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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

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

Interesting, eh? Some Fake News Publishers Just Happen to Be Donald Trump’s Cronies

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Ian Fang reports in The Intercept:

The extraordinary phenomenon of fake news spread by Facebook and other social media during the 2016 presidential election has been largely portrayed as a lucky break for Donald Trump.

By that reckoning, entrepreneurial Macedonian teenagers, opportunists in Tbilisi and California millennials have exploited social media algorithms in order to make money — only incidentally leading to the viral proliferation of mostly anti-Clinton and anti-Obama hoaxes and conspiracy theories that thrilled many Trump supporters. The Washington Post published a shoddy report on Thursday alleging that Russian state-sponsored propagandists were seeking to promote Trump through fabricated stories for their own reasons, independent of the candidate himself.

But a closer look reveals that some of the biggest fake news providers were run by experienced political operators well within the orbit of Donald Trump’s political advisers and consultants.

Laura Ingraham, a close Trump ally currently under consideration to be Trump’s White House press secretary, owns an online publisher called Ingraham Media Group that runs a number of sites, including LifeZette, a news site that frequently posts articles of dubious veracity. One video produced by LifeZette this summer, ominously titled “Clinton Body Count,” promoted a conspiracy theory that the Clinton family had some role in the plane crash death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as the deaths of various friends and Democrats.

The video, published on Facebook from LifeZette’s verified news account, garnered over 400,000 shares and 14 million views.

Another LifeZette video, picking up false claims from other sites, claimed that voting machines “might be compromised” because a voting machine company called Smartmatic, allegedly providing voting machines “in sixteen states,” was purchased by the liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros never purchased the company, and Smartmatic did not provide voting machines used in the general election.

One LifeZette article misleadingly claimed that the United Nations backed a “secret” Obama administration takeover of local police departments. The article referenced Justice Department orders that a select few police departments address patterns of misconduct, a practice that, in reality, long predates the Obama presidency, is hardly secret, and had no relation to the United Nations.

Another LifeZette article, which went viral in the week prior to the election, falsely claimed that Wikileaks had revealed that a senior Hillary Clinton campaign official had engaged in occult rituals. Ingraham’s site regularly receives links from the Drudge Report and other powerful drivers of Internet traffic.

But LifeZette, for all its influence, pales in comparison to the sites run by Floyd Brown, a Republican consultant close to Trump’s inner circle of advisers. Brown gained notoriety nearly three decades ago for his role in helping to produce the “Willie Horton” campaign advertisement, a spot criticized for its use of racial messaging to derail Michael Dukakis’s presidential bid. Brown is also the political mentor of David Bossie, an operative who went to work for Trump’s presidential campaign this year after founding the Citizens United group. In an interview this year, Brown called Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway a “longtime friend.”

Brown now produces a flow of reliably pro-Trump Internet content through a company he owns called Liftable Media Inc., which operates a number of high-impact, tabloid-style news outlets that exploded in size over the course of the election. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

I don’t think much of seditious libel as a crime, but I think a case could be made for seditious spamming of fake news, which corrodes the basis for our democracy and government. In other words, I think the offense is quite serious. It’s no laughing matter.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2016 at 8:27 pm

Most-googled food items on Thanksgiving:

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Via Business Insider:

bi-graphics_most-popular-halloween-candy

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2016 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Food, Technology

Police online privacy guide useful for everyone

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Joseph Cox writes in Motherboard:

Law enforcement members have a lot to worry about when it comes to their social media presences and online privacy. Criminals may scope out officers on Facebook or Twitter, and the email accounts of anyone at a police department are probably going to be of some worth to crooks.

With that in mind, one UK police organization recently published a guide for officers on how to enable the strongest privacy settings on social media, as well as more securely use various web browsers and mobile operating systems. And it turns out, everyone probably can learn something from this pretty decent guide.

“We live in the age of the digital, with information readily accessible to all who seek to find it, including those who we wish to keep it safe from. With every tweet, like or share, our digital footprint grows. It is our responsibility, as individuals, to keep our data safe,” Richard Berry, National Policing lead for Communications Data and Chair of the Data Communications Group writes in the report, “Stay Secure Online 2016.”

The report, dated July 2016, was issued by the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council, and produced by The Risk Management Group.

The guide starts with some general principles and reminders about the digital footprints that we leave everyday while using websites and social media networks. Geo-location data may be published online; email headers and other records may reveal your IP address; the contact information of who runs a website is often publicly available; and insecure networks, such as public WiFi hotspots, can leave your traffic exposed to interception.

Since the guide is geared towards law enforcement members and their families, it then spells out how a criminal might use all of this information and more. According to the guide, criminals may search LinkedIn for anyone with a job title such as “investigator,” then go on to find more info on personal websites, and then focus on family members.

In response to that threat, the guide lays out, in quite some detail, how to lock down your various social media accounts. Turn on Facebook login alerts so you receive a notification if a third party accesses your account; make sure that your account doesn’t appear in search engines outside of Facebook; don’t use your work email for LinkedIn and restrict which users can see your profile photo; and turn on Twitter’s two-factor-authentication and other login security settings, to name just a few.

And then . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2016 at 4:52 pm

When a new purchase brightens your life a bit

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In my living room I have used for some years a torchiere floor lamp that provides pleasant indirect lighting. The one I had used compact fluorescent bulbs: better than incandescent bulbs in terms of power consumption but a great flaming pain when they burn out because they must be specially recycled due to the mercury content. That generally requires a trip to some site (e.g., Orchard Supply Hardware) that will accept fluorescent bulbs for recycling.

The old torchiere died—the weight in the base just crumbled to rubble, and the lamp fell over, breaking the bulbs and denting the diffuser—so I went shopping for a replacement and found this LED torchiere.

It gives 3000 lumens and consumes just 43 watts. (A 3000-lumen incandescent bulb requires 200 watts.) Plus an LED bulb that is on 10 hours per day, 7 days a week (10/7) has an expected lifespan of about 14 years, which at this point is greater than my own. Plus the floor lamp is dimmable (by holding down the on/off switch).

The lamp is extremely well made—no longer are sections strung together with lamp cord: the sections are independent but have electrical connectors that join when the (clearly-marked) sections are screwed together. The base is heavy and the construction of the assembled lamp feels quite solid. It is also not unattractive, IMO. (I got the black version.) It’s very well packed, with instructions on the box.

One nice touch: the cord from the lamp is only about six inches long and ends in a jack, which plugs into the longer cord that comes from the transformer. So when you move the lamp, you don’t have six feet of cord trailing behind you.

One drawback: the transformer brick plugs directly into the outlet, and it might take up too much room to allow other plugs near it. However, these short extension cords solve that problem. (I have a few in use for other things.)

If you use the lamp in an outlet controlled by a wall switch, you can turn it off via the wall switch, but when the wall switch is turned on you still have to use the lamp’s own switch to turn it back on. A nice touch: the lamp remembers the brightness setting and will turn the lamp back on to the same brightness as when it was turned off.

Best of all, it provides terrific lighting. I haven’t felt this good since the old kitchen fluorescents were replaced with better and brighter fluorescents. Lighting turns out to be important for me. I like a clean, well-lighted place.

Highly recommended.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2016 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

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