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Supermarkets’ Best Weapon Against E-tailers: Produce

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Tomatoes from the Green City Farmers Market
Tomatoes from the Green City Farmers Market

Like so many other tech-centric new businesses, online grocery is a major topic, and yet it seems few people actually use the service.

While Wal-Mart and other retailers, including Ahold USA and Meijer Inc., are pouring money into ramping up online sales, the grocers are also buckling down on the basics of the produce department. That’s because high-quality fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods are emerging as a physical store’s best defense against growing competition from Amazon.com Inc.

Many customers decide where to shop based on the quality of the produce, and—for now—most shoppers want to pick their own ripe tomatoes or perfectly green heads of lettuce, say grocers and industry researchers. Shoppers who don’t buy groceries online most often cite the desire to pick their own produce as the reason, according to an online survey from Morgan Stanley earlier this year.

Online food and beverage sales are growing fast, up 20% since 2013, but still make up a tiny 0.16% of the $670 billion food and beverage market, according to Commerce Department figures. Only 4% of consumers said they purchased some produce through online grocers in the past year, a 2015 Nielsen survey found.

Produce also is often part of “fill-in” trips, those moments a shopper dashes to the store for a last-minute ingredient and might not wait for an online order. Produce itself isn’t usually a big moneymaker, but it draws people to stores to buy higher-margin packaged food, apparel, electronics and other items—products customers increasingly are buying online. Even Amazon wants part of the valuable market. It plans to build small stores that sell perishable foods and allow shoppers to order shelf-stable items for same-day delivery, say people familiar with the matter.

Improving Wal-Mart’s fresh food is “a huge priority for us because it’s a big traffic driver,” says Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Wal-Mart U.S. in a March call with investors.

(click here to continue reading Supermarkets’ Best Weapon Against E-tailers: Produce – WSJ.)

Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve tried ordering from Instacart twice. The first time, everything came as if I had picked it myself, but the second time, the produce was sub-par. All of it. Brown spots on lettuce, bruised avocados, moldy tomatoes, mushy cucumbers, etc. So I’ve never ordered from them again, and probably never will. When it comes to grocery delivery, if it isn’t perfect, forget it. I have less than zero tolerance for mistakes. A few years prior, I had an account with a local company that delivered farmers market produce, but again, after a few bad deliveries, I cancelled my service, and have not ordered from them again. In the winter months, I sometimes use Peapod, but I tend to only buy staples like pasta, paper towels, cat litter, and bottles of wine, and don’t purchase much produce because items that are delivered are often less than ideal.

A fan of Peapod
A fan of Peapod

Time willing, I would much rather go to a farmers market or a local grocery store and carefully pick my own vegetables and fruits. 

Written by Seth Anderson

October 17th, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Brexit buzz Re the fate of England’s honeybees

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Bee Cee Honey
Bee Cee Honey

As a brief follow-up to yesterday’s question about future food crops in England post-Brexit: the honeybees are also in the divorce negotiation apparently.

SURBITON, England — The honeybees buzzing inside the hives in this community garden outside of London appear blissfully oblivious of the follies of man. But the political drama that has engulfed their human keepers since Britain voted to leave the European Union could ensnare them as well.

Few have bothered to consider what the country’s historic decision to end its four-decade alliance with the continent will mean for the humble arthropod. Gaining far more attention have been the passionate debates over the merits of immigration and the limits of globalization that fueled the nation’s desire to quit the E.U.

But unraveling any marriage is a complicated affair, and the fate of Apis mellifera highlights how entangled Britain has become with the 27 countries beyond the English Channel. At stake are the future of European regulations of pesticides that could threaten the 250,000 hives on this island nation; medicines that can be used to treat honeybee ailments; and funding for inspectors responsible for ensuring the health of Britain’s bees.

The honeybee falls under the jurisdiction of the European Food Safety Authority. The E.U. produces more than 200,000 tons of honey for human consumption each year, but officials’ interest is not merely culinary. Bees are a critical pollinator of Europe’s farm crops, and their indirect impact on agriculture is estimated to be 22 billion euros, dwarfing the sales of honey. Beekeepers hope that means their interests would not be ignored in any future discussions.

Beekeepers are divided over what Britain’s departure from the E.U. will mean for their hives. Generating the most buzz is a temporary ban on pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, used by farmers. Environmentalists and bee enthusiasts had lobbied for the moratorium after noticing that bees exposed to the chemical appeared to act drunk — becoming disoriented and getting lost.

