Heading back into the office again?

Another Monday rolls by, only my third one in the office since March, six months ago. Working from home was quickly becoming part of the new normal, but I’m not so sure now.

Bosses are doing weird things to get people back in the officeWired UK
A private ride to work is a luxury for Cameron, who has cycled in the past but normally commutes by train. When Advent started discussions on reopening its London office, Cameron found herself in a predicament: while she craved the human interactions of the office, she was unwilling to ride public transport for fear of catching the virus. She was also wary of becoming infected in the workplace. Along with many of her colleagues, she decided it was safer to stay home.

This month, she changed her mind when the company sent an email to all 102 employees at the London office offering to cover the cost of taxis for them to attend the office for team meetings but not the regular day-to-day commute. Advent also provides fortnightly home-testing kits, and requires employees to have tested negative within the past two weeks to be eligible for entry.

The work from home backlash is upon usWealth of Common Sense
In March, many companies were forced into a work from home situation whether they wanted to or not. Considering there were no meetings, planning or upfront technology investments made leading up to that shift, it has gone better than most employees or employers could have dreamed. But there are bound to be growing pains in the months and years ahead as companies decide how to integrate what they’ve learned over the past 6 months. This transition is not going to be as smooth as many people think.

I think “growing pains” slightly undersells the issue somewhat.

Why airlines, cities, and Starbucks need remote workers back at the officeMarker
But now, suggests MIT economist David Autor in a paper last month, the office economy is under threat. The pandemic, he and his co-author, Elisabeth Reynolds, a lecturer at MIT, write, has made a permanent shift to remote work for a large part of the office workforce a near certainty. And with that, tens of thousands of workers in the office support economy — those who “feed, transport, clothe, entertain, and shelter people when they are not in their own homes” — will lose their jobs.

As we’ve seen before, it’s easier for some more than others.

Americans stayed inside even as cities and states reopenedBloomberg
In some cases, the ability to stay home was tied to income. More than 70% of households earning more than $100,000 said they were able to substitute telecommuting for some in-person work. By comparison, only 27% of households with annual incomes under $75,000 said someone in their home was able to telecommute.

And some companies seem more supportive than others.

Netflix’s Reed Hastings deems remote work ‘a pure negative’WSJ
WSJ: It’s been anticipated that many companies will shift to a work-from-home approach for many employees even after the Covid-19 crisis. What do you think? Mr. Hastings: If I had to guess, the five-day workweek will become four days in the office while one day is virtual from home. I’d bet that’s where a lot of companies end up.

WSJ: Do you have a date in mind for when your workforce returns to the office? Mr. Hastings: Twelve hours after a vaccine is approved.

Update: 22/09/2020

OK, never mind all that, as you were.

Work from home if you can, says Gove in government U-turnThe Guardian
The public in England will once again be asked to work from home if they can, Michael Gove has said, signalling a U-turn in government advice to combat the spread of coronavirus that he said could help “avert the need for more serious action in the future”. […]

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, suggested in a speech on Tuesday that if a second lockdown was necessary it would be “a sign of government failure, not an act of God”. Saying that Boris Johnson has had “months to prepare for this, Starmer added that a new lockdown “would take an immense toll on people’s physical and mental health and on the economy”.

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.”

Too soon?

The coronavirus outbreak continues apace, but has China turned the corner?

With its epidemic slowing, China tries to get back to workThe Economist
So along with reporting the number of new infections every day, officials are now reporting on the number of reopened businesses in their territories. The province of Zhejiang, a manufacturing powerhouse and home to Yiwu, leads the country so far, with 90% of its large industrial enterprises having restarted. But many of these are running at low capacities. Jason Wang is a manager with a clothing company that sells winter coats at Yiwu International Trade City. His factory started up again but only half of his employees have returned. “The government, enterprises, workers—everyone is making a gamble in restarting. But we have no choice, we have to make a living,” he says.

Meanwhile.

China pushes all-out production of face masks in virus fightNikkei Asian Review
Companies ranging from state-owned carmakers to oil producers are installing production lines as the government aims to raise output by at least 70%. But it will not be easy to meet demand from 1.4 billion people desperate for a measure of protection against infection.

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister has tested positive for coronavirusBuzzFeed News
Iraj Harirchi, the head of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force, tested positive a day after a news conference where he appeared visibly sick. He wasn’t wearing a mask.

Coronavirus has now spread to every continent except AntarcticaCNN
Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus.

