31 January 2014

Russia for the day

Slate has an article by Alec Luhn about the Olympics:
On a freezing afternoon in Moscow, two men in sheepskin hats and blue uniforms step into the cold without so much as a shiver. “For us, this is normal weather,” says Vladimir Samokhvalov (photo, left), shrugging off the minus-eight-degree temperature even as icy droplets form on the lower edges of his mustache. “When Hitler was attacking Moscow, the temperature was minus forty.”
The two men are Cossacks, the fierce warriors of Russian lore who were, among other things, noted supporters of Slavic hegemony and czarist rule. Later, in the Soviet era, they suffered mass deportations, deaths, and famine. In President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Cossacks are being repurposed as enforcers of neighborhood law and order and, more broadly, as embodiments of a xenophobic brand of patriotism. And they are about to get an international audience: during the Sochi Olympics, which begin on 7 February 2014, more than eight hundred Cossacks will be patrolling the city, including the Olympic Village, around the clock.
Cossack justice already exists in Moscow: Samokhvalov and his companion, Igor Petrunin, (photo, right), keep a volunteer watch several days a week over the neighborhood of Lyublino in southeast Moscow, as members of the local Southeast District Cossack Organization. Samokhvalov says his secret for withstanding the cold is a high-calorie breakfast of salo—salted pig fat— and potatoes, but his companion, Igor Petrunin, suggests the pair is simply hardened to the deep freeze. For Cossack patrolmen, bitter cold comes with the job.
Residents and shopkeepers in Lyublino credit the Cossacks with the decline of illegal street merchants. They’ve also put a stop to double parking or people pulling their cars onto sidewalks. But rising cooperation between these groups and state law enforcement has raised concern among human rights activists about vigilante justice. Cossacks have earned a reputation as a conservative “morality police”— a term embraced by many of these bearded patrolmen— conducting raids on art exhibits they consider indecent, and breaking up LGBT rallies. Other members of the Southeast District Cossack Organization even staged an “operation” with a pro-Kremlin television channel to catch US ambassador Michael McFaul when he met with a local human rights activist. The Cossack who organized the ambush, Vasily Solovyov, said it was to smear McFaul for talking with the “lying leaders” of Russia's political opposition.
For centuries, Cossacks fascinated Russia’s popular imagination with their warrior code, frontier existence, and high degree of self-rule, inspiring many works of art and literature. These include Nikolai Gogol’s popular tale Taras Bulba and Ilya Repin’s celebrated painting Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, which shows mustachioed warriors joyfully hooting as they considered which vulgarities to include in a 1676 letter to an Ottoman sultan.
Starting in the sixteenth century, Cossack cavalrymen settled and secured Russia’s borderlands, expanding the Czar’s domain south through the Caucasus Mountains and east to the Pacific. But they also practiced a relatively democratic form of self-governance, voting for their leaders at warrior gatherings, and leading a number of bloody rebellions against czarist forces. After the last of these great uprisings was crushed in the late eighteenth century, they became a more reliable military caste in service of the Czar. Many of them fiercely fought the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war, but lost, setting the stage for their widescale disbandment during the early Soviet era.
The 2010 census, which counted Cossacks as a distinct ethnic group, found 68,000 of them nationwide, but many more Russians likely have Cossack ancestry. According to Sergei Shishkin, boisterous leader of the Southeast District Cossack Organization and a municipal deputy, there are actually seven to eleven million in Russia, including a thousand registered Cossacks in Moscow. Cossack groups now seek a greater role in law enforcement, and more funding for cultural and military education programs, he says. Some are even running military prep schools for kids. “We have few powers for now, but people listen to us because they trust us. A person in uniform disciplines not just himself but also others.”
Cossacks typically patrol unarmed, and they are only allowed to stop a crime in progress, alert police, or hold a suspect until the authorities arrive. But Shishkin wants to expand his organization’s activities. Already they have a volunteer fire brigade with one truck and ten firefighters. The Cossacks also undergo periodic training with state security services, including the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, and soon they will begin conducting raids with immigration authorities, he says.
In Krasnodar territory, which includes Sochi, a thousand Cossacks have been patrolling alongside police officers since the end of 2012. Unlike Cossack volunteers in Moscow, they receive a monthly government salary of $630 to $710, a respectable wage by local standards. In a speech announcing his expansion of Cossack duties, Governor Alexander Tkachyov, regional governor of Krasnodar territory and who is himself a Cossack colonel, told police, “What you can’t do, a Cossack can.” Asked what he thought Tkachyov meant, Shishkin waved the question off, then said that only Cossacks “can make a person realize the truth with words.”
Some local Cossacks seem to have taken the exhortations of the governor— who has accused a neighboring province of failing to serve as an ethnic “filter” by keeping out people from the Caucasus region— a bit further. According to Semyon Simonov, who as coordinator of the Migration and Law Network defends the rights of Sochi’s migrant workers, Cossacks have played a leading role in nationalist rallies, and have conducted raids on construction sites where they check migrant workers' documents, but often seem more bent on “humiliating” them. In the Krasnodar territory, 270 Cossacks serve in special brigades to patrol for illegal immigrants and have reportedly nabbed hundreds.
Simonov questions why one particular ethnic group should be given a special role in law enforcement, especially without much of the training and responsibility that comes with police work.
Many of the Moscow Cossacks are unrepentant about their conservative political views and consider it their duty to promote patriotism, Russian Orthodoxy, and a “strong government”. The rise of the Cossacks has coincided with Putin's own growing emphasis on “traditional values” in the face of foreign cultural influences. In December of 2013, Putin said volunteer patrols “often work more effectively than police” and praised Cossacks' “traditional patriotism,” promising support for their organizations.
Cossacks were smart, they supported the monarchy, and now we’re supporting our government. We respect Vladimir Vladimirovich,” says Shishkin, referring to Putin, whose portrait hung alongside a saber and a second portrait of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.
Vitaly Timakov, a Moscow Cossack who will be on patrol in Sochi during the Olympics, says a Cossack’s job is to spread safety, culture, and peace between people of different faiths, although he noted this meant “first and foremost cleaning out unsanctioned residents of other countries”. But he assures that all of the Cossacks’ actions will fall within the law. The goal, he says, is “that people see that Cossacks are coming back out of the shadows.”
During their freezing Moscow shift, patrolmen Samokhvalov and Petrunin’s main crime-fighting activity was shooing away a driver attempting to park illegally on a pedestrian thoroughfare. But when they first began patrolling these streets, in November of 2012, they forced unlicensed street vendors to close, a move welcomed by many locals. “Before, all sorts of people were out here,” says Nazar, a local merchant, who sells books and magazines. “Now there are no conversations, no scandals, just order.”
Rico says that 'order' is often a mask for 'repression'...

