Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Parts & Recreation: Revell’s world of plastic models

leave a comment »

Ed Sexton, a former race car driver and a longtime manager at Revell, practicing his favorite hobby: building tiny plastic model cars.

.
Jeff Greenwald writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

1. “Very Much an Art”   
2. An Uniquely American Industry  
3. Industrial Ikebana   
4. Models of Obsession  
5. Could Revell Take on Lego?  
6. A Physical Story

My first plastic model, financed by weeks of snow shoveling, was Revell’s 1965 Gemini spacecraft. The kit had 93 parts, including two Lilliputian astronauts that I manipulated—with real envy—into the impossibly cramped capsule that would carry them into orbit. I remember bits of the process: the pages of the Long Island Press, spread over the kitchen table; the dizzying aroma of Testor’s glue; the UNITED STATES decals that seemed permanently attached to their backing until they suddenly slid off, in useless fragments, onto the painted plastic.

Over the years I built scores of models. I was a geeky adolescent outsider, sneaking into American pop culture through tiny plastic doors. While my peers were collecting Beatles singles, I exulted in the 1966 Batmobile that perched on my desk, honoring me with its silver rocket tubes and fine orange piping. A panoply of popular movie monsters snarled on my bookshelves. Each one had taken hours to assemble, but what else was I doing? Pong was still six years away.

Five decades later, in November, 2014, Warner Brothers re-released the entire original series of 120 Batman episodes. The news inspired an immediate visit to the neighborhood hobby shop, even though I hadn’t been inside one in decades.

In the 1960s and 70s, plastic models had sprung—as effortlessly as Pop-Tarts—from the aerospace programs, car designers and TV shows they mimicked. What were today’s inspirations? Once I arrived in the hobby shop, what amazed me most was that plastic models still existed—thousands of them, including a vintage Batmobile.  Yet unlike the models I built as a kid, most of these now bore a “Made in China” disclaimer. Even Revell, a company whose very logo looks like an American flag, had outsourced. But Revell’s home office was still in Illinois, apparently going strong. How could this be?

“VERY MUCH AN ART”

Sprawled over the flatlands some 30 miles northwest of Chicago, the boundaries of Elk Grove Village embrace the largest industrial park in the United States. More than 3,600 businesses have set up branches or headquarters in this former farming community. Next to Chicago itself, it’s the second largest manufacturing area in the country. Incongruously, the town still hosts its namesake: a herd of elk imported from the plains of Montana in the 1920s, now living in resigned boredom near the eastern edge of the Busse Woods Forest Preserve.

Brian Eble, vice president of marketing for Revell—still America’s premier model company—met me at the breakfast buffet of Elk Grove’s Comfort Inn, hand outstretched. Eble grew up on an Illinois farm and looks like a middle-aged superhero: close-cropped gray hair, a strong jaw, broad shoulders. An avid builder as a kid, he spent breakfast waxing philosophical about how model making had changed since our childhoods.

“Take a model car,” he suggested. “They used to carve the originals out of bass wood, and fashion the mold from that. Now, of course, it’s all done with computers. But the magic is the same. You’re taking a real car,” he said, lifting his java, “and shrinking it down to the size of this cup.

“Here’s the question,” he said. “How do you infuse craftsmanship into . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including many more photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2021 at 2:07 pm

Goodbye, Ajit Pai. Welcome back, net neutrality.

leave a comment »

Nitish Pahwa writes in Slate:

It took an industry man to ruin the internet as we knew it. The damage to a free and open virtual network wrought by the killing of net neutrality standards hasn’t yet assumed the apocalyptic form that digital watchdogs warned of. But the internet service providers who benefit from relaxation of the restrictions are already taking advantage in subtle ways, toeing the line into future, likely more explicit abuses, while prices for service remain sky-high for low-income users. This is all a gradual rollout by savvy design, thanks to the machinations of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai—who announced that he would be stepping down from the agency after President-elect Joe Biden is officially sworn in Wednesday—may not have been among the most blatantly corrupt lawbreakers who peopled the Trump administration, but he was one of its most apt representatives: laissez-faire, corporate-friendly, never above trolling the libs. Now, the internet is unquestionably a worse place, and the commissioner will take his stupid oversize Reese’s-branded mug wherever he goes next, likely somewhere that allows him to continue to profit from his friendly relationships with tech and communications companies.

Pai has been a public servant for much of his career, having worked in the Justice Department, the Senate, and the FCC, but the most instructive and relevant parts of his résumé have always been his brief private sector dalliances: his early years as in-house counsel for Verizon, and his between-government-appointments time in the communications branch of law firm Jenner & Block, where he represented companies like Securus Technologies and AOL. The D.C. public-private revolving door isn’t exactly a secret or any source of excessive stigma for those who happily participate, but it’s worth extra focus in Pai’s case, since his reign as FCC chair couldn’t have been more of a blessing to those very corporations he once worked for.

Consider the defining aspect of his legacy. For years, Pai railed against net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat all sources of data usage the same and not exercise favorability in providing broadband to their users. In effect, it’s the attitude that the government should ensure an accessible internet to all users, whether they be hulking megacorporations or small-time streamers. Pai claimed, in line with typical Republican reasoning, that staying true to net neutrality neutered ISPs and imposed an unfair, burdensome regulation on the corporations that control our digital infrastructure—such as, say, Verizon Communications. When he was appointed to the FCC board by President Barack Obama in 2012, upon Sen. Mitch McConnell’s recommendation (following a tradition of letting the minority party pick commissioners when the majority party already controls three of the five commission seats), he used his platform to continually undermine the agency’s yearslong attempts to enshrine net neutrality rules into law, even as the FCC’s standards finally went into effect in 2015. And while net neutrality was and still is broadly favored by Americans—including, yes, some Republicans—Pai never stopped trying to gut it, eventually succeeding in late 2017 even as outraged constituents flooded the FCC’s public comments section, making clear their disapproval by crashing that system altogether. Pai very publicly had a great time dismissing these concerns, mocking the public perception that he was a Verizon shill and filming a how-do-you-do-fellow-kids Daily Caller video alongside a Pizzagate truther that claimed the end of net neutrality wouldn’t mean the end of any popular internet activities.

The effect of the neutrality deregulation has begun to play out as activists predicted, with providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast already throttling traffic to certain online services like Skype and privileging effective internet connection to those with money. Not to mention, an Idaho-based ISP recently threatened to kick off Facebook and Twitter altogether after the networks banned President Donald Trump. (It backed off after public criticism.) Pai also tried to prevent states from passing their own net neutrality regulations and, after being halted from doing so by a federal appeals court, raised the fantasy of abolishing the federalist system altogether in order to unilaterally impose his agenda and yank the power of the states to pass legislation he didn’t care for. You know, just a typically Trumpy view of the executive.

