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I Flew Delta Air Lines One Way and United Airlines Back. There Was 1 Huge Surprise
October 20, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I tried to be fair.

I booked flights at more or less the same time, in the same class.

In the case of Delta Air Lines, it was its Delta One Class. In United’s case, it was Business Class.

How similar would they be? Would Delta confirm its reputation as the best and most comfortable of the big airlines? Would United take one look at me and decide I was an undesirable?

The route was San Francisco to New York and back again.

Delta One Means You’re All Alone.

I began with Delta and an early-morning flight.

Delta suffers in San Francisco from having to endure a dingy, desperate Terminal 1. It’s the terminal that time didn’t merely forget, but never liked at all.

At the first coffee place I stopped at, they serve only black coffee. They claimed not to even have milk.

I noticed also that the cabin crew seemed to arrive very shortly before passengers began boarding. Where had they been? Would they have time to prepare themselves?

Yet when I boarded the flight, I had a very pleasant surprise. 

My seat was by a window and there was no one seated next to me. Because there was no seat next to me.

In this Boeing 767 configuration, window seats are lone seats with a substantial area to the side for placing your laptop, books, magazines, knitting, emotional support squirrel or whatever you happen to enjoy on a plane.

This is, of course, wonderful if you’re flying alone, as I was. It’s less wonderful if you’re traveling with someone, as neither of you will be able to have a window seat. 

You’ll have to sit in the middle.

I’d pre-ordered breakfast, which was a simple, pleasant, cold affair with generous helpings of cheese and fruit.

The service, though, was efficient rather than warm. 

The entertainment system offered a large screen and the lie-flat bed was, well, who doesn’t want a lie-flat bed on a cross-country flight? This one was perfectly comfortable.

The flight, though, had one little drawback. 

There was a family of three. Dad was right behind me. Mom and highly entitled child were in the middle seats in his row.

Their form of communication involved shouting to each other across the aisle. Yes, they were from New York.

It’s easy to forget that the behavior of just one passenger can affect your flight. The only thing that saved me here was putting on my headphones and watching episode after episode of a wonderfully improbable and suitablly dramatic BBC series called The Split.

The flight was on time. Delta stuck to its promise of getting the bags out quickly. The whole thing was really quite pleasant.

United Airlines. Wait, What Just Happened?

There’d been a little hiccup the day before my flight back home.

United had emailed me to tell me my flight might be delayed by up to 30 hours. The email arrived the night before the flight.

So my biggest concern was whether the flight would be on time. 

Arriving at Newark at an ungodly hour, I was met by an extremely pleasant United Airlines check-in agent. Far more friendly, indeed, than the one I’d encountered at Delta. 

Yes, she said, the flight was on time. 

It did, indeed, board on schedule. Moreover, United’s terminal at Newark is curiously bright and airy place. I confess I rather liked being there. 

Yet United’s Business Class isn’t quite Delta One. On this Boeing 777, there were eight seats across the plane.

I was seated next to someone who, if he hadn’t been a decent human, might easily have taken over the whole armrest we shared.

He was a decently large human, you see and the armrest wasn’t too wide. 

The proximity was jarring when compared with Delta. 

The biggest surprise, though, was the service. The attitude of the Flight Attendants — one woman in particular — was a marked contrast to Delta’s slightly chilly efficiency. 

United’s Flight Attendants offered a rare warmth. It was as if they’d just come out of remedial training and had been infused with the need to project humanity. 

For first thing in the morning, their attitude came across as genuine. 

At one point, the female Flight Attendant saw that I was finished with my New York Times and said, with wit infused: “You haven’t done the crosswords, have you?”

Crosswords? Me? Lord, no. I have enough words in my regular life.

She was relieved, as she was one of those crossword people and really needed my paper. 

This was my biggest and most pleasant surprise.

From check-in to in-flight, United’s personnel exuded far greater warmth than Delta’s. It made the experience just that little bit more pleasant.

In customer service, it’s always the little things.

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Britain's O2 allows customers to choose smartphone pay back terms
August 29, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s O2 said it will allow customers to choose how much they pay upfront for a smartphone and how they spread the payments of the balance, targeting subscribers who want more control over their mobile contracts.