Funny, but probably fake

Rico says that Slate has an article by Lance Richardson about the Aussies, playing about with the truth:
Australia has a long-held reputation as a country of beach bums. The national stereotype is one of sun-kissed youth with tousled hair, surfboards, and endless hours to goof around under the sun. And a new, viral public service announcement, Set Yourself Free, does nothing to contradict this image, at least until the bodies start piling up.
The commercial (below), released this week, shows two teenaged couples playing hooky for a day, shedding their school uniforms and climbing into a Volkswagen van. They drive to a pristine beach to wrestle in the waves while drinking beer. Life is good. And then one of the girls steps on a landmine— as one apparently regularly does in Australia— and the breathy indie music is truncated by a sharp explosion and shower of gore. “This is what happens when you slack off,” the ad warns after her friends have been dispatched in a similar fashion. “Stay in school.”
As deterrents for skipping class go, severed body parts and a lingering mushroom cloud are pretty extreme. Could this gruesome video possibly be a real PSA? The end of the commercial claims that it’s “brought to you by” Learn for Life Foundation of Western Australia, described on the website as “a non-profit organization promoting the importance of education for people of all ages”. If that sounds a little vague, well, so is the rest of the Learn for Life Foundation: the website features stock images of smiling people, and no contacts, explanations, or further details beyond the single video and a link to its directorial team, Henry and Aaron.
Henry Inglis and Aaron McCann are a filmmaking duo from Perth, Australia with a history of producing unsettling advertisements. They also happen to be comedians, if you didn’t get that Set Yourself Free was meant to be funny. McCann characterized their style as “violent with a WTF factor” when we spoke: “Two comedians can’t really do ‘normal’ and ‘safe’,” he said. He was cagey as to whether or not Set Yourself Free is an elaborate prank. The commercial was always intended to be educational, he said, though “in terms of the Foundation, we’d like to leave it open to interpretation. It’s hard to keep intrigue in the internet age.” It’s probably a good bet to assume that Inglis and McCann invented the Foundation for the sake of the joke.
Even if it wasn’t commissioned by a legitimate nonprofit, Set Yourself Free joins a small but growing canon of public service announcements from Down Under that are steeped in gallows humor. Dumb Ways to Die (bottom)—a safety campaign designed for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia—won major industry awards, and recently passed seventy million views on YouTube. (It also spawned a strange gaming app where you can swat hungry piranhas as they try to eat a character’s private parts). For Australians, it seems, black comedy is the key to getting a message out, and, judging from the viral success of Dumb Ways to Die and Set Yourself Free, there may be something to that approach.

Deport Justin Bieber?

Time has an article by Samantha Grossman about the hapless Canadian:

Yesterday we reported that a petition urging President Obama to deport Canadian pop star-turned-bad-boy Justin Bieber had racked up more than seventy thousand signatures. Recently it surpassed the hundred-thousand mark, which means the White House is required to issue an official response.
“We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive, and drug abusing, Justin Bieber deported and his green card revoked,” the petition says. “He is not only threatening the safety of our people, but he is also a terrible influence on our nations youth. We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society.”
The singer was arrested last week on various charges including driving under the influence, which was apparently the straw that broke the outraged, Bieber-hating camel’s back.
“Every petition that crosses the threshold will be reviewed by the appropriate staff and receive a response,” a White House spokesman said. “Response times vary based on total volume of petitions, subject matter, and a variety of other factors.
Stay tuned to see how the White House chooses to respond to the petition to revoke the Biebs’ green card. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the response will weave in some Bieber lyrics. Come on, it could happen...
Rico says that, given the idiot's recent arrest in Canada, maybe all we have to do is cancel his visa and make them keep him...

