Items tagged with: being
Year is 2013. I learn about a new, alpha-quality project called “GNOME Calendar.” Intriguing. I like calendars. “Cool, I’ll track that,” said my younger self. Heavy de…
Article word count: 855
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19534682
Posted by ekianjo (karma: 19453)
Post stats: Points: 90 - Comments: 42 - 2019-03-31T09:39:26Z
#HackerNews #being #free #maintainer #software
Year is 2013. I learn about a new, alpha-quality project called “GNOME Calendar.” Intriguing.
I like calendars.
“Cool, I’ll track that,” said my younger self. Heavy development was happening at the ui-rework branch. Every day, a few new commits. Pull, build, test. Except one day, no new commits. Nor the next day. Or week. Or month. Or year. I’m disappointed. Didn’t want that project to die. You know…
I like calendars.
“Nope. Not gonna happen,” also said my younger self. Clone, build, fix bugs, send patches. Maintainer’s interest in the project is renewed. We get a new icon, things get serious. We go to a new IRC room (!) and make the first public release of GNOME Calendar.
One year passes, it is now 2015. After contributing for more than a year, Erick made me the de facto GNOME Calendar maintainer ¹. A mix of positive emotions flows: proud of the achievement; excitement for being able to carry on with my ideas for the future of the application; fear, for the weight of the responsibility.
But heck, I am a free software maintainer now.
That was 4 years ago. Time passes, things happen, experience is built. Experience that differs from what I originally expected.
Being a free software maintainer is a funny place to find yourself in. Good things came from it. Bad things too. Also terrible. And weird.
Naturally, there is a strong sense of achievement when you, well, achieve maintainership of a project. Usually, getting there requires a large number of interactions during a long period of time. It means you are trusted. It means you are trustworthy. It means you are skilled enough.
It also usually means stronger community bonds. Getting to know excellent people, that know a lot and are willing to share and mentor and help, is a life-changing experience. There is a huge human value in being surrounded by great people.
For those of us who enjoy coding, hooray! Full plate. Planning releases, coding and doing reviews can be fun too. You will fix problems, find solutions, think and design your code. There is a plethora of problems to fix in this plane of existence, and you have the chance to independently fix a few of them by yourself.
And people. There are good people in this planet. You eventually will receive a thank you email, or you will be paid a coffee. One way or another, people find their way to you.
People really do find their way to you.
See, sometimes the software you maintain, well, it crashes. It may lose someone’s data. Someone may trigger a unique condition inside the code that you never managed to do. These people may get angry, sad, and frustrated ².
And they will find their way to you.
You will be demanded to fix your software. You will be shouted. Sometimes, the line may be crossed, and you will be abused. “How dare you not (use your free time to) fix this ultra high priority bug that is affecting me?” or “This is an absolutely basic feature! How is it not implemented yet (by you on your free time)?!” or even “You made me move to Software Y, and you need to win me back” are going to be realities you will have to face.
You may get emotional about your code. You may feel ashamed of what you did, and do. After all, your code has bugs, there are numerous issues opened at your bug tracker, and people are complaining non-stop. (Oh and, naturally, there will be someone who will try their best to put you down with that.)
At one point, you will look at your issue backlog and feel a subtle despair when realise you won’t ever be able to fix all the bugs.
If you are open to review other people’s contributions, there is a high change you will find challengers disguised as contributors. And your code review will be treated as an intellectual battle between good and evil. And you will need to explain and clarify over and over, and deal with circular logic, and pretty much any tool people might use to win battles instead of improving their code. And that is incredibly tiresome.
You will be told that you need to develop a thick skin. To ignore that, let it go, think positive and don’t pay attention to all the shit that is being thrown at you and why are you so goddamn negative you’re a maintainer for christ sake.
You may not feel the joy of working on what you work anymore. You may want to move on. You may also not do that due to the sense of responsibility that you have to your code, your community, and the people who use your software.
Unfortunately, being a free software maintainer may have a high price to your psychological and emotional health.
Four years ago, I certainly did not know that.
¹ – And by “maintainer”, I am talking about being an upstream code maintainer, not package maintainer.
² – Rightfully so. Nobody wants to lose their stuff, or have their workflow broken.
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In Vancouver, where sky-high real estate prices have made ownership impossible for many, it’s suddenly not too difficult to live like a king.
Article word count: 483
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19353686
Posted by mji (karma: 477)
Post stats: Points: 109 - Comments: 84 - 2019-03-10T19:05:09Z
#HackerNews #being #cheap #for #hundreds #luxury #mansions #rented #vancouver
In Vancouver, where sky-high real estate prices have made ownership impossible for many, it’s suddenly not too difficult to live like a king.
Last week, author and housing advocate Kishone Roy found approximately 800 Vancouver-area mansions for rent on Craigslist for prices well below what they would normally command.
Many of the mansions have ocean views and offer luxury amenities such as swimming pools, in-home cinemas, built-in saunas and wine cellars. In several cases, the homes are fully furnished.
Rather than the listings being a fluke, Roy kept finding more and more luxury properties.
“I didnʼt expect this,” Roy told CTV News. “I thought when there were 25 it was noteworthy. I didnʼt expect to find 800.”
The city of Vancouver is facing a crisis in housing affordability, with one bedroom units averaging about $1,730 per month.
But these rentals offer a single room in a multi-bedroom house for anywhere between $700 and $1,500, with more than 5,000 empty bedrooms available across the city.