Rush Limbaugh: Coronavirus is being ‘weaponized’ by Chinese communists to ‘bring down’ TrumpMediaite
“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” claimed Limbaugh. “I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus…. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Pianist Yuja Wang issues emotional reply after critics shame her for wearing glasses on stageClassic FM
“Humiliated” after being detained at the airport, Yuja Wang says she delivered the recital in sunglasses to hide her tears.

How the coronavirus revealed authoritarianism’s fatal flawThe Atlantic
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Mass coronavirus testing to be launched in Britain to uncover how far disease has spreadThe Telegraph
Thousands of Britons will be tested by GPs for coronavirus, amid fears that the explosion of cases in Europe means there could be far more cases in the UK than are known about.

Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure the coronavirusBusiness Insider
In a statement, a spokesperson told Business Insider: “We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.”

I’ll just share this here, too.

An authentic 16th century plague doctor mask preserved and on display at the German Museum of Medical HistoryDesign You Trust
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like a bird’s beak with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor’s nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator which contained aromatic items. The beak could hold dried flowers (including roses and carnations), herbs (including mint), spices, camphor, or a vinegar sponge.

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Time is money

Here’s a simple but effective way of getting across the differences in salaries and incomes from Neal Agarwal.

Printing money
Visualizing rates from minimum wage to the national deficit.

Another one of his constructions that caught my eye was Who Was Alive? Enter the year you’re interested in, and the page will list dozens of famous figures throughout history, with their ages and portraits. In 1944, for instance, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro and Miles Davis all turned 18. Imagine that party.

It’s all relative

That guy from Amazon has been out shopping.

Jeff Bezos Sets Record With $165 Million Beverly Hills Home PurchaseBloomberg
News of the sale emerged just days after filings showed Bezos cashed out $4.1 billion of Amazon shares and comes amid reports that he’s also entered the art market. He reportedly set a record for artist Ed Ruscha at a Christie’s auction with a $52.5 million purchase of “Hurting the Word Radio #2” in November and also bought “Vignette 19” by Kerry James Marshall for $18.5 million.

Sounds like a lot of money, right?

Jeff Bezos bought the most expensive property in LA with an eighth of a percent of his net worthThe Verge
It is literally impossible to imagine just how rich the wealthiest people on the planet are. The difference between their bank accounts and yours — yes, you, the person reading this — is that they can spend the monthly interest on their holdings and buy things like airplanes and islands. It is probably important to note here that Amazon paid zero dollars in federal income tax on $11 billion in before-tax profit in 2018; this year, it will pay out $162 million on $13.3 billion in profit — a whopping 1.2 percent effective tax rate.

An eighth of a percent? It’s all relative, as this interactive graphic from The Washington Post, very cleverly demonstrates.

What Michael Bloomberg’s $11 million Super Bowl ad would cost you on your budgetWashington Post
Very few of us can comprehend what it’s like to be uber-wealthy like Mike Bloomberg, one of the richest people in the world and a Democratic presidential candidate. For example, the former New York mayor spent $11 million of his own money on a 60-second Super Bowl ad. How much money would that mean to you? Let’s put the finances of the ultra-rich into the context of everyday life.

its-all-relative

(via FlowingData)

So, farewell then, EU

My first post tagged Brexit was in 2016, looking at the higher education angle. Since then, I’ve shared nearly 40 more, and here we are, our final day as members of the European Union, spending our 50p coins on tea towels.

The full story didn’t start in 2016, however. This comprehensive yet accessible look at the history of this struggle—how to balance control and influence—starts with Atlee in the 60s, and continues with Thatcher in the 70s and 80s, and Maastricht in the 90s.

Why Britain BrexitedThe Atlantic
The conservative British-American historian Niall Ferguson regards Brexit as beginning not with the 2016 referendum but with this period, with Britain’s decision not to follow much of the rest of the EU into the euro. “Britain was an equal and voluntary member of a very loose and voluntary confederation until European leaders tried to turn it into something more like a federation,” he told me. “Brexit was a logical conclusion.” Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, agrees: “Britain emerged [from Maastricht] having secured exceptions from those bits of the treaty it most opposed. Yet Maastricht represented a turning point in our relationship with European integration and contributed, albeit indirectly, to our decision to leave.”

So what happens now? All change? Not so much, at first.

Brexit explained: how it happened and what comes nextThe Guardian
British passport holders will continue to be able to travel and work in the EU because the country remains in the single market for the transition period up to 31 December and the freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capital over borders applies until then.

