Tag Archives: Business

When Innovation Fails: Doing Hard Time in the Offender-Monitoring Business

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Lauren Etter explores another problem with the privatization of law enforcement: technology. From scrambled signals and dead batteries to false violations, the electronic ankle bracelets 3M created failed to protect wearers’ civil liberties even though the process used to design them reflected the company’s way of thinking about innovation and experimentation. Unfortunately, creating monitors for human beings involves higher stakes than yellow stickies.

The sheer amount of data generated by GPS-tracking devices creates problems across the industry and in every state, but the number of alerts in Massachusetts has far exceeded the norm, experts say. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg show that in the 12 months ended in October 2015, 3M bracelets produced 612,492 violation alerts in Massachusetts—more than 50,000 per month, from about 2,800 individuals wearing the devices. Almost 40 percent of the alerts were due to a device not being able to connect to the network or the GPS not being detected. Roughly 1 percent of alerts resulted in an arrest warrant being issued. Tom Pasquarello, former director of the electronic monitoring program for Massachusetts, estimates that half those warrants were potentially based on faulty or incomplete data. That would be roughly 3,000 warrants. “There were people that were pulled from their house in the middle of the night, that lost their kids, people that lost their job,” he says.

The problem of glitchy ankle monitors became so pronounced that the Massachusetts probation department set up an after-hours office in the lobby of a Boston police station so offenders could bring in their bracelets when problems occurred or batteries died. In August 2015, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger became so frustrated with the devices that she vowed to stop sentencing anybody to them. “It is simply administratively improper to run a system in this fashion,” she said, according to a court transcript. “We don’t lose liberty in this country because somebody’s software is not working. It just isn’t right.”

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Why ESPN Still Can’t Quit Cable

As a casual sports fan, I periodically check in with myself: Do I enjoy watching live sports enough to pay for cable?

The answer for the last few years has been: No thanks, I’ll just check out these GIFs on Twitter.

ESPN is having the exact opposite problem, as Ira Boudway and Max Chafkin explain in their latest Bloomberg Businessweek cover story. No matter how innovative or cutting-edge the sports giant makes itself, the cable money is just too lucrative, and the costs of licensing live sports are just too great, to finally cut the cord and offer itself as a standalone internet subscription service the way HBO did with HBO NOW. Boudway and Chafkin do the math:

Other media companies, most notably HBO, have confronted cord cutting by offering their programming “over the top,” which is TV-speak for “on the internet.” More than 2 million people pay $15 a month for access to the HBO Now app, but that strategy doesn’t translate to ESPN. The network’s programming costs are far greater than those of HBO—the budget for an entire season of Game of Thrones costs around $100 million, or less than what ESPN pays for the rights to air a single Monday Night Football game—and ESPN’s customers are accustomed to getting the network at no additional charge as part of their cable package. If ESPN were to charge $15 a month for a standalone streaming channel, it would need more than 43 million subscribers to match the money it collects from cable carriers. HBO has about 35 million total subscribers in the U.S., including cable and over the top.

Now, I’m obviously just one person, but I’m pretty sure I would subscribe to a service that just offers an endless loop of Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. Just a thought for the folks over in Bristol.

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We’re Living in the Golden Age of the Corporate Takedown

Miki Agrawal, co-founder and “She-EO” of menstrual underwear phenom Thinx, raised eyebrows when she stepped down from her role in the company in early March. Agrawal had long been infamous for her company’s boundary-pushing ads and her well-publicized hesitance to use the word “feminist.” Within days of Agrawal’s announcement, Racked published a gripping article examining corporate dysfunction and alleged sexism at Thinx, and Agrawal struck back with a lengthy post on Medium that detailed her “incredible ride” with the company. “I didn’t put HR practices in place because I was on the road speaking, doing press, brand partnerships, editing all of the creative and shouting from the rooftops about Thinx,” she wrote. Less than a week later, Agrawal was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee.

Such is the power of the corporate hit piece: Fueled by eyewitness accounts, scorned ex-employees, and juicy tidbits about a CEO’s bad behavior, a corporate identity that took years to build can unravel in days. These piquant stories might smack of a slow-motion trainwreck, but they satisfy more than our inner gossips and gawkers. Today, the myth of a CEO is often of their own making—once minted by years of climbing the corporate ladder, now CEOs are made in weeks or months. CEO, we are told, is less a work status than a state of mind.

