Volkswagen gets a special mention for gaming fuel-emission tests via the software in its cars. And BlackBerry, long proud of going its own way, finds itself pinning its comeback hopes on a phone that leans heavily on software from another company, Alphabet’s Google.
Lastly, all of Silicon Valley gets a turkey this year because the tech industry still can’t figure out how to hire, retain and promote more women and minorities.
Since innovation apparently can mean figuring out new ways to screw up, we’ve rounded up a supersized 17 examples of the most cringe-inducing tech turkeys for your holiday entertainment.
Women played a key role in helping create the Macintosh. Some of the women on the original Mac team share how Jobs pushed them to extraordinary levels of creativity.
The lore of Apple’s success goes something like this. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak start Apple in a Silicon Valley garage, with the crazy goal of building the first personal computer for regular people. Eight years later, Jobs introduces the Macintosh, shocking the world with its intuitive, iconic interface and creating a cult following. After his exile from Apple, Jobs returns to reinvent and popularize the digital music player, smartphone and tablet. Apple literally changes how we interact with the world.
But that story often leaves out all the others, including dozens of women, involved in Jobs’ first big bet, 1984’s Macintosh. Like everyone else on the original Mac team, these 20-somethings put in grueling hours to create a machine that could live up to the vision of Apple’s brilliant and volatile leader.
Graphic designer Susan Kare dreamed up the Mac’s icons and created some of its original typefaces, including the Chicago, Geneva and Monaco fonts. Joanna Hoffman focused on a “user experience” that made people feel as if they could, for the first time, make the computer do what they wanted. Other women oversaw manufacturing, finance, marketing and public relations.
“The bottom line is, Steve just cared if you were insanely great or not,” said Guy Kawasaki, who joined Apple in 1983 and was the Mac’s first chief evangelist. “He didn’t care about sex, color, creed — anything like that. You were either great or you’re not. You’re either great or you sucked. That’s it. That’s all he cared about.”
Apple didn’t provide a comment for this report.
The new movie “Steve Jobs” by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle hints at some of the contributions of the women of the Mac team, primarily through the character of Hoffman, who was Apple’s head of international marketing. Played by Kate Winslet, Hoffman was Jobs’ confidante and colleague, able to challenge him when no one else could.
“Joanna was the one who represented all of us in learning how to stand up to Steve,” said Debi Coleman, who joined Apple in 1981 as controller for Jobs’ Macintosh project. “That’s one of the reasons she’s a heroine to me.”
Hoffman declined to be interviewed, but three prominent women from the team agreed to talk about the movie, Jobs’ impact on their lives and what it was like working with Jobs, who died in 2011 at the age of 56. The trio are Coleman, who later became head of Macintosh manufacturing; Susan Barnes, controller of the Macintosh division; and Andrea “Andy” Cunningham who, as an account executive for the Regis McKenna public relations firm, planned what turned out to be the tech industry’s biggest PR campaign at the time.
On Monday, Cunningham hosted a panel in Palo Alto, California, where the three women talked about how Jobs challenged, infuriated and pushed them to achieve great things. They were joined by Hoffman and Barbara Koalkin Barza, a former product marketing manager for the Mac and later director of marketing at Pixar, the animation studio Jobs bought after being fired from Apple in 1985.
Jobs “made it possible for you to do anything you wanted,” Cunningham said. The women of the Mac team “had the freedom to do what we were good at doing.”
Hoffman, speaking during the panel Monday, said “what is true is that so often Steve was so enthusiastic and so brilliant and visionary and not necessary reasonable.” And Barza noted that “Steve had a laser focus on details,” which is a something she has taken to heart throughout her career.
Here are a few of their other stories.
“Billie Jean is not my lover/She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one/But the kid is not my son/She says I am the one/But the kid is not my son.” — lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Introducing a major product is a lot like planning a crucial battle. Both can succeed or fail on the campaign’s logistics. For the January 24, 1984, introduction of the Mac, those logistics included the then-unheard-of idea of “multiple exclusives,” in which Apple served up different slices of information to leading US publications.
About two weeks before the Mac’s launch, Cunningham and Jobs flew to the tony Carlyle Hotel on New York’s Upper East Side. They had reserved a suite for several days’ of one-on-one interviews and photo shoots.
There was just one wrinkle: Jobs “absolutely hated” having his picture taken and would turn “surly and kinda nasty” with the photographer, recalled Cunningham.
The soothing sounds of music came to the rescue.
“I discovered he loved Michael Jackson and the song ‘Billie Jean,'” she said. “And I discovered that when I played it on a cassette player, he became really docile and friendly and smiled for the cameraman. As soon as the song was over, he would go back to his snarling self.”
The cassette player got plenty of exercise. (His musical choice is ironic given that he was in a paternity battle with the mother of his eldest daughter, Lisa, before the Mac was unveiled.)
“While we were doing the shoot, I was constantly rewinding, rewinding, rewinding,” Cunningham said. “It calmed the waters.”
The waters had been seething since 10 p.m. the night before, when Jobs, Cunningham and Cunningham’s colleague, Jane Anderson, arrived at the hotel. For Jobs, the suite didn’t have the right vibe for the interviews.
So Cunningham and Anderson rearranged the furniture to Jobs’ liking, even pushing the suite’s baby grand piano to where he said it needed to be to create the best atmosphere for the meetings.
“Finally, at 2 a.m. he says to me, ‘I want a vase of those flowers that have the green stems, and they’re really long and at the top they’re kind of white and are very simple and flare out like this,'” Cunningham recalled. “I’d say, ‘Oh, OK, you want Calla lilies.’ And he’s like, ‘No! That’s not what I want.’ And he goes on to describe them again.”
Cunningham did find the Calla lilies that early January morning in New York.
Silicon Valley joke circa 1981: “What’s the difference between Apple Computer and the Boy Scouts? The Boy Scouts have adult supervision.”
Coleman likes to recall that joke when describing her early years at Apple.
