Quotulatiousness

December 19, 2014

Mark Steyn on the collapse of moral fibre at Sony

Filed under: Asia, Business, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Mark Steyn is never one to hold back an opinion:

I was barely aware of The Interview until, while sitting through a trailer for what seemed like just another idiotic leaden comedy, my youngest informed me that the North Koreans had denounced the film as “an act of war”. If it is, they seem to have won it fairly decisively: Kim Jong-Un has just vaporized a Hollywood blockbuster as totally as if one of his No Dong missiles had taken out the studio. As it is, the fellows with no dong turned out to be the executives of Sony Pictures.

I wouldn’t mind but this is the same industry that congratulates itself endlessly — not least in its annual six-hour awards ceremony — on its artists’ courage and bravery. Called on to show some for the first time in their lives, they folded like a cheap suit. As opposed to the bank-breaking suit their lawyers advised them they’d be looking at if they released the film and someone put anthrax in the popcorn. I think of all the occasions in recent years when I’ve found myself sharing a stage with obscure Europeans who’ve fallen afoul of Islam — Swedish artists, Danish cartoonists, Norwegian comediennes, all of whom showed more courage than these Beverly Hills bigshots.

While I often find Mark Steyn’s comments amusing and insightful, the real lesson here may not be the spineless response of Sony, but the impact of a legal system on the otherwise free actions of individuals and organizations: if Sony had gone ahead with the release and someone did attack one or more of the theatres where the movie was being shown, how would the legal system treat the situation? As an act of war by an external enemy or as an act of gross negligence by Sony and the theatre owners that would bankrupt every single company in the distribution chain (and probably lead to criminal charges against individual theatre managers and corporate officers)? While I disagree with Sony’s decision to fold under the pressure, I can’t imagine any corporate board being comfortable with that kind of stark legal threat … Sony’s executives may have been presented with no choice at all.

I see that, following the disappearance of The Interview, a Texan movie theater replaced it with a screening of Team America. That film wouldn’t get made today, either.

Hollywood has spent the 21st century retreating from storytelling into a glossy, expensive CGI playground in which nothing real is at stake. That’s all we’ll be getting from now on. Oh, and occasional Oscar bait about embattled screenwriters who stood up to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee six decades ago, even as their successors cave to, of all things, Kim’s UnKorean Activities Committee. American pop culture — supposedly the most powerful and influential force on the planet – has just surrendered to a one-man psycho-state economic basket-case that starves its own population.

Kim Jong-won.

Eugene Volokh makes some of the same points that Steyn raises:

Deadline Hollywood mentions several such theater chains. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security stated that there was “no credible intelligence” that such threatened terrorist attacks would take place, but unsurprisingly, some chains are being extra cautious here.

I sympathize with the theaters’ situation — they’re in the business of showing patrons a good time, and they’re rightly not interested in becoming free speech martyrs, even if there’s only a small chance that they’ll be attacked. Moreover, the very threats may well keep moviegoers away from theater complexes that are showing the movie, thus reducing revenue from all the screens at the complex.

But behavior that is rewarded is repeated. Thugs who oppose movies that are hostile to North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, the Islamic State, extremist Islam generally or any other country or religion will learn the lesson. The same will go as to thugs who are willing to use threats of violence to squelch expression they oppose for reasons related to abortion, environmentalism, animal rights and so on.

QotD: The twin rise and fall of unions and manufacturing

Filed under: Business, Economics, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Unions only help if the underlying economic situation is that the employer is able to charge a great deal more for the amount of product generated per worker-hour than the worker is getting — there is headroom for the worker’s wage to expand into while the manufacturer still makes a net profit. (If the manufacturer doesn’t make a net profit the business collapses and nobody gets paid.)

During the age that manufacturing nostalgisists remember nostalgically, this was true. For most of that period (roughly 1870-1970), the capital goods required to manufacture in a way price-competitive with the U.S. were so expensive that almost nobody outside the U.S. could afford them, and in the few places that could they were mainly preoccupied with supplying their domestic markets rather than the U.S. World War II prolonged this period by hammering those “few places” rather badly.

