Not going anywhere

At the start of all this, I hadn’t expected the economic impact to be so great. It was just a health crisis, right?

New analysis of the impact of lockdown on UK jobsISER
Estimates produced by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex suggest the lockdown can take more than 6.5m jobs out of the economy -around a quarter of the total.

We can only hope these losses are recovered in the bounceback (yes/no).

And I was assuming all those who have been furloughed will return to work, business as normal. Seems not.

Rolls-Royce to cut 9,000 jobs as Covid-19 takes toll on airlinesThe Guardian
The jet engine manufacturer said it was targeting £1.3bn in annual cost savings to weather the protracted downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that has grounded much of the world’s airlines. Head count cuts will account for about half the savings target. […]

[Rolls-Royce’s chief executive, Warren] East said the aim was to make “more than half” the job cuts this year. “We need to get on with it because we know it is a harsh reality about our future,” he said. “We hope to make a very good start on this in 2020, more than half at any rate.”

A “very good” start? I think he could have phrased that more sensitively.

These images of rows and rows of parked up planes were first shared a few weeks ago, and are very striking, but the sobering news from Rolls Royce and no doubt many other companies is quite a dampener.

Aerial photos of grounded jets across the USAPetapixel
Usually I’d be thrilled for this opportunity, but not today. The COVID-19 pandemic has functionally destroyed commercial aviation. Almost overnight air passenger demand plummeted 95%.

And what are the knock on effects for exciting projects like this one? Seems even more fanciful now.

Boeing’s colossal 777X is unlike any plane that’s gone beforeWired UK
Regardless of the speed they’re moving, the aviation sector has had a particular goal in mind for decades. According to Lone: “We want to get to a point where aircraft wings are like bird wings. When you look at the research and development projects from Boeing, Airbus, Nasa, all the technologies we are developing now, including this fold, are the initial steps towards what we call a bird-flight model,” he says. “We want a solution that’s similar to nature’s millions of years of evolution.”

Back to basics, perhaps?

Backyard aeronautics: Chinese farmers who also make flying machinesUrbanist
According to photographer Xiaoxiao Xu, the Chinese farmers and other rural hobbyists building flying machines from scratch are not in it for fame or fortune. Mostly working out of their own backyards, these creators are simply trying to find ways to lift themselves up into the air. Some build choppers, others build planes, and others hybrids and experimental aircraft that are tricky to classify.

As for why they do it, the answers vary — one sums the mystery of motivation up well: “I cannot give a reason for why I want to fly. Maybe this is just how human beings evolve: we ride horses, ride bicycles, drive cars, and then fly an airplane. I fly as best I can. It’s my dream, my joy. It’s pretty much my life.”

How is WFH working out for you?

The future has always been uncertain, in an abstract you-never-know-what’s-round-the-corner kind of way. But these days, goodness me — the very near future has never been so completely uncertain, unknown, and unsettled. For instance, what will our workplaces be like, after all this?

The office is deadMarker
“It’s not something I was even thinking about six weeks ago, but it’s definitely something I’ve been talking about now with my investors,” Haynie says. “Overall it’s a win-win.” This is just the tip of the iceberg. From startups and tech giants to more old-school Wall Street firms, businesses are rethinking the role of office space and whether they even need it. If, in the old world, an office was a form of corporate peacocking — a flashy location in some iconic building with a boutique-hotel level of design for clients, employees, customers, and investors— in the new world, it is becoming a very costly line item that could be reduced to the equivalent of a single flagship store.

Your boss is watching you: Work-from-home boom leads to more surveillanceNPR
Her employer has started using software called Time Doctor. It downloads videos of employees’ screens while they work. It also can enable a computer’s webcam to take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes. “If you’re idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or whatever, a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again or we’re going to pause your time,’ ” the woman said.

Zoom fatigue is something the deaf community knows very wellQuartz
Posts about “Zoom fatigue” mention struggling with non-verbal cues. This frustration is relatable to how hard of hearing individuals have to accurately lipread, view sign language clearly, or get an unobstructed view of faces and body language. Others point out the stress in understanding what is said with choppy audio, time delays, or pixelated video. The deaf community encounters this difficulty in nearly every setting, like they’re piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.

Don’t hit them when they’re down

I know that the coronavirus has dominated articles I’ve shared on this blog recently, but that’s pretty much all I can find to read. I’ve not posted anything about data protection in a while, so here’s something from the USA—albeit still about that virus. (via Boing Boing)

Small businesses seeking loans may have had personal data exposedCNBC
The SBA notified nearly 8,000 business owners of the potential inadvertent disclosure of information, which included names, Social Security numbers, tax identification numbers, addresses, dates of birth, email, phone numbers, marital and citizenship status, household size, income, disclosure inquiry and financial and insurance information, according to a letter sent to business owners, which CNBC obtained. […]

If the user attempted to hit the page back button, he or she may have seen information that belonged to another business owner, not their own. The official said that 4 million small business owners applied for $383 billion in aid via the EIDL program and emergency grants. The two programs are funded for just $17 billion.

The affected businesses have been offered identity theft protection services for a year.