Jobs was a “tall, thin, unkempt, Jesus-freak looking guy” when she was introduced to him. The setting was The Good Earth, then one of Silicon Valley’s most popular restaurants. It’s where Coleman ran into Jobs and Trip Hawkins, an Apple employee who had been her college classmate and would later found video game maker Electronic Arts.
“Trip introduced me and told him, ‘She’s not your usual bean counter.’ With those words, Steve chased me for six months to join his team, which I did not realize was an unsanctioned project.”
It didn’t take long, though, for Coleman to discover that Apple didn’t share the famously genteel corporate culture at Hewlett-Packard, where she had previously worked.
“[Steve] would come marching down the hall or skipping down the hall, calling…’What an idiot. I can’t believe you did this stupid thing.'”
Coleman said it took her a year to learn how to confront Jobs. She credits Hoffman for serving as her teacher. “Joanna said, ‘Look him in the eye. You’ve got to stand up.’ From that point on — I’m not saying he wasn’t tough, totally demanding and totally critical — but he was totally wonderful to me.”
In some ways, that ability to stand up to Jobs was as critical for him as it was for the person confronting his verbal abuse.
“You had to stand up to him,” Barnes said. “He knew he was forming ideals and gelling them, and you had to be able to be his sounding board.”
Despite the insults, those who learned to interact with Jobs describe the experience as intellectually stimulating, compelling and fun.
“His real skill was knowing which buttons to push,” said Barnes. “The thing that kept me going with him was the intellectual spark. He could get so much out of you. He drove a high standard.”
“You weren’t judged as a woman,” she added. “You didn’t have to worry about what you wore and how you wore it. It was about your intellect, your brain and your contributions.”
Jobs put Coleman in charge of Mac manufacturing in 1984, making her one of the highest-ranking women in the computer industry. She later became chief financial officer of all of Apple in 1987, after Jobs had left the company. Coleman most recently served as co-founder and co-managing partner at venture capital firm SmartForest Ventures from 2000 to June 2015.
Barnes co-founded NeXT Computer with Jobs and became its chief financial officer. She went into investment banking after leaving NeXT and later served as financial chief at Intuitive Surgical. Barnes currently holds that same title at Pacific Biosciences, a DNA sequencing company. Cunningham left Regis McKenna to form her own PR firm and helped Jobs launch Pixar. She currently runs Cunningham Collective, a consulting firm.
“When you’re in an environment where you’re respected for what you do and not…your gender or age, it’s really refreshing,” Cunningham said. “That’s what Steve offered back then.”
Technically Incorrect: Tesla’s CEO tries to set the record straight after being quoted as saying that Apple hires the automaker’s engineering castoffs and the Apple Watch isn’t all that.
When you’re a famous CEO, you end up giving so many interviews that you might forget what you’ve said in them all.
You might also give interviews on particular days when you’re in particular moods. This can lead to particular articles being published that you particularly regret.
So it is, perhaps, with an interview in which Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave to Germany’s Handelsblatt. In it, he suggested — jokingly?– that the Cupertino, California, tech titan hires Tesla’s engineering castoffs.
“Did you ever take a look at the Apple Watch? No, seriously,” he said of Apple’s alleged foray into cars. “It’s good that Apple is moving and investing in this direction. But cars are very complex compared to phones or smartwatches.”
Thankfully, Musk took to Twitter on Friday to dismiss the very notion that he and Apple weren’t BFFs.
“Yo, I don’t hate Apple,” he first tweeted. “It’s a great company with a lot of talented people. I love their products and I’m glad they’re doing an EV.”
Those of punctilious mien might suggest that Apple’s “talented people” still just weren’t talented enough to work for Tesla. They might also muse that Musk seems to know definitively that Apple is making an electronic vehicle. Might that be because the alleged castoffs from Tesla who now work at Apple have told him?
Musk followed up with another tweet addressing his views on the Watch. “Regarding the watch, Jony & his team created a beautiful design, but the functionality isn’t compelling yet. By version 3, it will be.”
Translation: Version 2 will still be an inadequate lump of beautiful design.
Commenters on Musk’s tweets weren’t all amused. Someone called Joe Zou suggested that Tesla’s CEO was merely jealous that the Apple Watch made more profit in three months than Tesla will in 2015.
However, my favorite act of pure opportunism came from Henry Levak.
He offered: “Can I send you a Pebble Time Steel in the meantime? :)” Levak is the director of product at Pebble.
In 2013, Kathy Ko Chin looked at her business neighbors and saw change. Entire floors were packing up into moving trucks around the medical building at 450 Sutter Street, a few blocks away from the city’s downtown Union Square plaza.
The rent was getting too expensive. Chin, a tenant there for a decade, feared the same fate awaited her health-assistance organization, the Asian and Pacific American Islander Health Forum. When she called her landlord to ask about a new lease in February, her fears were realized: She was told her rent would rise 40 percent to $52 per square foot in 2015.
“I said, ‘We’re a nonprofit, and we’ve been a good tenant for years,'” Chin recalled. “‘Is there anything we can do? Can you reconsider?'” The answer: No dice.
By April, the organization and its 26 employees moved across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, California. “We were priced out of San Francisco,” Chin said of the city her organization had called home for 30 years.
She’s just one of the many being squeezed out by the most dramatic construction boom in the country, and it’s all happening in a city that measures less than a fifth the size of New York. Every month, more (mostly tech) companies are looking to stake their claim in a city growing skyward. The Bay Area’s primary economic driver for more than 30 years, the tech industry is fueling a surge in San Francisco construction.
And rents are skyrocketing.
The average asking price in San Francisco’s central business district (CBD) is now about $66 per square foot, according to property management company Jones Lang LaSalle. Five years ago that same square foot cost about $36. Office rents here have soared 83 percent in five years, nearly four times faster than downtown New York.
San Francisco is now second only to midtown Manhattan as the most expensive CBD in the country to seat a business, but not by much.
If it feels eerily familiar, it is. Just as they did during the dot-com bubble of the late ’90s, real estate developers are betting on tech’s insatiable appetite for work space.