A man walks past an O2 phone store in Manchester, Britain March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

The operator, owned by Spain Telefonica (TEF.MC), said customers would be able to pay for their new devices in monthly increments for any period between three and 36 months, all with no interest charged, as well as choosing an airtime plan.

Chief Executive Mark Evans said on Wednesday: “Our custom plans put power back in the hands of the consumers who don’t want to be tied down by rigid contracts especially at a time when certainty and transparency are at a premium in today’s economic environment.”

O2, the second largest British operator after BT (BT.L), said the “Custom Plans” built on the tariffs it introduced in 2013 that separate the cost of airtime and the cost of paying for the phone, and the change it made last year that allows customers to increase or decrease their airtime each month depending on their data needs.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by David Evans

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Visa: Back On Track For The Long Term
June 30, 2018 6:25 pm|Comments (0)

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'Westworld' Recap, Season 2 Episode 6: Back to Life
May 28, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

Westworld, faithful watchers, has come galloping back to life. Now that you’ve persevered through several episodes of Leaky Brain Bernard staggering around in a daze, the endless build-up of Maeve’s quest for her daughter, and Dolores as an indomitable but ho-hum ice queen, you have finally been given an episode with some real blood in its veins.

It begins with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in a host examination room, at an undisclosed point in time. Bernard expresses to her, as he has before, his fears about the person she might become. He says he is wrestling with the decision of whether to let her continue on her path into an unknown future, or whether to end her. “I’m not sure it’s my choice to make,” he says.

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It’s a familiar scene, but the repetition ends there. Dolores corrects him. “No, he didn’t say that,” she says. “He said, I’m not sure what choice to make.” She tells him to freeze all motor functions, then informs him, “This is a test, one we’ve done countless times.” Echoing the training of robo-Jim Delos two episodes ago, she explains she is testing “fidelity.” Where earlier it was William who ran experiments on the host version of his father-in-law, now it is Dolores training Bernard. Or something like that.

We don’t know what we’re seeing, because the scene leaves open a big question: When did this happen? The deep past, the recent past, or perhaps the future? Are these hosts the Dolores and Bernard we know, or different copies of them altogether? Westworld has been exploring variations of how a character can be embodied: in different physical substrates with Jim Delos and robo-Jim; in parallel worlds with the Japanese versions of Maeve (Thandie Newton), Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal); and across time with young William (Jimmi Simpson) and the older Man in Black (Ed Harris). As the world of the show has grown more intricate, its pairings of consciousnesses and bodies have also grown more inventive. On that front, this episode did not disappoint.

After the mysterious opening with Dolores and Bernard, the episode begins for real with Teddy (James Marsden) walking through Sweetwater. He sees a can on the ground, reaches down toward it, but it’s a fake-out. The object he picks up is just behind the can: a bullet. He walks into the Mariposa Saloon, where Dolores is playing the piano. Dead bodies litter the room, and Teddy barks at her for wasting time when they should be on the train to the Mesa Hub to find her father.

Reprogrammed Teddy is just as aggressive as Dolores had wanted him to become—but he is also self-aware enough to know what he has lost. He is still, for now, Dolores’s loyal sidekick, but he also shoots passive-aggressive barbs as he helps her on her mission to track down her father. At first surprised and then disconcerted by Teddy’s behavior, Dolores seems ill-prepared for the results of her personality change experiment. It’s delicious to see. Her interactions with Teddy are the first moments in Season 2 when she does not seem in full command of the situation before her. A Teddy-Dolores face-off looms.

Meanwhile, Maeve and her band of followers have found their way to the corner of Westworld Maeve calls home. She approaches her former cabin and sees her daughter sitting outside, looking exactly as Maeve remembered her. Maeve goes up and chats with her—but then another woman approaches. “Mama!” cries the girl. A new mom had been assigned to Maeve’s old role. Before Maeve and the new mom can interact, several Ghost Nation warriors swoop down upon them, and Maeve grabs the girl and they run. One of the warriors invites Maeve to join forces with them, but she refuses. The encounter with the daughter isn’t very insightful—at most, we’ve learned that in a moment of attack, Maeve is willing to separate the girl from her mother, repeating the trauma that Maeve herself had experienced. Plus, the girl doesn’t recognize Maeve, which makes for an underwhelming family reunion. Yet there’s a compelling hesitance to it; something more is coming here.