“Maybe the cheapest real estate right now is mansion rentals,” Roy said.
While most owners contacted by CTV News said they don’t want groups renting out the homes, the rentals present a cheaper housing alternative for students and young professionals.
Sehrish Qureshi is one of 14 students who applied online and was placed in a Vancouver mansion nicknamed “the castle,” paying around $1,000 a month for a mansion with a pool, home theatre, and games room.
When move-in day arrived, she was shocked by the furnished, $5-million home.
“Me and my family were just like, ‘What? Is this for real?’” she said.
“I’ve compared it to some of my classmates, and they pay, like, $1,300, $1,400 for small studio apartments in downtown … I’m so happy with what I’m paying.”
It’s a situation that might not seem to make sense, but realtor Kevin Wang says the answer is a simple one.
“The speculator tax is really the big one,” Wang said. “It hit the market.”
Last year, B.C. introduced new taxes targeting real estate speculators who purchased property, only to leave it sitting empty.
Under the new rules, if a property has a foreign owner and is left vacant, Vancouver can tax the owner for 1 per cent of the property’s assessed value, while B.C. can claim another 2 per cent.
That means on a multi-million-dollar property, the taxes can easily surpass $100,000. But if an owner opts to rent -- even for a pittance – they’ll save money.
While many owners seem to be asking a monthly rent almost exactly the monthly tax cost, some seem to be open to taking much less.
“I thought I was imagining things until I called a mansion broker today and offered to rent one for $1 for the year,” Roy wrote on Twitter.
“She quickly took my number, and even asked if there was a specific mansion I had in mind.”
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As she sat in the airport with a one-way ticket in her hand, Tiffany Filler wondered how she would pick up the pieces of her life, with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and nothing to show…
Article word count: 2965
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19345462
Posted by DyslexicAtheist (karma: 11327)
Post stats: Points: 115 - Comments: 114 - 2019-03-09T10:16:50Z
#HackerNews #after #being #claims #expelled #for #grade #hacking #innocence #student #tufts
As she sat in the airport with a one-way ticket in her hand, Tiffany Filler wondered how she would pick up the pieces of her life, with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and nothing to show for it.
A day earlier, she was expelled from Tufts University veterinary school. As a Canadian, her visa was no longer valid and she was told by the school to leave the U.S. “as soon as possible.” That night, her plane departed the U.S. for her native Toronto, leaving any prospect of her becoming a veterinarian behind.
Filler, 24, was accused of an elaborate months-long scheme involving stealing and using university logins to break into the student records system, view answers, and alter her own and other students’ grades.
The case Tufts presented seems compelling, if not entirely believable.
There’s just one problem: In almost every instance that the school accused Filler of hacking, she was elsewhere with proof of her whereabouts or an eyewitness account and without the laptop she’s accused of using. She has alibis: fellow students who testified to her whereabouts; photos with metadata putting her miles away at the time of the alleged hacks; and a sleep tracker that showed she was asleep during others.
Tufts is either right or it expelled an innocent student on shoddy evidence four months before she was set to graduate.
– – –
Guilty until proven innocent
Tiffany Filler always wanted to be a vet.
Ever since she was a teenager, she set her sights on her future career. With almost four years under her belt at Tufts, which is regarded as one of the best schools for veterinary medicine in North America, she could have written her ticket to any practice. Her friends hold her in high regard, telling me that she is honest and hardworking. She kept her head down, earning cumulative grade point averages of 3.9 for her masters and 3.5 for her doctorate.
For a time, she was even featured on the homepage of Tufts’ vet school. She was a model final-year student.
Tufts didn’t see it that way.
Filler was called into a meeting on the main campus on August 22 where the university told her of an investigation. She had “no idea” about the specifics of the hacking allegations, she told me on a phone call, until October 18 when she was pulled out of her shift, still in her bloodied medical scrubs, to face the accusations from the ethics and grievance committee.
For three hours, she faced eight senior academics, including one who is said to be a victim of her alleged hacks. The allegations read like a court docket, but Filler said she went in knowing nothing that she could use to defend herself.
Tufts said she stole a librarian’s password to assign a mysteriously created user account, “Scott Shaw,” with a higher level of system and network access. Filler allegedly used it to look up faculty accounts and reset passwords by swapping out the email address to one she’s accused of controlling, or in some cases obtaining passwords and bypassing the school’s two-factor authentication system by exploiting a loophole that simply didn’t require a second security check, which the school has since fixed.
Tufts accused Filler of using this extensive system access to systematically log in as “Scott Shaw” to obtain answers for tests, taking the tests under her own account, said to be traced from either her computer — based off a unique identifier, known as a MAC address — and the network she allegedly used, either the campus’s wireless network or her off-campus residence. When her grades went up, sometimes other students’ grades went down, the school said.
In other cases, she’s alleged to have broken into the accounts of several assessors in order to alter existing grades or post entirely new ones.
Tiffany Filler, left, with her mother in a 2017 photo at Tufts University.
The bulk of the evidence came from Tufts’ IT department, which said each incident was “well supported” from log files and database records. The evidence pointed to her computer over a period of several months, the department told the committee.
“I thought due process was going to be followed,” said Filler, in a call. “I thought it was innocent until proven guilty until I was told ‘you’re guilty unless you can prove it.ʼ”
Like any private university, Tufts can discipline — even expel — a student for almost any reason.
