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Business and Technology News


Uber investigating sexual harassment claims by ex-employee

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 05:45:46 UT

The chief executive of Uber opened an internal investigation Sunday into claims of sexual harassment made by a former engineer at the company. The engineer, Susan Fowler, said that she was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor during her time at Uber and that after she reported those claims to the human resources department, they were ignored. Upper management told me that he ‘was a high performer’ (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part. In 2015, the venture capital world was put under the microscope when Ellen Pao, a former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said in a lawsuit that she was discriminated against at the blue-chip venture firm because of her gender — a case she lost. In a Twitter post Sunday, Arianna Huffington, the business mogul and a board member at Uber, solicited feedback from employees and said she would work with Hornsey to support the investigation. The matter reached a fever pitch around the time of Trump’s travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries, and hundreds of thousands of people deleted their Uber accounts from their phones in protest of the company.

Uber CEO promises 'urgent investigation' into former employee's sex harassment claims

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 03:22:53 UT

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Sunday announced an "urgent investigation" into detailed allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination by a former employee.

More people are working remotely

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 03:57:50 UT

More U.S. employees are working remotely, and they’re doing so for longer periods of time, according to a Gallup survey released last week. Workers and some employers view the practice as beneficial, arguing that remote workers are more productive and that the flexibility provided can help to close the gender gap. Remote work was less common last year than in 2012 for Americans employed in the fields of community and social services; science, engineering, and architecture; and education, training and library. Most industries, however, embrace the idea — none more rapidly than the finance, insurance and real estate industries. In the transportation, computer, information systems and mathematics industries, well over half of employees work remotely some of the time. In 2012, the workers who felt most engaged while working remotely were those who spent the least amount of time off-site. “In spite of the additional time away from managers and co-workers, they are the most likely of all employees to strongly agree that someone at work cares about them as a person, encourages their development and has talked to them about their progress,” the report said.

ICYMI: Siri does Batcomputer; thumbs down on Monopoly thimble

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 03:12:53 UT

In a week when immigrant workers and students staged a nationwide protest one day and President Trump “Love Actually,” the 2003 film with passionate fans and foes, is getting a sequel. Entertainment Weekly reported that several key cast members will get together for a short film, shown as part of Red Nose Day March 24 in Britain and on NBC May 25. Washington state authorities said a man sent out a text message about hiring someone to kill his wife and 4-year-old daughter. After 33 seasons of resembling a Silicon Valley engineering quad, but better-looking, “The Bachelor” reality TV franchise is getting an African American lead. Fans voted thumbs-down on keeping it as Monopoly shifts to a fresh generation of game pieces.

Banks shift from plastic to phones at ATMs

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 02:23:16 UT

Customers who do not want to fumble around in their wallet for their ATM card — or who have misplaced it for the umpteenth time — will soon be able to unlock cash dispensers’ coffers by using their phone. [...] any new financial technology brings with it new security holes. A thief got her online banking user name and password, installed the Chase app on a phone, and used it to withdraw cash. Thanks to multiple layers of security, there has been no fraud so far, said Thomas Ormseth, a senior vice president at the bank. Most of the major banks are using a technology called near-field communications (known as NFC), which enables devices to exchange information wirelessly over short distances. Modern smartphones usually contain an NFC chip, which is used for many mobile payment systems, including Apple Pay and Android Pay. At Bank of America, customers with compatible phones and a digital wallet app can tap their phone on the cash machine’s wireless pad to authenticate their identity. From there, customers enter their personal identification numbers and carry out transactions in the usual way. Wintrust’s system, which lets customers set up their withdrawal in advance on their phone and simply scan a QR (quick response) code when they get to the machine to get their cash, cut its average transaction time to about 10 seconds from 45, Ormseth said. At Banco Bradesco, one of Brazil’s largest banks, customers can gain access to an ATM by tapping their palm on a scanner, which reads the pattern of their veins. (The system handled more than 700 million transactions without any reported fraud, according to Fujitsu, which built the technology.) Banks in Japan, India and elsewhere have used fingerprints for authentication. The reaction was everything the bank had hoped for: “People’s jaws dropped,” said Mark Gilder, Citibank’s director of ATM distribution in the United States. People will generally need to install their bank’s mobile app on their phone, and each major bank is setting up access for only its own customers. In the early days of ATMs, networks were independent and isolated; now customers take it for granted that their cards will work at nearly any machine. Giving PayPal and Venmo customers direct access to their money through ATMs is not in the works, but it “isn’t something I would rule out,” said Chris Gardner, product head for PayPal’s mobile wallet software.