Unseen since 1984

Harry McCracken has a Time article about Steve Jobs, way back:
It’s January of 1984. Steve Jobs, nattily attired in a double-breasted suit, is demonstrating Apple’s breakthrough personal computer, Macintosh, before a packed room. He speaks alarmingly of a future controlled by IBM, and shows a dystopian commercial based on that theme. He says that the Macintosh is “insanely great” and plucks the diminutive machine from a bag; it talks for itself. Screens of a graphical user interface— something few people had seen at the time— swoop by. The theme from Chariots of Fire swells. Jobs beams, as only he could.
This presentation, at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting on 24 January 1984, is the stuff of tech-history legend. What’s not so well remembered: Jobs did it all twice, in less than a week. Six days after unveiling the Macintosh at the Flint Center on the De Anza College campus near the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, he performed his show all over again at the monthly general meeting of the Boston Computer Society. His host, Jonathan Rotenberg, was a twenty-year-old student at Brown University who’d co-founded the BCS in 1977 at the age of thirteen.
Below, you can watch the Cupertino presentation, along with a sort of a rough draft held as part of an Apple sales meeting in Hawai'i in the fall of 1983. As for the BCS version, all ninety minutes of it are there in the video below, available for the first time in their entirety since they were shot on 30 January 1984.
The Cupertino and Boston demos may have been based in part on the same script, but the audience, atmosphere and bonus materials were different. In Cupertino, Jobs spoke before investors, towards the end of a meeting which also included dreary matters such as an analysis of Apple’s cash flow. In Boston, he presented to the kind of people who Apple hoped would buy Macs. You didn’t even have to pay the BCS’ $24 annual membership fee to get in, which meant that the meeting was the closest thing the computer had to a launch event intended for the general public.
People who attended the shareholder meeting saw the more historic presentation— hey, it came first— but what they got was also, in effect, a rehearsal for the later Boston one, which came out more polished. The BCS version was also longer and meatier. After the unveiling, Jobs participated in demos and a Q&A session with members of the Macintosh team: Bill Atkinson, Steve Capps, Owen Densmore, Andy Hertzfeld, Bruce Horn, Rony Sebok, Burrell Smith, and Randy Wigginton. (Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, not a Mac team member, crashed the panel and talked about the Apple II line of computers.) Even more than the shareholder meeting, the BCS one was a prototype for the media extravaganzas that we citizens of the twenty-first century call Stevenotes.
And I would have been there, if I hadn’t blown it. Though I had been a member of the club for five years and had already been eyewitness to history at its meetings, including demos of VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet) and the Lisa (Apple’s pricey proto-Mac), I didn’t attend the Mac event. What I was doing the night that Steve Jobs came to Boston I don’t remember, but I’ve been wincing about my misplaced priorities ever since. (I partially compensated a few years later when I attended the BCS meeting at which Jobs showed his NeXT computer; it remains the most dazzling tech demo I’ve ever witnessed in person.)
So many BCS meetings were so important that last year, I asked Jonathan— now a management consultant and executive coach— if any existed in video form. He referred me to Glenn Koenig, a Boston-area videographer who had recorded many of the proceedings. Glenn told me that he did have his vintage tapes— in storage, mostly on a now-obsolete format called U-matic.
Glenn also mentioned that Dan Bricklin might have more. Bricklin, the co-inventor of VisiCalc and co-founder of the company which produced it, Software Arts, had taped some meetings himself and then sponsored Koenig’s work. Back in the day, he had the foresight to realize that BCS meetings might be of lasting interest: “Saving these was important to me,” he says.
The matter slipped into the back of my mind until just recently, when I learned that my query had sparked Jonathan, Glenn, and Dan to collaborate with Silicon Valley’s terrific Computer History Museum to digitize the videos of BCS meetings. Brad Feld, a venture capitalist who was a BCS member, gave generously to cover production costs and found others to chip in. (Bricklin has written about the preservation project, and recorded a podcast interview with Jonathan.)
Jonathan’s team and the Computer History Museum graciously allowed the Mac meeting video to premiere on Time.com. (Excerpts were shown at the Mac@30 reunion event — held, appropriately, at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California which took place on the night of 25 January 2014.) It’ll also be available on the museum’s site, with more meeting videos to come, all available for free viewing. I’m not sure what I’m most looking forward to seeing: the meetings I attended decades ago, or the ones I missed.
One thing you need to know, assuming you didn’t happen to belong to the BCS in 1984: there was nothing the least bit odd about Steve Jobs showing up in Boston to court the members of a computer club run by a college student.
At the time, Jonathan was a noted industry educator/impresario, and it was pretty much a given that the East Coast premiere of any major new machine would happen before the BCS, which had thousands of members and dozens of special-interest groups. Apple was well acquainted with the organization, having shown off multiple earlier models at its meetings; both Jobs and Wozniak had attended Applefest, a BCS-produced shindig for Apple II users, in 1982.
In November of 1983, Apple flew Jonathan to its Cupertino, California campus, where he got a briefing on the Macintosh and began work on a sixteen-page review of the computer for the BCS’ slick bimonthly magazine. Plans began for the Mac meeting, to be held at New England Life Hall, the site of the BCS’ general meetings.
And then they almost fell apart. The Flint Center’s 2,600-person seating capacity turned out to be far too small for the crowd that showed up on 24 January 1983. “More than a thousand shareholders were not able to get in, and weren’t able to participate in shareholder voting and discussion,” Jonathan says. “They were really angry about that.” The PR crisis was so severe that the video of the meeting the company produced at the time opens with an abject apology by CEO John Sculley.
Jobs— as you already know, if you know anything at all about Steve Jobs— was apoplectic over the botched crowd control. “The next day,” Jonathan says, “Steve Jobs said: ‘We’re canceling Boston. We don’t want a repeat of all those people waiting outside and not being able to get in.’ This was now five days before the event.”
Miraculously, the BCS was able to secure a more spacious venue for the night of the meeting: John Hancock Hall. It had a room in which any overflow crowd could watch a video feed, and space for banks of Macs for hands-on demos. “After very, very tense negotiations, Steve finally relented and agreed to come to Boston,” Jonathan remembers.
“Ironically, his worst fear came true: there were more than six hundred BCS members stuck outside who couldn’t get in, but at least they weren’t Apple shareholders.”
Fortunately for posterity, the production values on the video version of the meeting are quite good— far better than what Apple managed for the shareholder meeting. (In Cupertino, the lighting had been so murky, at times, that the only thing you can see clearly is Jobs’ white shirt gleaming from inside his jacket.) Apple went for multiple cameras, one of which was manned by the BCSKoenig. Moments with subpar camera work in the Cupertino video, such as when Jobs pulls the Mac out of its bag and boots it up, are nicely shot in this one.
As presented above, the video— which is a rough cut of the version that the Computer History Museum will preserve— has a few moments that have been reconstructed. The slides Jobs shows are the same ones he presented in Boston, but they’re borrowed from the video of the Cupertino event. And when Jobs shows a blurry slide of the IBM PC— provoking mirth from the audience and prompting him to say “Let’s be fair”— the blurring is a recreation of what really happened. (To this day, Rotenberg isn’t sure whether it was a prank on Apple’s part or a bona-fide technical glitch.) “It’s so much more intimate,” Rotenberg says of the Boston version of the presentation. “It’s about the users, which is what you don’t get at the shareholder meeting.”
“This one was Steve really selling,” says Bricklin, who has shown clips of the presentation in talks to students for years, in the only instances of it being seen in public since it was recorded. “This is the Steve that we’ve now known for many years announcing other products. This is that Steve, giving the talk he’s given so many times that he knows it cold. It really makes a difference. You get to see Steve when Steve became the Steve Jobs. Seeing him smiling up there is the way a lot of us would like to remember him.”
Though the first portion of the BCS video follows the same script as the Cupertino event, Jobs keeps going after first version concluded, and what he says is some of the most classic Jobs I’ve ever seen. Adopting a simile he later used in a 1985 Playboy interview, he compares text-oriented computers such as the IBM PC to telegraph machines, and the Mac to the telephone:
Now, if you go back about a hundred years, to the 1880s, there were approximately twenty or twenty-five thousand trained telegraph operators in the United States. And you really could send a telegram between Boston and San Francisco, and it’d take about three or four hours and go through the relay stations. It really worked. And it was a great breakthrough in technology that had been around for about thirty or forty years.
And there were some people that talked about putting a telegraph machine on every desk in America to improve productivity. Now what those people didn’t know was that about the same time, Alexander Graham Bell filed the original patents for the telephone; a breakthrough in technology. Because putting a telegraph on every desk in America to improve technology wouldn’t have worked. People wouldn’t have spent the twenty to forty to a hundred hours to learn Morse code. They just would not have done it.
But, with the telephone, within ten years there were over two hundred thousand telephones on desks in America. It was a breakthrough, because people already knew how to use it. It performed the same basic function, but with radical ease of use. And, in addition to just letting you type in the words or click in the words, it let you sing. It let you intone your sentences to really get your meaning across.
We are at that juncture in our industry right now. There are people suggesting that we should put a current generation box on everyone’s desk to improve productivity. A telegraph, if you will. And we don’t believe that. We don’t think it’ll work. People will not read those damn four-hundred-page WordStar manuals. They won’t carry around these cards in their pockets with a hundred or so slash-W-Zs. They’re not going to do it.
And what we think we have here is the first telephone. In addition to letting you do the old spreadsheets and word processing, it lets you sing. It lets you make pictures. It lets you make diagrams where you cut them and past them into your documents. It lets you put that sentence in Bold Helvetica or Old English, if that’s the way you want to express yourself.
What Jobs said reminds us that the Mac’s competition was less the other computers of the time than it was no computer at all. It’s a hyper-dramatic, self-serving way to look at how the Mac compared to everything else available in January of 1984. But hindsight — and the fact that every other PC maker ended up following the Mac’s lead— confirm that he was right.
The audience is enthusiastic during Jobs’ splashy presentation, but it’s far more giddy during the live demos of Mac apps that follow. That didn’t surprise me: BCS members prided themselves on being discerning, demanding consumers, not gearheads or fanboys. Real software impressed them more than mere hoopla, and programs such as MacPaint and MacWrite were knockouts. When Atkinson pastes a sphere in MacPaint multiple times, there’s sustained applause— yes, cutting and pasting was impressive at the time— and he breaks out in a grin that’s a joy to behold.
“It was wonderful that he actually brought the team to share and bask in the glory— they weren’t there for the shareholders’ [meeting],” says Bricklin, who doesn’t see much difference between the flavor of their camaraderie and collaboration and what goes on today at a company like Google or Facebook.
The questions from the audience neatly capture the most pressing questions that the computer users of 1984 had about Apple’s new machine. They ask about plans for more memory and disk expansion; how MacWrite compares to the era’s dominant word processor, WordStar; what programming tools will be available; what’s next for Apple’s best-selling computer of the time, the Apple IIe. Someone even asks about the fate of the already-moribund Apple III. (Jobs replies: “I wouldn’t have called on you if I’d known that was your question.”)
Then there’s the audience member who asks if the Mac can do animation. Jobs— in this pre-Pixar era — seems slightly taken aback by the subject, and hands the inquiry over to Andy Hertzfeld.
As Jobs answers other questions, he neatly ticks off most of the developments that kept Apple busy until the early 1990s. He talks about hard disks (then often called Winchesters), laser printers, color graphics and even the portable computers (“a Mac in a book”) the company will someday build. Today’s Apple may be famously close-mouthed about unreleased products, but back then, it had to assure skeptical buyers that its just-born platform had a future.
After the panel discussion, Jobs thanks the audience and pays tribute to the team. (“When you use a Macintosh, these are the people that did it. And they’re sort of hiding out in that ROM.”) In the video, you can see some attendees heading for the exits as the lights come up. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Jobs was supposed to introduce Jonathan, who, in the BCS meetings’ standard format, would normally have introduced Jobs but had agreed to flip the order. “I was pretty miffed,” says Jonathan. As he arrives onstage in the video, he makes a snarky reference to Big Brother controlling the audio-visual system, riffing on the 1984 commercial:
Don’t make the same mistake as those 1984 audience members and tune out after Jobs finishes. Jonathan’s concluding remarks include mention of “insanely great” upcoming BCS meetings, including one featuring IBM’s famously bad PC Jr.— which, as you can tell from the snorts from the audience, was already a punchline— and another in which Atari cofounder Nolan Bushnell will demonstrate his new startup’s robots. He also announces that the BCS is starting what may be the world’s first Macintosh user group.
It’s an evocative little snapshot of where technology was in early 1984, and you get to see enough of Jonathan at work to get a sense of why he was both respected and beloved by BCS members in particular and the industry in general.
Keep watching even after Jonathan wraps up. The very end of the video includes footage of attendees trying out Macs for themselves, plus snippets of them grilling Wozniak, Sebok, Hertzfeld, and Capps with even more questions.
What are Rotenberg’s thoughts upon seeing Jobs, and himself, at the event after thirty years? He says it leaves him nostalgic for the era when personal computers were new. The BCS played an important role in demystifying them, and anything and everything seemed possible. “It’s a time of life I feel a tremendous connection and affection for,” he says. “I think of what people talk about with the Sixties, or the Camelot era with JFK. It was an amazing time to be alive, and to be part of something. But there’s also a sadness that it’s gone.” (The BCS itself disbanded in 1996, at least in part because computers no longer required as much demystification as they once needed; I was dismayed to hear the news even though I’d let my own membership lapse.)
In September of 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple. Jonathan went on to graduate from Brown, dial back his role in managing the BCS and enter Harvard Business School. The high of the Mac’s debut felt like part of the distant past. “All of these cottage industries got consolidated or run over by the next generation of companies, like Dell,” Jonathan says, still sounding pained by the memory. “By the time I got to business school, Steve Jobs had become a model of inept business management. In Introduction to Marketing, on the very first day, the example of how to do everything wrong was the Macintosh. It was held out as making a product based on some dreamy-eyed guy’s personal whims, with no relation to what the market or customers want. That kind of thinking became vilified as the cause of why so many smaller companies had crashed in the technology world, and why you wanted big, capable companies like Digital Equipment and IBM and Xerox to lead the way. Everything that Steve Jobs had done that resonated so personally with me was like this disease that had to be destroyed.”
It was pretty depressing. But we now know that it wasn’t the end of the story.
In 1996, Jobs sold NeXT to Apple and began his second act at Apple. In the years that followed, Apple once again took on the clunky telegraph machines other companies manufactured with elegant, approachable telephones. (With the arrival of the iPhone in 2007, the part about the company’s products being telephones stopped being a metaphor.) And when Jobs was now studied in business schools, it wasn’t for being a dreamy-eyed failure. “As he got his momentum going, what was so powerful to me was just observing how we’d had a period of eleven years when Steve Jobs was in exile and we could see what was happening to the PC in that time,” says Rotenberg. After Jobs returned, “what he made possible left no doubt in my mind that a single person really could change the world.”
Rico says he's always felt privileged to have worked at Apple during Steve Jobs' reign (but not John Sculley's), and wishes he'd had more of it...