In that environment, U.S. firms could profit-take hugely, benefited by being scarce suppliers not just to the U.S. but (later on) to the whole world. And unions could pry loose enough of that margin to make manufacturing jobs comfortably middle-class.

All that ended in the early 1970s. A good marker for the change is the ability of the Japanese to make cheap cars for export and sell them for the U.S.

In the new world, the profit margins on manufactured goods narrowed dramatically. The manufacturing firms could no longer effectively ignore overseas competition in the U.S. domestic market. U.S. consumers no longer had to to pay the large price premiums required to sustain domestic manufacturing wages at pre-1970 levels, and they jumped right on that option.

In this environment, unions don’t help because they have almost no negotiating room. If they bid up workers’ wages, the jobs will evaporate or move overseas – not because corporations are being “greedy” but because they can no longer charge the prices that would allow such high wages to be sustained. Too much foreign labor and capital is ready to pounce on the first hint of price-taking.

Eric S. Raymond, “Why labor unions have lost their moxie”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-11-29.

December 17, 2014

Canadian telcos: “there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:10

Sounds good, right? Canada’s telecom companies telling the government that there’s no reason to pass laws requiring surveillance capabilities … except that the reason they’re saying this is that “they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default“:

After years of failed bills, public debate, and considerable controversy, lawful access legislation received royal assent last week. Public Safety Minister Peter MacKay’s Bill C-13 lumped together measures designed to combat cyberbullying with a series of new warrants to enhance police investigative powers, generating criticism from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, civil liberties groups, and some prominent victims rights advocates. They argued that the government should have created cyberbullying safeguards without sacrificing privacy.

While the bill would have benefited from some amendments, it remains a far cry from earlier versions that featured mandatory personal information disclosure without court oversight and required Internet providers to install extensive surveillance and interception capabilities within their networks.

The mandatory disclosure of subscriber information rules, which figured prominently in earlier lawful access bills, were gradually reduced in scope and ultimately eliminated altogether. Moreover, a recent Supreme Court ruling raised doubt about the constitutionality of the provisions.

[…]

Perhaps the most notable revelation is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.

In light of the standardization of the interception capabilities, the memo notes that the Canadian providers argue that “the telecommunications market will soon shift to a point where interception capability will simply become a standard component of available equipment, and that technical changes in the way communications actually travel on communications networks will make it even easier to intercept communications.”

In other words, Canadian telecom providers are telling the government there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality since they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default.

December 15, 2014

Sony games the copyright laws

Filed under: Business, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick explains why Sony released only a tiny number of pressed CDs of 1964 musical tracks:

Two years ago we wrote about the very odd release, by Sony, of just 100 copies of a set of previously unreleased Bob Dylan tracks. Why so few? Well, Sony sort of revealed the secret in the name of the title. See if you can spot it:

Bob Dylan - Copyright Extension

Yup. The release had absolutely nothing to do with actually getting the works out to fans, and absolutely everything to do with copyright. You see, back in 2011, despite having absolutely no economic rationale for doing so, the EU retroactively extended copyright on music from 50 years to 70 years. However, there was a tiny catch: there was a “use it or lose it” provision in the law, saying that the music had to have been “released” to qualify for that 20 year extension. Thus, Sony realized with Dylan that it had to “release” (and I use the term loosely) some of its old recordings that had never been officially released, or it would lose the copyright on them.

The other major labels have been doing the same. Last year, there was a series of releases of 1963 music, including more from Dylan, along with some previously unreleased Beatles tunes (at least those were somewhat more widely available). This year, we’re getting a new crop of barely released 1964 songs including (yet again) more from Dylan, along with some from the Beach Boys as well (and some expect more Beatles tunes as well).

December 14, 2014

Google to Spain: “Buh-bye!”

Filed under: Business, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Spanish legislation imposing a special tax on Google has resulted in Google erasing Spain from their Google News business plan altogether:

Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.

Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:

    But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.