Democrats are already looking at reversing Pai’s net neutrality scything, through legislation or other means as they stand to regain majority control of the FCC. But Pai’s damage extends far beyond this one policy. Affordable internet access is further out of reach for rural residents thanks to ISPs’ increased price and traffic control as well as the rollback of an important telecoms subsidy for low-income Americans. Prison communication companies—whose oversight should not have been run by Pai—have gotten away with still charging exorbitant prices for phone and video calls. Big mergers, like that of T-Mobile and Sprint, have gone ahead with barely any questioning or interrogation. Deregulation was priority above all, and the ensuing higher costs and consumer choice decline were, well, apparently just the cost of a truly “free” digital society.

In fairness, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2021 at 11:43 am

The honey detectives are closing in on China’s shady syrup swindlers

leave a comment »

Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas and Jonathan Lake write in Wired:

Shortly before dawn most days, José Eduardo Moo Pat sets out from his home in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with a protective suit and his metal smoker for calming honey bees. He drives six miles through low-lying tropical jungle to tend to his 30 hives nestled in a clearing.

His work has always been hard. But now making a livelihood is even tougher and his bees are at real risk – not from pesticides or deforestation, but from a catastrophic collapse in the wholesale price of honey. “I think every day about profitability,” says Moo Pat “I have seen many beekeepers disappear in the last two or three years. I don’t know if I can continue. I don’t even have enough money to pay for the fuel to go to see my bees.”

Five years ago, Moo Pat, who is 42 and from the small Mexican town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, was paid 47 pesos (£1.73) per kilogram for his organic honey by a local fair trade co-operative, but the price has now slumped to just 35 pesos per kilogram. The price for conventional honey has fallen even further, from 43 pesos per kilogram to just 23 pesos. Many of Mexico’s estimated 42,000 beekeepers – much of whose honey goes to Europe – are now giving up and abandoning their hives.

Moo Pat blames China for his financial plight. There, cheap honey and sugar syrup are produced on an industrial scale and blended together by fraudsters. Beekeepers believe this adulterated honey is responsible for saturating the market, crashing global prices and deceiving millions of customers.

“Most of the honey imported from China into Europe is blended with syrup,” says Etienne Bruneau, chairman of the honey working party at the European agricultural umbrella organisation Copa-Cogeca. “In China, they tell you if you want honey it’s one price and if you want a cheaper price you can have syrup in it.”

In the UK, beekeepers are also finding themselves squeezed by bargain honey pouring off the production lines in China. “Even for large scale bee farmers the size of the operation would need to be off the scale to be able to compete on price for the product that they sell as honey,” says Martin Pope, who runs Beeza Ltd, producing honey and wax products from apiaries around Kingsbridge in South Devon.

Moo Pat and other beekeepers in Mexico are starting to fight back, campaigning internationally to investigate and expose the honey fraudsters – and the looming risk to biodiversity from abandoned hives and declining bee populations. His federation of honey producers has helped fund tests on supermarket honey in the UK, one of the world’s biggest importers of Chinese honey.

The tests have indicated widespread adulteration, but also laid bare the limited and often unreliable tools available to detect and police honey fraud. Scientists and regulators around the world are now developing a test with a vast database of sample honeys which they hope will lead to the prosecution of honey fraudsters and bring the illicit industry to a sticky end.

Beekeeping is one of the most ancient forms of farming, with archaeological evidence suggesting humans have been harvesting honey from bees for nearly 9,000 years. Research published in Nature in November 2015 found traces of beeswax on pieces of Neolithic crockery unearthed in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

There are now more than 90 million managed beehives around the world producing about 1.9m tonnes of honey worth more than £5 billion a year. The industry provides a huge environmental benefit because three out of four crops depend to some extent on pollination by bees and other insects for yield and quality.

Farming bees is, however, labour intensive, so honey is expensive – and that makes it a tempting target for adulteration with cheap substitutes. The most common fraud is the dilution of genuine honey with sugar syrup, typically manufactured from rice, corn or sugar beet.

China is the world’s biggest producer of honey, accounting for about a quarter of global output, but its rise to dominance and its low prices have long been viewed with suspicion. In the eastern province of Zhejiang, where much of the country’s beekeeping industry is concentrated, industrial plants manufacture cheap rice and corn syrup to be blended with honey. Alibaba, the Chinese online marketplaces, even advertises industrial “fructose syrup for honey” for as little as 76p per kilogram.

Beekeepers warn that the flow of adulterated honey coming out of China is so great that it’s distorting the market. In November Copa-Cogeca warned that the livelihoods of many European beekeepers were in peril after  . . .

Continue reading. I would also note that some supermarket honey brands, such as Sioux Bee, strangely never crystallize.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2021 at 1:48 pm

A Good Tactic: Set Up Credit Card Alerts

leave a comment »

They help track your spending and can catch fraudulent charges

Starting well before the pandemic, I discontinued using cash for in-person transactions, instead using my credit card. Partly this was because I use a “dividend” card, which at the end of the year refunds a (small) portion of what I spent. 

As I describe in my article on personal budgeting and money management, I do not allow credit card charges to accumulate. The reason: an unpaid credit card balance means that the amount shown as available in my checking account is a mirage. That much is not available, because some of it is already committed to pay the credit card balance. I learned through bitter experience that small charges can quickly total a lot, so I pay charges when they occur.

In effect, I use my credit card like a debit card. When I charge something, then on that same day I pay for the charge from my checking account by using online banking. Thus my credit balance stays at zero (and my checking balance shrinks as I pay the charges — and I always know exactly how much money I actually have available). I don’t use a debit card because (a) my debit card doesn’t refund any portion of what I purchase and (b) credit cards have buyer protection built into the agreement and limit the loss I might suffer.

When I’m out shopping, I always save receipts for purchases. When I get home, I use those to remind me to pay the charges I just made. That generally worked, but occasionally I would forget to get a receipt.

The winning tactic

To make sure I do not miss any charges, I started using an option my bank offers. When I sign in to the bank’s website, the main menu includes “Manage My Alerts,” and when I click that, I see the choice “transaction alerts,” listing a variety of alerts I can set on transactions. I checked the box to get an email whenever a credit card charge is made in excess of a limit (which the customer specifies). I specified a limit of $1, so I get an email whenever a charge is made that’s in excess of $1. In practice, that means I get an email for every charge.

