Antisocial media: why I decided to cut back on Facebook and Instagram

Only when I tried to quit social networks did I realise how addictive and enveloping they are designed to be. Now I am convinced we are heading for a public health crisis

It was winter 2016 when I reached rock bottom. I went on a three-day Facebook binge. I cant remember what set it off, but I remember how it ended. I woke up in a gutter, heart pounding, thinking I was going to die. I knew then that I needed help. I needed to stop. Since that day, I have been social media sober.

None of that is true, of course, because it doesnt work like that. We might joke about being addicted to social media, but we rarely think of it as a real addiction, as something that can seriously affect our health. After all, it is not illegal. You cant overdose on it. It doesnt come in a packet with a massive sign saying Facebook kills or Pregnant women should abstain from Instagram.

In fact, many of us dont consider checking social media multiple times a day to be a bad habit it is normal, right? Look at the numbers: Facebook alone has on average more than 2 billion monthly users. In 2016, when the company had a mere 1.7 billion users, it reported that people spent an average of 50 minutes a day on its platforms Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. I would bet that, today, that average is above an hour.

Because we are all hooked, it can be hard to recognise your social media habits as problematic. The closest I came to an aha moment was during a visit to Facebooks headquarters at One Hacker Way, Palo Alto, in 2014, when I worked in advertising. Hearing its sales executives explain how much data Facebook had on its users, all the ways it could target people and get them to click on ads, was terrifying. I havent posted a personal update on Facebook since. The moment you start thinking about Facebook as a surveillance system rather than a social network, it becomes a lot more difficult to hand it your information.

But I didnt stop using Facebook or any other social media. I was still scrolling mindlessly through Facebook and Instagram many times a day; I was on Twitter for hours. The time I was frittering away on social media wasnt merely a distraction; it was making me feel lousy. The way I was using Facebook and Instagram, I gradually realised, was downright masochistic: when I was feeling bad about my life, I would look at pictures of other peoples perfect lives and feel even worse. Facebook takes social pressures and conventions (for example, the pressure to be married with kids and living in a big house by a certain age) and amplifies them a million times. Comparing other peoples timelines with my own made me start to worry about the need to conform in a way that I never had before.

So, I decided to quit Facebook and I failed miserably, because Facebook makes it incredibly difficult for you to extricate yourself from its clutches. It takes several clicks just to get to the page housing the deactivate button. Even then, it is right at the bottom, under a section where you specify a legacy contact someone to manage your account after your death. In other words, Facebook makes it easier for you to ensure your account lives longer than you do than it does to let you take a break from the network.

After clicking deactivate and re-entering your password, the emotional blackmail starts: Facebook shows you a slideshow of your friends and suggests that you send them a message. It then makes you specify why you are leaving before suggesting that your reason isnt good enough. For example, clicking I spend too much time using Facebook prompts a pop-up explaining that you can deal with this by limiting the number of emails Facebook sends you. After closing this pop-up, you must click deactivate, at which point yet another pop-up asks if you are sure. Finally, you have to click deactivate again. That is 10 clicks. To put that in perspective: I can buy two adult Madagascar hissing cockroaches on Amazon with one click. I obviously wouldnt buy cockroaches on Amazon, or anywhere else, but did you know that some people do? I think I learned that from an article on Facebook.

Anyway, forget cockroaches. Here is what is really messed up: deactivating your account means next to nothing. All you have to do to reactivate your account is log in again or use a service that you signed up to via Facebook, such as Spotify. As for deleting your account for ever I wont even start on how difficult that is.

What isnt difficult, however, is deleting social media apps from your phone. A study published in April found that simply seeing the Facebook logo can spark a social media craving that is hard to resist. After getting rid of the Facebook and Instagram apps last year, I discovered I was much less tempted to log in via my laptop. Without really trying, I started looking at them a lot less. I also began to block and mute more people. The block button is key to social media sanity.

Reducing my social media habit didnt make me more productive I am very talented at finding ways to waste time. However, it did make me see how little value Facebook added to my life. Choosing to opt out of the constant noise, to reclaim my attention, was a massive relief. I stopped comparing myself with others so much and started to feel a lot happier with my life. It also reduced my anxiety levels. In todays news cycle, the endless stream of breaking news, amplified by social media, can easily break your spirit.

There are, of course, benefits to social media. It can be enjoyable and useful. It is great in moderation. But here is the problem: it is extremely difficult to use social media in moderation. It is engineered to be addictive and, as these companies gather more data about their users, it is becoming more addictive.

It is worth remembering that, before dropping out of Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg majored in psychology. Facebook isnt so much a feat of computer programming as it is of social programming. It is designed to exploit vulnerability in human psychology, as Sean Parker, Facebooks first president, put it in an interview with Axios in November. The thought process that went into building [social networks such as Facebook] was all about: How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? Parker said. And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And thats going to get you to contribute more content and thats going to get you … more likes and comments. Its a social-validation feedback loop … youre exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.

While Zuckerberg et al may have understood that they were building deeply addictive networks, I dont think they anticipated the impact of what they were creating. None of us did. Some people have described social media as being the new Big Tobacco; I am completely of this view. In the next decade, we are going to see a social media public health crisis unfold as the effects on our brains, relationships and democracies unfold. We are getting previews of what that might look like already: there is a growing mountain of evidence that suggests Facebook negatively affects peoples mental and physical health. We are also beginning to understand, thanks to Facebooks own experiments, that the network has the ability to manipulate and control our emotions. Then there are its effects on society: it has become clear that Facebook can encourage self-segregation and exacerbate social divides. Indeed, the former vice-president for user growth at Facebook sparked headlines in December for saying that he felt tremendous guilt for his work on a platform that he believes is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other. It is also apparent how easily the power of Facebook can be used by malevolent actors. We now know, for example, that during the 2016 US presidential election false news from a single Russian troll farm reached about 126 million people.

But what has become most clear in the past few years is the alarming hubris of Big Tech. In November 2017, Facebook, Twitter and Google were summoned to testify before Congress in the US about Russian election meddling and the steps they had in place to prevent their platforms being abused. None of the companies CEOs bothered to turn up (although they were not summoned specifically). Zuckerberg talks a lot about community and not enough about accountability. Until the likes of Facebook match their greater power with a greater sense of responsibility, we ought to ask ourselves how much we want to be a willing part of their journey to world domination.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/01/antisocial-media-why-decided-cut-back-facebook-instagram

Apple apologizes for not telling customers iPhones with older batteries would slow over time

Apple has today posted a letter on its website and a technical article in its Knowledge Base apologizing for not being more transparent about how it handles performance on iPhones with older batteries. Last week, Apple issued a statement that made it clear that changes it made a year ago were indeed slowing down the maximum performance of iPhones with older batteries.

It will now also offer a battery replacement for older devices affected for a reduced $29.

“We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process,” the letter reads. “We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.”