December 12, 2014

QotD: Apple isn’t worth the same as Switzerland

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It is true that Switzerland’s GDP is around $700 billion. But GDP is a measure of value added in a country in one year. That is, it’s the income of the place. Apple’s $700 billion valuation is the total value of the company: this is akin to wealth, not income. And of course the value of a stock is the net present value of all of the future income from it. So, that $700 billion for Apple is the current value (as the market estimates it) of everything that Apple will ever do in the future. The valuation of Switzerland, that $700 billion, is what the place made this year alone. Two very different numbers.

To get to something comparable for Apple we need to work out this year’s added value. A rough and ready definition of that is profits plus wages paid (this is approximately equal to the labour and profit shares in GDP which don’t quite equal total GDP but good enough for rough comparisons). Apple’s profits are around $40 billion, it employs a little under 100,000 people directly. Say each of those is paid $100,000 a year (obviously, some get very much more but when we add in the Genius Bar folks that might be reasonable enough as an average) which gives us another $10 billion. Not entirely accurate but reasonable enough to say that Apple’s value add, the equivalent of GDP, is some $50 billion.

When we go looking for a country at around that we find The Sudan and Luxembourg jointly on some $55 billion. And Luxembourg is some 400,000 people, and roughly half of the people in a country work (take out the kiddies, pensioners, housewives etc, roughly correct) giving us a Luxembourgois workforce of 200,000 people. 100,000 people in one of the most profitable companies on the planet produce about the same value as 200,000 rich world people in a country. OK, that’s impressive for Apple but it’s a much better indication of the company’s economic size than any other measure. It is, around and about, fair to say that Apple produces the same economic value as Luxembourg. […]

And to repeat the point at the top, we’re never going to really understand corporate power or the size of the corporate sector (or corporations) until we start to understand what these different numbers being bandied about as valuations and value of production etc really mean. Corporations really are very much smaller than countries: even the largest and most valuable of corporations is really only comparable to a city sized country. To give you a much better idea of the size of Apple relative to economic output of an area then Apple’s about the size of Raleigh, North Carolina, Omaha Nebraska, maybe, just maybe as large as Forth Worth, Texas, or Charlotte, North Carolina. Somewhere in that range at least. Or to use States, perhaps around Rhode Island or Maine.

Corporations just aren’t as large and economically powerful as some seem to think.

Tim Worstall, “Apple Isn’t Worth Switzerland But It Is Worth All The World’s Airlines”, Forbes, 2014-11-22.

December 1, 2014

Baylen Linnekin on the FDA’s latest bad idea

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Reason, Baylen Linnekin looks at the FDA’s soon-to-be-implemented rules on menu labelling:

Earlier this week, the FDA released rules that will force food sellers around the country to provide point-of-sale calorie information to consumers. The rules cover chain restaurants, vending machines, “movie theaters, sports stadiums, amusement parks, bowling alleys and miniature golf courses that serve prepared foods.” The rules apply to foods and beverages — including beer, wine, and spirits — sold at these places.

[…]

Farley’s enthusiasm might have been tempered by research showing mandatory menu-labeling doesn’t work — and may even be counterproductive.

Because the new rules will cost more than a billion dollars not to stop the obesity epidemic and maybe make it better, some who have to spend that money aren’t pleased.

For example, that potato salad you buy at your grocery deli counter will fall under the new rules. That doesn’t sit well with grocery store owners.

“Grocery stores are not chain restaurants, which is why Congress did not initially include them in the law,” said National Grocers Association president and CEO, Peter J. Larkin in a statement. “We are disappointed that the FDA’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members.”

[…]

As I wrote last year, the NRA, which represents restaurant chains across the country, supported the national menu-labeling rule as a shield against a growing, costly, and unworkable patchwork of different state and local menu-labeling laws.

It’s the same reason that food manufacturers, facing mandatory GMO-labeling pressure in dozens of states, counties, and cities around the country, are pushing for Congress to pass a uniform national GMO-labeling law.

Do I understand why the restaurant industry and food manufacturers are pushing for one bad federal law instead of hundreds or thousands of worse laws at the state and local level? Absolutely. Do I support such laws? Not at all.

