The workplace of the future tracks your every move, whether you like it or not

Why it matters to you

Biometrics are quickly entering the workplace but are they collecting invasive information?

Access control is nothing new in the office world, where keys slowly migrated over to smart key cards. However, several new startups now aim to give employers a more vivid picture of their office environment by tracking everything their employees do — save for visiting the restroom — via smart sensors and new technologies.

One of the most sophisticated companies in this brave new world is Enlighted, an IoT company whose goal is no less than “redefining smart buildings.” At the heart of Enlightened’s monitoring system are its smart sensors which collect a vast amount of information about the environment and issues reports in real-time. The dime-sized sensors, which owners install via lighting, computers, or a building’s HVAC system, detect motion, daylight, and energy use.

Part of Enlightened’s software

Taking smart sensors to yet another level is the five-year-old startup Humanyze, an MIT spinoff that aims to overlay biometric analysis and analytics over the traditional employee badge technology.

Humanyze badges look like traditional employee identification badges but they’re much more robust. The company equipped these bad boys with not just radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communications (NFC) sensors — of which libraries and the retail industry already widely use — but it also on-boards the badges with Bluetooth, an infrared detector capable of tracking face-to-face interactions, an accelerometer, and two microphones.

More: Biometric authentication may soon be only a heartbeat away

The badges link up with beacons placed around the office to detect where an employee is at any one time. The microphones, on the other hand, creep frighteningly close to Big Brother territory but they don’t have the ability to record conversations. Instead, the mics measure tone, volume, and speed, along with potentially monitoring stress. The data processes in real time and delivers directly to managers in the form of an aggregated, anonymized view of their teams.

Naturally, in the age of massive intelligence-gathering scandals, one might expect some worries about privacy, risk, and legality. Legally speaking, employers have the option of performing any kind of monitoring in the workplace as long as they inform employees and don’t put cameras in the bathroom. But what’s more surprising are the attitudes of the tracked employees.

Some employers now track their employees every move

Pollfish surveyed 1,000 employees last year and found radical differences in opinion depending on whether they thought their employers tracked them or not. Of the employees untracked with GPS at work, only 16 percent had a positive opinion of this type of technology, while 38 percent held a negative opinion. Meanwhile, 54 percent of employees tracked with GPS at work held a positive opinion, while only 5 percent had a negative opinion.

Despite the concerns of employees, many human resources experts say employee monitoring offers benefits to both employers and employees, particularly at companies with mobile employees like construction companies, service providers, or health and safety professionals. These benefits range from accounting for employees in emergency situations to protecting employees and employers from unfounded complaints.

Although biometric monitoring of employees remains a growing trend, the widespread use of these new technologies remains rare due to privacy and legal concerns. Privacy issues prevent many companies from instituting biometric IDs simply because — like anything else — they pose a hacking risk, too.

7 reasons why Facebook will autoplay sound despite complaints


If you’re freaking out about Facebook starting to autoplay videos with sound by default, at least it won’t pause or play on top of music you’re already listening to through apps like Spotify. Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch today that sound will not autoplay on Facebook videos if you’re already listening to something on your device. You’ll have to tap the sound icon to toggle audio on or tap to make the video full-screen, both of which will pause your other music app.

Some users are sure to be annoyed by the change to autoplaying audio in the News Feed that Facebook announced yesterday. It could lead them to inadvertently blast sound from their phones while in public. That might lead to embarrassing situations, with users getting caught trying to browse Facebook on the sly during work, class, dinner or a conversation. Luckily, those who hate it can turn off autoplay sound in their Facebook settings.

But there are a number of reasons why Facebook would want to do this, surrounding a central theme: Video is the future of Facebook, and it will clear any obstacles to making this content more watchable.