Less TGI Friday, more WFH Monday

WFH = working from home. An abbreviation I hadn’t heard of until recently. It seems we’re all at it. Well, not all of us.

The great Zoom divide: How working from home is a privilegeNew Statesman
Supporting the WFH and self-isolating economy is an army of factory and warehouse workers who are now busier than ever. There is much awareness and respect, rightfully, for medical staff who are at the frontlines of fighting Covid-19 – but what about those on the industrial frontlines? Who is protecting them? How can we keep essential supplies and functions running without exposing these workers to health risks? Is that even possible?

Avoiding Coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t affordNew York Times
For many workers, being sick means choosing between staying home and getting paid. One-quarter of workers have no access to paid sick days, according to Labor Department data: two-thirds of the lowest earners but just 6 percent of the highest earners. Just a handful of states and local governments have passed sick leave laws. Only 60 percent of workers in service occupations can take paid time off when they are ill — and they are also more likely than white-collar workers to come in contact with other people’s bodies or food.

But for those of us who are, there’s no end of advice out there, from kit to clothes.

Stykka designs a temporary workstation so you’ll stay the f*** homeDesign Milk
When Denmark ordered people to stay home, Stykka got creative knowing many people had to share workspaces at home with their families or had to use the dining table. They challenged themselves to use only cardboard, zip ties, and a laser cutter, and in less than 24 hours, they not only had a prototype but they were ready to ship the desks out. Once received, the desk takes less than 10 minutes to assemble.

Don’t mute, get a better headsetMatt Mullenweg
When you’re speaking to a muted room, it’s eerie and unnatural — you feel alone even if you can see other people’s faces. You lose all of those spontaneous reactions that keep a conversation flowing. If you ask someone a question, or they want to jump in, they have to wait to unmute. I also don’t love the “unmute to raise your hand” behavior, as it lends itself to meetings where people are just waiting their turn to speak instead of truly listening.

As population works from home, Walmart reports increased sales for tops but not pantsCBS News
Men’s fashion brand Suitsupply is getting in on both sides of the trend. The company recently posted a photo on Instagram of a model wearing a button-down, tie and blazer on top — and nothing but underwear on the bottom. “Working from home doesn’t mean compromising on style. Keep your look professional—from the waist up at least,” the brand wrote. Scrolling through the Instagram post leads to a picture that says, “Off-camera?” before featuring the same model, this time wearing a sweatshirt.

Careful though.

Zoom announces 90-day feature freeze to fix privacy and security issuesThe Verge
Zoom has never shared user numbers before, but Yuan reveals that back in December the company had a maximum of 10 million daily users. “In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid,” says Yuan. That’s a huge increase that has seen people use Zoom for reasons nobody expected before the coronavirus pandemic.

Security and privacy implications of ZoomSchneier on Security
In general, Zoom’s problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations. […] Zoom is a security and privacy disaster, but until now had managed to avoid public accountability because it was relatively obscure. Now that it’s in the spotlight, it’s all coming out.

Automated tool can find 100 Zoom meeting IDs per hourThe Verge
In addition to being able to find around 100 meetings per hour, one instance of zWarDial can successfully determine a legitimate meeting ID 14 percent of the time, Lo told Krebs on Security. And as part of the nearly 2,400 upcoming or recurring Zoom meetings zWarDial found in a single day of scanning, the program extracted a meeting’s Zoom link, date and time, meeting organizer, and meeting topic, according to data Lo shared with Krebs on Security.

Meanwhile.

Men in suits

The subject might sound dry, but this photographic series from Jakob Schnetz looking at the trade fair industry offers us glimpses into a strange, strained, suited world.

Place of promise, a photographic series examining the capitalist world of trade showsIGNANT
Over a period of five years, Schnetz visited more than 40 trade fairs, documenting on film an intriguing world driven by fierce competition to maximise profit. “In Germany’s exhibition halls the newest products are presented, the most efficient services are praised, and the best know-how is exploited,” he continues. “The place of perfect marketing is dominated by standardized scenery, live-shows, men in suits, and the tough fight for customers.” Nevertheless, the images in Place of Promise focus on the social occurrences of the shows, the in-between moments: the phone calls, the morning rituals, and the coffee and cigarette breaks.

men-in-suits-1

men-in-suits-2

men-in-suits-3

The cost of convenience

An interesting critique of the ‘Uber-for-X’ business model so favoured, still, by Silicon Valley. The gains are so marginal, compared to the wider impact of these businesses.

The servant economy
The haves and the have-nots might be given new names: the demanding and the on-demand. These apps concretize the wild differences that the global economy currently assigns to the value of different kinds of labor. Some people’s time and effort are worth hundreds of times less than other people’s. The widening gap between the new American aristocracy and everyone else is what drives both the supply and demand of Uber-for-X companies.

The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news. As my colleague Esther Bloom pointed out, “For centuries, a woman’s social status was clear-cut: either she had a maid or she was one.” Domestic servants—to walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the house, get groceries—were a fixture of life in America well into the 20th century. In the short-lived narrowing of economic fortunes wrapped around the Second World War that created what Americans think of as “the middle class,” servants became far less common, even as dual-income families became more the norm and the hours Americans worked lengthened.