November 30, 2014

Medium.com goes all “Rathergate” on a 1970s LEGO letter

Filed under: Business, Europe, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I managed to miss the initial controversy about a typographical hoax that might not have been so hoax-y:

According to the website of the Independent newspaper, LEGO UK has verified the 1970s ‘letter to parents’ that was widely tweeted last weekend and almost as widely dismissed as fake. Business as usual in the Twittersphere — but there are some lessons here about dating type.

Lego Letter to Parents circa 1970

‘The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.’ It’s a sentiment from the 1970s that’s never been more relevant. Or was it?

Those of us who produce or handle documents for a living will often glance at an example and have an immediate opinion on whether it’s real or fake. That first instinct is worth holding on to, because it comes from the brain’s evolved ability to reach a quick conclusion from a whole bunch of subtle clues before your conscious awareness catches up. It’s OK to be inside the nearest cave getting your breath back when you start asking yourself what kind of snake.

But sometimes you will flinch at shadows. Why did this document strike us as wrong when it wasn’t?

First, because the type is badly set in exactly the way early consumer DTP apps, and word processor apps to this day (notably Microsoft Word), set type badly — at least without the intervention of skilled users. I started typesetting on an Atari ST, the poor man’s Mac, in 1987. The first desktop publishing program for that platform was newly released, running under Digital Research’s GEM operating system. It came with a version of Times New Roman, and almost nothing else. Me and badly set Times have history.

In the LEGO document, the kerning of the headline is lumpy and the word spacing excessive. The ‘T’ seems out of alignment with the left margin, even after allowing for a lack of optical adjustment. The paragraph indent on the body text has been applied from the start, contrary to modern British typesetting practice; the first line should be full-out. The leading (vertical space between lines of text) is not quite enough for comfort, more appropriate to a dense newspaper column than this short blurb.

There’s also an error in the copy: ‘dolls houses’ needs an apostrophe. Either before or after the last letter of ‘dolls’ would be fine, depending on whether you think you mean a house for a doll or a house for dolls. But it definitely needs to be possessive.

It wasn’t just that the type looked careless. It was that it stank of the careless use of tools that shouldn’t have been available to its creators.

November 29, 2014

Another part of Robert Heinlein’s legacy

Filed under: Business, History, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

John C. Wright explains why Robert A. Heinlein was so important to the development of the science fiction field:

If you are unfamiliar with the name Robert Heinlein, he is rightly called the Dean of Science Fiction; his pen is the one that first broke through from the pulps into the slicks, and then into juveniles, and then into the mainstream. Were it not for him, we would still be a Hugo Gernsbeckian ghetto.

Heinlein was also a bold advocate for equality of all races and both sexes, at a time when such ideas were not discussed in polite society. He was the main champion in our little Science Fiction ghetto of all things Progressive and Leftwing, that is, the Leftwing of that time. (They have since reversed their standards, for example, swapping a principled opposition to censorship to a full-throated advocacy of it, or swapping an unprincipled opposition to monogamy to an even more unprincipled advocacy of abstinence combined with libertinism.)

The Left owe Heinlein an immense debt of gratitude. Ergo they are ungrateful.

While working on the novel that was to become Rocket Ship Galileo, Heinlein warned his agent that the inclusion of an ethnically diverse cast was not only deliberate — it was non-negotiable, and if an editor requested the removal of the Jewish character, Blassingame (the agent) was to take the book elsewhere.

This is from the letter Heinlein wrote to his agent about his wishes:

    “I have deliberately selected a boy of Scotch-English pioneer ancestry, a boy whose father is a German immigrant, and a boy who is American Jewish. Having selected this diverse background they are then developed as American boys without reference to their backgrounds. You may run into an editor who does not want one of the young heroes to be Jewish. I will not do business with such a firm. The ancestry of the three boys is a “must” and the book is offered under those conditions. My interest was aroused in this book by the opportunity to show to kids what I conceive to be Americanism. The use of a diverse group … is part of my intent; it must not be changed. … I am as disinterested as a referee but I want to get over an object lesson in practical democracy.”