Apple is now apologizing for not being clearer about how the changes it made to eliminate sudden shutdowns of iPhones would affect iPhone performance. When I published my piece on this last week, even though I clearly, and forcefully, noted that Apple must be more transparent with its users on this issue, readers were incensed over the fact that a long-held conspiracy theory appeared to be confirmed. Apple was slowing down old iPhones and the reason didn’t matter. It is clear that some people will still feel that the reason Apple is giving here is not enough, which is understandable given the intense passion people have for their phones and how much they use them.

Interestingly, Apple says that it has attributed feedback about iPhone slowness to the process of updating to a new operating system and some bugs that were evidently present in iOS 11 that caused slowdowns.

“Over the course of this fall, we began to receive feedback from some users who were seeing slower performance in certain situations,” Apple says. “Based on our experience, we initially thought this was due to a combination of two factors: a normal, temporary performance impact when upgrading the operating system as iPhone installs new software and updates apps, and minor bugs in the initial release which have since been fixed.”

Apple says that it now believes, in addition to these other factors, that slower older iPhones are also being negatively affected by aged batteries which trigger their power smoothing.

“We now believe that another contributor to these user experiences is the continued chemical aging of the batteries in older iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices, many of which are still running on their original batteries.”

A year’s worth of issues with no reason given from Apple on this also makes it difficult for the company to re-build trust with its users. It’s much easier to be as transparent as possible up front about complex technical fixes than it is to try to explain the adverse effects of those fixes later. That’s a consequence Apple will have to live with.

And they were right, as I noted, that Apple should have been very direct and forthcoming with them as a consumer — person to person, so to speak. The effects of the shutdown fix were not explained fully to the press or the customer.

Apple is doing three things in response to customers concerned that older batteries are making their iPhone run slower.

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
  • As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.

The letter explains that Apple will be adding ‘visibility’ in the the health of their iPhone’s battery, a fix I suggested in my original article. Though it is not  specific about what that visibility will mean. An age indicator? A notification of some sort, like this mockup we made last week, that tells you when the ‘smoothing’ kicks in?

We don’t know yet. But I’d assume we’ll see it in testing in early January.

Apple will also lower the cost of battery replacements to $29 for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later beginning in January. I don’t know if this battery replacement policy will be quite enough, I’d imagine that it would depend on the success or failure of the various class action lawsuits that has sprung up in the week since the original revelation. I think a free replacement might be an option, especially for older devices.

But I’d love to see this be permanently implemented as an ongoing policy for all iPhones. I don’t know what Apple’s margins are on this but given that independent facilities often charge this I’d assume that it can swing this amount with official replacement parts. This could extend the life of iPhones and mitigate a lot of the complaints about battery replacement costs that cause people to call for user replaceable batteries.

Apple’s position on the performance issues, as outlined in the letter, is that it felt that limiting the peak performance of iPhones and spreading out processor load over time was worth preventing iPhones from shutting down suddenly.

“About a year ago in iOS 10.2.1, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE,” reads the letter. “With the update, iOS dynamically manages the maximum performance of some system components when needed to prevent a shutdown. While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.”

Apple says that this had the intended effect, reducing the amount of times that older iPhones suddenly shut off. Nonetheless, there has been some criticism regarding the way Apple handles aging lithium-ion batteries, the shortcomings of which are very well known in engineering circles.

Indeed, Apple is now reportedly working on its own power management controllers for iPhone, perhaps to have a better handle on how CPU and battery components work together. Apple notes that iPhones return to full performance once the batteries are replaced.

Apple’s Knowledge Base article goes deeper into both the expected behaviors of lithium-ion batteries and what, exactly, is and is not affected by the shutdown fix that came with iOS 10.2.

A TL;DR and a little meta commentary here: Apple will soon warn you when your battery is so old it starts affecting performance. It will not change the behavior that smooths out power curves and slows down iPhones with older batteries because this would cause them to shut down and it believes it’s the right thing to do. Battery replacements for these phones will cost a reduced $29 temporarily, though I think there’s a strong argument to make this the permanent price. The reasons Apple gives here and its response are reasonable, but it will take a reputational beating over this and has lost an amount of user trust that it will have to regain.

Here is the full letter:

December 28, 2017

A Message to Our Customers about iPhone Batteries and Performance

We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.

How batteries age

All rechargeable batteries are consumable components that become less effective as they chemically age and their ability to hold a charge diminishes. Time and the number of times a battery has been charged are not the only factors in this chemical aging process.

Device use also affects the performance of a battery over its lifespan. For example, leaving or charging a battery in a hot environment can cause a battery to age faster. These are characteristics of battery chemistry, common to lithium-ion batteries across the industry.

A chemically aged battery also becomes less capable of delivering peak energy loads, especially in a low state of charge, which may result in a device unexpectedly shutting itself down in some situations.

To help customers learn more about iPhone’s rechargeable battery and the factors affecting its performance, we’ve posted a new support article, iPhone Battery and Performance.

It should go without saying that we think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable. We don’t want any of our users to lose a call, miss taking a picture or have any other part of their iPhone experience interrupted if we can avoid it.

Preventing unexpected shutdowns

About a year ago in iOS 10.2.1, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE. With the update, iOS dynamically manages the maximum performance of some system components when needed to prevent a shutdown. While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.

Customer response to iOS 10.2.1 was positive, as it successfully reduced the occurrence of unexpected shutdowns. We recently extended the same support for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in iOS 11.2.

Of course, when a chemically aged battery is replaced with a new one, iPhone performance returns to normal when operated in standard conditions.

Recent user feedback

Over the course of this fall, we began to receive feedback from some users who were seeing slower performance in certain situations. Based on our experience, we initially thought this was due to a combination of two factors: a normal, temporary performance impact when upgrading the operating system as iPhone installs new software and updates apps, and minor bugs in the initial release which have since been fixed.

We now believe that another contributor to these user experiences is the continued chemical aging of the batteries in older iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices, many of which are still running on their original batteries.

Addressing customer concerns

We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.

To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
  • As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.

At Apple, our customers’ trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support — and we will never forget that or take it for granted.

The Knowledge Base article on iPhone battery performance is here.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/12/28/apple-apologizes-for-not-being-clearer-about-slowing-down-iphones-with-older-batteries/

Spinal-Cord Implants to Numb Pain Emerge as Alternative to Pills

For millions of Americans suffering from debilitating nerve pain, a once-overlooked option has emerged as an alternative to high doses of opioids: implanted medical devices using electricity to counteract pain signals the same way noise-canceling headphones work against sound. 

The approach, called neuromodulation, has been a godsend for Linda Landy, who was a 42-year-old runner when a foot surgery went awry in 2008. She was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a condition dubbed the suicide disease by doctors: The pain is so unrelenting that many people take their own lives.

Linda Landy and family

Last November, Landy underwent surgery to get an Abbott Laboratories device that stimulates the dorsal root ganglion, a spot in the spine that was the pain conduit for her damaged nerves. A year after getting her implant, called DRG, she’s cut back drastically on pain pills.

“The DRG doesn’t take the pain completely away, but it changes it into something I can live with,” said Landy, a mother of three in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s now now able to walk again and travel by plane without using a wheelchair. “It sounds minor, but it’s really huge.”

