Category: Business

Google joins fight against overfishing


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Google has partnered with SkyTruth and Oceana to produce a new tool to track global fishing activity. Known as Global Fishing Watch, the interactive web tool uses satellite data to provide detailed vessel tracking, and aims to harness the power of citizen engagement to tackle the issue of overfishing.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are working at peak capacity, with as much as one-third of marine fish stocks now suffering from overfishing.

Though a clear issue, the distant and out-of-sight nature of commercial fishing creates a problem when it comes to accountability. To help combat this, Google has teamed up with marine advocacy group Oceana and mapping company SkyTruth to develop the Global Fishing Watch – a tool that allows anyone with an internet connection access to the timing and position of intensive fishing around the world…

The tool shows users the number of hours that individual ships spent fishing certain areas, and allows almost anyone to explore global fishing activity. Users can filter data by country, and can even look at the route taken by individual vessels, with a data point being created every time a ship sets and retrieves its lines.

In the long run, it provides fisherman and companies with an opportunity to illustrate that they’re obeying the law in regard to overfishing. It will also likely prove a useful tool for researchers, who will be able to access a comprehensive database of global fishing activity, with data spanning back for years.

I grew up in a family that relied on subsistence fishing for most of our weekly animal protein. It was early days for coastal trawlers. They would be considered small and inefficient by today’s factory ship standards.

Still, we knew if just one showed up and wandered along our favorite fishing spots – no matter what variety of fish was running at the time – we might as well pack up and go home. There would be nothing left for us for the next few days.

No one in government cared a rat’s ass either.

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Board your flight – check email – upload paperwork – get billed over $1000!

wifi phone bill

When it comes to offering Wi-Fi in the sky, airlines enjoy a situational monopoly. Still, this takes the cake: a Singapore Airlines passenger stepped off a plane, looked at his phone and discovered this bill for $1,171.46:

As the passenger, Jeremy Gutsche, explains on TrendHunter, the eye-popping total came about as result of ordinary internet use — sending emails, uploading documents and such things. But since the airline’s $28.99 sign-on fee only included a paltry 30 MB of data, the overage charges hit hard.

“I wish I could blame an addiction to Netflix or some intellectual documentary that made me $1200 smarter. However, the Singapore Airlines internet was painfully slow, so videos would be impossible and that means I didn’t get any smarter… except about how to charge a lot of money for stuff. I did learn that,” noted Gutsche…

Meanwhile, the airlines are locked into long-term exclusive contracts with Wi-Fi providers like Gogo, which appears to have settled a recent price-gouging suit but has failed to bring down prices. The hope of future competition doesn’t look great either, as AT&T this week said it would ground plans to build in-flight Wi-Fi.

The article ends with a CYA explanation about startup costs for airplane wifi services. Scant help to consumers who have been shafted.

And a lousy business model – apparently acceptable to some providers.

So, a word of caution. Check what’s included in what you sign up for. You know from the gitgo that airlines aren’t in the business of providing anything at a reasonable cost. They will screw you a bit more for some services than others.

When Jack Ma throws a one-day sale, he ain’t just kidding!

singles dat sale
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Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma looks back at a giant electronic screen showing real-time sales figures of the company’s Taobao.com and Tmall.com, on the “Singles’ Day” online shopping festival, at the company headquarters in Hangzhou, China.

Watching the sidebar on Bloomberg TV, they reported over $9.3 billion in the 24-hour sale. The first billion$ took 12 minutes. During peak hours, Alibaba was processing 19,000 sales per second.

Contractor uses taxpayer dollar$ to lobby illegally for no-bid contract


Click to enlarge — Yup, we pick up the tab for this, every year

A top government contractor managing a key Department of Energy laboratory inappropriately sought help from lawmakers and Obama administration officials to obtain a no-bid contract extension worth $2.4 billion per year, according to a federal review.

…Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman cited planning documents from Sandia Corporation showing that the firm, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin that operates Sandia National Laboratories, formulated a strategy to “campaign aggressively (Administration and Congress) to convince [then-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu] to extend the M&O contract.”

Former New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson, a Republican, was involved in the efforts, according to the review. The ex-lawmaker now runs a consulting firm and serves as president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

Sandia’s tactics included persuading the New Mexico congressional delegation, a former U.S. senator, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration and top advisers to the energy secretary to pressure Chu…

Friedman said the costs of the efforts were “borne by the U.S. taxpayers,” because Sandia paid for them with money that the federal government had previously given to the firm. He added that the plan represented a violation of federal acquisition guidelines and a federal law barring the use of congressionally appropriated funds to influence contracting decisions.

Sandia had sought a six-year, no-bid extension, but the Department of Energy ultimately extended the contract for two years without competition so the agency could prepare for a “full and open competition,” the inspector general said.

Well, it’s a good thing the representatives of our government are so tough on scumbags using sleazy illicit tactics. How can Sandia possibly expect to keep the wolf from the door with only a two-year no-bid contract to prepare itself for an actual competitive bid?

This crap criminality doesn’t even make good fiction.

Thanks, Mike

Obama finally backs net neutrality — UPDATED

US President Barack Obama voiced support for a new regulatory system for Internet providers aimed at avoiding a two-speed system leaving some services in an online “slow lane.”

Obama endorsed an effort to reclassify the Internet as a public utility to give regulators authority to enforce “net neutrality,” the principle barring Internet service firms from playing favourites or opening up “fast lanes” for those who pay more.

In a statement on Monday, Obama said he wants the independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

Obama’s comment comes as the FCC seeks to draft new rules to replace those struck down this year by a US appeals court, which said the agency lacked authority to regulate Internet service firms as it does telephone carriers.

“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation – but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted,” Obama said in a statement.

“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.” Obama added…

Obama also said he wants the same rules to apply to mobile broadband, which was not covered in the earlier regulations.

Predictable creeps, ranging from profiteers in cable and telecom to absolute ignoranuses like Ted Cruz are lining up according to pay grade to oppose equal access to Web communications. Cruz, of course, is chartered by his owners to oppose anything that contains the word “equal”. The telecom model is simply to lie even more than politicians. Usually about imaginary costs and research.

While we do have some of the most expensive broadband in the world – we’re down to about 18th in the world for the speeds we get for our buck$.

UPDATE: FCC chairman kicks the can down the road – to have backing of rightwing Congress. So much for government agencies dedicated to the good of the whole nation, eh?

Ready for the next Do-Nothing Congress?

Peter Orszag wrote this before Tuesday’s elections. It was published at Bloomberg View before voting even started. He doesn’t enjoy being this sort of savant – but, I don’t think he’s wrong?

The question of the day is, What difference will it make if Republicans take the Senate?

The backdrop is a highly polarized political environment. Regardless of whether it’s preferable for Congress to enact bipartisan laws, the moderates who produce them are so rare that only partisan legislation is likely to be considered. Getting such laws passed, though, requires that one party control not just the House and the Senate but also the White House. In a world where you need all three, having two as opposed to one doesn’t matter much.

The need for greater control is especially the case in the Senate, where at least 60 votes are generally required to get anything done. The Republicans, to be sure, could use a process called reconciliation to pass budget-related bills with just 51 votes, but even then the legislation is subject to a presidential veto, which takes 67 votes to overturn. And while it’s true that a noticeable number of Senate Democrats are moderates (and their ranks may swell a bit after today), their votes will not be so easy for Republicans to obtain and are probably not sufficient to assemble a veto-proof majority.

So anyone who expects a Senate shift to produce broad tax reform or immigration reform over the next two years is likely to be disappointed. Tax reform is easy to say and hard to do; immigration reform is slightly more plausible but still very unlikely in the polarized environment. So what might happen?

