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Archive for January, 2012

The secret is out: Apple has a worm inching its way through its corporate flesh. January was a tough month on the Cupertino, California company venerated for its innovation and vision.

The controversy emerged when an Apple contractor in China, a manufacturing facility known as Foxconn where many brand-name electronics are assembled largely by hand, made headlines when dozens of workers threatened to jump to their deaths over a labor dispute. Foxconn’s solution? Erect netting beneath roofs and windows.

It doesn’t end there. For 12-hour shifts, six-days-per week and a live-in lifestyle workers allegedly earn just $17, the New York Times reports. Forbes and PC Magazine added their own angle to the news. One such detail described a high-level manager who, at a Chinese zoo, asked a zookeeper to provide advice on how to deal with his workers, drawing a direct comparison between factory workers and undomesticated animals. It gets worse. A NYT piece, “In China, Human Costs are Built into iPad“, refers to two dozen accidental worker deaths that have occurred as a result of unsafe working conditions. Finally, in “This American Life” the narrator of “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” recounts a first-hand meetup with underage Chinese workers, among scores of others who suffer permanent neurological tremors and ticks as a consequence of over-exposure to a chemical toxin.

For all the outrage, many argue such are the inescapable growing pains of a Third World labor force “coming up”. At one time, the United States, too, was known for worker exploitation, a chief reason child labor laws gained traction and unions became a bulwark against corrupt and abusive management practices. And yet, even at the height of the union movement in the US such organizations represented only a fraction of the workforce. Nonetheless, what began as labor negotiating with management to build a viable American middle class has transformed in recent decades to its polar opposite: a perception that unions destroy American prosperity.

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In the scare-of-the-week news story we learn that Bed, Bath & Beyond may have distributed radioactive tissue holders across the country.

It allegedly started when just four metal tissue box covers buried in a transport truck set off radiation detectors installed after 911 to protect us from a terrorist threat. Who knew truck-stop Geiger counters would also serve to protect us, apparently, from made-in India? But are mass exporters like China and India really to blame for these all-too-common consumer product scares?

Perhaps not.

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I remember it well: standing in the Sharper Image store debating between a three-day Bushnell wireless weather forecaster featuring AccuWeather forecasts and an Oregon Scientific model alongside it that offered more detailed information from a competing service provider, MSN Direct. Both weather stations did something unique: They didn’t require owners to hook up outdoor sensors that generate fickle forecast icons based purely on barometric pressure as opposed to a bona fide regional weather forecast. These weather forecast alternatives, unlike the vast majority of weather gadgets on the market, receive a radio signal that automatically displays forecast data from a genuine weather service.

For a weather junkie or just about anyone who doesn’t want to watch several minutes of TV, boot up a computer or drain a battery on a smartphone merely to check the weather, having weather alerts, pollen counts, humidity and UV Index information at a single glance at no cost beyond that of the device itself seems almost too good to be true. And, in hindsight, it was too good to be true. For those of us who chose wrong, the convenience was not to last. MSN Direct, the service provider for Oregon Scientific-branded weather units, powered down its US and Canadian network of FM radio transmitters on January 1, 2012. And yet, weather watchers were not the only ones to lose. MSN Direct broadcast a variety of data including traffic information, gasoline prices, Doppler weather maps, news, stocks, local events, movie listings to a variety of devices, all of which began with the debut of Microsoft’s novel “Spot” wristwatch in 2004.

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