Why don't they do this?

Rico says he hates (not really; couldn't happen fast enough to suit Rico) to demolish the whole stupid zombie-movie industry, but either of these should do it:

Pipeline report coming soon

Zeke J Miller has a Time article about a contentious pipeline:
A critical environmental report that is likely to determine the future of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will be released “soon”, the State Department said recently.
The pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States, has been caught in regulatory limbo for years, as the Obama administration has navigated competing business and environmental interests.
“The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is in the final stages of preparation and we anticipate a release of the document soon,” said a spokesperson for the State Department, which is issuing the report. ”As a reminder, when it is released, an EIS is not a decision, but another step in the process prescribed by the Executive Order.”
A draft of the environmental report released last year found that the pipeline would negligibly impact greenhouse gas production, as the Canadian reserves would be exploited regardless of the pipeline’s construction. The final report is expected to upset environment activists who oppose the pipeline.
The pipeline has been a source of political heartburn for the White House, with a strong coalition of environmental groups organizing against approval, and Republicans turning opposition to it into a symbol for over-regulation.
In remarks last year on climate change, Obama said he would only approve the project if it was in the national interest, adding that curbing carbon pollution was in the national interest. “I do want to be clear: allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” Obama said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.”
Once the report is released, the Obama administration will have ninety days to make a final decision on the pipeline.
Rico says that, no matter what gets decided, someone will hate it...

Limbs for amputees

Rico says his friend old Kit forwards this "very cool and very ingenious" video:

It is from a Yahoo News article by Brian Heater:
When you work for a 3D printing company, you get the same question a lot: “Can I make anything useful with this?” The story of Robohand, a 3D printed prosthesis for amputees, is one of the most powerful answers to that question.
What makes the project inspirational is what it has been able to do for children. Making prosthesis for kids is an expensive proposition. Given the speed with which they grow, it means having to replace prosthetics regularly. 3D printing brings to the table the potential for inexpensive, and thus easily replaceable, prostheses.
California-based nonprofit Not Impossible Labs got wind of the Robohand project and flew its co-creator Richard van As (himself an amputee) to Los Angeles for a training session, eventually taking the prosthetic printing skills they learned, and two MakerBot Replicator 2s, to the Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Sudan late last year.
Over the course of two weeks, the team printed limbs and, in turn, trained Sudan residents on the fabrication process, through conditions that were reportedly so hot the team had to use electric fans so the printed plastic would cool properly. While the project has yet to make a wide scale difference on the population of the fifty thousand people who lost limbs as a result of Africa’s longest war, the impact on those who have been affected by the project has been huge.
Not Impossible deemed the campaign Project Daniel, borrowing the name from a teenage amputee who told Time two years ago, “without hands, I can’t do anything”. It’s a place where the loss of a limb carries the very real possibility of death. Last year, he received a 3D printed arm. In the above video, you can see him using it to eat with a spoon, and smiling all throughout the process.
Rico says that some things don't require comment...


Rico says okay, okay, it doesn't have Lucy Liu, but it's still better than Elementary:

Navy for the day

Rico says he had to post this from YouTube:

History for the day

On 31 January 1865, the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.

Military for the day

Rico says his friend Dave forwards a non-salacious video, with the comment that "you do not have to be a veteran to have goose bumps run down your body. Just watch this quick video; humbles you right down to your toes":

Rico says, strictly speaking, the civilians should have put their hands on their hearts, rather than salute, but this looks better, and does them honor, as we all should...

Ex-boyfriend detained near border

Megan Gibson has a Time article about Amanda Knox and her boyfriend:
Italian police detained Amanda Knox’ ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito— who, along with Knox, was convicted of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher for a second time on Thursday— near Italy’s border with Austria and Slovenia.
Giovanni Belmonte, the cabinet chief of the Udine police station, told The Associated Press that Sollecito was found in a hotel about forty kilometers from the border. A Florence court sentenced Sollecito, who occasionally made appearances at his and Knox’ retrial, to 25 years in jail for the 2007 murder. A judge in the case ordered him to surrender his passport and identity card, but there was no immediate order for his arrest, reports The Associated Press.
The police who detained Sollecito said they questioned him, confiscated his passport and stamped his identity papers, indicating that he could not leave the country. He was then released. As for Knox, who was sentenced to 28 years, she is currently in her hometown, Seattle, Washington. It’s unclear whether Italy will make a request to the US for her extradition.
Rico says that's standing behind your gal; way behind...

