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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I admit it’s been a year.
I’d avoided the airline a little on my travels, but it was time to try again.
Gingerly, then, I booked an Economy Class ticket from San Francisco to Miami and then paid another $ 90 for an exit row seat.
Because, well, it’s a relatively long flight and, for some odd reason, the airline claimed it was flying a Boeing 767.
Airlines are mostly sending these old beasts to the Arizona pastures — or, perhaps, to marginal billionaires who build tasteless castles in Arizona pastures.
These planes, though, used to offer something so lacking in the latest models: air.
They’re wide-bodied, so you can at least fool yourself into believing there’s more space.
I used to go out of my way to fly American to New York when they flew 767’s there.
Things have changed. Now you are the sardine and the airline is the can-I-make-a-bigger-profit.
Would this be a strange throwback to a forgotten time?
Waiting For Godot-ful Disaster.
Flying involves worrying. Before you do the actual flying, that is.
When it comes to American, one of the primary concerns is whether the flight will be delayed more or less than Brexit.
Yet, as the day and the hour approached, no message from American that the plane was out of action, I’d be reseated on a narrowbody bus and driven to Miami.
I arrived at San Francisco airport. The luggage tag machines were working, The man at the bag drop even smiled and made a joke about my name. (If you don’t make a joke about my name, what is wrong with you?)
Still, I wasn’t comfortable. This thing was going to go wrong. It was just a question of how, how badly and when.
The departure board didn’t twitch. It was as if it had smoked a decent brand of THC pot.
Boarding was announced on time. People didn’t even crowd the gate area to distraction. This bordered on the haunting.
Who, though, would I have sitting next to me? That can make a flight enjoyable or dip it into unbearable.
My seatmate was on his phone. He ran a tech company. He needed one of his employees to know just how much he sympathized with her problem.
His drippingly unctuous tone told me that he was unlikely to do anything about it.
I sat down in my window seat and the first shock hit me.
Waiting For Bad News To Bear.
Yes, the tray tables were as yellow as a smoker’s teeth. The seats, too, looked like they’d supported a thousand passengers and ten thousand hurried cleanings too many.
As I lounged tentatively, an announcement from the cabin crew.
Here it was, the bad news. It had to be bad news:
Welcome on board, ladies and gentlemen. This is NOT a full flight, so you should have plenty of room to store your bags and stretch out.
My mouth opened, my jaw seized up and my eyebrows began to vibrate.
I can’t remember the last time I heard such an announcement.
So many times I’ve been on flights that were patently not full, yet the cabin crew announced this was a full flight and please think about checking your carry-ons, before we confiscate them and sell them on eBay.
Yet here was American Airlines being honest?
Suddenly, we were pushing back. The tech type next to me was still bleating into his phone.
No one came to admonish him. I tried to give him a sly glare.
He finally got off the call and began to furiously type into his phone. Perhaps these were his self-help notes, I’ve no idea.
And then we were in the air.
Wait, we were on time? It seemed like it.
After a few minutes, it was the pilot’s turn to make an announcement:
There’s normally a lot of planes lining up for takeoff, but when we got to the runway, there was no one there. So we took off. Looks like we’ll be in Miami at least 30 minutes early.
This was beginning to feel like a parallel universe. I had descended into some weird time warp. Had I inadvertently inhaled some of that THC?
Now It Was Going To Be Ruined.
Oh, but then my seat-mate began to eat lunch. A vigorous eater of a carry-on salad, he was. And goodness did his elbow jab into my ribs with every jerk of his plastic knife.
Did he say sorry?
Did I mention he was a tech type?
This is where it would all go wrong. I felt sure that, once he’d finished his lunch, out would come the laptop and in would go his elbow to my ribs for the rest of the flight.
I was mostly right. His MacBook came out. What was surreal is that, unlike most self-important men I’ve sat next to on planes, his elbows stayed in.
Not once in the next several hours did he jab me again. It was almost as if, having satisfied an employee with platitudes and his hunger with a salad, he became fully sentient.
Meanwhile, the cabin service was efficient, if not effusive. Just like the biscotti-type things they handed out.
The Flight Attendants performed their duties and then disappeared.
I leaned into my slightly dreary Canadian detective novel — I refuse to work on planes, save in an emergency — stretched my legs right out and wallowed in a peculiar calm.
American Airlines Really Let Me Down.