“Universities can operate like shadow criminal justice systems — without any of the protections or powers of a criminal court,” said Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research at FIRE, a rights group for America’s colleges and universities. “They’re without any of the due process protections for someone accused of something serious, and without any of the powers like subpoenas that you’d need to gather all of the technical evidence.”
Students face an uphill battle in defense of any charges of wrongdoing. As was the case with Filler, many students aren’t given time to prepare for hearings, have no right to an attorney, and are not given any or all of the evidence. Some of the broader charges, such as professional misconduct or ethical violations, are even harder to fight. Grade hacking is one such example — and one of the most serious offenses in academia. Where students have been expelled, many have also faced prosecution and the prospect of serving time in prison on federal computer hacking charges.
Harris reviewed documents we provided outlining the university’s allegations and Filler’s appeal.
“It’s troubling when I read her appeal,” said Harris. “It looks as though [the school has] a lot of information in their sole possession that she might try to use to prove her innocent, and she wasn’t given access to that evidence.”
Access to the university’s evidence, she said, was “critical” to due process protections that students should be given, especially when facing suspension or expulsion.
A month later, the committee served a unanimous vote that Filler was the hacker and recommended her expulsion.
– – –
A RAT in the room
What few facts Filler and Tufts could agree on is that there almost certainly was a hacker. They just disagreed on who the hacker was.
Struggling for answers and convinced her MacBook Air — the source of the alleged hacks — was itself compromised, she paid for someone through freelance marketplace Fiverr to scan her computer. Within minutes, several malicious files were found, chief among which were two remote access trojans — or RATs — commonly used by jilted or jealous lovers to spy on their exes’ webcams and remotely control their computers over the internet. The scan found two: Coldroot and CrossRAT. The former is easily deployed, and the other is highly advanced malware, said to be linked to the Lebanese government.
Evidence of a RAT might suggest someone had remote control of her computer without her knowledge. But existence of both on the same machine, experts say, is unlikely if not entirely implausible.
Thomas Reed, director of Mac and Mobile at Malwarebytes, the same software used to scan Filler’s computer, confirmed the detections but said there was no conclusive evidence to show the malware was functional.
“The Coldroot infection was just the app and was missing the launch daemon that would have been key to keeping it running,” said Reed.
Even if it were functional, how could the hacker have framed her? Could Filler have paid someone to hack her grades? If she paid someone to hack her grades, why implicate her — and potentially the hacker — by using her computer? Filler said she was not cautious about her own cybersecurity — insofar that she pinned her password to a corkboard in her room. Could this have been a stitch-up? Was someone in her house trying to frame her?
The landlord told me a staff resident at Tufts veterinary school, who has since left the house, “has bad feelings” and “anger” toward Filler. The former housemate may have motive but no discernible means. We reached out to the former housemate for comment but did not hear back, and therefore are not naming the person.
Filler took her computer to an Apple Store, claiming the “mouse was acting on its own and the green light for the camera started turning on,” she said. The support staff backed up her files but wiped her computer, along with any evidence of malicious software beyond a handful of screenshots she took as part of the dossier of evidence she submitted in her appeal.
It didn’t convince the grievance committee of possible malicious interference.
“Feedback from [IT]indicated that these issues with her computer were in no way related to the alleged allegations,” said Angie Warner, the committee’s acting chair, in an email we’ve seen, recommending Filler’s expulsion. Citing an unnamed IT staffer, the department claimed with “high degree of certainty” that it was “highly unlikely” that the grade changes were “performed by malicious software or persons without detailed and extensive hacking ability.”
Unable to prove who was behind the remote access malware — or even if it was active — she turned back to fighting her defense.
– – –
It took more than a month before Filler would get the specific times of the alleged hacks, revealing down to the second when each breach happened
Filler thought she could convince the committee that she wasn’t the hacker, but later learned that the timings “did not factor” into the deliberations of the grievance committee, wrote Tufts’ veterinary school dean Joyce Knoll in an email dated December 21.
But Filler said she could in all but a handful of cases provide evidence showing that she was not at her computer.
In one of the first allegations of hacking, Filler was in a packed lecture room, with her laptop open, surrounded by her fellow vet school colleagues both besides and behind her. We spoke to several students who knew Filler — none wanted to be named for fear of retribution from Tufts — who wrote letters to testify in Filler’s defense.
All of the students we spoke to said they were never approached by Tufts to confirm or scrutinize their accounts. Two other classmates who saw Filler’s computer screen during the lecture told me they saw nothing suspicious — only her email or the lecture slides.
Another time Filler is accused of hacking, she was on rounds with other doctors, residents and students to discuss patients in their care. One student said Filler was “with the entire rotation group and the residents, without any access to a computer” for two hours.
For another accusation, Filler was out for dinner in a neighboring town. “She did not have her laptop with her,” said one of the fellow student who was with Filler at dinner. The other students sent letters to Tufts in her defense. Tufts said on that occasion, her computer — eight miles away from the restaurant — was allegedly used to access another staff member’s login and tried to bypass the two-factor authentication, using an iPhone 5S, a model Filler doesn’t own. Filler has an iPhone 6. (We asked an IT systems administrator at another company about Duo audit logs: They said if a device not enrolled with Duo tried to enter a valid username and password but couldn’t get past the two-factor prompt, the administrator would only see the device’s software version and not see the device type. A Duo spokesperson confirmed that the system does not collect device names.)