Commenting on this is one Mitch Wagner, freak, writing on the blog maintained by Tor books — one of the largest and most well-respected names in science fiction publishing, as well as being my own publisher. This is not some overlooked corner or outlier opinion.

Wagner snarks:

    This is all admirable, but let’s keep in mind what’s missing from this cast: Asians; disabled people; non-Americans of any kind; lesbians, gays, and the transgendered; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or representatives of the other major world religions. Heinlein’s book was enormously ethnically diverse in that it included the full variety of American Judeo-Christian boys.

    And even the notion that the ethnically diverse boys are “developed as American boys without reference to their backgrounds” is a little creepy.

The freakish Mr. Wagner is not satisfied that Heinlein stormed the breach for them, being the first science fiction writer to put a Jew (Morrie Abrams from Rocket Ship Galileo), a Filipino (Juan Rico, Starship Troopers), a Negro (Rod Walker from Tunnel in the Sky implicitly and Mr. Kiku from The Star Beast explicitly) a Mohammedan (Dr. “Stinky” Mahmoud from Stranger in a Strange Land) or a Maori girl (Podkayne from Podkayne of Mars) in the spotlight as a main character and hero or heroine, but then criticizes Heinlein for not having as a main character … who? A cross-dressing homosexual castrati Hindu as a main character in a children’s book published in 1947? The Democrat Party still had Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South, and in those days the militant arm of the Democrat Party, the KKK, were still lynching blacks.

Do you understand to what the freakish Mr. Wagner is objecting? He is objecting to the melting pot theory that men of different races, locked into endless mutual hatred in the old world, can leave their hatred behind here in the new world. He is objecting to racelessness. Hence, he is a racist.

Heinlein showed backbone and gorm and ran the risk of being blackballed and put out of business by the Left (who, then as now, have major influence amounting to near total control in the New York publication industry) — and for this bold stance, unheard-of at the time, the gormless and freakish Mr Wagner criticizes Mr. Heinlein.

November 28, 2014

A visit to an Earthbound L5 colony

Filed under: Business, Europe, Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Charles Stross visits the closest thing to an O’Neill L5 colony:

To the eternal whine of the superannuated free-range SF geek (“dude, where’s my jet pack? Where’s my holiday on the moon? Where are my food pills? I thought this was supposed to be the 21st century!”) can be added an appendix: “and what about those L5 orbital space colonies the size of Manhattan?”

Well, dude, I’ve got your L5 colony right here. In fact, they turned it into a vacation resort. I just spent a day checking it out, and I’m back with a report.

[…]

So here’s what happens. One morning you get up early in your hotel or apartment in Berlin. You collect your swimming gear, flip-flops, beach towel, and sundries. Then you wrap up warm, because of course it’s November in Prussia and while it’s not snowing yet the wind has a sharp edge to it. You head for Zoologischer Garten station (or maybe the Ostbahnhof if you’re on that side of the city) and catch a train, which over the next hour hums through the pancake-flat forests and villages of East Germany until it stops at a lonely (but recently modernized) platform in a forest in the middle of nowhere.

You’re wondering if you’ve made some sort of horrible mistake, but no: a shuttle bus covered in brightly colored decals depicting a tropical beach resort is waiting for you. It drives along cracked concrete taxi-ways lined with pine trees, past the boarded-up fronts of dispersal bay hangers and hard stands for MiG-29 interceptors awaiting a NATO attack that never came. The bus is raucous with small children, chattering and screeching and bouncing off the walls and ceiling in a sugar-high — harried parents and minders for the large group of schoolgirls in the back of the bus are trying to keep control, unsuccessfully. Then the bus rumbles and lurches to a standstill, and the doors open, and you see this:

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

It’s hard to do justice to the scale of the thing. It’s one of those objects that is too big to take in at close range, and deceptively small when viewed from a distance. It’s like an L5 space colony colony that crash-landed in on the West Prussian plains: a gigantic eruption from the future, or a liminal intrusion from the Gernsbackian what-might-have-been.

