Tag Archives: tech

To Be an Instagram-Ready Restaurant, Don’t Forget Your Selfie-Optimized Lamps

Back in the 1970s, memorabilia-heavy restaurants became popular as they facilitated the loosening-up of sexual mores. These days, colorful tiles, bold wallpaper, and the occasional (ironic?) taxidermy piece can all trace their origins to our need to capture and broadcast our well-curated pleasures. As Casey Newton shows at The Verge, Instagram is the driving force behind the current vogue for easily reproduced, sleek-kitschy idiosyncrasy — including adjustable lighting that allows diners to take the most flattering selfie possible.

Few restaurants have taken photo-friendliness as seriously as Bellota, a Spanish restaurant that opened in San Francisco last year. The entryway is enclosed, creating a pleasing shadowbox effect as you look into the dining room. The kitchen is open, and encourages patrons to take 360-degree videos of the space. Many Instagram posts feature pictures of “the ham wall,” which is just what it sounds like: a window that looks into the temperature-controlled room where Bellota stores $50,000 worth of Spanish jamón ibérico.

The most striking thing about Bellota may be the custom lamps at its 25-seat bar, which let patrons adjust the lighting in order to get the perfect shot. “I’m probably the most avid Instagram user of the group, so I kept bringing it up,” says Ryan McIlwraith, Bellota’s chef. He wanted the lighting to do justice to the restaurant’s tapas plates and signature paellas. “It turned out these lamps we got were just perfect for it,” he says. The lamps can be tilted or turned 180 degrees, and the light’s intensity can be adjusted up and down. An “advanced feature” allows patrons to rest their phones on the lamp’s neck so as to take a selfie. (I did, and must admit the lighting was lovely.)

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An Expat by Any Other Name (Is Sometimes a Digital Nomad)

The rise of contemporary startup culture has already reshaped cities like San Francisco and Seattle. But as more and more tech enclaves sprout around the world, we need to pay more attention to the ways tech workers change communities and landscapes in developing countries too. Jessa Crispin does just that in her Outline piece on Roam Co-Living, a startup that caters to other so-called digital nomads who wish to spend long stretches of time (and non-trivial amounts of money) in places like Bali and Costa Rica. She asks important questions about the possibility of experiencing authenticity in perfectly manicured expat bubbles — and about the fundamental power imbalance between affluent Western visitors and local communities.

More than 230 million people live in a different country from the one in which they were born, far more than at any other time in history. We come up with different words for the same experience, based on whether these people are undesirable (brown, poor, Muslim) or desirable (white, upper-middle class, European). The undesirables are migrants or refugees, the desirables are expats or cosmopolitans.

The difference is in the level of choice, whether the person is fleeing war or abject poverty, or simply boredom and Brooklyn. Western migrants are often portrayed as being desirable because they come with money, but they come with other baggage, too. If you place a large population of transient workers with a lot of disposable income in an urban area, that area will inevitably change. Businesses with English-speaking workers that cater to the affluent class, like boutiques and coffee shops and juice bars, will flourish while businesses that cater to long-term residents, like hardware stores and shoe repair shops, will be priced out and disappear as property values rise.

I asked [Roam founder and CEO Bruno] Haid if he feels responsible at all to the neighborhoods he builds his properties in. He said he wants neighborhoods to retain their authentic nature and not become homogenized. “In a place like London,” he said, “we try to have partnerships with businesses that have been around for 25, 30 years and include them in our city guides. We have Paul the pie man, whose bakery has been around for a long time, he comes in once a month and he teaches pie making classes. So we try to integrate this. We try to give people a unique local experience.”

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California’s Housing Crisis Is About Jobs, Not Houses

The median home price in California has reached $500,000 — more than double the cost nationally — and a new brand of housing crisis is here. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to afford a home in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or any surrounding suburbs. As today’s New York Times reports, this means people like Heather Lile, a nurse making $180,000 a year, live in distant Central Valley towns like Manteca and commute two hours to get to work. “I make really good money and it’s frustrating to me that I can’t afford to live close to my job,” she tells the reporter. Read more…

Another Tech Casualty: Dating

Cane Toad

“I want to punch them and make them take off their damn sunglasses,” the bartender said. I’d said something uncharitable about the guys at the far end of the room, but the bartender heard me — and shared my disdain. He went on a tirade about how “those tech bros are rude, entitled, and synonymous with everything I hate about the neighborhood.”

Tech bros might be the cane toads of cities like Seattle and San Francisco. Cane toads were imported to Australia in the ’30s to keep the bugs down; brogrammers are meant to do the same, but the crop isn’t sugar, it’s code. Cane toads were wildly successful at reproducing, but if you ask the women trying to navigate the brogrammer-riddled dating pool, reproduction is not in the cards.

My judge-y conversation with the bartender was last spring, but it’s not a new discussion.  Back in 2014 for Dame, Tricia Romano shared her own dating trials and those of women who want to spend time with guys who are — go figure — interested in them. In spite of a sea of more recent apps, this is an issue tech bros haven’t been able to disrupt.

The exact same scenario has been playing out in San Francisco for the last few years. One woman, Violet, a 33-year-old who has lived in the Bay Area for eight years, with one of those in the “belly of the beast,” Palo Alto, experienced many of the same things I and other women did. They had money, but they were boring. They had a lot to say about their job, but their development as a complete human being seemed to be stunted. And they exhibited little to no interest in the other person at the table.