Of course, things didn’t work out as planned back then. When the bubble burst in mid-2000, downtown San Francisco hollowed out just as developers were completing a record 6 million square feet of new office construction, according to data from the CoStar Group, which provides research to commercial real estate developers.
Developers say they’re being smarter this time around. Now, they’re signing tenants into leases before they even break ground. “It’s more stable right now because it’s not outright speculative,” said Colin Yasukochi, director of research at commercial real estate broker CBRE.
Even so, analysts say the boom-town feel likely won’t let up anytime soon. As companies continue to demand a limited number of floors, landlords can charge higher rents because they know someone — enter tech companies — can afford it. But most businesses cannot.
Nowhere to go but up
As is traditional in cities situated on a peninsula or island, the goal of commercial real estate is to build high and build fast. Some of the world’s busiest cities are prime examples: Hong Kong, Manhattan and Mumbai.
Right now, San Francisco is building more office space than any other North American city, with almost 5.2 million square feet currently under development, says real estate consultancy Colliers International. That’s enough to tuck in 90 football fields, with a little square footage left over.
Developers in San Francisco are slated to finish construction on 2.9 million square feet of new office space this year alone, according to the CoStar Group data. That’s up from 979,000 square feet in 2014 and 503,000 in 2010.
Before long, the city’s downtown skyline, punctuated by the Transamerica Pyramid, the Embarcadero Center buildings and historic Coit Tower, will include new buildings emblazoned with some of tech’s hottest names.
One of them is the 61-story, 1.4 million-square-foot Salesforce Tower, named for the anchor tenant that will occupy almost half the building when it opens in 2017. With 5,000 local employees (out of more than 15,000) Salesforce.com is the largest tech employer in the city. It soon will become San Francisco’s largest tenant, occupying more than 2 million square feet spread across offices leased in two towers and a 41-story building it bought last year. The Salesforce Tower will be city’s tallest building at 1,070 feet, with an equally high rent, as much as $105 per square foot, according to JLL data.
“The hottest talent out there wants to be at the epicenter, in the city — not stuck away on some office park in the suburbs,” Salesforce senior vice president of real estate Ford Fish said in an email. “That’s why you’ve seen many tech companies start to open offices in San Francisco.”
Salesforce isn’t the only one based here. Airbnb, Dropbox, Square, Twitter, Pinterest, Uber and Zendesk all have headquarters in the city. Silicon Valley-based LinkedIn is leasing 450,000 square feet in a 26-story building now under construction and slated to be finished in early 2016. Google installed some of its employees in 243,000 square feet of office space across the street from San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront. Even Apple, based a little under an hour to the south in Cupertino, is establishing its first satellite office in the city. (Apple is subleasing its space from CBS Interactive, which owns CNET News.)
Then there’s the Transbay Transit Center project, a $4.5 billion downtown complex of glass, steel and parkland slated for completion in 2017. The state-of-the-art transportation hub will connect San Francisco to eight Bay Area counties, including Silicon Valley whose edge starts about 20 miles to the south.
But ask anyone who lives or works in the city, and they’ll tell you: Silicon Valley feels like it’s here, already.
Everything else squeezed out
The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence is a small nonprofit, with just 10 staffers. But they’re a busy group. They advocate, raise funds, research and train people on how to handle sexual violence and trafficking among Asian immigrant populations, a large demographic here in the Bay Area.
Since its inception in 2000, the organization occupied space in the same Union Square building as Chin’s nonprofit. That is, until June 2014. It was one of the neighbors Chin watched leave.
Director Chic Darby said the group was “pushed out” by soaring rents and forced across the bay into Oakland. The average asking price in Union Square is now $51 per square foot, up from $27 in 2010. The organization is in a larger, more open space now, and the small staff is happy there, Darby says.
Even so, she worries about San Francisco. The office real estate market is a math problem. “When you have that kind of subtraction from San Francisco, then you want to be sure that something keeps getting added,” she said. “What are the additions?”
The answer is tech companies. The subtractions are everybody else.
Rising rents have forced businesses that aren’t flush with tech’s cash — including galleries, restaurants and nonprofits — to move to cheaper neighborhoods or relocate elsewhere in the Bay Area. Don Tamaki, an attorney at Minami Tamaki who’s helped Darby and others relocate, said the “astronomical increases” in office rent — up 94 percent citywide since 2010 — have caused an “exodus.”
And that’s a problem for the city itself, said San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim. “Folks who serve seniors and pass out food to the homeless really need to stay in the neighborhood they’re in,” she said.
That’s one reason the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last year established a $2.5 million rent stabilization fund to help service organizations, like food shelters or emergency care centers, according to a report by the city’s working group on nonprofit displacement. The board also set aside $2 million for arts organizations. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, whose mission includes “sustaining the arts,” committed $5 million over five years to help community arts organizations find space.
Even with the city’s support, though, many organizations are feeling the pinch. Almost 2,000 nonprofits, about a quarter of the total, have either shut down or moved away from 2011 through 2013, according to a report by Bloomberg.
“It puts a hardship on the nonprofit sector,” said Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California, which raises grant money for a variety of organizations focused on equal rights for women.
The foundation moved from San Francisco’s Financial District to Oakland in March.
“What does it mean for the people who rely on neighborhood-based organizations?” she asked. “What does it mean for the city and the entire Bay Area?”
This envisions a world where people aren’t stigmatized by that one terrible thing they did some time ago.
The intention is noble. Some, though, wonder whether it might allow serious criminals to remove all evidence of their criminality. It might also allow the very powerful to rewrite history in an even simpler way than the ones they’ve been using over the years.
However, in this latest case — involving a shoplifting conviction from 10 years ago — the result appears to be that the media cannot write about the fact that the information was originally taken down.
Neither the UK ICO nor Google were immediately available for comment. However, the ICO gave Google 35 days — starting August 18 — to remove the links.
The ICO’s deputy commissioner, David Smith, told the Guardian that the links didn’t represent news. He said this case wasn’t one “where the information is about an individual in public life or where making the information available would protect the public from improper or unprofessional conduct.”
It may well be that other governments, keen on controlling the Web without excessively obvious attempts at censorship, will adopt the same approach.
