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Business and Technology News


Changing design of hotel rooms

Sat, 27 May 2017 00:47:59 UT

Do you think of hotel rooms as having spacious, old-school desks, the kind that invite long hours of working? Schlappig has complained online about the disappearance of those desks, something a fellow business traveler, Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel, noted in a Twitter post in 2015 meant to mobilize his “fellow desk-loving Marriott patrons.” Sometimes, Schlappig said, “there’s not even a functional work space, like a table and a comfortable rolling chair, with proper space to put your laptop.” [...] Millennials — even extroverted ones who have earned that generation its reputation for valuing get-out-of-your-room-and-explore experiences — may not be to blame for rooms that have started feeling more space-age than familiar. According to Michael Suomi, principal and vice president for interior design at Stonehill & Taylor, an architectural firm in New York that works with Marriott, Hyatt and other hotel brands, the changes are trying to keep pace with the changing needs of all business travelers. The lack of closets in new chains like Moxy, a Marriott spinoff now open in New Orleans and Tempe, Ariz., reflects research showing that guests often do not bother to unpack anymore, said Suomi, who designed the New Orleans hotel. “A room can start to feel pretty small when you put a closet and a dresser in,” said Ron Pohl, the chief operations officer and senior vice president for Best Western. Guest rooms that were 350 square feet five years ago at what Suomi called the big three business hotels, Regency, Hilton and Marriott, are now often 275 square feet, he said. Guest rooms at the new boutique hotels like Moxy and Vib are even smaller, he said, averaging about 200 square feet. [...] it paves the way for designs like the one at Moxy, which encourages guests to manage their own spaces by hanging almost every piece of furniture on the wall, Shaker-style, and the one at Vib, which will offer platform beds so suitcases can be stowed underneath. Multifunction desks — often movable tables paired with desk-height swivel chairs that a guest might put to use as a dining table — have also become standard at many flagship Marriotts, the chain that bore the brunt of customer complaints about the removal of desks from some locations a few years ago. Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer at the Hotel School at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, said business travelers should expect to experience such design flaps as hotel chains try to figure out how their customers work. [...] Brian Kelly, an entrepreneur who travels 125 nights a year to help other travelers make the most of frequent flier and credit card points through his website the Points Guy, wants his minibar back. “Are there still business travelers like Willy Loman, who go around with their Skyriter typewriters and their hard-shell Samsonite suitcases, wearing their hat with a feather sticking out?” Suomi asked.

3 steps that will declutter your garage

Sat, 27 May 2017 00:40:23 UT

Nearly half of Americans admitted to being unable to park their car in their garage, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 people by SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas, online broker for storage and moving companies. “So many garages have become black holes, the modern-day equivalent of the elephant burial ground,” said Peter Walsh, a professional organizer and consultant for SpareFoot. Things you don’t want to deal with get tossed in the garage, and very quickly garages become unusable, which is crazy when you consider the car is the second most valuable possession besides your house. The native Australian and author of the New York Times best-selling book “It’s All Too Much” has simplified the daunting task of cleaning the garage based on three fundamental steps. “That’s the stuff that reminds us of an important person or achievement, and the sense of letting go dishonors the memory,” Walsh said. For years, a granddaughter held onto boxes of her deceased grandma’s stuff, until Walsh helped her identify those items that meant the most. Avoid floor creep: “Flat surfaces such as the top of the desk, countertop, floor of the garage are not for storage,” Walsh said. Once-a-year items should be stored at the top; more regular stuff should be at eye level using hooks, pegboard, shelves — whatever it takes to keep stuff off the floor.