When I make a purchase online, I’m at the computer, so I don’t actually need a reminder — I pay the credit card charge at once from my checking account. Emails also notify me of regular scheduled payments on my credit card (Netflix, for example), a useful reminder. But mostly the alerts serve as reminders when I return home from shopping, so I don’t forget to “reimburse” my credit card account for all charges I made while I was out.

Catching fraud when it happens

Today I realized another benefit from the alerts. I received emails for five transactions from two distant merchants that I didn’t know and from whom I had bought nothing. One merchant had made two transactions: a charge and a refund in the same amount, neither of which I had instigated. The other merchant (in a different country) had two charges (for identical amounts) and a refund for only one.

It should be noted that for some merchants and organizations the name shown on the credit card charge is not the merchant or organization’s name. In this case, you will see a warning at the time of purchase: “Charges will show on your credit cards as…” And, of course, you generally know what you charged, so you probably will recall the charge by the amount paid. However, the five transactions I was notified about were from companies and locations totally unfamiliar for me and the amounts did not reflect any purchases I had made.

I immediately called the bank, which deactivated the card on the spot and dismissed the fraudulent charge. They said a new card would be issued and would arrive in a week to ten days, and would that be all right? 

I said that it would not, because — as I described above — I use the card for every purchase I make, and I would certainly need groceries sooner than that. They then said the card would arrive within two days.

Use the alerts

I highly recommend using such alerts. Look for what alerts your bank offers. They probably will offer a transaction alert to notify you whenever your credit card is used for a charge above some limit. Set the limit to $1 to be notified of every charge. This will help you track your spending and — more important — alert you immediately to fraudulent charges.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 3:07 pm

Pure corruption: Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump

leave a comment »

Michael S. Schmidt and Kenneth P. Vogel report some nasty business in the NY Times:

As President Trump prepares to leave office in days, a lucrative market for pardons is coming to a head, with some of his allies collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency, according to documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers.

The brisk market for pardons reflects the access peddling that has defined Mr. Trump’s presidency as well as his unorthodox approach to exercising unchecked presidential clemency powers. Pardons and commutations are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, but Mr. Trump has used many of them to reward personal or political allies.

The pardon lobbying heated up as it became clear that Mr. Trump had no recourse for challenging his election defeat, lobbyists and lawyers say. One lobbyist, Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has monetized his clemency work, collecting tens of thousands of dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency for the son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; and a Manhattan socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme.

Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer John M. Dowd has marketed himself to convicted felons as someone who could secure pardons because of his close relationship with the president, accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a wealthy felon and advising him and other potential clients to leverage Mr. Trump’s grievances about the justice system.

A onetime top adviser to the Trump campaign was paid $50,000 to help seek a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information, and agreed to a $50,000 bonus if the president granted it, according to a copy of an agreement.

And Mr. Kiriakou was separately told that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani could help him secure a pardon for $2 million. Mr. Kiriakou rejected the offer, but an associate, fearing that Mr. Giuliani was illegally selling pardons, alerted the F.B.I. Mr. Giuliani challenged this characterization.

After Mr. Trump’s impeachment for inciting his supporters before the deadly riot at the Capitol, and with Republican leaders turning on him, the pardon power remains one of the last and most likely outlets for quick unilateral action by an increasingly isolated, erratic president. He has suggested to aides he wants to take the extraordinary and unprecedented step of pardoning himself, though it was not clear whether he had broached the topic since the rampage.

He has also discussed issuing pre-emptive pardons to his children, his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Mr. Giuliani.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Legal scholars and some pardon lawyers shudder at the prospect of such moves, as well as the specter of Mr. Trump’s friends and allies offering to pursue pardons for others in exchange for cash.

“This kind of off-books influence peddling, special-privilege system denies consideration to the hundreds of ordinary people who have obediently lined up as required by Justice Department rules, and is a basic violation of the longstanding effort to make this process at least look fair,” said Margaret Love, who ran the Justice Department’s clemency process from 1990 until 1997 as the United States pardon attorney. . . .

Continue reading. I suppose technically it’s not corruption, since those getting the payments do not hold office, but it certainly strikes me as corruption’s cousin. Trump and his circle continue to degrade the US.

The article continues with a list of convicted criminals who want pardons and the connections they’re using and the money they are paying.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 8:02 am

Microcosm Of Republican Rejection Of Democracy Seen In Michigan

leave a comment »

A succinct and clear summary of one strain of the Republican party that believes, once it seizes office by whatever means necessary, it is empowered to ignore public wishes and do as it wants.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2021 at 1:12 pm

When Tech Antitrust Failed: Books and book prices

leave a comment »

Shira Ovide reports in the NY Times:

If you’ve wondered recently why prices for e-books seem high, let me tell you why a failure of antitrust law might be (partly) to blame.

A government antitrust lawsuit a decade ago that was intended to push down prices helped lead instead to higher ones.

The outcome suggests that the U.S. government’s lawsuits against Google and Facebook and a just-announced Connecticut antitrust investigation into Amazon’s e-book business may not have the desired effects, even if the governments win. It turns out that trying to change allegedly illegal corporate behavior can backfire.

Cast your mind back to 2012. The second “Twilight” movie was big. And the Justice Department sued Apple and five of America’s leading book publishers in the name of protecting consumers and our wallets.

Book publishers were freaked out about Amazon’s habit of pricing many popular Kindle books at $9.99 no matter what the book companies thought the price should be. Amazon was willing to lose money on e-books, but the publishers worried that this would devalue their products.

The government said that to strike back at Amazon, the book companies and Apple made a deal. Publishers could set their own e-book prices on Apple’s digital bookstore, and they essentially could block discounts by any bookseller, including Amazon.

To the government this looked like a conspiracy to eliminate competition over prices — a big no-no under antitrust laws. Eventually the book publishers settled and Apple lost in court.

Later, Amazon, Apple and other e-book sellers agreed to let publishers enforce e-book prices. The arrangements were legally kosher because they were separately negotiated between each publisher and bookseller. (I can’t answer why Amazon agreed to this.)

The government won but the publishers got what they wanted with e-books. Bookstores can choose to take a loss to heavily discount a print book, but they typically can’t with digital editions. The $10 mass-market e-book is mostly gone.

How did an antitrust case meant to lower prices instead possibly lead to higher prices? Christopher L. Sagers, a law professor at Cleveland State University who wrote a book about the e-books litigation, told me that he believes it’s a failure of corporate antitrust laws.

Professor Sagers and others believe that because a few major book publishers release most mass-market titles, they have the power to keep prices high. He laments that the antitrust laws have failed to stop industries from getting so concentrated. In other words, he thinks it’s bad for all of us that a book-publishing monopoly is trying to fight Amazon’s monopoly.

“American antitrust is basically a failure and this case was a microcosm,” he told me.