  1. One simple switch – Facebook is essentially deferring audio control to your device’s physical mute switch, which in some ways makes audio less confusing than having to properly configure both the switch and the toggle on each video. Somewhere you can’t be loud? Keep your whole phone on vibrate.
  2. Testers liked it – Facebook said initial tests received positive feedback. It wouldn’t be worth defaulting audio on if it decreased usage of the app, so the change might sound worse than the actual experience.
  3. Snapchat’s doing it – Facebook’s biggest competitor, Snapchat, already leaves sound on by default, which has made it a favorite place both for people to watch videos and businesses to buy video ads.
  4. Video advertisers – Speaking of which, audio is critical to driving an emotional reaction to an advertisement. Snap says more than 60 percent of its video ads are watched with the sound on already. Video ads are emerging as one of Facebook’s biggest money-makers, and as it maxes out ad load this year and doesn’t have space to cram in more, it needs to make each video ad more memorable.
  5. Reduce need for subtitles – Professional publishers now often slap flashy, stylized subtitles on all their Facebook videos to make them understandable with the sound off. That can both be distracting from the visuals, but also isn’t something normal people can do to their clips. User-generated video thereby becomes a second-class citizen, conflicting with Facebook’s goal to put “friends and family first.”
  6. Potential for video soundtracks – Facebook is pushing harder in negotiations with record labels to strike a licensing deal to allow users to include copyrighted music as the soundtracks to their videos. This would prevent annoying copyright infringement take-downs, and make boring stick-your-phone-out-and-pan clips more like epic music videos.
  7. Adapting to wireless earbuds – Apple’s AirPods are great, and wireless earbuds you can leave in throughout the day will continue to rise in popularity. That will allow more people to watch Facebook videos with the sound on, even in public.

Will some users get pissed off? Sure. But Facebook is making a calculated bet that these benefits outweigh the complaints of a vocal minority. Remember, people protested the News Feed’s launch before it became Facebook’s most popular product.

Toshiba Plunges on Massive Nuclear Writedown, Earnings Delay

Toshiba shares fell 8 percent on Tuesday as the company took a US$6.3 billion writedown related to its struggling nuclear power business and delayed the release of its fiscal third-quarter earnings.

Toshiba Plunges on Massive Nuclear Writedown, Earnings Delay

Shigenori Shiga, Toshiba’s chairman and representative executive officer, resigned effective Wednesday, the company said. His resignation in part reflects management taking responsibility for the loss of goodwill and the impairment related to Westinghouse’s acquisition of CB&I Stone & Webster from the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. N.V.

Shiga will remain an executive officer of the firm until the June shareholders meeting and will focus on resolving issues related to Westinghouse.

Nuclear Meltdown

Westinghouse, which was acquired by Toshiba in 2006, acquired CB&I Stone & Webster in 2015 for $229 million. CB&I Stone & Webster was involved in construction at two U.S. nuclear facilities — the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Georgia, and the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station, near Jenkinsville, South Carolina — plagued by long delays and massive cost overruns.

“For future projects, Westinghouse will seek out qualified companies for the construction scope of new plant projects, as we have done in the past, with Westinghouse offering engineering and procurement services,” Sarah Cassella, spokesperson for Westinghouse Electric Co., told the E-Commerce Times.

Regulators have approved Toshiba’s request to delay the submission of its fiscal third quarter earnings report, for the quarter ending December 31, until March 14, as the purchase price allocation process for Westinghouse’s acquisition of CB&I Stone & Webster was found to be inadequate.

Toshiba’s audit committee hired the law firm of Nishimura & Asahi, while Westinghouse hired the firm of K&L Gates to assist in the process.

Westinghouse managers late last month expressed concern that senior management was exerting pressure on the PPA process, Toshiba said.

Lawyers from both firms have been conducting interviews.

Down Ballot Effect

The problems at the nuclear facilities will create long-term pressure on Toshiba’s electronics and computer businesses, suggested Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“With the energy group accounting for the largest portion of Toshiba’s revenues, this has a potential impact on all other segments, including electronic devices and components,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Toshiba likely will have to sell or spin off other business units, McGregor said, noting that the company already is planning to shed its flash memory business.

“The problems at Toshiba could eventually lead to the breakup of the company completely,” he remarked.