We didn’t have to divert to Albuquerque because of an engine problem.
My seatmate had excellent noise-canceling headphones, the sort that truly are silent.
A baby trying crying a couple of times and then realized that so much attention-seeking just wasn’t going to work.
The whole thing was eerily tolerable, verging on the pleasant. It was like a blind date that involved easy conversation and even a kiss at the end.
We were at the gate almost an hour ahead of schedule.
This was as close to perfect as I could have conceived.
Even my bag came out quickly, which anyone who’s ever flown into Miami knows is a bizarre event.
I walked away, talking to myself. I try to do it quietly.
I only had one thought: American Airlines, you really let me down. I could find nothing to complain about, because it felt like flying from a few years ago.
The pilots couldn’t even muster any turbulence.
How lovely it is when nothing goes wrong with a flight. And how relatively rare that seems to be these days, especially if you’re flying in the back.
When the airline, the staff and the passengers all conspire to make it a pleasant experience, flying can be genuinely relaxing.
If only these three could conspire to make it happen more often.
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
It was Election time, so I wanted to leave the country.
I went through the TSA’s Body Scanner and suddenly, a beep.
I knew there was nothing in my pockets. However, the TSA agent said:
The machine says there’s something in your groin area.
There’s no palatable answer to that. The agent continued that he’d have to perform a more thorough search of my groin. And buttocks.
He gave me the option of a private room, but frankly I’d prefer not to be sequestered away with a lone TSA agent if I can help it.
Whatever he was going to do, I wanted it out in the open.
And so he began. My buttocks and my groin were given a thorough — some might even say enthusiastic — wiping.
His arms moved from side to side in the manner of a speed skater, desperate to take the last turn in first place. The contact was, how can I put it, firm.
But then a fellow TSA agent came over and felt forced to cheerlead. In a deeply admiring tone, he roared:
Look at his moves!
Please forgive me, but it’s bad enough when you’re being publicly examined like a show horse at the breeder’s office.
To have some hearty bro’ come over and add his enthusiastic fandom made me rather want to pull him aside and ask about his priorities in life.
Instead, of course, you know there’s no point in saying anything, so you take the humiliation and move on.
I contacted the TSA to ask whether bro’-down cheerleading of intimate examinations is part of its standard procedure.
The administration referred me to Covenant Aviation Security, which has the contract for security work at the airport. It says it’ll investigate.
There is, though, an even broader issue here.
When you have a sensitive job, it might still be dull. It’s always worth remembering, however, that the people you’re dealing with aren’t enjoying what you do one bit.
They may — or may not — accept the necessity for it. They’d appreciate, though, a little aforethought on your part.
As we walked away — yes, the machine had been entirely mistaken — my wife turned to me and said:
Did he really say that?
My personal scanner indicates at least one agent might work on the Respect part.
FILE PHOTO — Billionaire activist-investor Carl Icahn gives an interview on FOX Business Network’s Neil Cavuto show in New York, U.S. on February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
(Reuters) – Activist investor Carl Icahn sued Dell Technologies on Thursday, alleging that the computer maker did not disclose financial information related to its plans to go public by buying back its tracking stock (DVMT.N).
Icahn, who owns 9.3 percent of Dell, called the proposed deal a “conflicted transaction that benefits the controlling stockholders, at the expense of the DVMT stockholders”.
Dell in July said it would pay $ 21.7 billion in cash and stock to buy back shares tied to its interest in software company VMware Inc (VMW.N), returning the company to the stock market without an initial public offering.
Icahn and other hedge fund investors have resisted the plan, saying the proposed deal massively undervalues the tracking stock.
“We believe this is a threat blatantly deployed in an attempt to coerce DVMT stockholders to vote in favor of the merger, or else risk the unknown consequences of the forced IPO conversion,” Icahn said on Thursday.
Both Dell and Icahn were not immediately available for comment.
Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission is set to approve and set rules for the use of wifi in cars, giving Volkswagen and Renault who have pursued this technology the edge over Daimler and others who invested in rival 5G networks.
Workers clean the facade of a car showroom under a Volkswagen logo on the Chinese National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2018. Picture taken October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
The EU executive is expected to announce draft legislation on the issue next month for feedback from EU countries and EU lawmakers before adopting it next year.
The decision is a crucial one for both carmakers and telecoms operators and equipment makers as the market for internet connected cars is expected to be worth billions of euros a year.