Venture capitalist spends time browsing Nextdoor

Sat, 27 May 2017 00:38:28 UT

Venture capitalist spends time browsing Nextdoor Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Gurley who, along with his partners at Benchmark, was an early investor in companies such as Instagram, Uber, Stitch Fix and Snap, spent a recent afternoon scrolling through the neighborhood social network, Nextdoor, studying the ways people use the service. Gurley is an active member in the Nextdoor neighborhood of Atherton, where he lives. Being a lead means he had to help establish the group there by inviting people to join. Another neighbor wanted to know where to buy tomato plants. [...] under the crime and safety category, a warning was issued for bears and coyotes. There’s a belief that venture capitalists spend their days sitting at conference tables determining the fate of startups desperate for cash. Good venture capitalists go a step further to provide guidance to entrepreneurs and helping them navigate big-picture problems, like figuring out when to go public. The same day that Gurley’s neighbor asked about Tim Tam cookies, an Oakland resident took to Nextdoor to yell: “You’re (sic) CAR ALARM on 65th St. is ruining my life!!!” In Woodside, residents have lost their temper on Nextdoor over each other’s use of drones. The majority of companies that get venture capital funding turn out to be duds, with success stories such as eBay and Instagram being the exception.

The best tablets money can buy

Sat, 27 May 2017 00:32:20 UT

The best tablets money can buy The Surface Pro 4 fits a larger screen with a higher resolution into a slightly slimmer body than last year’s model. The pen and keyboard cover are also improved, and this is one of the first mobile systems that includes Intel’s latest processors. Microsoft still refuses to include the Type Cover keyboard with the tablet, forcing a separate purchase. The bottom line: A host of small refinements cements the Surface Pro 4’s position as the best-in-class Windows tablet — as long as you’re prepared to pay extra for the required keyboard cover. The right-hand Shift key is poorly placed and sized. Webcam is at the bottom of the screen. Separate USB Type-C ports for power and video-out kill the option for a single connection all-in-one dock. With a beautiful design, excellent performance and battery life, and a great display, the Lenovo is a head-turning hybrid. The pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus offers superior sketching and drawing, and the Pro’s gorgeous screen and quad speakers are ideal for split-screen apps, multitasking and watching movies. Few apps are optimized to take advantage of the Pro’s full potential. Once you’ve paid for the Pencil and keyboard peripherals, the Pro costs as much as a good laptop, but lacks its flexibility. The iPad Pro is a dream machine for graphic designers and media mavens, but this elegant tablet needs more optimized apps and accessories before it can achieve laptop-killer status. The Galaxy is an elegantly designed tablet that comes with a capable stylus. Large games take time to load. Samsung packs buzz-worthy features like S Pen and HDR support into the premium Galaxy, but without a keyboard, it’s still more about content consumption than creation. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit

Kenya’s struggling Uber drivers fear a new competitor: Uber

Sat, 27 May 2017 00:14:07 UT

NAIROBI, Kenya — James Njoroge, an Uber driver in Nairobi, earns barely $5 at the end of a grueling 10-hour workday ferrying customers through snarled traffic across the Kenyan capital. “We’ve been working for them so much, but now they’re slashing us,” he said recently, slowing down his Toyota, a 7-year-old model, hardly brand-new but newer than the cars expected to be part of the fleet for the coming service, UberGo. Uber has quickly expanded across parts of Africa, where it is seen by those signing up as drivers — or “partners” in the Uber lingo — as a rare job opportunity on a continent with stubbornly high unemployment. Faced with fierce competition from other ride-hailing apps, Uber’s latest service in Kenya, critics say, would pit its own drivers against each other in a kind of cannibalistic race to the bottom, eroding what little they already earn. “To live in Nairobi, it’s very hard,” Njoroge said recently in his home in Umoja, a dusty but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi where, within a short space of time, a fight broke out, a minibus with “Rock Gospel” stenciled on its side unloaded passengers, a man hawked grilled meat and a fashionably dressed woman crossed paths with a strutting rooster. Uber insists that the new service would allow drivers to save on fuel and other expenses, ultimately making their jobs more profitable. In Nairobi, Uber and its competitors like Taxify, an Estonian company, and Little Cab, a company owned by Kenya’s mobile network giant Safaricom that offers free Wi-Fi in its cars, are aiming to capture clientele from a rising, but fragile, middle class that still values affordability, sometimes at the expense of quality of service or even vehicle safety. Competition is fierce even among apps for notoriously dangerous boda-bodas, or motorcycle taxis, which are a major cause of road accidents. Njoroge and many other Uber drivers expressed anxiety not just about losing customers but also about failing to meet car loans — loans that Uber helped them secure in the first place and that require drivers to stay with the company until they are paid off. Without Uber, drivers struggle to obtain auto loans, even for secondhand cars, because banks require borrowers to earn monthly salaries of $485. [...] the final loan installment is made, however, drivers are pretty much at the company’s mercy. “My car is my office,” he said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he listened to reggae music. Uber drivers say they might make $58 a day, which does not seem that bad by Kenyan standards — until they lay out their laundry lists of loans and work-related expenses. Njoroge, who had a string of odd jobs after graduating from university in agricultural sciences, turned to Uber in 2015 when it began in Kenya.