Give it a few months, though, and Brexit will be all over the news once more.

Brexit: here’s what happens nextThe Conversation
By the end of June we will have had the first major dilemma: whether to extend the transition period or not. The withdrawal agreement includes the option to extend the negotiation period for one or two years but that decision must be made by July. Johnson has also already said he does not intend to extend.

Whether or not Johnson sticks to that pledge matters deeply. If there is no extension, then the rest of 2020 will become a race to conclude as much of an agreement as possible before the December 31 deadline. Given the Christmas break, that means getting to a text by mid-December, so that it can begin a provisional implementation. This means allowing much of the agreement to come into effect, while the ratification by both sides trundles on in the background.

Since this truncated timeline makes it harder to reach a comprehensive relationship, businesses and citizens will have to think about preparing themselves for a marked change of circumstances at the year’s end. In the worst case, with no agreement at all, that might look a lot like the no-deal scenarios that were much-discussed in 2019. Only Northern Ireland will have a cushion.

The road to Brexit: the lols and the lowsYouTube

Things are on the up!

Well I, at least, can take a positive spin on this.

The mid-life crisis is real, study suggests, as economist pinpoints age of peak misery as 47.2The Telegraph
“Something very natural is going on here… maybe there’s something in the genes,” he said. “When you have this pattern in 132 countries, the reality is, it was really hard to not find it.”

In his paper entitled: ‘Is happiness U-shaped everywhere?’ and published yesterday by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Professor Blanchflower said that averaging across 257 individual country estimates from developing countries gives an age minimum of 48.2 for well-being, and doing the same across the 187 country estimates for advanced countries gives a similar minimum of 47.2.

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As a 47.8 year old, I’ve officially passed the nadir so can look forward to a continuing surge in happiness levels from now on!

Update 21/01/2020

Just parking this opposing article here, in case I need to refer to it later…

How to stave off depression in later lifePatient
Whether it’s moving from work into retirement or dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s evident that the stresses and feelings of isolation in later life can take their toll. And it may come as little surprise that nearly half of all adults aged 55 and over said they had experienced depression, according to a recent survey by Age UK.

Who’s really in charge?

Money makes the world go round. But who’s making the money go round?

The stockmarket is now run by computers, algorithms and passive managers
The execution of orders on the stockmarket is now dominated by algorithmic traders. Fewer trades are conducted on the rowdy floor of the nyse and more on quietly purring computer servers in New Jersey. According to Deutsche Bank, 90% of equity-futures trades and 80% of cash-equity trades are executed by algorithms without any human input. Equity-derivative markets are also dominated by electronic execution according to Larry Tabb of the Tabb Group, a research firm.

Nothing to worry about, right?

Turing Test: why it still matters
We’re entering the age of artificial intelligence. And as AI programs gets better and better at acting like humans, we will increasingly be faced with the question of whether there’s really anything that special about our own intelligence, or if we are just machines of a different kind. Could everything we know and do one day be reproduced by a complicated enough computer program installed in a complicated enough robot?

Robots, eh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

Of course citizens should be allowed to kick robots
Because K5 is not a friendly robot, even if the cutesy blue lights are meant to telegraph that it is. It’s not there to comfort senior citizens or teach autistic children. It exists to collect data—data about people’s daily habits and routines. While Knightscope owns the robots and leases them to clients, the clients own the data K5 collects. They can store it as long as they want and analyze it however they want. K5 is an unregulated security camera on wheels, a 21st-century panopticon.

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But let’s stay optimistic, yeah?

InspiroBot
I am an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.

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Global protests for a global crisis

Lots of attention, rightly, on the school climate strikes today.

Greta Thunberg is leading kids and adults from 150 countries in a massive Friday climate strike
It’s a big moment for Thunberg and the legions of youth and adult activists and leaders she’s inspired since August 2018, when she began skipping school on Fridays to protest outside the Swedish Parliament. Thousands of young people in the movement, called Fridays for Future, now strike every Friday to demand more aggressive action from their governments and the international community. The last large-scale coordinated climate strike on May 24 drew participants from 130 countries.

The huge youth climate strike is about courage, not hope
As children and young people in more than 150 countries skip school, university, or work, to strike against climate inaction, they aren’t just creating a new form of activism. They are also creating a platform that presents a united front to a multi-pronged global problem.

It’s not just for teenagers this time.