While connected cars have been available for some years in Europe, the Commission wants to speed up their deployment and encourage cooperation between manufacturers to make safer and more efficient cars via legislation.
Such legal protection and regulatory-approved technical specifications would also reassure car buyers and auto insurance companies, advantages which cars equipped with a rival technology would not have.
The latest draft of the proposed rules seen by Reuters paves the way for cars equipped with wifi called ITS-G5 to hit the roads in Europe while regulators will review the rules at the latest three years after its implementation to take into account any new technologies.
This could mean that the alternative 5G standard called C-V2X could take months or even years to win approval. Supporters however expect a shorter timeframe.
The issue has pitted two powerful groups of carmakers, chipmakers and telecoms providers against each other. Connected cars are seen as lucrative targets for online retailers and advertisers.
Volkswagen, Renault, NXP, Autotalks and Kapsch TrafficCom are pushing ITS-G5, which they say has been sufficiently tested and fully standardised in European government-funded projects.
However, 5G backers include big names like Daimler, Ford, PSA Group, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei [HWT.UL], Intel, Qualcomm and Samsung. They say that C-V2X has wider application and is future-proof.
Backers of C-V2X say it can hook up to both cars and devices in the surrounding environment, with a wider range of applications in areas such as entertainment, traffic data and general navigation where data speeds or signal failure are less of an issue.
Fans of ITS-G5, which is primarily for connecting cars to other cars, say it is better for time-critical communications involved in crash avoidance and object navigation.
The EU executive declined to comment on the draft. It said: “Currently the Commission is looking into the best European framework to promote the right investments in this area and ensure interoperability between the existing systems and the development of new technologies.”
In effect, the decision puts the region at loggerheads with the United States and China which see C-V2X, using cellular networks, as the way forward.
Some EU countries such as Spain, Sweden, Finland and Norway had called for a postponement of the proposed rules because of the diverging views on the topic.
Following intense lobbying, France, which supports the wifi-based technology, came up with a compromise clause which is now under discussion.
Its proposal, seen by Reuters, would force the Commission to revise the rules in less than 12 months if a new technology is approved. The paper also calls for all involved parties to cooperate to ensure a level playing field between different technologies.
Lobbying group and C-V2X supporter 5GAA said that is not enough.
“A legislation confined to a wifi based communication would send a negative message about Europe’s commitment to 5G, and is contrary to the objectives of the Commission’s own 5G action plan, which aims to promote early deployment of 5G along major transport paths,” 5GAA said.
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; additional reporting by Eric Auchard in London; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle
(Reuters) – Tesla Inc and Chief Executive Elon Musk were sued on Friday by an investor who said they committed securities fraud in a scheme to “completely decimate” short-sellers that included Musk’s proposal to take the electric car company private.
FILE PHOTO: Elon Musk, founder, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla, speaks at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo
The proposed class-action complaint filed by Kalman Isaacs in San Francisco federal court accused Tesla and Musk of trying to artificially manipulate the company’s stock price.
It said this occurred largely through a series of tweets by Musk on Aug. 7, including when he said he might take Tesla private and that there was “funding secured.”
Musk’s tweets helped push Tesla’s stock price more than 13 percent above the previous day’s close.
The stock has since retreated, in part following reports that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had begun inquiring about Musk’s activity.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Isaacs accused Musk of making false and misleading statements to inflate Tesla’s stock price, and that Tesla “doubled-down” on those statements by failing to correct them.
According to the complaint, Isaacs bought 3,000 Tesla shares on Aug. 8 to cover his short position, or bet that the price would decline, in the company.
The complaint said the class period begins on the afternoon of Aug. 7, when the defendants launched their “nuclear attack” on short-sellers, and ends the next day.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
LONDON (Reuters) – London taxi drivers are drawing up a plan to sue mobile app Uber for over 1 billion pounds ($ 1.3 billion), Sky News reported on Tuesday citing unidentified sources, weeks after it was granted a temporary licence to operate in Britain’s capital.
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Uber is seen on an iPad, during a news conference to announce Uber resumes ride-hailing service, in Taipei, Taiwan April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
Sky News said the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) was likely to argue that 25,000 black-cab drivers in London had suffered lost earnings averaging around 10,000 pounds for at least five years as a result of Uber’s failings, taking the overall possible bill to 1.25 billion pounds ($ 1.64 billion).