Filler, who wears a Xiaomi fitness and sleep tracker, said the tracker’s records showed she was asleep in most, but not all of the times she’s accused of hacking. She allowed TechCrunch to access the data in her cloud-stored account, which confirmed her accounts.
The list of accusations included a flurry of activity from her computer at her residence, Tufts said took place between 1am and 2am on June 27, 2018 — during which her fitness tracker shows she was asleep — and from 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on June 28, 2018.
But Filler was 70 miles away visiting the Mark Twain House in neighboring Hartford, Connecticut. She took two photos of her visit — one of her in the house, and another of her standing outside.
We asked Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker who founded cybersecurity and digital forensics firm Rendition Infosec, to examine the metadata embedded in the photos. The photos, taken from her iPhone, contained a matching date and time for the alleged hack, as well as a set of coordinates putting her at the Mark Twain House.
While photo metadata can be modified, Williams said the signs he expected to see for metadata modification weren’t there. “There is no evidence that these were modified,” he said.
Yet none of it was good enough to keep her enrolled at Tufts. In a letter on January 16 affirming her expulsion, Knoll rejected the evidence.
“Date stamps are easy to edit,” said Knoll. “In fact, the photos you shared with me clearly include an ‘edit’ button in the upper corner for this exact purpose,” she wrote, referring to the iPhone software’s native photo editing feature. “Why wait until after you’d been informed that you were going to be expelled to show me months’ old photos?” she said.
“My decision is final,” said her letter. Filler was expelled.
Filler’s final expulsion letter. (Image: supplied)
– – –
The little things
Filler is back home in Toronto. As her class is preparing to graduate without her in May, Tufts has already emailed her to begin reclaiming her loans.
News of Filler’s expulsion was not unexpected given the drawn-out length of the investigation, but many were stunned by the result, according to the students we spoke to. From the time of the initial investigation, many believed Filler would not escape the trap of “guilty until proven innocent.”
“I do not believe Tiffany received fair treatment,” said one student. “As a private institution, it seems like we have few protections [or]ways of recourse. If they could do this to Tiffany, they could do it to any of us.”
TechCrunch sent Tufts a list of 19 questions prior to publication — including if the university hired qualified forensics specialists to investigate, and if law enforcement was contacted and whether the school plans to press criminal charges for the alleged hacking.
“Due to student privacy concerns, we are not able to discuss disciplinary matters involving any current or former student of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University,” said Tara Pettinato, a Tufts spokesperson. “We take seriously our responsibility to ensure our students’ privacy, to maintain the highest standards of academic integrity, and to adhere to our policies and processes, which are designed to be fair and equitable to all students.”
We asked if the university would answer our questions if Filler waived her right to privacy. The spokesperson said the school “is obligated to follow federal law and its own standards and practices relating to privacy,” and would not discuss disciplinary matters involving any current or former student.
The spokesperson declined to comment further.
But even the little things don’t add up.
Tufts never said how it obtained her IP address. Her landlord told me Tufts never asked for it, let alone confirmed it was accurate. Courts have thrown out cases that rely on them as evidence when others share the same network. MAC addresses can identify devices but can be easily spoofed. Filler owns an iPhone 6, not an iPhone 5S, as claimed by Tufts. And her computer name was different to what Tufts said.
And how did she allegedly get access to the “Scott Shaw” password in the first place?
Warner, the committee chair, said in a letter that the school “does not know” how the initial librarian’s account was compromised, and that it was “irrelevant” if Filler even created the “Scott Shaw” account.
Many accounts were breached as part of this apparent elaborate scheme to alter grades, but there is no evidence Tufts hired any forensics experts to investigate. Did the IT department investigate with an inherent confirmation bias to try to find evidence that connected Filler’s account with the suspicious activity, or were the allegations constructed after Filler was identified as a suspect? And why did the university take months from the first alleged hack to move to protect user accounts with two-factor authentication, and not sooner?
“The data they are looking at doesn’t support the conclusions they’ve drawn,” said Williams, following his analysis of the case. “It’s entirely possible that the data they’re relying on — is far from normal or necessary burdens of evidence that you would use for an adverse action like this.
“They did DIY forensics,” he continued. “And they opened themselves up to legal exposure by doing the investigation themselves.”
Not every story has a clear ending. This is one of them. As much as you would want answers reading this far into the story, we do, too.
But we know two things for certain. First, Tufts expelled a student months before she was set to graduate based on a broken system of academic-led, non-technical committees forced to rely on weak evidence from IT technicians who had no discernible qualifications in digital forensics. And second, it doesn’t have to say why.
Or as one student said: “We got her side of the story, and Tufts was not transparent.”
Extra Crunch members — join our conference call on Tuesday, March 12 at 11AM PST / 2PM EST with host Zack Whittaker. He’ll discuss the story’s developments and take your questions. Not a member yet? Learn more about Extra Crunch and try it free.
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Charles Dahan was a leading supplier of frames to LensCrafters, before the company was purchased by Luxottica. Glasses that cost him $20 to make would be sold for five times that amount.
Article word count: 1157
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19312499
Posted by ilamont (karma: 25065)
Post stats: Points: 180 - Comments: 165 - 2019-03-05T17:56:23Z
#HackerNews #all #are #badly #being #execs #eyewear #former #how #industry #off #ripped #tell
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Charles Dahan knows from first-hand experience how badly people get ripped off when buying eyeglasses.
He was once one of the leading suppliers of frames to LensCrafters, before the company was purchased by optical behemoth Luxottica. He also built machines that improved the lens-manufacturing process.
