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Amazon defeats warehouse union push, RWDSU challenges results

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Efforts to unionize Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse were defeated by a wide margin in the second day of vote counting. More than half of the 3,215 votes cast broke in in factor of the retailer. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which would have served as the workers’ union, had the vote passed, was quick to challenge the results.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement offered to TechCrunch,

Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote. Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.

That’s why they required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union. That’s why they flooded the internet, the airwaves and social media with ads spreading misinformation. That’s why they brought in dozens of outsiders and union-busters to walk the floor of the warehouse. That’s why they bombarded people with signs throughout the facility and with text messages and calls at home. And that’s why they have been lying about union dues in a right to work state. Amazon’s conduct has been despicable.

This initial defeat represents a large setback in the biggest unionization push in Amazon’s 27 year history. What might have represented a sea change for both the retail giant and blue collar tech workers has, for now, been fairly soundly defeated.

Amazon has, of course, long insisted that it treats workers fairly, making such union efforts unnecessary. The company cites such standards as a $15 an hour minimum wage, a factor the company initial pushed back on, but ultimately instated after pressure from legislators.

It was a hard fought battle on both sides. A number of legislators threw their weight behind unionization efforts, in an unlikely alliance that ranged from Bernie Sanders to Marco Rubio. The conservative Florida Senator noted the company’s “uniquely malicious corporate behavior.” President Joe Biden also sided with the workers, calling himself, “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”

The company will no doubt tout the results as vindication. It noted in an early statement, “[O]ur employees are smart and know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encourage all of our employees to vote.” We’ve reached out to the company for a statement following this morning’s news.

Among the expected challenges from the union are lingering questions around ballot boxes reportedly installed by the company in violation of labor board terms.”[E]ven though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon’s request for a drop box on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the postal service anyway to install one,” the RWDSU writes. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”

The Bessemer warehouse, which employees around 6,000 workers, was opened at the end of March 2020, as the company looked to expand the operation of its essential workers during the impending lock down. The conversation has surface variously long standing complaints around the company’s treatment of blue collar workers, including numerous reports that employees urinate in water bottles, in order to meet stringent performance standards.

The company initially denied these claims during a social media offensive, but later clarified its stance in an apology of sorts, appearing to shift the blame to wider industry problems. The company also ran anti-union ads on its subsidiary, Twitch, before the streaming platform pulled them, stating that they “should never have been allowed to run.”

All told, 3,215 were cast, representing more than half of the workers at the Alabama warehouse. In spite of Amazon winning more than half the votes, counting will continue. Challenges are likely to stretch on for weeks.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/09/amazon-defeats-warehouse-union-push-challenges-expected/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

Supreme Court rules copying APIs is fair use

A large Google sign seen on a window of Google's headquarters.

Enlarge / Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet, May 2018. (credit: Getty Images | zphotos)

The Supreme Court has sided with Google in its decade-long legal battle with Oracle over the copyright status of application programming interfaces. The ruling means that Google will not owe Oracle billions of dollars in damages. It also has big implications for the broader software industry, since a ruling in the opposite direction could have triggered a wave of lawsuits against software companies that re-implemented other companies’ APIs.

The case dates back to the creation of the Android platform in the mid-2000s. Google decided to base Android on Sun’s Java programming language, enabling existing Java programmers to easily develop for the platform. Google independently implemented the Java API methods, but to ensure compatibility, it copied Java’s method names, argument types, and the class and package hierarchy.

A few years later, Oracle acquired Sun and soon afterward sued Google, arguing that Google’s copying had infringed Sun’s copyrights. Over a decade of litigation, Google won twice at the trial court level, but each time, the ruling was overruled by the Federal Circuit appeals court. The case finally reached the Supreme Court last year.

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Source: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2021/04/supreme-court-sides-with-google-in-api-copyright-battle-with-oracle/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Timothy B. Lee

Collabio lets you co-edit documents without the cloud

Meet Collabio Spaces: An office suite app with a cloudless co-authoring twist that looks helpful if you need to collaborate on documents without having to worry about losing control of your data or the thread of changes.

The p2p software lets multiple people co-edit a document locally — from a mobile device or desktop computer — without A) the risk of uploading sensitive information to the cloud (i.e. as you must if you’re using a shared document function of a service like Google Docs); or B) the tedium of emailing a text to multiple recipients and then having to collate and resolve changes manually, once all the contributions trickle back.  

There’s more coming down Collabio’s pipe too. Document collaborating will be possible from anywhere in the future, not only (as now) via a local network: A major release slated for next month will add p2p collaboration that works via the Internet — but still without the privacy risk of having a remote server in the loop.

Collabio’s app is MacOS and iOS only for now — but Android and Windows versions are in the works, slated for release this year.

Current supported text formats are DOCX, ODT, XLSX and ODS. Other features of Collabio’s office suite include the ability to scan and recognise texts and images using a camera; annotate and comment on PDFs (including via audio); e-sign text documents and PDFs; and view presentations.

Image credit: XCDS/Collabio

Its maker XCDS (aka “eXtended Collaboration Document Systems”), which is headquartered in London, UK with an R&D hub in Prague in the Czech Republic, has been in business for around a decade at this point — but working on office tools for some seven years, per CTO Egor Goroshko, who says they see Collabio as a startup in its own right.

The app is being funded by (an undisclosed amount of funding from undisclosed) private investors, with the team planning to take in further funding to continue development in the near future as they build momentum for the product.

With the coronavirus supercharging remote working over the past 12 months there is certainly opportunity to improve on the current crop of collaboration and productivity tools — and help to safely break down any unwelcome workflow barriers which have been erected as a result of scores of office workers no longer being co-located. Although the current version of Collabio is designed for nearby, rather than remote collaboration — so its next major release looks the most interesting from that perspective.

The early team behind Collabio included some devs who worked on Quickoffice but didn’t go to Google as part of that 2012 acquisition. Instead they focused on thinking about how to improve the user experience around documents — finally bringing their long-developed p2p document collaboration product to market last fall.

“When we started with Collabio we were ready for the long game,” Goroshko tells TechCrunch. “We knew that we would need to implement most of the features [office suite software] users were familiar with, before we could start developing our own ideas.”

“Long story short, our cloudless collaboration works exactly the same way as a cloud one. Of course there is some difference in the way you connect to the document but after that, you have exactly the same experience as if you work in the cloud,” he continues.

“We started with an iOS app in September 2020 and introduced a macOS version in October. With our early releases, we mainly concentrate on testing the app with real users and prove our ideas. Starting from our launch, we’ve got almost 15K of installs and valuable feedback on what users need and what can be improved. We pushed intensively on the market starting in February 2021 this year and got more than one thousand users during this month.”

There are some key differences between Collabio’s p2p cloudless collaboration and the (more typical) upload-to-a-server flavor that are worth flagging.

Notably, the lack of constant access to the document that you’re co-authoring/co-editing. Although that limitation may also be desirable if you want to tightly manage collaborative access to your data.

“In Collabio we call cloudless collaborative editing ‘Ad-Hoc collaboration’, because without a cloud your peers have no constant access to the document, so this thing is essential for occasional document discussion and updates,” Goroshko notes.

Another important difference he points to is that a shared document remains on the owner host devices only — and a copy can only be saved by the owner (at least for now).

“Other peers have session document access but the application does not upload/transfer files to collaborators’ devices,” he explains. “[The] session lasts til the host keeps the document open. As soon as you close the document, peers lose their access and can’t save the document locally. This is made for reasons of privacy but we are now considering giving users the option to allow connected peers to save a copy of the document.”

Given that all document work is done on devices on a local network there’s no need for an Internet connection to be able to collaborate via Collabio — which the team argues can itself be pretty useful, such as in situations like business travel (remember it?) when a stable Internet connection may not be readily available.

For this local p2p connectivity Goroshko says Collabio uses both wi-fi and Bluetooth — “to achieve better discovering quality”. “This is a common approach used, for example, in AirDrop technology. When peers’ addresses are identified, the application establishes connection via WiFi to achieve better speed and the quality of data exchange,” he says.

“All work is done only on devices in the local network so our Ad-Hoc collaboration does not need the Internet, the same way as you do not need the Internet to exchange files via AirDrop,” he goes on. “Just like with AirDrop, you do not need any specific configuration for Collabio Spaces, everything is done automatically. You start a session and peers see it on their devices, they simply connect to a selected document, and if they know the code, they can edit the document.”

Goroshko says Collabio’s team has been inspired by Apple’s technology — and the tech giant’s ‘it just works’ philosophy. But are committed to bringing the product to non-Apple platforms, aiming for a release later this year.

“It is a large, complex and ambitious project but we believe we can introduce game-changing approaches,” he continues. “The Office software market is quite conservative and market expectations from new software are really high. This is the reason why it has taken so much time to get to a public release stage. But with such a high entrance threshold and with slow innovations in the area of office document management and editing, this creates great opportunities.”

He argues that Collabio has been able to get efficiency gains vs office suites that had to bolt collaboration onto a legacy product exactly because it was being developed from scratch — with “collaborative editing in mind from the first step of proof of concept”. Hence its implementation of collaborative editing algorithms can work “with minimal resources consumption even on mobile phones”.

Goroshko says a Collabio user can have up to five peers simultaneously connected if they launch a collaboration session via a mobile device — with all participants able to edit the document. (Desktops support more connections.)

“You launch a collaboration session with a honeycomb icon, and any nearby devices with [the] Collabio Spaces app show shared documents,” he explains. “Under the hood, it works the similar way as sharing files through AirDrop or streaming audio/video through AirPlay. People nearby can join editing, if they know the security code assigned to the session.”

These p2p connections are encrypted with “standard end-to-end encryption”, according to Goroshko — who admits to “some tricks to allow trusted connections in the local network without access to the Internet”, adding: “We believe that this is enough for the start but in the future we will probably improve this approach.”

So — as with any nascent and non-independently security-tested product — prospective users should approach with caution, weighing up the sensitivity of any data they might wish to share for co-editing purposes before trusting it to Collabio’s novel implementation.

The startup, meanwhile, sees plenty of potential growth coming from frustrated office workers trying to find smarter ways to work remotely.

“Our goal is to create an editor specifically for team work, to help people get the most from collaboration,” says Goroshko. “Working together with others gives you a lot of advantages but requires more effort to sync with others. Planning, tracking, discussions, reviews — currently most of this work is performed separately from the document or locked inside the document. We want to cover this gap and give our users the most from collaboration with each other.”

“We consider two main types of competitors on the market,” he adds. “Classical office document editing suites like MS Office, Google Docs and Libre Office. We do not consider direct competition with them because their features set is enormous. However, many people simply do not use most of these features!

“And now a few newcomers have appeared on the market like Notion or Airtable, introducing smart ways how the document editing process can be integrated into your business. We see ourselves somewhere in between these products and classical office suites.”

A subscription payment is required to use Collabio Suites but a free trial version is available for up to a week.

We’re also told there’s an option for free of charge usage where the user is able to view and edit documents as a peer but can’t be the host of a collaboration session.

The major release that’s coming in May looks set to expand Collabio’s utility greatly — enabling it to tap into the remote work boom — by adding the ability to do p2p collaboration from anywhere via the Internet, also without the need for a remote server sitting in the loop.

How will that forthcoming functionality work? In a word: Math. Goroshko says the implementation will rely on an Operations Transformation algorithm keeping the document consistent “at any moment” during co-editing — avoiding the need for true real-time operations.

“It does not matter what co-editors type for in the end they all have absolutely the same content,” he says. “The algorithm does not guarantee that the result will be meaningful. If several people type in the same place, they will get an abracadabra. But this will be exactly the same abracadabra after all changes have been synced between all participants. This is the point. Operations Transformation does not require true real-time operations, changes can come early or later, even after sufficient delays. In either case they will be transformed to become inline with other changes. So regardless of cloud or cloudless collaboration mode, you do not need specific infrastructure or high speed processing to support collaborative editing.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/01/collabio-lets-you-co-edit-documents-without-the-cloud/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Natasha Lomas

The staying power of the stay-at-home economy

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The pandemic proved a large swath of the population can produce services and consume goods without leaving their homes — if supported by other workers.

Why it matters: We risk becoming an even more divided society — with Peloton-riding, Amazon Prime-ordering office workers living within a convenient, luxurious stay-at-home economy and essential workers servicing that lifestyle while scraping by themselves.


The big picture: Income inequality was a huge — and growing — issue before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but the last year widened the chasm between rich and poor.

  • In Q1 of 2020, the top 1% of Americans held 29.9% of the wealth and the bottom 50% held 1.9%. The gap grew to 31.4% for the top and 2.0% for the bottom by the end of the year, per Fed data.
  • “Let’s not kid ourselves that this is a new problem,” says Richard Reeves, the director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative at the Brookings Institution. “The pandemic was just a flash of an X-ray bulb exposing these fractures.”

What’s happening: Remote work has become the ultimate privilege, giving those who can work from home sovereignty over time and place, Reeves says. Going to work every day used to be something of an equalizer. The pandemic dismantled that.

  • Remote office workers can come and go as they please, spend more time with family, or even work from exotic locations. In-person workers, who tend to be lower-skilled and lower-income, still have to deal with the rigidity of clocking in and clocking out — and juggling child care, health care and life around it.
  • For example, the Ford Motor Company recently announced all of its office workers can telework as often as they like. But all of the workers in production don’t have that option.

“We’re going to keep seeing this growth of home being the epicenter of life,” says Zara Ingilizian, an expert on the future of consumption at the World Economic Forum. “And not everyone will have access to this at-home future we’re discussing. That has tremendous implications.”

We’re already seeing the far-reaching effects of telework on businesses and individuals alike.

  • As the stay-at-home economy pushes independent restaurants and shops to shutter in droves, retail behemoths who can offer delivery, like Amazon, Walmart and Kroger, have had blockbuster years.
  • Jobs in hospitality and tourism are still down 25% compared with February 2020, while jobs in software development and finance are up 13% and 12%, respectively, according to the jobs site Indeed.

Yes, but: There are silver linings.

  • Flexibility was always an option for workers at the top, Reeves says. At least now it’s spreading to all workers who can telework. “I’d rather leaders have to justify that inequality rather than it being unspoken that managers can come in later than everyone else,” he says.
  • And we could see companies offer new perks to their essential workers to hold onto them. “One implication is companies feel pressure to compensate people who work in-person higher because that is now seen as a detriment,” says Jonathan Rothwell, chief economist at Gallup.

What to watch: Workers in jobs being created by the stay-at-home economy — in food delivery, warehousing and trucking — face a double whammy, says Ingilizian.

  • Many of these roles are gig jobs, without stability and with low pay. And they’re also on the automation chopping block. Per a recent WEF report, 40% of retail job activities and 54% of consumer goods production job tasks are subject to automation.
  • Automation is poised to make the inequality induced by the stay-at-home future even worse, Ingilizian says.

Source: https://www.axios.com/staying-power-stay-at-home-economy-74c6b2c7-e061-40ef-ba7b-a2a6d1a0863c.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Erica Pandey

Microsoft lands $21 billion contract to arm US soldiers with futuristic augmented-reality headsets

The Pentagon will pay Microsoft billions of dollars to build augmented-reality headsets for its soldiers. The devices will be backed by the tech firm’s Azure cloud computing services, which was compromised by hackers last year.

The contract was announced on Wednesday and could earn Microsoft up to $21.88 billion over 10 years. Back in 2018, the US Army gave Microsoft $480 million to develop a prototype headset built around the company’s HoloLens technology. Based on its performance, Microsoft will now provide up to 120,000 of the headsets, dubbed the Integrated Visual Augmented System, or IVAS.

The IVAS can project holographic video-game style maps, thermal and night imaging, and target-identification information to soldiers. It can also show where the soldier’s weapon is aimed, and monitor vital statistics like their heart rate.

Also on rt.com

FILE PHOTO.Pentagon ‘assessing systems’ after TENS OF THOUSANDS of servers compromised in global Microsoft hack… blamed on ‘Chinese hackers’

However, the project is not without its problems. A CNBC reporter tested the prototype headset in 2019 and described it as “a bit buggy,” saying that it needed to be restarted during a demonstration session. Several months later, the military was still reporting glitches with the devices, including GPS and imaging errors, and “poor low light and thermal sensor performance.”

While Microsoft will have a decade and more than $20 billion to iron these issues out, there could be more potential snafus on the horizon. The headsets will be linked to Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service, a service that the company said was hacked last December, leaving 911 emergency lines down in multiple US states. Even before that particular breach, security researchers were finding flaws with Azure, with one branding it a “cloud security nightmare.”

Also on rt.com

FILE PHOTO.Police departments across US report ‘nationwide’ 911 OUTAGE, possibly caused by Microsoft cloud glitch

Despite this, the US military seems confident. Microsoft was awarded a $10 billion cloud computing contract by the Pentagon last October, beating out rivals Amazon and Google in the competition. Amazon has since filed a lawsuit, arguing that former President Donald Trump – a fierce critic of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – intervened to land Microsoft the deal.

Back in 2018, Microsoft President Brad Smith pledged the company would “provide the US military with access to the best technology… all the technology we create. Full stop.” However, not all of his employees felt as enthusiastic.

While Smith described the military as “ethical and honorable,” more than 90 Microsoft employees signed a letter in early 2019 protesting the development of the IVAS headsets. 

Also on rt.com

© AFP / Justin SullivanMicrosoft staff protest over Pentagon contract for augmented reality tech ‘designed to kill people’

“The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill,” they wrote. “It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated ‘video game,’ further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.”

The employees said that they “did not sign up to develop weapons,” and demanded more control over “how our work is used.”

Whether Microsoft persuaded or ignored these disgruntled employees, the IVAS project is now a reality, and worth 44 times as much money as the prototype. Yet as Big Tech and the military grow ever closer, similar campaigns within Microsoft’s competitors have been more successful. Google dropped out of an AI contract with the Pentagon in 2019 after employees spoke out against their software being used to help target drone strikes. Employees at Apple and Amazon have also pressured their bosses not to help the US military.

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Source: https://www.rt.com/usa/519777-microsoft-pentagon-virtual-headsets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=RSS
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The Article Was Written/Published By: RT

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