But can they defeat the Streisand Effect — so-called because the famous singer and actor tried to get photos of her Malibu home removed from the Web in 2003, which only encouraged more people to try to find them?
If the UK government continues in its quest, won’t someone set up a site in some dark corner of the Web that will list all the takedowns and all the information that was initially removed?
On Road Trip 2015, CNET takes a look at the tech scene in the Big Apple, and how it has quietly emerged from the ashes of the failed “Silicon Alley.”
The office space of TechStars NYC, which fosters startups and connects them with investors and potential customers, was, well, what you’d expect one of the key tech hubs in the city to look like: a brightly lit area with rows of tables populated with people typing away on MacBook Air computers. Motivational signs like “Move fast and break things” (a well-known Facebook mantra) decorate the walls. Occasionally, someone in a hurry zips through the room.
Even so, it was eerily calm on a Tuesday.
It’s just a few weeks before the next class of startups begins a 13-week tenure at TechStars, founded in 2006 in Boulder, Colorado, before expanding to eight other cities including the Big Apple. Once boot camp begins, a countdown clock — currently off on this August afternoon — signals the start of a race with a dozen companies working to build up their businesses for a final pitch to investors and customers. So is that when the volume pumps up?
“It’s still pretty quiet,” Alex Iskold, managing director of TechStars NYC, conceded. “But it’s intense.”
The New York tech scene has followed a similar path as it’s evolved over the years — starting off quietly but growing to the point where investors, corporations and city officials now take it seriously. While New York isn’t the birthplace of a household tech name like Google or Facebook, the city boasts a vibrant startup scene, with eager entrepreneurs able to tap into the expertise gleaned from other key industries in the city and ready to gamble on being the next big thing in tech.
“New York is the craziest city in the world,” Iskold said. “This matches our DNA perfectly. We are the city of risk takers, of a million choices and cutthroat competition.”
New York now boasts its own notable tech row. Etsy, an e-commerce site that sells handmade items, went public in April and is valued at just over $2 billion. Yahoo acquired micro-blogging site Tumblr for $1 billion in 2013, and is rumored to be interested in its Manhattan neighbor Foursquare, the location-based services provider. Fashion retail site Gilt Groupe raised $50 million earlier this year and may eventually go public. In December, WeWork raised $355 million in a deal that valued the workspace provider at nearly $5 billion.
New York, unlike California’s Bay Area and Silicon Valley, also boasts a more diverse array of industries and communities to draw talent from. That’s why you don’t always hear about tech; with such a whirling circus of activity around media, fashion, finance and other fields, it’s easy for anything to fly under the radar.
“Talking to some of my friends who have dinner parties in Silicon Valley, there’s all of the obsession about this fund raising and that fund raising,” Gilt CEO Michelle Peluso said. “The nice thing about New York is it’s a very broad city. ”
Still, New York is a distant second to San Francisco when it comes to tech. It lacks the blockbuster tech companies that have yielded wealthy founders willing to go out and create the next hot startup. There also isn’t a supply of engineering talent like there is in the Valley.
And if you’re a startup looking for more substantial funding, you still need to go west. While the amount of venture capital funding in the New York metropolitan area nearly doubled to $2.34 billion in the second quarter, it trailed well behind the $9.1 billion in funding invested in Silicon Valley, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Still, New York isn’t going to let the Bay Area have all the fun. Nor should it.
San Francisco “can’t have a monopoly on innovation or we’re all in trouble,” Peluso said with a chuckle.
A diverse scene
The theater was packed, with some enthusiastic attendees equipped with inflatable noisemakers. But this wasn’t a Broadway show or film premiere. It was the monthly gathering of the NY Tech Meetup group, which has seen its membership grow threefold over the last four years to more than 45,000 members.
A crowd of nearly a thousand tech enthusiasts, programmers, city officials, businesses and potential investors gathered to watch 10 startups run through live demonstrations of their projects as audience members alternated between hooting and hollering and asking insightful questions. The presenters aren’t all looking to build the next billion-dollar business; Seth Carnes considers his photo-and-text app, Poetics, a work of art. In his spare time, mapmaker Jeff Ferzoco built a digital map chronicling the New York hotspots for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community going back to 1859.
“You’re seeing a diversity of demonstrators and different types of products,” said Jessica Lawrence, executive director of the group.
On a Tuesday night in early July, one demonstration in particular left the audience impressed. Yaopeng Zhou and his team from Smart Vision Labs showed off a device that used a smartphone’s camera and processor to conduct an eye exam. Smart Vision’s product, which Zhou said is already shipping, could allow people in undeveloped nations to quickly get their vision checked.
Unlike Silicon Valley, which has been a wellspring for every sort of idea in tech, New York startups tend to get their inspirations from the surrounding industries, whether it’s fashion, media or health care.
Zhou got the idea for while working at GE Healthcare in New Jersey, and met his co-founder, Marc Albanese, while he attended New York University’s business school. Smart Vision is a New York native.
Access to different industries, from a recruitment and potential customer standpoint, is also an advantage New York holds, some successful entrepreneurs say.
“It’s pretty special, because in New York you pull from different disciplines,” said Ayah Bdeir, the CEO of do-it-yourself hardware maker LittleBits, at the opening of the company’s pop-up store in Manhattan late last month. “You have skills that come from finance, from fashion, from food, so they’re not only tech people but they come into the tech scene and I think that brings in a fresh perspective to the work that we do.”
It also helps keep the tech world grounded.
“In New York, no matter what you do, there’s always someone who doesn’t care,” said Charles Bonello, co-founder and managing director of Grand Central Tech, which fosters startups with a mission of building up the local tech scene.
Money, talent still out west
In Silicon Valley, there are a number of serial entrepreneurs who struck it rich and went on to foster more startups. Think the “PayPal Mafia,” the group of former PayPal employees who went on to found or fund other big-name companies, including Tesla Motors, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook.
