Will.i.am and Honeywell introduce the first connected mask. Think sneakers meet smartphones.
The story begins with Marc Benioff, the chief executive of the cloud computing company Salesforce, watching the MTV Video Music Awards last summer.
To be specific, he was watching Will.i.am, the rapper, entrepreneur and founding member of the Black Eyed Peas, cavorting around wearing what appeared to be a cross between a gas mask and an alien space helmet. So he called Will.i.am, whose full name is William Adams and who has been a regular at Salesforce’s Dreamforce tech conference since 2010, and asked what in the world he had on his face.
Will.i.am said it was an idea he had been noodling. So Mr. Benioff told Will.i.am that he really ought to talk to Darius Adamczyk, the chief executive of Honeywell, the multinational conglomerate that happened to be responsible for making millions of N95 face masks over the last year. Mr. Benioff made the introduction, and on April 8 the results of that conversation are coming to market.
After the surgical mask and the do-it-yourself mask and the fashion mask: the smart mask.
“It’s a new category,” said Will Lange, Honeywell’s chief commercial officer for personal protective equipment.
Called Xupermask and made of silicon with athletic mesh fabric on the sides, it is a joint venture between Will.i.am and Honeywell. It fits snugly around the bottom half of the face and comes with three dual-speed fans, a Honeywell HEPA filtration system (which the company is careful to say is not medical quality), as well as noise-canceling headphones, LED lights for nighttime, a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth capability. It allows you to play music and take calls, has a seal over the nose to keep glasses from fogging and makes the wearer look sort of like a sci-fi rhino warrior.
It’s not exactly subtle.
The mask costs $299, which is very expensive for a simple face mask but the average top-end price for noise-canceling headphones (less than Sony and Bose, more than Apple). It was designed by Jose Fernandez, the Hollywood costume designer who created the SpaceX suits for Elon Musk and worked on “Black Panther,” “The Avengers” and “X-Men 2.” And it is going to be sold in direct-to-consumer, Supreme-style drops.
It’s a bet, in other words, that hypebeast culture will embrace the mask. Coming just as vaccines are being more widely distributed and just as states like Texas, Indiana and Mississippi are relaxing mask mandates, the debut represents either the future of face masks or a yet another fashion-tech misfire.
“We are living in sci-fi times,” Will.i.am said. The pandemic, he said, “is straight out of a friggin’ movie. But we are wearing masks from yesterday’s movie. So I wanted to make a mask to fit the era that we’re in.”
That means, in part, learning the lesson of the sneaker. (Well, and the smartphone. The sneaker and the smartphone combined!)
After all, what are shoes, Will.i.am said, but protective equipment for the feet? We’ve just forgotten that was their original purpose because shoes have become a form of self-expression. You could not, he pointed out, “walk into a mall or a restaurant or an airplane without shoes on,” just as you aren’t supposed to walk into any of those places without a mask. “But you don’t have to tell anyone to wear shoes,” he said. Therefore, if you can make a mask serve the same purpose (or multipurpose), you win.
Will.i.am was speaking via Zoom from his HQ in Los Angeles, a space that contains a sound stage, a recording studio, his “fab lab” (where he makes prototypes) and now, his Xupermask team.
Will.i.am got the idea for Xupermask last March, just before his 45th birthday, when he was in Britain filming “The Voice” (he has been a judge on the program for 10 years) and Europe was beginning to go into lockdown. “I was worried about not being able to come in to America, and even if I was able to get in, about being on an airplane,” he said. So he called his hardware team and told them to get working.
He has been dipping in and out of technology since helping to found Beats Electronics in 2006. In 2014, he developed a fashion smartwatch called Puls, and in 2016 came out with fashion earbuds you could wear around your neck like jewelry — Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner were ambassadors — but neither product really took off (arguably the whole wearables market is not exactly a rocket ship). He doesn’t care. He loves research and development.
“I think L stands for learn, not loss,” he said.
Now, however, he has the might of Honeywell behind him and plans for Xupermask-related collaborations with artists and other brands. (He won’t name names, though he did talk about how much he loved the North Face-Gucci collaboration.) And he really, really doesn’t think masks are going away any time soon. Not if recent history is any indication.
“SARS happened in Japan and Southeast Asia, and they got over it, and they still wear masks,” he said, suggesting the same would be true in the West. Especially since masks seemed to have helped limit flu cases, too. In any case, whatever happens on the ground, he expects masks on airplanes to be the new norm. “That’s what I’m hearing,” he said.
He’s gotta feeling.
How Facebook let fake engagement distort global politics: a whistleblower's account
The inside story of Sophie Zhang’s battle to combat rampant manipulation as executives delayed and deflected
Shortly before Sophie Zhang lost access to Facebook’s systems, she published one final message on the company’s internal forum, a farewell tradition at Facebook known as a “badge post”.