“At this time, we are aware of the situation, but we have nothing to act on,” said Bill Edge, spokesperson for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

The commission expects Georgia Power to file its next construction monitoring report on the Vogtle plant by the end of February, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Hearings are held on the progress of the project every six months.


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Dutch town installs LED pavement strips to alert distracted smartphone users

Why it matters to you

If pedestrian safety systems like these are adopted worldwide, they could one day save your life.

A Dutch town believes it may have figured out a solution to the problem of pedestrians distracted by their smartphones. Officials in Bodegraven, Netherlands are now running trials of LED strips embedded into sidewalks near intersections that notify walkers of whether it is safe to cross.

The system, developed by local firm HIG Traffic Systems, is connected directly to traffic lights and shifts from red to green to signal pedestrians who are looking down at their devices of when they may safely walk. Named “+Lichtlijn,” or +Lightline, the proposal ran into some opposition from the country’s road safety organization, VVN. According to DutchNews, a VVN spokesman decried the idea as a reward for unsafe behavior.

More: Australia installing pavement traffic lights to alert distracted mobile addicts

Since the rise of smartphones, pedestrian safety has become an area of increasing concern around the world. The National Safety Council reports that distracted walking incidents involving phones accounted for more than 11,000 injuries in the United States between 2000 and 2011, and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates injuries to pedestrians have more than doubled since 2004.

While surveys indicate smartphone users are well aware of the dangers of distraction, the AAOS found that one of the key issues might be people’s overconfidence in their ability to multitask. If pedestrians’ behaviors aren’t changing for the better, programs like Bodegraven’s might be the answer. If the trial goes well, HIG might shop the technology around to other towns.

The AAOS reports that a recent study of 20 high-risk intersections in Seattle found that pedestrians who were texting while crossing took roughly two seconds longer on average to get through compared to those who weren’t distracted. What’s more, those who texted were found to be four times more likely to commit at least one “unsafe crossing behavior,” such as not looking both ways or disregarding traffic signals.

While millennials aged 18 to 34 were the least likely to be injured, according to the AAOS survey, the group reported the most distracted walking incidents of any demographic. Meanwhile, women aged 55 and older experienced the greatest number of serious injuries.

Of course, no matter who you are, using a phone on the move has been found to significantly impact walking pattern, speed, and gait. Between the expanding capabilities of smartphones and the litany of new wearable devices that have come along in recent years, pedestrians stand at greater risk than ever before. Initiatives like these remind us the importance of staying alert.

BlackBerry files suit against Nokia in a battle of once mighty smartphone brands


BlackBerry suing Nokia is 2017 is a bit like the secret Rocky/Apollo Creed fight in Rocky III revealed in 2015’s Creed – two once mighty champions doing battle one more time, with a heck of lot fewer people looking on. Also, there are a couple of series reboots in the works.

A lot has changed since the once mighty phone makers glory days. These days both have moved away from making their own handsets, licensing their names to third-parties looking to capitalize on any cachet left in the brand. One thing that never gets old, though, is patent suits – and while neither company may be all in on mobile the way they once were, there’s still plenty to sue about.

In a suit by BlackBerry filed on Valentine’s Day with a federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, the Canadian company alleges Nokia of infringing on 11 patents, across a wide range of mobile networking products.

From the suit,

Nokia encourages and instructs customers, mobile service providers such as T-Mobile and AT&T, to purchase, deploy and use infringing products to develop and operate their LTE networks and UMTS networks.

The suit doesn’t go so far as seeking to block use of its patents, instead looking to collect on damages related to the royalty fees it charges for licenses on the technologies – some of which were acquired through purchase from Nortel, after that company went bankrupt.

According to BlackBerry’s filing, Nokia attempted to buy them directly from Nortel a few years prior. BlackBerry has declined to comment further on the suit.

Featured Image: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Review: Panasonic Countertop Induction Oven

Panasonic gave a splashy introduction to its Countertop Induction Oven at this year’s CES, promising to get tasty dinners on the table in record time by blasting them with impressive-sounding technology.

