Businesses

Dark Side of Gig Economy: Some Instacart Workers Go On Strike Over Pay That Can Be as Low as $1 Per Hour (fastcompany.com) 245

From a report: Instacart shoppers and drivers -- the people who gather your groceries and deliver them to you after you order via the Instacart app -- are on strike. While independent contractors can't technically strike, via a Facebook group some of the company's thousands of employees have organized a "no delivery day" in the hopes of getting higher wages, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The strike is only taking place in a few of the 154 cities nationwide that Instacart operates in. The action may be small, but the grievances are big. While Instacart, the 5-year-old San Francisco startup, is valued at $3.4 billion, it allegedly pays its workers as little as $1 per order. Ars Technica has a great breakdown of all the issues surrounding how Instacart employees get paid and it's complex, with three different income streams coming together Voltron-like to form a wage. The result, though, is that some shoppers are being paid less than the federal minimum wage, like a Jackson, Miss., worker who put in a 19-hour week in Jackson, Mississippi, that paid out $37.75 (roughly $2/hour). That's far below the $14/hour wage that Ars Technica says Instacart is targeting.
Hardware

The Secret to Tech's Next Big Breakthroughs? Stacking Chips (wsj.com) 86

Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal: A funny thing is happening to the most basic building blocks of nearly all our devices. Microchips, which are usually thin and flat, are being stacked like pancakes (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). Chip designers -- now playing with depth, not just length and width -- are discovering a variety of unexpected dividends in performance, power consumption and capabilities. Without this technology, the Apple Watch wouldn't be possible. Nor would the most advanced solid-state memory from Samsung, artificial-intelligence systems from Nvidia and Google, or Sony's crazy-fast next-gen camera. Think of this 3-D stacking as urban planning. Without it, you have sprawl -- microchips spread across circuit boards, getting farther and farther apart as more components are needed. But once you start stacking chips, you get a silicon cityscape, with everything in closer proximity.

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed, says Greg Yeric, director of future silicon technology for ARM Research, part of microchip design firm ARM.

Spam

Spam Is Back (theoutline.com) 124

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: For a while, spam -- unsolicited bulk messages sent for commercial or fraudulent purposes -- seemed to be fading away. The 2003 CAN-SPAM Act mandated unsubscribe links in email marketing campaigns and criminalized attempts to hide the sender's identity, while sophisticated filters on what were then cutting-edge email providers like Gmail buried unwanted messages in out-of-sight spam folders. In 2004, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." In 2011, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs noted that increasingly tech savvy law enforcement efforts were shutting down major spam operators -- including SpamIt.com, alleged to be a major hub in a Russian digital criminal organization that was responsible for an estimated fifth of the world's spam. These efforts meant that the proportion of all emails that are spam has slowly fallen to a low of about 50 percent in recent years, according to Symantec research.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls.

Google

Critics Debate Autism's Role in James Damore's Google Memo (themarysue.com) 274

James Damore "wants you to know he isn't using autism as an excuse," reports a Silicon Valley newspaper, commenting on the fired Google engineer's new interview with the Guardian. But they also note that "he says being on the spectrum means he 'sees things differently'," and the weekend editor at the entertainment and "geek culture" site The Mary Sue sees a problem in the way that interview was framed. It's the author of this Guardian article, not James Damore himself, who makes the harmful suggestion that Damore's infamous Google memo and subsequent doubling-down are somehow caused by his autism... It frames autism as some sort of basic decency deficiency, rather than a neurological condition shared by millions of people.... This whole article is peppered with weird suggestions like this, suggestions which detract from an otherwise interesting piece.. All these weird suggestions that autism and misogyny/bigotry are somehow tied (as if autistic feminists didn't exist) do unfortunately detract from one of the article's great points.

Having worked at a number of companies large and small, I can at least anecdotally confirm that their diversity training rarely includes a discussion of neurodiversity, and when it does, it's not particularly empathetic or helpful... Many corporate cultures are plainly designed for neurotypical extroverts and no one else -- and that should change. I really do think Lewis meant well in pointing that out. But the other thing that should change? The way the media scapegoats autism as a source of anti-social behavior.

The Media

Net Neutrality is Essentially Unassailable, Argues Billionaire Barry Diller (broadcastingcable.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes Yahoo Finance: The billionaire media mogul behind such popular sites as Expedia, Match.com and HomeAdvisor has a one-word forecast for traditional media conglomerates concerned about being replaced by tech giants: serfdom. "They, like everyone else, are kind of going to be serfs on the land of the large tech companies," IAC chairman Barry Diller said... That's because Google and Facebook not only have such massive user bases but also dominate online advertising. "Google and Facebook are consolidating," Diller said. "They are the only mass advertising mediums we have..." He expects Facebook, Google and maybe Amazon to face government regulation, simply because of their immense size. "At a certain point in size, you must," he said. "It's inevitable."

He did, however, outline one positive for Big Tech getting so gargantuan. Big Telecom no longer has the economic leverage to roll back today's net-neutrality norms, in which internet providers don't try to charge sites extra for access to their subscribers. "I think it's hard to overturn practically," he said. "It is the accepted system."