“Officially, I’m a low-level [data scientist] who’s being fired today for poor performance,” the post began. “In practice, in the 2.5 years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve … found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions.”
How Policy Changes and Innovation Could Bring Hearing Aids for the Masses
Relatively simple technology and a change in government policy could unleash more innovation for Americans who have difficulty hearing.
This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
On Tech is back from a spring break, and the magnolia trees are blooming outside On Tech headquarters (a.k.a., my New York apartment).
Today, let’s talk about relatively simple technology and a change in government policy that could unleash more innovation for Americans who have difficulty hearing.
I’ve been speaking with audiologists, consumer advocates and technology companies about what could be a revolution for our ears — hearing aids at a fraction of the cost and hassle of conventional devices.
Here’s how things stand now: Hearing loss is a pervasive and serious health problem, and many people are reluctant or can’t afford to get conventional hearing aids. Nearly 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, but only a minority of people who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them.
Hearing aids typically cost thousands of dollars, require multiple visits to specialists and often aren’t covered by health insurance. Untreated hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and other harms. Overcoming barriers to hearing treatment may significantly improve Americans’ health.
The federal government is poised to help. Congress in 2017 passed legislation that would let anyone buy hearing aids approved by the Food and Drug Administration without a prescription from an audiologist. The F.D.A. has missed a deadline to release draft guidelines for this new category of over-the-counter hearing aids.
Experts told me that when the F.D.A. moves ahead, it’s likely to lead to new products and ideas to change hearing aids as we know them.
Imagine Apple, Bose or other consumer electronics companies making hearing aids more stylish and relatively affordable — with people having confidence that the devices had been vetted by the F.D.A. Bose told me that it’s working on over-the-counter hearing aid technology.
Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, an advocacy organization, told me that she can’t wait for more affordable and accessible hearing help. “I’m really excited for the market to open up to see what we got and see how people are reacting,” she said.
It is already possible to buy a hearing helper — they can’t legally be called hearing aids — without a prescription. These devices, called personal sound amplification products or PSAPs, vary wildly in quality from excellent to junk. But when shopping for them, people often can’t tell the difference.
(The Wall Street Journal also recently wrote about hearing helper technologies, including earbuds that can amplify quiet sounds. And Consumer Reports has a useful guide to hearing aids and PSAPs.)
Nicholas Reed, director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, told me that the F.D.A. process should provide a path for the best PSAPs to be approved as official over-the-counter hearing aids. He expects new companies to hit the market, too.
You may doubt that a gadget you buy next to the toilet paper at CVS could be a serious medical device. Dr. Reed’s research, however, has found that some hearing helpers for $350 or less were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
Dr. Reed described the best lower-cost devices as the Hyundai of hearing help. (This was a compliment.) They aren’t flashy, but they will get many people safely and effectively where they need to go. He also imagines that the F.D.A. rules will create the conditions for many more people to buy hearing aids — both over the counter and by prescription.
Over-the-counter hearing aids won’t be able to help everyone, experts told me. And the traditional hearing aid industry has said that people are best served by customized devices with expert help.
There is also more technology brewing at the luxury end of the spectrum. A Silicon Valley start-up called Whisper has a novel monthly payment option for its hearing aids and says that its software “learns” over time based on an individual’s hearing deficits.
Health care in the United States can often feel as if it’s stuck, and technology is usually not the solution. But with hearing aids, technology and a change in government policy could bring helpful health innovation.
Tip of the Week
Don’t let a stranger see all your old texts and photos! Brian X. Chen, The New York Times’s consumer technology columnist, has advice for what to do before you hand over your old phone.
At some point, you will bid farewell to your smartphone. You might give it away to a family member because you bought a new one, or you could trade it in at a retail store to get credit toward an upgrade.
Whatever the case, you should make sure to wipe all data from your device before handing it over.
First things first: Make sure you have a backup of your data. Apple has instructions on its website for how to back up iPhones, and Google has instructions for Androids.
After you’ve completed that step, plug in the device and erase all data from it. For iPhones, follow Apple’s instructions to purge your data. For Androids, the steps will vary depending on the device manufacturer and operating system version. Search inside the settings app for a reset option.
And then, you’re good to go.
Governments all seem to want to limit big tech companies: The e-commerce giant Alibaba will lower the commissions that merchants pay in response to a big fine from the Chinese government for abusing its power in online shopping, my colleague Raymond Zhong reported. Its financial affiliate Ant Group also announced a sweeping overhaul of its business. Related from our DealBook newsletter friends: Alibaba’s fine was a warning to China’s other internet giants.
Some children and parents love online learning. Now what? My colleague Natasha Singer writes about thousands of permanent virtual schools that are trying to absorb what has worked from our forced experiment in remote education.