Crackdown on Opioids

Recent innovations from global device makers like Abbott to smaller specialists such as Nevro Corp. made the implants more powerful and effective. Combined with a national crackdown on narcotics and wanton pain pill prescriptions, they are spurring demand for implants.

The market may double to $4 billion in 10 years, up from about $1.8 billion in the U.S. and $500 million in Europe today, according to health-care research firm Decisions Resources Group.

“There was a big stigma around this when it first came out,” said Paul Desormeaux, a Decisions Resources analyst in Toronto. “The idea of sending an electrical signal through your nervous system was a little daunting, but as clinical data has come out and physicians have been able to prove its safety, there has been a big change in the general attitude.”

Read More: Millions Face Pain, Withdrawal as Opioid Prescriptions Plummet

At least 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only a fraction of them would benefit from spinal-cord stimulation — about 3.6 million, according to Decisions Resources — but those are patients who are often given the highest doses of narcotics. They include people with nerve damage stemming from conditions like diabetic neuropathy and shingles, as well as surgeries.

“There is no question we are reducing the risk of opioid dependence by implanting these devices,” said Timothy Deer, president of the Spine and Nerve Centers of the Virginias in Charleston, West Virginia, a hotbed of the opioid epidemic. “If we get someone before they are placed on opioids, 95 percent of the time we can reduce their need to ever go on them.”

Studies show spinal-cord stimulators can reduce use of powerful pain drugs by 60 percent or more, said Deer, a clinical professor of anesthesiology.

Read More: Tangled Incentives Push Drugmakers Away From an Opioid Solution

Technology breakthroughs that are just now reaching patients came from a better understanding of how pain signals are transmitted within the spinal cord, the main thoroughfare between the command center in the brain and the body.

For some chronic pain patients, the spinal cord runs too efficiently, speeding signs of distress. Stimulators send their own pulses of electrical activity to offset or interrupt the pain zinging along the nerve fibers. They have been available for more than three decades, but until recently their invasive nature, potential safety risks and cost limited demand.

Market Leader Abbott

Illinois-based Abbott, with its $29 billion acquisition of St. Jude Medical this year, took the market lead with advances that allow it to target specific nerves and tailor the treatment. Nevro, of Redwood City, California, has rolled out improvement to its Senza system, a best-in-class approach that is safe while getting an MRI and operates without the tingling that often accompanies spinal-cord stimulation.

In the latest devices, which cost $30,000 or more, codes that are running the electrical pulses are more sophisticated. The frequency, rate and amplitude can be adjusted, often by the patients, which allows personalized therapy. 

The new implants are also smaller: The surgery is generally an outpatient procedure with minimal post-operative pain and a short recovery. They have longer battery life, reducing the need for replacement. And patients can try out a non-invasive version of the equipment before getting a permanent implant.

“This is really a defining moment in what we can do to impact the lives of people who suffer from chronic pain,” said Allen Burton, Abbott’s medical director of neuromodulation. “We can dampen the chronic pain signal and give patients their lives back.”

Medtronic Plc, which pioneered the technique but ceded the lead in recent years, is now working on next-generation devices. The company recently gained approval for the smallest pain-management implant, Intellis. In development are devices that can detect pain waves and adjust automatically, said Geoff Martha, executive vice president of Medtronic’s restorative therapies group.

“A self-correcting central nervous system — that’s the panacea. That’s the ultimate goal,” Martha said. “It could take a huge bite out of the opioid problem.”

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-26/spinal-cord-implants-to-numb-pain-emerge-as-alternative-to-pills

    Move Over Tech. Here Come Southeast Asias Builders

    Tech is so 2017.

    With at least $323 billion in infrastructure spending in the pipeline in Southeast Asia and potentially more expected over the next few years, 2018 could well shape up as the year of builders’ stocks from Indonesia to the Philippines that have been the laggards in a broader market rally this year.

    Governments are boosting spending on everything from airports to high-speed rails and ports to increase connectivity and boost economic growth in what promises to be a boon for the region’s construction companies. In one of the more ambitious programs in the region, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has earmarked an unprecedented $180 billion for infrastructure to keep driving one of the world’s best-performing economies over coming years. Malaysia and Thailand are also ramping up allocations to public works ahead of general elections in 2018.

    “Infrastructure has been under invested whether it’s clear water, clean air, energy, roads, ports, railways, education, health care — so there are tons of opportunities,” said Ashish Goyal, head of emerging markets equities at NN Investment Partners (S) Ltd., which manages $288 billion in assets. The firm owns stakes in Indonesian construction stocks, he said, adding that investors should watch for the pace of execution in the various countries.

    UBS Group AG expects “changes in government policy and delivery on infrastructure” to be among the region’s biggest themes for 2018 as growth in global trade fades, analysts including Ian Gisbourne wrote in a report dated Nov. 28.

    Construction stocks on the MSCI Asean Index have risen an average of about 7.4 percent this year in dollar terms, about one-third the gain of the overall gauge, which is set for its best performance in seven years. Technology shares have provided the biggest boost to the Southeast Asian index this year as global demand for electronics returned.

    Some builders are already rallying in anticipation of the rewards they will reap from the spike in infrastructure outlays. Indonesian cement supplier PT Indocement Tunggal Prakarsa soared as much as 54 percent earlier this year as investors expect it to benefit from a surge in demand as the nation builds toll roads, ports and power plants. Manila-based EEI Corp. has surged 73 percent, leading a rally in Philippine construction stocks, as it begins work on the nation’s $1.6 billion, 44 kilometer (27 mile) mass-railway project.

    Companies that provide services for construction projects, such as improving management efficiency or sustainability, may also capitalize on the spending boom on public works, Felix Lam, a portfolio manager at BNP Paribas SA’s asset management arm, said by phone.

    Even so, the Southeast Asian market as a whole might continue to underperform, compared to “its larger, more liquid and faster growing North Asia and India counterparts,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Timothy Moe wrote in a November report. And Credit Suisse Group AG has maintained its underweight rating on the region for 2018.

    Still, Morgan Stanley sees investor attention back on the Asean region as markets are expected to give returns of as much as 10 percent next year, more than three times what’s seen for emerging markets.

    Here is a breakdown of what countries are planning and what investors are saying about Southeast Asia’s infrastructure spending spree:

    Philippines

    • The government has allocated about 1 trillion pesos ($20 billion) to infrastructure in the 2018 budget as part of Duterte’s $180 billion infrastructure program over a six-year period to build a network of railroads and highways across the archipelago
    • Tax reform will help fund infrastructure projects; construction and infrastructure-related stocks to outperform in 2018, according to Noel Reyes, who helps manage $1 billion as chief investment officer at Security Bank Corp.
    • Tax reform bill awaiting Congress approval and is among first of five tax packages proposed by Duterte to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure projects
    • Infrastructure program includes 70 projects from railways, airports, roads and bridges, cities, ports to mass transit during Duterte’s six-year term as president
    • Companies involved in construction and infrastructure: Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Megawide Construction Corp., Ayala Corp., EEI Corp.