Now the question is whether Britain will keep the ban or roll it back.

“Environmental issues cross political boundaries. In order to tackle them, you have to work together,” said Norman Carreck, science director at the International Bee Research Association. “If the U.K. leaves, everything is open to negotiation.”

To those who supported remaining in the E.U., the moratorium is exactly the type of regulatory minutiae that the alliance is supposed to alleviate. A centralized bureaucracy helps Britain compete in an increasingly interconnected world. Rather than negotiate with 28 agencies over pesticide use across Europe, beekeepers need only deal with one. A unified bloc also gives Britain greater leverage in negotiations with other world leaders. Collectively, the E.U. is the largest economy in the world — bigger than the United States. Alone, the United Kingdom is a distant fifth.

(click here to continue reading The latest Brexit buzz is about the fate of England’s honeybees – The Washington Post.)

Gee, Dad, What’s That?
Gee, Dad, What’s That?

Written by Seth Anderson

August 20th, 2016 at 9:43 am

With nearly half its food imported, who will feed Britain after Brexit?

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Organic Tomatoes Produced in Kent
Organic Tomatoes Produced in Kent, UK.

Trump called himself “Mr. Brexit” yesterday. Funny, almost, in light of the reality of how removing E.U. immigrants is going to drastically change how Britain feeds itself. America too if the anti-immigrant brigade ever gets a modicum of power. Have you ever picked vegetables in the hot sun? It’s not work I’d do voluntarily, even if it paid above minimum wage. Trump’s anti-immigrant army will be spluttering in impotent rage if tomatoes were $50/lb, if lettuce was something you only could afford to eat over the holidays, if a hamburger cost $35 even to make it at home with store-bought ingredients. 

But then Trump’s cult has never had the ability to comprehend facts.

Courgetts (or Courgettes)
Courgetts (or Courgettes) (a/k/a Zucchini)

Anyway, back to Britain, where Carla Power writes, in part:

“Brexit” has sown deep uncertainty in Britain’s food system, which for the last 43 years has been entwined with the rest of Europe’s, relying heavily on the EU for everything from pork to peaches to farm subsidies to the labor that picks its tomatoes. Now, the country is going to have to rethink how it feeds itself, from farm to fork.

“Food is the biggest sector of engagement with Europe,” said Timothy Lang, a professor at City University London’s Center for Food Policy. “It’s hundreds of thousands of contracts, all woven into long supply chains.”

Currently, European laws regulate nearly everything that ends up on British plates: how clean a chicken should be before slaughter, how cold to keep frozen cod, who gets to call their biscuits “gluten free.”

Now, Britain will have to decide all that for itself. Some groups already have begun lobbying Prime Minister Theresa May’s new government for regulations to improve animal welfare and protect soils.

But what Britain can’t do is feed itself. The country imports more than $50 billion a year in food, or nearly half of what it eats. That’s more than double what it exports. Most wine and beef come from mainland Europe, as do about 40% of fruit and vegetables.

The future of food in Britain will depend largely on what sort of trade deals the government can strike with the European alliance it is preparing to abandon.

Germany and other European powers have made it clear that they will not grant Britain the benefits of EU membership if it leaves and that the country probably will face tariffs on many of its imports.

New tariffs on food would drive up prices and potentially change the nation’s diet.

EU membership has brought them a flexible, energetic and mobile labor force of Romanians, Bulgarians and other Eastern Europeans. While EU-born workers from outside Britain make up 6% of the country’s workforce, they account for more than a quarter of employees in the food manufacturing industry — and 95% of crop pickers.

“Every strawberry eaten at Wimbledon was picked by an Eastern European,” said John Hardman of Hops Labour Solutions, an agricultural recruitment firm in Kenilworth. “Every Brussels sprout eaten at Christmas dinner was picked by an Eastern European.”
If Britain stops free movement of EU workers, farmers may struggle to find replacements. Britons themselves don’t seem keen on the low wages and long hours in the orchards and fields.

(click here to continue reading With nearly half its food imported, who will feed Britain after ‘Brexit’? – LA Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 19th, 2016 at 1:15 pm

The Free Trade Myth, Explained

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Milwaukee Venetian Blind Co Since 1936
Milwaukee Venetian Blind Co Since 1936

Gail Ablow tackles the question, “What is the difference between Fair Trade and Free Trade”…and discusses the oft-mentioned Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Fair traders are in favor of government policies that protect workers, farmers and the environment, and they will pay a premium for fair trade-certified goods. Free traders favor less government regulation and fewer trade barriers between countries and want the market to determine the price of goods in the hope of having the most choices at the lowest prices. The two terms are not opposites, but in the real world “free trade” comes with costs — and the TPP trade agreement that the Obama administration recently finished negotiating is, in the view of many critics, a shining example of that.