Global climate strike: how you can get involved
The global climate strike kicks off on Friday and will ripple across the world in more than 4,000 locations, the start of a weeklong movement to train international attention on the climate emergency. It’s the latest of a succession of strikes on Fridays led by schoolchildren – but this time adults are invited to join in.

The scale of the problem can feel a little overwhelming, but here’s a possible way forward.

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot make short film on the climate crisis
Environmental activists Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot have helped produce a short film highlighting the need to protect, restore and use nature to tackle the climate crisis. Living ecosystems like forests, mangroves, swamps and seabeds can pull enormous quantities of carbon from the air and store them safely, but natural climate solutions currently receive only 2% of the funding spent on cutting emissions. The film’s director, Tom Mustill of Gripping Films, said: ‘We tried to make the film have the tiniest environmental impact possible. We took trains to Sweden to interview Greta, charged our hybrid car at George’s house, used green energy to power the edit and recycled archive footage rather than shooting new.’

(Speaking of videos that are trying to change hearts and minds, have you seen the absolutely heart-wrenching film from Sandy Hook Promise, Back-To-School Essentials?)

The most interesting links of the day, I think, are all these from The Conversation, bringing together climate science with economics, culture and the media.

Five things every government needs to do right now to tackle the climate emergency
I would never argue against setting climate targets. They are necessary – but far from sufficient. We must guard against politicians hiding behind distant and possibly empty promises, and demand climate policy that impacts the carbon ledger here and now.

I stand with the climate striking students – it’s time to create a new economy
My research area remains marginal, and its results neglected, because to accept it would require a fundamental transformation of the prevailing economic philosophy. We would need to pay less attention to growth and profit as the measures of prosperity, and replace them with sufficiency and equity – a fair division of resources to provide what is sufficient for well-being and not more. After centuries of entrenchment, that’s no easy feat.

How getting rid of ‘shit jobs’ and the metric of productivity can combat climate change
But suppose we stopped chasing productivity growth. What might happen? It would make it easier to decarbonise. We’d no longer be stuck on the production-consumption treadmill. It would mean less stuff too. But do we need all the crap we have?

Humanity and nature are not separate – we must see them as one to fix the climate crisis
Scholars such as Timothy Morton and Bruno Latour remind us that viewing the natural world as separated from humans is not only ethically problematic but empirically false. Microorganisms in our gut aid digestion, while others compose part of our skin. Pollinators such as bees and wasps help produce the food we eat, while photosynthetic organisms such as trees and phytoplankton provide the oxygen that we need in order to live, in turn taking up the carbon dioxide we expel.

Climate change: children are carving out a place in politics – now adults must listen and act
It’s not enough to put children on the covers of newspapers and call them “heroes”. It’s not even enough to listen to the concerns they’re raising through the global strikes for climate action. Adults in positions of authority need to give young people the means to change the world and create their own visions for the future.

Why is climate change still not top of the news agenda?
Journalists with a better grasp of the science (and indeed social science) of climate change would be less reliant on press releases, reducing the impact of corporate lobbyists and the need to include their public relations activity as part of the news. However, these suggestions are optimistic considering the wider power structures that constrain how journalists operate.

#ShowYourStripes: how climate data became a cultural icon
Helping science to make this leap from the lab to social media is crucial to changing mindsets. My research has often focused on communicating the impacts of climate change to new audiences. The more people that see and understand this huge problem, the better chance we have of solving it.

Imagining both utopian and dystopian climate futures is crucial – which is why cli-fi is so important
When now is the time that we need to act, the rarer utopian form of cli-fi is perhaps more useful. These works imagine future worlds where humanity has responded to climate change in a more timely and resourceful manner. They conjure up futures where human and non-human lives have been adapted, where ways of living have been reimagined in the face of environmental disaster. Scientists, and policy makers – and indeed the public – can look to these works as a source of hope and inspiration.

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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)

What makes good governance?

In an attempt to get rid of the sour taste left in our mouths from yesterday’s post about the rise of populist politics, here are some more award-winning data visualisations via David McCandless and the Information is Beautiful people.

The winners of the World Data Visualization Prize
Conducted in partnership with the World Government Summit, the prize focuses on how governments are improving citizens’ lives. We asked entrants to use the power of data-visualization to illuminate data on the innovations and decisions – seen and unseen – that drive progress.

Here’s my favourite, an interactive overview of the different factors that contribute to happy countries (or not).

