Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
Hey, did you read that Josh Duggar was on the Ashley Madison list? And it wasn’t a fake email address either! He confirmed it!
I know that some people get a feeling of joy or pleasure seeing Duggar suffer more misfortune. That’s nice for them. But with all the genuine suffering that this exposure will be causing innocents, can we at least get something good out of it?
The media are already using it for their headlines, therapists and divorce lawyers will be using it to get new clients. But can we get more out of this hack than media hits and billable hours?
We know that some people use disasters to profit, others to push an agenda. “We are going to turn Iraq into a free market paradise using these Heritage Foundation interns!”
I propose we have a couple of items to push on our agenda.
First, increase the importance of privacy in both private governments and corporations. Second, use this data to show the problem with passing judgement on the private lives of ordinary people.
As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in his piece, The Puritanical Glee Over the Ashley Madison Hack,
[None of us should cheer when the private lives of ordinary people are indiscriminately invaded, no matter how much voyeuristic arousal or feelings of moral superiority it provides. We love to think of ourselves as so progressive and advanced, yet so often leap at the opportunity to intervene and wallow around in, and sternly pass judgment on, the private sexual choices of other adults.
But, what are the concrete things we can change beyond trying to change attitudes? [Emphasis added, since this is key: What to do, specifically? – LG] How about a focus on . . .
It is in fact a well-thought-out list of specific, concrete steps. Well worth reading.
Astonishing. Emiko Jozuka reports in Motherboard:
World economies can be mind-boggling systems made up of complex chains of supply and demand, buoyed by commodities and fueled by different currencies.
Owen Cornec and Romain Vuillemot, data visualization fellows at Harvard Kennedy School, wanted to reimagine the global spread of goods in a new visualisation. Dubbed the “Globe of Economic Complexity,” Cornec and Vuillemot’s colorful 3D world portrays cold economic fact as “clouds of confetti.”
The Globe of Economic Complexity—an interactive tool—lets users see a country’s total trade as well as which products are made, and where in the world they’re exported. The map allows specialists and non-specialists alike to explore and understand the world through the production and trade trajectory of commodities. It was inspired by the original Atlas of Economic Complexity, which is a tool used by policymakers to view exports and the economic health of countries.“We wanted to find a novel way to convey the scale, diversity, and inequality of world economies using new 3D web technologies, to make these massive amounts of international trade beautiful and understandable,” Cornec told me over email.
The data visualization maps out “the entire world production of goods” by visualizing the $15.3 trillion-worth of world exports reached in 2012. One tiny dot equates to $100 million of exports (the “equivalent of 15,0000 swiss watches”). Each color represents a different industry and there are 153,000 dots in total.
What’s fun about the site is that it allows you to explore the similarities and differences in products stemming from different countries. A range of products including “vegetable products,” “textiles,” and “metals” are listed at the bottom of the site. Click on any given one, and the distribution of where those products are in the world emerges on the world map. The visualization also makes clear that no country can export everything, and that some industries such as machinery will generate more networks around the world as opposed to something like vegetables. . .
Here’s what it looks like:
Some sites—Hulu, for example—have user-blockers that are trigger by the detection of use of an ad-blocker. I cannot use Hulu unless I turn off the ad-blocker so they can play their ads—and I’m not about to do that for reasons explained in this Motherboard article by Nicholas Deleon:
Proponents of ad-blocking software may have another reason to continue blocking ads.
A new report from cybersecurity firm Cyphort published this morning notes that instances of malware served via online advertising networks increased 325 percent between June 2014 and February of this year. The report notes that several high-profile websites, including the Forbes, Huffington Post, and LA Weekly, served malware via their ads in that time frame.
Spreading malicious software, or malware, via online advertising networks is commonly referred to as “malvertising,” and, according to Cyphort, is seen by cybercriminals as being particularly effective because compromised ads are visually indistinguishable from safe ads.
The process typically works as follows: Posing as benign advertisers, cybercriminals will initially seed advertising networks with safe ads in order to build trust with the networks and the websites that use these networks. They then periodically insert ads laden with malware, which then infect users’ computers. Infected ads are typically Flash-based, which is partly why so many companies, including Mozilla and Amazon, are phasing out their support of Flash.
In the short term, Cyphort notes that infected ads can be blocked through the use of software like ad blockers like Adblock Plus and uBlock. . .
Heinz Ketchup contains 21% tomato concentrate. Israel requires ketchup to have 41% tomato concentrate. So in Israel, it’s Heinz Tomato Seasoning.
The Onion has a good headline: “Jeff Bezos Assures Amazon Employees That HR Working 100 Hours A Week To Address Their Complaints.”
But the problem of excessive demands—i.e., exploitation of the workforce—is serious. And, as Tim Wu points out in an interesting piece in the New Yorker, it is not necessarily due to individuals in charge. The entire article is worth reading, but let me quote just his conclusions:
. . . What all of these explanations [for the excessive demands of the modern workplace] have in common is the idea that the answer comes from examining workers’ decisions and incentives. There’s something missing: the question of whether the American system, by its nature, resists the possibility of too much leisure, even if that’s what people actually want, and even if they have the means to achieve it. In other words, the long hours may be neither the product of what we really want nor the oppression of workers by the ruling class, the old Marxist theory. They may be the byproduct of systems and institutions that have taken on lives of their own and serve no one’s interests. That can happen if some industries have simply become giant make-work projects that trap everyone within them.