Panasonic Countertop Induction Oven

4/10

Wired

Intriguing use of induction heat to power an oven that fits on your countertop.

Tired

It’s tiny, it costs $600, and it’s not the time-saver Panasonic wants you to think it is. Recipes in the cookbook are inscrutable and under-researched.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

This oven, aka the CIO, pairs an induction burner—which uses an electromagnet to heat a pan on the oven floor—with more traditional infrared burners up top. At $600, the CIO is very pricey, but I’ve got a soft spot for induction burners, usually in the form of a stovetop or standalone plug-in burner, and the whole idea sounded like it had potential.

The oven arrived with a slim hardcover cookbook with “recipes created for Panasonic by the Certified Master Chefs of The Culinary Institute of America.” I flipped through it to see where to start. I quickly found a recipe for “Tandoori Lamb” and marveled that the Panasonic and a renowned cooking school would dare to go toe-to-toe with a traditional heat-blasting tandoor oven.

That was the high point of my enthusiasm for Panasonic’s little oven. I pulled it out of the box, set it on my counter and thought, “Wow! That’s small.” With its own removable grill pan tucked inside, the interior cavity is even smaller; while it is roughly a foot wide and a foot deep, a respectable footprint, the full height is a scant four inches—less than the width of my hand. There would be no whole roast chicken happening in this oven.

Weight a Minute

I cubed some leg of lamb, opened my spice drawer, and got stuck. The recipe called for cardamom, coriander, and cumin, which sounded great as part of a marinade, but neglected to mention if they were whole or ground. Another flag shot up right away when it called for the quantities of those ingredients as tablespoon of cardamom, three teaspoons of coriander and a half-ounce of cayenne.

Kitchen-phobes might not get tripped up on the weirdness of a tablespoon versus three teaspoons (they’re the same amount), but they’d certainly pause when confronted with a weight measure for the cayenne. Recipe writers and testers like myself cringe at this sort of confusion as it’s the equivalent of a sentence using three languages to get a point across. Normally, I wouldn’t fixate on something like this, but if you’re offering a new way to cook and flying the flag of innovation, you need to offer enough crystal-clear examples that home cooks feel confident when they start using the oven to cook their own recipes.

Lack of this sort of content is a perennial Achilles’ heel for manufacturers. With a slim and seemingly unedited cookbook combined with a collaboration with allrecipes.com, which, as I write this, features a total of four recipes by the likes of CoOkInGnUt, Chef Mo, and Cliff G, there’s a lot to be desired. No offense to those contributors, but Panasonic needs to provide more of a foundation than a half-baked cookbook before farming it out to the Allrecipes community.

NUHX100Sdooropen5.jpg

Bringing the Heat

I winged it with those lamb spices, mixed them with yogurt and the cubes of meat, let it all marinate, then drained it, set the pieces on the grill pan, slid it into the oven, and dialed in Combo 1 for 20 minutes. The combos create different top/bottom heat settings that cater to what you’re cooking. It’s interesting, but Panasonic seems to like the culinarily unsound idea that you can load up the grill pan and pop it in the cold oven in an effort to streamline the dinner-making process. It counts on the typically speedy induction burner to heat up quickly, but fans of things like browning and searing should raise an eyebrow here. Similarly, Panasonic touts the oven’s tight seal, pushing the idea that it’s a bit of a steam oven, and while that can be a good thing when you’re baking bread, you pay for it when you want grill marks. This played out repeatedly in my tests.

Once the 20 minutes were up, I pulled out a tray full of gray lamb cubes. They were cooked through, but didn’t look appetizing. I poured the accumulated drippings onto some rice I’d made (an awkward maneuver, as the grill pan is hot, heavy, and not made for pouring out those yummy pan juices), then turned the grill function up to high and got a bit of a sear. It made for a nice dinner.