    Indonesia

    • Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has announced more than 240 infrastructure projects
    • Country needs 931 trillion rupiah ($69 billion) from 2015 to 2019 for infrastructure spending; has allocated only 528 trillion rupiah over the period, according to Public Works and Public Housing Ministry
    • Concerns about funding availability and financing risks among Indonesian infrastructure companies have depressed construction stocks this year
    • Shares of PT Waskita Karya, the country’s biggest listed builder, have dropped 27 percent in 2017 even as the Jakarta Composite Index hit a record high in November
    • Biggest construction companies: PT Jasa Marga, PT PP Persero, PT Waskita Beton

    Malaysia

    • Malaysia has allocated 210 billion ringgit ($51.6 billion) for projects in the 2018 budget of which 73 percent will go rail and public transport
      • About 55 billion ringgit allocated to East Coast Rail Link, 50 billion-60 billion ringgit given to Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and 40 billion ringgit to phase 3 of the mass rapid transit system
    • Rail, affordable housing, roads and water infrastructure are major segments that will benefit from government’s spending next year, Sharizan Rosely, an analyst at CIMB wrote in a report dated Oct. 30
    • General election due by August 2018
    • Biggest construction companies: Gamuda Bhd., IJM Corp. Bhd., Sunway Construction Group Bhd., Malaysian Resources Corp. Bhd.

    Thailand

    • Government has pledged 1.5 trillion baht ($46 billion) over the next five years to boost growth via infrastructure spending to develop its three eastern provinces as the Eastern Economic Corridor
    • Infrastructure spending to remain key driver for the economy and new development projects such as EEC, said Orsen Karnburisudthi, Bangkok-based senior investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management Co.
    • EEC envisions to turn the provinces into hubs for technological manufacturing and services with strong connectivity by land, sea and air with help of state and private funding as well as foreign direct investment
    • Elections to be key upside for economic growth and business sentiment, Aberdeen said; Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said in October a vote will be held in November 2018
    • Banks to see earnings improve as economic growth boosts loan growth and reduces bad loan provisions, while shopping mall operators and retailers can benefit from consumption recovery, Orsen said
    • Biggest construction players: Italian-Thai Development Pcl, CH. Karnchang Pcl, Unique Engineering & Construction Pcl, Sino-Thai Engineering & Construction Pcl; EEC beneficiaries: Amata Corp. and WHA Corp.

    Vietnam

    • Vietnam has allocated 150 trillion dong ($6.6 billion) for infrastructure development in 2016 to 2020 and still needs $480 billion to fund investments by 2020, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment
    • Key infrastructure projects include a $13 billion, 1,800 kilometer expressway from Ha Noi in the north to Ho Chi Minh city in the south, the nation’s largest ever road project
    • Biggest infrastructure players: Songda Urban, Ho Chi Minh City Infrastructure, Coteccons Construction, Ha Do JSC, Song Da No. 9 JSC

    Singapore

    • As the only developed market in Southeast Asia, Singapore is less likely to see government expenditure in infrastructure on the same scale as its neighbors
    • While some key projects for 2018 include a new airport terminal at Changi Airport, mega shipping port and the KL-Singapore high-speed rail, the country’s stock market is more likely to benefit from a recovery in the property sector and overall economy
    • DBS Group Holdings Ltd. sees property prices recovering 3 percent to 5 percent annually over the next two years, buoying small to mid-cap construction-related and real estate stocks such as Chip Eng Seng Corp. and APAC Realty Ltd., analysts including Ling Lee Keng wrote in a note dated Dec. 5
    • Singapore’s economic recovery is also seen broadening out from the manufacturing industry in 2018 to the services sector, which accounts for about two-thirds of gross domestic product

      Read more: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-06/move-over-tech-southeast-asian-builders-come-in-focus-in-2018

      Back At The Helm: Steve Jobs Returned To Work At Apple Today After The Holistic Medicine He Was Taking Kicked In

      It was a sad day in Silicon Valley when Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO in 2009 for health reasons. His road to recovery has been long and bumpy, but luckily this story now has a happy ending: Steve Jobs returned to work at Apple today when the holistic medicine he was taking finally kicked in and cured his cancer.

      The visionary genius behind the MacBook and iPhone is back where he belongs!

      When Jobs stepped down to concentrate full time on fighting pancreatic cancer, many questioned his decision to focus mainly on alternative medicine treatments. Well, the critics are eating their words now, because even though it took eight years for his vegan diet, acupuncture treatments, and meditation to take effect, they have clearly paid off. Today Steve Jobs is looking more spry than ever, and it’s all thanks to the careful regimen of special juices, bowel cleanses, and being legally dead for six years that gradually brought him back to health. In a world dominated by hospitals and the promise of the quick fix, Jobs deserves credit for sticking with his spiritualistic treatments that have him back at the helm of his company.

      Employees at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters gave their boss a round of applause after a speech Jobs gave this morning, where he took back the mantle of CEO from interim leader Tim Cook and thanked everyone for their stellar performance while his lifeless body sat in a grave, waiting for the herbal remedies his guru gave him to do their thing. During one especially inspiring moment, Jobs reminded his employees to always tune out the naysayers, because he is living proof that even though it took nearly a decade to fully realize the effects, enlisting a psychic for medical advice ultimately worked out for him.

      Wow! What an amazing personal journey! Welcome back, Mr. Jobs. We can’t wait to see what ideas you’ll dream up for Apple next.

      Read more: http://www.clickhole.com/article/back-helm-steve-jobs-returned-work-apple-today-aft-7050

      Cutting Down on Cow Burps to Ease Climate Change

      In a cream-colored metal barn two hours north of Wellington, New Zealand, a black-and-white dairy cow stands in what looks like an oversize fish tank. Through the transparent Plexiglas walls, she can see three other cows in adjacent identical cubicles munching their food in companionable silence. Tubes sprout from the tops of the boxes, exchanging fresh air for the stale stuff inside. The cows, their owners say, could help slow climate change.

      Livestock has directly caused about one-quarter of Earth’s warming in the industrial age, and scientists from the U.S. departments of agriculture and energy say bigger, more resource-heavy cattle are accelerating the problem. Contrary to popular belief, cows contribute to global warming mostly through their burps, not their flatulence. So about a dozen scientists here at AgResearch Grasslands, a government-owned facility, are trying to develop a vaccine to stop those burps. “This is not a standard vaccine,” says Peter Janssen, the anti-burp program’s principal research scientist. “It’s proving to be an elusive little genie to get out of the bottle.”

