When robots take routine middle-class jobs, those workers drop out of the workforce

In Disappearing Routine Jobs: Who, How, and Why? economists from USC, UBC and Manchester University document how the automation of "routine" jobs (welders, bank tellers, etc) that pay middle class wages has pushed those workers out of the job market entirely, or pushed them into low-paying, insecure employment. Read the rest

Chinese social media went a-flutter at this photo of an apparent App Store clickfarmer

This year-old photo of a woman seated at a wall of Iphones went viral on Chinese social media, where it was identified as a clickfarmer whose job is to repeatedly install apps on multiple phones in order to inflate their App Store ranks. Read the rest

2016: Once again, piracy was so bad that the movie industry smashed all box office records

As has been the case for many consecutive years, the movie industry beat all box-office records in 2016, earning $11.4B at the US box office (while simultaneously insisting that piracy was destroying the industry and demanding the right to control and redesign the internet to save itself from this existential threat). Read the rest

White House report documents the "hidden fees" that pick America's pockets

In The Competition Initiative and Hidden Fees, the White House's National Economic Council documents the widespread use of deceptive "service charges" that businesses levy, allowing them to advertise prices that are wildly divergent from what you'll actually pay -- think of the $30, unavoidable "resort fees" added to a hotel bill; the $25 "processing fees" added to concert tickets, the random fees added to telecom bills, etc, all adding up to billions transferred away from American shoppers to big business. Read the rest

Robert Hulseman, creator of the Red Solo Cup, RIP

Robert Hulseman, creator of the iconic Red Solo Cup seen at frat parties, sizzurp celebrations, and Midwestern family reunions everywhere, has died at age 84. Hulseman, with friend Jack Clements, followed up that iconic container design with another: the Solo traveler coffee cup lid, such a classic design that one of them is now in the New York Museum of Modern Art. From NPR:

Solo was one of the first companies to market small paper cone cups that were common to see alongside water coolers in the 1940s.

The company went on to develop the wax-lined cups used by drive-in movie theaters and fast-food restaurants.

In the 1970's, Hulseman invented the Red Solo Cup for families to use at picnics but use of the ubiquitous cup took off and it was embraced by all beverage drinkers.

Paul Hulseman, Robert's son, told The Associated Press that "his father never fully understood how massively popular the large red plastic cup became in pop culture."

Read the rest

AI Alarmism: why smart people believe dumb things about our future AI overlords

Maciej Cegłowski (previously) gave this talk, "Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People," at Web Camp Zagreb last October, spending 45 minutes delving into the origin of the idea that computers are going to become apocalyptic, self-programming, superintelligent basilisks that end all live on Earth (and variations on this theme) and then explaining why this fundamentally evidence-free, fuzzy idea has colonized so many otherwise brilliant people -- including people like Stephen Hawking -- and why it's an irrational and potentially harmful belief system. Read the rest

Hedge fund managers' sports car ownership predicts their unwise risk-taking

In "Sensation Seeking, Sports Cars, and Hedge Funds" Three business school researchers analyze a huge data-set of previous and current hedge-funds that have been hand-matched with the vehicle-ownership records of the funds' managers and analyze the data to see if the ownership of a "performance car" correlates with a hedge fund manager's willingness to take risks, and whether those risks pay off. Read the rest

Tim Cook confirms: tech met with Trump to ask for billions in tax breaks

A leaked memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook to his staff explaining why he met with Donald Trump -- a guy who called Apple traitors for refusing to defeat their own security -- explains the rationale: "tax reform." Read the rest

Canada's telcoms regulator declares internet an "essential service"

After decades of allowing anti-competitive mergers in the TV, radio, phone and internet sectors, Canada's telcoms regulator, the CRTC, has taken an important step to address the underperformance of Canada's monopolistic, bumbling phone companies and cable operators, declaring internet access to be an "essential service" and thus something that operators must offer in all territories in which they operate. Read the rest

Listen: Tim Wu on The Attention Merchants

Tim Wu's book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (review) was one of the best books I read in 2016; on Rick Kleffel's Narrative Species podcast, Wu discusses the book (MP3) covering depth that he couldn't fit between the covers. Read the rest

Companies' self-devouring buyback spree is finally slowing down

Stock buybacks are the preferred form of financial engineering in corporate America, through which companies borrow like crazy and give the money to their shareholders, artificially increasing their earnings-per-share ratio, massively reducing real economic growth, while enriching a tiny number of already-wealthy investors: but buybacks may finally be coming to an end. Read the rest

San Francisco's groundbreaking, wonderful DNA Lounge may have to close

Jamie "JWZ" Zawinski was an early Netscape employee; observing that the dotcom bubble that enriched him had gutted the San Francisco arts scene with rising rents, he sank his money into opening the DNA Lounge, which has been a San Francisco institution for nearly 20 years, and has been the location of some of the best times I've ever had in the Bay Area (including numerous EFF fundraisers). Read the rest

Ten principles for user-protection in hostile states

The Tor Project's "Ten Principles for User Protection in Hostile States" is both thoughtful and thought-provoking -- it's a list that excites my interest as someone who cares about the use of technology in improving lives and organizing political movements (principle 1 is "Do not rely on the law to protect systems or users" -- a call to technologists -- while number 7 is aimed at companies, "Invest in cryptographic R&D to replace non-cryptographic systems" and principle 2 says "Prepare policy commentary for quick response to crisis," which suggests that the law, while not reliable, can't be ignored); and also as a science fiction writer (check out those tags! "Acausal trade," "Pluralistic singularity" and "Golden path"! Yowza!) Read the rest

McGill Neurology will no longer patent researchers' findings, instead everything will be open access

The Neurological Institute at Montreal's McGill University is host to the "Tanenbaum Open Science Institute," endowed by a $20M contribution; since last spring, the unit has pursued an ambitious open science agenda that includes open access publication of all research data and findings, and an end to the practice of patenting the university's findings. Instead, they will all be patent-free and usable by anyone. Read the rest

Lawmakers' support for bank bailouts was correlated with their individual investment in banks

In The Personal Wealth Interests of Politicians and the Stabilization of Financial Markets, researchers from the London Business School and Tillburg University demonstrate the likelihood of US members of Congress voting in favor of bank bailouts was correlated with those politicians' individual investments in banking stocks. Read the rest

Malware delivered by bad ads takes over your home router to serve more bad ads (for now)

Proofpoint has identified a new version of DNSChanger EK, a strain of malware that changes your DNS settings so that the ads on the websites you browse are replaced with other ads that benefit the attackers -- and which can also be used for more nefarious ends, because controlling your DNS means controlling things like where your computer gets software updates. Read the rest

How Lloyds of London solved the precarious market for kidnapping ransoms

Kidnapping ransom markets are really tough: it's hard to convey the demand, hard to arrange the payoff, hard to get the kidnapping victim back in one piece -- but Lloyds of London has largely solved this problem by monopolizing the market for kidnapping insurance, then setting standards for the amounts of ransom to be paid and the conditions for payment. Kidnappers know that if they kill their prey, Lloyds will never pay them again. Read the rest

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