Somehow this newsletter keeps coming back to this debate. An influential view — particularly among left-leaning economists, politicians and scholars — is that U.S. antitrust laws or the way they’re applied are flawed. They believe that the government has failed to stop the increasing corporate concentration and mergers in industries like airlines, banking and technology, which has led to higher prices, worse products and income inequality. . .

Continue reading.

It’s clear that printed books incur substantial costs that do not apply to ebooks: materials, production labor, distribution/shipping costs, and so on. The ebook versions should not have those costs in their price.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2021 at 12:12 pm

Superspreader Down: How Trump’s Exile from Social Media Alters the Future of Politics, Security, and Public Health

leave a comment »

Peter W. Singer writes at Defense One:

By the numbers, no person in human history has shared more conspiracy theories with a greater number of people than Donald J. Trump. Among all the momentous events of the last week, the silencing of his social-media megaphones is a “yuge” moment not just for American politics but a host of issues from public health to national security.

In researching LikeWar, Emerson Brooking’s and my book on the weaponization of social media, I actually went back and read every single @realdonaldtrump tweet, going back to his very first: a May 4, 2009, announcement of his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show. As you sift through the more than 57,000 tweets that follow, the sheer scale of the lies and insults becomes mind-numbing. (I joke about my “information warfare PTSD.”) Yet what is also notable is how many conspiracy theories Trump both started or massively elevated long before becoming president. They ranged from well-known lies like birtherism to other ones that are even more despicable in retrospect, like fueling anti-vaccine myths.

Most importantly, we found that Trump was spectacularly effective in persuading others to spread his conspiracy theories. Our research showed that, just like in public health, superspreaders are the key to virality. The path to making the internet less toxic is placing limits on these superspreaders, be they ISIS propagandists or right-wing extremists. Instead of trying to police everyone, we must focus on key nodes that affect everyone.

Banning Trump is obviously the headline event for social media, but it reflects a larger policy shift by the companies that created and run these now-essential networks. These firms are now making content moderation decisions based increasingly not just on whether a user or a post violated their rules, but what effect these might have on people off the network. This was already shifting as firms adjusted to reduce COVID-19 misinformation, but hit its culmination in Trump’s ejection.

Over the last year, and seen most explosively in the violent seizing of the Capitol, the political context changed, both on social media and in the real world. But Trump didn’t seem to understand it. Or, maybe, having never been held accountable from birth onwards, the outgoing president thought he could keep on operating the same way: crossing a line, and getting away with it. Importantly, Twitter decided he had crossed a final line. He had not just repeatedly broken the platform’s rules on election-fraud claims. Now, even after all the events at the Capitol, he had used his return to Twitter after an initial suspension to immediately break the pledge of a “peaceful transition” that he had made in a stilted video released just the night before.

What too many in media and politics are missing, but what Twitter and the other platforms couldn’t ignore, was Trump’s announcement that he would not be participating in the Inaugural events. With that, he didn’t just go back on his pledge of peaceful transition, but threw gasoline on the fire yet again. There were already a series of extremist militia events planned for Jan. 17 in various state capitals. (The storming of the U.S. Capitol was not isolated; last week saw armed pro-Trump mobs also attempt or succeed in breaking into state legislatures and governors’ homes in Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington state.) Even more worrisome, security analysts had picked up online discussion of a “Million Militia March” set for Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C. Its purpose, at least in the chatter, is not just to disrupt Biden’s inauguration, but also to seek violent payback on police for the supposed “martyrdom” of the rioter killed in the Capitol. Twitter officials concluded that Trump’s tweets “are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021.”

Whether Trump intended the dual dog whistle or not, it was heard that way by both the “patriots” whom he’d told he “loved” even as they rampaged and chanted “Hang Mike Pence, Hang Mike Pence,” and by the platform companies that own the networks he needed for his rabble-rousing messages. And for them, as it should be for the rest of us, Trump had lost the benefit of the doubt.

The reverberations of Trump’s deplatforming as part of this larger shift will shake out for not just the coming days, but over the long term — and in everything from terrorism to public health. The reason is that it fundamentally alters the playing field.

Everything in the social media ecosystem was once  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 3:35 pm

A Truth Reckoning: Forbes Will Hold Accountable Those Who Lied For Trump

leave a comment »

Randall Lane, chief content officer and editor of Forbes, writes:

Yesterday’s insurrection was rooted in lies. That a fair election was stolen. That a significant defeat was actually a landslide victory. That the world’s oldest democracy, ingeniously insulated via autonomous state voting regimens, is a rigged system. Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline.

That Donald Trump devolved from commander-in-chief to liar-in-chief didn’t surprise Forbes: As we’ve chronicled early and often, for all his billions and Barnum-like abilities, he’s been shamelessly exaggerating and prevaricating to our faces for almost four decades. More astonishing: the number of people willing to lend credence to that obvious mendacity on his behalf.

In this time of transition – and pain – reinvigorating democracy requires a reckoning. A truth reckoning. Starting with the people paid by the People to inform the People.

As someone in the business of facts, it’s been especially painful to watch President Trump’s press secretaries debase themselves. Yes, as with their political bosses, spins and omissions and exaggerations are part of the game. But ultimately in PR, core credibility is the coin of the realm.

From Day One at the Trump White House, up has been down, yes has been no, failure has been success. Sean Spicer set the tone with the inauguration crowd size – the worst kind of whopper, as it demanded that people disbelieve their own eyes. The next day, Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer’s lie with a new term, “alternative facts.” Spicer’s successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied at scale, from smearing those who accused Trump of sexual harassment to conjuring jobs statistics. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, over the course of a year, never even held a press conference, though the BS continued unabated across friendly outlets. And finally, Kayleigh McEnany, Harvard Law graduate, a propaganda prodigy at 32 who makes smiling falsehood an art form. All of this magnified by journalists too often following an old playbook ill-prepared for an Orwellian communication era.

As American democracy rebounds, we need to return to a standard of truth when it comes to how the government communicates with the governed. The easiest way to do that, from where I sit, is to create repercussions for those who don’t follow the civic norms. Trump’s lawyers lie gleefully to the press and public, but those lies, magically, almost never made it into briefs and arguments – contempt, perjury and disbarment keep the professional standards high.

So what’s the parallel in the dark arts of communication? Simple: Don’t . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 1:31 pm

Why Parler is doomed

leave a comment »

A very interesting Twitter thread by David Troy in a very interesting new app that presents Twitter threads in readable form. The thread begins:

THREAD: Now that @amazon @awscloud has announced they will no longer host @parler_app, many have speculated that they will just “find another host.”