Hoteliers comb the ranks of tech workers to gain an edge

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 02:12:21 UT

The front desk manager or housekeeper may epitomize the hotel employee, but the hospitality industry is increasingly dependent on tech workers, vacuuming data scientists, Web designers and other experts into its ranks. Inside hotel operations, data analysis can help find new customers, make a dining room more profitable or provide information to executives making business decisions. Kate Walsh, interim dean of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell, says she is seeing more companies coming on campus to hire students who are specializing in areas like digital marketing and business analytics. The department manages the core technology for the hotel chain, including data centers, websites around the world, mobile apps and information technology support. While many college students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math are attracted to the household-name tech companies in Seattle and Silicon Valley, Leidinger said he tells them, “If you’re really into technology, there’s a revolution happening in hospitality,” and as part of a smaller team, “you can drive, innovate and take ownership.” There are also technical job openings at the hotel level, where employees at individual properties manage social media, on-site Wi-Fi and the integration of systems like retail, parking and food sales. Mamie Peers, senior digital, social and e-commerce director at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, an independently owned and operated hotel, said she had been expanding her team and putting its members in office space in the hotel. Bart Selman, a Cornell professor of computer science and artificial intelligence who studies how technology affects the workplace, said a service that scans all social media postings to develop a “sentiment report” showing how customers feel about a hotel brand, for example, has replaced people who do that kind of monitoring. Digital keys on phones could, in turn, be replaced with hallway cameras and facial recognition software to unlock guest room doors, he said. A new report on travelers and the travel industry found that meaningful personal experiences are more likely than efficient transactions to lead to customer loyalty. “High tech has become the norm,” said Albert Herrera, senior vice president for global product partnerships at Virtuoso, a company whose website connects travelers with luxury travel advisers.

Best phones of 2017

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 01:56:05 UT

Polished design. MicroSD storage slot and water-resistant (again). No removable battery, which isn’t surprising, but is still a compromise compared with 2014’s S5. The fast, powerful, beautiful Galaxy S7 phone is the all-around phone to beat. The battery lasts way longer, it takes sharper selfies and has a 128GB storage option. The Pixel has a fantastic camera, especially in low light. Google Assistant takes one of the most natural, human approaches to answering your voice. The display is dim in sunlight and the camera’s Lens Blur feature is shoddy. If you’re wary of Samsung or looking for a worthy iPhone alternative, the Pixel is the high-end Android phone to get. Dual rear cameras deliver true 2x optical zoom, with a cool Portrait mode. Battery lasts longer than last year’s model, and longer than iPhone 7. Water resistant. Bigger storage options include 256-GB model for serious photographers. There’s no standard headphone jack: Design is showing its age, as competing phones squeeze a 5.5-inch screen into smaller, sexier bodies. The iPhone is one of the best point-and-shoot cameras ever — and it’s a great phone, too. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit

Airlines phasing out screens because passengers use their own

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 01:35:14 UT

For airlines, the switch would save money and cater to changing viewing habits, which rely increasingly on tablets and smartphones, William Hoppe, the leader of travel, logistics and hospitality at Intelenet Global Services, said in an email. With built-in screens, airliners provide passengers with a set menu of content through boxes that power the in-flight entertainment system. Fans of the built-in screens can expect them to remain on long-haul international flights, while carriers with shorter domestic routes will be more inclined to drop them. Hoppe said that if airlines are going to rely on passengers to bring devices for in-flight entertainment, the carriers should be prepared to offer outlets to charge their devices in all rows and seats, and make sure that each one works. Seat-back screens have drawn complaints that they cast too much light in a darkened cabin, and the bulky boxes below the seats that power the entertainment systems take up leg room and space for stowing carry-on luggage. Carriers customarily get films a month or two earlier, but because studios are so protective of their content, they do not want to risk anyone downloading a film when it is streamed, Rabinowitz said, adding that about 90 percent of passengers watch new releases on seat-back screens.