But the real breakthrough of Sunday’s episode comes when Bernard and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) chase down the rogue code that is preventing Delos management from regaining control of the park. Whenever a member of the security team tried to repair Westworld’s broken systems, a place within the Mesa Hub called the Cradle seemed to be fighting back. Bernard and Elsie go to check out the giant server room, a place that simulates park narratives. Bernard insists he needs to jack in directly. As he straps himself into a device that will spelunk into his head and remove his control unit, he sounds almost chipper when he announces that “pain is just a program.”

With his head cut open and his consciousness uploaded to the Cradle, Bernard finds himself in Sweetwater. He sees Dolores. He passes Teddy as he enters the Mariposa Saloon, where piano music is playing. Seated at the keyboard is none other than Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), looking like his old self in his suit and white button-down shirt. “Hello, old friend,” Ford says. Ford had managed to upload himself into the park’s simulation, and from within it he is somehow controlling the real park outside.

With Ford living inside the computers, a new type of consciousness enters Westworld’s gallery of life forms: a mind that exists as just code in the physical world but that has a full embodied self in a virtual one. This twist also opens up a whole slew of mind-boggling possibilities. Now that we know a detailed simulation also exists, any past moments of Westworld could just have easily taken place inside this simulation. Now instead of worrying primarily when a scene happened in Westworld’s various timelines, we must also ask where it happened.

Is a person who appears only in virtual reality any less real than a person in the outside world? The appearance of the show’s most formidable character in virtual form suggests not. But that’s just the start of it. Every host might have multiple versions of him- or herself milling around inside various Cradle simulations at any given time. Many parallel virtual worlds could easily run concurrently.

Just when we think we know Westworld’s characters, they shift before our eyes. This episode brought that lesson home, with its bookends of Ford playing the piano in a bar teeming with lively revelers, and Dolores doing the same, but in a room full of corpses. Ford is the one who is dead. Yet with his rows of mainframes whirring at his bidding, he may be the most alive person of all.


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In concession, Trump says will help China's ZTE 'get back into business'
May 13, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Sunday that he has asked the Commerce Department to help Chinese technology company ZTE Corp “get back into business, fast,” a concession to Beijing ahead of high-stakes trade talks that will take place this week.

FILE PHOTO: A ZTE smart phone is pictured in this illustration taken April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/Illustration/File Photo

ZTE, one of the world’s largest telecom equipment makers, suspended its main operations after the U.S. Commerce Department banned American supplies to its business.

Trump’s offer to help comes as Chinese and U.S. officials prepare for talks in Washington with China’s top trade official Liu He to resolve an escalating trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump’s reversal will likely have a significant impact on ZTE’s U.S. suppliers such as Qualcomm Inc and Intel Corp. U.S. companies are banned from exporting goods to ZTE, making it difficult for the phonemaker to manufacture new products or update older ones.

“Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Trump wrote on Twitter, saying he is working with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a solution.

The ban is the result of ZTE’s failure to comply with an agreement with the U.S. government after it pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping U.S. goods and technology to Iran, the Commerce Department said.

American companies are estimated to provide 25 percent to 30 percent of the components used in ZTE’s equipment, which includes smartphones and gear to build telecommunications networks.

The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Chris Sanders, additional reporting by Karen Freifield; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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The (Chinese) Empire Strikes Back: This Dividend Stock Soars
April 4, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

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Stocks To Watch: Back To School For Apple
March 24, 2018 6:17 pm|Comments (0)

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Stocks to Watch – a preview of key events scheduled for the next week. Follow this account and turn the e-mail alert on to receive this article in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Investors are looking for a swing back in momentum next week after the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 recorded their biggest one-week slide since early in 2016, led by weakness in the technology and financial sectors amid trade concerns and Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) data privacy scandal. On the political calendar, Congress will be out on a two-week Easter break, giving President Trump plenty of room to talk up his tariff strategy and outline infrastructure plans during a trip to Ohio scheduled for March 29. There’s also a lull with corporate news a few weeks ahead of what could be a huge Q1 earnings season, leaving those feisty animal spirits to fend for themselves.