New York lacks that legacy infrastructure. While there’s an increased willingness by local funds to invest in startups at the early stage — Union Square Ventures is a major player here — companies looking to develop further find they need to get serious funding elsewhere. Smart Vision, for instance, got funding from TechStars’ Colorado office and won a $1 million award from Verizon, but Zhou said he still has to fly out west to meet with venture capitalists.
“You can’t emulate Silicon Valley,” said Jeffrey Carr, a business professor at NYU. “There’s such a unique combination of things: (Stanford) University, entrepreneurs and the rock-star status they hold out there and the money.”
It’s also tougher to find the right engineering talent in New York. It’s easy to sell programmers on the potential upside to heading to San Francisco, where billion-dollar startups seemingly spring up on a regular basis. It’s a tougher sell for New York.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge that a tech company in New York faces is really recruiting from that talent pool in San Francisco, because it’s so far away, and because it is a very different lifestyle here,” said Peter Vidani, creative director at Tumblr.
“What are we selling them? Rude people, cheap pizza and bad weather?” Iskold added.
New York is working on creating a base of technical talent. The city launched Digital.nyc last year, which serves as a hub for the local startup scene. Cornell University is spending $2 billion to build a tech-focused facility on Roosevelt Island. Coding school General Assembly is also trying to reinforce the ranks of technically savvy workers in the city.
Silicon Alley redux?
Back in the mid ’90s, a nascent tech scene in New York rallied around the term Silicon Alley. But when the tech bubble burst in 1999, taking down many of the heavy hitters in the real Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley also collapsed.
It just wasn’t the right time for New York.
“The city itself wasn’t particularly well-suited,” Peluso said, recalling how office buildings lacked basic infrastructure like wiring for high-speed Internet access, and how landlords would ask for a 10-year lease commitment. “A 10-year commitment? I don’t even know where I’m going to say I’m at 10 days from now.”
There also wasn’t a strong venture capital presence. “Silicon Alley was a loose collection with not a lot of interesting things,” Iskold said, laughing.
The name is also a bit of a misnomer at this point. Silicon Alley started off in the Flatiron District near the historic Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street. But today’s tech companies are spread all over the New York area, with pockets in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
So is this Silicon Alley, version 2.0?
“We shouldn’t be calling it Silicon Alley,” Iskold said about the New York tech scene. “It sounds off to me — I don’t even know what that means honestly.”
With looming lawsuits and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled people ask whether Uber can do more to ensure they’re not refused rides from drivers.
On a stormy April day in Boston, Kristen Parisi was trying to get home. Given the rain, she ordered an on-demand Uber ride rather than trying to make her way to the train station.
“The guy showed up in a good-sized Mercedes sedan,” Parisi said. He took one look her, “and immediately was like, ‘No, no, no. I can’t take you.'”
Parisi, 30, is paralyzed from the waist down — the result of an injury from a car accident when she was five. She gets around in a small manual wheelchair she says weighs about 15 pounds and can be easily folded to fit into a car’s back seat or trunk.
Although the incident with the driver infuriated Parisi, she didn’t report it to Uber. She thought it was a one-off fluke.
But then it happened again.
The second time, Parisi was on her way to the airport and was able to convince the driver to accept her ride, but it was an awful experience. The driver complained Parisi’s wheelchair would dirty her car. Then, she forced Parisi to drag the wheelchair into the car herself. During the ride, Parisi said the driver berated her, saying just like she wouldn’t drive a dog, she shouldn’t be expected to take a wheelchair.
It was clear to Parisi this driver wasn’t aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It made me so angry and frustrated because these laws are not there just for the sake of it, these laws are there for a reason,” Parisi said. “They’re there to protect everybody.”
Parisi, a public-relations executive, has become a vocal critic of Uber, which pairs passengers with drivers via a smartphone app and is one of the world’s most valuable startups.
Her key complaint is that Uber is not doing enough to train its drivers on the ADA. This federal law passed in 1990 and marked its 25th anniversary last week. Under the ADA, all transportation providers are required to accommodate wheelchairs if the equipment can be stowed in the vehicle. Drivers must also accommodate passengers with service animals, such as guide dogs. Currently, one in five people in the US have a disability, according to the US Census Bureau.
Parisi is not alone in her criticism of Uber. Other people who use wheelchairs have said drivers for Uber and its rival Lyft have refused them rides, resulting in lawsuits in Arizona andTexas. Blind people have also been reportedly discriminated against. A lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind of California last September points to more than 40 instances in which Uber drivers allegedly refused to give rides to blind passengers with guide dogs.
But Uber says it’s doing a lot to support disabled passengers. The San Francisco-based company says its service helps people with disabilities because they can order an on-demand ride with the tap of a smartphone. Uber has also launched new features in several cities over the last year that let people request extra assistance or wheelchair-accessible vehicles if needed.
“We’re a very young company but we’re already making, I think, a significant difference in terms of more mobility options for people with disabilities,” said David Plouffe, a former campaign manager and White House adviser for President Barack Obama who joined Uber in August 2014. “The ability for someone to press a button, or a family member to press a button, to get them a ride is a huge deal.”
Still, the lingering question is: Will the person who shows up follow the law and give someone with a disability a ride?
‘Law of mathematics’
Uber is the world’s largest ride-hailing service. Since Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp founded the company in 2009, the service has expanded to operate in more than 250 cities in 58 countries. Uber has more than one million drivers and typically takes a 20 percent to 25 percent flat commission for each fare.
The service has also raked in billions in investment funding, becoming the highest-valued venture-backed company in the world, with a valuation of more than $50 billion, according to some estimates.
Uber has online materials that say drivers are not to discriminate against passengers with disabilities. In a July 9 blog post, the company wrote it “expects” drivers to “comply with all state, federal and local laws governing the transportation of riders with disabilities.” And any reports of discrimination could lead to a driver being deactivated from the service.
Plouffe said drivers also receive documents when they sign up for Uber that say discrimination is against the company’s code of conduct. Additionally, Uber has made an online video that drivers can choose to watch, which shows how to best assist people with disabilities.