What counts as work, in the skilled trades, has some intrinsic limits; once a house or bridge is built, that’s the end of it. But in white-collar jobs, the amount of work can expand infinitely through the generation of false necessities—that is, reasons for driving people as hard as possible that have nothing to do with real social or economic needs. Consider the litigation system, in which the hours worked by lawyers at large law firms are a common complaint. If dispute resolution is the social function of the law, what we have is far from the most efficient way to reach fair or reasonable resolutions. Instead, modern litigation can be understood as a massive, socially unnecessary arms race, wherein lawyers subject each other to torturous amounts of labor just because they can. In older times, the limits of technology and a kind of professionalism created a natural limit to such arms races, but today neither side can stand down, lest it put itself at a competitive disadvantage.
A typical analysis blames greedy partners for crazy hours, but the irony is that the people at the top are often as unhappy and overworked as those at the bottom: it is a system that serves almost no one. Moreover, our many improvements in the technologies of productivity make the arms-race problem worse. The fact that employees are now always reachable eliminates what was once a natural barrier of sorts, the idea that work was something that happened during office hours or at the physical office. With no limits, work becomes like a football game where the whistle is never blown.
Litigation may be an extreme example, but I do not doubt that many other industries have their own arms races that create work that is of dubious necessity. The antidote is simple to prescribe but hard to achieve: it is a return to the goal of efficiency in work—fulfilling whatever needs we have, as a society, with the minimal effort required, while leaving the option of more work as a hobby for those who happen to love it. In this respect, it seems like no little irony that Amazon should be a brutal workplace when its ostensible guiding principle is making people’s lives better. There must be a better way.
In a situation such as this, a government that is by, for, and of the people and is focused on the general welfare can play a role. While no single company can afford to slack up because of competitive pressure, the government can set (and enforce—important aspect) ground rules that protect workers and level the playing field for all companies. For example, enforcing a 40-hour work week for all employees would enable companies to give their workforce time for family, rest, and activities other than work.
As an example of how this works, automobile manufacturers are required to meet certain safety standards by law. Without such laws, there would be a race to the bottom as companies cut costs by jettisoning the safety measures built into their cars. (You can see that they would by noting how strenuously and vigorously the automobile industry has fought the introduction of each safety requirement: if it were left up to them, they would never incorporate such measures for fear that their competitors would undercut them on price by having lower costs. But a law requiring the observance of such safety standards takes off the table the option of ignoring the standards, so no one can get a competitive advantage by ignoring safety.
Because of the nature of the system, however, the change probably must be imposed from without, since the companies have entered a trap from which they cannot otherwise escape.
Technology helps us all—well, all except those selling overpriced medical equipment. J.M. Porup reports in Motherboard:
Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor in Gaza, wants to apply the principles of open source software development to out-of-patent medical devices. His first success: A 3D-printed stethoscope head that costs 30 cents to make and, according to his tests, has better sound quality than the industry standard.
Loubani is the head of the Glia project, whose team of hackers and surgeons designed and field-tested the stethoscope. Audio-frequency response curve tests showed the device not only exceeds international standards, but offers superior sound quality compared to the industry-leading Littmann Cardiology 3.
The Littmann retails for $150-200. The Glia stethoscope, including the 3D printed head, tubing and ear piece, will cost around $5 to produce.
Loubani founded the Glia project after the 2012 Israeli invasion of Gaza. “I had to hold my ear to the chests of victims because there were no good stethoscopes, and that was a tragedy, a travesty, and unacceptable,” Loubani told attendees during a presentation at the Chaos Communications Camp in Zehdenick, Germany.
The device was tested in a process the group dubbed the “Hello Kitty” protocol. During the test, which measures how much sound is transmitted at each frequency, the stethoscope is pressed against a balloon filled with water before sound is transmitted through the balloon. The abundance of cat-branded balloons available in Gaza at the time led to that nickname. . .
Later in the article:
. . . Loubani foresees a future in which lifesaving medical devices, like dialysis machines and electrocardiograms, can be 3D printed around the world for a fraction of their former cost. Inspired by the open source software movement, he keeps all his code on GitHub and encourages doctors and hardware hackers to contribute to the project in a collaborative way. . .
The Glia team is focused on developing the three most ubiquitous and expensive medical devices—the stethoscope, a pulse oximeter that monitors blood oxygen levels, and an electrocardiogram for cardiac patients. The latter two, Loubani explains, will use “PCBs [printed circuit boards] designed to be easy for people to make in low-resource settings with simple methods like toner transfer. The housing is 3D printed.” . . .
Loubani was inspired to launch the project after testing his nephew’s toy stethoscope, and was startled to find such good sound quality.
Stethoscope prices remain high despite the expiration of fifty-year-old patents, and so he brought together a group of hardware hackers to work on the Glia model.
“I can understand why these companies charge so much,” he wrote. “[They] have no reason to undermine their profits. Why would 3M develop a stethoscope that’s as good as their $200 model but a fraction of the cost? That’s where doctors, hackers and tinkerers from all over the world take over to create these devices in a way that’s affordable and accessible.” . . .
Motherboard has another article, by Seung Lee, about how medical companies are developed stethoscope replacements with enhanced capabilities (recording the sounds, for example) and sell at much higher prices. Well worth reading.