      The effort isn’t entirely altruistic. Grasslands is dedicated to boosting New Zealand’s dominant agriculture and biotech industries, and the country’s biggest company, Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd., a $14 billion dairy processor, has vowed to increase its milk exports without increasing carbon emissions. But 2017 is set to be the third-hottest year on record—the top two were 2016 and 2015—so the globe can use all the help it can get, business-minded or not. “It’s essential to reduce global livestock emissions in order to reduce climate change consistent with what countries signed up to under the Paris Agreement,” says Andy Reisinger, deputy director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

      Janssen.
      Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

      Janssen and his team are trying to purge cow stomachs of methanogens, the microbes that convert hydrogen into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It’s an unexpectedly delicate and difficult task, because cows rely on a host of other bacteria, fungi, and protozoa in their guts to digest the grasses they eat. Researchers have tried feeding them oregano, tea extracts, probiotics, antibiotics, seaweed (too toxic), coconut oil (too expensive), chloroform (too carcinogenic), and even leftover grains from beer brewing (which made cows poop more nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas).

      So far no vaccine has progressed far enough to be given to the cows in the cubicles, where methane output can be measured. The vaccine must first be successfully tested in the lab and on sheep. Although the scientists have figured out how to produce the desired antibodies in the cows, the animals continue to merrily burp. Janssen’s team is looking for proteins they can use to concoct a stronger vaccine, one that will better prime the cows’ immune systems to attack methanogens. A single methanogen genome has 2,000 proteins, so they’ve narrowed their search to a handful of candidates, which they think could knock out the gassiest microbes.

      A cow is led into the methane measurement center.
      Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

      The hunt for a vaccine costs about $1.4 million a year, about two-thirds of which comes from the New Zealand government. Industry supplies the rest. The money is part of a $7.5 million pool for curbing farming gases meant to address New Zealand’s status as the world’s highest per capita methane emitter. Janssen says it may take five years or longer to create the right vaccine, but it will do much more to reduce bovine emissions than a treatment that Dutch company DSM is developing for bucket-fed cows. That’s because the vaccine will work just as well for grazers. “There aren’t too many ruminants in the world where the animals never get to eat grass,” he says, noting that even cows fattened with feed in a controlled environment typically start out in pastures.

      DSM used computers to create a methane-blocking molecule called 3-nitrooxypropanol, or 3-NOP, that appears to cut burped methane by about a third when sprinkled on a cow’s food. The company, whose annual research and development budget is $500 million, is waiting for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is likely to take at least two more years. “For developed countries, this is the most promising technology at this point,” says Alexander Hristov, a Penn State professor of dairy nutrition who’s tested 3-NOP for DSM. The New Zealanders are leading the vaccine hunt, he says, but they haven’t developed a proven product they can offer to farmers.

      Dairy cows at Massey University, which supplies cows for AgResearch.
      Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

      Janssen, a bespectacled man with the lanky limbs of a longtime mountain explorer, says his team is also working on substances similar to 3-NOP that could be given in pill form. A complicating factor: No one knows how low-methane a cow can go without hurting its health or productivity. Trials suggest cows that burp less seem to cope fine, but scientists want to make sure there are no unintended consequences, such as reduced milk quality or quantity. “We need to understand where that tipping point is,” Janssen says.

      Humans are the final hurdle. Canadian scientists created low-polluting pigs almost a decade ago, but people wouldn’t buy the genetically modified pork. “Farmers will produce what the consumer demands,” says Tim McAllister, who’s conducting trials of 3-NOP and other methane-reduction techniques for the Canadian government at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Alberta. Soaring global demand for meat makes climate concerns pressing. North of Wellington, the cows seem content in their tanks, turning to watch as Janssen strides between their boxes. For now, their burps are packed with methane, but they may not have to be.

        BOTTOM LINE – Researchers are painstakingly hunting for compounds that can quell methane-packed cow burps but will still have to sell regulators and the public on the science.

        Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-29/cutting-down-on-cow-burps-to-ease-climate-change

        Russia used hundreds of fake accounts to tweet about Brexit, data shows

        Researchers discover that accounts run from troll farm in St Petersburg tried to sow discord between Britons

        Concern about Russian influence in British politics has intensified as it emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg published posts about Brexit.

        Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics out of 2,752 accounts suspended by Twitter in the US.

        One of the accounts run from the Kremlin-linked operation attempted to stir anti-Islamic sentiment during the Westminster Bridge terror attack in March in a bogus post claiming a Muslim woman ignored victims a claim that was highlighted by mainstream media outlets including Mail Online and the Sun.

        For days after, the tweeter was gleefully sharing press clippings. Wow Im on the Daily Mail front page! Thank you British libs! Youre making me famous, he said, referring to an article that appeared on Mail Online and which still bore the tweet at the time of writing.

        @SouthLoneStar
        @SouthLoneStar tweet – which appears to have been generated by a Russian. Photograph: Twitter

        A day later, he tweeted: Im on The Sun! Thank you again, British libs! Now Im even more famous!

        Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, which is investigating fake news, said the Russian agency appeared to be attempting to divide society and destabilise politics.

        The Conservative MP wants Twitter to tell the committee how it believes Russia has been attempting to influence UK politics.

        What is at stake is whether Russia has constructed an architecture which means they have thousands of accounts with which they can bombard [us] with fake news and hyper-partisan content, he said.

        We need to understand how widespread it is and what the impact is on the democratic process.

        Collins has demanded that Twitters chief executive, Jack Dorsey, supply examples of posts from the Internet Research Agency about British politics citing concern at possible interference by foreign actors in the democratic process of the UK.

        This is information they hold and I cant see any reason they should be delaying supplying it, he said.

        The developments come after the US Congress intelligence committee investigated Russian troll campaigning in the US election of November 2016.

        Twitter told the House committee that it had suspended 2,752 accounts which were tweeting about the US election because it believed they were controlled from Russia. The committee said it may well be just the tip of the iceberg.

        Hundreds of paid bloggers work round the clock at the IRA to flood Russian internet forums, social networks and the comments sections of western publications sowing disinformation, praising the countrys president, Vladimir Putin, and raging at the west.

        The agency has been linked to a businessman who was once Putins favourite chef.

        Prof Laura Cram, director of neuropolitics research at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian that at least 419 of those accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times mostly after the referendum had taken place.

        Archives of the now deleted Russian accounts show they included people purporting to be a US Navy veteran, a Tennessee Republican and a Texan patriot all tweeting in favour of Brexit.

        Play Video
        1:12

        ‘We know what youre doing,’ Theresa May tells Russia video

        Labour deputy leader Tom Watson urged Theresa May to bring political pressure to bear on tech giants to reveal the extent to which their platforms have been hijacked, and to take action against agents of the Russian state who use their platforms to disseminate misinformation and untruths.

        He said tech companies including Twitter and Facebook havent done enough to identify and weed out the fake profiles and automated content that pose a direct threat to our democracy.

        On Monday, May gave a speech in which she said Russias actions were threatening the international order on which we all depend.

        She accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media to weaponise information and sow discord in the west.

        Concerns about Russias cyber-operations have also been raised elsewhere in Europe.

        Spains prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, claimed on Monday that half of the Twitter accounts that amplified the issue of Catalan independence were registered in Russia and 30% in Venezuela.

        Others have voiced concerns that Russian social media accounts also sought to influence this years French and German elections.