GOV|DNA — Discover the DNA of a good government
This interactive visualization enables the exploration of the DNA of a good government. You can analyze and compare multiple indicators to investigate their influence on countries and the related behaviour and performance of governments.

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Money – too much, not enough

Nicer problems to have.

Mind my Picasso… superyacht owners struggle to protect art
Pandora Mather-Lees, an Oxford-educated art historian and conservator, started giving lessons after a billionaire asked for help to restore a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting damaged not by sea spray, but by breakfast cereal. “His kids had thrown their cornflakes at it over breakfast on his yacht because they thought it was scary,” Mather-Lees said. “And the crew had made the damage worse by wiping them off the painting.”

[…]

Tilman Kriesel, founder of an art advisory firm, told the conference one client asked how to display a Rothko that was too tall for a yacht’s grand saloon. “We turned the piece by 90 degrees,” he said. “The artist would probably be turning in his grave, but we took a deep breath and said ‘it’s your painting, do what you like’.”

Another of Kriesel’s clients had a piece by the Japanese modern artist Takashi Murakami that he wanted to display in the “beach club” – the rear of superyachts where owners access jet skis and other water toys – but again it was the wrong size. “In the end we cut it up to make it fit,” he said.

Meanwhile.

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What it’s like to slash millions from Council budgets: Local Authority leaders speak out
Local authorities have already lost 60 per cent of their central government funding over the last decade, substantially more than any other area of government. And it is in the loss of valued frontline community services that the impact of this austerity drive is most keenly felt by communities across England.

Regardless of their political stripes, the council leaders each called on central government to invest in local government saying the cuts have now gone far enough. […] So acute are the financial challenges that even the most basic services – such as libraries, school lollipop patrols, street lighting, road repairs, cemetery maintenance, gritting – are now being considered for savings.

And that’s what makes all the time, energy and money wasted on Brexit so shameful.

I’ve never really thought about yachts before. They sound horrible.

The lonely life of a yacht influencer
“Nah, I’m nobody you’d know,” he assured me. “I’m here to take some pictures and post some video stories of the yacht, which a brokerage group is trying to sell. The watch is a loaner from a friend. I wear it, take a picture of my wrist and tag his company on my Instagram account. It’s just a small part of the hustle.”

Life and death on a superyacht: ‘If something goes wrong, they can just raise the anchor and leave’
While it is a dream job for some, other deckhands and chefs have horror stories of working punishing hours. Accidents, injuries and deaths are also commonplace, with union leaders believing working on superyachts to be more dangerous than life on oil rigs; over the past few years at least three young Brits have died while serving their billionaire bosses.

Technology can’t stand still (unfortunately)

Using Proterozoic geology as his unusual starting point, MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito takes a look at the past, present and future of the web and cultural technology.

The next Great (Digital) Extinction
As our modern dinosaurs crash down around us, I sometimes wonder what kind of humans will eventually walk out of this epic transformation. Trump and the populism that’s rampaging around the world today, marked by xenophobia, racism, sexism, and rising inequality, is greatly amplified by the forces the GDE has unleashed. For someone like me who saw the power of connection build a vibrant, technologically meshed ecosystem distinguished by peace, love, and understanding, the polarization and hatred empowered by the internet today is like watching your baby turning into the little girl in The Exorcist.

And here’s a look into the technological future with analyst Benedict Evans.

The end of the beginning
The internet began as an open, ‘permissionless’, decentralized network, but then we got (and indeed needed) new centralised networks on top, and so we’ve spent a lot of the past decade talking about search and social. Machine learning and crypto give new and often decentralized, permissionless fundamental layers for looking at meaning, intent and preference, and for attaching value to those.

The End of the Beginning
What’s the state of not just “the world of tech”, but tech in the world? The access story is now coming to an end, observes Evans, but the use story is just beginning: Most of the people are now online, but most of the money is still not. If we think we’re in a period of disruption right now, how will the next big platform shifts — like machine learning — impact huge swathes of retail, manufacturing, marketing, fintech, healthcare, entertainment, and more?

Trying not to crash out

Crash test dummies. We all know how they’re used, but where do they come from? (Not the Canadian ones.)

Here’s what purports to be a look at how society’s expanding girth is affecting model manufacture. But really it’s more an exploration of the strained economics within this singular industry.