In other words, Dahan, 70, knows the eyewear business from start to finish. And he doesn’t like what’s happened.
“There is no competition in the industry, not any more,” he told me. “Luxottica bought everyone. They set whatever prices they please.”
Dahan, who lives in Potomac, Md., was responding to a column I recently wrote about why consumer prices for frames and lenses are so astronomically high, with markups often approaching 1,000%.
I noted that if you wear designer glasses, there’s a very good chance you’re wearing Luxottica frames.
The company’s owned and licensed brands include Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue and Versace.
Along with LensCrafters, Luxottica also runs Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Sunglass Hut and Target Optical, as well as the insurer EyeMed Vision Care.
And Italy’s Luxottica now casts an even longer shadow over the eyewear industry after merging last fall with France’s Essilor, the world’s leading maker of prescription eyeglass lenses and contact lenses. The combined entity is called EssilorLuxottica.
Just so you know up front, I reached out to both Luxottica and its parent company with what Dahan told me. I asked if they’d like to respond to his specific points or to speak generally about optical pricing.
Neither company responded, which was the same response I received the last time I contacted them.
Apparently EssilorLuxottica feels no need to defend its business practices. Or it understands that no reasonable defense is possible.
Dahan, a chemical engineer by training, established a company called Custom Optical in 1977 after designing a machine capable of making prescription lenses appear thinner.
In short order he also was designing plastic and metal frames, and proposed to LensCrafters in 1985 that he supply the then-independent company.
“They bought my lens machines, and soon I was selling them a few models of frames,” Dahan said. “Those were successful, so they kept buying more.”
Eventually, he said, his company was supplying LensCrafters with about 20% of its frames. “They called me their crown jewel,” Dahan said.
E. Dean Butler, the founder of LensCrafters, remembers Dahan as “a real go-getter.”
“He was a key supplier — good product at reasonable prices,” Butler, 74, said in a phone interview from Berlin, where he was meeting with optical-industry contacts.
He’s no longer affiliated with LensCrafters. These days he’s based in England, but serves as a consultant to optical businesses worldwide.
Both Butler and Dahan acknowledged what most consumers have long suspected: that the prices we pay for eyewear in no way reflect the actual cost of making frames and lenses.
When he was in the business, in the 1980s and ’90s, Dahan said it cost him between $10 and $16 to manufacture a pair of quality plastic or metal frames.
Lenses, he said, might cost about $5 a pair to produce. With fancy coatings, that could boost the price all the way to $15.
He said LensCrafters would turn around and charge $99 for completed glasses that cost $20 or $30 to make — and this was well below what many independent opticians charged. Nowadays, he said, those same glasses at LensCrafters might cost hundreds of dollars.
Butler said he recently visited factories in China where many glasses for the U.S. market are manufactured. Improved technology has made prices even lower than what Dahan recalled.
“You can get amazingly good frames, with a Warby Parker level of quality, for $4 to $8,” Butler said. “For $15, you can get designer-quality frames, like what you’d get from Prada.”
And lenses? “You can buy absolutely first-quality lenses for $1.25 apiece,” Butler said.
Yet those same frames and lenses might sell in the United States for $800.
Butler laughed. “I know,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s a complete rip-off.”
In 1995, Luxottica purchased LensCrafters’ parent company, U.S. Shoe Corp., for $1.4 billion. The goal wasn’t to get into the shoe business. It was to take control of LensCrafters’ hundreds of stores nationwide.
Dahan said things went downhill for him after that. Luxottica increasingly emphasized its own frames over those of outside suppliers, he said, and Custom Optical’s sales plunged. Dahan was forced to close his business in 2001.
“It wasn’t just me,” he said. “It happened to a lot of companies. Look at Oakley.”
Indeed, the California maker of premium sunglasses was embraced by skiers and other outdoorsy types after it released its first sunglasses in 1984.
It raised $230 million with an initial public offering of stock in 1995. It’s biggest customer by far was Sunglass Hut, which, like LensCrafters, had stores in malls across the country.
Luxottica purchased Sunglass Hut in early 2001. It promptly told Oakley it wanted to pay significantly lower wholesale prices or it would reduce its orders and push its own brands instead.
Within months, Oakley acknowledged to shareholders that the talks hadn’t gone well and that Luxottica was slashing its orders.
“We have made every reasonable effort to establish a mutually beneficial business partnership with Luxottica, but it is clear from this weekʼs surprising actions that our efforts have been ignored,” Oakley’s management said in a statement at the time.
The company’s stock immediately lost more than a third of its value.
Luxottica acquired Oakley a few years later, adding it to Ray-Ban, which Luxottica obtained in 1999.
“That’s how they gained control of so many brands,” Dahan said. “If you don’t do what they want, they cut you off.”
Again, no one at Luxottica responded to my request for comment.
As I’ve previously observed, online glasses sales hold potential for pushing retail eyewear prices lower, but the e-glasses industry still has a ways to go before posing a threat to the likes of EssilorLuxottica.
It can be a challenge buying something so central to one’s appearance without first trying it on or receiving hands-on help with fitting.
In the meantime, Dahan and Butler told me, federal authorities should step up and prevent price gouging for eyewear — just as they’ve done with other healthcare products, such as EpiPens.
“Federal officials fell asleep at the wheel,” Dahan said. “They should never have allowed all these companies to roll into one. It destroyed competition.”