FaceTime from your TV? Apple is working on two gadgets that will let people make video calls from a TV set or from a voice-activated speaker with a touch screen, Bloomberg News reported. (Apple already has a TV streaming box and a home speaker, and neither sell very well.)
Coconut, an African fruit bat, is enjoying a reward of apple juice after some nail trimming.
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Microsoft launches faster new Surface Laptop 4
Notebooks offer choice of Intel and AMD chips for first time, plus better webcams and mics for video calls
Last modified on Tue 13 Apr 2021 09.38 EDT
Microsoft has announced the latest in its Windows 10 PC notebook series, the Surface Laptop 4, with a choice of AMD and Intel processors across all sizes for the first time.
The Surface Laptop 4 comes with either a 13.5in or 15in touchscreen display and, like its predecessors, is a mainstream premium laptop offering a smoother experience with hardware and software made by the same firm, similar to the scheme employed by Apple with its Mac computers.
Both sizes of laptop feature a minimum of 256GB removable SSD storage and 8GB of RAM, and are up to 70% faster than the outgoing Surface Laptop 3. They feature large glass trackpads and Microsoft’s class-leading keyboard, plus traditional USB-A and the newer USB-C ports. The 15in Laptop 4 is available only in aluminium, but the 13.5in version comes in a choice of aluminium or Alcantara fabric finishes in multiple colours.
They have face recognition for unlocking the laptop, Dolby Atmos speakers, the latest wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, up to 19 hours of battery life and fast charging. They also have a new HD webcam with improved low-light performance and dual studio mics for better video calls as Microsoft attempts to embrace the new hybrid home office working pattern.
The Laptop 4 continues Microsoft’s push to diversify its computers away from the previously dominant Intel chips, also providing custom options from rival AMD. The move follows Apple’s switch from Intel processors to chips of its own design, as computer manufacturers look for a way to differentiate their products from the sea of similar machines.
But unlike Apple, Microsoft has stopped short of offering mainstream laptops with its custom ARM-based chip, as it does in the more experimental Surface Pro X tablet.
The Surface Laptop 4 will cost from $999 in the US, Canada and Japan shipping from 15 April, and from £999 in the UK shipping from 27 April.
Can Medical Alexas Make Us Healthier?
America’s health care system needs help. But don’t expect technology to be a silver bullet.
This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
Are voice recognition technologies like Alexa helpful in medicine or are they hogwash? For now, the short answer is a little of both.
Microsoft on Monday said that it would spend roughly $16 billion to buy Nuance Communications, whose speech transcription software is used in health care.
Microsoft as well as other tech companies like Google and Amazon have big ambitions to transform the industry with artificial intelligence technologies, including in voice recognition programs and efforts to identify signs of illness and disease.
The big hope of technology in medicine is that it can help make us healthier and improve America’s expensive and often ineffective and unjust health care system. The message that I have heard from medical experts is that there’s potential there, but there is also a lot of hot air.
The hope of medical Alexas:
For years, doctors have used Nuance’s transcription software to speak notes about patients and convert them into text for medical records. In theory, that frees doctors from having to do paperwork so they can spend more time treating us.
Nuance and other tech and health care providers want to do much more with our voices. One idea is that microphones might record (with permission) interactions between physicians and patients and log the relevant details into medical files — without much human involvement. Computers would also be smart enough to order any necessary tests and handle billing.
This sounds cool and perhaps a little creepy. These ideas are still under development, and it’s not clear how well these medical Alexas would work. But Dr. Eric J. Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research and the author of several books on technology in medicine, told me that voice recognition systems are one of the most consequential uses of artificial intelligence in health care, at least in the short term.
At Cedars-Sinai, a health system in Southern California, most hospital rooms have been outfitted with voice activated devices, said Darren Dworkin, the organization’s chief information officer. For now, the devices are mostly used for relatively mundane interactions, such as a nurse asking a device to show a patient a video on preventing dangerous falls.
Dworkin said that he was most optimistic about using voice and other technologies to automate administrative work, such as authorizing insurance for medical treatments and sending tailored text messages to patients.
Dworkin said that those uses of technology might not be what many considered a wow factor, but that busywork was a huge cost and challenge in health care.
“Not everything has to be state of the art,” Dworkin said. “Don’t let the simple stuff pass you by.” (Another vote for the importance of boring technology!)
Where hope meets harsh reality:
Just about every technology used in health care — and many other fields — promises to reduce administrative work and costs. And yet, health care expenses and bureaucracy in the United States mostly continue to go up.
Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician and assistant professor of health policy and economics at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that he was optimistic that voice tech and artificial intelligence could reduce administrative burdens and help patients. But he said that his hope was not yet backed by rigorous proof.