Crash-test dummies are getting fatter because we are, too
The business of making and selling crash dummies is odd, and not only because it involves faceless mannequins acting as proxies for the mangled and the dead. Dummy makers spend years and millions of dollars developing products that customers profess to admire but decline to buy. Vehicles and drivers have changed dramatically, but the model of dummy used in many government-required crash tests has been around for four decades. The industry sells a mere 200 to 250 dummies in a decent year and generated $111 million in revenue globally in 2016, according to market-research company Technavio.

[…]

There are good reasons to use dummies like this. Millions more elderly drivers are on the road now that the baby-boom generation has entered its 70s. They tend to have bigger waists and additional thigh fat, which can allow a seat belt to slide above the pelvis to the soft tissue covering organs. To create a dummy that addresses those issues, Humanetics has spent six years and more than $2 million. “This is our halo dummy, our Corvette,” Beebe says, gesturing to the grandma stand-in. But the company has yet to sell a single one. “We’ve seen some car companies say, ‘We like it,’ but nobody has said, ‘We want to buy one,’ ” O’Connor says.

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Let them eat chips

This Brexit business is starting to get serious.

A Brexit sandwich may consist of bread, and not much else
The convenient lunch-time snack invented by the Earl of Sandwich seems simple enough, but new research from Politico shows how it relies on a complex supply chain of European imports. […] The most British thing about the 4 billion sandwiches that Brits purchase from supermarkets each year is, more likely than not, the bread. Last week, Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association, was mocked for pointing out Brexit’s threat to BLT sandwiches. And while it is unlikely that produce will completely run dry, the risks of a disrupted sandwich supply chain are looking very real.

The article jokes we might have to make do with chip butties. That’s fine by me: I’ve never thought of these things as strange or unusual, but perhaps they are.

The chip butty is the deranged nonsensical sandwich of my dreams
Besides my general attraction to trash and slop, what first drew me to the chip butty was the perfect combination of innocence and absolute dumbness. It’s a sandwich that would make Michelin inspectors shit themselves. It’s a sandwich that kids might design while on too much child cough medicine. It’s goofy and precious, like spaghetti tacos or hot dog lasagna, except it actually tastes good and doesn’t just exist for the sake of novelty.

But maybe these, too, are under threat in the coming years — even the chips for these quintessentially British chip butties could be European.

Brexit and the potato industry
In the year to April the UK imported GBP266m (EUR332.5m) more potatoes and potato products than it exported with sales into the country worth more than half a billion euros. The biggest deficit is in the trade of frozen fries with the UK importing GBP320m (EUR400m) more product than it exports with virtually all its imports coming from the EU.

Can’t stop, won’t stop

I’ve mentioned before that, when it comes to our time here, we don’t get long. But perhaps our lives — and our working lives, especially — will be longer than we think.

What if we have to work until we’re 100?
Retirement is becoming more and more expensive – and future generations may have to abandon the idea altogether. So what kinds of jobs will we do when we’re old and grey? Will we be well enough to work? And will anyone want to employ us?

What’s a bird in the hand worth?

This makes for a strange follow-up to that post about the move to a cashless society.

The strange reason owl theft may be on the rise
But as contactless credit cards, mobile phone payments and online transactions grow, the amount of cash being carried by people and kept by retailers is decreasing. For criminals, this creates a problem. Cash is the thieves’ best friend – it has instant value, can be carried easily, is relatively untraceable and can be quickly disposed of.

So with societies around the world becoming increasingly cashless, thieves are having to find alternatives to help them make a quick, illegal profit. Here we look at some of the more unusual things that criminals have had their eye on.

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.”

Looking forward in anger

Zoe Williams at the Guardian tries to understand where all the anger is coming from these days. Does anger always have an economic basis? Is social media to blame? Can it be a force for good? There’s certainly a lot of it about.

Why are we living in an age of anger – is it because of the 50-year rage cycle?
There was the mean note left on the car of a disabled woman (“I witnessed you and your young able-bodied daughter … walk towards the precinct with no sign of disability”); the crazed dyspepsia of the woman whose driveway was blocked briefly by paramedics while they tried to save someone’s life. Last week, Highways England felt moved to launch a campaign against road rage, spurred by 3,446 recorded instances in a year of motorists driving straight through roadworks. Violent crime has not gone up – well, it has, but this is thought mainly to reflect better reporting practices – but violent fantasies are ablaze. Political discourse is drenched in rage. The things people want to do to Diane Abbott and Luciana Berger make my eyes pop out of my head.