Here is why that’s not so simple and what it will likely mean for the app’s future. First, let’s look at where things are… 

2/ Google and Apple have removed the app from their app stores, effectively terminating growth on mobile devices. People can still access the (not good) web UI until Amazon terminates them today. CEO Matze has said they may be down “up to a week” while they find new hosting. 
3/ Translated to English, that’s code for “we have no idea what’s going to happen next.” No US cloud provider (Microsoft, Google, IBM, Digital Ocean) is likely to touch this, as it could be seen as providing material support for sedition. No CEO or counsel wants to get near this. 
4/ They could potentially “roll their own” data center by buying servers and putting them in a co-location facility. But that’s a single point of failure, and many colo providers would be just as likely to decline their business. It would be hard and risky to pursue this. 
5/ Imagine, after they sweated like pigs to get this hardware all setup, if they get told their colo provider is booting them. That’s a lot of metal to then move somewhere else. Meanwhile, the user base is deteriorating because chaos and dying apps. They will go to other venues. 
6/ They also have . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And also read his earlier thread about Parler and its intimate connections with Russia. That is a must-read.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 11:00 am

Report from a toxic work culture: “How I Managed My Mental Illness as a Career Military Officer”

with 2 comments

Stephen Chamberlin writes in Medium:

Zero Defect? Really? Really.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2021 at 2:51 pm

Wi-Fi’s biggest upgrade in decades is starting to arrive

leave a comment »

Wi-Fi is about to get a lot better. Many of this year’s new phones, laptops, TVs, routers, and more will come with support for Wi-Fi 6E, a new upgrade to Wi-Fi that’s essentially like expanding your wireless connection from a two-lane road to an eight-lane highway. It’s the biggest upgrade to Wi-Fi in 20 years, and connections should be faster and a lot more reliable because of it.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry-wide group that oversees Wi-Fi, is now starting to certify the first wave of products with support for Wi-Fi 6E. Phones, PCs, and laptops with support should start hitting the market in the first months of 2021, according to the IDC research group, and TVs and VR devices with support are expected to arrive by the middle of the year.

Some of the first devices are likely to be announced over the next week. During CES, which kicks off on January 11th, router companies will preview what they have coming up for the year. Samsung is also planning to announce its next flagship phones, the Galaxy S21 series, and some if not all of them are likely to have support for Wi-Fi 6E thanks to the Snapdragon 888 processor. Because the chip includes support for it, Wi-Fi 6E should be present in many of this year’s top Android phones.

Wi-Fi 6E is such a big upgrade because it relies on a huge expansion of the wireless airwaves available to consumer devices. In April 2020, the Federal Communications Commission opened up this wide new swath of spectrum in the United States, but new hardware was required in order to make use of it. Nearly a year on, we’re finally starting to see devices with those capabilities.

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

It’ll be some time before most new devices are shipping with Wi-Fi 6E, though. Not all new gadgets are even shipping with standard Wi-Fi 6 yet, and that version of Wi-Fi started rolling out about two years ago. By the start of 2022, IDC only expects 20 percent of shipping Wi-Fi 6 products to also support Wi-Fi 6E.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2021 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

20 corporations, $16 million, and 138 Republicans trying to subvert democracy

leave a comment »

Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria write in Popular Information:

On Wednesday, dozens of Congressional Republicans will object to the certification of the Electoral College vote that made Joe Biden the next President of the United States. Their goal is to set aside millions of votes, ignore the clear will of the electorate, and install Trump for a second term.

The votes have been counted, recounted, and certified. The Electoral College met on December 14 and confirmed that Joe Biden was the winner. And it wasn’t particularly close. Biden won 306 Electoral College delegates and received over 7 million more votes than Trump.

Apparently, that isn’t enough. A group led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed that “the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.” Although there have been many allegations of voter fraud and other irregularities, there has been no proof. Trump and his allies filed dozens of suits based on these allegations seeking to overturn the results of the election and lost.

The effort to overturn the results of the election has been widely derided as dangerous, anti-democratic, and unconstitutional. Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) wrote a 21-page memo to her colleagues explaining why there was “no appropriate basis” to object to the certification of the election. An excerpt:

Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress. This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said the scheme “would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress.” The right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial board called it an “unconstitutional” effort to disenfranchise “81 million Americans who voted for Mr. Biden.”

The business community has also expressed its opposition. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents most large businesses in the United States, said this effort “undermines our democracy and the rule of law.” A separate group of prominent business leaders calls it “counter to the essential tenets of our democracy.”

But many of the members who are planning to object to the certification of the vote on Wednesday are generously supported by corporate America. A Popular Information analysis reveals . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2021 at 4:11 pm

Janet Yellen’s Cash Haul of $7 Million Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg; She Failed to Report Her Wall Street Speaking Fees from JPMorgan and Others in 2018

leave a comment »

Democrats — like Republicans — should strive for ethical behavior and honesty. This attempted deception by Janet Yellen seems disqualifying to me. I hope Biden will look for integrity in those he picks. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

On December 29 we needed a clarification from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers about his opinion column against Congress issuing $2,000 stimulus checks. We sent him an email at 10:13 a.m. and received a very clear response from him directly at 12:51 p.m. that day — a span of a few hours.

Compare that timely response to Janet Yellen’s respect for the media’s obligation to report a full set of facts to the American people. Three days ago, we contacted Yellen at four different entities with which she is affiliated. Only the Brookings Institution responded, saying she was on leave. President-elect Joe Biden’s media team did not respond at all, nor did the Washington Speakers Bureau and University of California, Berkeley.

Yellen is Biden’s nominee for U.S. Treasury Secretary. In anticipation of her Senate confirmation hearing, she has released her financial disclosure forms which showed a windfall of more than $7 million in speaking fees since she left her position with the Federal Reserve. The bulk of that money came from Wall Street firms, which are variously regulated and bailed out by the Fed.

Our question for Yellen is an uncomfortable one: why did her financial disclosure form report her cash haul from Wall Street’s serially charged trading houses for just the years 2019 and 2020 when common sense suggests her biggest haul would have been in 2018, when her knowledge of the thinking at the Fed was most timely.

Yellen stepped down as Chair of the Federal Reserve on February 3, 2018 when President Trump failed to renominate her for the position of Chair. Yellen was a Fed Governor before becoming its Chair and that term didn’t expire until 2024. Yellen could have remained at the Fed and functioned as a public servant. Instead, in the very same month that she stepped down at the Fed, she signed an exclusive contract with the Washington Speakers Bureau.