Faker than ever

Brad Tuttle has a Time article about JC Penney, faking the consumer, yet again:
Just in time for the Valentine’s Day gift-buying season, J.C. Penney is jacking up list prices just so that it can slash them and make the sale price seem more impressive.
Many retailers engage in what’s known as “price anchoring”. That’s the retail-world term for setting a high list price to anchor in a perception of value for a product. Because these anchor prices are often so high that almost no customers actually pay them, and because they exist mainly so that the inevitable sales and markdowns appear larger and more tempting, there’s another term frequently applied to the strategy: fake pricing.
In recent years, J.C. Penney, the old, struggling department store chain, has had a rollercoaster-like relationship with the tactic. In early 2012, the new CEO Ron Johnson— a veteran of Target and the Apple Store, then considered the company’s best hope for a successful turnaround— promised an end to fake prices in its stores. In lieu of absurdly high original prices that no one would pay thanks to coupons galore and eye-catching markdowns, Johnson pushed a “fair and square” everyday pricing policy, in which list prices were cut dramatically and discounts were almost nonexistent.
The strategy failed to resound with J.C. Penney’s sales-hunting, coupon-loving core customers, and Ron Johnson was ousted as CEO last spring. Within weeks, J.C. Penney’s old playbook had largely returned, including the reintroduction of fake prices and coupons. Overnight, the list prices for some items rose sixty percent or more though, when discounts were factored in, the pricing changes often amounted to a wash for customers.
The return of such pricing has been seen as marginally successful in wooing back some J.C. Penney loyalists who felt alienated by Johnson’s vision. Overall, though, the department store chain has remained in rough shape, with subpar sales and many doubtful that the company can be saved.
Now, apparently because the reintroduction of fake prices hasn’t moved the needle enough, J.C. Penney pricing appears to be becoming even faker. According to J.C. Penney staffers and price checks cited by The New York Post, the department store has been hiking list prices skyward, particularly for jewelry and other goods that will likely be in demand as Valentine’s Day gifts. “They had us up all night changing the prices on everything,” one J.C. Penney jewelry salesperson said.
In many cases, original prices were increased ten to thirty percent, though sometimes the price hikes have been far bigger. For instance, in December of 2013, a pair of gold earrings was officially listed at two hundred dollars, but was available at the sales price of $160. Recently, however, the list price for that same pair of earrings shot up to $450. Though the new discounts represent a larger percentage markdown off the original price compared to the holiday season, consumers will ultimately often be paying more than they would have for the same items a couple months, or even a couple weeks ago.
Hedgeye retail analyst Brian McGough said that the strategy of “raising prices to allow for discounting to protect gross margin …makes sense” for J.C. Penney. Yet the move is not without risk: “The obvious risk here is that sticker shock will keep some customers away.”
We’ll have to wait and see if that happens. For now, one thing’s for sure: Investors are certainly moving away from J.C. Penney. On Thursday, J.C. Penney stock was trading for under six dollars per share, a new low.
Rico says he never shops at Penney's, so he doesn't care, but you should...

More idiots for the day

'Politician' and 'idiot' is redundant, as Rico well knows, but CNN has an article by Peter Hamby about six of them:
New York Representative Michael Grimm’s threat (video) to heave a reporter off a balcony in the Cannon House office building rotunda, caught on a still-hot mic after the State of the Union Address, has only brought more attention to an investigation into his campaign finances.
Well done, sir.
After initially defending his tirade, Grimm apologized. But the Staten Island Republican is just the latest in an increasingly long line of New York congressmen behaving badly - on and off Capitol Hill
Here are five other impulsive New Yorkers who sealed their political fates with dumb decisions:  
John Sweeney:
In 2006, Sweeney somehow found his way onto the porch of a booze-soaked frat house at Union College. Even in the pre-smartphone era, Sweeney was photographed cavorting with a bunch of college bros like Will Ferrell in Old School. The photographs quickly went viral. Students at the party later told reporters that Sweeney, slurring his words, was “very loud and cursing”.
Sweeney’s office denied he was drinking, and released a hilariously memorable comment in response: “He was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm displayed by the students, particularly on a Friday evening.” The Republican lost his re-election bid that
November to a hot shot Democratic candidate named Kirsten Gillibrand, now a US senator and possible presidential contender. 
Eric Massa:
Massa, a Democrat, barely served a year in Congress. He resigned in 2010 in the face of a House ethics investigation into allegations that he groped several male aides. After resigning, Massa denied the charges, saying he was only joking. As he told Glenn Beck at the time: “Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my fiftieth birthday. It was 'kill the old guy'. You can take anything out of context.”
That excuse prompted a tremendous headline in The New York Times: Ex-Congressman Describes Tickle Fights With Aides
Anthony Weiner

Carlos Danger, we hardly knew ye. 
Chris Lee

The Buffalo, New York-area Republican managed to get elected to Congress but wasn’t very good at using the Internet. In 2011, Lee went on Craiglist seeking, ahem, female companionship. Claiming to be a divorced lobbyist, but using his real name, Lee sent a woman a shirtless selfie. Using something called Google, the recipient of the photograph discovered that Lee was, in fact, a member of Congress. And married. She shopped the story to Gawker, and a few days later the world was blessed with a picture of Lee flexing in a mirror for his BlackBerry camera. He resigned a few days later. 
Vito Fossella: 

In the Spring of 2008, Fossella was pulled over by a patrolman in the Washington suburbs and arrested for driving under the influence. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. But it gets worse. Turns out the reason Fossella was cruising through northern Virginia in the middle of the night: he was visiting his love child. The Republican revealed a week after his arrest that he had had an affair with a retired Air Force colonel, and fathered a daughter in the process. Even worse: he had kept the whole thing a secret from his wife and three children. Fossella declined to seek another term in his Staten Island, New York seat that fall.
Rico says you gotta admire such arrogance and self-interest, but you don't have to elect it...

30 January 2014

Guilty verdict reinstated

The BBC has the story of what seems a bit like double-jeopardy at work:
A court in Italy has reinstated the guilty verdicts against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of UK student Meredith Kercher (photo) in 2007.
American Knox, who is in the US, and her Italian ex-boyfriend Sollecito had pleaded not guilty. She was sentenced to 28 years and six months in jail, while Sollecito received 25 years. Kercher was stabbed to death in the flat she shared in Perugia with Knox.
After nearly twelve hours of deliberations, the court in Florence reinstated the verdicts first handed down in 2009, but overturned in 2011, when the pair were freed after four years in jail.
The verdicts were delivered by presiding judge Alessando Nencini, who ordered that the passport of 29-year-old Sollecito, who was in the courtroom earlier but left before the verdicts were delivered, should be revoked.
But he made no requests for limits on 26-year-old Knox' movements, saying she was "justifiably abroad''. He ordered that damages should be paid by the pair to the family of Kercher, whose brother Lyle and sister Stephanie were present when the verdict was read out.
Speaking soon after, Lyle Kercher said: "No matter what the verdict, it was never going to be a case of celebrating anything. That's probably the best we could have hoped for."
This re-running of the appeal process was ordered by Italy's highest court. In the ruling, its judges had demolished the grounds for Knox and Sollecito's acquittals, so there was a sense that the momentum was with the prosecution as this latest appeal began.
Now that it has secured a conviction, an eventual attempt to extradite Knox is a possibility.
But her legal team would fight it with everything it had.
Most people in Italy would find it very difficult indeed to imagine the US authorities one day putting Amanda Knox on a plane and sending her back here to spend much of the rest of her life in jail.
Extradition proceedings against Knox, who refused to return to Italy for the case, may now begin. Both she and Sollecito can lodge appeals with the supreme court, which will have the final say. But it could take a year to make a ruling, experts say.
Sollecito was "struck dumb" after hearing the verdict on television, his lawyer said. Luca Maori said Sollecito looked "annihilated" by the sentence.
In a statement issued after the verdict, Knox said she was "frightened and saddened by this unjust" verdict. She added: "Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system... There has always been a marked lack of evidence. My family and I have suffered greatly from this wrongful persecution. This has gotten out of hand."
She condemned what she described as "overzealous and intransigent prosecution, prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation, unwillingness to admit mistake, reliance on unreliable testimony and evidence, character assassination, inconsistent and unfounded accusatory theory, and counterproductive and coercive interrogation techniques that produce false confessions and inaccurate statements".
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University in Washington, said that if Italy made a extradition request, the US would have to decide whether it fell under their extradition treaty. While there was "no reason to think the US has a specific interest" in blocking her extradition, Vladeck said, countries could effectively stand in the way with a variety of "creative" interpretations of extradition treaties. He added that, if the US did grant Italy's request, Knox could fight her extradition in a US court by citing, among other things, international human rights law.
The court heard from Knox' defense team in the morning, before the two judges and eight jurors retired to deliberate on a verdict.
Summing up, Knox' lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, told the court her innocence was "rock-solid, and it allows us to await the verdict with serenity".
Sollecito, 29, told the court in November of 2013 that it made "no real sense" for him to have committed "such an atrocious act".
Kercher, from Coulsdon in South London and 21 at the time, was found with her throat cut in a flat she shared with Knox in the college city of Perugia, in the central region of Umbria.
Rudy Guede from the Ivory Coast was convicted of her murder at an earlier trial and sentenced to sixteen years in prison.
Prosecutors sought to prove Kercher had died in a sex game involving Knox and Sollecito that went wrong. They have since alleged that the murder resulted from a heated argument over cleanliness in the Perugia apartment.
Arrested days after the murder and detained in prison, Knox and Sollecito were tried and convicted in November of 2009. In 2011, an eight-member jury cleared both defendants of Kercher's murder after doubts were raised over procedures used to gather DNA evidence.
Ordering a retrial last year after an appeal by prosecutors, who argued that important DNA evidence had been disregarded, the supreme court in Rome moved proceedings from Umbria to Florence, in the northern region of Tuscany.
Rico says the lesson is either clean your fucking apartment, or don't play fucking games with knives...