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From Food Scraps to Profit: The Compost King of New York City

At first, I didn’t know what to make of Charles Vigliotti. You seldom hear the words “wealthy” and “composter” strung together. But as he explained his roundabout path to the energy sector, I began to sense Vigliotti’s commitment to solving some serious environmental problems, even as he lined his silky pockets.

After city landfills began closing in the 1980s, Vigliotti found he was spending too much money directing waste out of state. He began to move away from the trash business and in 1991 established with his brother Arnold a compost company in Westbury, N.Y., that transforms Himalayas of landscape debris — grass clippings, leaves, wood chips — into millions of bags of lawn and garden products. Business was good, but Vigliotti remained restless. In 1999, he opened a compost site in Yaphank, where in 2008 he began dabbling in food waste, mixing scraps from a Whole Foods Market and a small-batch won-ton manufacturer into his formula for potting soils. At this point, Vigliotti wasn’t thinking of food waste as a renewable energy source or a way to reduce the city’s far-flung garbage footprint or greenhouse-gas emissions. It was simply a way to take in more volume and thus make more money.

At the New York Times Magazine, Elizabeth Royte reports on “compost king” Charles Vigliotti, chief executive of American Organic Energy, who has a vision for the future: transforming the food waste of New York City into clean energy — and a profit.

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What Happened When You Invited Steve Jobs to Your Product Demo

Steve Jobs

“I think it’s coming along,” said Tim, “though we expect—” “I think it sucks!” said Jobs.

His vehemence made Tim pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.

“It just does.”

“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”

“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.

You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”

An excerpt from the 2003 book Code Name Ginger, the story behind Dean Kamen’s Segway scooter. Steve Kemper recounts the time Kamen introduced his invention (code-named Ginger) to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. They immediately foresaw problems with the product. (via The Browser.)

 
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When a YouTube Video Almost Made the Modular Smartphone Happen

Failure stories come in two distinct flavors: “We almost had it all!” and schadenfreude. At VentureBeat, Harrison Weber’s tale of Google’s suspended project to build a modular smartphone is distinctly of the first type. It channels the excitement of the people who tried to make it happen — and the wistfulness of those who find it hard to let go. More than anything else, though, it shows how hard it to translate a cool, lightbulb-moment idea into a viable product.

“I had an old camera that I broke and I couldn’t really fix it. So I took it apart and I noticed all the components were still pretty good, except for one thing.”

“I thought: Isn’t that weird that we throw everything away just because one part is broken?” said Hakkens.

“At first, I wanted to make a phone that lasts 100 years. But then I realized, I kind of like technology — that it evolves, that it gets better. The only downside is that after it gets better, we throw everything away. I started looking into it, and it generates a lot of e-waste… I mean now we have some devices, but in the future it’s thermostats, fridges, microwaves — everything will be connected. So what if a chip breaks in your fridge? Do you just throw the entire thing away?”

The Phonebloks story spread like wildfire. Gadget blogs covered it en masse, hordes of supporters signed up to support, tweet, and share the idea with a viral marketing tool called Thunderclap, and developers fired back, saying it couldn’t be done — that it was impossible to build. Perhaps they had a point.

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A Nation Struggles to Find Common Ground

I can do nothing more than share this with you and pray that saner minds will prevail. This is beyond right and wrong; it’s about the principles we hold dear in this democracy. Recently a “friend” — whose face I’ve obscured to protect his privacy and right to free speech, however vile — posted this on Facebook: Read more…

Longreads Best of 2015: Business & Tech

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in business and tech.

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Postscript: A Secret Society Shuts Its Doors

What happened inside the Latitude Society? In September, we featured a Longreads Original by Rick Paulas, “‘We Value Experience,’” which told the story of artist/entrepreneur Jeff Hull and his group’s attempts to build a sustainable “secret society” in the Bay Area. Paulas has shared the following postscript on what happened after his story about the group went public.

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Five days after my article went up at Longreads (“’We Value Experience’: Can A Secret Society Become a Business?”, 9/24/15), visitors to The Latitude’s website were met with the following prompt:

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Can a Company Really Disrupt Itself? Roger Hodge on Zappos and Holacracy

zappos

Roger Hodge went inside Zappos for his October 2015 in the The New Republic, investigating CEO Tony Hsieh’s radical decision to eliminate management and fully embrace the concept of Holacracy at the online shoe retailer.  Read more…