The report said it had engaged the law firm Mishcon de Reya to explore the options.
Uber won a probationary licence to operate in the city last month, after Transport for London (TfL) had refused to renew it last September for failings in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.
The LTDA were not immediately available for comment. Uber declined to comment.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Kate Holton
(Reuters) – Litigation funding provider IMF Bentham Ltd (IMF.AX) said on Tuesday it was funding a representative complaint against social networking website Facebook Inc (FB.O) over alleged breaches of the Australian Privacy Principles.
The company said it would fund the complaint made to the Australian Information Commissioner against Facebook Australia, Facebook Inc and Facebook Ireland. The complaint is being handled by Sydney-based law firm Johnson Winter & Slattery.
The Australian Information Commissioner has also commenced a separate investigation into the matter, IMF Bentham said, adding a class action may follow depending on the Commissioner’s findings.
Facebook has come under intense scrutiny after it admitted in March to making mistakes in letting 50 million users’ data get into the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
The company lost more than $ 50 billion in market value in the week after the allegations emerged that Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed data to build profiles on American voters and influence the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook had said in April that a little more than 311,000 Australian users may have had their information improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. (bit.ly/2Ejpktb)
Facebook’s Australian arm was not immediately available for a comment.
Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar
HONG KONG/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s Meituan-Dianping, an online food delivery-to-ticketing services platform, is bringing its sizable initial public offering (IPO) to Hong Kong, where it aims to raise over $ 4 billion, three people with knowledge of the deal said.
The firm filed plans late on Friday for the city’s second multibillion-dollar tech float this year after smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp’s blockbuster IPO of up to $ 6.1 billion. Meituan-Dianping is also – after Xiaomi – the latest company with a dual-class share structure to file for a Hong Kong listing, under the city’s new rules designed to attract tech companies.
The Beijing-based firm, backed by gaming and social media company Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK), was valued at around $ 30 billion in a fundraising round last year.
It is aiming for a $ 60 billion valuation with the IPO, though industry insiders said it may have difficulty reaching that target as it is still money-losing and relies on a cash-burning business model to boost growth.
The firm is likely to list in October, said the people, who declined to be identified as the information was not public.
Meituan-Dianping did not detail the amount of funds targeted or a time frame. It declined to comment on its planned IPO when contacted by Reuters.
Founded in 2010 by serial entrepreneur Wang Xing, Meituan, likened to U.S. discounting platform Groupon Inc (GRPN.O), in 2015 completed a $ 15 billion merger with Dianping, akin to U.S. online review firm Yelp Inc (YELP.N). It offers a broad range of services including movie ticketing, food delivery, hotel and travel booking as well as ride-hailing.
Competitors include food-delivery platform Ele.me, backed by e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), and leading ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T).
In its draft prospectus, which gave investors the first detailed look at its financial health ahead of the IPO, the company disclosed a 19 billion yuan ($ 2.9 billion) loss for 2017, steeper than in the previous two years.
Its adjusted net loss – which excludes the impact of fair value changes of convertible redeemable preferred shares and other items – was 2.85 billion yuan, smaller than losses of 5.35 billion yuan in 2016 and 5.91 billion yuan in 2015, the prospectus showed.
Revenue rose to 33.9 billion yuan in fiscal 2017, sharply higher than the 12.99 billion yuan made in the prior year.
Meituan-Dianping’s other backers include venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and DST Global, Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte Ltd and state-owned investment company Temasek Holdings (Private) Ltd, as well as the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
Currently, Chief Executive Wang Xing owns 11.4 percent of the company, while Tencent owns 20.1 percent and Sequoia Capital 11.4 percent. Wang will remain controlling shareholder after the listing, the prospectus showed.
Being holders of Class A shares, Wang and two other co-founders, Mu Rongjun and Wang Huiwen, will be beneficiaries of a weighted voting rights structure, or dual-class shares, which give greater power to founding shareholders even with minority shareholding. Each Class A share has 10 votes while each Class B share has one vote.
Reporting by Adam Jourdan in Shanghai, Julie Zhu and Fiona Lau of IFR in Hong Kong, Aaron Saldanha in Bangalore, and Matthew Miller in BeijingEditing by Christopher Cushing and Edwina Gibbs
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Leshi Internet Information & Technology Corp Beijing has been formally asked whether its assets, which have fallen 98 percent over the past year, are at risk of turning negative and triggering a share trading halt and possible eventual delisting.