One woman, Bridget Arlene, spent three years in Seattle for graduate school, and said that she actually moved out of the city, in part because of the type of available men—most of whom had computer science or engineering degrees and worked for Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. “The type of person who is attracted to these jobs and thus to the Seattle area seems to be a socially awkward, emotionally stunted, sheltered, strangely entitled, and/or a misogynistic individual,” she wrote in an email. Arlene said that she was once contacted by a Microsoft programmer on OKCupid who required that she read Neuromancer before “he would consider taking me out on a date. He was not joking.”

It’s not just the dating pool that’s been affected. Spaces that have traditionally been held for — and by — subcultures have lost their character as new residents seek out places that aren’t dominated by sunglasses-indoors-throwing-their-money-around dudes.

This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. I’d moved back to Seattle, in particular to Capitol Hill, because when I’d lived here during the ’90s it was a beacon of diversity for weirdos. (I stress “weirdos”—there are few people of color in Seattle.) The weirdos were: young gay boys, old hippies of varying sexuality, straight artists and musicians, softball lesbians, punk-rock dykes who played house music, metal musicians, ravers, or people into the fetish scene. They were not straight, white guys from flyover country or California imported by a software company. They spent their time doing things other than making Jeff Bezos more money.

The problem has become pervasive enough in Seattle that when I went with a few girlfriends to Pony, one of the last true gay bars on Capitol Hill, I was shocked when I found out that the adorable pair of 25-year-old boys talking to us were heterosexual. They were there because—as one of them told us—”It was the only place on the Hill on the weekends where there are no bros.”

Cross-reference this experience with skyrocketing housing prices and the erasure of retail jobs; the homogeneous dating pool is unlikely to diversify without diverse jobs and housing options.

You can’t date the guy at the record store if there’s no record store.

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Introducing the ‘Davos for Happiness,’ Powered by Coconut Water

The first-ever World Happiness Summit (hashtag #WOHASU) recently convened in Miami, attracting 1,200 attendees committed to the TEDification of a basic, if elusive, human emotion. At Outside, Peter Andrey Smith provides a firsthand account of the event, where MIT researchers rubbed shoulders with consciousness lecturers and life coaches.

The program freely combined the statistical rigor of economists and psychologists with the business acumen of brand ambassadors and at least one Chief Happiness Officer, alongside those practicing a “sacred science” with a New Age or magical bent. Late on Saturday morning, a loud whoop went up from the Keynote Area, the darkened room where attendees sat in folding chairs and reclined on plush cushions under white teepee-like structures, massaging each other’s necks and stretching. The speakers on the nearby stage led a panel discussion on the “Practice of Happiness.” They talked about “the millions of people on your platform.” Of “building a movement.” Of “getting into your tribes and broadcasting happiness.”

Meanwhile, in the WOHASU Bazaar, a group sat, eyes closed, with brain-sensing Muse headbands wrapped around their temples. The device contained a compact electroencephalography (EEG) system and was designed to be a “personal meditation assistant.” Two men from Spain touted a virtual-reality platform called Psious, which offered exposure therapy by way of VR goggles and software. Nearby, Gary Cook sat behind a table and sold books. “This is not my type of event, let’s just put it that way,” he told me. “Feel like I need some Zen tea—two booths down.” The day’s bestsellers, Gary said, included Before Happiness, The Happiness Adventure, The How of Happiness, and Even Happier.

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The “Facebook of Money” That Wasn’t

To paraphrase Tolstoy, every struggling startup struggles in its own way. Except they all seem to feature extravagant soirées, hazy business plans, and round after round of beer pong on a SoMa roof deck. At Fast Company, Ainsley Harris charts the decline and fall of Tilt, a social-payments platform billed as the “Facebook of Money.” Joining other examples in the emerging genre of schadenfreude-laced startup postmortems, it offers an almost-wistful glimpse at Silicon Valley culture at the precise moment when easy funding became a thing of the past.

Over time, Beshara’s leadership alienated some of Tilt’s more experienced hires, who chose to move on rather than challenge their rookie boss. Meanwhile, Tilt continued to attract young talent barely old enough to join the company’s happy hours.

“There was too much focus on culture and creating this nirvana of a company. This is not a fraternity, this is a business,” says a former manager. Beshara seemed determined to keep the party going until the bitter end. Last September, for example, with a cash crunch imminent, he pressed forward with Tilt’s final Lake Tahoe retreat. Only a small group of employees had any idea that a sale was already in the works.

Looking back now, Beshara acknowledges the imbalance. “I feel very strongly that you want to end up on the side of human connection, human relationships,” he says. “But I think you can index too far on that and really miss the importance of really high standards.”

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Amazon’s New Stores Aren’t Happy to See You Either

It’s come to this: We’re now eulogizing giant corporate retail chains. Suburban D.C. will lose one of its largest bookstores when the 20-year-old Barnes & Noble flagship in Bethesda closes at the end of this year. Rumored to be one of the largest and highest-trafficked Barnes & Noble locations, second only to New York’s Union Square, the store was at the center of the development of Bethesda Row, an avenue of retail outlets that now includes a Kate Spade, Sur La Table, and The North Face, making professorial Bethesda into the kind of suburb that commands $10.5 million for a “downtown” penthouse. The Barnes & Noble was the beginning of this transformation, and now it has come to the end. Read more…

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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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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