Butler said it should be clear from EssilorLuxottica’s practices that the company has too much market power. “If that’s not a monopoly,” he said, “I don’t know what is.”
I couldn’t agree more. Regulators are currently wringing their hands over further consolidation in the wireless industry, with a proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile raising the prospect of just three major carriers.
The eyewear market is in considerably worse shape.
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I’ve been acting in the role of Engineering Manager for 6 months now, so it’s a good time to review how things are going. Some of the points below could be obvious to some and not everything will work…
Article word count: 2150
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19186657
Posted by boyter (karma: 5111)
Post stats: Points: 144 - Comments: 47 - 2019-02-17T20:27:20Z
#HackerNews #being #engineering #manager
I’ve been acting in the role of Engineering Manager for 6 months now, so it’s a good time to review how things are going. Some of the points below could be obvious to some and not everything will work in all situations, but I hope I can accurately describe my perspective.
A little bit of background for you, first, to set the scene. The organisation I work for had endured several restructures over the past few years, but the most recent one was probably the most impactful for me. For the first time, I had the option of acting in a people management role as an Engineering Manager.
Previously, most of my roles for the past few years at this organisation and prior have revolved around solution designer or architect. I was used to communicating with many different stakeholder groups and providing technical leadership, even if I didn’t realise it. The area where I’ve worked the past 4 years has been tasked with developing and supporting all kinds of online and digital platforms and products, so the core function of our division hasn’t really changed significantly. We’ve weathered a few name changes along the way, of course.
One of the key elements of the most recent restructure was to remove the need to fund and run initiatives as projects, and instead, run as long-lived products. This strategy is still in the process of coming to fruition (I think I heard some people say we’re still in the ‘storming’ phase, which I think is accurate). Read more about running teams as products in a previous blog.
To keep things simple, a new set of 6 Engineering Managers was appointed, of which half were acting. I was one of the 3 people to gain an acting position, which is definitely a promotion from my previous roles. I thought I’d give the role a go, especially when combined with decent support from senior management as I would be learning new skills.
In my organisaton, an Engineering Manager is someone who manages an engineering team, comprised of developers, quality assurance (testers), build & operations and solution designers.
Some of the reasons I agreed to take up the role was:
* I’d never experienced people management and would like to pick up a new set of skills * I knew pretty much everyone in the division, so I was in a reasonable position to ‘get things done’ with the support and respect of my peers * It’s an acting position, so I wouldn’t be stuck in it if I didn’t like it (I worked to define my substantive position, in case I wasn’t successful in becoming an officially appointed Engineering Manager) * I’d be managing staff who look after 4 key platform areas: Analytics, Search, Identity Management and Content Recommendations * The 4 platforms I was already intimately across since I’d either built it, designed it or procured it
The Engineering Manager positions were interesting because we have a reasonable number of engineers, but few managers. So, I would pick up 13 direct reports (which is a lot for a newbie!) and others would have up to 35 direct reports. Looking at the numbers alone, managing 13 people was a bit daunting, but in reality not everyone is a full-time employee. I have a mix of full-time, fixed-term contract and day-rate contract. Each style of employment has a differing requirement, from performance management and development plans, to contract renewal processes, and finally approving timesheeting.
Some of the new processes which I had never been in before included:
* Approving leave, travel and expense claims (to a limit) * Performance management, job plans, individual development plans and appraisals * 1-on-1 meetings * Timesheeting * Budgeting * Hiring * … and sometimes receiving bad news when people decide to move on (not to give anyone ideas, of course!)
First blood: my poor calendar
My role has always been dominated by an incredible calendar, which I have written about before also. I say incredible, but really it’s often 7 hours of meetings a day. I do say “at least you get paid to be in meetings” but sometimes it can be too much. There’s simply no time between meetings to achieve something to talk about in the next meeting. I have a habit of being double and triple booked, even with an open calendar.
Despite my calendar already being so packed, I decided that one thing I wanted to do was proper 1-on-1’s with each member of my team. This means running them every fortnight, for up to an hour, where I would try to listen to my team more than me doing the talking. To make this time more valuable, I have been taking notes in a diary, with an entry for each 1-on-1 session, with clear actions in a page that’s shared with the individual. One reason is that I can’t possibly remember everything, but also as I’ve only been ‘acting’, I could use it as a source to handover my team to someone else, should I need it. Also, with my team member’s approval of this! Nothing super confidential is written in the page, because others may have admin access privileges and thus can read it, so I do exercise caution for this approach.
I’d be booking 13 x 1 hour sessions a fortnight, plus several daily standups, plus 2 x weekly 1 hour management meetings. This basically halves the amount of time you have to spend on anything else. Yowch!
Sometimes you can be a bit smarter about 1-on-1s:
* You don’t need to use the full hour if your team member doesn’t need it * If things come up or if the recurring meeting falls on a public holiday, you should always reschedule and at least give the option to be available * You can go for a walk. Yes! Outside! Be creative, it doesn’t always have to be a talk-fest in a meeting room (I remember going to pick up a package from the post office, chatting to one of my team members)
What I learnt
What I quickly discovered was that I really enjoy the technical aspects of my previous roles. I still enjoy dabbling in a bit of code here and there, just to stay sharp. It’s one of my strategies to make sure I still know what I’m talking about (or at least I try!). That’s also one of the reasons why, outside of my real job, I have other projects on the go.
The way the Engineering Manager position is described is a pure people management role. It’s all about developing a great engineering team, without having to do any of the technical work yourself. This poses the question for many senior technical people:
When’s the right time to give up the tools and become a people manager?