“There is not a lot of evidence at this point that A.I. reduces costs or improves health outcomes,” Dr. Khullar told me. (I borrowed the “medical Alexas” line from him.)
I asked these health experts an overarching question: What role should technology play in tackling the root problems of American health care?
They largely agreed that advances in technology could help reduce costs and improve the quality of service in our health care system, but that it was not a silver bullet for our biggest problems.
“I would say, it’s part of the answer but not a large part of it,” Dr. Khullar said.
(And read more from DealBook: How has Microsoft mostly avoided the government’s antitrust attention? My answer: Microsoft’s essential technology is mostly dull. That is a good thing.)
Last week, I pointed to a terrific article about Indians adapting to expensive mobile phone calls by coming up with new ways to communicate that involved hanging up mid-ring. An On Tech reader, Morris Fried of Somerset, N.J., wrote to us about his family’s missed call communications system from decades ago:
Your note about using missed calls for communications in India stirred old memories of the same technique in this country. (I will be 75 next month.)
When I was a child, we would drive back home to Philadelphia after visiting my grandmother in Brooklyn. My mother would then call the operator and request a person-to-person long distance call to her own name at my grandmother’s phone number.
My grandmother would answer the phone and tell the operator that my mother was not there. My mother thereby succeeded in informing her mother that we had arrived home safely without incurring the then not-insignificant expense to us of a long distance telephone call.
One group debated changing computer terms. It was a mess. My colleague Kate Conger looked at what happened when a volunteer technology organization discussed whether to get rid of computer engineering terms that evoked racist history, like “master” and “slave” and “whitelist” and “blacklist.” It is a fascinating glimpse both at thorny racial issues and a quirky group that is essential in technology as we know it.
Have I mentioned that people are freaking out about computer chip shortages? The White House talked about it with business executives on Monday, my colleague Thomas Kaplan reported. Also, chip shortages meant that internet service providers might have to wait more than a year for routers destined for people’s homes, Bloomberg News reported.
Biting the hand that feeds you: CNBC wrote about tech workers who are making satirical videos skewering tech company culture or blind spots in areas like diversity. This video is so spot on that it’s painful.
“If you’ve always wanted your own haunted Victorian child in the body of a small dog that hates men and children …” I laugh-cried at this extremely detailed description of Prancer on Facebook and his MANY peculiar habits, posted by a New Jersey pet adoption league.
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Make a Parachute Out of Newspaper
Godwyn Morris and
From Leonardo da Vinci’s pyramid design in the 15th century to the supersonic version that helped land the Perseverance rover safely on Mars, the parachute, a device that catches air to control an object’s speed, has played an essential role in land, air, water and space travel. For all of the technology and resources that go into launching a spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, it is the simple parachute that is key to safely landing it. A parachute’s canopy creates drag or air resistance, which means that the air below is pushed up against the underside of the canopy and slows its rate of descent.
Now it’s your turn to make a parachute using newspaper and tape. Some tips: Be willing to make adjustments. Try varying the size of the canopy and the weight of the basket to see how those adjustments affect the rate at which the parachute falls. Let the basket hang freely so it can center itself. Open the canopy as much as possible before releasing, and use the lifting stick to get your parachute as high above your head as possible. Pull out the stick, stand back and watch the fundamental concept of drag at work.
1. Use a full double-spread sheet of newspaper and fold it in half and then in half again.
2. Fold the top left corner diagonally to meet the bottom fold.
3. Cut off the remaining strip and unfold all the pieces.
4. Fold and unfold the sheet so that all the creases are raised slightly.
5. Tape a strip to each bottom corner of your sheet, crisscrossing them, then tape to top corners.
6. Tape the strips together where they cross.
7. Finished canopy.
1. Use another full double-spread sheet of newspaper. Fold it into quarters and then unfold.
2. Cut out a quarter of the page along crease lines.
3. Fold quarter section in half short edge to short edge.
4. Place tape sticky side along short edge.
5. Roll loosely, secure with tape.
6. Flatten the base of cylinder; tape the layers together.
7. Finished basket.
1. Cut a strip approximately one inch wide along the short edge of the remaining sheet
2. Fold in half along the existing crease
3. Finished basket handle
1. Slip the basket handle under the crossed strips.
2. Place the basket upside down in the center.
3. Curve the handle strip up, and tape to the sides of the basket.
4. Assembled upside down parachute with basket.
1. Use another double-page sheet of newspaper. Fold in half.
2. Place strips of tape along the long open edge of newspaper.
3. Start at the folded edge, roll tightly to tape.
4. Close the tube with tape.
1. Open the canopy, place the lifting stick at center. Lift as high as you can.
2. Quickly, pull lifting stick backward, away from the canopy to release it.
Amazon Union Vote: Labor Loss May Bring Shift in Strategy
After an election defeat in Alabama, many in labor are shifting strategies, wary of the challenges and expense of winning votes site by site.