        A spokesperson for Twitter said the company recognises that the integrity of the election process itself is integral to the health of a democracy. As such, we will continue to support formal investigations by government authorities into election interference as required.

        The Russian tweets identified by Twitter as coming from the IRA included one by an account holder using the name @SouthLoneStar.

        He reportedly said: I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion! and UK voted to leave future European Caliphate! #BrexitVote.

        The same account posted a widely shared tweet at the time of the March terror attack on Westminster Bridge in London.

        It posted a photograph of a woman in a headscarf passing the scene of the attack with the caption: Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone #PrayForLondon #Westminster #BanIslam.

        The woman said later: Not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, Ive also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia.

        Another suspended account appeared to be a Republican from Tennessee. @TEN_GOP quoted Nigel Farage telling Fox News about Brexit and Donald Trump: What youve seen this year is just ordinary, decent people, the little people, whove said Weve had enough. We want change.

        @WadeHarriot, purporting to be a former member of the US Navy, retweeted criticisms of leftists for trying to subvert #Brexit and predictions of #Brexit #Frexit #Grexit.

        Cram said the content of the Brexit tweets overall was quite chaotic and it seems to be aimed at wider disruption. Theres not an absolutely clear thrust. We pick up a lot on refugees and immigration.

        She stressed that more research is needed to establish the extent of the tweets influence, and urged caution about drawing conclusions from the relatively small number of troll accounts so far identified. About 78% of the tweets came after the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, she added.

        Russia has been adamant it did not interfere in any way in the EU referendum. We closely followed the voting but never interfered or sought to influence it, Putin said the day after the poll.

        However, there is no doubt that many in Moscow welcomed the outcome. An EU without Britain would be less united on sanctions against Russia, many Russian officials hoped, because it would lose one of its stronger foreign policy voices and would be too consumed with its own internal problems to prioritise Russia policy.

        At the time, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said the vote to leave the EU was a giant victory for Putins foreign policy objectives.

        The US Congressional investigation into Russian meddling through social media also gathered evidence from Facebook that between June 2015-August 2017 there were 470 accounts on the platform associated with the IRA and that 126 million Americans are likely to have seen content from an IRA page.

        Additional reporting by Stacee Smith

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/14/how-400-russia-run-fake-accounts-posted-bogus-brexit-tweets

        Forward brings its personalized healthcare service to Los Angeles

        Forward, the San Francisco-based startup that’s looking to refashion healthcare services in Apple’s image, is expanding with its first location in Los Angeles.

        Weaving together a number of Silicon Valley’s favorite healthcare trends, the company’s services combine proprietary, purpose-built medical devices with algorithmically enabled diagnostic tools, and the latest in gene, bacteria and blood tests to provide a holistic view of its patients’ health.

        These technologies and services include: unlimited access to its medical staff; baseline screening; blood and genetic testing; wellness and nutrition counseling; and ongoing monitoring from wearable sensors provided at the clinic. Support and access to its AI and 24/7 access to medical staff through the app are available exclusively to anyone who’s willing to pay the $149 per month fee.

        At its launch, Adrian Aoun told us about 15 percent of its early users come from underserved communities and had received free membership. Members also get their first month of prescription medicine free through Forward’s onsite pharmacy, which also offers vitamins and supplements.

        Forward also plans to offer vitamins and other supplements and wearables through the onsite store, and Aoun said he would like to offer other alternatives, such as acupuncture, in the future.

        Opening in a small office on the first floor of the Westfield Century City mall, Forward’s Los Angeles office will contain all of the bells and whistles that brought it so much attention when it opened its first San Francisco location in January.

        There are custom-built exam rooms kitted up with interactive, touch-screen displays — part of what the company touts as an integrated, paperless system for new electronic health records.

        The centerpiece of the company’s facility is a purpose-built body scanner that collects basic vital signs like temperature, pulse and arterial health, which are then sent to the company’s staff doctors.

        Those aren’t the only diagnostic tools. The company also has an app and is rolling out services around fertility and sleep tracking, as well as dermatological and optometry services in its two offices.

        Once the scans are completed, doctors then review the results of diagnostic tests with their patients in one of those exam rooms, which is also recording the conversation with voice recognition software that targets key words to help retain the key parts of the conversation and examination.

        1. 20171108-forward-_DEZ3432

          Forward's Los Angeles office
        2. 20171108-forward-_DEZ3453 (1)

          Forward's slogan
        3. bodyscanner

          Forward's proprietary diagnostic scanner
        4. kyson-dana-aug-forward-31

          Forward's tool for examining arterial health
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          A Forward exam room
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          Forward's diagnostic process
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          Forward patient kits

        This expansion into Southern California marks the next step in the journey that former Google executive Adrian Aoun first embarked on 18 months ago when he started building out the company’s medical devices and first office in a warehouse in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

        An early entrepreneur who first came to prominence through his work building natural language processing software that would enable users to create searches for specific topics, Aoun was one of the original architects of Google’s artificial intelligence strategies and the founder of the company’s urban technology subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs.

        Aoun’s attention turned to healthcare after his brother had a heart attack, he says, which led him to confront the inadequacies of the existing system.

        “The existing healthcare system was not built for you,” Aoun says. “Their incentives are not to actually make you healthy and they’re certainly not to make this cheaper.”

        While Forward isn’t necessarily making healthcare cheaper either, it is planting a flag for making healthcare better, Aoun says. And he thinks that’s the first step to changing the whole system.

        “It’s absurd to think that the disruption is going to come from the inside,” he says.

        The problem for Aoun is that existing healthcare solutions can’t “scale” because treatment depends on highly skilled medical professionals (and there’s a shortage of those these days).

        “We need to figure out how to scale doctors so that they touch more lives… The same way an engineer can scale through software,” he says.

        Aoun sees Forward as building the tools that other companies can then use to drive down costs and bring to a larger market the solutions his company is developing.

        And, he argues, the Forward price tag isn’t all that expensive. “$149 per month is about half the price of a fancy gym,” he says. “We have to start somewhere.”

        While Forward doesn’t talk about its financing, it has secured investments from some of Silicon Valley’s marquee investors and entrepreneurs.

        Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/15/forward-brings-its-personalized-healthcare-service-to-los-angeles/

        How the Humble Hospital Scrub Became a $10 Billion Business

        The line between symbiosis and mortal combat is a fine one, both in the C-suite and at the cellular level. Michael Singer and Ben Favret thought they had the former when they began making plans for a better, safer line of medical apparel—a super scrub, if you will.

        Singer is chief executive officer of Strategic Partners, a manufacturer that controls an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. market for scrubs. Favret, a former pharmaceutical executive, is founder of Vestagen Protective Technologies, a startup launched in 2009 with the goal of making a bacteria-proof medical uniform.

        “He just seemed interesting, infectious in his enthusiasm,” Singer said of meeting Favret. “And he helped convince me antimicrobial was going to be something in the future.”