A lot of organisations have a well-defined technical track separate from a dedicated people track, which is usually split once you get to a high enough level. On the technical side, this is less defined in my organisation, however we’re still working through how this can work with roles like Lead Engineer and Principal Engineer. I think for a lot of us, making this decision is quite a tough one because often once you hit a certain level of technical mastery, outside of learning a new language or technology, it’s difficult to progress further.
Being labelled a ‘manager’ for the first time was also an interesting experience, which took people a while to get used to. Actually, it even took me some time to get used to as well! I can’t remember any time when anyone wasn’t supportive of the new role, so that definitely made the transition easier for me.
It came time to apply for the role about half-way through my time as an Engineering Manager, so with 3 months experience, I had to make a decision. Would I apply for the role? Would I have a chance in being successful?
So what did I decide?
I went the technical route and chose not to apply for the Engineering Manager role. But why?
I had a bit of time to think about it and I can promise I didn’t just take the lazy option because I didn’t want to update my resume and apply for the job!
Here’s a few reasons that had me convinced:
* I had so little time for doing things like drawing diagrams (something that I actually really enjoy) or coding bits here and there * I enjoyed working across multiple solutions and products and wanted to ensure this continued * I have a strong depth of technical understanding, having been here for over 4 years, that it’s easy to make decisions with confidence * And this is the biggest one: I actually think with my skills, the organisation is better off with me as a Solution Designer/Architect. We actually really need someone to fill this role, to tie a lot of the systems together, to bring that knowledge to make sure we are technically aligned and things aren’t missed or repeated in a way which wastes resources. So I could actually ensure the Solution Architect role continued by not applying for the Engineering Manager role.
Sometimes, the organisation you work for might need you to do a certain role for a strategic reason, but remember: it is your life and your career, so it has to work for you as much as it has to work for the organisation. I believe I can achieve this balance with my substantive position.
Helping to develop people is tough! But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Fixing problems with a system or a computer is a lot easier (at least for me) than solving people’s problems. Understanding all of the nuances and complexities of a person can be a challenge, but it’s quite rewarding when you have a motivated and performing team.
If you’re given the opportunity to have a hand in managing people, by all means give it a go! You don’t really begin to comprehend what’s involved until you’ve tried. There are times when I actually find the management role to be very satisfying: when you can resolve people’s issues and you can make a real impact to someone’s career. It’s a noble role and does take great skill to be a supportive and effective leader. I’m not there yet, but maybe one day I will be.
What I realised about being ‘technical’
Being a technical person who’s been around involves more leadership than you realise. Unknowingly, I actually really enjoy aspects of leadership when it comes to achieving an outcome with a solid approach. This may include influencing people to bring them on board, as much as also learning from others all the time. Just because I’d like to focus on seemingly more technical outcomes doesn’t mean I don’t need to continue to develop soft skills on how to empathise, analyse, communicate and influence others. There’s a huge gap if you can invent the best solution given all kinds of constraints (time, people, skills, budget, performance, accessibility, legislation, policy, you name it) and you can’t get anyone else on board with your vision.
I also found I enjoy working closely with engineers - to the point of me standing up for the voice of the engineer - to make sure the team members who are doing the hard work are actually valued. It’s difficult to move things forward without the engineering community. This has many dynamics to it and it’s not always about sitting down in a work scenario to review code or walk through a solution design. It could be as simple as going to lunch with the team or making time to play boardgames. Mutual respect is an important power which is often overlooked when organisational “progress” takes the focus.
Some approaches which I find work for me:
* I like to share the solution and talk about it being “ours” or “we came up with it” rather than saying it’s mine. This is a reflection of truth not a façade because I would involve teams along the way as the solution is defined and developed * A focus on building sustainable solutions goes a long way if you’re planning on staying in an organisation for a long time: you don’t want to be leaving a scorched earth of technical debt as you jump from project to project and keeping operational teams engaged is paramount * Being across many things at once comes with it’s challenges, but it means you can be more effective in decision making because you understand more context * Straddling both senior management and engineering teams equally can be challenging but is rewarding because you’ll need most people on your side * Being open and sharing in thought with lots of documentation (even if it’s a work in progress) helps to build integrity
This brings me to today
Right now, I’m still acting as an Engineering Manager, holding the fort until the recruitment process is completed. I’m still happy to continue in this role in an acting capacity, because I have a great team who work on some pretty cool products and platforms. I’m still looking forward to getting some more time to draw the next diagram of course!
Plot, Diagram, Plan, Text
(I couldn’t help myself)
Inspiration for this post came from: https://blog.dbsmasher.com/2019/01/28/on-being-a-principal-engineer.html
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Despite being restricted to just 30 counties and cities, artificial intelligence system has already helped snare 8,721 officials
Article word count: 1234
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19072433
Posted by rakkhi (karma: 865)
Post stats: Points: 124 - Comments: 64 - 2019-02-03T21:46:15Z
\#HackerNews #being #chinas #corruption-busting #efficient #for #off #too #turned
What would you do if you had a machine to catch a thief? If you were a corrupt Chinese bureaucrat, you would want to ditch it, of course.
Resistance by government officials to a groundbreaking big data experiment is only one of many challenges as the Chinese government starts using new technology to navigate its giant bureaucracy.
According to state media, there were more than 50 million people on China’s government payroll in 2016, though analysts have put the figure at more than 64 million – slightly less than the population of Britain.