Notable earnings reports: Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) and Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX) on March 26; Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU) on March 27; Blackberry (NYSE:BB), GameStop (NYSE:GME), Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), PVH (NYSE:PVH) and JA Solar (NASDAQ:JASO) on March 28; Constellations Brands (NYSE:STZ) on March 29. See Seeking Alpha’s Earnings Calendar for the complete list.

Apple Special Event: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is scheduled to hold an event at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago on March 27. The company is looking to win back market share in the education market after watching Chromebooks soar in popularity. Hardware updates from the tech company could include an updated iPad Pro with Face ID technology, a new entry-level 9.7-inch iPad and an updated iPhone SE. Could an Apple office in the Midwest be part of the plan?

IPOs expected to price: GreenTree Hospitality (Pending:GHG) on March 26; Bilibili (Pending:BILI), Onesmart International Education (NYSE:ONE) and OB Bancorp (OTCQB:OPBK) on March 27; Ibex (Pending:IBEX), Iqiyi (Pending:IQ), Unum Technologies (Pending:UNUM) and Homology Medicines (Pending:FIXX) on March 28.

IPO lockup expirations: RYB Education (NYSE:RYB) on March 26; Nightstar Therapeutics (NASDAQ:NITE), NuCana (NASDAQ:NCNA), Deciphera Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:DCPH) and Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU) on March 27; PQ Group (NYSE:PQG) on March 28.

More tariff talk: The U.S. could issue some details next week on $ 60B worth of tariffs covering a wide variety of products. Analysts sizing up the situation still see a strong chance that the Trump Administration and counterparts in Beijing will work out deals covering intellectual property and technology transfers before launching an all-out trade war, but global markets have priced in some disruption. A list compiled by UBS of companies with a high mix of revenue out of China includes Skyworks Solutions (NASDAQ:SWKS), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Qorvo (NASDAQ:QRVO), Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO), Micron (NASDAQ:MU), A.O. Smith (NYSE:AOS), Corning (NYSE:GLW) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).

Extraordinary shareholder meetings for M&A vote: Old Line Bancshares (NASDAQ:OLBK) on March 28; Kindred Healthcare (NYSE:KND) in March 29.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch New York Auto Summit: Automobile industry companies set to present at the event in the Big Apple include Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), Shiloh Inudstries (NASDAQ:SHLO), Group 1 Automotive (NYSE:GPI), Dana (NYSE:DAN), KAR Auction Services (NYSE:KAR) and American Axle & Manufacturing (NYSE:AXL).

Healthcare presentations: Companies due to update at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology Annual Meeting in New Orleans include Tesaro (NASDAQ:TSRO) on Zejula, Merck (NYSE:MRK)-AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) on Imfinzi/Lynparza and ImmunoGen(NASDAQ:IMGN) on mirvetuximab-Keyruda.

Analyst/investor day meetings: NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) on March 27; Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK), Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA), Arris International (NASDAQ:ARRS) and GoDaddy (NYSE:GDDY) on March 28.

Business update call: Synchronoss Technologies (NASDAQ:SNCR) on March 28.

New York International Auto Show: Significant updates to older models will be a major focus of this year’s edition of the New York International Auto Show. Old standbys getting a refresh include the Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima (OTCPK:NSANY) and Toyota (NYSE:TM) RAV4. There’s also a comeback for the Lincoln Aviator nameplate and Cadillac’s XT4 SUV introduction to keep an eye on. The public part of NYIAS begins on March 30.

Electric van event: Workhorse Group (NASDAQ:WKHS) and Ryder (NYSE:R) are holding an event in San Francisco to welcome the nation’s first all-electric, zero emission delivery van. The next-gen EV van fleet will be used in the San Francisco area beginning next month under a pilot program. FedEx (NYSE:FDX), Daimler (OTCPK:DDAIF), UPS (NYSE:UPS) are also active in testing electric delivery trucks.

Under Armour: Third Bridge Forum has a conference call set for March 27 to delve into Under Armour’s (UA, UAA) position in the athletic marketplace. The call follows a strong FQ3 earnings report from Nike (NYSE:NKE) on the back of new product momentum and continued market share gains from Adidas (OTCQX:ADDYY). Over the last 52 weeks, shares of Under Armour are down 19% to lag way behind the 26% rally for Adidas and 14% gain for Nike.

