National / International News
Thursday is a busy day for Wal-Mart. The retail giant is playing host to this year's U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Denver, and the company reports its second quarter earnings. Between slower store traffic and dwindling sales, analysts aren't optimistic. But the company has a plan.
When you think of social responsibility in the corporate world, Wal-Mart is not the first company that comes to mind. The company is working on initiatives from cutting the amount of water in detergent to partnering with women-owned businesses.
"I think certainly PR's gotta be part of it, right? I mean, I don't think it's all altruism," says Peter Mueller, an analyst at Forrester Research. "So if they pull it off, it will look good for them, right?"
And after years of bad press over employee relations, that could be a smart move, says Steven Brown, who teaches marketing at the University of Houston.
"It's kind of in tune with the zeitgeist in corporate America where corporations increasingly realize that their employees need to identify with a good employer who does good for them as employees and also for their community at large," Brown says.
The challenge, he says, is doing good while continuing to make a profit. And, Brown says, getting the skeptics to buy it.
Google is busy rolling out a new kind of web tracking cookie to give the company an even deeper insight into individual online browsing habits. So what's so special about how this cookie crumbles?
“Google is introducing a way to track you on your mobile apps,” says Will Oremus of Slate.
The company is already adept at tracking users on the open web, but more and more web browsing is done through apps on their phone, which are not subject to Google’s web tracking cookies. This makes it harder for it to deploy targeted advertisements.
With this new technology, Google is trying to is link the cookies on the web with the anonymous trackers that already log activity through apps.
Ever take a day off from work and tell your boss you needed a sick day, when what you really needed was a mental health day?
Deborah Jacobs, an HR professional who sits on the advisory council of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, says you're not alone.
"We had a lot of employees that have physical disabilities, but we find out as we're looking into their cases that they also have a mental behavioral health issue going on at the same time," she says.
"Behavioral health” – essentially a mash-up of mental and physical health – is getting more attention in the workplace, Jacobs says.
A report from Employers Health says that workers miss more days of work and are less productive due to mental illness than chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and even back pain.
Pamela Warren is doctor of psychology and a University of Illinois faculty member. She says depression, for instance, may cause physical ailments that can result in disability or employee absence.
"Over time and actually pretty early in my practice, what I started seeing were individuals who they focused on the reported work issues, but found they couldn't or wouldn't go to work," she says.
According to some estimates, this is costing employers upwards of $100 billion dollars.
Film snakes around the projection booth of the Parkway Discount Cinema in Warner Robins, Georgia. Theater manager Alicia Bowers is in the booth. She has a love/hate relationship with film these days.
“Run too fast and it will throw the film to the ground,” Bowers says, “or if they’re moving it from one platter to another – if they drop it, it’s a big pile of mess.”
By contrast, a digital blockbuster is delivered on a six-inch by four-inch hard drive. When you drop it, there’s a thud, but no mess.
The Parkway’s run is coming to an end this summer. It’s closing, rather than converting to digital.
Bill Stembler, CEO of the Georgia Theater Company, says the reason is pretty simple: “It’s questionable whether you could recover your investment. It’s something like $50,000 to $70,000 a screen to convert to digital.”
Stembler says when you do the math for a 16-screen multiplex, you get the picture.
Luckily, the movie studios have a solution. They offer theaters a subsidy called Virtual Print Fees. Every time you buy a ticket at the multiplex at what the studios call full price, the studios pay to help retire a piece of the theater’s digital debt.
“The film companies are basically paying for about 80 to 85 percent of our cost to be digital,” Stembler says.
But this equation doesn’t work for discount screens. The studios take about a 60 percent cut out of every ticket sold. At full ticket price, that adds up. It doesn’t work at the dollar theater.
“They don’t care about the discount theaters,” Stembler says.
So how do Virtual Print Fees work at your local arthouse theater? Sara Beresford is a board member at Ciné, an independent theater in Athens, GA. She says the arthouse is a different beast.
“I think for a lot of the arthouse cinema operators there were too many strings attached to that agreement,” Stembler says.
Remember, Virtual Print Fees come with studio demands about which movies will be shown. Arthouse operators like their independence.
Back at the Parkway Discount Cinema, Alicia Bowers has reset the film for the next show.
“You know, it’s rewarding to get it up on the screen and seeing it play... it’s definitely a nostalgic feeling. It moves, it bounces,” Bowers says.
But film lovers only have a little time left to indulge that nostalgia. One studio, Paramount, no longer distributes film prints at all.
The reporter asks the nurse what the hospital needs. The nurse says, "If you don't help me, why do you ask me?" Welcome to Black Lion, said to be the country's best hospital.
For some reason, the 1984-born TV icon Max Headroom came up in conversation this week, and I immediately went down a very deep YouTube rabbit hole. Headroom was the star of a British sci-fi movie and TV show, talk show host and music video jockey, a David Letterman interviewee, and one of many Coke-hawking celebrities.
He was also one 0f the earliest forms of fictionalized artificial intelligence (along with the "Flight of the Navigator" spaceship and C-3PO) that I came in contact with as a kid. I am four years older than Max, but I wasn't even really conscious of him as a kind of AI. What I could discern: his glitchy and pitch-shifted vocal delivery, as well as his backdrop, was computer generated. Or at least it was meant to look that way. I was kind of scared of him. He yelled a lot and twitched and the lined walls of his rotating digital box of a room seemed weirdly prison-like. Here's an example.
Kind of scary, right? The character's origin story is scary, too. In the 1985 television show, a TV reporter named Edison Carter has a bad accident after discovering a dubious television company's experiments and then gets his brain dumped into a computer program. The whiz-kid who does the dump tells a bad-guy network executive, "I could make a memory dump of his synaptic circuits...the brain is only a binary computer. A series of on-off switches. That's the basis of my computer generated people program." An interesting line to hear the same month IBM unveiled computer chips that mimic brain functions.
As a way to understand what was happening with lots of technologies in the 1980s, Headroom is a fascinating example in pop culture. While tape decks were first giving way to CD players, while popular music was featuring more synthesizers and digital drum sounds over their acoustic forbears, Headroom was also straddling the analogue-digital world. The rotating block that served to house Max's disembodied head was apparently first created with analogue animation technique, and later replaced with computer graphics. Max himself couldn't be made by a computer yet, so instead he was portrayed by the actor Matt Frewer and a ton of makeup. Max's visage also appeared in one of the strangest and most significant US cases of broadcast signal hijacking to date. Doubly strange because the intro to the show's first episode has network engineers talking about "intermittent loss" in a network link of some kind.
I think what's most interesting to me about Max is how people in the 1980s were imagining AI, and how the character and the production compares to our current AI projects. These days a lot of our artificial intelligence work is embedded in faceless, voiceless algorithms and machine learning, while other forms, like Google Now and Siri -- whose inventors are right now working on a more powerful kind of AI -- are not disembodied heads but disembodied voices. Like a lot of the future we imagined in the past, Max delivers an entertaining picture. Definitely a 1980s picture. But is he as weird as his AI successors?