Kik app will offer digital currency amid bitcoin boom

Fri, 26 May 2017 23:24:29 UT

Kik app will offer digital currency amid bitcoin boom Messaging app Kik Interactive is the latest and potentially most well-established company to delve into a quirky new form of fundraising — creating its own digital currency. Interest in coin offerings is high, thanks to surging prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Kik, which has raised about $120 million (in real money) from investors including Tencent Holdings, could serve to add a layer of legitimacy to the process. Growth has been tough in the past few years, though, as teenagers get smartphones earlier and Kik users switch to Facebook apps once they leave high school. The company’s goal is to attract merchants who will sell through it, creating a snowball effect where Kin becomes more valuable and more sellers pile onto Kik, increasing its popularity.

Interactive experiences a big part of casinos’ futures

Fri, 26 May 2017 23:23:50 UT

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Getting new customers involved in more interactive experiences is going to be a big part of the future for casinos in the United States and around the world, participants in a major gambling conference predicted last week. Casino executives, digital experts and payment processors at the conference in Atlantic City agreed that casinos need to offer new experiences that directly involve the next generation. A prime opportunity for growth is the expansion of payment processing for online gambling, said Joe Pappano, senior vice president of the payment processing company Vantiv Entertainment Solutions. Casinos remain unsure whether daily fantasy sports and sports betting are potential friends or enemies, participants on a panel said. States across the nation are grappling with how to regulate daily fantasy sports, in which players create a roster of real-life athletes who earn points based on their performances in games. Brennan said casinos are perfect partners for daily fantasy sports companies because of the existing player databases and the casinos’ knowledge of their customers, their likes and gambling histories. Acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall urged the Supreme Court not to hear New Jersey’s appeal of a lower court decision that invalidated the state’s sports betting plan. [...] the company removed the 21 machines after six months because they were not generating enough money to cover the vendor fees, said senior vice president Melissa Price. Casinos also have to constantly update their offerings and keep up with their customers’ interests, said Vahe Baloulian, CEO of BetConstruct, which offers sports betting and online gambling software.

Meal-delivery service Sprig shuts down

Fri, 26 May 2017 22:56:49 UT

“No question, I’m sad that the Sprig model did not work out — but the food delivery space on the whole is growing,” wrote CEO Gagan Biyani in a letter to customers on the company website. Founded in April 2013, Sprig promised fresh organic meals and a 15-minute delivery window, with a menu created by founding executive chef Nate Keller, who left the business in 2015. Starting with just three options at dinner and delivery to only a couple of San Francisco neighborhoods, it eventually added lunch and more menu options, and widened its delivery area, including during a brief stint in Chicago. [...] January, Sprig placed ready-to-eat dishes in delivery vehicles in different neighborhoods so that orders could be dropped off quickly. In April, the company began inviting customers to dine at its production space, a cafe it called Sprig Market on Van Ness Avenue.