“We’ve got a lot of drivers, so unfortunately the law of mathematics is that occasionally we may have somebody who doesn’t understand for whatever reason,” Plouffe said. “Sometimes we’ve seen instances where people say, ‘well I’ve got leather seats and I don’t want a dog on them.’ That’s just not okay.”
Lyft’s terms of service is similar to Uber’s. It has policies that forbid discrimination and expect drivers to accommodate wheelchairs and service animals. Drivers that violate Lyft’s policies also may face deactivation from the service.
Still, Uber and Lyft’s training is minimal compared to that offered by the established taxi industry. Most cab companies require mandatory training on ADA compliance, according to Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association trade group. For example, Chicago taxi drivers are required to take classes to learn about service dogs, according to Beth Finke, who is the interactive community coordinator at the disability advocacy organization Easter Seals.
Some Uber and Lyft drivers say the companies haven’t done enough to make drivers aware of non-discrimination policies.
“Since Uber doesn’t provide much training in the first place, many drivers are left to figure it out and often feel like they’re thrown to the wolves, especially when first starting,” said Harry Campbell, a driver for both Uber and Lyft who authors a popular blog with tips for drivers. “There are a lot of things that Uber asks drivers to do and when there’s no central repository to get good information, this is what can happen.”
So why don’t Uber and Lyft do more?
‘A pretty big leap of faith’
Uber and Lyft’s business models are built around drivers who are classified as “independent contractors,” rather than employees. Under this model, drivers can be their own boss and drive whenever they want. But it also means that the ride-hailing services aren’t responsible for driver costs including Social Security, health insurance, paid sick days, unemployment and overtime. Drivers supply and maintain their own cars, so the companies save a lot of money in operating and capital costs.
This business model has another potential benefit for Uber and Lyft — these companies may beprotected from liability for the actions of their drivers.
However, this approach to the ride-hailing business is under threat. Both companies are being sued for allegedly misclassifying their drivers as contractors. (A hearing on August 6 will determine whether the case against Uber should receive class action status.) If the lawsuits can show that Uber and Lyft exercise a certain amount of “control” over drivers, the companies may be forced to change the “independent contractor” classification. The types of control a judge may look at include whether or not the companies hire and fire drivers, provide drivers with specialized equipment and require any type of training.
One of the unintended consequences of this debate is that Uber is delegating ADA training and compliance onto its drivers, Clark said. “Clearly the drivers have to follow the law. But the question is who informs them of the law?” he added. Uber effectively is saying it expects drivers to know the law, Clark said, but “I think that’s a pretty big leap of faith.”
In the lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind of California, Uber argues that since it’s an app-based technology company, it doesn’t fall under the ADA’s definition of public accommodation. But the US Department of Justice disagrees. In a December filing with the court, the DOJ said it doesn’t matter whether a company provides transportation itself or contracts it out — it still has to comply with the ADA.
“While an entity may contract out its service,” the DOJ wrote, “it may not contract away its ADA responsibilities.”
‘It’s really simple’
After Parisi’s last experience with Uber, she contacted the company to report the incident. During one of many phone conversations with the ride-hailing service, she gave recommendations on how to better work with people with disabilities. Her advice included add disabled consultants to Uber’s staff, be more transparent about its policies on enforcing the ADA and make drivers go through an online training course that includes a test at the end.
Uber has also heard from one of the original co-authors of the ADA, former US Rep. Tony Coelho (D., Calif.). Coelho, who has epilepsy and is unable to drive, is a strong supporter of Uber. He says being able to order a ride in a matter of minutes makes a tremendous difference in his and other disabled people’s lives.
“Of all those things that have changed because of the ADA, the transportation industry has been the slowest to catch on,” Coelho said.
Discrimination against people with disabilities happens across the transportation sector, he said, and Uber is just one of many that’s had issues. Rather than criticize the ride-hailing company, Coelho said he believes a better approach is to encourage best practices. “Those of us who are believers in the ADA and getting services for people with disabilities need to be aggressive with Uber to make sure they follow through,” he said.
Over the past year, Uber has offered new features for people with disabilities. One is called UberAssist, which lets passengers request a driver trained to accommodate disabled people. It’s available in 10 cities in the US and in Australia. There’s also UberAccess, which specifically hails vehicles that can fit large wheelchairs. This service is offered in five US cities, so far. Uber has also added features to its app for blind and deaf people, including wireless Braille displays and vibrating alerts.
Still, disability advocates say there’s more work to be done, particularly when it comes to driver training. Just last week, a blind man on the way to the veterinarian with his guide dog was denied a ride from an Uber driver in Wisconsin.
“The training required for these very simple services is not extensive,” said Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund who uses a wheelchair. “We really want to be just like everybody else, and in fact we are just like everyone else. Riding with a service animal or bringing a wheelchair with you is not challenging for drivers. It’s really simple.”
During a talk at the South by Southwest festival, the former US vice president likens the cause to the campaign for Net neutrality.
Al Gore thinks the Internet could help save the planet. Literally.
The former United States vice president exhorted people to tap into the power of the Internet to organize their efforts for a healthy environment and call out politicians who deny climate change.
“Push back. Use social media, use the Internet,” Gore said Friday. “Political will is a renewable resource.”
Gore made his comments during a presentation on the first day of South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-centric portion of the festival that brings together the technorati, filmmakers and musicians. Gore has deep ties to the technology industry, as a director on Apple’s board and senior partner at the venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
Arguably the most recognizable face of the environmental movement, Gore compared the fight over climate change to recent political wins for Net neutrality, the concept of ensuring that all Internet traffic gets fair and equal treatment. The Federal Communications Commission last month voted in favor of stricter regulations that would ensure an open Internet. The lead up to that vote involved an active Internet campaign, with Amazon, Facebook, Google and other tech giants voicing support, joined by people sharing their views on social media.
Gore also pointed to the tech industry’s fight in 2012 against SOPA, or the Stop Internet Piracy Act. Many Internet companies, which believed the 2012 bill would impinge on freedom of speech and curtail growth of the industry, staged protests against the bill. That included an “Internet blackout” that involved thousands of websites, including Google and Wikipedia. For example, Google covered the logo on its homepage with a black box.