The Shenzhen Stock Exchange’s website on Wednesday showed the bourse had sent Leshi 33 questions, including about its assets. Under its rules, a year of negative net assets results in “suspension from being a listed company”, with two years ending in delisting.
Leshi, a video-streaming company that also makes internet-connected television sets, has seen revenue and profit dwindle since mid-2017 amid a funding crisis involving parent conglomerate LeEco and its founder Jia Yueting.
Net assets attributable to shareholders stood at 304 million yuan ($ 47.70 million) at the end of March, from 13.6 billion yuan a year earlier. It reported a net loss of 307 million yuan for January-March 2018 and a loss of 13.9 billion yuan for all of 2017.
The Shenzhen bourse also questioned Leshi about its operations, asset impairment and auditing. It asked the firm to detail its debts, explain slumping performance at subsidiaries, and disclose ownership relations with other companies as well as whether units conduct transactions with other group companies.
It also asked for an update on Jia and his related parties’ repayment of debt to Leshi, and whether there has been a change in the company’s decision-making personnel.
Leshi, which since July has been managed by second-largest shareholder Sunac China Holdings Ltd, in January said Jia and LeEco owed it 7.5 billion yuan. LeEco disputed the figure.
Jia, who remains Leshi’s largest shareholder, has been residing in the United States to work on his electric vehicle start-up company, though Chinese regulators have requested his return.
The Shenzhen exchange has also asked Leshi to explain how its salary expense rose in 2017 though headcount dropped.
It has requested a reply from Leshi by May 18.
A Leshi spokeswoman said the company had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.
Leshi’s shares were down 2.6 percent in morning trade in a flat broader market.
Reporting by Sijia Jiang and Hong Kong newsroom; Editing by Christopher Cushing
The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office issued an order Friday requiring SCL Elections, the British affiliate of the controversial data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, to turn over all of the data it collected about a United States-based academic named David Carroll. Carroll filed a request for this data in January of 2017 under British data protection law, and received a response in March of that year that the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham describes in the order as “wholly inadequate.” Now, Denham is requiring SCL to comply with the request, or face criminal charges.
The enforcement order comes just days after Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, announced that it would shut down and declare bankruptcy, along with its international affiliates, following revelations that the companies had harvested the data of up to 87 million Americans without their knowledge. The company’s former CEO Alexander Nix was also recorded this year on undercover video, appearing to brag about using tactics like bribery and entrapment on behalf of Cambridge Analytica’s clients.
Long before the name Cambridge Analytica became notorious in households across the country, though, Carroll, a professor of media design at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, became suspicious about the way the company built its so-called psychographic profiles of US voters. These profiles, the company claimed, contained information not only about people’s demographics, but their personalities as well. Given that Cambridge Analytica originally spun out of a British company called SCL Group, Carroll filed a request under the UK’s Data Protection Act seeking access to all of the information the company had collected on him.
When SCL sent Carroll back his file, he was utterly unsatisfied. It ranked his interest in topics like immigration and gun control on a numeric scale, but offered no insight into what data was being used to generate those scores, or who actually used them. In mid-March, the same day Facebook announced it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from its platform as punishment for their transgressions, Carroll filed a request for disclosure in the UK in an attempt to force SCL to hand over the underlying data and answer a litany of questions about how they were being used.
Though that case is still ongoing, the ICO’s order does accomplish some of that work for Carroll. In the order, Denham describes the months-long battle between her office and SCL’s office over Carroll’s data request. According to the order, SCL repeatedly argued that as an US citizen, Carroll had no right to request his data under British laws, going so far as to write in one response that Carroll had no more data access rights in the UK “than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in the remotest corner of Afghanistan.”
Denham disagreed with that assessment. In March, after the undercover videos of Nix went public, the ICO stormed the company’s offices and seized its servers. Now, the regulator is giving SCL 30 days to provide descriptions of Carroll’s personal data, the purpose that data served, a list of all the recipients of that data, copies of the data itself, and the sources of that data.
“It’s quite exciting,” Carroll says of the order. “At the minimum, it’s the beginning of a victory and pointing toward winning.”
Still, he says, “It didn’t have to come to this. We’ve been trying for more than a year to do this out of court…It just kept escalating.”
SCL now has the opportunity to appeal the ICO’s order. Representatives for SCL didn’t immediately respond to WIRED’s request for comment.