GPS for autistic kids

Denver Nicks has a Time article about a good use (for once) of your tax money:
The Justice Department will now cover the cost of GPS tracking devices for children with severe autism and other similar conditions, New York Senator Charles Schumer announced recently.
Schumer said the voluntary-use GPS tracking devices, which cost about $85 each plus a small monthly fee, will be like those used to track people suffering from Alzheimer’s for which the DOJ already provides grants, The New York Times reported.
The push for the government to cover the cost of GPS tracking for autistic children comes in response to the death of Avonte Oquendo, a severely autistic, non-verbal fourteen-year-old who disappeared from his Queens, New York school on 4 October 2013. His remains were later found in the East River, but the cause of his death remains unknown.
Schumer said he will continue to press for legislation to secure long-term federal funding for the devices.
Rico says a lot cheaper to find them fast, rather than having to mount a search party...

More Apple for the day

Michael Liedtke has a Time article about pressures on Apple:
Apple reshaped technology and society when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone seven years ago. Now, the trend-setting company is losing ground to rivals that offer what Apple has stubbornly refused to make: smartphones with lower prices and larger screens than the iPhone.
The void in Apple’s lineup is a major reason why the company’s quarterly revenue may be about to fall for the first time in more than a decade, much to the dismay of investors who are worried that Apple Inc. is losing its verve and vision.
Wall Street vented its frustration after Apple reported that it sold fewer iPhones than analysts anticipated during the holiday season. Apple compounded that disappointment with a forecast raising the possibility of a slight revenue decline in the current quarter. It would be the first time that Apple’s quarterly revenue has dropped from the previous year since 2003.
Apple’s stock shed $44, or eight percent, to close Tuesday at $506.50, marking the company’s largest one-day drop in a year. The sell-off leaves the stock about 28 percent below its peak of $705.07, reached in September of 2012 when Apple’s leadership in smartphones and tablet computers was still generating robust revenue growth.
Since then, Apple has been relinquishing market share to Samsung Electronics Inc. and other companies that primarily make devices running Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Those competitors offer a broader selection of designs and prices than the iPhone and the iPad.
That trend is one of the reasons that Apple’s revenue growth hasn’t exceeded 6 percent in any of the past three quarters. By contrast, Apple’s quarterly revenue was consistently increasing by at least twenty percent two years ago and even exceeded seventy percent during the 2011 holiday quarter.
Apple remains in stellar shape financially, coming off a thirteen billion dollar profit in its most recent quarter, more than all but a handful of companies make in an entire year. The Cupertino, California company also is sitting on nearly $159 billion in cash.
But Apple’s stock is unlikely to bounce back to its previous high unless the company’s growth accelerates.
The challenges facing Apple have been most glaring in the smartphone market.
Phones in less affluent parts of the world are selling for less than $200. By comparison, iPhones sold for an average of $637 in Apple’s most recent quarter. Even Apple’s cheaper iPhone 5C is just a hundred dollars less than the high-end 5S.
Meanwhile, a variety of Android phones boast screens measuring 5 to 6.5 inches diagonally, while the latest iPhones are all four inches.
Apple’s insistence on catering to the upper end of the smartphone market with only one choice of screen size is undercutting the company’s growth, International Data Research analyst Ramon Llamas said. “There is a gap where Apple is not playing, and it’s clear that many users want some of these other things in a phone,” Llamas said.
As a result, Apple’s share of the smartphone market fell from nearly nineteen percent at the end of 2012 to about fifteen percent last year, according to IDC. Samsung remains the market leader with a thirty-one percent share at the end of last year, up a notch from thirty percent in 2012.
Apple tried to widen the iPhone’s appeal with the cheaper 5C, which was essentially a recycled version of the iPhone’s previous generation. To make the 5C look like something new, Apple dressed it up in a brightly colored array of plastic casings.
In Monday’s conference call with analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook made it clear that the 5C didn’t sell as well as the company anticipated, though he didn’t provide specifics. Cook hailed the 5S model as the star performer in the company’s holiday quarter.
With the 5S leading the way, Apple sold over fifty million iPhones in the fiscal first quarter. Even though that set a record for the company, it represented a letdown, because analysts had projected 55 million.
Analysts suspect that many of those iPhones are being bought by repeat customers who love the mobile operating software and other services, as well as the cachet that comes with the Apple brand. Cook said Apple still attracts a “significant” number of first-time iPhone buyers.
Steve Jobs carefully cultivated Apple’s luxury image before he died in October of 2011, and Cook has given no indication he will risk tainting it with an inexpensive smartphone sporting lower-quality parts. “Our objective has always been to make the best, not the most,” Cook said. He also said Apple will expand its horizons this year with new products that will push the company beyond smartphones and tablets. Most analysts expect an Internet-connected smartwatch, and possibly a long-rumored television set that would run on the same software as the iPhone and the iPad.
Apple also is preparing to sell an iPhone with a five-inch display screen, according to unidentified people cited in a report this month in The Wall Street Journal, but Apple declined comment.
If an iPhone with a bigger screen is in the works, it would pose another test for the company as it tries to ensure the device retains the same high resolution and other features in earlier generations. “There is clearly a standard that Apple has set for itself: Anything less than fantastic won’t do, and no one is going to give them a pass if they don’t live up to that,” Llamas said.
Rico says that Apple's never responded well to pressure, but if you insist on buying some cheap POS phone, Rico can't stop you...