Even if the U.S. government takes moves to fight net neutrality, Diller told CNBC that "I think it is over... It is [the] practice of the world... You're still going to be able to push a button and publish to the world, without anybody in between asking you for tribute. I think that is now just the way things are done. I don't think it can be violated no matter what laws are back."
Cloud

Cringely: Amazon Is Starting To Act Like 'Bad Microsoft' (cringely.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes Cringely.com: My last column was about the recent tipping point signifying that cloud computing is guaranteed to replace personal computing over the next three years. This column is about the slugfest to determine what company's public cloud is most likely to prevail. I reckon it is Amazon's and I'll go further to claim that Amazon will shortly be the new Microsoft. What I mean by The New Microsoft is that Amazon is starting to act a lot like the old Microsoft of the 1990s. You remember -- the Bad Microsoft...

Tech companies behave this way because most employees are young and haven't worked anywhere else and because the behavior reflects the character of the founder. If the boss tells you to beat up customers and partners and it's your first job out of college, then you beat up customers and partners because that's the only world you know. At Microsoft this approach was driven by Bill Gates's belief that dominance could be lost in a single product cycle leaving no room for playing nice. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos is a believer in moving fast, making quick decisions and never looking back. The market has long rewarded this audacity so Amazon will continue to play hard until -- like Microsoft in the 90s -- they are punished for it.

Cringely points out most startups are already usings AWS -- and so are all 17 US intelligence agencies ("taking 350,000 PCs out of places like the CIA.")

Bonus link: 17 years ago Cringely answered questions from Slashdot readers.
Education

Microsoft Debuts Minecraft-Themed Coding Tutorial 23

theodp writes: In a few weeks, writes Microsoft Corporate VP Mary Snapp, "millions of kids and others will participate in an Hour of Code, a global call to action to spend an hour learning the basics of coding. Today, it's my privilege to announce that Microsoft has released a new Minecraft tutorial for Hour of Code, called Hero's Journey." The release of the new Code.org-touted flagship Hour of Code tutorial -- the third since Microsoft purchased Minecraft Maker Mojang for $2.5B in 2014 -- comes as Microsoft celebrates Minecraft: Education Edition reaching a milestone of 2 million users.

Microsoft boasts that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched to-date, which is certainly impressive from an infomercial or brand awareness standpoint. But does [adding a Scratch block to] move a Minecraft character forward 7 times on an $800 Microsoft Surface offer all that much more educational value than, say, moving a peg forward 5 times on a $10.99 Pop-O-Matic Trouble board game?
IBM

Tech Companies Try Apprenticeships To Fill The Tech Skills Gap (thehill.com) 122

Slashdot reader jonyen writes: For generations, apprenticeships have been the way of working life; master craftsmen taking apprentices under their wing, teaching them the tools of the trade. This declined during the Industrial Revolution as the advent of the assembly line enabled mass employment for unskilled laborers. The master-apprentice model went further out of focus as higher education and formal training became increasingly more valuable.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where employers are turning back the page to apprenticeships in an effort to fill a growing skills gap in the labor force in the digital age. Code.org estimates there will be a million unfulfilled tech jobs by 2020.

jonyen shared this article by IBM's Vice President of Talent:IBM is committed to addressing this shortage and recently launched an apprenticeship program registered with the US Department of Labor, with a plan to have 100 apprentices in 2018. ... Other firms have taken up the apprenticeship challenge as well. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example, has called for creating 5 million American apprentices in the next five years.

An apprenticeship offers the chance for Americans to get the formal education they need, whether through a traditional university, a community college or a trade school, while getting something else: On-the-job experience and an income... Right now, there are more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. that are going unfilled because employers can't find candidates with the right skills, according to the Labor Department.

IBM says their apprentices "are on their way to becoming software developers in our Cloud business and mainframe administrators for technologies like Blockchain, and we will add new apprenticeships in data analytics and cybersecurity as we replicate the program across the U.S."

"Ninety-one percent of apprentices in the U.S. find employment after completing their program, and their average starting wage is above $60,000."
Businesses

Walmart Says It's Preordered 15 of Tesla' New Semi Trucks (theverge.com) 176

Soon after Tesla unveiled its new electric Semi Truck and Roadster 2.0, Walmart says it has preordered 15 of the trucks. The Verge notes that the deal was "likely in the works before Tesla unveiled its new truck to the public." From the report: The pilot is planned for the U.S. and Canada. Five of the preordered vehicles will be for Walmart's U.S. business, and 10 will be for its Canadian routes, the company said. Walmart's fleet has about 6,000 trucks. "We have a long history of testing new technology -- including alternative-fuel trucks -- and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle," the company said in a statement. "We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions." Musk said the truck would enter production in 2019. JB Hunt Transport Services, a 56-year-old company based in Arkansas, also reserved "multiple" new Tesla trucks as well.
Robotics

'Robots Are Not Taking Over,' Says Head of UN Body of Autonomous Weapons (theguardian.com) 77