Gore has long-championed the cause to halt climate change. In 2006, he starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” about the effects of global warming. He’s also the founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, an environmental nonprofit organization that promotes education and advocacy.
The United Nations will host its Climate Change Conference in Paris from November 30 to December 11. The conference aims to achieve a legally binding agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.
The software company known for projects as far afield as One World Trade Center and Grand Theft Auto is bringing its tools to DIY-ers tinkering fixes to everyday problems.
Carl Bass opens a drawer lined with black-handled chisels, picks one up and carefully runs the steel blade along his arm as if it were a straightedge razor.
“See all those little hairs there?” he says, pointing to a dusting of black hair that settles into the drawer. “That’s how you can tell if they’re sharp.”
Bass is in his element. He hurries around his spacious, cement-floored woodworking shop, showing off both rudimentary hand tools and a collection of complex machines. Bass set up this workspace and a personal metalworking shop down the street as hobby spaces. But they both also serve as testing grounds for the company he runs: Autodesk.
While design professionals are familiar with Autodesk, it’s likely the multibillion-dollar company most people have never heard of. Autodesk makes more than 100 software products that millions of engineers, architects and animators use to design and model everything from bridges, buildings and roads to cars, planes and video games. Many of the creations you see around you — whether it’s One World Trade Center on the New York skyline, Grand Theft Auto on your game console or even a soldier’s prosthetic leg — were designed or modeled with Autodesk software.
Now the 33-year-old company is pushing into the consumer realm, bringing affordable software to the masses with the goal of helping people create. And that puts Autodesk smack in the middle of the Maker Movement that, at its core, encourages tinkerers and hobbyists to think of new ways to solve everyday problems. Makers combine do-it-yourself invention with technology — which could also describe Autodesk’s approach to design, simulation and modeling.
That positioning is just fine with Bass, who took over as CEO of the San Rafael, Calif.-based company in 2006.
“One part is creativity, the other part is solving problems,” says Bass. “You can step back and say we are trying to use technology to solve problems.”
Rather than looking like a buttoned-up executive, Bass more resembles a carpenter. He’s tall — 6 feet, 4 inches — and prefers T-shirts and Carhartts to suits. He has a thick New York accent and often belts out a deep laugh. Bass is not your typical CEO, say people who work for him. Yes, he’s business-minded, competitive and has strong opinions, but he’s also unassuming and on a first-name basis with hundreds of his employees.
Bass, 57, has been a maker since his 20s. Sawing, sanding and soldering seem to be part of his DNA. Before joining Autodesk in 1993 as chief architect for AutoCAD, he built houses on an Indian reservation and constructed boats in Maine. A quick scan of Bass’ wood and metal shops shows dozens of objects he’s made, like a chair built from one piece of plywood, a 2,000-pound iron table, baseball bats for his two sons and road-ready go-kart.
“Some people buy yachts, some people buy fast cars. Carl does his workshop,” says Amar Hanspal, Autodesk’s senior vice president for the Information Modeling and Platform Group. “It’s been in his blood. It’s not a recent discovery.”
Autodesk and the Maker Movement
Set against the wall of Bass’ woodworking shop is a 20-foot piece of bubinga, a distinctive type of wood with curly rose-colored grain and dark bark. “That’s destined to be a table,” Bass says, explaining that it’s one of the newer additions to his decades-old collection. For instance, he carved his bed frame out of a piece of maple burl he had for 25 years. “Metal you go to the store and buy. Wood you accumulate over the years,” he says.
While Bass has always made things with his hands, he hasn’t always seen Autodesk as playing a role in the Maker Movement, which began to gather steam in 2006 with the first Maker Faire in California. Shortly after Bass became Autodesk CEO, Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, sat down with him to explain the movement.
“I have to say, at the time, he wasn’t buying it. I think he defined it as localized production,” Dougherty recalls. “For many years, the company Autodesk wouldn’t have resonated with the Maker movement as the consumer movement, their focus has been on professional design tools.”
That changed in 2010. While Autodesk always had amateur users, it really began to focus on the consumer market that year. The company has since grown its consumer user base to 227.6 million people worldwide, far outdistancing the 12 million professional users who work with its software.
One reason for that consumer growth is that Autodesk now gives away much of its software for free. Students, teachers and schools pay nothing for the company’s professional products, while many small businesses get hefty discounts. Professionals, on the other hand, typically pay thousands for the software.
“Part of what we’re seeing with Autodesk is the democratization of that tool set. It’s moving from just professionals to amateurs,” Dougherty says. “The more they can make this easier for more people, the more powerful it becomes.”
Making design software more accessible has been the company’s strategy since its start in 1982, when it offered a cheaper and (relatively) easier way to create 2D designs on personal computers versus requiring dedicated and costly workstations. Autodesk also was among the first to realize the benefit — to itself and to its customers — of allowing hundreds of other software companies to create products that hook into its programs. This universe of add-on products gave Autodesk an edge over its competitors, like PTC and Dassault.
Now, by giving away free software to schools, Autodesk is creating a new pool of users who may one day buy its software.
“It has a synergy with what we’re trying to do,” says Crawford Beveridge, who’s been a director on Autodesk’s board for 21 years. “Some would say a lot of our main focus is on very large customers who design cars or airplanes or buildings. But the Maker movement has a very important role to play in both the democratization issue and the opportunity to go to other businesses.”
By far, the company’s biggest markets are construction, architecture and engineering, and its most popular software is AutoCAD, which lets designers and engineers draft 2D and 3D drawings. But Autodesk also extends into other markets and offers software for things like 3D modeling, personal creativity, simulations, photo editing and animation.
“When you step into your car, use some type of other physical product, or walk into the building you might be in now,” says Marc Halpern, a research vice president in Gartner’s Manufacturing Advisory Services division, “there’s a tremendous chance that Autodesk technology played a role in the design or creation of that building or product.”