All trade is political. All trade is about power.

When you buy something — a car, clothes, coffee, computer, a hamburger, you name it — international trade agreements affect the price and determine who profits from it. Proponents of free trade say businesses should thrive or fail in an open market without government interference such as protections, tariffs or subsidies.

But trade is about much more than the price of your shoes. In practice, the parties who craft trade agreements are less interested in unfettered markets and far more interested in increasing corporate profits and pursuing international strategic goals. “There is no such thing as free trade,” says Barry Lynn, director of the Open Markets Program at the New America Foundation. “The idea that there is a self-regulating marketplace out there is fundamentally wrong, as opposed to a bunch of power relationships between large corporations and nation-states. Put simply, free trade is a myth.”

According to Lynn, the main reason people promote this “myth” is to push the idea that “government should not regulate the large corporations that run the marketplace. The two groups who push this argument in a coherent manner are the libertarian right and the neoliberal left.”

Big Pharma benefits because the TPP extends patents, copyrights and other monopoly protections to companies that want to profit for as long as possible. In an interview with Bill Moyers in 2013, economist Dean Baker explained there is nothing “free market” about these corporate safeguards against competition that will prevent millions of people around the world from getting cheaper generic medicines. “If this was really about trade,” he said, “we’d be going, ‘How can we bring those prices down?’

Firms that want to sue governments also benefit. The TPP creates an extra-judicial process known as an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Foreign investors would be able to sue governments for compensation if they impose environmental, health and safety, and even labor regulations that result in lost profits to the company. These suits would be arbitrated by international tribunals that aren’t subject to US laws. There is no appeals process. Putting ISDS into such a sweeping deal, writes Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), “would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine US sovereignty… America’s current trade policy makes it nearly impossible to enforce rules that protect hard-working families, but very easy to enforce rules that favor multinational corporations.”

(click here to continue reading The Free Trade Myth, Explained – BillMoyers.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 17th, 2016 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Federal Court

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Fuck The Internet
Fuck The Internet

Huh. Well, at first blush, this seems like good news…

High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, a federal court has ruled, a decision clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users.

The decision from a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday comes in a case about rules applying to a doctrine known as net neutrality, which prohibit broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers.

Those rules, created by the Federal Communications Commission in early 2015, started a huge legal battle as cable, telecom and wireless internet providers sued to overturn regulations that they said went far beyond the F.C.C.’s authority and would hurt their businesses.

The court’s decision upholds the F.C.C. on the declaration of broadband as a utility, the most significant aspect of the rules. That has broad-reaching implications for web and telecommunications companies and signals a shift in the government’s view of broadband as a service that should be equally accessible to all Americans, rather than a luxury that does not need close government supervision.

(click here to continue reading Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Federal Court – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 14th, 2016 at 9:12 am

Tribune gets Troncked

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Tribune Tower
Tribune Tower

World class editor’s note: from the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Ken Doctor

In a move that, even amid all the nastiness of the Tribune/Gannett war, we would still have to consider stunning, Tribune Publishing has renamed itself — to tronc. In a memo to Tribune staff this afternoon, CEO Justin Dearborn wrote:

Today, I am pleased to announce another important step in our transformation — the renaming of our Company to tronc, or tribune online content. At our core, we remain a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels. This rebranding acknowledges our important evolution as a company and captures the essence of our vision for the future.

Editor’s note: Because we do not hate our readers, Nieman Lab style from here on out will be a capitalized Tronc, no matter what the company insists — just as we have long killed the exclamation point in Yahoo and refused to render “Politico” in all caps, and just as we sliced out the old slash in Recode before that company came around to the same idea.

In a war of corporate naming, it’s apparently a race to the bottom. Tronc joins the two-year-old ex-Gannett broadcast company Tegna [or TEGNA! —Ed.] in the pantheon of odd corporate naming. Fast followers of the Tribune Publishing saga will recall that a month ago Tribune chairman Michael Ferro and his hand-picked CEO Justin Dearborn had outlined Tribune’s latest turnaround strategy around a Tronc “content monetization engine.” Now Tronc — a logo and an idea on a whiteboard — has swallowed Tribune itself. Tribunites become Troncites.