The lopsided vote against a union at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., was a major disappointment to organized labor, which regards the fight with Amazon as central to labor’s survival. Yet the defeat doesn’t mark the end of the campaign against Amazon so much as a shift in strategy.
In interviews, labor leaders said they would step up their informal efforts to highlight and resist the company’s business and labor practices rather than seek elections at individual job sites, as in Bessemer. The approach includes everything from walkouts and protests to public relations campaigns that draw attention to Amazon’s leverage over its customers and competitors.
“We’re focused on building a new type of labor movement where we don’t rely on the election process to raise standards,” said Jesse Case, secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local in Iowa that is seeking to rally the state’s Amazon drivers and warehouse workers to pressure the company.
The strategy reflects a paradox of the labor movement: While the Gallup Poll has found that roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions — up from half in 2009, a low point — it has rarely been more difficult to unionize a large company.
One reason is that labor law gives employers sizable advantages. The law typically forces workers to win elections at individual work sites of a company like Amazon, which would mean hundreds of separate campaigns. It allows employers to campaign aggressively against unions and does little to punish employers that threaten or retaliate against workers who try to organize.
Lawyers representing management say that union membership has declined — from about one-third of private-sector workers in the 1950s to just over 6 percent today — because employers have gotten better at addressing workers’ needs. “Employees have access to the company in order to express any concerns they might have,” said Michael J. Lotito of the firm Littler Mendelson.
But labor leaders say wealthy, powerful companies have grown much bolder in pressing the advantages that labor law affords them.
Before Amazon, few companies better epitomized this posture than Walmart, which union leaders targeted in the 1990s and 2000s, convinced that the retail giant was driving down wages and benefits across the retail industry.
Walmart, in turn, took sometimes drastic steps to keep unions at bay. In 2000, after a small group of meat cutters at a Texas store decided to unionize, the company eliminated the position across other stores. Five years later, when workers at a Walmart in Quebec were seeking to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the company shut the store. Walmart said the store was not performing well financially.
“Everywhere they tried, they were defeated,’’ Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said of the unions. “Walmart would send teams to swamp the stores to work against a union. They are good at it.”
As with Walmart, labor leaders believed it was critical to establish a foothold at Amazon, which influences pay and working conditions for millions of workers thanks to the competitive pressure it puts on rivals in industries like groceries and fashion.
But the labor movement’s failure to make inroads at Walmart despite investing millions of dollars has loomed over its thinking on Amazon. “They felt so burned by trying to organize Walmart and getting basically nowhere,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
It was only a relatively small, scrappy union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, that felt the election in Alabama was worth the large investment. As the votes were being tallied, Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president, attributed the one-sided result to a “broken” election system that favors employers.
Amazon saw things differently. “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” the company said in a statement. “Our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union. Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them.”
Yet even as elections have often proven futile, labor has enjoyed some success over the years with an alternative model — what Dr. Milkman called the “air war plus ground war.”
The idea is to combine workplace actions like walkouts (the ground war) with pressure on company executives through public relations campaigns that highlight labor conditions and enlist the support of public figures (the air war). The Service Employees International Union used the strategy to organize janitors beginning in the 1980s, and to win gains for fast-food workers in the past few years, including wage increases across the industry.
“There are almost never any elections,” Dr. Milkman said. “It’s all about putting pressure on decision makers at the top.”
In some respects, labor’s effort to gain traction at Amazon had begun to follow this playbook before the campaign in Alabama. In early 2019, Mr. Appelbaum’s union, working with nonprofit organizations, local politicians and other labor groups, helped scuttle a deal that would have brought a second Amazon headquarters to New York by drawing attention to the company’s anti-union posture.
That fall, several nonprofit groups formed a coalition, called Athena, to help persuade Americans that the company was a monopolist and that it exploited workers. And during the pandemic, Amazon workers around the country have joined groups and staged walkouts to amplify their concerns about safety and pay.
Labor leaders and progressive activists and politicians said they intended to escalate both the ground war and the air war against Amazon after the failed union election, though some skeptics within the labor movement are likely to resist spending more revenue, which is in the billions of dollars a year but declining.
More than 1,000 Amazon workers across the country have contacted the retail workers union in recent months and many appear to be girding for confrontation with the company.
Mr. Appelbaum said in an interview that elections should remain an important part of labor’s Amazon strategy. “I think we opened the door,” he said. “If you want to build real power, you have to do it with a majority of workers.”
But other leaders said elections should be de-emphasized. Mr. Case said the Teamsters were trying to organize Amazon workers in Iowa so they could take actions like labor stoppages and enlist members of the community — for example, by turning them out for rallies.