I’m not really convinced by the theories that suggest these things are cyclical. The dates of these suggested 40 to 60 year ‘Kondratiev waves’ of high and low economic growth, that tie in to periods of stagnation, unrest and anger, feel a little forced. I’m going to continue to blame Trump. And social media.

Social media has given us a way to transmute that anger from the workplace – which often we do not have the power to change – to every other area of life. You can go on Mumsnet to get angry with other people’s lazy husbands and interfering mother-in-laws; Twitter to find comradeship in fury about politics and punctuation; Facebook for rage-offs about people who shouted at a baby on a train or left their dog in a hot car. These social forums “enable hysterical contagion”, says Balick, but that does not mean it is always unproductive. The example he uses of a groundswell of infectious anger that became a movement is the Arab spring, but you could point to petitions websites such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz or crowdfunded justice projects. Most broad, collaborative calls for change begin with a story that enrages people.

Yes, ok, fair enough.

A broken art market

Art and the art markets. You might think they have little in common with each other.

How modern art serves the rich
Then, on October 18, 1973, in front of a slew of television cameras and a packed salesroom at the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet, they put 50 works from their collection up for sale, ultimately netting $2.2 million—an unheard of sum for contemporary American art. More spectacular was the disparity between what the Sculls had initially paid, in some cases only a few years prior to the sale, and the prices they commanded at auction: A painting by Cy Twombly, originally purchased for $750, went for $40,000; Jasper Johns’s Double White Map, bought in 1965 for around $10,000, sold for $240,000. Robert Rauschenberg, who had sold his 1958 work Thaw to the Sculls for $900 and now saw it bring in $85,000, infamously confronted Robert Scull after the sale, shoving the collector and accusing him of exploiting artists’ labor. In a scathing essay published the following month in New York magazine, titled “Profit Without Honor,” the critic Barbara Rose described the sale as the moment “when the art world collapsed.”

Of course things didn’t stop there. And as the scale of the sums involved grow,s the art markets feel more like a form of performance art themselves.

$450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Becomes Most Expensive Artwork of All Time
After a $286 million bid from de Poortere, Rotter warbled out a $300 million counter, tying the price that billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin reportedly paid for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) in 2015, the most expensive art transaction ever publicly reported until Christie’s Wednesday sale.

“Let’s see if that’s done it,” the auctioneer chimed.

De Poortere’s client was not finished, continuing up and up in mostly two- and three-million-dollar increments, until the price hit $370 million. The sum would have been more than enough to take home every other lot offered at Christie’s on Wednesday night. For the very next bid, Rotter called out $400 million, and that was the end. The room clapped, gasped, and laughed, the way one does when seeing something simultaneously historic, unbelievable, and more than a little crazy.

Theatre, where even its own advertising is wanting to be considered art, complete with the obligatory Instagram account.

Droga5’s Sublime Ad for Christie’s Captures the Power of a Leonardo Painting Without Even Showing It
Sometimes, not showing an artwork can be as powerful as showing it. This was true in Grey London’s story-rich campaign for the Tate Modern back in 2015. And it’s especially true of Droga5’s lovely, almost transcendental new spot for auction house Christie’s—which promotes the upcoming sale of a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting by not showing it at all.

Instead, the spot focuses on people’s reactions to the painting. And they are fascinating to watch.

[…]

This postmodern turning-the-tables idea comes full circle through the extension of the campaign into Instagram. While so many museum-goers are now Instagramming the artwork they see, the Salvator Mundi is Instagramming the people who come to see it.

Photos of the visitors have been documented on Instagram @thelastdavinci. Each portrait is captioned with the first name of the visitor and the time of their visit, which Droga5 says is “a format reminiscent of a biblical scripture citation.”

Here’s a perspective on art buying I hadn’t considered before.

What baseball taught me about the art market
Can we provide similar, easy-to-access data for the art market, and would that bring new buyers and sellers into play? It’s said that art buyers are often driven by emotion. Whether or not that’s true, we should also welcome the engagement of participants who would like data to lessen the risk of their emotional decisions. Some worry that more data in art will devolve art into something akin to an asset class, swarmed by bankers. However, I believe art buyers will continue to be guided by what they love and which art resonates with them deeply, and that data insights will only help to strengthen their engagement and confidence when buying or selling.

Wanting to get involved in the art markets but struggling to raise the millions of dollars needed? There’s an app for that.

Can Sedition create a marketplace for digital limited edition art?
The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.

And yes, you can include me in that.