Less than two months after stepping down from the Fed, Yellen was raking in huge fees for chumming around with, and delivering her bits of wisdom to, the mega trading houses on Wall Street: the very same folks who blew up the U.S. financial system in 2008 and received a super-secret $29 trillion bailout from the Fed. The details of the Fed’s obscene bailout were made public three years after the fact under a federal court decision and government audit.

Yellen’s first event on April 2, 2018 was reported by Reuters. Yellen was hosted by. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

We know that Yellen has not fully disclosed her financial entanglements with Wall Street because page 8 of her financial disclosure form asks her to list her “sources of compensation exceeding $5,000 in a year.” Under that heading, Yellen lists JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Carlyle Investment Management. And she states the source of the income from those firms resulted from her being a “speaker.” But Yellen has not included those firms and others in her details of income for 2019 or 2020, leaving the reader to assume that she was paid for speaking events at these firms in 2018, while failing to report the specific amounts of income from each.

It’s disgusting if Joe Biden puts up with this sort chicanery.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2021 at 10:50 am

Facebook fails Georgia

leave a comment »

Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

Over the last two weeks, Facebook has repeatedly allowed a top Republican Super PAC, American Crossroads, to run dishonest attacks against Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock — in violation of Facebook’s own misinformation rules. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Georgians have been exposed to misinformation about Warnock on Facebook in the critical days leading up to the January 5 run-off election.

Internal Facebook communications concerning the American Crossroads ads, obtained by Popular Information, reveal dysfunction and confusion about Facebook’s advertising policies, even among executives purportedly in charge of such matters.

Beginning on Election Day, November 3, Facebook banned all political ads on the platform. But it partially lifted the ban on December 16 to allow ads about the Georgia runoffs targeting Facebook users in Georgia. The announcement said that Facebook would activate its “Elections Operations Center” to “.fight…misinformation” about the Georgia runoffs in “real time.”

On December 17, American Crossroads, a Republican Super PAC run by Karl Rove and funded by Mitch McConnell’s political operation, began running an ad with a short snippet of Warnock saying, “God damn America.” The ad presents Warnock’s statement as an expression of his own views, saying his comments represented “anti-American hate.” This is blatantly dishonest. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2021 at 10:31 am

Another 52 interesting things

leave a comment »

Early last month I posted some of the 52 things Tom Whitewell had learned the previous year (with a link to his full list). I just learned that a year ago he posted a similar list, which begins:

  1. Each year humanity produces 1,000 times more transistors than grains of rice and wheat combined. [Mark P Mills]

Continue reading. There are 41.5 more.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2021 at 11:47 am

A template for a good email message

leave a comment »

Via Reddit:

Dear Person I am Writing To,

This is an optional sentence introducing who I am and work for, included if the addressee has never corresponded with me before. The second optional sentence reminds the person where we met, if relevant. This sentence states the purpose of the email.

This optional paragraph describes in more detail what’s needed. This sentence discusses relevant information like how soon an answer is needed, what kind of answer is needed, and any information that the other person might find useful. If there’s a lot of information, it’s a good idea to separate this paragraph into two or three paragraphs to avoid having a Wall of Text.

If a description paragraph was used, close with a restatement of the initial request, in case the addressee ignored the opening paragraph.

This sentence is just a platitude (usually thanking them for their time) because people think I am standoffish, unreasonably demanding, or cold if it’s not included.

Closing salutation, Signature

The person who created this notes:

“People always ask me how I can fire off work emails so quickly. Nobody has figured out yet that it’s the same email with the details change as needed.”—Anonymous on the Internet.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2021 at 11:36 am

How to Get Rich Sabotaging Nuclear Weapons Facilities

leave a comment »

Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Happy new year. Today I’m going to write about the Russian hack of American nuclear facilities, and why a billionaire private equity executive just profiled in the Wall Street Journal as a dealmaker extraordinaire is responsible. Plus some short blurbs on:

  • The Problem with Amazon competitor Shopify
  • Ticketmaster’s Grotesque Settlement with the Department of Justice
  • Economists Non-Surprising But Important Findings about Debt-Fueled Private Equity and Covid
  • Big Tech and Diversity
  • Appliance Parts Monopolization?

Happy New Year! The password is 12345

My Password Is “Password”

Roughly a month ago, the premier cybersecurity firm FireEye warned authorities that it had been penetrated by Russian hackers, who made off with critical tools it used to secure the facilities of corporations and governments around the world.

The victims are the most important institutional power centers in America, from the FBI to the Department of Treasury to the Department of Commerce, as well as private sector giants Cisco Systems, Intel, Nvidia, accounting giant Deloitte, California hospitals, and thousands of others. As more information comes out about what happened, the situation looks worse and worse. Russians got access to Microsoft’s source code and into the Federal agency overseeing America’s nuclear stockpile. They may have inserted code into the American electrical grid, or acquired sensitive tax information or important technical and political secrets.

Cybersecurity is a very weird area, mostly out of sight yet potentially very deadly. Anonymous groups can turn off power plants, telecom grids, or disrupt weapons labs, as Israel did when it used a cyber-weapon to cripple Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. Bank regulators have to now consult with top military leaders about whether deposit insurance covers incidents where hackers destroy all bank records, and what that would mean operationally. It’s not obvious whether this stuff is war or run-of-the-mill espionage, but everyone knows that the next war will be chock full of new tactics based on hacking the systems of one’s adversary, perhaps using code placed in those systems during peacetime.

And that makes this hack quite scary, even if we don’t see the effect right now. Mark Warner, one of the smarter Democratic Senators and the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said “This is looking much, much worse than I first feared,” also noting “The size of it keeps expanding.” Political leaders are considering reprisals against Russia, though it’s likely they will not engage in much retaliation we can see on the surface. It’s the biggest hack since 2016, when an unidentified group stole the National Security Agency’s “crown jewels” spy tools. It is, as Wired put it, a “historic mess.”

There is a lot of finger-pointing going on in D.C. and in cybersecurity circles about what happened and why. There are all of the standard questions that military and cyber lawyers love, like whether this hack is war, espionage, or something legally ambiguous. Policymakers are revisiting the longstanding policy of having the National Security Agency focus on offensive hacking instead of securing defensive capacity.

The most interesting part of the cybersecurity problem is that it isn’t purely about government capacity at all; private sector corporations maintain critical infrastructure that is in the “battle space.” Private firms like Microsoft are being heavily scrutinized; I had one guest-post from last January on why the firm doesn’t manage its security problems particularly well, and another on how it is using its market power to monopolize the cybersecurity market with subpar products. And yet these companies have no actual public obligations, or at least, nothing formal. They are for-profit entities with little liability for the choices they make that might impose costs onto others.