Apple for the day

Ben Taylor has a Time article about bigger (maybe) iPhones:
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was working on bigger iPhones. Though the article was filled with qualifiers (“preliminary development”), hedges (“cautioned that Apple’s plans weren’t final”), and vague sources (“people familiar with the situation”), the Internet marched dutifully to their Twitter accounts and sounded off on the official (read: totally speculative) news. The consensus was grim. Apple— the stubborn, desperate, slow-moving gadget-maker— was finally, finally coming to its senses. After years of floundering, here was the dying company’s last chance to save a doomed product line.
Unfortunately, the Internet forgot about two things: first, that Apple is still doing just fine. For every one nugget of ordinary news (ex: iPhone sales growth in US missing “analysts” wild expectations), the company has three pieces of great news (ex: iPad sales, international expansion, overall revenue). Second, the Internet forgot that these bigger iPhones are, as of yet, nothing more than rumors. All we know is that some people claimed Apple had been experimenting internally with new iPhone sizes. You know, the same way it was experimenting with smartwatches and full-sized televisions.
And so, lost amid all the chatter is the real question: do we really need a bigger iPhone? Here are three reasons why we do, and three reasons we don’t. 
Three Reasons We Need a Bigger iPhone
1. Apple’s top rivals have all gone big Stroll over to your local Best Buy (before it goes bankrupt) and observe the crop of featured smartphones, from HTC to LG, Samsung to Sony. Like that 37-inch Panasonic television you bought in 2009, the iPhone will appear puny next to today’s popular alternatives.
Perhaps it’s telling that the four-inch phones not named iPhone get thrown in a discount bin by the door. Maybe Samsung knew bigger was better when it chose the name Galaxy. What if Apple’s gotten screen size all wrong, losing curious customers reluctant to purchase a smaller device? A bigger iPhone would answer these questions. 
2. History seems to indicate bigger screens are better We assessed over six hundred smartphones using a combination of expert reviews (45%), benchmarks (35%), and features (20%) to come up with a single score out of a hundred, which we call the Smart Rating. We then plotted this score against screen size. It turns out that there is a moderately positive correlation (0.69) between a phone’s screen size and overall Smart Rating.
Granted, it’s not a perfect test; the newest phones are on the larger side, and naturally, these devices have the best internal specs and benchmark scores. There seems, however, to be at least some indication that a larger screen increases the likelihood of a favorable expert review (the correlation held when plotting screen size against the individual scores from CNET, PCWorld, and PC Magazine). On these charts, Apple’s 3.5- and 4-inch iPhones are the exception, not the rule. 
3. Apple has made this move (successfully) before For two and a half years, Apple laughed at seven-inch tablets while its ten-inch iPad dominated the market. “We think the ten-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps,” declared Steve Jobs on a 2010 earnings call. Competitors then gained traction with the cheaper, smaller Galaxy Tab and Nexus 7, compact iPad alternatives that garnered solid reviews and respectable chunks of the market. The rest is history: Apple changed its mind, released the iPad Mini, and then convinced everyone it had planned it from the beginning. The Mini was a hit from the day of its release. Perhaps Apple should have been making a smaller iPad all along.
Could the same be true of the iPhone? In a 2012 commercial, Apple called its four-inch screen size a “dazzling display of common sense”, but perhaps that was just posturing. A year from now, maybe we’ll all be watching Apple’s latest spot— Think Bigger— on our five-inch iPhone 6Cs
Three Reasons We Don’t Need a Bigger iPhone 
1. Are users really asking for this? Go back and plot screen size against user ratings, and you won’t see the same positive correlation. The Internet tends to assume that Apple must make a bigger phone. But why? After years of use, iPhone owners tend to be happy customers, even with smaller screens. Do they not know what they’re missing? Or is the Internet creating a controversy that never existed in the first place? 
2. What about apps and developers?
People love to demand iPhones of all shapes and sizes, with screens at four-, five-, and six-inch intervals, and aspect ratios from 4:3 to 16:9. This sort of variety might work for a company like Samsung, whose strategy involves pumping out two dozen devices to see what sticks. Apple, however, differentiates itself on consistency of user experience, with over eighty percent of users on the latest operating system, and an app store more reliable (and more restrictive) than its competitors.
Why does this matter? All those iPhones would require different resolutions, meaning more headaches for developers and more hack-like solutions for running apps. Want to play Angry Birds Space on your new 4:3, five-inch iPhone? Sorry: you’ll need to wait until Rovio optimizes for that version.
Apple might like the idea of having a few more iPhone size options, but don’t underestimate the value the company places on consistency— of apps, aspect ratios, and display resolution. It’s what keeps both customers and developers happy. 
3. Apple already owns its market
All last summer, the Internet was convinced that Apple would release a true “low-cost” iPhone. Instead, Apple introduced the iPhone 5c, a plastic re-design of the iPhone 5, priced only a hundred bucks cheaper than the flagship iPhone 5s. “But Apple’s missing a huge opportunity! What about China?!” the Internet sobbed.
When it comes to price, Apple has shown a bit of flexibility (example: two-year-old phones come free with a contract), but it’s mostly stuck to its sweet spot, “affordable luxury.” While Apple could temporarily increase its bottom line with a dirt cheap iPhone, the company prefers to own the higher end of the market; it’s what it does best, after all.
Perhaps size is the same. When we see the iPhone next to its galaxy-sized competitors, we assume Apple is lagging behind…but maybe it’s right where it needs to be. It’s possible that the iPhone’s top competitors are all bigger because bigger is better. Or maybe it’s simply because no one does the four-inch phone better than Apple.
Rico says what good is a huge iPhone if you can't put it in your pocket? Not everyone wants to carry a murse, fer crissakes... (And all Apple has to do is incorporate phone capabilities into an iPad or iPad Mini, and voilá... You heard it here first.)

Another idiot for the day

Rico thought it was a requirement

Ann O'Neill has a CNN article about the law:
Trust me, the scandal-scarred former boy wonder said. No way, responded California's Supreme Court, who rejected former journalist Stephen Glass' request for admission to the bar, finding that he had not truly reformed in the fifteen years since he made up facts in more than forty magazine articles, and then lied some more to cover up his misdeeds in one of the journalism world's most infamous scandals.
The court found that Glass, who works as a paralegal at a Beverly Hills, California law firm, lacks "the good moral character" to be a lawyer. It simply doesn't buy the disgraced serial liar's arguments that he has changed.
In a scathing opinion supporting its decision to deny Glass admission to the California State Bar, the court concluded that he failed to show genuine remorse and never fully came clean on all his fabrications and that his "lack of integrity and forthrightness" continued even during his hearings before the court.
Lawyers and journalists aren't highly regarded, although they usually rank a notch above lobbyists, members of Congress, and used-car salespeople in Gallup's annual Honesty and Ethics survey.
Lawyer jokes to the contrary, the court insisted: "A lawyer's good moral character is essential for the protection of clients and for the proper functioning of the judicial system itself."
Glass, who has declined to discuss the case publicly, could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Arthur Margolis, said he was disappointed by the court's decision. He said there would be no futher comment.
Glass, now 41, was a rising star at The New Republic when he was exposed as a serial fabulist in 1998. His editors investigated and learned that he had fabricated quotes and sources, sometimes entire events, in dozens of articles he wrote over three years for the magazine and other publications. The events of his rise and downfall became the basis of a movie, Shattered Glass.
Even while he was writing magazine pieces, Glass attended night classes at Georgetown's law school. He graduated in 2000 and passed the bar exams in New York and California.
Richard Bradley, former editor of George magazine, said in 2011 that at least three pieces Glass wrote for the magazine contained fabrications. He added that Glass was good at "figuring out people's blind spots". Bradley said he forgave Glass long ago but added: "Being a lawyer is a privilege, not a right. He can be a fully contributing, valuable member of society without being a lawyer."
Glass withdrew his application to the New York State Bar in 2003 when it became obvious he would be turned down. He applied to the California Bar in 2005 after he moved to Los Angeles. A bar review committee declined to find him morally fit to be a lawyer; Glass appealed, and the California Supreme Court added In Re Glass on Admission to its docket for 2012.
The State Bar Court argued that the past was not the issue: it's Glass' moral character today. The bar examiners, lawyers who vet other lawyers, argued that Glass' lies were so "staggering" he hadn't done enough to demonstrate he had reformed. "Going to law school and living a normal life isn't enough," Rachel Grunberg, a lawyer for the bar court, said in 2011.
The Supreme Court was not impressed with Glass' arguments that he was sorry for what he had done and that he had changed. Nor was it impressed that he had won over a long list of accomplished people. "Our review of the record indicates hypocrisy and evasiveness in Glass' testimony at the California State Bar hearing," the court's opinion stated. "We find it particularly disturbing that, at the hearing, Glass persisted in claiming that he had made a good faith effort to work with the magazines that published his works. He went through many verbal twists and turns at the hearing to avoid acknowledging the obvious fact that in his New York Bar application he exaggerated his level of assistance to the magazines that published his fabrications."
Writing a book and appearing on the television newsmagazine 60 Minutes can not be considered indicators of genuine remorse, the court observed.
The court also noted that, since Glass' journalism career crashed and burned, he seemed less motivated to help others and more inclined to "advance his own career and financial and emotional well-being", Even his volunteer legal work was not particularly charitable, since all lawyers are expected to perform pro bono work, the court noted.
Rico says surely lying is something lawyers do every day... (And shouldn't good moral character be a disqualifier?) But this guy is good at pro bonehead work, obviously.