[…]

Welcome to Tropical Islands, Germany.

You can get the history from the wikipedia link above: in a nutshell, the Zeppelin hangar was bought from the liquidators by a Malaysian resort operator, who proceeded to turn it into an indoor theme park. They stripped off a chunk of the outer cladding of the hangar and replaced it with a high-tech greenhouse film: it’s climate-controlled, at 26 celsius and 64% humidity all year round. (That’s pretty chilly by Malaysian standards, but nice and comfortable for the German and Polish customer base.) There’s an artificial rainforest, with over 50,000 plants and a 5km long walking trail inside. There are about a dozen different saunas, hot tubs, and a swimming pool complex: there’s a 200 metre long artificial beach with sun-loungers for you to work on your tan wrapped around an artificial tropical lagoon — a 140 metre swimming pool with waves. There are bars, shops, restaurants, hotels, even a camp ground for tents: and of course the usual beachside resort song and dance show every evening.

November 26, 2014

Michael Geist – Uber’s privacy problem

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:36

Michael Geist looks at one of the less obvious issues in the Uber dispute with Canadian regulators:

The mounting battle between Uber, the popular app-based car service, and the incumbent taxi industry has featured court dates in Toronto, undercover sting operations in Ottawa, and a marketing campaign designed to stoke fear among potential Uber customers. As Uber enters a growing number of Canadian cities, the ensuing regulatory fight is typically pitched as a contest between a popular, disruptive online service and a staid taxi industry intent on keeping new competitors out of the market.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that if the issue was only a question of choosing between a longstanding regulated industry and a disruptive technology, the outcome would not be in doubt. The popularity of a convenient, well-priced alternative, when contrasted with frustration over a regulated market that artificially limits competition to maintain pricing, is unsurprisingly going to generate enormous public support and will not be regulated out of existence.

While the Uber regulatory battles have focused on whether it constitutes a taxi service subject to local rules, last week a new concern attracted attention: privacy. Regardless of whether it is a taxi service or a technological intermediary, it is clear that Uber collects an enormous amount of sensitive, geo-locational information about its users. In addition to payment data, the company accumulates a record of where its customers travel, how long they stay at their destinations, and even where they are located in real-time when using the Uber service.

Reports indicate that the company has coined the term “God View” for its ability to track user movements. The God View enables it to simultaneously view all Uber cars and all customers waiting for a ride in an entire city. When those mesh – the Uber customer enters an Uber car – they company can track movements along city streets. Uber says that use of the information is strictly limited, yet it would appear that company executives have accessed the data to develop portfolios on some of its users.

November 22, 2014

A seasonal business model with growth potential

Filed under: Business, Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

An ad in the Nashville Craigslist:

Thanksgiving fake date

It may not be a huge market, but there’s definitely a demand for these kind of services, especially at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and family birthday parties.

H/T to Marina Stover for the link.

November 21, 2014

Elon Musk’s constant nagging worry

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

In the Washington Post, Justin Moyer talks about Elon Musk’s concern about runaway artificial intelligence:

Elon Musk — the futurist behind PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX — has been caught criticizing artificial intelligence again.

“The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe,” Musk wrote in a comment since deleted from the Web site Edge.org, but confirmed to Re/Code by his representatives. “10 years at most.”

The very future of Earth, Musk said, was at risk.

“The leading AI companies have taken great steps to ensure safety,” he wrote. “The recognize the danger, but believe that they can shape and control the digital superintelligences and prevent bad ones from escaping into the Internet. That remains to be seen.”

Musk seemed to sense that these comments might seem a little weird coming from a Fortune 1000 chief executive officer.

“This is not a case of crying wolf about something I don’t understand,” he wrote. “I am not alone in thinking we should be worried.”

Unfortunately, Musk didn’t explain how humanity might be compromised by “digital superintelligences,” “Terminator”-style.

He never does. Yet Musk has been holding forth on-and-off about the apocalypse artificial intelligence might bring for much of the past year.