ICYMI: a ‘choke slam,’ Zuckerberg talks, hippo beer, Hershey sued

Fri, 26 May 2017 22:39:13 UT

ICYMI: a ‘choke slam,’ Zuckerberg talks, hippo beer, Hershey sued clarified that what a future congressman did to a Guardian reporter might be better described as a “choke slam” instead of a run-of-the-mill body slam, this also happened: Mark Zuckerberg gave the commencement speech at Harvard, the university where he started Facebook in 2004 — leading him to drop out in 2005. President Trump is no laughing matter, at least not for the Web project that HBO was developing with political humorist Jon Stewart. Mashable reported that for the moment, the emoji are visible only on Twitter’s website because most other networks and services don’t have them yet. A Google computer program, AlphaGo, beat the world’s best player, 19-year-old Chinese prodigy Ke Jie, in a duel over the strategy board game near Shanghai. of Missouri claims that Hershey is being “misleading, deceptive and unlawful,” and is asking the company to pay back at least $5 million to customers. At least that’s what happened at Listermann Brewing Co., which is releasing a Team Fiona New England-style IPA in honor of the Cincinnati Zoo’s new hippo. Daily Briefing is compiled from San Francisco Chronicle staff and news services.

Prize offered for improving Zillow’s home price algorithm

Fri, 26 May 2017 22:33:54 UT

Few such tools have been as controversial as ones that show the market value of homes, using algorithms to do the estimates. Homes are typically people’s most valuable asset, so emotions run hot when these estimates are seen as too high or too low. The best-known tool — the Zestimate, from real estate website Zillow — began 11 years ago and has amassed a huge audience of homeowners, shoppers and nosy neighbors. The contest was inspired partly by a similar competition at Netflix, which awarded $1 million in 2009 to a group of programmers and statisticians who best improved the company’s movie recommendation technology. Banks and insurance companies have used software to value real estate for years through what are called automated valuation models. When Zillow started out in 2006 with 43 million homes listed, it calculated the median error rate across the site at about 14 percent, said Stan Humphries, the chief economist of Zillow. Andersen, a real estate lawyer, sued Zillow this year, accusing the company of conducting stealth appraisals without a state license. Most real estate agents grumble about online home estimates, too. Redfin, an Internet real estate firm in Seattle, introduced its own home value estimator less than two years ago, commissioning an independent study that showed its figures were more accurate than Zillow’s (Zillow disputes its conclusions). Even as they improve, it makes more sense to look at Internet home estimates the way people look at Yelp reviews of a restaurant — helpful, but hardly the final word.

Startups raise cash with cryptocurrency

Fri, 26 May 2017 22:33:36 UT

[...] there’s a catch — unlike traditional venture capital investments, the tokens don’t confer a claim on Storj’s equity or future profits. The coins can be traded on dozens of online exchanges, and demand for all sorts of them has exploded as people speculate on the next big tech startup. “The average investor is missing out on the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world,” said Bart Stephens, a managing partner at Blockchain Capital, a venture capital firm that has invested in blockchain-related startups since 2012. [...] offerings are possible thanks to blockchain, the catchall term for a digital ledger that promises incorruptible storage of financial transactions. Banks and stock exchanges have spent millions on it, looking for ways to cut the costs for transferring money or recording equity sales. Take Gnosis, a prediction market application based on the Ethereum blockchain that raised $12.5 million in 12 minutes on April 24, resulting in a market capitalization of almost $300 million. There are places to track historical prices and volume, and reports on individual offerings to help prospective buyers assess a firm’s prospects. Initial coin offerings don’t have disclosure requirements, and the issuer can accept an unlimited number of investors, instead of the limit of 99 vetted investors in traditional venture funding rounds. A white paper published online replaces weeks of pitches to venture capital firms, followed by an online auction that can take minutes.