The next day, I tried pushing those grilling capabilities, pitting the Panasonic’s grill pan against a cast iron pan on my own stove, searing slabs of pork shoulder that I would later cut into cubes for a chili. The first thing I noticed was how long it took the Panasonic to bring the grill pan up to temp; a full 10 minutes, which is surprising considering that heating quickly is one of its stated strong points. My cast iron pan got smoking hot in less than half that time, searing each side of the pork quickly while leaving the center of each slab uncooked.

The Panasonic fared poorly here, made worse by the “feature” of having only an eight-inch circle in the center of its square-foot cooking area directly over the induction element (the heating element doesn’t take up the whole oven floor). That circle, which makes up less than half of the cooking area, is called the “high power area” and is like having a big pan on a small stove burner. Even in the high-power area, though, searing was wimpy. Meanwhile, that steamy heat in the oven gave the top of the pork cuts an unattractive gray pall. Fearing for my chili, I declared the fight over and finished the searing on my cast iron.

Head to Head

At this point, it felt like the best thing to do would be to try what appears to be the oven’s signature recipe, the “Family Chicken Dinner” that graces the CIO cookbook’s cover and is the first recipe in the book, essentially seasoned chicken pieces surrounded by roast veggies. There’s a picture of some leg quarters snugged up against some breasts on the grill pan in the cookbook, but the recipe doesn’t call for leg quarters, it calls for skin-on, bone-in breasts. I stuck with what was written.

The Panasonic’s small oven size necessitates breaking something like a whole chicken down into smaller pieces just to get it in the door. To have everything ready at the same time the chicken’s done, the vegetables get chopped into a half-inch dice; It’s clever cooking—“Hey it all cooks for the same amount of time in just one pan!”—but it felt like culinary sleight of hand, crediting the machine for the quick cooking, instead of the tiny dice.

I tested how long the recommended Auto Cook function would take for two pounds of chicken, which turned out to be 23 minutes and 30 seconds. (Heads up here for families and fans of leftovers, two pounds is the most you can do on Auto Cook.) The function certainly has potential, as it’s a programmed cook, so this recipe’s case, Auto Cook starts with induction from below and finishes with induction and the broiler elements.

That said, 23 minutes isn’t breakneck speed for a broken-down bird. Google “roast chicken in eight pieces” and you’ll find a host of all-in-one recipes that can be done in a half hour. Panasonic might tout that the CIO’s cook time includes a cold start, but the time it takes to dice vegetables and peel baby onions is plenty of time for a regular oven to come up to temp.

I kept up with the head-to-head theme, cooking the “Family Dinner” from the Panasonic cookbook and The New York Times‘ Greek-style chicken in my oven. The NYT recipe spreads the chicken parts across a sheet pan next to cherry tomatoes, garlic cloves and olives.

Thrown off by those leg quarter photos in the Panasonic cookbook, I’d bought two whole birds, so I took the extra legs and thighs, along with some potatoes that didn’t fit on the Panasonic pan, and expanded the Greek recipe to two sheet pans in my home oven.

For the Birds

While I prepped both recipes, I got confused by Panasonic’s first-step suggestion of “making some cuts on the skinless side of the chicken breast” to “allow the seasoning to penetrate faster and deeper.” Where, exactly, is the skinless side of a bone-in, skin on breast that the recipe calls for? Did the Culinary Institute of America just phone in the project? Was there a recipe tester for Panasonic? How about an editor? It began to feel like they were throwing around buzzwords like induction, infrared, and faster in hopes we might not notice that the oven isn’t as miraculous as it sounds.

I peered at the bird on the sheet pans in my home oven and it looked good, the chicken skin beginning to render, bubble, brown, and crisp. Inside the Panasonic, steam began rolling down the window. Still, they both looked good.

Both ovens finished within minutes of each other, but there was distinctly less browning on the bird pieces in the Panasonic and the skin was still thick and springier than I wanted. I switched it over to broil and let it brown for a few more minutes, which worked out well, but any time savings at this point were moot.

I put out dinner for my wife Elisabeth and I, setting the Greek chicken on a serving plate alongside the tomatoes and olives, and used a rubber spatula to squeegee pan juices to pour over it all. When I went to do something similar for the CIO’s Family Dinner, I discovered that along with no good way to pour out the juices, getting the tiny, cubed-up veggies out of the heavy grill pan was no fun at all.

