Archive for business

I am now a Luddite

It was just a matter of time.

As someone who spent his prime driving years in Buffalo, NY, the notion of self-driving cars has struck me as pretty absurd. Thus far the guidance systems for these cars tend to miss potholes and black ice. They are hardly better at avoiding lurching pedestrians, like drunken revellers hopping across busy streets from one bar to another (or jumping off a balcony and hoping to hit a snowbank but missing).

Uber’s attempt to test-launch its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco this month did not go well.

Without permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the company rolled out self-driving cars in San Francisco, albeit the kind that have a human pilot in the front seat just in case. The cars were almost immediately caught running red lights and stop signs and barely missing pedestrians, prompting the DMV and state Attorney General Kamala Harris to demand that they cease operations. Uber refused, citing an “important issue of principle.”

Days later, Uber acknowledged that the vehicles have a problem with unsafe turns across bike lanes, something they knew in pre-launch tests before placing the cars on roadways with lots of bikes, like in San Francisco. It must have been an important principle or something. Eventually, Uber bugged out of San Francisco after the DMV revoked registration on all its vehicles. But don’t weep for Uber: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed them into the state for a pilot project in Phoenix.

Maybe concerns about beta-testing robotic steel projectiles alongside American citizens amount to mere griping. But it actually reveals a core conundrum with this whole self-driving car model. Most experts on autonomous vehicles believe that only real-world field tests, not simulations, will refine the technology so it can interact with often imperfect and irrational humans without killing them. Yes, ordinary humans kill 35,000 people a year while driving, but I suspect people will have far less tolerance for machine errors leading to similar levels of carnage.

h/t eschaton

Rental detectives

I’m pretty much an open book to my building manager (thank you, B.!). If I ever have to move into another rental, though, the services provided by a British data-mining company might unnerve me. Writes Stanley Q. Woodvine in Vancouver, BC’s Georgia Straight,

Tenant Assured is a web-based service first made available two weeks ago to landlords around the world. The service essentially forces people to open up their social media accounts to the prying eyes of landlords as part of the process of applying to rent an apartment. …

This is how Tenant Assured works:

A landlord who’s signed-up with Tenant Assured sends all of their rental applicants to a special link on the Tenant Assured website. They are then asked  to provide full access to up to four of their social media profiles—on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. These are then thoroughly crawled, scraped, and analyzed by Score Assured. The scrutiny includes conversation threads, private messages, and contact lists. …

Concerns that the service is a gross violation of personal privacy were brushed off by the company, which trotted out the oldest authoritarian assurance about surveillance in the book, namely, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear“. Or, as [the company’s] cofounder Steve Thornhill put it … “If you’re living a normal life then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Thornhill further pointed out that people had to give their consent to the Tenant Assured process and that it was really not much different from a background check or credit rating.

Of course it’s very different … . There are long-standing laws governing credit and background checks and there are processes in place to allow people to see their credit reports and correct inaccuracies.

Although landlords anywhere in the world can sign up for the service—including right here in Vancouver—it’s is not clear what laws in any given jurisdiction could hold such an online service to account.

As a professional communicator, I take great pains not to post anything at all controversial online: very little politics or religion … or anger. (I always ask myself, “What would my students think? My future clients? My Mom?”)

The persona I therefore project is a good deal sunnier and more welcoming than the real thing. Indeed: Last year a girlfriend from high school wrote me, “Bob, I like you so much better online.” Good to know.

Also at nocontest.ca

Mr. K-Tel

I did not know that the genius who founded K-Tel – the company that brought us the Veg-O-Matic and all those music compilation albums – was a Canadian. Philip Kives, who died this week at the age of 87, was raised in Saskatchewan. Margalit Fox’s New York Times obituary is funny and beautiful and begins like this:

Act now! Be the first on your block to read this obituary of the marketing guru who — as seen on TV — sliced, diced and polkaed his way to fortune!

Reared in penury, he bewitched and beguiled the public to become an international tycoon, only to lose everything and then, undaunted, make it back again!

Just two dollars and five thin dimes at any New York City newsstand gets you the print edition of this obituary — along with dozens more articles at no extra charge — commemorated with the date and suitable for framing! Quantities are limited, so don’t delay!

Those blasting K-Tel commercials were unavoidable on television in the 1970s. I purchased a K-Tel record once, as a birthday present for my older brother, who wondered why I did that.

At any rate, I want Margalit Fox to write my obituary. And I hope it shares a theme with the one she wrote for Mr. Kives: He was audacious, and he had tons of fun.

Emily Cooper

Creators Vancouver has published a excellent profile of B.C. artist Emily Cooper, a friend of mine whose commercial illustrations, photographs, and collages for clients in Canada and the United States are truly stunning.

Writes author Elizabeth Newton:

Emily immerses herself in relevant worlds before creating her photo illustrations. “If I am illustrating a book, the ideas come from reading the words and diving into the story. If I am illustrating a CD cover, I listen to the music over and over again and let the lyrics and rhythm wash over me.”

Her research for theatre posters is often historical. “I start researching the time period and digging up old photos for reference. A few years ago, I went to Portland to scan a collection of glass plate negatives from the early 1900’s. I came back with hundreds of gorgeous portraits that I often collage into my imagery.”

I like Emily’s advice to “photographers looking to build their own businesses,” especially these two recommendations:

1. Say Yes
To everything! ‘Want to shoot my wedding?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Want to do stills on a film?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Want to take my headshot?’ ‘Yes!’

2. Build Your Brand
Building up a portfolio that showcases a certain style is important. Clients need to know what they’re getting.

See more of Emily Cooper’s photographs and illustrations on her Facebook page, which also displays a lot of her profoundly beautiful fine art.

You_Never_Can_Tell

 

– illustration by Emily Cooper

Kwantlen students helping Syrian refugees in BC

For their practicum, several former students of mine in KPU’s Bachelor of Business in Marketing Management program have formed C.A.R.E. (Community Aid & Relief Efforts) Kits,

a student run endeavour eager to aid the Syrian refugees settling in British Columbia. As fourth-year marketing students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University entering into practicum, we wanted to help make a difference in our community.

Our amazing team has put together care packages, also known as “kits”, filled with basic necessities that families and children will need once they arrive in Canada. Each kit that is sold will be delivered and stored with a partnering community outreach program here in Surrey. Once our new neighbours arrive, our kits will be distributed by our partnering organization. And because we are all about giving back, our entire proceeds made from all kits sold will be given back to Kwantlen’s Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing Management (BBAMM) Scholarship Fund.

I know five of the six students running this project very well. They’re tops.

KPU’s Scholarship Fund has long been close to my heart. I’ve seen first-hand how it helps students – many of whom are immigrants themselves – stay in school, pay the rent, and lessen their debt load. (I’ve been funding two scholarships – The Maureen and George Basil Award and The John Reiss Award in Journalism – for many years.)

Please consider supporting this wonderful project.