Supporting science beyond the fair

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 01:00:49 UT

The science fair has been an annual rite of education for generations of students, going back to the 1940s. [...] even the term “science fair” stirs stereotypical images of three-panel display boards and baking-soda volcanoes. Intel’s move away from traditional science fairs leads to broader questions about how a top technology company should handle the corporate sponsorship of science, and what is the best way to promote the education of the tech workforce of the future. [...] as technology — and the economy — becomes more based on software, the major tech firms have broadened support to events like coding workshops and contests. Krzanich has told colleagues privately that the science fairs were the fairs of the past and had become tilted to life sciences and biotechnology, not primary fields for Intel, according to two people who are not authorized to speak publicly for the company. In an email, Barrett said, “you could conclude instead that Intel is a company of the past, just like Westinghouse when they dropped” sponsorship of the national science fair in 1998. Barrett, who is on the board of the Society for Science, also said that all of science has become data-driven and computational, so Intel has a stake in nurturing youthful innovators in all scientific disciplines, including the life sciences. Intel, under Krzanich, who became CEO in 2013, has become a major supporter of Maker Faire events, where inventors of all ages showcase their homemade engineering projects. In 2013, Intel introduced Galileo, an inexpensive computer chip board, which supports open-source hardware and software for the maker and education markets. Krzanich has often been interviewed at Maker Faire events, and he and other Intel managers describe them as incubators for the next generation of engineers and innovators. In 2015, the company pledged $300 million over three years for a fund to diversify its own workforce by attracting more women and minorities to technology and paying for college scholarships. Since 2001, the company has contributed an average of $45 million a year to university programs, including research collaborations and scholarships. About 60 percent of the participants are U.S. high school students, and its alumni include Paul Modrich, a Nobel Prize winner and biochemist at Duke University; Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia University and a best-selling author; winners of the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the genius grant; and computer scientists at companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft. Struck by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Jerath designed an underwater wellhead capping device for taming a gusher and separating oil, gas and water for recycling.

Why BloomThat botched Valentine’s Day flower deliveries

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 00:42:50 UT

Why BloomThat botched Valentine’s Day flower deliveries Sammy Ahmed had planned in advance to send his girlfriend of more than four years a beautiful bouquet on Valentine’s Day. “Hope these aren’t a symbol of our love lol,” his girlfriend said in a Snapchat message with a picture of the dying bouquet. Ahmed’s bouquet was one of hundreds of botched orders on Valentine’s Day handled by BloomThat, a San Francisco flower delivery firm that has raised $7.6 million in funding. The problem occurred when flowers set to be delivered Tuesday were placed overnight in a refrigerated truck. A thermostat malfunction caused the temperature to drop below freezing, BloomThat said. After his team confirmed that other bouquets on the truck had the same problem, BloomThat sent an email to the affected customers. The freeze mainly affected orders with requested delivery times between 9 and 11 a.m. Tuesday in downtown San Francisco, Schwab said. In an effort to keep orders looking as fresh as possible, it sounds like some of the stems got frostier than expected and the blooms appear to be a little icy, Schwab wrote in an email that went out to customers around noon on Valentine’s Day. Customers also were offered credits for a new order. Barron Lee, a 42-year-old San Francisco resident, said that even though the blossoms his wife received on Valentine’s Day weren’t what she had expected, he will still use BloomThat in the future. Wendy Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Sad Valentine's Day when wilted flowers arrive for my husband plus bugs ate the greenery. @BloomThat Nice try #ValentinesDay Has our relationship frozen over?

Looking for a primary care doctor? Here’s what to ask

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 00:26:13 UT

Here’s what to ask Because your primary care doctor is at the center of your health care experiences, your choice of a personal physician is among the most important decisions you make in determining the quality of medical care you will receive. Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook’s ratings of doctors include reports on how primary care physicians were rated by their surveyed patients. For both primary care physicians and many types of specialists, patients are the best source of information on many aspects of quality, including how well physicians listen, explain things, help patients coordinate care among other physicians and health care providers, and make themselves available for appointments and advice. Checkbook also offers information on top physician specialists and, for surgeons, the first-ever nationwide ratings based on rates of death and other adverse outcomes including surgical complications and hospital re-admissions. Does the doctor work with you to coordinate your care, checking on your progress, telling you about test results, following up with specialists, hospitals and other providers, and making sure that you have the help and information you need at each stage? Does the doctor help you figure out and follow through with realistic exercise, diet, and other prevention plans and with programs to manage chronic conditions? Whether the doctor is accepting new patients — specifically patients from your health insurance plan and how well costs will be covered by your insurance. Whether the doctor’s office uses an electronic health record system to enter orders for lab work, X-rays and prescriptions, and whether you’ll have access to your records. The Chronicle is partnering with Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and, a nonprofit consumer group that helps consumers get the best service and lowest prices.

Customer sues Walmart, alleging 'fraudulent' marketing of its 'craft' beer

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 23:53:30 UT

If you believed the Trouble Brewing beers sold at Walmart are truly craft beers, instead of private-label beers produced at a large industrial brewery in Rochester, New York, you're not alone. But one Cincinnati beer drinker is so mad that he's suing the world's largest company over what he's calling the "wholesale fiction" around the ales, seeking compensatory damages "in an amount to be determined at trial."

Kraft Heinz offers $143 billion for Unilever

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:31:37 UT

If it were to happen, Unilever staples like Dove soap, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Lipton tea would join forces with Kraft Heinz’s Oscar Mayer meats, Heinz Ketchup and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. “The main benefits from such a deal would be major cost reduction as head offices and regional management could be merged,” said John Colley, a professor of practice in strategy and leadership at Warwick Business School. Market power would be much increased as the major supermarkets would have little choice but to buy from the merged business. The offer came just over a week after British company Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Durex condoms and Air Wick fresheners, agreed to buy Mead Johnson Nutrition, the maker of Enfamil baby formula, in a $16.6 billion deal. Kraft Heinz’s offer follows speculation late last year that it may make an offer for Mondelez International, the maker of Oreos and Ritz crackers. Under British takeover rules, Kraft would have until March 17 to announce its firm intention to make an offer for Unilever or walk away. On Thursday, Kraft Heinz, based in Chicago and Pittsburgh, reported net sales of $26.5 billion, while saying it would continue its efforts to cut costs, seeking a savings of $1.7 billion by the end of this year. Unilever, which is based in London but traces its roots to the Netherlands in the late 1800s, has about 400 brands in the food, personal care and home-care markets that it says are used by 2 billion people daily.

Mark Hamill, who did not die; a doll snoops; chief tattoo officer

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:24:46 UT

A blond, bright-eyed doll that chatters about horses and hobbies just might be a spy — or at least an eavesdropper on your child. The New York Times reported that Germany’s Federal Network Agency has warned that the doll, Cayla, can be used by hackers to record private conversations over an insecure Bluetooth connection. Agency President Jochen Homann urged parents to deactivate the doll, made by Genesis Toys, a U.S. company. If you want a little skin in the game, consider the Philadelphia Union soccer team. “This is a one-of-a-kind, revolutionary position for an artist or shop to become the go-to place for the Union,” the team says on its website. Players, coaches, front office staff and even fans will come to you for their tattoos, Union related or not.

SF community groups tapped for input on city broadband rollout

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:11:42 UT

City officials are turning to a coalition of community organizations and advocacy groups for input and advice as they work to flesh out the details of a bold plan to blanket San Francisco with ultra-fast, affordable Internet service. Each of the coalition’s member organizations — from the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco to the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. to the Senior Disability Action Network — are expected to weigh in about their constituents’ priorities when it comes to Internet access. The ultimate goal of the broadband project is to close the gap between residents who have access to high-speed Internet and those who don’t. While a vast array of crucial questions remain about how the fiber-optic cable will be installed, who will operate it, how much it will cost and how it will be paid for, a 2016 report from the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office laid out a number of possible scenarios that are being evaluated by city officials. Bruce Wolfe, a representative of PublicNet San Francisco, a group that has been advocating public broadband services in the city for more than a decade, expressed concern about allowing the fiber plan to wilt under a slow-moving bureaucracy and pressure from private Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T that may chafe at the prospect of competing with a city-run service. Anne Hinton, a livable communities adviser with AARP and co-chair of the San Francisco Technology Council, supports the fiber project, particularly for its potential to bring more senior citizens online. Because older adults have traditionally been left out, there’s a whole group of folks who don’t even know what the benefit could be for them.