon’s done at 6:52 p.m., when we’ve already devoured the sides that I’d rushed to assemble in my real oven, since the June only ships with a single rack.

Update: June audited my oven’s data and claims that the salmon finished 31 minutes into cooking—still 3x June’s original estimate—and I left it in longer by mistake. My iOS logs show I did receive a push notification at that time, but that doesn’t account for what the oven itself was conveying. For me, being in the kitchen during this time, it’s impossible to know if this was all my error, or the result of what the oven interface was conveying over that time. More on that below.

I slide a piece of salmon into the June, one of the most advanced ovens ever built. Loaded with a camera, temperature probe, Wi-Fi, and algorithms, it’ll cost you $1,500. It required nearly $30 million in venture capital to create. It was the brainchild of the engineer who brought us the iPhone’s camera and Ammunition, the design firm that gave us Beats headphones.

“We take very hard technologies, AI, deep learning, and lots of sensors, and we apply that to creating a well thought through, simple interface that just makes your life better,” says June cofounder Matt Van Horn, another Apple alum who cofounded Zimride, today known as Lyft. “Our MO is we just want to inspire people to cook more.” It’s a tall order, but one that Van Horn delivers earnestly, the idea being that if cooking required less of us, we’d simply do it more. Yet in buying into the June, the home cook is becoming a consumer rather than a creator. The June asks cooks to put their faith in the fledging startup’s proprietary software getting better, rather than improving their own analog skills—skills that will work on any machine, in any kitchen.

Door closed, the oven knows it’s salmon. I press “salmon,” and the June glows like a space heater, convection fans whirring. In precisely 10 minutes and 38 seconds my salmon will be done, the screen claims. Which seems way too fast, but what do I know? But 10 minutes becomes 20, and 20 fades into 40. It’s almost seven, and still the timer’s ETA is jumping around. This was all a replay of the night before, when our steak was cooking, and the June was texting messages like “NOTIFICATION_ETA_PESSIMISTIC”—a bug that the company would like to clarify it has since rectified.

The salmon’s done at 6:52 p.m., when we’ve already devoured the sides that I’d rushed to assemble in my real oven, since the June only ships with a single rack.

Update: June audited my oven’s data and claims that the salmon finished 31 minutes into cooking—still 3x June’s original estimate—and I left it in longer by mistake. My iOS logs show I did receive a push notification at that time, but that doesn’t account for what the oven itself was conveying. For me, being in the kitchen during this time, it’s impossible to know if this was all my error, or the result of what the oven interface was conveying over that time. More on that below.

“[The] salmon’s incredible,” Van Horn had bragged earlier. Which seemed a stretch to me: “The salmon’s incredible” is what a waiter tells you when somebody at your table can’t eat gluten. Objectively, the fish was cooked to temperature and still moist enough—which you could have done in any oven, really.This salmon had become more distracting to babysit than if I’d just cooked it on my own. This salmon had become a metaphor for Silicon Valley itself. Automated yet distracting. Boastful yet mediocre. Confident yet wrong. Most of all, the June is a product built less for you, the user, and more for its own ever-impending perfection as a platform. When you cook salmon wrong, you learn about cooking it right. When the June cooks salmon wrong, its findings are uploaded, aggregated, and averaged into a June database that you hope will allow all June ovens to get it right the next time. Good thing the firmware updates are installed automatically. . .

Continue reading.

At the link are some screenshots. This is not a product I want.

Later in the article:

But the June’s fussy interface is archetypal Silicon Valley solutionism. Most kitchen appliances are literally one button from their intended function. When you twist the knob of your stove, it fires up. Hit “pulse” on a food processor and it chops. The objects are simple, because the knowledge to use them correctly lives in the user. If you get the oven temperature wrong, or the blend speed off, you simply turn it off and try again. The June attempts to eliminate what you have to know, by adding prompts and options and UI feedback. Slide in a piece of bread to make toast. Would you like your toast extra light, light, medium, or dark? Then you get an instruction: “Toast bread on middle rack.” But where there once was just an on button, you now get a blur of uncertainty: How much am I in control? How much can I expect from the oven? I once sat watching the screen for two minutes, confused as to why my toast wasn’t being made. Little did I realize, there’s a checkmark I had to press—the computer equivalent of “Are you sure you want to delete these photos?”—before browning some bread.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 11:02 am

What if jobs are not the solution but the problem?

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James Livingston is professor of history at Rutgers University in New York. He is the author of many books, the latest being No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea (2016). He writes at Aeon:

Work means everything to us Americans. For centuries – since, say, 1650 – we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labour, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve believed that, even if it sucks, a job gives meaning, purpose and structure to our everyday lives – at any rate, we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.

These beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills – unless of course you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.

These days, everybody from Left to Right – from the economist Dean Baker to the social scientist Arthur C Brooks, from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump – addresses this breakdown of the labour market by advocating ‘full employment’, as if having a job is self-evidently a good thing, no matter how dangerous, demanding or demeaning it is. But ‘full employment’ is not the way to restore our faith in hard work, or in playing by the rules, or in whatever else sounds good. The official unemployment rate in the United States is already below 6 per cent, which is pretty close to what economists used to call ‘full employment’, but income inequality hasn’t changed a bit. Shitty jobs for everyone won’t solve any social problems we now face.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers. Already a fourth of the adults actually employed in the US are paid wages lower than would lift them above the official poverty line – and so a fifth of American children live in poverty. Almost half of employed adults in this country are eligible for food stamps (most of those who are eligible don’t apply). The market in labour has broken down, along with most others.

Those jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession just aren’t coming back, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells you – the net gain in jobs since 2000 still stands at zero – and if they do return from the dead, they’ll be zombies, those contingent, part-time or minimum-wage jobs where the bosses shuffle your shift from week to week: welcome to Wal-Mart, where food stamps are a benefit.

And don’t tell me that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour solves the problem. No one can doubt the moral significance of the movement. But at this rate of pay, you pass the official poverty line only after working 29 hours a week. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. Working a 40-hour week, you would have to make $10 an hour to reach the official poverty line. What, exactly, is the point of earning a paycheck that isn’t a living wage, except to prove that you have a work ethic?

But, wait, isn’t our present dilemma just a passing phase of the business cycle? What about the job market of the future? Haven’t the doomsayers, those damn Malthusians, always been proved wrong by rising productivity, new fields of enterprise, new economic opportunities? Well, yeah – until now, these times. The measurable trends of the past half-century, and the plausible projections for the next half-century, are just too empirically grounded to dismiss as dismal science or ideological hokum. They look like the data on climate change – you can deny them if you like, but you’ll sound like a moron when you do.

For example, the Oxford economists who study employment trends tell us that almost half of existing jobs, including those involving ‘non-routine cognitive tasks’ – you know, like thinking – are at risk of death by computerisation within 20 years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2016 at 5:33 am

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