Xi Jinping tells judiciary and law enforcement agencies to ‘scrape away the poison’
To turn this behemoth into a seamless operation befitting the information age, China has started adapting various types of sophisticated technology. The foreign ministry, for instance, is using machine learning to aid in risk assessment and decision making for China’s major investment projects overseas.
Beijing has been developing a nationwide facial recognition system using surveillance cameras capable of identifying any person, anywhere, around the clock within seconds. In Guizhou, a cloud system tracks the movements of every policeman with a live status report.
Major Chinese telecommunication companies such as ZTE have won government contracts to develop blockchain technology to prevent the modification of government data by unauthorised people or organisations.
President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the necessity of promoting scientific and technological innovations such as big data and artificial intelligence (AI) in government reform.
Anti-corruption teams installed at China’s state banks, insurance companies
The challenge is implementing that vision on the ground. Look no further than an anti-corruption AI system dubbed by the researchers working it as “Zero Trust”.
Jointly developed and deployed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Communist Party’s internal control institutions to monitor, evaluate or intervene in the work and personal life of public servants, the system can access more than 150 protected databases in central and local governments for cross-reference.
According to people involved in the programme, this allows it to draw sophisticated, multiple layers of social relationship maps to derive behaviour analyses of government employees.
This was “particularly useful” in detecting suspicious property transfers, infrastructure construction, land acquisitions and house demolitions, a researcher said.
The system is not without its weaknesses, however.
“AI may quickly point out a corrupt official, but it is not very good at explaining the process it has gone through to reach such a conclusion,” the researcher said. “Although it gets it right in most cases, you need a human to work closely with it.”
Police chief kills himself after two colleagues detained in corruption probes
The system can immediately detect unusual increases in bank savings, for instance, or if there has been a new car purchase or bidding for a government contract under the name of an official or one of his family or friends.
Once its suspicions have been raised it will calculate the chances of the action being corrupt. If the result exceeds a set marker, the authorities are alerted.
A computer scientist involved in the programme who asked not to be named said that at that stage a superior could then contact the person under scrutiny and perhaps help him avoid “going down the road of no return with further, bigger mistakes”.
The Zero Trust experiment has been limited to 30 counties and cities, just 1 per cent of the country’s total administrative area. The local governments involved, including the Mayang Miao autonomous county in Hunan province, are located in relatively poor and isolated regions far away from China’s political power centres.
Another researcher involved in the programme said the idea was to “avoid triggering large-scale resistance among bureaucrats”, especially the most powerful ones, to the use of bots in governance.
Since 2012, Zero Trust has caught 8,721 government employees engaging in misconduct such as embezzlement, abuse of power, misuse of government funds and nepotism.
‘Crushing victory’: what’s next for Xi Jinping’s war on corruption?
While some were sentenced to prison terms, most were allowed to keep their jobs after being given a warning or minor punishment.
Still, some governments – including Mayang county, Huaihua city and Li county in Hunan – have decommissioned the machine, according to the researchers, one of whom said they “may not feel quite comfortable with the new technology”.
None of the local authorities responded to requests for comment.
Zhang Yi, an official at the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party in Ningxiang, Hunan province, said his agency was one of the few still using the system.
“It is not easy … we are under enormous pressure,” he said, insisting that the main purpose of the programme was not to punish officials but to “save them” at an “early stage of corruption”.
“We just use the machine’s result as reference,” Zhang said. “We need to check and verify its validity. The machine cannot pick up the phone and call the person with a problem. The final decision is always made by humans.”
Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai among elite prisoners in China’s ‘tigers’ cage’
Since Xi rose to power in 2012, more than 1.4 million party members and government employees are estimated to have been disciplined, including leaders like former security tsar Zhou Yongkang and former Chongqing strongman Bo Xilai.
A party disciplinary official in Xiushui county, Jiangxi, who took part in the Zero Trust project said no government officials were willing to provide the necessary data.
“But they usually comply with a bit of pressure,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the technology.
Disciplinary officials need to help scientists train the machine with their experience and knowledge accumulated from previous cases. For instance, disciplinary officials spent many hours manually tagging unusual phenomenon in various types of data sets to teach the machine what to look for.
Some officials might fabricate data, but the machine can compare information from different sources and flag discrepancies. It can even call up satellite images, for instance, to investigate whether the government funding to build a road in a village ended up in the pocket of an official, the researchers said.
Xi Jinping takes aim at more top generals as anticorruption drive rolls on
The system is still running in Xiushui, but its fate is uncertain. Some officials have questioned the machine’s right to access a sensitive database because there is neither a law nor regulation authorising a computer or robot to do so.
No wonder the system is being decommissioned by counties and cities that had signed up, and those still using it are facing enormous pressure, with the researchers seeing little or no hope of rolling it out nationwide.
The Zero Trust hump notwithstanding, artificial intelligence’s foray into other government sectors continues as the government is determined to use cutting-edge technology to its advantage. AI clerks, for example, have been recruited in some courts to read case files and help judges process lawsuits with higher speed and accuracy.
Last month, a court in Shanghai became the first ever in China to use an AI assistant at a public hearing, Xinhua reported.
The machine, code-named “206”, has the ability to record conversations, show evidence such as surveillance camera footage when mentioned by lawyers, and compare testimonies to help judges spot discrepancies, the report said.
One judge was quoted as saying it would reduce the likelihood of a wrong verdict.
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