Late last year, a nonprofit group called the Solidarity Fund invited tech industry workers to apply for stipends that would help fund their organizing efforts. According to Jess Kutch, the group’s executive director, Amazon employees claimed about half of the roughly $100,000 that the group has distributed, reflecting the growing activism of its employees.
As for external pressure, progressive groups said they intended to draw attention to a broad range of concerns about Amazon, from its power over small businesses to the potentially questionable uses of its home security technology, Ring.
“We will be raising questions around Ring and the breadth of agreements they have with local police departments,” as they relate to surveillance of people of color, said Lauren Jacobs, a longtime labor organizer who now runs the Partnership for Working Families, a network that seeks to reduce economic inequality and that is a co-founder of the Athena coalition.
Many labor officials urged Congress to increase its scrutiny of Amazon’s labor practices, including its use of mandatory meetings, texts and signs to discourage workers in Alabama from unionizing. “There have to be consequences for people like Bezos,” said Richard Bensinger, a former A.F.L.-C.I.O. organizing director who is advising workers at other Amazon facilities, referring to Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder. “We need congressional hearings to publicize this stuff.”
Some members of Congress indicated that they would heed this call. “How long will Jeff Bezos thumb his nose at the United States Senate?” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in an interview, citing Mr. Bezos’s refusal to appear at a recent Senate hearing on executive pay. “He has done it in the past, but the winds are blowing from a different direction today.”
Other labor leaders said the loss in Alabama should prompt Congress to rewrite labor law to make it easier for workers to form unions. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which the House passed last month, would outlaw mandatory anti-union meetings and impose penalties on employers who violate labor law. (There are currently no financial penalties for doing so.)
But after Bessemer, many labor leaders think Congress should go further, letting workers unionize companywide or industrywide, not just by work site as is typical. The loss “can be an opportunity to look beyond the PRO Act and why we need labor law with a focus on the sector,” Larry Cohen, chairman of the progressive advocacy group Our Revolution and a former president of the Communications Workers of America, said in a text message.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, agreed that the key to taking on a company as powerful as Amazon was to make it easier for workers to unionize across a company or industry. “It’s not going to happen one warehouse at a time,” she said.
But Ms. Henry said workers and politicians could pressure Amazon to come to the bargaining table long before the law formally requires it — in the same way that President Biden warned that there should be no intimidation or coercion during the Alabama union election.
“It would be incredibly powerful if Biden and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh called on McDonald’s and Amazon and other major corporations to set a bargaining table with workers and government and they would help support it,” she said.
Michael Corkery contributed reporting.
Yahoo Answers, a Haven for the Confused, Is Shutting Down
People used Yahoo Answers to ask weird questions, seek help and make jokes. But the service offered “real human reaction, for better or for worse,” one longtime observer said.
At times on Yahoo Answers, the people asking questions of strangers lunged for the hallucinatory limits of human curiosity: What would a heaven for elephants be like? Should scientists give octopi bones?
It helped people identify their sense of self: Why do people with baguettes think they are better than me? Is being popular in high school a good skill I can use in a job interview?
It sought explanations for the unexplainable: Smoke coming from my belly button? Why is everything at my grandma’s house moist?
And it gave air to gaps in knowledge and admissions that perhaps had nowhere else to go: What does a hug feel like?
Yahoo, which is owned by Verizon Media, will be shutting down the question-and-answer service and deleting its archives on May 4, erasing a corner of the internet that will be widely remembered for its — to be charitable — less-than-enriching contributions to human knowledge since its arrival in 2005.
Less charitably, BuzzFeed News this week called it “one of the dumbest places on the internet.” Vulture said it was “populated entirely with Batman villains, aliens pretending to be human, and that one weird neighbor you’d rather climb down your fire escape in a blizzard than get caught in a conversation with.”
There is plenty of evidence for that position. People asked: Can you milk Gushers to make fruit juice? Can I cook raw chicken in the Michael wave? I forgot when my job interview is? What animal is Sonic the hedgehog? IS THIS YAHOO EMAIL SUPPORT?
Most famously, in a question that launched a meme, a confused soul who had learned little about reproductive science or spelling asked: How is babby formed?
It was never known how many of the questions were based in earnest ignorance and curiosity, and how much was intentional trolling. Answering required no expertise, and often displayed little of it.
But the site clearly was seen by some people, including children, as a comfortable space to ask the questions — sometimes important ones — they’d never dare to ask friends, families and teachers.
“Yahoo Answers was a place for people to put questions they were too embarrassed to ask the people they knew in real life,” said Justin McElroy, a co-host of the comedy podcast “My Brother, My Brother and Me,” which has featured questions from the service since 2010. “The weird, the dumb, the truly, truly demented: It all found a place on Yahoo Answers.”