        Last month, the men and their respective companies faced each other across a federal courtroom in Los Angeles—each having sued the other. Their fleeting partnership had turned toxic as both accused the other of tearing their respective company apart. Vestagen was making false and illegal promises about its product, Singer alleged. Singer had poached one of Vestagen’s key employees and stole trade secrets, Favret claimed. As the Swift anthem goes, we got bad blood.

        The humble hospital scrub, ever saggy and often scratchy, is never in style—or out of it, for that matter. Rather, it’s beyond sartorial judgment. Instantly recognizable, it’s simply a given for most of America’s 19 million health-care workers, as essential as latex gloves and bitter cantina coffee. At the moment, almost one in seven U.S. workers falls into the scrub-set, a metric that’s expanding quickly as baby boomers fade into their hip-replacement years.

        Make no mistake, apparel seldom seems this easy. In other parts of the clothing business, fortunes are won and lost trying to forecast the fickle fashion trajectories of skinny jeans, retro sneakers, jumpsuits, and leggings. Abercrombie & Fitch is ripping off its logos and rushing to remake the kind of rugged adventure-wear that built its brand 50 years ago, and J. Crew Group has drifted to the brink of solvency as it struggles to find the right mix of rugby shirts and shift dresses. The sturdy scrub, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the safest spots in retail. Like the work-shirts and pants Americans wore back when the country was an industrial behemoth, health-care-wear is very much in demand in the modern service economy.

        If medical apparel were a standalone business, it would be solidly among the world’s top retailers, bigger than EBay, Foot Locker, and Tiffany & Co. Much of those spoils, at the moment, go to Strategic Partners, a business Singer started in 1995 when he bought the scrubs business out of bankruptcy from Cherokee. “The joke at the time was the three bestselling colors were white, white, and white,” he said. He took control of 40 workers posting about $17 million in annual sales.

        Over the years, the company added colors and patterns, moved production to Mexico and later to Asia while gradually building out a closet of brands. It added a studio where it created designs and cut licensing deals so it could put cartoon characters on pediatric scrubs to cheer up sick kids.

        In the early 2000s, Strategic began building web stores for its retail partners, taking the orders and shipping the product directly. Most of the retailers weren’t putting much focus on the internet at the time, and it was a crafty way to box out competing brands. By 2005, the company had almost 500 employees and a deep bench of captive manufacturing partners. Five years later, it acquired the license to make a line of “Dickies” scrubs and added another 30 employees. 

        Around that time, Singer started talking to Vestagen and other startups about antimicrobial treatments. Vestagen, which declined to be interviewed for this story, citing the ongoing legal battle, had developed an “active barrier” to repel fluid from fabric and kill bacteria via an electrical charge.

        Vestagen’s timing was propitious. As it was looking for manufacturing partners, bacterial infections were running rampant in America’s hospitals and clinics. In 2011, patients at acute-care facilities came down with almost 722,000 so-called health-care-associated infections, pneumonia being the most common. Almost one in 10 of those patients died, or about 70,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Not surprisingly, insurance companies began adding clauses to their coverage so they wouldn’t have to pay hospitals for bacterial outbreaks.

        The simple scrub, meanwhile, was starting to look like a disease vector. The CDC estimates that one in 25 patients currently hospitalized has contracted some kind of infection just by being there. 

        Most of the folks who wear scrubs have to buy their own, despite the fact the job typically requires them, be it a hospital, doctor’s, dentist’s, or veterinarian’s office. Apparel makers can line up discounts and distribution deals, but ultimately the consumer can buy whatever uniform he or she wants, provided it’s the specified color. This little wrinkle in the market, it turns out, presented an opportunity. While lawyers for Singer and Favret fight, a host of startups have discovered there’s a lot of money to be made in this sleepy-yet-lucrative segment. Moving on from mattresses, eyeglasses, razors, and booze delivery, the world’s direct-to-consumer disrupters have discovered scrubs.

        FIGS was launched in 2013, offering antimicrobial, wrinkle-free uniforms in a range of flattering designs, solely through its own web store. Founder Trina Spear said she warmed to the idea at investment firm Blackstone Group, where she said she worked on a financing deal for Strategic Partners. In the financial reports, Spear said she noticed a staid company with margins around 40 percent. 

        FIGS co-founder Trina Spear says her company is the first to take a fashion approach to scrubs.
        Source: FIGS

        “It’s a massive industry that no one knows about and no one talks about,” she said. “It’s been around for about 100 years with zero change and zero innovation.” Her company sold out of its first batch in 23 days and has struggled to keep up with demand. Now FIGS has spread into lab coats, “underscrubs” (read: T-shirts), and hoodies. 

        About a year later, Jaanuu hit the market with a similar approach, launched by Shaan Sethi, a private-equity investor, and his pediatrician sister, Dr. Neela Sethi Young. Sethi said he was most encouraged by what he called a broken retail channel. Hundreds of different stores were selling scrubs, each store packed with a motley jumble of competing brands. 

        “You’d go to a hospital and see 50 or 60 nurses in 50 or 60 different brands,” he explained. “I had this idea in the back of my mind around this concept of trading up.” Spear, at FIGS, is less diplomatic. “Honestly, it’s hard for me to call them brands,” she said. “Everyone is getting thrown a hodge-podge of crap.”

        Naturally, all this rankles Singer at Strategic, which is now owned by New Mountain Capital, a private-equity firm. The U.S. scrubs market is far smaller than his new rivals let on, he warned, and his designers have decades of experience developing more fashionable treatments. “I bristle a little when I hear Jaanuu and FIGS say these are just commodity products,” he said.

        A post shared by FIGS (@wearfigs) on

        It’s hard, however, to find a brand evangelist in American hospitals—the field remains wide open. No label seems to have captured the kind of devotion Nike has among athletes or Lululemon enjoys with yogis. In just two years as a technologist measuring brain activity at the University of Iowa hospital, Mandie Wagner has purchased a closet full of scrubs. She said the Dickies are kind of itchy, the Cherokee brand doesn’t fit very well, and the Grey’s Anatomy scrubs collect pet hair. Her go-to, at the moment, is Cherokee’s Infinity, a higher-end brand made by Strategic, although she is keen to try FIGS and Jaanuu. 

        So far, the best feature Wagner has found isn’t having to think about what to wear: “It makes my morning easier,” she said. Wagner’s colleague Wendy Sebetka hasn’t settled on a brand, either. “Even though I buy the same styles, they all seem to fit a little differently,” she said. “And everything I have purchased online I have had to return, which is a pain.”

        It still isn’t clear how much of the segment has been swiped by FIGS, Jaanuu, and other new entrants. Both companies declined to detail revenue. FIGS now has 35 employees and increased sales 17-fold in the past two years. It has raised $10 million from investors in two different rounds. Of the customers it’s won, more than half are ordering apparel from the company every month. “We believe we can take over the whole industry,” Spear proclaimed. “That’s our goal.”

        Jaanuu, meanwhile, has 50 employees and $7.6 million in venture funding. The company expects to triple revenue this year, thanks in part to a new line of plus-size scrubs and footwear. Its average order is $120—and when orders come, they come in clusters. When a customer buys in a small town in, say, North Dakota, a flurry of other orders pop up in the same location.