One bad scenario is another outbreak of fiscal drama. The U.S. economy seems to be recovering, despite headwinds from abroad, in part because, for the past year, lawmakers in Washington have not created needless uncertainty. Next spring, however, the debt limit, the doc fix and other fiscal cliffs will rear their ugly heads…

What about health care? Votes to repeal Obamacare may be inevitable, but they will not have sufficient support to override the inevitable presidential veto. Republicans may do better with targeted legislation aimed at provisions that are unpopular with a number of Democrats. On that list are the medical device tax and the Independent Payment Advisory Board. I am a supporter of both, and believe the Independent Payment Advisory Board in particular has been widely misunderstood, but they are politically vulnerable. The White House would be wise to start defending them now — or at least limit the damage any changes might impose…

Mostly, though, we should expect continuation of not very much from Washington. Inaction, to be sure, is better than drama…

Orszag is more optimistic than I am. And he thinks the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the sort of free trade deal that will benefit the United States. I sincerely doubt it will benefit anyone in my neighborhood; but, then, ain’t any homes expensive enough to satisfy Mr. Orszag or his new/old buddies now that he’s back on Wall Street after leaving the Obama Administration.

He ain’t moving in.

Retailers who don’t want Apple Pay have already been hacked

MCX hacked

You can’t make this stuff up.

MCX, the retailer consortium behind Apple Pay competitor CurrentC, has already been hacked, according to an email sent out to those people who have signed up for, or downloaded, the CurrentC app…

A spokeswoman confirmed that the email is real.

MCX, which is a consortium of dozens of retailers including Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s and CVS, say that no other information has been taken but that the investigation is continuing. The “unauthorized third parties” were able to access email addresses of people who were part of the app’s private beta testing program as well as email addresses of people who simply signed up to access the app when it launches publicly…

MCX confirmed this morning that its member companies have promised to only support CurrentC. MCX was formed in large part to create a mobile app that would persuade shoppers to pay through their phone with their checking account or store-branded plastic. The retailers’ goal here was to cut down on the transaction fees it has to pay banks and credit card networks on traditional credit card purchases. That is likely a big reason why it opposes Apple Pay, which supports those traditional cards.

But the hack now raises big questions about whether shoppers will trust CurrentC app with their sensitive financial information when it launches; the app asks for users’ social security number and driver’s license information if they want to link their bank account with the app. The app does not currently let users pay with their traditional credit card accounts, though an MCX blog post published this morning said it would eventually support credit cards, though it didn’t provide details on which kinds. Until CurrentC launches, customers shopping at MCX stores will be left with the choice of using cash or traditional magstripe cards which have proved to be easy to clone.

By banning Apple Pay, which is built into the new line of iPhones, merchants are choosing to ban a more secure payment method. Apple Pay customers can use a wide range of credit and debit card accounts to make purchases. Users have to authorize a transaction by pressing their finger against the phone’s fingerprint sensor. The phone then sends payment information to a store’s checkout equipment, though it comes in the form of a stand-in string of characters known as a token and does not include an actual credit or debit card number.

Our household has already switched over to ApplePay. More than anything, we love the anonymity and security. No one gets to see our credit card number. Not even our name.

U.S. Tech should worry even more about the Snowden effect


Edward Snowden speaks to a European Council parliamentary hearing

U.S. technology companies have a lot to fear from the fallout over the widespread spying by the National Security Agency. Corporate customers ripping out their products from data centers around the world isn’t one of them.

The real threat? Projects just getting off the ground. A $185-million submarine data cable that Brazil is building to Europe – which the country says can be built without U.S. technologies – offers one example, which we reported on today.

The cable illustrates a bigger problem facing Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. tech industry: Emerging markets are spending more on information technology and taking a bigger share of the global market, as growth rates from developed countries are slowing down.