Drew Davenport, a 34-year-old in Camarillo, Calif., who for seven years sifted through questions to submit to the podcast, said people told him they genuinely used the service to get through struggles at school, or to receive a sexual education they weren’t getting elsewhere.
That’s not to say the answers they got were good ones.
“Do you remember the idea of the internet that people talked about before it was really major?” he asked. “The idea that like this was going to be a global meeting place for the exchange of ideas in a free way?”
He answered: “Yahoo Answers is what we feared would happen. You got real human reaction, for better or for worse.”
The service lost its wide popularity in recent years, and there are more competitors now than there were when it was created. Quora positions itself as more of a highbrow network that is more likely to attract an expert response, and Reddit features a forum that invites people’s idle curiosity to roam free.
Yahoo, in a letter to users, said it had “decided to shift our resources away from Yahoo Answers to focus on products that better serve our members and deliver on Yahoo’s promise of providing premium trusted content.”
Questions and answers will be halted on April 20, and will be wiped off the internet on May 4. It’s not the first time Yahoo and other tech companies have killed off once-popular products without the benefit of archiving; 20 years of content posted to Yahoo Groups was deleted in 2019, the same year Flickr deleted 15 years of photos.
Mr. McElroy said he wasn’t sure what the podcast would do without its bountiful pool of discussion prompts. When the show began in 2010, they used Yahoo Answers questions to pad out submissions from listeners, he said.
While some of the questions struck him as performance art, and others seemed like a lazy refusal to search for answers, he said he was sympathetic to many of the people asking. We all have some bad questions inside of us, he said.
“I think you get into trouble when you think no actual person would be wondering that, because people wonder about lots of things,” he said. “You don’t want to put limits on the depths of humanity’s curiosity-slash-ignorance.”
Although Yahoo will not archive the questions, enterprising internet users have cataloged some for posterity. The following are a small selection of more than 1,700 questions that have been featured on Mr. McElroy’s podcast:
Did soldiers in the American Revolution ever take off their shirts/coats off during battles?
How many calories are there in soap?
What if one day the cows fight back?
Do planes move fast or slow?
How to get a haircut similar to Joseph Stalin without showing the girl who cuts my hair a picture of Joseph Stalin?
I accidentally ate the Do Not Eat packet inside my shoe box. Am I gonna die?
In the TV show Friends what was the point of Ross?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a toucan?
Me and my friend both applied for the same job. He got the job but I didn’t. Can I sue Papa Johns?
I ACCIDENTALLY SHIFTED TO UPPERCASE, HOW DO I GET BACK TO LOWERCASE SO MY PASSWORDS WILL WORK?
What do Canadians download?
How do u eat a hot dog in a fancy way?
How DEEP inside an apple is the Most nutrition?
Why do people from New Jersey ski in their jeans?
Should spaghetti be way shorter?
How to make your parents think you found a lizard even though you bought it online?
Why doesn’t the Grand Canyon have rides?
Why can’t we grow burger in tree?
Are you all aware that we’re the laughingstock of the Internet?
DID ANYBODY HAVE SEX in the 1990s. did it feel different from now?
I Like Space and Dinosaurs?
Can I bring frozen pizzas in my carry on or hold in hand?
Did dragons live before, during, or after dinosaurs?
Ladies, I bring my guitar almost everywhere to impress women, does this work?
Why there is no beef nuggets?
My boyfriend gave me a 60 count box of waffles for Christmas. He seemed so excited about it but I don’t want to hurt his feelings?
How old do I have to be to get nunchuks?
I kissed a guy a year ago is his spit still in my mouth?
Eel help! Has he gone crazy?
WAS THAT DOG EDDIE ON FRASIER A REAL DOG OR COMPUTER GENERATED?
How do people on Jeopardy know the answers?
OnePlus 9 Pro review: super slick, rapid charging Android phone
Latest top-spec handset has Hasselblad-branded camera, great screen and long battery life
Last modified on Wed 24 Mar 2021 03.02 EDT
OnePlus’s latest 9 Pro Android phone takes the firm’s winning formula of slick speed and adds knowhow from the Swedish renowned camera manufacturer Hasselblad to try to improve things in the photography department.
The £829 phone tops the Chinese brand’s line for 2021 and joins its stablemate Oppo in its pursuit of top dog Samsung.
The 9 Pro is a curved glass and metal sandwich just like its predecessors, but now comes in refined and grown-up colours.
The large 6.7in QHD+ OLED screen looks great: bright, crisp and smooth, with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz matching the best of competitors. The sub-200g weight and sub-74mm width make it fairly easy to hold for a big phone, while the in-screen optical fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, so unlocking it is a breeze.
