Volkswagen Dodges Carbon Dioxide Bullet

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Volkswagen has announced that a problem with its carbon dioxide emissions is far smaller than initially suspected, with further checks finding “slight discrepancies” in only a few models and no evidence of illegal changes to fuel consumption and emissions figures.

In a case that is separate from its scandal over cheating on U.S. emissions tests for the pollutant nitrogen oxide, Volkswagen said in November it had also found “unexplained inconsistencies” in the carbon dioxide emissions from up to 800,000 vehicles. However, it said that further internal investigations and measurement checks found that “almost all of these model variants do correspond to the CO2 figures originally determined.”

Slight deviations were found in nine variants of Volkswagen brand models with an annual production of some 36,000 cars, or 0.5% of the brand’s total production. Those deviations amount to “a few grams of CO2 on average.” The German car manufacturer initially said that issues with carbon dioxide emissions could cost it another 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on top of the costs incurred in the scandal over the nitrogen oxide emissions-cheating.

Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority ordered after Volkswagen’s announcement last month that the CO2 emissions of the models in question be measured anew, and the government said it was sticking to that.

The Subscription Game

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I was very impressed to read today that Dollar Shave Club just raised an additional $75 million to support their growth. I love these guys with a passion. I have to buy razors and I only like the good ones, but paying a fortune for the Gillette product has gotten up my nose for as long as I can remember. There are two marketing triumphs of the past 20 years: Starbucks, who got us used to paying $5 for a cup of coffee and Gillette, who has convinced the American male to spend $7 a blade. Both brilliant moves.

The Dollar Shave guys (and their imitators, who now include Gillette) simply mail four really great blades to your house each month for just $9. It’s simple, it’s brilliant and I can now forget about buying blades. They are one of the latest successes on the subscription circus, and they won’t be the last.

As a keen podcast listener, I’m constantly assFullSizeRender (1)ailed by subscription offers. I’ve been a member of Audible for close to a decade, and I have about 1,000 audio books in my library. I joined Blue Apron a few months ago, and ever since then, I’ve been cooking pretty much Cordon Bleu meals for two to three nights a week. It includes every single ingredient and the recipe to make it happen for $10 per person, per meal. I have no idea how they do it for the price, but it’s amazing. It’s also much cheaper than shopping for two and watching produce I don’t need go off. Here’s a pic of the very tasty salmon cake burgers I made last night:

Some of these services save money, all of them save time to some extent or another, and some are just wildly convenient. It feels like this is a trend that is building steam. Online shopping, especially Amazon Prime (a subscription service) has seriously hurt shopping malls. They are closing by the thousands all over the nation. Online music wiped out all physical copies of music as we knew it, and live music became the dominant way artists make money. Even if all that these services do is free up time for us to binge watch Orange is the New Black on our Netflix subscription, that’s a good thing in my mind. I’m doing less of what I hate and more of what I like. I’m in. Next up: Trunk Club for buying clothes.

The King is Dead

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There are a handful of high profile guys who are at or about my age. I’m exactly the same age as Colin Firth, I’m a day older than Hugh Grant, I’m a couple of months older the  Neil Gamin and a few months younger than Jeremy Clarkson. These folk are like portraits of Dorian Grey to me. I watch them age and progress and can’t help but measure myself against them…at-least in terms of grey hair and waist line.

So it was with some sorrow that I learned that one of my portraits fell off the wall the other day. Jeremy Clarkson is clearly a bit of an SOB. He’s hosted Top Gear (the BBC’s most successful show world wide) since 1998 and following a punch up he started with a show producer the other day he’s now the ex-host of the BBC’s most successful show. I love Top Gear, I love car shows in general but Top Gear goes well beyond just being a car show…it’s a institution. Clarkson was the clever, funny, snarky, mean host who took no prisoners and his audience loved him. He epitomized the angry white guy who loves cars and can’t stand or understand much of the world that surrounds him. Unfortunately he was also a bad tempered tall guy with a serious streak of entitlement and more than a smattering of casual racism. Until recently he’s been able to skate on various allegations of extreme rudeness and casual racism simply because he is beloved in 17 countries around the world and the $250M the BBC makes out of the show got him a lot of rope.

His latest escapade, in which he insulted then assaulted a producer who had the effrontery to provide a cold meal rather than the hot one we felt he needed was clearly the last straw. The BBC understandably felt that nobody (not even Clarkson) is above the law and they had to fire him. He clearly over stepped the mark and you can see the Beebs point of view…but it’s still a huge disappointment. Top Gear was one of the few places on the BBC where political correctness and beige thinking so prevalent both on the BBC and in society was mocked with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Clarkson called BS on what he saw as BS. He hated the ‘Nanny State’ mentality where everything is regulated and frowned upon. He wanted a world where middle class white guys could drive huge cars as fast as they wanted, where “ladies” knew their place and “damn foreigners” were seen but not heard. It was funny to hear him fume and rant…but when parody became punching out a producer, he was done.

Close to a million Brits signed an online petition to get him his job back and a handful of knuckleheads resorted to threats against the guy he punched out. I have no way of telling, but I’m reasonably sure the demographic of the petitioners skews towards white, middle class men who also feel put upon, disenfranchised and thoroughly annoyed by the Nanny State.

As I look at the remaining portraits in my Dorian Grey hall of fame, I don’t see quite the same anger and frustration which drove Clarkson. They seem to be more or less routinely charming, affable, witty guys who (aside from a couple of minor indiscretions)  have grown older with a level of grace. We will miss you Mr. Clarkson…..you idiot!

Catching Up in the Jobs “Race”

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Google has just released data on the ethnic and gender background of the people who inhabit the Googleplex…and Shockingly it turns out that they are mostly white guys….by a large margin 60% white 70% male. The second largest (30%) ethnicity claimed is Asian which includes people in many cases imported directly from the Indian subcontinent. If you are lucky enough to ever visit the Google Plex the evidence of your own eyes will confirm the data….it is dazzlingly white and male with a very strong Indian/Asian component.  Indeed Google serves some of the best Indian food you will find anywhere in their cafeteria.

 My company has a healthy mixture of folk. We are based in SoCal (as opposed to Silicon Valley) so we are lucky enough to have a wider range of employees..but a quick headcount reveals broadly similar data. Like Google it’s not that we try to hire in any particular direction but we can only employ people who apply and are qualified for the work at hand. If the graduates in computer science and math are predominantly white or Asian males that’s going to wash through in the employment demographics. It’s an industry wide problem and not one that is amenable to immediate correction.

We aren’t the first industry to be plagued by this kind of problem. For example a generation ago the medical profession was overwhelmingly male now it’s much more balanced; in 2012 47.3% of people entering medical school were female. The tech industry focused around Silicon Valley is a much more recent industry than medicine. The high profile, high value jobs it’s famous for have really only been around for 20 years…if that.  Before the tech boom the same math and computer graduates would have ended up spread over IT and education and been unremarked…another white nerdy math professor….no big deal.  Now that our industry regularly mints billionaires barely old enough to rent cars it looks a lot more dramatic…but it’s really more a quirk of fate rather than an evil plot. I expect this to level out probably even faster than medicine.

The fabulous wealth and opportunity our industry represents will attract the best talent and I’d expect that talent to reflect the gene pool pretty quickly. Women will catch up perhaps in a couple of graduation cycles and minorities will catch up as fast as their societal challenges allow.  It’s always been tougher for a very smart kid born into poverty to achieve the same things people dealt a better hand expect as their birthright….but it can be done and I look forward to that brave new and much more diverse world.

Google Buying Word Lens to Boost Google Translate

 

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Back in 2010, a company called Quest Visual debuted an app called Word Lens. It hardly seemed possible, but the app translated a number of different languages in real time using just the smartphone’s camera. Currently, users can translate between English and Portuguese, German, Italian, French, Russian, and Spanish.

It’s easy to see why Google would want to own it — its stated mission is to make all the world’s information searchable in any language — and Google Translate generally does this quite well, at least for web pages.

With Word Lens, iPhone users can translate the world. Apple even featured the app in its recent “Powerful” television ad for the iPhone 5s, and it’s obvious why. Even better, it doesn’t require a connection to the internet, which is another benefit for business travelers.

Being a great translation app doesn’t come without some struggles. Word Lens has trouble with particularly stylized text or handwriting, and the translations will make occasional mistakes. However, most of the time, it will at least get the point across.

The app is currently free to download from the App Store, and is also available on the Google Play Store on the Android market. The translations are available via an in-app purchase, though they are also currently free.

YouTube Dipping Its Toe Into the Video Game Streaming Industry

 

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Google’s YouTube is close to securing a $1 billion buyout of live streaming service Twitch, and has been chosen as the best suitor over many competing companies such as Microsoft.

Twitch is said to believe that Google can help the company become what it wants to be — the definitive platform for watching and streaming live video gaming. The company raised $20 million from investors in 2013 and is likely to turn a profit this year. But capital isn’t enough to allow Twitch to scale its technology and infrastructure to keep pace with its growth. It had plenty of offers from venture capitalists looking to give it more money, said the person, but what it needs is a partner that can help it handle massive amounts of live and user-generated video on a global scale.

Despite not being well known beyond gaming circles, Twitch already pushes more traffic during its peak hours than titans like Facebook and Amazon. “To be quite honest, we can’t keep up with the growth,” Twitch marketing VP Matt DiPietro has stated. Microsoft and others have made serious approaches to Twitch, but YouTube was deemed the better fit. It’s unlikely that the gamer-friendly Twitch would have wanted any part of a deal that would tie the service to Xbox, as it’s embedded in Sony’s rival PlayStation console as well.

YouTube has been interested in testing the game-streaming waters by introducing an API at last year’s Game Developers Conference, but the effort never got much traction in the community — it only opened live streaming capability to all in December. Twitch, meanwhile, has huge mindshare among the video game audience, as evidenced by its role as the streaming platform for all major e-sports tournaments, giving it command over a lucrative advertising demographic. The proposed deal can be compared to Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram back in 2012, where an established giant snapped up a fast-growing startup it saw as a potential competitive threat.