What the combined efforts of the Uber-for-X companies created is a new form of servant, one distributed through complex markets to thousands of different people. It was Uber, after all, that launched with the idea of becoming “everyone’s private driver,” a chauffeur for all.

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

(Via)

Hanging on

Typewriters are still around, and thankfully so too are some of the typewriter repair shop.

This typewriter repairman was told computers were king. Twenty years later, he’s still in business
But Quezada’s admiration for the machine is clear. The Underwood and its kind “are like Mercedes, like Rolls Royces,” he said. They belong to an era before planned obsolescence, when people did not just replace, but repaired, what they owned.

Unlike the pager, the PDA, the floppy disk and the VCR, the typewriter has escaped the heap of gadgets defunct and disused. The reason, according to Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission and typewriter collector: Its slow pace is meditative, not frustrating, an exercise in deliberateness closer to engraving than typing on a computer.

hanging-on-1

Business isn’t what it was, of course.

When Quezada left his Mexican home state of Chihuahua in 1987 to join his sister in San Gabriel, the shop she owned with her husband — an Italian immigrant who repaired typewriters as a boy in Salerno — had servicing contracts with school districts in San Gabriel, El Monte, Whittier and Alhambra.

In the summer, when students were gone and the schools wanted classrooms full of typewriters repaired, the shop had so much business it had to hire temporary workers, Quezada said.

“Around 1980, every little town had a shop that repaired and sold typewriters. A typewriter was expected to be serviced and repaired, and it was expected to last 20, 30 years.”

Quezada took over the shop in the mid-’90s. It wasn’t long before computers were supplanting the typewriter. Though he’s held on, business gets leaner every year, the new interest notwithstanding.

His door is still open at the moment, at least.

hanging-on-2

International Office Machines

Show me the money

An interesting debate on the merits and drawbacks of our moving towards a cashless society. Yes, it’s super convenient, for both consumers and businesses, but perhaps not for everyone.

‘Cash is just grief’: why shops and bars want to make you pay by card
From contactless payments at self-service supermarket tills to online banking, it can seem like the digitisation of money is inevitable. But cash is proving curiously resilient. Payments UK reports that it is still used in 44% of consumer transactions and, oddly, as the Bank of England has observed, despite the rate of card transactions soaring and the value of cash payments falling by 10% annually, the volume of cash in circulation is at a record high. The number of British people who deal solely in cash – 2.7 million – is also rising. That oddity is often attributed to low interest rates, people hoarding money after the 2008 crash and a booming criminal economy.

Well, it’s good to see at least one economy booming, right?

Businesses can save time and money with card-only payments, and not having cash on the premises is safer too, but perhaps they like the way we’re more likely to spend more, too?

In a 2016 survey by the financial technology firm ClearScore, 59% of people blamed their overspending on using cards and 72% said that contactless payments make them prone to impulse purchases. […]

“The haptic, physical sensation of handling and spending a £20 note makes you ‘feel it’. With cashless, that is lost somewhat,” says Jez Groom from Cowry Consulting, which researches “behavioural economics”. “The Apple Pay ding you get from your iPhone should be replaced with a vibration calibrated to the amount spent: light for under £10; heavy and consistent for £30.”

Online joke shops are no laughing matter

With a headline that makes me want to respond with, ‘Thank goodness!”, here’s an unusual take on the business behind internet “humour”.

Memes are becoming harder to monetize
“One of the biggest factors in a meme dying is if a meme gets overused,” says Jason Wong, the founder and CEO of a meme-focused e-commerce business called Dank Tank that sells merchandise like Tide Pod socks. “People today are consuming more memes than ever. The expiration date for them has shortened more since even last year. Memes used to last for two to three weeks, but recently we’ve noticed they die after just a few days.”

“It feels like the internet is all moving a lot quicker,” says Samantha Fishbein, the co-founder and COO of Betches Media.

Or maybe we’re getting bored of it all a lot quicker.

Kanban’s can-do attitude?

kanban board

How to apply Kanban thinking at work
At day’s end, review which tasks are in the “Done” column. “If you’ve only finished green tasks, ask yourself: ‘Are those my highest-value tasks? Why am I completing some and not others?’,” says Benson. “Try to identify patterns. That way you can hypothesise solutions, enact them, and test them against the board. The kanban should always be helping you improve.”

Might give this a go. I’ve got lists coming out of my ears, but I’ve been struggling with visualising my overall position on all these projects I’m responsible for.

To be the product, or not to be

In I’m Not The Product, But I Play One On The Internet, Derek Powazek sets us straight on a few assumptions we may be labouring under.

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

I don’t know who said it first, but the line has achieved a kind of supernatural resonance online. And for good reason – it describes a kind of modern internet company that provides a free service. These businesses are designed to aggregate a large number of users in order to sell that audience’s aggregate attention, usually in the form of advertising.

But the more the line is repeated, the more it gets on my nerves. It has a stoner-like quality to it (“Have you ever looked at your hands? I mean really looked at your hands?”). It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way.

Which he does, and now I’m not too sure.