Indeed, cybersecurity risk is akin to pollution, a cost that the business itself doesn’t fully bear, but that the rest of society does. The private role in cybersecurity is now brushing up against the libertarian assumptions of much of the policymaking world; national security in a world where private software companies handle national defense simply cannot long co-exist with our monopoly and financier-dominated corporate apparatus.

All of which brings me to what I think is the most compelling part of this story. The point of entry for this major hack was not Microsoft, but a private equity-owned IT software firm called SolarWinds. This company’s products are dominant in their niche; 425 out of the Fortune 500 use Solar Winds. As Reuters reported about the last investor call in October, the CEO told analysts that “there was not a database or an IT deployment model out there to which [they] did not provide some level of monitoring or management.” While there is competition in this market, SolarWinds does have market power. IT systems are hard to migrate from, and this lock-in effect means that customers will tolerate price hikes or quality degradation rather than change providers. And it does have a large market share; as the CEO put it, “We manage everyone’s network gear.”

SolarWinds sells a network management package called Orion, and it was through Orion that the Russians invaded these systems, putting malware into updates that the company sent to clients. Now, Russian hackers are extremely sophisticated sleuths, but it didn’t take a genius to hack this company. It’s not just that criminals traded information about how to hack SolarWinds systems; one security researcher alerted the company last year that “anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123.’”

Using passwords ripped form the movie Spaceballs is one thing, but it appears that lax security practice at the company was common, systemic, and longstanding. The company puts its engineering in the hands of cheaper Eastern Europe coders, where it’s easier for Russian engineers to penetrate their product development. SolarWinds didn’t bother to hire a senior official to focus on security until 2017, and then only after it was forced to do so by European regulations. Even then, SolarWinds CEO, Kevin Thompson, ignored the risk. As the New York Times noted, one security “adviser at SolarWinds, said he warned management that year that unless it took a more proactive approach to its internal security, a cybersecurity episode would be “catastrophic.” The executive in charge of security quit in frustration. Even after the hack, the company continued screwing up; SolarWinds didn’t even stop offering compromised software for several days after it was discovered.

This level of idiocy seems off-the-charts, but it’s not that the CEO is stupid. Far from it. “Employees say that under Mr. Thompson,” the Times continued, “an accountant by training and a former chief financial officer, every part of the business was examined for cost savings and common security practices were eschewed because of their expense.” The company’s profit tripled from 2010 to 2019. Thompson calculated that his business could run more profitably if it chose to open its clients to hacking risk, and he was right.

And yet, not every software firm operates like SolarWinds. Most seek to make money, but few do so with such a combination of malevolence, greed, and idiocy. What makes SolarWinds different? The answer is the specific financial model that has invaded the software industry over the last fifteen years, a particularly virulent strain of recklessness typically called private equity.

I’ve written a lot about private equity. By ‘private equity,’ I mean financial engineers, financiers who raise large amounts of money and borrow even more to buy firms and loot them. These kinds of private equity barons aren’t specialists who help finance useful products and services, they do cookie cutter deals targeting firms they believe have market power to raise prices, who can lay off workers or sell assets, and/or have some sort of legal loophole advantage. Often they will destroy the underlying business. The giants of the industry, from Blackstone to Apollo, are the children of 1980s junk bond king and fraudster Michael Milken. They are essentially are super-sized mobsters who burn down businesses for the insurance money.

In private equity takeovers of software, the gist is the same, with the players a bit different. It’s not Apollo and Blackstone, it’s Vista Equity Partners, Thomas Bravo, and Silver Lake, but it’s the same cookie cutter style deal flow, the same financing arrangements, and the same business model risks. But in this case, the private equity owner of SolarWinds burned down far more than just the firm.

Arson for Profit

In October, the Wall Street Journal profiled the man who owns SolarWinds, a Puerto Rican-born billionaire named Orlando Bravo of Thomas Bravo partners. Bravo’s PR game is solid; he was photographed beautifully, a slightly greying fit man with a blue shirt and off-white rugged pants in front of modern art, a giant vase and fireplace in the background of what is obviously a fantastically expensive apartment. Though it was mostly a puff piece of a silver fox billionaire, the article did describe Bravo’s business model.

Thoma Bravo identifies software companies with a loyal customer base but middling profits and transforms them into moneymaking engines by retooling pricing, shutting down unprofitable business lines and adding employees in cheaper labor markets.

The firm then guides its companies to use the profits they generate to do add-on acquisitions, snapping up smaller rivals with offerings that they could spend months and millions of dollars trying to replicate.

As I put it at the time, Bravo’s business model is to buy niche software companies, combine them with competitors, offshore work, cut any cost he can, and raise prices. The investment thesis is clear: power. Software companies have immense pricing power over their customers, which means they can raise prices to locked-in customers, or degrade quality (which is the same thing in terms of the economics of the firm). As Robert Smith, one of his competitors in the software PE game, put it, “Software contracts are better than first-lien debt. You realize a company will not pay the interest payment on their first lien until after they pay their software maintenance or subscription fee. We get paid our money first. Who has the better credit? He can’t run his business without our software.”

SolarWinds represents this thesis perfectly. The company was . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2021 at 11:20 am

Home-Brewed Hydrogen Powers His House and Car

with one comment

Roy Furchgott reports in the NY Times on what strikes me as an unusually reasonable approach. So far as the “dangers” of hydrogen, keep in mind that natural gas and gasoline are also “dangerous.” We just learned how to deal with the danger. And hydrogen is not carcinogenic.

In December, the California Fuel Cell Partnership tallied 8,890 electric cars and 48 electric buses running on hydrogen batteries, which are refillable in minutes at any of 42 stations there. On the East Coast, the number of people who own and drive a hydrogen electric car is somewhat lower. In fact, there’s just one. His name is Mike Strizki. He is so devoted to hydrogen fuel-cell energy that he drives a Toyota Mirai even though it requires him to refine hydrogen fuel in his yard himself.

“Yeah, I love it,” Mr. Strizki said of his 2017 Mirai. “This car is powerful, there’s no shifting, plus I’m not carrying all of that weight of the batteries,” he said in a not-so-subtle swipe at the world’s most notable hydrogen naysayer, Elon Musk.

Mr. Strizki favors fuel-cell cars for the same reasons as most proponents. You can make fuel using water and solar power, as he does. The byproduct of making hydrogen is oxygen, and the byproduct of burning it is water. Hydrogen is among the most plentiful elements on earth, so you don’t have to go to adversarial countries or engage in environmentally destructive extraction to get it. The car is as quiet to drive as any other electric, it requires little maintenance, and because it doesn’t carry 1,200 pounds of batteries, it has a performance edge.