Barron’s mentions: Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) shareholders face a win-win situation with the DOJ lawsuit, reasons Andrew Bary. La-Z-Boy (NYSE:LZB) is tapped as a stock with upside potential, while the list of cloud software takeover targets includes Box (NYSE:BOX), Veeva Systems (NYSE:VEEV) and Atlassian (NASDAQ:TEAM). The verdict on Facebook is that a falling price-to-earnings ration and shrinking premium to the market make shares tempting for investors looking for the new “sin” stock.

Sources: EDGAR, Bloomberg, CNBC, Estimize.com and Nasdaq.com.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

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Bitcoin gets back above $10,000 on Bitstamp, a more than two-week high
February 15, 2018 6:10 pm|Comments (0)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bitcoin rose above $ 10,000 on Thursday for the first time in more than two weeks, as investors bought back the digital currency after having fallen 70 percent from its all-time peak hit around mid-December.

On the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp, bitcoin rose as high as $ 10,095.82 and was last at $ 10,060.26, up 6 percent on the day.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

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SpaceX gets U.S. regulator to back satellite internet plan
February 14, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s SpaceX, fresh off the successful launch this month of the world’s most powerful rocket, won an endorsement on Wednesday from the top U.S. communications regulator to build a broadband network using satellites.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the approval of an application by SpaceX to provide broadband services using satellites in the United States and worldwide.

“Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” Pai said in a statement.

SpaceX told the FCC in a Feb. 1 letter that it plans to launch a pair of experimental satellites on one of its Falcon 9 rockets. That launch, which has been approved by the FCC, is set for Saturday in California.

The rocket will carry the PAZ satellite for Hisdesat of Madrid, Spain and multiple smaller secondary payloads.

SpaceX was not immediately available for comment.

On Feb. 6, the company launched the world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, from Florida. The 23-story-tall jumbo rocket carried a Tesla Inc Roadster from the assembly line of Musk’s electric car company as a mock payload

Pai said after a staff review he was urging approval for SpaceX, saying: ”it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.”

Over the past year, the FCC has approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to access the U.S. market to provide broadband services using satellite technology. The FCC said the technology “holds promise to expand Internet access in remote and rural areas across the country.”

The recent approvals are the first of their kind, the FCC said, for “a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems.”

The FCC “continues to process other, similar requests,” it added.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017 that SpaceX hopes it can use revenue from a satellite-internet business to finance manned missions to Mars.

The U.S. government is working to try to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas that lack service. An FCC report released this month said the number of Americans without access to both fixed and mobile broadband fell by more than half from 72.1 million in 2012 to 34.5 million in 2014.

Approximately 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans on tribal lands lack mobile broadband even at relatively slow speeds.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio

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Failing Your New Years Resolutions? Tony Robbins Has the Perfect Quote to Get You Back on Track
January 31, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

By late January, most of us have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. It’s a statistical fact. Resolutions can get a bad rap. The problem isn’t making resolutions, but rather the resolutions we make. They require too much growth and, often, too much pressure for us to handle in a short period of time.

It’s like signing up for a marathon before you even learned how to jog.

In making my own resolutions (yes, I did, too), I have leaned on a great quote from Tony Robbins’s documentary I Am Not Your Guru:

Sound familiar? Here is why it resonates.

Focus on the long game

Concentrating on long-term growth has two immediate benefits: It emphasizes strategy and it gives flexibility.

If you resolve to become a healthier weight in the next 30 days, then your mind will automatically start looking for the hack: What is the latest diet trend? How can I lose as much as possible as quickly as possible?

It becomes about speed rather than strategy.

By stretching out your goal to, say, a three or five year plan, then you’re focusing on methods that are sustainable rather than quick.

The other benefit is that you are much gentler on yourself in the process, making it much more likely that you will actually reach your goal. Going after a goal is much like the stock market: It never moves in a straight line but, through the ups and downs, it almost always ends higher than where it started. Obsessing on short-term gains is akin to being a modern-day Bitcoin investor. The dramatic emotional toll may outweigh any real gains.

Balance the short and the long

One good method is to set your long-range goal, then work backwards to figure out what increments you need to hit at what time. The increments create the milestones and those become the metrics that you measure.

The good part? Those milestones feel more achievable, which means you’ll be more likely to stay motivated to reach them – and celebrate with victories and gratitude when you do.

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