If the Brazil-to-Europe cable is built as planned, and U.S. tech firms are passed over in favor of European, Asian or local suppliers, it would be a sign that when it comes to international tech projects, the Snowden Effect will be as widespread as the NSA’s surveillance.

The dummies in Congress continue to maintain the Cold War mentality which has ballooned since 9/11. On one hand you have the wholesale handover of American privacy into the disdainful care of the NSA and FBI. They couldn’t care less about our rights.

On the other hand, you have populist politicians who attack furriners – especially China – as the Red Menace which sleeps in the closet opposite your bed – while terrorists sleep underneath. So, Huawei – which built the broadband infrastructure for France and a chunk of the UK, as examples – is banned from doing business in the United States. Does anyone think that constitutes a negative in the eyes of nations already put off by US militarism, snoops and profiteers? If Uncle Sugar is afraid of this company they must be doing something right.

Huawei may or may not get a piece of the Brazilian project; but, Cisco doesn’t stand a chance.

Whisky recalled in Europe for antifreeze ingredient – Feds say OK for us!

One of the fastest-growing liquor brands in America is being recalled in Europe over an ingredient found in some types of antifreeze.

But here in America, it’s still on store shelves…

“Whiskey is hot, but flavored whiskey is even hotter, and out of all the flavored whiskey, Fireball is by far the hottest,” New York Times editor Clay Risen said.

But some European countries have given the cinnamon-flavored drink an icy reception.

Finland, Sweden and Norway pulled it off store shelves after finding it contained too much propylene glycol…

While strictly monitored in Europe, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have approved the use of propylene glycol in the U.S. in limited quantities.

It can be found in scores of everyday products from food to certain toothpastes.

Mostly products that are heavily processed, so a lot of sodas, a lot of store-bought cake mixes, a lot of icing, a lot of ice cream,” Clay Risen said. “People are not getting poisoned by soft drinks or ice cream. It won’t happen with Fireball either.”

Mostly crap processed food you shouldn’t be eating in the first place, Bubba Clay.

Sazerac insists Fireball Whisky is perfectly safe to drink. Still, this bad publicity could end up burning them.

The FDA allows about 50 grams per kilogram of propylene glycol in foods.

Like I said above, you shouldn’t be consuming most processed foods in the first place. You’re just guaranteeing an abundance of salt, sugar, artificial flavorings – and propylene glycol in your body. I have enough in the radiator of my old pickup truck for the winter. That’s sufficient.

Thanks, Mike

Uncle Sugar continues to fall behind in affordable broadband

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America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry…

For relatively high-speed Internet at 25 megabits per second, 75 percent of homes have one option at most, according to the Federal Communications Commission — usually Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T or Verizon. It’s an issue anyone who has shopped for Internet knows well, and it is even worse for people who live in rural areas. It matters not just for entertainment; an Internet connection is necessary for people to find and perform jobs, and to do new things in areas like medicine and education.

In many parts of Europe, the government tries to foster competition by requiring that the companies that own the pipes carrying broadband to people’s homes lease space in their pipes to rival companies. (That policy is based on the work of Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month in part for his work on regulation and communications networks.)

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 reclassified high-speed Internet access as an information service, which is unregulated, rather than as telecommunications, which is regulated. Its hope was that Internet providers would compete with one another to provide the best networks. That didn’t happen. The result has been that they have mostly stayed out of one another’s markets.

Unforeseen consequences is often the excuse offered by the corporate pimps in government. Whether getting direct kickbacks – “campaign donations” – or being obedient little trolls while awaiting the promised job opening in private industry, ain’t much to be gained by working on behalf of us ordinary working folks.

New America’s ranking of cities by average speed for broadband priced between $35 and $50 a month, the top three cities, Seoul, Hong Kong and Paris, offered speeds 10 times faster than the United States cities. In my neck of the prairie I have the choice of two of the national ISP’s. One gets me 26mbps download max for $75 all in. Their “competitor” charges about half that amount – for 7mbps.

Competition American style.

Thanks, Mike