At the table, I couldn’t help but notice how much Elisabeth preferred the traditional oven bird, referring to it more than once as “the moist one.” Admittedly, this could have happened during the extra time while I was crisping up the skin, or it could have come from the intense heat thrown at it by the oven.

Short Order

As we ate, we tried to envision the target audience for this Panasonic’s countertop oven. The company’s reps say it’s for working single people, or health-conscious families, but we struggled with that idea. Something like this could make sense in a tiny apartment, but tiny apartments tend to come with tiny budgets (they also tend to come with ovens, for that matter), and if so, where’s the money come from for a $600 countertop oven?

Considering that price, I did some steaming of my own. A full-sized, well-rated gas or electric range can be found for about $600, a powerful plug-in induction burner can be had for just $90, and a great toaster oven for $150. In my mind, the math just didn’t work.

That phoned-in feeling became pervasive. There were other recipes to try—stuffed trout, something called “Shrimp in Silver ‘Purses,’” “Adult Macaroni and Cheese” (whatever those last two are), and, apparently, a toast function with Balmuda-like water pockets to take full advantage of the steam function. But I finished the last bites of “the moist one,” got up from the dinner table and put the Panasonic back in the box. I could have done more, but I ran out of steam.

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Snapchat users are ignoring media outlets and ads on the app, survey reveals

Why it matters to you

Despite Snapchat’s efforts to add more news publishers and ads to its platform, this is exactly the type of content its users are not interested in seeing.

Snapchat publishers are having a hard time finding an audience for their content, according to a new survey from customer acquisition firm Fluent.

Despite the fact that Snapchat is home to traditional media outlets such as CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, its users are not seeking out news on the app. Overall, 61 percent of the 3,327 American adults surveyed by Fluent said they did not follow a news organization on Snapchat.

More: Musical.ly launches another video-centric app in the form of Ping Pong

There wasn’t much love for sports publishers either, with 50 percent of respondents claiming they don’t follow the likes of ESPN, NBA, or NFL on the app. An even larger portion (57 percent) said they shun entertainment brands such as The Daily Mail and E! The stats do not reflect Snapchat’s Discover section devoted to its media partners.

Just as worrying for the company is the revelation that people are skipping adds on its app. The survey claims that 69 percent of its respondents said they “always” or “often” skip adds on Snapchat. That number spikes to 80 percent for the app’s biggest demographic: 18-24 year olds. Despite touting that age group as a “big advertising opportunity” for marketers in its IPO filing, it seems younger users are not interested in watching promotional content on the platform. Snapchat earns the majority of its revenue (which totaled $404.5 million in 2016) from ads, including full-screen Snap ads and sponsored lenses and filters.

Fluent CMO Jordan Cohen told Digiday the following about user behavior on the app: “I asked lots of millennials this question. It’s really about exclusive short, fun content. In addition to communicating with friends, they follow celebrities. They don’t really engage with ads or mainstream news outlets.”

The statistics do not bode well for the company, which is busy trying to diversify its user base and increase ads on its platform before it goes public in March.

Lytro pursues 360-degree video and cinematic tools with $60M Series D


Ever-shifting camera tech company Lytro has raised major cash to continue development and deployment of its cinema-level camera systems. Perhaps the company’s core technology, “light field photography” that captures rich depth data, will be put to better use there than it was in the ill-fated consumer offerings.

“We believe we have the opportunity to be the company that defines the production pipeline, technologies and quality standards for an entire next generation of content,” wrote CEO Jason Rosenthal in a blog post.

Just what constitutes that next generation is rather up in the air right now, but Lytro feels sure that 360-degree 3D video will be a major part of it. That’s the reason it created its Immerge capture system — and then totally re-engineered it from a spherical lens setup to a planar one. You can see the old system below and the new one up top.  (Note: it’s man-sized.)

immerge

The $60M round was led by Blue Pool Capital, with participation from EDBI, Foxconn, Huayi Brothers and Barry Sternlicht. “We believe that Asia in general and China in particular represent hugely important markets for VR and cinematic content over the next five years,” Rosenthal said in a statement.