Star Wars for the day

Another idiot for the day

Rande Iaboni has a CNN article about a predatory fish and an idiot:
New York City resident Joel Rakower bit off more than he could chew when he smuggled nearly forty thousand piranhas into the United States.
Rakower pled guilty in Federal court in Brooklyn to smuggling the deadly piranhas from 2011 to 2012, according to a Department of Justice statement. The Federal Lacey Act combats trafficking in "illegal" wildlife, fish, and plants.
In a plea agreement, Rakower admitted that his company purchased piranhas from a Hong Kong tropical fish supplier and imported them to the city, according to the statement.
Rakower instructed the foreign supplier to falsely label the exotic fish on packing lists as silver tetras, a common and unaggressive aquarium fish, because New York City prohibited the possession of piranhas, the statement said.
Rakower smuggled 39,548 piranhas over the course of 2011 and 2012, at a cost of approximately $37,376, according to the statement.
Piranhas, freshwater fish originating in South American rivers, are described as extremely aggressive and territorial. As a result, two dozen states have either banned or regulated piranhas, making them illegal to own or sell.
Rakower was "driven by greed and without regard for the health and safety of people or the environment", said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who helped investigate the case.
Rakower agreed to pay more than $70,000 in fines and restitution, and his company will serve a two-year period of probation. Rakower will be sentenced on 24 April 2014.
Rico says he should be sentenced to swimming with them...

Noah's Ark for the day

Gubs for the day

Aaron Smith has a CNN article about ammunition:
Todd Kuchman is an entrepreneur and elk hunter in Colorado who wanted a bullet that would boost his chances of hitting his target. So he invented the Multiple Impact Bullet, a unique new round that, upon firing, splits into several fragments connected by ballistic-strength fiber.
The fiber holds the shrapnel together in a Y-shaped pattern, which makes for much better accuracy than a shotgun's blast of pellets. That minimizes the chances of hitting unintended people or things, said Kuchman.
The bullets spread to a diameter of fourteen inches for handguns and two feet for long guns. The fiber itself, which is spooled up inside the core of the slug, slices paper targets to ribbons, but does only "superficial" damage to flesh, Kuchman said.
They're intended for self defense, says Kuchman. Multiple impact bullets improve the accuracy of nervous, would-be victims with unsteady hands by giving them several chances to hit their target with just one shot. The company uses slogans such as" "Because you can't afford to miss" and "First hit advantage is everything!"
Todd and his brother Jaye, who refer to themselves as the "bullet brothers", founded the Denver-based Advanced Ballistic Concepts, or ABC, in 2010 and launched their new bullet on 6 January 2014.
The company says it already has a hundred thousand dollars worth of orders. "It's been selling like gangbusters," said Kuchman. "In fact, our web site crashed after our initial press release." The ammunition is available on ABC's web site, as well as at some Colorado gun stores. The ten-round packs of .45 bullets for handguns and twelve-gauge slugs for shotguns run about fifty or sixty dollars. Soon, 9mm will be available also.
ABC employs a full-time staff of eleven and about ninety part-time assemblers.
Earl Griffith, firearms technology expert for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said that generally speaking, any bullet is legal as long as it can't pierce armor.
While the Multiple Impact Bullet is certainly innovative, says Wedbush gun analyst Rommel Dionisio, it will be tough to break into a market dominated by "tried-and-true" brands like Winchester and RemingtonDionosio said it might take extensive testing, which could take years, and maybe even adoption of the ammunition by a major law enforcement agency to give it the credibility it needs to succeed in the consumer marketplace.
The Kuchmans grew up on a farm in a relatively rural section of New Jersey, where they learned to hunt and fish. Guns were a way of life. Todd Kuchman has invented various products over the last twelve years, including the Scratch-less Disc, which fell by the wayside in a digital world.
ABC already makes several other types of ammunition, specializing in "green" metals free of lead. They include the Stinger, a bullet that's advertised as "less lethal", because it's made of aluminum, plastic, or rubber. It also sells the Stunner, which inflicts more serious damage, but is designed to not pass through walls. "Our mantra is perpetual innovation," said Kuchman.
Rico says they act like this is something new; it's called a shotgub, people, though the concept is interesting...

Mafia idiots for the day

Rico knows 'Mafia' and 'idiot' are often synonymous, but CNN has the story about serious idiocy:
Mafia killings don't typically shock Italians; as disturbing as the occasional hit may be, the tragedy usually affects only friends and families of the victims. But a coldblooded, point-blank killing this month in southern Italy has a nation grieving for a three-year-old child.
Nicola "Coco" Campolongo was shot in the head, along with his grandfather, Giuseppe Iannicelli, and his grandfather's 27-year-old companion, all victims of an apparent mob hit over money.
Their bodies were found on 19 January 2014 in a burned-out Fiat Punto on the outskirts of Cosenza, in southern Italy's Calabria region. Iannicelli, who was serving a drug-related sentence on house arrest, appeared to be the target of the hit.
"In all my years investigating organized crime murders, none has been as horrific as this one," lead prosecutor Franco Giacomantonio told CNN. "It is unimaginable that a child can be made to pay for the crimes of his parents."
The killing even caught the attention of Pope Francis, who called Coco's death "unprecedented". He asked worshippers at his Sunday address to say a prayer for Coco and called on the boy's killers to repent for their crimes.
Coco's 24-year-old mother, Antonia Iannicelli, didn't attend her son's funeral. She's serving a four-year jail sentence for the possession and sale of drugs. Police feared members of the powerful 'Ndrangheta crime organization, believed to be behind the killings, would target Iannicelli if she attended.
Her two other children, ages four and five, were moved to protective custody in another region of Italy. Iannicelli will be allowed to serve out the rest of her sentence on house arrest with her surviving children.
The killing of such a young child has sparked debate in Italy about how to protect children growing up in the shadow of the country's crime syndicates in the impoverished south. Coco was just an infant when his mother began serving her jail sentence.
Francesco Talarico, head of the regional government in Calabria, wrote a letter to the President of Italy's national observatory of the rights of minors, urging the group to "lift the veil of silence" that often accompanies mafia crimes, and to "seriously investigate what can be done to protect the future of at-risk children like Coco".
Coco's mother was already serving her second prison term for drug crimes tied to 'Ndrangheta, one of the most powerful organized crime syndicates in the world, according to Francesco Forgione, head of Italy's Parliamentary anti-Mafia Commission.
"Coco's mother is the first victim of the system," Talarico told CNN. "Her son had little chance to escape that life."
In the wake of Coco's killing, Interior Minister Alfano Angelino and National Police Chief Alessandro Pansa signed an emergency protocol in the child's name to ensure the protection of children's rights. "We need... to make sure the protocol does not forget children who are growing up in vulnerable situations outside the law, who may be victims or witnesses to crimes. We need to make sure Coco is the last child ever killed like this," Pansa said.
No suspects have been named in the triple homicide, but Giacomantonio believes it is likely connected to the region's drug trade.
Rico says gee, drugs, ya think? (As for the Pope, if they'd just abused the kid, they'd've gotten a pass like all the priests do...)

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