An anonymous reader writes: Robots are not taking over the world," the diplomat leading the first official talks on autonomous weapons assured on Friday, seeking to head off criticism over slow progress towards restricting the use of so-called "killer robots." The United Nations was wrapping up an initial five days of discussions on weapons systems that can identify and destroy targets without human control, which experts say will soon be battle ready. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: the robots are not taking over the world. Humans are still in charge," said India's disarmament ambassador, Amandeep Gill, who chaired the CCW meeting. "I think we have to be careful in not emotionalizing or dramatizing this issue," he told reporters in response to criticism about the speed of the conference's work. Twenty-two countries, mostly those with smaller military budgets and lesser technical knowhow, have called for an outright ban, arguing that automated weapons are by definition illegal as every individual decision to launch a strike must be made by a human. Gill underscored that banning killer robots, or even agreement on rules, remained a distant prospect.
Open Source

Proprietary Software is the Driver of Unprecedented Surveillance: Richard Stallman (factor-tech.com) 196

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, programming legend and recipient of at least 15 honorary doctorates and professorships: "The reason that we are subject now to more surveillance than there was in the Soviet Union is that digital technology made it possible," he says. "And the first disaster of digital technology was proprietary software that people would install and run on their own computers, and they wouldn't know what it was doing. They can't tell what it's doing. And that is the first injustice that I began fighting in 1983: proprietary software, software that is not free, that the users don't control." Here, Stallman is keen to stress, he doesn't mean free in the sense of not costing money -- plenty of free software is paid for -- but free in the sense of freedom to control. Software, after all, instructs your computer to perform actions, and when another company has written and locked down that software, you can't know exactly what it is doing. "You might think your computer is obeying you, when really its obeying the real master first, and it only obeys you when the real master says it's ok. With every program there are two possibilities: either the user controls the program or the program controls the users," he says. "It's free software if users control it. And that's why it respects their freedom. Otherwise it's a non-free, proprietary, user subjugating program."
The Internet

Detroit's Marginalized Communities Are Building Their Own Internet (vice.com) 124

An anonymous reader writes: Motherboard has a report that discusses how some of Detroit's communities are building their own internet to help close the gap between the roughly 60 percent of Detroiters who have internet and 40 percent who don't. From the report: "[Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project] is part of a growing cohort of Detroiters who have started a grassroots movement to close that gap, by building the internet themselves. It's a coalition of community members and multiple Detroit nonprofits. They're starting with three underserved neighborhoods, installing high speed internet that beams shared gigabit connections from an antenna on top of the tallest building on the street, and into the homes of people who have long gone without. They call it the Equitable Internet Initiative. The issue isn't only cost, though it is prohibitive for many Detroiters, but also infrastructure. Because of Detroit's economic woes, many Big Telecom companies haven't thought it worthwhile to invest in expanding their network to these communities. The city is filled with dark fiber optic cable that's not connected to any homes or businesses -- relics from more optimistic days.

Residents who can't afford internet, are on some kind of federal or city subsidy like food stamps, and students are prioritized for the Initiative, Nucera told me. The whole effort started last summer with enlisting digital stewards, locals from each neighborhood who were interested in working for the nonprofit coalition, doing everything from spreading the word, to teaching digital literacy, to installing routers and pulling fiber. Many of these stewards started out with little or no tech expertise, but after a 20-week-long training period, they've become experts able to install, troubleshoot, and maintain a network from end to end. They're also aiming to spread digital literacy, so people can truly own the network themselves."

Privacy

Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts (apnews.com) 159

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed. The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative." That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting." Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives" for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.
Android

OnePlus 5T Featuring 6-inch AMOLED Display, 3.5mm Headphone Jack Launched (wired.com) 54

Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus, which has been lauded by consumers for offering phones with top-of-the-line specs at a reasonably affordable price range, on Thursday at an event in New York announced its newest flagship smartphone. Called the OnePlus 5T, the handset sports a 6.01-inch AMOLED screen (screen resolution 1080 x 2160) manufactured by Samsung in a body that is roughly of the same size as the 5.5-inch display-clad predecessor OnePlus 5. The secret sauce is, much like Samsung, LG and Apple, OnePlus has moved to a near bezel-less design. The company is not getting rid of the fingerprint scanner though, which it has pushed to the back side. The front-facing camera, additionally, OnePlus says, can be used to unlock the device. Other features include a 3,300mAh battery with the company's proprietary Dash Charge fast-charging tech (no wireless charging support -- the company says at present wireless charging doesn't really add much value to the device), top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with Adreno 540, 6GB of RAM with 64GB of storage (there is another variant of the phone which offers 8GB of RAM with 128GB of space). As for camera, we are looking at a dual 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel setup in the back. One more thing: the phone has a headphone jack and it runs Android 7.1 out of the box. The OnePlus 5T will go on sale in Europe, India, and the United States starting November 21st, with the base model priced at Euro 499, INR 32,999, and $499, respectively. The high-end variant is priced at Euro 559, INR 37,999, and $559. Wired has more details.
Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.

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