It’s a hell of a lot of money, more even than the $50M round the company raised to develop its original consumer camera — which flopped. Its Illum follow-up camera, aimed at more serious photographers, also flopped. Both were innovative technologically but expensive and their use cases questionable.

Undaunted, Lytro raised its sights once again and is now taking aim at the digital cinema production world. The Immerge got its first serious on-set test in a production by Chris Milk, VR and film pioneer, the company announced.

But I’m skeptical of 360 3D, even when the content is compelling. Far more interesting to me is Lytro Cinema, a camera the size of a fallen tree meant to be a replacement for green screen setups.

dof

The idea, as we described in detail last year, is to make the widely used color keying process obsolete. Instead of excluding the green parts of the image, creators could simply exclude any part of the image past an arbitrary distance as measured by the light field process. It could change studio shoots in a very serious way and I think makes much more sense to invest in.

A Lytro representative indicated that the funding would be used both to advance both these major R&D projects and to support studios and creators looking to put them to use.

This is the real reason Apple’s senior leadership lacks diversity

Apple should be working faster. Not on building the next iPhone, or even creating the next hit TV show, but rather, on increasing the diversity at the company. 

That’s what a small group of shareholders, led by vocal investor Tony Maldonado, have been pushing. Later this month, Apple shareholders will vote on a proposal to increase the diversity of executives and board members through an “accelerated recruitment policy.” 

Apple’s advised shareholders to vote against the new proposal, stating that it has programs to address the issue throughout the company. 

But one point that Apple doesn’t emphasize—and one reason for its current lack of diversity at the top—is how hiring works within Apple. To become a senior-level VP or a C-suite exec at Apple, you most likely have worked at the company for decades. And decades ago, diversity hiring practices weren’t nearly as important or scrutinized as they are right now. Therefore, if you have seniority at Apple, odds are, you’re a white male.

Image: apple

And Maldonado’s specific accusation is, uh, spot-on: Apple’s senior leadership? All-white. 

It isn’t the first time the call’s been made. A similar proposal was considered at Apple’s 2016 shareholders’ meeting, and received 5.1 percent of the vote—not enough to be accepted but enough to be reconsidered. 

“Tim Cook was very defensive, and he presented the two back people on their leadership—but not senior leadership—as a sign of their diversity,” Maldonado told The Verge. “Personally, I took it as an insult. They were put on the spotlight as ‘here’s tokenism,’ and he didn’t seem to accept that.”

Out of the 11 people who in a C-level position or a senior vice president, all are white, and there’s only one woman. 

Apple’s board of directors has eight members. Two are female. One of those women is Asian, and the other’s white. One member, James A. Bell, is a black man. The other five members, or 62.5 percent, are white men. 

“Apple has rarely ever had many people of ethnic or racial diversity within their board or senior leadership,” he told The Verge. For a 40-year-old company “that’s laughable. That’s racism plain and simple. That’s all it is. There has to be plenty of people with sufficient qualifications.”

Maldonado does have point. There are definitely people in this world with sufficient qualifications who could serve on Apple’s leadership. But a reason for why diversity is low among those top ranks relates how Apple’s senior hiring process works. 

The vast majority of Apple’s senior leadership positions are made via promotions at the company, rather than external hires. Let’s look deeper: 

Tim Cook, CEO* — 1998, joined as SVP of operations

Angela Ahrendts* — 2014, joined as SVP of retail

Eddy Cue — 1989, content stores 

Craig Federigh — 1996, from NeXt 

Jonathan Ive — 1992, designer 

Luca Maestri — 2013, control controller and vice president of finance  

Dan Riccio — 1998, VP of product design 

Philip W. Schiller — 1987, marketing 

Bruce Sewell* — 2009, joined as general counsel 

Johny Srouji — 2008, senior director of handheld chips

Jeff Williams — 1998, head of worldwide procurement 

So, three of Apple’s 11 members of senior leadership joined at that level. 