So, for example, the US Navy’s first 45,000-ton amphibious assault ship USS America was created with Autodesk’s ShipConstructor. Lightning Motorcycles used Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher to design the world’s fastest electric motorbike, which can reach speeds of up to 218 miles per hour. And Autodesk’s 123D Catch software was used to help figure out how to clip 25,000 LED lights on the San Francisco Bay Bridge for the world’s largest light sculpture called The Bay Lights.
“Their software is the equivalent of a Ferrari,” says Leo Villareal, The Bay Lights artist, who also used his own software for the installation.
Autodesk’s animation, editing, motion capture and 3D rendering software has also been used in dozens of Academy Award-winning movies, including “Interstellar,” “Avatar” and “Frozen.” Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron relied on Autodesk’s MotionBuilder and Maya 3D animation software for his 2013 Oscar-winning film “Gravity.”
When Cuaron first set out to film “Gravity,” he couldn’t figure out how to realistically show actors Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space. The movie’s production team solved the problem by using Autodesk software to pre-visualize and animate the entire film before shooting.
“If you take the shot where they’re repairing the shuttle and the shuttle gets hit by the debris, everything there — the shuttle, the debris, everything — is created on the computer using our software and then is animated,” says Maurice Patel, Autodesk’s entertainment industry manager. “The main point about the movie and the use of technology is this trend we’re seeing in the industry, which we call the blurring between the digital and real world.”
While Autodesk has been helping film companies stay on top of digital trends, it’s also been working to keep current with the trends reshaping its own technology industry. One of the most transformative is cloud computing, where people can share applications, documents and data over the Internet. While cloud-based apps have touted their collaboration and teamwork benefits since the late 1990s, cloud services didn’t become mainstream until 2009, when Google first publicly offered Google Apps.
Yet Bass has hammered on bringing software to the cloud since becoming CEO. He believes the future involves bringing 3D modeling and design to the cloud in the same way that Google Docs now hosts documents in the cloud.
“One thing that Autodesk has been able to do and why it stayed in its leadership position is it can touch the technology trends,” says Carol Bartz, who was the Autodesk’s CEO from 1992 to 2006. “We had to pull the company into the Internet. Carl is pulling the company into cloud services.”
Helping makers make
Bass is also pulling Autodesk into the Maker Movement. This move can be traced back to 2009 when the company released its first mobile app SketchBook Mobile for iOS. The app garnered more than 1 million downloads in the first 50 days. That level of success prompted Autodesk to roll out more apps for students, professionals and, yes, makers. The company now offers 17 programs under its Personal Creativity category. That category’s tagline reads, in part, “Reshape your world. Make a difference. Create something.”
A little over a year ago, Autodesk opened a 27,000-square-foot workshop on San Francisco’s Pier 9. It juts off the dock of the city’s Embarcadero into the waters of the clay-blue bay. From the outside, Pier 9 looks like most of its neighboring whitewashed piers. Inside, it’s a hotbed of makers.
The two-story workshop is divided into several rooms holding state-of-the-art machines and tools. Here, Autodesk hosts its artist-in-residence program that lets people play with its water jet cutter, CNC router (a computer-controlled cutting machine) and industrial sewing machines. Hanging from the wall is a giant set of electronic googly eyes that look at you wherever you move, a fire-breathing machine and a conference table that swings. One room holds Autodesk’s first foray into hardware — its desktop 3D printer called Ember.
Pier 9 is also home to Autodesk’s how-to website, Instructables, which it acquired in 2011. Geared toward helping makers create, the site offers a range of lessons from “how to make a solar robot” to “how to kiss.” Bass himself has even authored a few Instructables, including “Turning a baseball bat” and, fittingly, “Sharpening a chisel.”
As Bass strolls from room to room in Pier 9, he waves hello and stops to chat with the local makers and ask them about their projects. One man is working on a small part for a lunar lander, another is 3D-printing tiny metal pieces of jewelry that look like delicate swaths of lace.
In a sense, Pier 9 is a highfalutin version of Bass’ Berkeley workshops. Every year Bass spends extra time in these shops fashioning holiday presents for Autodesk’s directors. He’s made small sets of audio speakers, 3D-printed metal baskets and other various creations. One of the reasons he does this is to work with and test Autodesk’s software.
“Carl’s always been interested in building things even before the Maker Movement was called the Maker Movement,” Autodesk board member Beveridge says. “His own interest in making things has allowed him to bring back into the company information about how we can help other people who make things, make them better.”
To celebrate eight years as a Tokyo Marathon sponsor, Dole’s Japan division has outfitted a banana with sensors and LEDs to create the world’s first edible wearable.
Before the Apple Watch, there was the Dole banana.
The world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, Dole has sponsored the Tokyo Marathon since 2008 and supplied bananas to potassium-deficient runners throughout the race. The company’s Japanese division has even printed runners’ stats on the banana peel in previous races.
So it’s only natural that Dole’s ambitions have moved onto wearable tech, an industry flush with fitness bands, watches, smart shirts and eyewear, but terribly lacking in vitamin B6. Enter the Dole wearable banana wrist … thing.
The “gadget” is essentially wired parts stuck to the inside of an opened banana peel, which is then stitched back together. Once strapped to runners’ wrists, the bananas will show racers’ times, tweets, heart rate — and when to eat the next banana.
“The power source is a small battery connected to the wearable banana. Inside the battery there are ultracompact LEDs and other electronic components,” said Dole Japan spokesperson Itaru Kunieda. Adding a hint of intrigue, Kunieda added, “These are the only details about the specs that we can tell you at the moment.”
Wearable technology is shaping up to be the next big frontier in consumer electronics marketing. The worldwide market for wearable devices, including fitness bands and smartwatches, is expected to surge to $52.3 billion by 2019, up from about $4.5 billion last year, according to market tracker Juniper Research. The highly anticipated Apple Watch, due to ship in April, along with products from luxury watchmakers, fashion designers and tech companies could fuel that demand.
Of course, no company will be able to replicate the magic of a wearable banana. Two runners out of the 30,000 marathon participants on Sunday will be handed Dole’s device in the morning. They will then be asked to run 26.2 miles with a banana on their wrist, presumably without eating it.