November 17, 2014

QotD: The Amazon-Hachette dispute

Filed under: Business, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The first thing to remember about the Amazon/Hachette Book Group dispute is that this sort of thing happens all the time in business. When two big companies negotiate, it’s like Mothra and Godzilla: Each party can throw around a lot of weight, which means some collateral damage. It’s not exactly unheard of for a company that doesn’t like a supplier’s price to stop carrying the product, or to deny the supplier valuable end-cap space, or otherwise deprioritize the sales of the contested items.

The second thing to remember about the Amazon/Hachette dispute is that writers are categorically unable to see what they do as in any way akin to, say, selling potato chips. Writing is special and sacred! The sight of our product being treated like Chef Boyardee spaghetti is more than our tender souls can bear. And unlike grocery suppliers, writers have access to column space in which to pour out our anguish. That’s why so much ink has been spilled over this contretemps.

The third thing to remember is that publisher interests are not the same as author interests. Neither are Amazon’s. Amazon would like to sell books as cheaply as possible because this enhances the market value of their economies of scale. Publishers would like to keep prices high not just to enhance their profits, but also to keep multiple channels open for their books; it is not in their interest for Amazon to succeed in killing off the competition.

Megan McArdle, “Does Amazon’s Monopoly Really Matter?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-10-24.

November 15, 2014

QotD: Women, careers, and equality

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

So what do you do about women who freely make choices that perpetuate structural inequalities? Do you stop them from making the choices? Neither Harvard, nor Kantor, seems to have a good answer. But that is the core dilemma. Maybe women drop out because they have a deeper biological connection to their kids. Maybe they do so because they’re raised to be nurturers, or maybe because they don’t feel the same personal anguish that a man does when he gives up on the dream of a top-flight career. Maybe if men felt they had the option to stay home, more would. And maybe women find the role of breadwinner more stressful than men do — all the women I know who are the primary earners are neurotic about it in a way that the men I know don’t seem to be. I’m not talking about the fear that your partner will resent your success; these are women married to admirably feminist men. I’m just talking about a near-constant fear that you will not be able to provide, and your family will end up horribly destitute. I’m not saying that men don’t experience that worry, but they don’t seem tormented by it the way the women I talk to are.

Or maybe it’s that women just don’t want it badly enough. In my experience, one of the reasons that women drop out of finance, and 80-hour-a-week fields more generally, is that they just don’t want it as badly as the men. In their 20s, they’re happy to work those kinds of hours, even at tasks they find boring. They do well at them, too. But a lot of these jobs aren’t actually that rewarding as work: The investment banking associates I observed seemed to spend most of their time on basically clerical tasks, tabulating data and proofreading PowerPoints. And eventually most of the women seem to say “You know, I just care more about relationships than I do about success.” There are always exceptions on both sides: women who will sacrifice anything for the career they feel called to and men who would rather be home. But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.

We can say that they shouldn’t have to, of course, but the sad fact is that there are trade-offs in this world. In your 20s you can finesse them — work super hard and also have a roaring social life — because you have boundless energy and no one depending on you. This is the age at which young women write furious articles and Facebook posts denouncing anyone who suggests that women opt-out of high pressure jobs for any reason other than the rankest sexism.

As you age, your body refuses to cooperate with your plan to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then hang out with friends. Your parents start to need you more, if only to lift heavy things. And of course, there are kids. You start having to make direct trade-offs, and then suddenly you look up and you haven’t seen your friends for two years and your mother is complaining that you never call. This is the age at which women write furious articles defending their decision to step back from a high-pressure job and/or demanding subsidized childcare, generous paid maternity leave and “family friendly policies,” a vague term that ultimately seems to mean that people who leave at five to pick up the kids should be entitled to the same opportunities and compensation as people who stay until 9 to finish the client presentation. These pleas usually end (or begin) by pointing to the family-friendly utopia of Northern Europe, except that women in Europe do less well at moving into high-test management positions. Whatever the government says, someone who takes several years off work is in fact less valuable to their company than someone who doesn’t.

Megan McArdle, “Harvard’s Gender Bender”, Bloomberg View, 2013-09-10

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