        “You have to remember, this isn’t Nasty Gal going after Forever 21,” Sethi said. “We’re going after a really, really sleepy market.”

        Jaanuu’s plus-size line has quickly accounted for 10 percent of its business.
        Source: Jaanuu

        In the long run, Singer likes his odds of staying on top. His company now has almost 600 employees and last year sold $300 million worth of scrubs in the U.S. Working with Dow Chemical, it began selling an antimicrobial scrub in 2014 and a version with a fluid barrier a year later.

        And despite the simplicity of the product, a scrubs empire requires a complex supply chain. At any given time, Strategic has about 85,000 items, across a range of brands, colors, and prints, and in a spectrum of sizes for both women and men.

        “There aren’t necessarily high barriers to entry, but there are high barriers to scale,” Singer said. “There’s styling complexities. There’s sourcing complexities. There’s long, long lead times and you have to manage all of this inventory as you go.”

        Back in the courtroom in Los Angeles, Vestagen’s allegations of stolen trade secrets were rejected. The jury, however, dismissed Strategic’s assertion that Vestagen had made false advertising claims. Vestagen promptly declared victory and announced another $9.5 million in financing. “We always believed that this lawsuit brought by SPI, a company many times the size of Vestagen, was being pursued in an attempt to stifle an emerging competitor,” Chief Executive Officer Bill Bold said in a statement. Strategic, meanwhile, asked the judge to set aside the jury’s findings.

        While keeping an eye on the litigation, Singer is still pushing to expand Strategic’s already big footprint. The company is seeing brisk demand for Careisma, a brand it launched last year with actress Sofia Vergara. In 27 years of business, Strategic has seen sales decline only once, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Singer said he doesn’t expect 2017 to be a second.

        (Corrects spelling of Sofia Vergara’s name in last paragraph.)

          Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-26/there-s-a-10-billion-fight-to-keep-you-from-dying-in-the-hospital

          GE’s $100 Billion Wipeout Heralds Reckoning for an American Icon

          Few under the age of 30 might remember, but General Electric Co. was once a model of corporate greatness.

          Back in 1999, when Steve Jobs was still fiddling with iMacs, Fortune magazine proclaimed Jack Welch, then GE’s chief executive officer, the best manager of the 20th Century.

          Few people — of whatever age — would lavish such praise on the manufacturer these days.

          GE, that paragon of modern management, has fallen so far that it’s scarcely recognizable. The old GE is dead, undone by an unfortunate mix of missteps and bad luck. The new one now confronts some of the most daunting challenges in the company’s 125-year history.

          The numbers tell the story: This year alone, roughly $100 billion has been wiped off GE’s stock market value. With mounting cash-flow problems at the once-mighty company, even the dividend is at risk of being cut. The last time GE chopped the payout was in the Great Recession — and before that, the Great Depression.

          Read more: Bloomberg Gadfly on GE dividend

          And yet the hit to the collective psyche of generations of investors and managers is incalculable. For decades, GE-think infiltrated boardrooms around the world. Six Sigma quality control, strict performance metrics, management boot camps — all that and more informed the MBAs of the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and into this century. GE, in turn, seeded corporate America with its executives.

          Anxious Investors

          Now, John Flannery, GE’s new CEO, is struggling to win back the trust of anxious investors. He’s set to detail his turnaround plans on Monday — and has said he’ll consider every option.

          “There’s nothing less than the fate of a once great, great company on the line,” said Thomas O’Boyle, the author of “At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit.” “Some of the fundamental notions about its status as a conglomerate and whether it can succeed in a world of increasing complexity are really being challenged right now.”

          In hindsight, the seeds of this struggle were planted decades ago. Welch expanded and reshaped GE with hundreds of acquisitions and demanded every GE unit be No. 1 or No. 2 in its industry. He also culled low-performers ruthlessly, earning the nickname Neutron Jack. By the time he retired, in 2001, GE’s market value had soared from less than $20 billion to almost $400 billion.

          But all that maneuvering, plus GE’s increasingly complex financial operations, obscured the underlying performance and put the company in peril during the 2008 financial crisis. Welch’s successor, Jeffrey Immelt, soon embarked on a plan to undo much of the House that Jack Built. He would sell NBC and most of the finance operations — two of the businesses that defined Welch’s tenure — along with units such as plastics and home-appliances.

          The moves narrowed GE’s focus, yet it remains a collection of somewhat disparate manufacturing businesses, ranging from jet engines to oilfield equipment.

          Out of Favor

          Unfortunately for GE, that industrial conglomerate model has fallen sharply out of favor on Wall Street. And the rise of activist investors like Nelson Peltz has encouraged companies to try to boost their stock prices however they can, rather than focus on the long term. GE recently welcomed one of Peltz’s partners at Trian Fund Management to the board.

          “The reckoning had to come,” said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer of Harbor Advisory, which has been a GE shareholder for more than 20 years before selling most of the shares in the past few weeks.

          GE’s leaders have long defended the multi-business strategy by pointing to the benefits of sharing technology across product lines — jet engines, for instance, have a lot in common with gas turbines. In an interview with Bloomberg in June, Flannery dismissed concerns about conglomerates, saying investors care more about outcomes.

          “They want growth, they want visibility, they want predictability, they want margin rate,” Flannery said. “And there are a multitude of models to produce that.”

          $20 Billion

          The new CEO has already said he’ll divest at least $20 billion of assets. He’s coming under pressure to do even more.

          “Anything less than a sweeping plan to ‘de-conglomerate’ the portfolio would be viewed as disappointing,” Deane Dray, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said this week in a note to clients. The potential moves include unloading its transportation, oil, health-care and lighting operations.

          Read more: Bloomberg Gadfly on a GE Breakup

          To be sure, GE’s issues run deeper than the composition of the company. One of its biggest divisions, power-generation, is in the early stages of a deep market slump — just two years after bulking up with the $10 billion acquisition of Alstom SA’s energy business. GE’s cash flow is light, potentially putting the dividend in jeopardy and driving investors away from the stock.

          Flannery has spoken of the need to change GE’s culture and instill a sense of accountability. He’s reined in excessive spending — on corporate cars and planes, on the new Boston headquarters — and replaced top executives.

          But the sudden changes, combined with Flannery’s relative lack of public reassurances, have spooked investors. In the days after Flannery’s first quarterly earnings as CEO, when he called GE’s performance “completely unacceptable,” the stock fell and fell. And fell some more, closing at the lowest level in five years on Nov. 2.

          The shares slid less than 1 percent to $19.99 on Thursday, bringing the 2017 loss to 37 percent.

          “You think about a company like Kodak. Will GE become that?” said Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business who served as GE’s professor-in-residence in 2008 and 2009.

          Some investors may be throwing in the towel, but Govindarajan isn’t giving up. “I will put my bet that GE will weather this and come back,” he said.

            Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-10/ge-s-100-billion-wipeout-heralds-reckoning-for-an-american-icon