Airlines have rules about taking photos, video on planes

Fri, 26 May 2017 22:25:15 UT

The outrage on social media, the mea culpa by an airline CEO, the promise to treat customers better — none of it would have happened. Under United’s policy, customers can take pictures or videos with small cameras or cell phones “provided that the purpose is capturing personal events.” After Navang Oza posted his video online, United apologized, saying that the video “does not reflect the positive customer experience we strive to offer.” In April, a JetBlue Airways crew called airport police to meet a man who they said continued to record a selfie video during a security-sensitive time in flight, while the cockpit door was opened. With airline customer service in decline, video is the only way that passengers can make sure they are treated fairly, says Gary Leff, a travel blogger who has criticized the airlines over the issue. The Transportation Security Administration says that photography at checkpoints is fine if people don’t take images of monitors or interfere with screeners. Lawyers who specialize in First Amendment or travel law say airlines generally cannot limit photography or video recording in an airport because it is a public space. [...] there is no law against taking photos or video on an airplane, and it is unlikely that anyone would face legal jeopardy for taking pictures of an altercation on a plane or their own peaceful dispute with an airline employee, Larsen says. After a video of a confrontation over a stroller between an American Airlines flight attendant and a mother with two young children, the airline grounded the employee.

A ‘professor of play’; speedy Amazon; remaking Trump’s Taj Mahal

Fri, 26 May 2017 21:53:20 UT

Cambridge University has appointed its first “professor of play,” backed by Lego, whose miniature playing bricks are thought to help develop the skills required for careers in fields such as engineering and technology. Professor Paul Ramchandani will examine the role that recreational activity plays in equipping children with skills such as problem solving, teamwork and self-control, the British university said. is experimenting in Seattle with letting some Prime customers pick up orders in as little as 15 minutes, which could impact rival retailers and grocers. Amazon’s sensor system can recognize a repeat user’s license plate, speeding up the process. By the time the casino reopens in summer of 2018, the minarets will be replaced with typical Hard Rock stuff, like its logo and lots of guitars.

Pressure mounts for VW to invest in low-income communities

Fri, 26 May 2017 21:45:25 UT

The California Air Resources Board has asked Volkswagen to do a better job of explaining how the automaker’s plan to spend $200 million to boost the adoption of zero-emission vehicles will benefit lower-income communities. In addition to installing electric-vehicle charging stations, VW has proposed funding educational campaigns and a $44 million “green city” in Sacramento to showcase the benefits of zero-emission vehicles. [...] a draft of the company’s investment plan, which must be approved by the Air Resources Board, was beset by criticism from elected officials, regulators and advocacy organizations who claimed that lower-income areas, particularly in the Central Valley, were being overlooked. Under the proposal, most of the charging stations would be concentrated in affluent cities like San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles — places with existing charging infrastructure and communities of electric-vehicle drivers. On Tuesday, the Assembly budget committee for resources and transportation adopted language that would force the air board to accept VW’s investment plan only if it meets the 35 percent target, among other stipulations.

GDP growth upgraded, still slow in 1st quarter

Fri, 26 May 2017 21:43:41 UT

The gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of the economy — expanded in the January-March quarter at a 1.2 percent annual rate, the government said Friday. The government’s upgraded estimate of first-quarter growth reflected new-found strength in consumer spending, business investment and state and local government spending. Consumer spending continues to expand with job and wage gains, and business investment is picking up, especially for energy-related industries. After the expected rebound this spring, though, analysts generally foresee growth falling back to an annual rate of 2 to 2.5 percent in the second half of the year — the same modest pace that has prevailed for nearly all the eight years of this economic recovery, the slowest expansion in the post-World War II period. During the campaign, Trump bemoaned the economy’s weak growth and blamed what he called the Obama administration’s failed policies. Many experts have dismissed the notion that the economy can achieve a consistent annual growth rate of at least 3 percent at a time of sluggish worker productivity, an aging workforce and slower spending by consumers — on top of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to education, research and social programs.