Things look slightly better when you take a step down the ladder:

Image: apple

Apple’s seven VPs include two women, both of which also bring underrepresented minority representation to the team. 

If Apple sticks to its habit of promoting from within, the diversity picture at the top of the company might soon start shaping up. And it’s true: Apple’s diversity numbers  are actually some of the best in the tech industry, especially when you look at the percent of new hires who are women and underrepresented minorities. 

Apple reported 32 percent of its current employees are women, 9 percent are black and 12 percent are Hispanic and over the last year 54 percent of new hires are minorities:

Image: apple

Meanwhile, there are other tech companies that refuse to release any data on diversity, whether it be hires or current employee count. 

Snapchat soon to become a publicly-traded company has not shared any diversity statistics about its 1,859 employees. Uber has more than 9,000 office employees and has not met diversity advocate Jesse Jackson’s request for a report by mid-February.

Mulberrys is an on-demand laundry startup hoping to clean up where others have washed out


On-demand laundry has proven a tough business for some. Washio folded up its business last year, selling its assets into competitor Rinse. At the time Rinse’s founder Ajay Prakash told TechCrunch the on-demand model wasn’t the most efficient or economical way to handle the dirty business of cleaning clothes.

But now Mulberrys, a new cleaning competitor in the Bay Area, hopes to prove him wrong by mixing old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores with an on-demand platform.

Mulberrys just launched out of beta this week with 10 physical locations and a fleet of drivers to serve the city of San Francisco, but it’s been up and operating in Minneapolis for the last few years.

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Founder Dan Miller started the business as a McKinsey consultant but soon left to go to the School of Drycleaning Technology to learn how to press all those fancy suits he’d been wearing up to that point.

“I was consistently amazed by how far behind the dry cleaning and laundry industry was from what you’d think of as just modern best practices. A lot of dry cleaners don’t even have a website,” Miller said.

He soon built himself a more modernized operation but with a twist. Mulberrys offers dry cleaning on top of laundry service and Miller’s business controls the pipeline from pickup service to cleaning and delivery. All cleaning is done in-house and workers are employees, not contractors.

This may have been where Washio fumbled as there is a high cost in turnover and retention of third-party workers in the on-demand space. We should point out Rinse also hires within rather than trying to recruit contractors.

Miller is to a point now where, along with the Silicon Valley rollout, he’s looking to raise some smart money for his startup — to the tune of around $20 million. He might have a good shot at convincing investors. Unlike a lot of other startups in Silicon Valley, Miller says his business didn’t take VC dollars. It’s been profitable for years. According to Miller, maintaining control over every aspect of the business has helped to increase Mulberrys margins while providing a seamless customer experience.

Mulberrys works like a lot of other laundry startups. You pick a day and time for laundry pick-up and a Mulberrys worker comes to take it, cleans it and hands it back to you usually within the same day. But, unlike Rinse, you can get a Mulberrys driver to pick up your laundry morning or night, not just within a two-hour evening window.

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So how does that experience actually fare? I tested it out while it was in beta. There were a few kinks, as to be expected. The driver tried to pick up my laundry twice in one day and the app didn’t have the day I wanted for my area. But all of that seems to have been solved with the launch this week. You can choose any day or time for pick up in your zip code now.

They also dry cleaned a purple blouse for me, getting most, but not all, of the oil stain out. The Mulberrys delivery person explained to me she’d be able to get all of it out if they had another day but that next day was impossible. Though she did readily offer to clean it again for free to get the job done.

Miller also points out his cleaning business uses environmentally friendly cleaning products. And each bag of laundry you submit goes through a 10-point inspection process so you shouldn’t find any…odd…items in your bag when it’s delivered back to you.

Will this one make it? Mulberrys will have to compete with at least one other service in the Bay Area for now, but there seems to be plenty of tech workers willing to pay for someone else to do the cooking, cleaning and washing of clothes for them at the click of a button in SF.