Main screen: 6.7in QHD+ OLED (525ppi) 120Hz
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8 or 12GB of RAM
Storage: 128 or 256GB
Operating system: Oxygen OS 11.2 based on Android 11
Camera: Quad rear camera: 48MP wide, 50MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto, 2MP monochrome; 16MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: 5G, dual nano sim, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 (AAC, aptX/HD, LDAC) and location
Water resistance: IP68
Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
The OnePlus 9 Pro has Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 processor – which is the top chip available to Android devices – with at least 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. OnePlus is known for its exceptionally fast-feeling phones, and the 9 Pro continues to deliver. Apps are responsive, games fly and everything is smooth.
It also has good battery life. With the screen set to its maximum QHD+ resolution and 120Hz frame rate, the phone lasts about 44 hours with the screen used for more than five hours in various apps. That means the phone lasts from 7am on day one until 3am on day three and so requires charging every other night. That includes two hours on 5G, the rest on wifi, an hour of Disney+ and about 20 photos shot.
OnePlus rates the battery in the 9 Pro for 1,000 full-charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of its original capacity. Longevity is aided by the optimised charging system. The battery can be replaced and the smartphone is generally repairable by OnePlus in the UK.
The company offers a trade-in programme for its own phones and models from rivals. It did not comment on the use of recycled materials in its smartphones. OnePlus does not publish environmental impact assessments but did publish a sustainability report in 2019.
The 9 Pro ships with the latest version of OnePlus’s Oxygen OS, here based on Android 11.
Oxygen OS is one of the most refined and bloat-free western-orientated versions of Android. It offers a reasonable amount of customisation without being overwhelming, from basics such as the ability to remove unwanted icons from the status bar to changing the visual flourish around the fingerprint scanner when you press your finger on it.
It is fast, slick and easy to use, particularly if you have used either the standard Android experience offered by Google or Nokia’s phones or Samsung devices.
OnePlus offers software support for three years from release, including two years of Android version updates and then a further year of security updates bimonthly. Samsung offers four years and Apple offers five for their respective phones, so OnePlus still has work to do.
On the back of the phone are four Hasselblad-branded cameras, including a 48MP main, 50MP ultra-wide, 8MP 3.3x telephoto and a 2MP monochrome camera, the last of which is a gimmick add-on only used for the weak “monochrome” filter.
The main 48MP camera is generally good, shooting well-exposed and balanced photos with a neutral colour balance. It can shoot at the full 48MP size but defaults to 12MP photos, with which I got better results. Low-light performance was pretty good and the dedicated nightscape mode works well in dark scenes. Highly backlit photos could look a bit washed-out, while some images could look over-sharpened and processed when viewed full-size – don’t blow them up to full size and they look great.
The 50MP ultra-wide camera is also one of the better sensors available, shooting good images and supporting nightscape and other modes. The 8MP telephoto camera has a 3.3x zoom, which is fairly good for a phone without a dedicated periscope zoom system such as that found on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It has noticeably poorer low-light performance than the other cameras and cannot use the nightscape mode.
The 16MP fixed-focus selfie camera shot some great-looking photos in good lighting, but was a little soft on detail when blown up to full size. It handled lower-lighting conditions fairly well but lacks any dedicated low-light mode.
Video can be shot at up to 8K resolution at 30 frames a second, with some interesting features such as Nightscape and portrait modes for video.
OnePlus’s partnership with Hasselblad has added a few things, including more neutral colour balancing compared to previous efforts. But the most obvious addition is a redesigned Hasselblad “Pro” mode, which has a lot of control options for things like ISO, white balance, shutter, focus and other bits. It is fairly complicated and difficult to get better shots than the normal mode but should be useful for those who want to take the time to go beyond simple point-and-shoot.
Overall the camera on the 9 Pro is good, but will not trouble the market leaders. Hopefully more work with Hasselblad can help improve things.
The phone’s haptic vibrations are nice and sharp, but are not as strong as I would like for some notifications.
Call quality and 5G performance on EE was excellent.
The screen is covered in the older Gorilla Glass 5, not the latest significantly more shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus
The OnePlus 9 Pro will cost £829 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, or £929 with 12 and 256GB.
For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has an RRP of £1,149, the Galaxy S21+ costs £949, Oppo Find X3 Pro costs £1,099, and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max costs £1,099.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is yet another great-performing, well-made smartphone from the Chinese brand.
At £829 it still undercuts the competition on RRP, but not significantly with the frequent discounts for Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series and others available online. Instead, OnePlus is more or less competing on an equal footing. In many respects it delivers, with a great screen, super-slick experience and a good battery life.
Where it falters is with a good but not class-leading camera and in only having three years of software support from release, which is decidedly average and behind the four or more that the likes of Samsung and Apple offer for their phones.
Pros: Slick performance, good software, good battery life, speedy charging, great screen, solid camera, water resistance.
Cons: Only three years of software support, camera can over-sharpen images, screen glass not the toughest available.
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