(click here to continue reading Tribune gets Troncked: A reader’s guide to the Tribune/Gannett war » Nieman Journalism Lab.)

Tronc is probably the most ridiculous name I’ve encountered in a while. I’m guessing Michael Ferro came up with it in a fever dream, but I could be wrong. Maybe they focus-grouped Tronc for 6 weeks, and this is the best the Tribune brain trust could come up with.

Written by Seth Anderson

June 3rd, 2016 at 8:57 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with , ,

Biometrics For Feds, Not For Thee

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Do You Recognize Me Now?
Do You Recognize Me Now?

Speaking of biometrics, and facial recognition, both key components of the REAL ID Act of 2005, Illinois doesn’t allow private businesses to do scans of your face, at least as of today.

The Biometric Information Privacy Act of Illinois is not a law many are familiar with. But if you have ever shared a photo on social media, the little-known statute turns out to be one of the nation’s toughest regulations for how companies like Facebook and Google can use facial recognition technologies to identify you online.

For now.

On Thursday, an Illinois state senator, Terry Link, introduced an amendment that would have weakened the law by exempting photo-tagging technologies that are now commonly used on social media. The proposal also had the potential to extinguish several class-action lawsuits against technology companies like Facebook by retroactively removing the right of Illinois citizens to sue companies that might have broken the law in the past.

The amendment was lobbied for by Facebook, according to a person involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And it helps to illustrate how from drone aircraft to genetic information and statutes that govern how companies sell consumer information to data miners, tech companies are in a capital to capital fight to keep new laws from being passed or to soften those already on the books.

“The Illinois biometric privacy act is one of the best new privacy laws in the country,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s bad news for consumers when Internet companies start lobbying against good privacy laws.”

(click here to continue reading Tech Companies Take Their Legislative Concerns to the States – The New York Times.)

If the federal government wants to create a database with everyone’s face, no problem. But Facebook, Google or LinkedIn? Not so fast.

For what it is worth, I’d vote that neither Facebook nor the Feds have this kind of information. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

Kodak Professional Film App is A Useful Pocket Guide

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Kodak Cameras and Film
Kodak Cameras and Film

I downloaded the Kodak Professional Film app this afternoon, and for a free app, it has some useful bits: a sunrise/sunset geolocation time calculator, a local processing guide, etc. Worth the price, certainly1

Kodak Professional Film App is a Killer Pocket Guide for Kodak Film Lovers:

The Kodak Professional Film App isn’t new, but it just got a big update that makes it more widely compatible and more useful than it was before.

Using the new and improved app, Kodak film shooters can: get recommendations on what film type would work best for a particular situation, learn about different film formats, search for retail locations that sell Kodak film within 200 miles of you, search for places that will develop the specific Kodak film you’re shooting, find out when the sun is rising and setting at your current location, and, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s even an at-home B&W darkroom processing guide.

(Via PetaPixel)

Footnotes:
  1. free []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 27th, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Business,Photography

Tagged with

Western Digital Has Officially Acquired SanDisk

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Digital imagery, or as some still call it, photography, would not be possible without powerful, fast portable storage devices, such as those made by SanDisk and Western Digital…

Zoey Getting Ready to Vote in the Nature Photo Contest
 

Our New Storage Overlords: Western Digital Has Officially Acquired SanDisk:

Seven months after announcing the planned acquisition and one quarter ahead of schedule, Western Digital has officially acquired SanDisk, “creating a global leader in storage technology.”

In case you weren’t aware of how big of a deal this is (speaking both literally and figuratively), WD is happy to drive home the point in this announcement released May 12th:

The addition of SanDisk makes Western Digital Corporation a comprehensive storage solutions provider with global reach, and an extensive product and technology platform that includes deep expertise in both rotating magnetic storage and non-volatile memory (NVM).

Translation: all hail our new storage overlords.

(Via PetaPixel)

SanDisk 32 GB
SanDisk 32 GB in my Camera

and via Dow Jones:

Western Digital Corp. on Thursday cut its profit projection for the current quarter to reflect higher debt costs tied to its $19 billion acquisition of rival SanDisk Corp. this month.

The Irvine, Calif., disk-drive maker now projects 65 cents to 70 cents a share in adjusted profit for the quarter that ends July 1, compared with its earlier view of $1 to $1.10 a share.

…Western Digital, the largest maker of computer disk drives, is seeking to build on SanDisk’s position in the growing market for flash memory chips used in smartphones and other devices.

On Thursday, Western Digital officials re-iterated during a conference call with analysts that they are ramping up production of 3D flash technology, which is expected to become the mainstream data storage.

(click here to continue reading Western Digital Cuts Quarterly Profit Projection Following SanDisk Acquisition – WSJ.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 27th, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Business,News-esque

Tagged with ,

The Rabbis Are Here to Inspect the (Legal) Weed

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Kosher cannabis? Why not? Every company wants a competitive advantage, a way to stand out in a crowded marketplace that is rapidly becoming more crowded. But being certified kosher is more complex to verify than I thought…

Truck full of Cannabis
Truck full of Cannabis

JOHNSTOWN, N.Y. — The rabbis had never inspected a medical marijuana plant before.

They had arrived here at Vireo Health of New York’s plant, about an hour northwest of Albany, looking for evidence that the company’s products merited kosher certification. They would eventually give their approval, but not before asking some tough questions, beginning in the room where row after row of plants hung upside down to dry.

“This is where they start getting worried,” recalled Ari Hoffnung, the company’s chief executive, because the kosher rules they were most focused on apply after a plant is dried.

Vireo, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, is one of at least two companies aiming to sell kosher medical marijuana products like tinctures or cannabis oil. The Orthodox Union, one of the United States’ most prominent Jewish groups, gave its first medical marijuana certification to Vireo in January. Another company, Cresco Labs in Illinois, is in the final stages of getting certified from a local rabbinical organization.

Smoking marijuana by itself isn’t an issue — at least not from a kosher dietary standpoint — since the rules are intended for food and drinks. Products ingested in some way, on the other hand, are another story.

Ingredients must not come into contact with forbidden foods, like pigs or insects, and the restrictions extend all the way down the supply chain.

Every ingredient in a marijuana brownie, for example, needs to be kosher. The leaves, if eaten, would need to come from a bug-free plant. Marijuana gelcaps cannot be made out of pig gelatin. There are also rules for the equipment that processes kosher food. Vireo’s products that have been certified by the Orthodox Union can have the recognizable “OU” stamp on their packaging, and must submit to periodic inspections from the group’s rabbis.

“We literally took them through every square inch of the facility,” said David Ellis, the executive vice president of operations at Cresco Labs. The Chicago Rabbinical Council visited Cresco in March and said it was in the final stages of issuing a kosher certification that will cover everything from chocolate bars to concentrates.

Representatives of the Orthodox Union and the Chicago Rabbinical Council, which inspected Cresco, said that the idea of kosher medical marijuana had stirred much internal debate, and that they would certify only medical marijuana and not products intended for the recreational market.

Deciding to go forward with the certification process “wasn’t an easy decision,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer at the Orthodox Union’s kosher division.

But Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, the administrator of kosher laws for the Chicago Rabbinical Council, said he now expected to get more calls.

“What I thought would be, you know, maybe I’ll call it an amusing afternoon,” he said about the inspection, “really turned out to be a lot of lessons of Kosher 101.”

(click here to continue reading The Rabbis Are Here to Inspect the (Legal) Weed – The New York Times.)

The Green Doctors Are In
The Green Doctors Are In

Written by Seth Anderson

May 11th, 2016 at 10:14 am

Merchants Chip-Card Headaches

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To Safeguard Wealth Men Established Banks
To Safeguard Wealth Men Established Banks

I’m surprised that merchants haven’t stepped up their transition to chip-cards, especially now that the issuing banks are no longer responsible for fraud. All of our credit cards have chips in them, even some store-issued cards.

For millions of merchants that haven’t yet met the credit-card industry’s deadline for accepting more secure plastic, the bill is coming due.

As of last October, retailers who didn’t make the transition to chip cards are on the hook for counterfeit transactions that used to be covered by card-issuing banks. The costs of the fraud, known in the industry as chargebacks, are starting to stack up.

The credit-card industry and retailers battled for a decade over rolling out chip cards, which are more secure but also require new payment terminals and take more time at checkout. The balance tipped against retailers after a spate of cyberattacks hit major chains such as Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc. and compromised millions of cards.

Target, Home Depot and some other large merchants, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are now processing chip transactions, but there are still plenty that haven’t installed the new equipment and are for the first time facing sizable costs for counterfeit transactions.

Financial institutions have been issuing the new cards to customers for more than a year, but just 22% of retailers are able to process them, according to a survey released last month by Boston Retail Partners. Another 53% of the merchants in the survey planned to install the systems within the next 12 months.

Some of them didn’t want to install the new equipment before the busy holiday shopping season and have been surprised to discover that there is a long wait to get it certified, according to payments executives and merchants.

(click here to continue reading More Chip-Card Headaches, This Time for Merchants – WSJ.)

I wonder if lawyers for various merchants are considering making consumers responsible? Or what really is the hold up? Boggles the mind that only 1/5 of the retailers have converted their credit-card accepting machines. This isn’t a new thing, sprung without warning. The change has occurred over years…

Credit Card Fraud
Credit Card Fraud – all charges eventually reversed by my bank…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 10th, 2016 at 7:58 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with , ,

At Energy-Minded U.S. Hotels, They’ll Turn the Lights Off for You

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Rooms 75 cents
Hotel Rooms 75 cents…

Technology used to reduce energy use – seems like a good idea. Why isn’t this technique being used everywhere?

American hotels have long resisted key cards or other energy-saving systems. Energy was cheap, and hoteliers feared that guests, who routinely left their rooms with the lights and air-conditioner on, would see any check on their energy use as an inconvenience.

Hotel guests “have a feeling that they paid for the space and they can use it freely, and there’s a natural tendency not to be too conscious of their energy use,” said Brian Carberry, a director of product management for Leviton Manufacturing Company, of Melville, N.Y., which makes key card switches and other energy-saving devices for hotels.

But the aversion of hoteliers in the United States is slowly shifting as Americans have become more energy conscious and more states and municipalities have adopted rigorous building codes for energy use.

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, 29 percent of hotels surveyed by the American Hotel and Lodging Association had a sensor system in guest rooms to control the temperature, compared with less than 20 percent in 2004; and more than 75 percent had switched to LED lighting, up from less than 20 percent. Other energy-saving measures had also been more widely adopted.

Energy costs typically represent 4 to 6 percent of a hotel’s overall operating expenses, with the largest share for heating and air-conditioning.

 …

Many major hotels in the United States have digitally controlled thermostats to monitor the temperature in guest rooms, said Pat Maher, a retired Marriott executive who is a consultant to hotels on energy management.

And a growing number, he said, have installed sophisticated systems that sense when a room is occupied. When a hotel guest enters a room, the device allows the temperature to be manually controlled within a certain range — from 60 to 80 degrees, for example — and then sets it back into an energy-saving mode when the room is vacant again.

Mr. Maher said such a system could save a hotel 20 percent or more in energy costs. And many utility companies, he noted, now offer rebates to hotels that have installed digital thermostats and other energy management devices.

(click here to continue reading At Energy-Minded U.S. Hotels, They’ll Turn the Lights Off for You – The New York Times.)

I fail to see the downside to this idea, other than the hotel’s investment in the new technology, but even that seems like it would be recouped sooner than later. Would you really care if the lights were off when you entered your hotel room? And the air-conditioning wasn’t cranked to 63ºF? I wouldn’t. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 10th, 2016 at 7:47 am

Speaker Maker Bowers & Wilkins Sells Out to a Tiny Silicon Valley Startup

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Quickly, one last entry into today’s tech file:

Bowers & Wilkins

Joe Atkins, chief executive officer of Bowers & Wilkins, has owned a majority stake in the half-century-old British speaker business for the last 30 years. On Tuesday, he plans to tell his 1,100 employees that he’s selling it to a tiny company that almost no one has heard of, run by a man he met just 30 days ago. Over the weekend, Atkins reached a sale agreement with Eva Automation, a 40-person Silicon Valley startup that hasn’t yet sold a single product or service. The company was started in 2014 by Gideon Yu, a former Facebook Inc. chief financial officer, ex-venture capitalist, and current co-owner of the San Francisco 49ers. Yu has said little about his startup. According to the company’s website, it is “making products that will change how people interact and think about the home.” About a quarter of its employees have worked at Apple, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Bowers & Wilkins became a household name before speaker companies had to distinguish themselves through Spotify integrations and voice recognition capability. While Bowers & Wilkins does sell speakers designed to accommodate people used to listening to music through their smartphones, Atkins acknowledges that his company lacks the expertise needed to build software that communicates with cloud services. Any company that wants to sell speakers at a significant premium would need to integrate high-end hardware with sophisticated software. Yu plans to begin selling new products that incorporate Eva’s work by early to mid-2017.

(click here to continue reading Speaker Maker Bowers & Wilkins Sells Out to a Tiny Silicon Valley Startup – Bloomberg.)

I have owned three different Bowers & Wilkins headphones: they all still have great sound. I hope these new owners don’t gut the company of what made it great and run it into the ground.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 3rd, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Checking In On Wired’s Ad-Blocking Experiment

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Speaking of privacy and technology, Wired Magazine’s Mark McClusky boasted to Ad Age that everything is going great with their ad blocker gambit.

Ad Blockers - Wired
Ad Blockers – Wired

In early February, Condé Nast’s Wired took a stand against the rise of ad-blocking technology, which was being used on more than 20% of visits to the magazine’s website. It gave ad-blocking Wired readers two options: whitelist Wired.com, allowing ads to be served as intended, or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of the site. “We know that you come to our site primarily to read our content,” Wired said in a note to readers at the time, “but it’s important to be clear that advertising is how we keep WIRED going: paying the writers, editors, designers, engineers, and all the other staff that works so hard to create the stories you read and watch here.”

Nearly three months in, Wired Head of Product and Business Development Mark McClusky pronounced himself pleased with the early returns.

“Overall, it’s going great,” he told Ad Age. “We’ve exceeded sort of our hopes and expectations in terms of the performance.” “The uptake in whitelisting has exceeded our expectation, the subscriptions have gone better than we projected, the abandon rate has been lower than we projected,” he said.

(click here to continue reading Checking In On Wired’s Ad-Blocking Experiment | Media – AdAge.)

Here’s the thing: in general, I support magazines and news organizations desire to stay solvent, in fact going as far as to give subscription dollars to several of them1 including even for a long time, to Wired Magazine. But the print edition of Wired was somewhere around $12 a year – by their new model, they want to charge me $52 a year to read their content. 

OVER THE PAST several years, there’s been a significant increase in the number of people using ad-blocking software in their web browser. We have certainly seen a growth in those numbers here at WIRED, where we do all we can to write vital stories for an audience that’s passionate about the ongoing adventure of our rapidly changing world.

On an average day, more than 20 percent of the traffic to WIRED.com comes from a reader who is blocking our ads. We know that you come to our site primarily to read our content, but it’s important to be clear that advertising is how we keep WIRED going: paying the writers, editors, designers, engineers, and all the other staff that works so hard to create the stories you read and watch here.

We know that there are many reasons for running an ad blocker, from simply wanting a faster, cleaner browsing experience to concerns about security and tracking software. We want to offer you a way to support us while also addressing those concerns.

Therefore, we have restricted access to articles on WIRED.com if you are using an ad blocker.

(click here to continue reading How WIRED Is Going to Handle Ad Blocking | WIRED.)

I happily use Ghostery, which is not strictly an ad blocker, but rather an enhanced cookie blocker. I just went to random Wired.com article, (http://www.wired.com/2016/05/adblock-plus-now-wants-pay-browse-internet/) and these are the trackers that Wired wants to serve me in lieu of my $52 payment:

  • Adobe Audience Manager
  • Adobe TagManager
  • Amazon Associates
  • ChartBeat
  • Disqus
  • Google Adsense
  • Google AdServices
  • Optimizely
  • Parse.ly
  • Pinterest
  • Polar Mobile
  • Rubicon
  • ScoreCard Research 
  • Yieldbot

plus one I keep turned on because I like fonts and appreciate web designers who use specific fonts: 

Typekit by Adobe

In other words, Wired wants me to agree to sell my data to these corporations in exchange for reading an article about Adblock Plus. I don’t know each of these entities, but I’m guessing most2 don’t only report to Wired – they sell the data they’ve accumulated to multiple parties. And they don’t give me any slice of the revenue.

Hmm, on balance, I’ll keep my $52, and I’ll stop clicking through to Wired articles. Sounds fair.

Footnotes:
  1. Tidbits.com, NYT, WSJ, Chicago Tribune, The Nation, Harpers, etc. etc. []
  2. or all []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 3rd, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Tech Tuesday – Part One – Selling Your Own Data

without comments

This sucky blog’s editor1 has assigned Tuesday’s topic as technology. Like all good topics, that’s a bit vague, there are lots of threads that can be collected here. 

Don't Worry - Keep Shopping
Don’t Worry – Keep Shopping…

We’ve discussed the weird state of consumer data many times, where companies such as Acxiom and thousands of others collect every scrap of information about us they possibly can, by whatever method, and then sell it to marketers. Our data, our habits, our propensities, but their profits. Seems like a bum deal, for consumers. 

So when I read the headline on this Fast Company article, I got interested. The headline and sub-head reads:

This Startup Lets Users “Sell” Their Own Shopping Data
InfoScout’s apps sell their users’ shopping data to marketers—and give those users a cut.

but that is not quite truthful. Or at least, InfoScout isn’t selling shopping data in a manner I was hoping. No, they mean that if you willingly give InfoScout information about your shopping trips by photographing/scanning your receipts, they’ll drop a few pennies in your cup now and again. If you are lucky.

San Francisco-based InfoScout offers a set of smartphone apps that lets users snap pictures of shopping receipts in exchange for incentives like credit card-style reward points and sweepstakes entries. The company digitizes the receipts with a mix of optical character recognition and crowdsourced help from services such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

Then it bundles that purchase information into reports it offers to companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, letting them see how consumer preferences evolve over time and how discounts and promotions affect sales.

“Our ability to provide these insights back to the brands in near real time, literally within days, is something they’ve never had before,” claims CEO Jared Schrieber, who cofounded InfoScout in 2011.

Schrieber says that while brands can get some data from programs like supermarket reward card programs, those usually only track customer activity at one particular retail company.

“We’re not trying to change what people buy,” Schrieber says. “We’re just trying to observe it.”

The company says it has collected data on more than 100 million shopping trips and is processing about 300,000 receipts per day. Users can of course choose not to scan receipts that include purchases they find embarrassing, but Schrieber says many just upload every receipt, so the apps gather quite a bit of data about sensitive purchases, such as condoms and feminine hygiene products. Ultimately, what type of purchase information users feel is worth trading for a few cents or a sweepstakes entry is up to them.

Users can participate anonymously or receive additional rewards for linking the app to their Facebook profiles, answering demographic questions, or taking occasional surveys.

(click here to continue reading This Startup Lets Users “Sell” Their Own Shopping Data | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.)

We have no hours. We are always closed
We have no hours. We are always closed…

InfoScout is not even alone in using this model. I recently saw a presentation that included mention of Ibotta– a smartphone app where consumers photograph their receipt and theoretically get future coupons. Or rebates, whatever.

1. Download the App Download the Ibotta app, available on iOS and Android. The app is required to submit a receipt.

2. Unlock Rebates Before you go shopping, unlock cash rewards on great products by completing simple tasks.

3. Go Shopping Buy the products you’ve unlocked at any supported store.

4. Verify Your Purchases Scan your product barcodes, then submit a photo of your receipt.

(click here to continue reading How it Works – Ibotta.com.)

If you jump through the hoops in precisely the correct way, you may get a few pennies. According to some internet complainers, Ibotta mostly uses the small print to avoid paying out.

Complaints like:

I read about IBOTTA on Facebook and decided to try it out. Downloading the app was easy and the instructions were straight forward. Two days ago I wend grocery shopping and decided to use the app for rebates on bread, milk and eggs – all of which were on my shopping list and I was shopping at a listed store. When I returned home I scanned the items as requested by the app and took a picture of the receipt. All items were accepted. Today I received an email stating that my account had been deactivated because of fraud. From what I understand I am being deactivated for taking a picture of the same receipt. Well, duh..I bought the items at the same time, so they would be on the same receipt. No where in the instructions does it say that you have to have a separate receipt for each item purchased. Plus you are going to spend more time sorting out your groceries and paying for each item separately – not worth the money they say they will pay you.

(click here to continue reading Ibotta App Reviews – Legit or Scam?.)

or like:

I downloaded the app and it isn’t terribly hard to figure out. Verified the items and got the approval for receipt. All fine. Now when it comes to actually getting paid, all that happens is a notice on the site saying “working on the site”. Seems everything works that makes them money but nothing works where they pay money.

I am guessing they are out of cash and so just stick this sign up to avoid the real issue.

(click here to continue reading Ibotta App Reviews – Legit or Scam?.)

and many, many more. 

I suppose you’ll have to decide for yourself, is willingly giving corporations intimate shopping data about you and your family worth a few pennies? Your data is much more valuable to them – building smartphone apps and Point-of-Sale and coupon redemption infrastructure is not cheap. A corporation wouldn’t invest millions unless it was worth it to their bottom line.

Not This Store
Not This Store

I’m still waiting for one of the companies that Ghostery tracks to start offering me a real cut of the sale of my data, I’d whitelist their tracking cookie, and they would pay me a percentage every month. Ha! Zero is a percent…

Footnotes:
  1. me []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 3rd, 2016 at 9:11 am