His infatuation with hydrogen began with cars, but it didn’t end there. In 2006 he made the first house in the United States to be powered entirely by hydrogen produced on site using solar power. Nine years later he made the second. He says he has built hydrogen-power home systems for conservationists and celebrities — one of his systems reportedly powers Johnny Depp’s private island in the Bahamas.

Mr. Strizki is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries. He has faced opposition from the electric, oil and battery industries, he said, as well as his sometimes supporter, the Energy Department. Then there is the ghost of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion, which hovers over all things hydrogen. The financial crash of the high-flying hydrogen truck manufacturer Nikola hasn’t advanced his case.

Like anyone with evangelical fervor, he can be easy to write off as a kook. It doesn’t help that many of his achievements aren’t reliably documented — he said was not legally allowed to identify the celebrity homes he has electrified. (News of the Depp island installation leaked out.) Mr. Strizki concedes the point and dismisses it with a colorful version of “I don’t care what anyone thinks.”

“Mike is sort of an eccentric guy,” said Tom Sullivan, the founder of Lumber Liquidators, who invested in a Connecticut company that makes water-to-hydrogen converters. “I’m sure people thought Edison was a kook,” he said. “People need a few kooks.” Mr. Sullivan also deserves an asterisk as the owner of two East Coast Mirais that, he said, are “collecting dust” in Massachusetts.

Mr. Strizki’s expertise has made him a cult figure in hydrogen circles, where he has consulted on notable projects for two decades. He has worked on high school science projects as well as a new $150,000-ish hydrogen hypercar that claims to get 1,000 miles per fill-up.

“Oh, I know Mike Strizki very well, very well,” said Angelo Kafantaris, chief executive of Hyperion, the company that makes that Hypercar, the XP-1. Using a federal-standard dynamometer test, the XP-1, which claims a 0-to-60-m.p.h. time of 2.2 seconds and a top speed of 221 miles an hour, is said to achieve a range of 1,016 miles on a single tank. “I think Mike is an integral part of everything we do at Hyperion,” Mr. Kafantaris said.

Mr. Strizki, 64, wasn’t always a conservationist. He said he had spent a decade drag racing at the Englishtown Raceway in New Jersey with a succession of cars, including a Shelby GT350 with a Boss 302 engine transplant. “The car was hot,” he said. “I didn’t see the ground for the first two gears.”

He discovered hydrogen power while working at the New Jersey Transportation Department’s Office of Research and Technology. Batteries that powered electric message signs didn’t hold a charge in severe cold. Mr. Strizki was tasked with finding a solution. He turned to hydrogen fuel cells like those NASA used in space.

When Cinnaminson High School in New Jersey entered an alternative-fuel vehicle contest, the 1999 Tour de Sol, Mr. Strizki was tapped to assist. “It changed my life,” he said. “As a racecar driver, it was always doing more with more — making more horsepower, burning more fuel. They taught me it was about doing more with less.”

Back at work, he proposed that a hydrogen car would be good publicity. “Anything that got good press for clean air was a priority,” Mr. Strizki said. A consortium of high schools, colleges and tech companies built a hydrogen Tour de Sol entry from a Geo Metro they called the New Jersey Venturer, which was succeeded by the New Jersey Genesis, built from a prototype aluminum Mercury Sable donated by Ford.

“I never would have done fuel cell cars if I had not been at the Tour de Sol,” Mr. Strizki said. The last year of competition was 2006.

He left his state job for the private sector, where he worked on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and there are photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:53 pm

A Canadian ‘Buy Local’ Effort Fights Amazon on Its Own Turf: Not-Amazon.ca

leave a comment »

Geneva Abdul reports in the NY Times about an initiative that could grow rapidly.

The snow was falling outside Ali Haberstroh’s apartment in late November when the idea came to her.

At the time, Canada was nearing a second lockdown to curb rising coronavirus cases. In anticipation, the owner of a vintage clothing store in Toronto who is a friend of Ms. Haberstroh’s had put together a list of other local vintage shops offering curbside pickup and deliveries in lieu of being able to open their doors.

“It was a wake-up call,” Ms. Haberstroh, 27, said of the list, which reminded her how enormous retailers like Walmart, Costco and Amazon had thrived during the pandemic while many smaller, local businesses had been shut. “I thought if there is one tiny thing I can do to help, then I should get on it.”

Inspired to build a more comprehensive list, Ms. Haberstroh promptly created an Instagram post, tagging independent businesses and shopkeepers across Toronto. Included was a new website, Not-Amazon.ca — a URL that she had bought for $2.99.

Introduced as a local list to help keep small businesses alive, Not Amazon was created “so you don’t have to give any money to Amazon this year!” the post read.

What began as a Google spreadsheet with more than 160 businesses collated initially from Ms. Haberstroh’s memory and research became a directory of hundreds that have a website and a high-quality photo and offer nationwide shipping, curbside pickup or delivery.

So far, the website has garnered more than half a million page views and grown to include 4,000 businesses across Toronto, Calgary, Halifax and Vancouver. The site is now submission-based, and thousands of businesses are awaiting Ms. Haberstroh’s approval.

“In a big city like Toronto, where it feels like most businesses are local, I think it’s so easy to think these things will be here forever,” said Ms. Haberstroh, who works as a social media manager at a marketing firm and plans to expand Not Amazon to even more cities. “You don’t think that they’re going to go anywhere.”

Small and medium-size businesses contribute more than 50 percent to Canada’s gross domestic product. But since the pandemic lockdowns, 40 percent of small businesses have reported layoffs while 20 percent have deferred rent payments, according to government data.

At the same time, Amazon and big-box retailers with more robust e-commerce platforms have far outpaced small competitors, turning online shopping from a convenience into a necessity for consumers worldwide.

Ms. Haberstroh’s attempt to even the playing field has been welcomed by small-business owners like Tannis and Mara Bundi, twin sisters who opened the Green Jar in Toronto last December. The store specializes in bulk items, like soap and honey, that customers buy to refill their own containers, reducing single-use plastics and household waste.

When the pandemic took hold in March, the sisters swiftly focused on their online operations and offered pickup and delivery, but even as restrictions eased, business remained touch and go. Since being on the Not Amazon site, the Green Jar has seen online orders rise 500 percent and has been “incredibly busy,” Tannis Bundi said.

“This type of initiative really gave an opportunity for small businesses to be seen and appreciated,” she said. “Large corporations, like Amazon, they’re making millions and millions of dollars, and there’s a disconnect and a detachment. As a small business I have a much smaller carbon footprint, I have a vested interest in my community, and I’m more likely to invest back into my community through charity and hiring locally.”

Amazon declined to comment for this article.

Local campaigns by independent sellers have also  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:38 pm

%d bloggers like this: