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Udacity, the $1 billion online education startup, has laid off about 20 percent of its workforce and is restructuring its operations as the company’s co-founder Sebastian Thrun seeks to bring costs in…
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Udacity, the $1 billion online education startup, has laid off about 20 percent of its workforce and is restructuring its operations as the company’s co-founder Sebastian Thrun seeks to bring costs in line with revenue without curbing growth, TechCrunch has learned.
The objective is to do more than simply keep the company afloat, Thrun told TechCrunch in a phone interview. Instead, Thrun says these measures will allow Udacity from a money-losing operation to a “break-even or profitable company by next quarter and then moving forward.”
The 75 employees, including a handful of people in leadership positions, were laid off earlier today as part of a broader plan to restructure operations at Udacity. The startup now employs 300 full-time equivalent employees. It also employs about 60 contractors.
Udacity, which specializes in “nanodegrees” on a range of technical subjects that include AI, deep learning, digital marketing, VR and computer vision, has been struggling for months now, due in part to runaway costs and other inefficiencies. The company grew in 2017, with revenue increasing 100 percent year-over-year thanks to some popular programs like its self-driving car and deep learning nanodegrees, and the culmination of a previous turnaround plan architected by former CMO Shernaz Daver.
New programming was added in 2018, but the volume slowed. Those degrees that were added lacked the popularity of some of its other degrees. Meanwhile, costs expanded and their employee ranks swelled.
Udacity CEO Vishal Makhijani left in October and Thrun stepped in. He took over as chief executive and the head of content on an interim basis. Thrun, who founded X, Google’s moonshot factory, is also CEO of Kitty Hawk Corp., a flying-car startup. In an earlier interview, Thrun told TechCrunch that he discovered the company had grown too quickly and was burdened by its own self-inflicted red tape. Staff reductions soon followed. About 130 people were laid off and other open positions were left vacant, Thrun said.
Thrun insists these latest layoffs aren’t just a half-hearted attempt to quickly cut costs and instead are part of a strategic turnaround plan. He communicated that same thinking in the email sent to employees.
“By bringing our costs in line with our revenue and refocusing our product strategy, we believe we can continue to grow the overall business both in enterprise and consumer segments in fiscal 2019 and beyond, while also achieving a break-even position in terms of both cash flow and EBITA, which will ensure that we can continue to do our important work,” Thrun wrote toward the end of the email to employees.
Last year, Udacity generated about $90 million in revenue.
Even as Udacity slashes costs and headcount, it’s trying to expand its enterprise business, which has had recent success. Udacity now has contracts with 60 enterprise customers, including AT&T and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Airbus and Audi recently signed on, as well.
Udacity’s plan was developed largely by Lalit Singh, the interim COO hired in February. Singh conducted a review of the business, including its operating model and Udacity’s primary costs such as workforce, marketing and other non-workforce expenses. As a result of the review, Udacity has laid off more staff, streamlined operations and programming and cut other costs.
“We have tremendous opportunities in front of us, and we also have some challenges. To succeed, we have to ensure that we have an operating structure that allows us to be nimble, efficient, and better organized to win with fewer silos and frankly, reduced cost,” Thrun wrote in the email.
As of Tuesday, four executives who handle different aspects of the business now report directly to Thrun. Those executives include Singh, Alper Tekin, who recently became CPO, James Richard, who was VP of engineering and has been named CTO, and Caroline Finch, vice president of consumer growth.
Alex Varel, the company’s head of enterprise sales, and Jimmy Lee, head of enterprise operations, will now report to Singh.
The change is striking compared to October, when Thrun came back to temporarily fill the CEO role. At that time, 17 people reported to Thrun.
Udacity also has cut costs and streamlined its marketing efforts, downsized and consolidated office space and made its educational programming consistent throughout the various regions in which it operates, including the U.S., Brazil, China and India.
The company will keep an office, albeit a smaller space, in Mountain View, and one in San Francisco. Udacity is closing an additional satellite office in San Francisco and is evaluating its real estate needs in other countries, as well.
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Millions of Americans have taken antidepressants for many years. What happens when it’s time to stop?
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Laura Delano recognized that she was “excellent at everything, but it didn’t mean anything,” her doctor wrote. She grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest communities in the country. Her father is related to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and her mother was introduced to society at a débutante ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. In eighth grade, in 1996, Laura was the class president—she ran on a platform of planting daffodils on the school’s grounds—and among the best squash players in the country. She was one of those rare proportional adolescents with a thriving social life. But she doubted whether she had a “real self underneath.”
The oldest of three sisters, Laura felt as if she were living two separate lives, one onstage and the other in the audience, reacting to an exhausting performance. She snapped at her mother, locked herself in her room, and talked about wanting to die. She had friends at school who cut themselves with razors, and she was intrigued by what seemed to be an act of defiance. She tried it, too. “The pain felt so real and raw and mine,” she said.
Her parents took her to a family therapist, who, after several months, referred her to a psychiatrist. Laura was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and prescribed Depakote, a mood stabilizer that, the previous year, had been approved for treating bipolar patients. She hid the pills in a jewelry box in her closet and then washed them down the sink.
She hoped that she might discover a more authentic version of herself at Harvard, where she arrived as a freshman in 2001. Her roommate, Bree Tse, said, “Laura just blew me away—she was this golden girl, so vibrant and attentive and in tune with people.” On her first day at Harvard, Laura wandered the campus and thought, This is everything I’ve been working for. I’m finally here.
She tried out new identities. Sometimes she fashioned herself as a “fun, down-to-earth girl” who drank until early morning with boys who considered her chill. Other times, she was a postmodern nihilist, deconstructing the arbitrariness of language. “I remember talking with her a lot about surfaces,” a classmate, Patrick Bensen, said. “That was a recurring theme: whether the surface of people can ever harmonize with what’s inside their minds.”
During her winter break, she spent a week in Manhattan preparing for two débutante balls, at the Waldorf-Astoria and at the Plaza Hotel. She went to a bridal store and chose a floor-length strapless white gown and white satin gloves that reached above her elbows. Her sister Nina said that, at the Waldorf ball, “I remember thinking Laura was so much a part of it.”
Yet, in pictures before the second ball, Laura is slightly hunched over, as if trying to minimize the breadth of her muscular shoulders. She wears a thin pearl necklace, and her blond hair is coiled in an ornate bun. Her smile is pinched and dutiful. That night, before walking onstage, Laura did cocaine and chugged champagne. By the end of the party, she was sobbing so hard that the escort she’d invited to the ball had to put her in a cab. In the morning, she told her family that she didn’t want to be alive. She took literally the symbolism of the parties, meant to mark her entry into adulthood. “I didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I was trapped in the life of a stranger.”
Before Laura returned to Harvard, her doctor in Greenwich referred her to a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts. One of the oldest hospitals in New England, McLean has treated a succession of celebrity patients, including Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Sylvia Plath, who described it as “the best mental hospital in the US.” Laura’s psychiatrist had Ivy League degrees, and she felt grateful to have his attention. In his notes, he described her as an “engaging, outgoing, and intelligent young woman,” who “grew up with high expectations for social conformity.” She told him, “I lie in my bed for hours at a time staring at the wall and wishing so much that I could be ‘normal.’ ”
The psychiatrist confirmed her early diagnosis, proposing that she had bipolar II, a less severe form of the disorder. Laura was relieved to hear the doctor say that her distress stemmed from an illness. “It was like being told, It’s not your fault. You are not lazy. You are not irresponsible.” After she left the appointment, she felt joyful. “The psychiatrist told me who I was in a way that felt more concrete than I’d ever conceptualized before,” she said. “It was as though he could read my mind, as though I didn’t need to explain anything to him, because he already knew what I was going to say. I had bipolar disorder. I’d had it all along.” She called her father, crying. “I have good news,” she said. “He’s figured out the problem.”
[IMG]She began taking twenty milligrams of Prozac, an antidepressant; when she still didn’t feel better, her dose was increased to forty milligrams, and then to sixty. With each raised dose, she felt thankful to have been heard. “It was a way for me to mark to the world: this is how much pain I am in,” she said. Laura wasn’t sure whether Prozac actually lifted her mood—roughly a third of patients who take antidepressants do not respond to them—but her emotions felt less urgent and distracting, and her classwork improved. “I remember her carrying around this plastic pillbox with compartments for all the days of the week,” a friend from high school said. “It was part of this mysterious world of her psychiatric state.”
At parties, she flirted intently, but by the time she and a partner were together in bed, she said, “I’d kind of get hit with this realization that I was physically disconnected. And then I’d feel taken advantage of, and I would kind of flip out and start crying, and the guy would be, like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ” Most antidepressants dampen sexuality—up to seventy per cent of people who take the medications report this response—but Laura was ashamed to talk about the problem with her psychiatrist. “I assumed he’d see sexuality as a luxury,” she said. “He’d be, like, ‘Really? You have this serious illness, and you’re worried about that?’ ”
During her junior year, her pharmacologist raised her Prozac prescription to eighty milligrams, the maximum recommended dose. The Prozac made her drowsy, so he prescribed two hundred milligrams of Provigil, a drug for narcolepsy that is often taken by soldiers and truck drivers to stay awake during overnight shifts. The Provigil gave her so much energy that, she said, “I was just a machine.” She was on the varsity squash team and played the best squash of her life. She was so alert that she felt as if she could “figure people out,” unpacking the details of their identities: she imagined that she could peer into their childhoods and see how their parents had raised them.
The Provigil made it hard for Laura to sleep, so her pharmacologist prescribed Ambien, which she took every night. In the course of a year, her doctors had created what’s known as “a prescription cascade”: the side effects of one medication are diagnosed as symptoms of another condition, leading to a succession of new prescriptions. Her energy levels rose and fell so quickly that she was told she had a version of bipolar disorder called “rapid cycling,” a term that describes people who have four or more manic episodes in a year, but is also applied, more loosely, to people who shift dramatically between moods. Sometimes Laura thought, Women who are happy and socialize like to buy dresses. She’d go to Nordstrom and buy two or three dresses. She recognized that this behavior was “textbook”—she had bought her own copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—but the awareness didn’t prevent the purchases.
Laura felt that the pressures of her junior year were paralyzing, so she did not return for the spring semester. That summer, she kept a journal in which she outlined her personal goals: “overanalysis must go”; “stop molding myself to the ideal person for my surroundings”; “find some faith in something, in anything.” But the idea of returning to Harvard that fall made her so distressed that she thought every day about dying. She took the semester off, and, at her request, her parents drove her to a hospital in Westchester County, New York. A psychiatrist there wrote that she “presents with inability to function academically.” At the hospital, where she stayed for two weeks, she was put on a new combination of pills: Lamictal, a mood stabilizer; Lexapro, an antidepressant; and Seroquel, an antipsychotic that she was told to use as a sleep aid. Her father, Lyman, said, “I had no conviction that the drugs were helping. Or that they weren’t helping.”
Laura returned to Harvard and managed to graduate, an achievement she chalked up to muscle memory; she was the kind of student who could regurgitate information without absorbing it. Then she held a series of jobs—working as an assistant for a professor and for a state agency that issued building permits—that she didn’t believe would lead to a career. She experienced what John Teasdale, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, named “depression about depression.” She interpreted each moment of lethargy or disappointment as the start of a black mood that would never end. Psychiatric diagnoses can ensnare people in circular explanations: they are depressed because they are depressed.
Over the next four years, her doctors tripled her antidepressant dosage. Her dosage of Lamictal quadrupled. She also began taking Klonopin, which is a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that has sedative effects. “What I heard a lot was that I was ‘treatment-resistant,’ ” she said. “Something in me was so strong and so powerful that even these sophisticated medications couldn’t make it better.”
For a brief period, Laura saw a psychiatrist who was also a psychoanalyst, and he questioned the way that she’d framed her illness. He doubted her early bipolar diagnosis, writing that “many depressions are given a ‘medical’ name by a psychiatrist, ascribing the problem to ‘chemistry’ and neglecting the context and specificity of why someone is having those particular life problems at that particular time.” He reminded her, “You described hating becoming a woman.” Laura decided that “he wasn’t legit.” She stopped going to her appointments.
She rarely saw friends from high school or college. “At a certain point, it was just, Oh, my God, Laura Delano—she’s ill,” the friend from high school said. “She seemed really anesthetized.” Laura had gained nearly forty pounds since freshman year, which she attributes partly to the medications. When she looked in the mirror, she felt little connection to her reflection. “All I ever want to do is lie in my bed, cuddle with my dog, and read books from writers whose minds I can relate to,” she wrote to a psychiatrist. “That’s all I ever want to do.” She identified intensely with Plath, another brilliant, privileged, charismatic young woman who, in her journal, accuses herself of being just another “SELFISH, EGOCENTRIC, JEALOUS AND UNIMAGINATIVE FEMALE.” Laura said that, when she read Plath’s work, she “felt known for the first time.”
Laura found a psychiatrist she admired, whom I’ll call Dr. Roth. At appointments, Laura would enter a mode in which she could recount her psychic conflicts in a cool, clinical tone, taking pride in her psychiatric literacy. She saw her drugs as precision instruments that could eliminate her suffering, as soon as she and Dr. Roth found the right combination. “I medicated myself as though I were a finely calibrated machine, the most delicate error potentially throwing me off,” she later wrote. If she had coffee with someone and became too excited and talkative, she thought, Oh, my God, I might be hypomanic right now. If she woke up with racing thoughts, she thought, My symptoms of anxiety are ramping up. I should watch out for this. If they last more than a day or two, Dr. Roth may have to increase my meds.
The day before Thanksgiving, 2008, Laura drove to the southern coast of Maine, to a house owned by her late grandparents. Her extended family was there to celebrate the holiday. She noticed relatives tensing their shoulders when they talked to her. “She seemed muted and tucked away,” her cousin Anna said. When Laura walked through the house and the old wooden floorboards creaked beneath her feet, she felt ashamed to be carrying so much weight.
On her third day there, her parents took her into the living room, closed the doors, and told her that she seemed trapped. They were both crying. Laura sat on a sofa with a view of the ocean and nodded, but she wasn’t listening. “The first thing that came into my mind was: You’ve put everyone through enough.”
She went to her bedroom and poured eighty milligrams of Klonopin, eight hundred milligrams of Lexapro, and six thousand milligrams of Lamictal into a mitten. Then she sneaked into the pantry and grabbed a bottle of Merlot and put the wine, along with her laptop, into a backpack. Her sisters and cousins were getting ready to go to a Bikram-yoga class. Her youngest sister, Chase, asked her to join them, but Laura said she was going outside to write. “She looked so dead in her eyes,” Chase said. “There was no expression. There was nothing there, really.”
There were two trails to the ocean, one leading to a sandy cove and the other to the rocky coast, where Laura and her sisters used to fish for striped bass. Laura took the path to the rocks, passing a large boulder that her sister Nina, a geology major in college, had written her thesis about. The tide was low, and it was cold and windy. Laura leaned against a rock, took out her laptop, and began typing. “I will not try to make this poetic, for it shouldn’t be,” she wrote. “It is embarrassingly cliché to assume that one should write a letter to her loved ones upon ending her life.”
She swallowed a handful of pills at a time, washing them down with red wine. She found it increasingly hard to sit upright, and her vision began to narrow. As she lost consciousness, she thought, This is the most peaceful experience I’ve ever had. She felt grateful to be ending her life in such a beautiful place. She fell over and hit her head on a rock. She heard the sound but felt no pain.
When Laura hadn’t returned by dusk, her father walked along the shoreline with a flashlight until he saw her open laptop on a rock. Laura was airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital, but the doctors said they weren’t sure that she would ever regain consciousness. She was hypothermic, her body temperature having fallen to nearly ninety-four degrees.
[IMG]After two days in a medically induced coma, she woke up in the intensive-care unit. Her sisters and parents watched as she opened her eyes. Chase said, “She looked at all of us and processed that we were all there, that she was still alive, and she started sobbing. She said, ‘Why am I still here?’ ”
After a few days, Laura was transported to McLean Hospital, where she’d been elated to arrive seven years earlier. Now she was weak, dizzy, sweating profusely, and anemic. Her body ached from a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which results from the release of skeletal-muscle fibres into the bloodstream. She had a black eye from hitting the rock. Nevertheless, within a few days she returned to the mode she adopted among doctors. “Her eye contact and social comportment were intact,” a doctor wrote. Although she was still disappointed that her suicide hadn’t worked, she felt guilty for worrying her family. She reported having a “need to follow rules,” a doctor wrote. Another doctor noted that she did not seem to meet the criteria for major depression, despite her attempted suicide. The doctor proposed that she had borderline personality disorder, a condition marked by unstable relationships and self-image and a chronic sense of emptiness. According to her medical records, Laura agreed. “Maybe I’m borderline,” she said.
She was started on a new combination of medications: lithium, to stabilize her moods, and Ativan, a benzodiazepine, in addition to the antipsychotic Seroquel, which she had already been taking. Later, a second antipsychotic, Abilify, was added—common practice, though there was limited research justifying the use of antipsychotics in combination. “It is tempting to add a second drug just for the sake of ‘doing something,’ ” a 2004 paper in Current Medicinal Chemistry warns.
Shortly before Laura was discharged, she drafted a letter to the staff on her unit. “I truly don’t know where to begin in putting in words the appreciation I feel for what you’ve all done to help me,” she wrote. “It’s been so many years since I’ve felt the positive emotions—hope, mostly—that have flooded over me.” Unpersuaded by her own sentiment, she stopped the letter midsentence and never sent it.
Laura moved back home to live with her parents in Greenwich and spent her nights drinking with old friends. She told her psychiatrist, “I don’t feel grounded. . . . I am floating.” Her father encouraged her to “try to reach for one little tiny positive thought, so you can get a little bit of relief.” When she couldn’t arrive at one, he urged her, “Just think of Bitsy,” their cairn terrier.
When it was clear that positivity was out of reach, Laura began seeing a new psychiatrist at McLean, who embraced the theory that her underlying problem was borderline personality disorder. “It is unclear whether she has bipolar (as diagnosed in the past),” he wrote.
The concept of a borderline personality emerged in medical literature in the nineteen-thirties, encompassing patients who didn’t fit into established illness categories. Describing a borderline woman, the psychoanalyst Helene Deutsch, a colleague of Freud’s, said, “It is like the performance of an actor who is technically well trained but who lacks the necessary spark to make his impersonations true to life.” In 1980, the diagnosis was added to the DSM, which noted that “the disorder is more commonly diagnosed in women.” One of its defining features is a formless, shifting sense of self. An editorial in Lancet Psychiatry this year proposed that “borderline personality disorder is not so much a diagnosis as it is a liminal state.”
In 2010, Laura moved in with her aunt Sara, who lived outside Boston, and attended a day-treatment program for borderline patients. “It was another offering of what could fix me, and I hadn’t tried it,” she said. At her intake interview, she wore stretchy black yoga pants from the Gap, one of the few garments that allowed her to feel invisible. She said that the director of the program told her, “So, you went to Harvard. I bet you didn’t think you’d end up at a place like this.” Laura immediately started crying, though she knew that her response would be interpreted as “emotional lability,” a symptom of the disorder.
Laura had been content to be bipolar. “I fit into the DSM criteria perfectly,” she said. But borderline personality disorder didn’t feel blameless to her. Almost all the patients in Laura’s group were women, and many had histories of sexual trauma or were in destructive relationships. Laura said that she interpreted the diagnosis as her doctors saying, “You are a slutty, manipulative, fucked-up person.”
Laura sometimes drank heavily, and, at the suggestion of a friend, she had begun attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Laura was heartened by the stories of broken people who had somehow survived. The meetings lacked the self-absorption, the constant turning inward, that she felt at the clinic, where she attended therapy every day. When Laura’s pharmacologist prescribed her Naltrexone—a drug that is supposed to block the craving for alcohol—Laura was insulted. If she were to quit drinking, she wanted to feel that she had done it on her own. She was already taking Effexor (an antidepressant), Lamictal, Seroquel, Abilify, Ativan, lithium, and Synthroid, a medication to treat hypothyroidism, a side effect of lithium. The medications made her so sedated that she sometimes slept fourteen hours a night. When she slept through a therapy appointment, her therapist called the police to check on her at her aunt’s house. “That really jolted something in me,” Laura said.
In May, 2010, a few months after entering the borderline clinic, she wandered into a bookstore, though she rarely read anymore. On the table of new releases was “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” by Robert Whitaker, whose cover had a drawing of a person’s head labelled with the names of several medications that she’d taken. The book tries to make sense of the fact that, as psychopharmacology has become more sophisticated and accessible, the number of Americans disabled by mental illness has risen. Whitaker argues that psychiatric medications, taken in heavy doses over the course of a lifetime, may be turning some episodic disorders into chronic disabilities. (The book has been praised for presenting a hypothesis of potential importance, and criticized for overstating evidence and adopting a crusading tone.)
Laura wrote Whitaker an e-mail with the subject line “Psychopharms and Selfhood,” and listed the many drugs she had taken. “I grew up in a suburban town that emphasized the belief that happiness comes from looking perfect to others,” she wrote. Whitaker lived in Boston, and they met for coffee. Whitaker told me that Laura reminded him of many young people who had contacted him after reading the book. He said, “They’d been prescribed one drug, and then a second, and a third, and they are put on this other trajectory where their self-identity changes from being normal to abnormal—they are told that, basically, there is something wrong with their brain, and it isn’t temporary—and it changes their sense of resilience and the way they present themselves to others.”
At her appointments with her pharmacologist, Laura began to raise the idea of coming off her drugs. She had used nineteen medications in fourteen years, and she wasn’t feeling better. “I never had a baseline sense of myself, of who I am, of what my capacities are,” she said. The doctors at the borderline clinic initially resisted her requests, but they also seemed to recognize that her struggles transcended brain chemistry. A few months earlier, one doctor had written on a prescription pad, “Practice Self-Compassion,” and for the number of refills he’d written, “Infinite.”
Following her pharmacologist’s advice, Laura first stopped Ativan, the benzodiazepine. A few weeks later, she went off Abilify, the antipsychotic. She began sweating so much that she could wear only black. If she turned her head quickly, she felt woozy. Her body ached, and occasionally she was overwhelmed by waves of nausea. Cystic acne broke out on her face and her neck. Her skin pulsed with a strange kind of energy. “I never felt quiet in my body,” she said. “It felt like there was a current of some kind under my skin, and I was trapped inside this encasing that was constantly buzzing.”
A month later, she went off Effexor, the antidepressant. Her fear of people judging her circled her head in permutations that became increasingly invasive. When a cashier at the grocery store spoke to her, she was convinced that he was only pretending to be cordial—that what he really wanted to say was “You are a repulsive, disgusting, pathetic human.” She was overstimulated by the colors of the cereal boxes in the store and by the grating sounds of people talking and moving. “I felt as if I couldn’t protect myself from all this life lived around me,” she said.
She began to experience emotion that was out of context—it felt simultaneously all-consuming and artificial. “The emotions were occupying me and, on one level, I knew they were not me, but I felt possessed by them,” she said. Later, she found a community of people online who were struggling to withdraw from psychiatric medications. They’d invented a word to describe her experience: “neuro-emotion,” an exaggerated feeling not grounded in reality. The Web forum Surviving Antidepressants, which is visited by thousands of people every week, lists the many varieties of neuro-emotion: neuro-fear, neuro-anger, neuro-guilt, neuro-shame, neuro-regret. Another word that members used was “dystalgia,” a wash of despair that one’s life has been futile.
When on the drugs, Laura said, “I never had a baseline sense of myself.”
Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker
For many people on the forum, it was impossible to put the experience into words. “The effects of these drugs come so close to your basic ‘poles of being’ that it’s really hard to describe them in any kind of reliable way,” one person wrote. Another wrote, “This withdrawal process has slowly been stripping me of everything I believed about myself and life. One by one, parts of ‘me’ have been falling away, leaving me completely empty of any sense of being someone.”
It took Laura five months to withdraw from five drugs, a process that coincided with a burgeoning doubt about a diagnosis that had become a kind of career. When she’d experienced symptoms of depression or hypomania, she had known what to do with them: she’d remember the details and tell her psychiatrist. Now she didn’t have language to mark her experiences. She spent hours alone, watching “South Park” or doing jigsaw puzzles. When her aunt Sara updated the rest of the family about Laura, the news was the same: they joked that she had become part of the couch. Her family, Laura said, learned to vacuum around her. Had she come from a less well-off and generous family, she’s not sure she would have been able to go off her medications. Others in her situation might have lost their job and, without income, ended up homeless. It took six months before she felt capable of working part time.
Laura had always assumed that depression was caused by a precisely defined chemical imbalance, which her medications were designed to recalibrate. She began reading about the history of psychiatry and realized that this theory, promoted heavily by pharmaceutical companies, is not clearly supported by evidence. Genetics plays a role in mental disorder, as do environmental influences, but the drugs do not have the specificity to target the causes of an illness. Wayne Goodman, a former chair of the F.D.A.’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee, has called the idea that pills fix chemical imbalances a “useful metaphor” that he would never use with his patients. Ronald Pies, a former editor of Psychiatric Times, has said, “My impression is that most psychiatrists who use this expression”—that the pills fix chemical imbalances—“feel uncomfortable and a little embarrassed when they do so. It’s kind of a bumper-sticker phrase that saves time.”
Dorian Deshauer, a psychiatrist and historian at the University of Toronto, has written that the chemical-imbalance theory, popularized in the eighties and nineties, “created the perception that the long term, even life-long use of psychiatric drugs made sense as a logical step.” But psychiatric drugs are brought to market in clinical trials that typically last less than twelve weeks. Few studies follow patients who take the medications for more than a year. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke, who chaired the task force for the fourth edition of the DSM, in 1994, told me that the field has neglected questions about how to take patients off drugs—a practice known as “de-prescribing.” He said that “de-prescribing requires a great deal more skill, time, commitment, and knowledge of the patient than prescribing does.” He emphasizes what he called a “cruel paradox: there’s a large population on the severe end of the spectrum who really need the medicine” and either don’t have access to treatment or avoid it because it is stigmatized in their community. At the same time, many others are “being overprescribed and then stay on the medications for years.” There are almost no studies on how or when to go off psychiatric medications, a situation that has created what he calls a “national public-health experiment.”
Roland Kuhn, a Swiss psychiatrist credited with discovering one of the first antidepressants, imipramine, in 1956, later warned that many doctors would be incapable of using antidepressants properly, “because they largely or entirely neglect the patient’s own experiences.” The drugs could only work, he wrote, if a doctor is “fully aware of the fact that he is not dealing with a self-contained, rigid object, but with an individual who is involved in constant movement and change.”
A decade after the invention of antidepressants, randomized clinical studies emerged as the most trusted form of medical knowledge, supplanting the authority of individual case studies. By necessity, clinical studies cannot capture fluctuations in mood that may be meaningful to the patient but do not fit into the study’s categories. This methodology has led to a far more reliable body of evidence, but it also subtly changed our conception of mental health, which has become synonymous with the absence of symptoms, rather than with a return to a patient’s baseline of functioning, her mood or personality before and between episodes of illness. “Once you abandon the idea of the personal baseline, it becomes possible to think of emotional suffering as relapse—instead of something to be expected from an individual’s way of being in the world,” Deshauer told me. For adolescents who go on medications when they are still trying to define themselves, they may never know if they have a baseline, or what it is. “It’s not so much a question of Does the technology deliver?” Deshauer said. “It’s a question of What are we asking of it?”
Antidepressants are now taken by roughly one in eight adults and adolescents in the U.S., and a quarter of them have been doing so for more than ten years. Industry money often determines the questions posed by pharmacological studies, and research about stopping drugs has never been a priority.
Barbiturates, a class of sedatives that helped hundreds of thousands of people to feel calmer, were among the first popular psychiatric drugs. Although leading medical journals asserted that barbiturate addiction was rare, within a few years it was evident that people withdrawing from barbiturates could become more anxious than they were before they began taking the drugs. (They could also hallucinate, have convulsions, and even die.)
Valium and other benzodiazepines were introduced in the early sixties, as a safer option. By the seventies, one in ten Americans was taking Valium. The chief of clinical pharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital declared, in 1976, “I have never seen a case of benzodiazepine dependence” and described it as “an astonishingly unusual event.” Later, though, the F.D.A. acknowledged that people can become dependent on benzodiazepines, experiencing intense agitation when they stop taking them.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or S.S.R.I.s—most prominently Prozac and Zoloft—were developed in the late eighties and early nineties, filling a gap in the market opened by skepticism toward benzodiazepines. S.S.R.I.s were soon prescribed not just for depression but for the nervous ailments that the benzodiazepines had previously addressed. (There had been other drugs used as antidepressants, but they had often been prescribed cautiously, because of concerns about their side effects.) As Jonathan Metzl writes, in “Prozac on the Couch,” S.S.R.I.s were marketed especially to female consumers, as drugs that would empower them at work while preserving the kind of feminine traits required at home. One advertisement for Zoloft showed a woman in a pants suit, holding the hands of her two children, her wedding ring prominent, next to the phrase “Power That Speaks Softly.” Today, antidepressants are taken by one in five white American women.
Concerns about withdrawal symptoms emerged shortly after S.S.R.I.s came to market, and often involved pregnant women who had been told to discontinue their medications, out of concern that the drugs could affect the fetus. A 2001 article in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience chronicled thirty-six women who were on either antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or a combination of the two, and who stopped taking the drugs when they became pregnant. A third of the patients said they felt suicidal, and four were admitted to a hospital. One had an abortion, because she no longer felt capable of going through with the pregnancy.
Internal records of pharmaceutical manufacturers show that the companies have been aware of the withdrawal problem. At a panel discussion in 1996, Eli Lilly invited seven experts to develop a definition of antidepressant withdrawal. Their findings were published in a supplement of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry that was sponsored by Eli Lilly and was highly favorable to the company’s own product, Prozac, which has the longest half-life of all the S.S.R.I.s; the drug clears slowly from the body. The panelists observed that withdrawing from other antidepressants was more likely to lead to “discontinuation reactions,” such as agitation, detachment, “uncharacteristic crying spells and paralyzing sadness.” “Although generally mild and short-lived,” one paper in the supplement explained, “discontinuation symptoms can be severe and chronic.” The panel defined “discontinuation syndrome” as a condition that could be “rapidly reversed by the reintroduction of the original medication.”
Shortly after the Eli Lilly panel, SmithKline Beecham, which manufactured Paxil, distributed a memo to its sales team accusing Eli Lilly of “trying to hide” the withdrawal symptoms of its products. “The truth of the matter is that the only discontinuation syndrome Lilly is worried about is the discontinuation of Prozac,” the memo said. In another internal memo, SmithKline Beecham instructed staff to “highlight the benign nature of discontinuation symptoms, rather than quibble about their incidence.”
Guy Chouinard, a retired professor of psychiatry at McGill and at the University of Montreal, who served as a consultant for Eli Lilly for ten years and did one of the first clinical trials of Prozac, told me that when S.S.R.I.s came on the market he was thrilled to see his patients, previously crippled by self-doubt and fear, living tolerable and fulfilling lives. Chouinard is considered one of the founders of psychopharmacology in Canada. In the early two-thousands, he began to see patients who, after taking certain antidepressants for years, had stopped their medications and were experiencing what he described as “crescendo-like” anxiety and panic that went on for weeks and, in some cases, months. When he reinstated their medication, their symptoms began to resolve, usually within two days.
Most people who discontinue antidepressants do not suffer from withdrawal symptoms that last longer than a few days. Some experience none at all. “The medical literature on this is a mess,” Chouinard told me. “Psychiatrists don’t know their patients well—they aren’t following them long-term—so they don’t know whether to believe their patients when they say, ‘I’ve never had this experience in my life.’ ” He thinks that withdrawal symptoms, misdiagnosed and never given time to resolve, create a false sense that patients can’t function unless they go back on their drugs.
Giovanni Fava, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Buffalo, has devoted much of his career to studying withdrawal and has followed patients suffering from withdrawal symptoms a year after stopping antidepressants. A paper published last month in a journal he edits, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, reviewed eighty studies and found that in nearly two-thirds of them patients were taken off their medications in less than two weeks. Most of the studies did not consider how such an abrupt withdrawal might compromise the studies’ findings: withdrawal symptoms can easily be misclassified as relapse. Fava’s work is widely cited, yet he said that he has struggled to publish his research on this topic. To some degree, that makes sense: no one wants to deter people from taking drugs that may save their life or lift them out of disability. But to avoid investigating or sharing information on the subject—to assume that people can comprehend the drugs’ benefits and not their limits—seems to repeat a pattern of paternalism reminiscent of earlier epochs in the history of psychopharmacology.
[IMG]“Let me start by saying no one is a bigger feminist than me.”
David Taylor, the director of pharmacy and pathology at the Maudsley Hospital, in London, and the author of more than three hundred peer-reviewed papers, told me, “It is not as though we haven’t been burned by this before.” If he hadn’t experienced antidepressant withdrawal himself, Taylor said, “I think I would be sold on the standard texts.” But, he said, “experience is very different from what’s on the page.” Taylor described his own symptoms of withdrawal, from the antidepressant Effexor, as a “strange and frightening and torturous” experience that lasted six weeks. In a paper published last month in Lancet Psychiatry, he and a co-author reviewed brain imaging and case studies on withdrawal and argued that patients should taper off antidepressants over the course of months, rather than two to four weeks, as current guidelines advise. Such guidelines are based on a faulty assumption that, if a dose is reduced by half, it will simply reduce the effect in the brain by half. The paper asserts that the increasing long-term use of antidepressants “has arisen in part because patients are unwilling to stop due to the aversive nature of the withdrawal syndrome.” But, Taylor told me, his research “wouldn’t stop me from recommending an antidepressant for someone with fully fledged major depression, because the relief of suffering is of a different order of magnitude than the symptoms when you stop taking them.”
In the fifth edition of the DSM, published in 2013, the editors added an entry for “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome”—a condition also mentioned on drug labels—but the description is vague and speculative, noting that “longitudinal studies are lacking” and that little is known about the course of the syndrome. “Symptoms appear to abate over time,” the manual explains, while noting that “some individuals may prefer to resume medication indefinitely.”
Three months after Laura stopped all her medications, she was walking down the street in Boston and felt a flicker of sexual desire. “It was so uncomfortable and foreign to me that I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. The sensation began to occur at random times of day, often in public and in the absence of an object of attraction. “It was as if that whole part of my body was coming online again, and I had no idea how to channel it,” she said. “I felt occupied by this overwhelming power.” She had never masturbated. “I was, like, Why do people like this? It didn’t make sense.”
When she was thirty-one, she began a long-distance relationship with Rob Wipond, a Canadian journalist. Both of them became emotional when talking with me about Laura’s sexuality. Laura told me, “I felt like a newborn. I hadn’t ever figured out what my body was meant to be.” Rob said, “She was open and awake. Everything was new to her. We were, like, ‘Well, gee, what is this sexuality thing—what shall we do?’ ”
For years, Laura had been unable to have stable relationships—a symptom, she’d assumed, of borderline personality disorder. “I honestly thought that, because I was mentally ill, the numbness was just part of me,” she told me. “I looked at beautiful sex scenes in movies, and it never crossed my mind that this was in the cards for me.” Now she wondered about the effects of the many medications she had been taking. “On this very sensory, somatic level, I couldn’t bond with another human being,” she said. “It never felt real. It felt synthetic.”
Laura bought a book about women’s sexuality, and learned how to give herself an orgasm. “It took so long and I finally figured it out, and I just broke down in tears and called Rob, and I was, like, ‘I did it! I did it! I did it!’ ”
She felt fortunate that her sexuality had returned in a way that eluded other people who were withdrawing from drugs. Although it is believed that people return to their sexual baseline, enduring sexual detachment is a recurring theme in online withdrawal forums. Audrey Bahrick, a psychologist at the University of Iowa Counseling Service, who has published papers on the way that S.S.R.I.s affect sexuality, told me that, a decade ago, after someone close to her lost sexual function on S.S.R.I.s, “I became pretty obsessive about researching the issue, but the actual qualitative experience of patients was never documented. There was this assumption that the symptoms would resolve once you stop the medication. I just kept thinking, Where is the data? Where is the data?” In her role as a counsellor, Bahrick sees hundreds of college students each year, many of whom have been taking S.S.R.I.s since adolescence. She told me, “I seem to have the expectation that young people would be quite distressed about the sexual side effects, but my observation clinically is that these young people don’t yet know what sexuality really means, or why it is such a driving force.”
Laura felt as if she were learning the contours of her adult self for the first time. When she felt dread or despair, she tried to accept the sensation without interpreting it as a sign that she was defective and would remain that way forever, until she committed suicide or took a new pill. It felt like a revelation, she said, to realize that “the objective in being alive isn’t the absence of pain.” She remembered identifying with a sad little bubble pictured in a popular advertisement for Zoloft—the bubble is moping around, crying and groaning, until it takes the medication and starts to bounce while birds sing—and became increasingly aware that her faith in the drugs’ potential had been misplaced. “I never felt helped by the drugs in the sense that I have meaning, I have purpose, I have relationships that matter to me,” she said. Overprescribing isn’t always due to negligence; it may also be that pills are the only form of help that some people are willing to accept. Laura tried to find language to describe her emotions and moods, rather than automatically calling them symptoms. “The word I use for it is ‘unlearn,’ ” she said. “You are peeling off layers that have been imposed.”
Laura still felt fondness for most of her psychiatrists, but, she said, “the loss of my sexuality is the hardest part to make peace with—it feels like a betrayal. I’ve discovered how much of the richness of being human is sexuality.”
She wrote several letters to Dr. Roth, her favorite psychiatrist, requesting her medical records, because she wanted to understand how the doctor had made sense of her numbness and years of deterioration. After a year, Dr. Roth agreed to a meeting. Laura prepared for hours. She intended to begin by saying, “I’m sitting in front of you and I’m off all these drugs, and I’ve never felt more vibrant and alive and capable, and yet we thought I had this serious mental illness for life. How do you make sense of that?” But, in Dr. Roth’s office, Laura was overwhelmed by nostalgia: the familiar hum of the white-noise machine, the sound of the wind sucked inside as Dr. Roth opened the front door. She had always loved Dr. Roth’s presence—the way she would sit in an armchair with her legs folded, cradling a large mug of coffee, her nails neatly polished. By the time Dr. Roth walked into the waiting room, Laura was crying.
They hugged and then took their usual positions in Dr. Roth’s office. But Laura said that Dr. Roth seemed so nervous that she talked for the entire appointment, summarizing the conversations they’d had together. It was only when Laura left that she realized she had never asked her questions.
Laura started a blog, in which she described how, in the course of her illness, she had lost the sense that she had agency. People began contacting her to ask for advice about getting off multiple psychiatric medications. Some had been trying to withdraw for years. They had developed painstaking methods for tapering their medications, like using grass-seed counters to dole out the beads in the capsules. Laura, who had a part-time job as a research assistant but who still got financial help from her parents, began spending four or five hours a day talking with people on Skype. “People were so desperate that, when they found someone who had gotten off meds, they were just, like, ‘Help me,’ ” she said.
David Cope, a former engineer for the Navy, told me that Laura’s writings “helped keep me alive. I needed to know that someone else had gone through it and survived.” In the process of withdrawing from Paxil, Ativan, and Adderall, he felt detached from emotional reactions that had previously felt habitual. “The way I would explain it to my wife is, I know that I love her,” he told me. “I know that I care for her. I know that I would lay down my life for her. But I don’t feel love. There’s no emotional-physical response: the sense of comfort and tingly love when you smell your spouse’s hair—I don’t have that.”
Angela Peacock, a thirty-nine-year-old veteran of the war in Iraq, told me, “I want to be Laura when I grow up.” Peacock had been on medications for thirteen years, including the “P.T.S.D. cocktail,” as it has become known: the antidepressant Effexor, the antipsychotic Seroquel, and Prazosin, a drug used to alleviate nightmares. “I never processed the trauma of being a twenty-three-year-old at war, and how that changed my view of humanity,” she said. “I just pressed Pause for thirteen years.”
Laura realized that she was spending her entire workday on these conversations. Because she needed to become financially self-reliant, she began charging seventy-five dollars an hour (on a sliding scale) to talk to people. Few psychiatrists are deeply engaged with these questions, so a chaotic field of consultants has filled the void. They are immersed in what Laura describes as “the layperson withdrawal community,” a constellation of Web forums and Facebook groups where people who have stopped their psychiatric medications advise one another: Surviving Antidepressants, the International Antidepressant Withdrawal Project, Benzo Buddies, Cymbalta Hurts Worse. The groups offer instructions for slowly getting off medications—they typically recommend that people reduce their doses by less than ten per cent each month—and a place to communicate about emotional experiences that do not have names. For many people on the forums, it was impossible to separate the biochemical repercussions from the social ones. The medicines worked on their bodies, but they also changed the way people understood their relationships and their social roles and the control they had over elements of their lives. A common theme on the forums is that people felt that at some point, having taken so many medications for so long, they’d become disabled—and they were no longer sure if this was due to their underlying disorder, the effect of withdrawing from their medications, or the way they had internalized the idea of being chronically ill.
[IMG]Peter Gordon, a Scottish psychiatrist who has worked for the National Health Service for twenty-five years, told me that he has struggled to find doctors to help him with his own process of withdrawal, so he turned to the online communities, which he believes are “changing the very nature of the power balance between patient and doctor.” He went on Paxil twenty-one years ago, for social anxiety, and has tried to go off several times, using a micropipette to measure a small reduction of the liquid form of the medication each month. It has not worked. Each time, he said, “I find my temperament different. I am not an angry person—I am gentle, I am affectionate, I am open—but in withdrawal I found that these qualities were less clear. I was more irritable. I was critical of my wife and focussed on things I wouldn’t normally care about.” He continued, “I personally find it really hard to try to capture that experience in words, and, if I’m finding it difficult to translate it into words, how are the studies going to capture it? There’s going to be an additional loss from words to quantifiable ratings. We are trained to understand the evidence base as paramount—it is the primary basis for mental-health prescriptions around the world, and I fully subscribe to it—but this evidence base can never be complete without listening to the wider story.”
After consulting with people on the phone for nearly five years, Laura worked with Rob Wipond and a physician’s assistant named Nicole Lamberson to create an online guide for people who wanted to taper off their pills. There were few precedents. In the late nineties, Heather Ashton, a British psychopharmacologist who had run a benzodiazepine-withdrawal clinic in Newcastle, had drafted a set of guidelines known as the Ashton Manual, which has circulated widely among patients and includes individual tapering schedules for various benzodiazepines, along with a glossary of disorienting symptoms. “People who have had bad experiences have usually been withdrawn too quickly (often by doctors!) and without any explanation of the symptoms,” Ashton wrote.
Laura’s Web site, which she called the Withdrawal Project, was published online in early 2018 as part of a nonprofit organization, Inner Compass Initiative, devoted to helping people make more informed choices about psychiatric treatment. She and Rob (whom she was no longer dating) created it with a grant from a small foundation, which gave her enough money to pay herself a salary, to hire others who had consulted with people withdrawing from medications, and to cull relevant insights about tapering strategies. “Anecdotal information is the best we have, because there is almost no clinical research on how to slowly and safely taper,” Laura said. The Web site helps people withdrawing from medications find others in the same city; it also offers information on computing the percentage of the dosage to drop, converting a pill into a liquid mixture by using a mortar and pestle, or using a special syringe to measure dosage reductions. Lamberson, who had struggled to withdraw from six psychiatric medications, told me, “You find yourself in this position where you have to become a kitchen chemist.”
Swapnil Gupta, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, told me that she is troubled that doctors have largely left this dilemma to patients to resolve. She and her colleagues have embarked on what she describes as an informal “de-prescribing” initiative. They routinely encounter patients who, like Laura, are on unnecessary combinations of psychiatric medications, but for different reasons: Laura saw her therapists as gurus who would solve her problems, whereas poor or marginalized patients may be overtreated as they cycle in and out of emergency rooms. Yet, when Gupta, who works at an outpatient clinic, raises the idea of tapering off patients’ medications, she said, some of them “worry they will lose their disability payments, because being on lots of meds has become a badge of illness. It is a loss of identity, a different way of living. Suddenly, everything that you are doing is yours—and not necessarily your medication.”
Gupta, too, is trying to recalibrate the way she understands her patients’ emotional lives. “We tend to see patients as fixed in time—we don’t see them as people who have ups and downs like we all do—and it can be really disconcerting when suddenly they are saying, ‘See, I’m crying. Put me back on my meds.’ ” She said, “I have to sit them down and say, ‘It’s O.K. to cry—normal people cry.’ Just today, someone asked me, ‘Do you cry?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ ”
In the fall of 2018, a few days after Thanksgiving, Laura’s sister Nina texted me: “10 years to the day, Laura has some news for you that may be a great ending to your story.” The previous year, Laura had moved to Hartford to live near a new boyfriend, Cooper Davis, and his four-year-old son. Now they had just returned from spending the holiday with her family in Maine. Standing in the kitchen of their second-floor apartment, Laura told Cooper that wood and thin plastic utensils can’t go in the dishwasher. He asked if a number of different household items were safe for the dishwasher, before saying he had one last question and pulling an engagement ring out of his pocket. Cooper had been planning to propose for several weeks, and he hadn’t realized that the moment he’d chosen was precisely a decade after her suicide attempt.
Laura had met Cooper, who works at an agency that supports people with psychiatric and addiction histories, two years earlier, at a mental-health conference in Connecticut. Cooper had been given Adderall for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder at seventeen and had become addicted. As an adolescent, he said, he was made to believe “I am not set up for this world. I need tweaking, I need adjusting.”
His work made him unusually welcoming of the fact that people in various states of emotional crisis often want to be near Laura. A few months after they were engaged, Bianca Gutman, a twenty-three-year-old from Montreal, flew to Hartford to spend the weekend with Laura. Bianca’s mother, Susan, had discovered Laura’s blog two years earlier and had e-mailed her right away. “I feel like I’m reading my daughter’s story,” she wrote. Susan paid Laura for Skype conversations, until Laura told her to stop. Laura had come to think of Bianca, who had been diagnosed as having depression when she was twelve, as a little sister navigating similar dilemmas.
While Bianca was visiting, a friend from out of town who was in the midst of what appeared to be a manic episode was staying at an Airbnb a few houses down the street. Laura was fielding phone calls from the woman’s close friends, who wanted to know what should be done, but the only thing Laura felt comfortable advising was that the woman get some sleep—she had medications to help with that—and avoid significant life decisions. The woman had been traumatized by a hospitalization a few years earlier, and Laura guessed that “she came here because she didn’t want to be alone, and she knows that I would never call the cops on her.”
Laura and Bianca spent the weekend taking walks in the frigid weather and having leisurely conversations in Laura’s small living room. Bianca, who is barely five feet tall, moved and talked more slowly than Laura, as if many more decisions were required before she converted a thought into words. She had been on forty milligrams of Lexapro—double the recommended dose—for nearly nine years. She’d taken Abilify for six years. Now, after talking to Laura, Bianca’s father, an emergency-medicine doctor, had found a pharmacy in Montreal that was able to compound decreasing quantities of her medication, dropping one milligram each month. Bianca, who worked as an assistant at an elementary school, was down to five milligrams of Lexapro. Her mother said, “I often tell Bianca, ‘I see you coping better,’ and she’s, like, ‘Calm down, Mommy. It’s not like being off medication is going to wipe me clean and you’re going to get the daughter you had before’ ”—the hope she harbored when Bianca first went on medication.
Bianca, who had reddish-blond hair, which she’d put in a messy bun, was wearing a bulky turtleneck sweater. She sat on the couch with her legs curled neatly into a Z—a position that she later joked she had chosen because it made her feel more adult. Like Laura, Bianca had always appreciated when her psychiatrists increased the dosage of her medications. She said, “It was like they were just matching my pain,” which she couldn’t otherwise express. She described her depression as “nonsensical pain. It’s so shapeless and cloudy. It dodges all language.” She said that, in her first conversation with Laura, there was something about the way Laura said “Mm-hmm” that made her feel understood. “I hadn’t felt hopeful in a very long time. Hopeful about what? I don’t know. Just hopeful, I think, because I felt that connection with someone.” She told Laura, “Knowing that you know there’s no words—that’s enough for me.”
At my request, Laura had dug up several albums of childhood photographs, and the three of us sat on the floor going through them. Laura looked radically different from one year to the next. She had had a phase of wearing pastel polo shirts that were too small for her, and in this phase, when Laura was pictured among friends, Bianca and I struggled to tell which girl was her. It wasn’t just that she was fatter or thinner; her face seemed to be structured differently. In her débutante photos, she looked as if she were wearing someone else’s features. Bianca kept saying, “I don’t see you.”
Since I’d known Laura, she had always had a certain shine, but on this day she seemed nearly luminous. She had taken a new interest in clothes and was wearing high-waisted trousers from Sweden with a tucked-in T-shirt that accentuated her waist. When Cooper returned to the house, after an afternoon with his family, she exclaimed, “Oh, Cooper is back!” Then she became self-conscious and laughed at herself.
I told Laura that I was wary of repeating her sister’s sentiment that marriage was the end of her story. She agreed. “It’s not, like, ‘Laura has finally arrived,’ ” she said. “If anything, these trappings of whatever you want to call it—life?—have made things scarier.” She still felt overwhelmed by the tasks of daily life, like too many e-mails accumulating, and she cried about five times a week. She was too sensitive. She let situations escalate. Cooper said that his tendency in moments of tension was to get quiet, which exacerbated Laura’s fear that she was not being heard. She did not see a therapist—she felt exhausted from years of analyzing her most private thoughts—but, she said, “If I actually sat in front of a psychiatrist and did an evaluation, I would totally meet the criteria for a number of diagnoses.” But the diagnostic framework no longer felt meaningful to her.
Perhaps we all have an ugly version of ourselves that, in our worst moments, we imagine we’ve become: when Bianca felt hopeless, she thought, mockingly, This is you. How could you possibly think otherwise, you poor thing? Laura’s thought was: You are not a legitimate person. You don’t deserve to be here. In many of our conversations, Laura said, she was trying to ignore the thought: Who do you think you are, speaking with this journalist? Shut up and go away. She said, “And yet we’re also having this conversation and I’m totally present in it.”
Bianca said, “It’s like your darkness is still there, but it’s almost like it’s next to you as opposed to your totality of being.”
Laura agreed that she was experiencing “the stuff of being alive that I just had no idea was possible for me.” But, she said, “it’s not like I’m good to go. Literally every day, I am still wondering how to be an adult in this world.” ♦
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These appear to be the chipmaker's largest cuts since 2016.
Article word count: 483
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19524434
Posted by mykowebhn (karma: 1115)
Post stats: Points: 128 - Comments: 48 - 2019-03-29T18:50:19Z
#HackerNews #administrators #hundreds #intel #lays #off #tech
Intel laid off a substantial number of information technology workers at sites across the company this week, according to multiple sources inside the company.
The layoffs numbered in the hundreds, according to people with direct knowledge of the cuts who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about their employer.
Intel confirmed the layoffs but declined to specify how many people lost their jobs or describe the rationale for the cutbacks.
“Changes in our workforce are driven by the needs and priorities of our business, which we continually evaluate. We are committed to treating all impacted employees with professionalism and respect,” Intel said in a brief statement acknowledging the cuts to The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The cuts took place at sites across the company, including Oregon, Intel’s largest site with 20,000 workers. A person with direct knowledge of the cuts said the Oregon layoffs were in proportion to those elsewhere.
Cuts also took place at other Intel facilities in the United States and at a large administrative facility in Costa Rica, according to people familiar with the layoffs.
Though Intel forecasts flat sales in 2019, people inside the company said this week’s layoffs don’t appear to be strictly a cost-cutting move. Rather, they said the cuts appeared to reflect a broad change in the way Intel is approaching its internal technical systems.
Intel has previously used several information technology contractors. An internal memo obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive said Intel will now consolidate operations under a single contractor, the Indian technology giant Infosys.
With fewer contractors Intel needs fewer managers overseeing those people, according to one person privy to Intel’s rationale for the change.
Information technology (IT) professionals don’t usually develop new technology but they play an essential role in managing a company’s internal systems. Their work is particularly important at tech companies such as Intel, which depend on IT workers to keep systems secure and running smoothly.
This week’s layoffs are among Intel’s biggest cutbacks since 2016, when the company eliminated 15,000 jobs across the company through layoffs, buyouts and early retirement offers. Intel had 107,400 employees around the world at the end of 2018.
At that time Intel was bracing itself for long-term decline in its core business, microprocessors for PCs and laptops. The company has since transitioned to rely on new markets, most prominently data centers.
Intel is also preparing for a big shift in its manufacturing technology and is preparing to build new, multibillion-dollar factories in Oregon, Ireland and Israel. Intel is planning for 1,750 new Oregon jobs in the next few years as it builds the third phase of its massive Hillsboro research factory called D1X.
Intel shares were trading up 1.1 percent Friday at $53.70, in line with broader market gains. The stock is near its highest point since the dot-com era.
This article has been updated with additional information about the cutbacks, and with Intel’s closing stock price.
-- Mike Rogoway | twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699
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In a stunning rejection of the will of five million online petitioners, and over 100,000 protestors this weekend, the European Parliament has abandoned common-sense and the advice of academics,…
Article word count: 531
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19491061
Posted by sanqui (karma: 1193)
Post stats: Points: 181 - Comments: 68 - 2019-03-26T12:24:08Z
#HackerNews #disastrous #eus #happens #internet #law #next #off #parliament #signs #what
Deeplinks Blog by Veridiana Alimonti | March 21, 2019
Hiperderecho, the leading digital rights organization in Peru, in collaboration with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, today launched its second ¿Quien Defiende Tus Datos? (Who Defends Your Data?), an evaluation of the privacy practices of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that millions of Peruvians use every day. This yearʼs...
Deeplinks Blog by Danny OʼBrien | March 1, 2019
Earlier this month, security researcher Victor Gevers found and disclosed an exposed database live-tracking the locations of about 2.6 million residents of Xinjiang, China, offering a window into what a digital surveillance state looks like in the 21st century. Xinjiang is China’s largest province, and home to China’s Uighurs...
Deeplinks Blog by Katitza Rodriguez | February 21, 2019
Law enforcement access to data is in the middle of a profound shake-up across the globe. States are pushing to get quicker, deeper, and more invasive access to personal data stored on the global Internet, and are looking to water down the international safeguards around privacy and due...
Deeplinks Blog by Veridiana Alimonti, Annie Harrison | January 31, 2019
Deeplinks Blog by Danny OʼBrien | January 18, 2019
Update, January 18: EU ministers have failed to approve the compromise text—with Germany, Belgium, Poland, Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland and Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, and Portugal all voting against the current Article 13/11 proposal. Keep up the pressure! If you’re in the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland, Sweden...
Deeplinks Blog by Danny OʼBrien | December 28, 2018
To the extent that 260-page regulations can ever be said to be “famous,” Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) certainly had its moment in limelight in 2018. When it came into force on May 25, it was heralded by a flurry of emails from tech companies, desperate to re-establish their...
Deeplinks Blog by Jillian C. York | December 26, 2018
This year, we refocused our attention on Offline, our project that seeks to raise awareness of and provide actions readers can take to support imprisoned bloggers, digital activists, and technologists. Originally launched in 2015, Offline currently features six individuals from four countries whose critical voices have been silenced by...
Deeplinks Blog by Veridiana Alimonti | December 18, 2018
Fundación Karisma, Colombia’s leading digital rights organization, just launched its fourth annual ¿Dónde Estan Mis Datos? report in collaboration with EFF. The results are even more encouraging than the ones seen in 2017, with significant improvement in transparency - five companies published transparency reports, and four publicly explained...
Deeplinks Blog by Cory Doctorow | December 13, 2018
Today, EU negotiators in Strasbourg struggled to craft the final language of the Copyright in the Single Digital Market Directive, in their last possible meeting for 2019. They failed, thanks in large part to the Directive’s two most controversial clauses: Article 11, which requires paid licenses for linking to news...
Deeplinks Blog by Danny OʼBrien | December 10, 2018
EFF, as part of a coalition of over sixty other human rights groups led by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International —still have questions for Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO. Leaks and rumors continue to spread from Google about “Project Dragonfly,” a secretive plan to create a censored, trackable...
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Remote-desktop giant 'among more than 200 govt agencies, oil, gas, tech corps' hit by cyber-gang
Article word count: 671
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19349830
Posted by cow9 (karma: 256)
Post stats: Points: 134 - Comments: 36 - 2019-03-10T02:35:27Z
#HackerNews #6tb #biz #citrix #docs #emails #hackers #make #off #ransack #secrets #with
Updated Citrix today warned its customers that foreign hackers romped through its internal company network and stole corporate secrets.
The enterprise software giant – which services businesses, the American military, and various US government agencies – said it was told by the FBI on Wednesday that miscreants had accessed Citrixʼs IT systems and exfiltrated a significant amount of data.
According to infosec firm Resecurity, which had earlier alerted the Feds and Citrix to the cyber-intrusion, at least six terabytes of sensitive internal files were swiped from the US corporation by the Iranian-backed IRIDIUM hacker gang. The spies hit in December, and Monday this week, weʼre told, lifting emails, blueprints, and other documents, after bypassing multi-factor login systems and slipping into Citrixʼs VPNs.
"The incident has been identified as a part of a sophisticated cyberespionage campaign supported by nation-state due to strong targeting on government, military-industrial complex, energy companies, financial institutions and large enterprises involved in critical areas of economy," Team Resecurity said in a statement earlier today.
"Based our recent analysis, the threat actors leveraged a combination of tools, techniques and procedures, allowing them to conduct targeted network intrusion to access at least six terabytes of sensitive data stored in the Citrix enterprise network, including email correspondence, files in network shares, and other services used for project management and procurement."
LA-based Resecurity added that IRIDIUM "has hit more than 200 government agencies, oil and gas companies, and technology companies including Citrix."
Resecurity also said it warned Citrix on December 28 that the software giant had been turned over by the hacker crew during the Christmas period. Citrix, meanwhile, said it took action – launching an internal probe and securing its networks – after hearing from the FBI earlier this week.
Earlier today, Citrix chief information security officer Stan Black gave his companyʼs side of the story. He said that, as of right now, Citrix does not know exactly which documents the hackers obtained nor how they got in – the FBI thinks it was by brute-forcing weak passwords – nor for how long they may have been camping on the corporate network.
"While our investigation is ongoing, based on what we know to date, it appears that the hackers may have accessed and downloaded business documents," Black said. "The specific documents that may have been accessed, however, are currently unknown."
At this point, Citrix reckons the intrusion was limited to its corporate network, and thus believes customer records and data were not stolen nor touched.
Beyond that, however, itʼs anyoneʼs guess as to what exactly the hackers may have lifted. As a massive provider of remote management, networking, and videoconferencing products, Citrix has an extremely large portfolio spread across a number of sectors in the enterprise IT market. Its customers include the White House and the FBI, though itʼs not known at the moment whether the hack involved or menaced Uncle Samʼs operations directly.
citrix READ MORE
As the investigation is in its extremely early phases, Citrix said it will provide customers with regular updates as it gets more details. For now, Citrix said it is planning to cooperate fully with the FBI probe, and has also brought in an outside security firm to help investigate the intrusion and make sure that hackers will not be able to get back in to the network.
"Citrix is moving as quickly as possible, with the understanding that these investigations are complex, dynamic and require time to conduct properly," Black said.
"In investigations of cyber incidents, the details matter, and we are committed to communicating appropriately when we have what we believe is credible and actionable information." ®
Editorʼs note: This story was revised after publication to include Resecurityʼs version of events. A spokesperson for Citrix confirmed "Stan’s blog refers to the same incident" described by Resecurity, adding: "We have no further comment at this time, but as promised, we will provide updates when we have what we believe is credible and actionable information." Resecurity declined to comment further.
Sponsored: Becoming a Pragmatic Security Leader
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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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Rackspace, the hosted private cloud vendor, let go around 200 workers or 3 percent of its worldwide workforce of 6,600 employees this week. The company says that it’s part of a recalibration where it…
Article word count: 321
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19288905
Posted by doppp (karma: 14587)
Post stats: Points: 93 - Comments: 71 - 2019-03-02T12:14:21Z
#HackerNews #200 #announces #has #laid #off #rackspace #workers
Rackspace, the hosted private cloud vendor, let go around 200 workers or 3 percent of its worldwide workforce of 6,600 employees this week. The company says that it’s part of a recalibration where it is trying to find workers who are better suited to their current business approach.
A Rackspace spokesperson told TechCrunch that it is “a stable and profitable company.” In fact, it hired 1,500 employees in 2018 and currently has 200 job openings. “We continue to invest in our business based on market opportunity and our customers’ needs – we take actions on an ongoing basis in some areas where we are over-invested and hire in areas where we are under invested,” a company spokesperson explained.
The company, which went public in 2008 and private again for $4.3 billion in 2016, has struggled in a cloud market dominated by giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, but according to Synergy Research, a firm that keeps close watch on the cloud market, it is one of the top three companies in the Hosted Private Cloud category.
It’s worth noting that the top company in this category is IBM, and Rackspace could be a good target for Big Blue if it wanted to use its checkbook to get a boost in market share. IBM is in third or fourth place in the cloud infrastructure market, depending on whose numbers you look at, but it could move the needle a bit by buying a company like Rackspace. Neither company is suggesting this, however, and IBM bought Red Hat at the end of last year for $34 billion, making it less likely it will be in a spending mood this year.
For now the layoffs appear to be a company tweaking its workforce to meet current market conditions, but whatever the reason, it’s never a happy day when people lose their jobs.
Rackspace to go private after $4.3B acquisition by private equity firm Apollo
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The last Chevrolet Volt was built on Tuesday, ending a decade-long quest to make a breakthrough battery-powered car
Article word count: 761
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19236245
Posted by curtis (karma: 22711)
Post stats: Points: 99 - Comments: 77 - 2019-02-24T00:09:20Z
#HackerNews #assembly #chevrolets #chevy #discontinued #last #line #off #rolls #the #volt
February 22, 2019 / 6:11 PM / AP
As their company was swirling around the financial drain in the early 2000s, General Motors executives came up with an idea to counter its gas-guzzling image and point the way to transportation of the future: an electric car with a gas-engine backup that could travel anywhere.
At Detroitʼs auto show in 2007, they unveiled the Chevrolet Volt concept car, not knowing yet whether they had the technology to pull off a major breakthrough in battery-powered vehicles.
It took nearly four more years, but the first Volt — a longer-range version of a plug-in hybrid — rolled off the assembly line late in 2010. GM had hopes that customers would be ready for a car that could go 38 miles on electricity before a small internal combustion generator kicked in.
They werenʼt. On Tuesday, the last Volt was built with little ceremony at a Detroit factory thatʼs now slated to close. Sales averaged less than 20,000 per year, not enough to sustain the costly undertaking.
The Volt wasnʼt the first electric car, but it was the first to conquer anxiety over range at a reasonable cost. GMʼs limited-range EV1 came out in the 1990s, and Tesla put out its 200-plus-mile Roadster in 2008 for more than $100,000.
The Volt was among the first plug-in hybrids, many of which can go only 20 or so miles on electricity and havenʼt gained much popularity among consumers.
Yet the Volt did serve a purpose. It led to advances in lithium-ion batteries similar to those that power smart phones and computers. But such advances ultimately led to the Voltʼs demise as GM and other manufacturers developed fully electric vehicles that can go 200 more miles per charge.
"While it was a financial loser, it did what was intended," said retired GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who shepherded the Volt into production. "We viewed it as a stepping stone to full electrics, which were totally out of reach due to the then-astronomical cost of lithium-ion batteries."
GM now has the Chevrolet Bolt, which can go 238 miles on a single charge, and it has promised many more electric vehicles in the future.
The Volt did develop a loyal fan base, many of whom are upset with the company for scrubbing the project.
Richard Winters, a 65-year-old physician from Poteau, Oklahoma, said the Volt still is useful in areas like Oklahoma and Arkansas where electric vehicle charging stations are few. He bought his first Volt in 2016 for the 120-mile round-trip commute from home to the Arkansas hospital where he works.
He bought another one last year, a revamped model that can go 50 miles on electricity before the gas generator starts. Because he can recharge at work, most of his commute is done on battery power. Winters routinely goes 1,400 miles between gas station fill-ups, which he likes. And it costs only around $1 worth of electricity to charge the battery, he said.
Winters had always wanted an electric car, but like many, was afraid heʼd run out of juice and get stranded. "When the Volt came out I was happy," he said of its nearly unlimited range.
GM, he said, should have spent more to promote the car. "Iʼve been really surprised at the lack of marketing," he said. "I would not have an electric car if I did not have that gas engine."
Originally, the Volt was to be a sleek, futuristic five-seat vehicle built to hold a battery and a new three-cylinder engine to generate electricity, said Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid. But because of GMʼs financial problems, the project was scaled back and became a modified version of the Chevrolet Cruze compact car with only four seats and many parts from other GM vehicles, he said.
"They made some huge strides with that car, but it wasnʼt all that it could have been and certainly not what they envisioned when they unveiled the concept," Abuelsamid said.
Although it would be nice to continue producing the Volt, GM needed to stop making it due in part to changing consumer preferences for SUVs, he said. The company also lost money on every Volt, cash that is needed for research on autonomous vehicles and more advanced electric cars, he said.
"Itʼs not the right vehicle for the market today," said Abuelsamid. "It doesnʼt really make sense to keep it going. As much as youʼd like to, itʼs probably better to let it go."
First published on February 22, 2019 / 6:11 PM
© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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News follows split with Bungie and a year with no major Blizzard releases.
Article word count: 571
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19148983
Posted by tolien (karma: 1640)
Post stats: Points: 123 - Comments: 98 - 2019-02-12T23:58:36Z
#HackerNews #2018 #775 #activision-blizzard #after #lays #off #people #record #results
Screenshot from first-person-shooter video game.
Enlarge / A central location from the Blackout map in Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII.
Game publisher Activision-Blizzard will lay off 8 percent of its work force, or around 775 people, CEO Bobby Kotick announced on the companyʼs earnings call today. The move is being made in an effort at "de-prioritizing initiatives that are not meeting expectations and reducing certain non-development and administrative-related costs across the business," Kotick explained.
The layoffs, which will mostly be in non-game-development areas like publishing, will impact Activision, Blizzard, and King. In one case, an entire studio of 78 people was shut down—Seattle-based mobile game studio Z2Live. This is in spite of Kotick saying that the company achieved "record results in 2018." Activision made a statement about exceeding its expectations, but other market-watchers clearly had higher numbers in mind.
The implication is that the positive results reported came thanks to a fairly narrow bench of franchises, with many of the companyʼs efforts outside those franchises not meeting expectations.
Itʼs also worth noting that Destiny developer Bungie ended its relationship with Activision. While Destiny 2 did not perform up to expectations, that move likely left many in marketing and other areas at Activision without a major franchise to work on. This followed the decline of the highly lucrative Skylanders and Guitar Hero franchises as well.
In the future, Kotick said Activision-Blizzard will invest primarily in live services, Battle.net, and esports, with a focus on the following franchises: Candy Crush, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Warcraft, Diablo, and Hearthstone. For those franchises, Activision actually expects to increase, not reduce, development resources in 2019.
Kotaku acquired a company note sent by Blizzard president J. Allen Brack to employees that also acknowledges that the layoffs are part of an effort to focus the business on whatʼs working best while cutting whatʼs not:
Over the last few years, many of our non-development teams expanded to support various needs. Currently, staffing levels on some teams are out of proportion with our current release slate. This means we need to scale down some areas of our organization in the US today. In our regional offices, we anticipate similar evaluations, subject to local requirements.
According to Kotaku, the letter also indicated that those being let go would receive a comprehensive severance package, continuing health benefits, and career placement assistance, though it is not clear how robust these offerings will be. In a more public note on Blizzardʼs website, Brack said Blizzard plans to add development resources through the year and that it will continue to focus heavily on Overwatch League, its biggest esports brand.
The changes follow a series of executive departures at Blizzard, as well as reports that Activision leadership has become more involved at Blizzard, which previously operated more independently. Blizzard did not release a new game in 2018 apart from expansions and remasters, and it is not expected to in 2019, according to the earnings call. However, the company operates several internal studios that are working on multiple live games. Job listings suggest development on Diablo IV is continuing, as well as an as-yet-unannounced first-person shooter project.
The Call of Duty franchise is as strong as it has been in a while; Black Ops IIII received favorable reviews, and its battle royale mode Blackout has proven popular. But itʼs notable that the majority of the franchises Kotick said the company plans to focus on are under the Blizzard umbrella, not Activision.
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Conversations with Bob Costas reveal for the first time how the broadcasting icon went from fronting America's most popular sport to being excised from last year's Super Bowl and, ultimately, ending…
Article word count: 5792
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19137631
Posted by smacktoward (karma: 38154)
Post stats: Points: 162 - Comments: 117 - 2019-02-11T19:49:37Z
#HackerNews #about #bob #bowl #concussions #costas #for #nbc #off #out #speaking #super #the #took
Feb 10, 2019
IN DECEMBER 2015, the movie "Concussion" was set for a Christmas Day release in nearly 3,000 theaters across America. The film told the story of the NFLʼs attempts to discredit research tying brain damage to football, and Bob Costas wanted to address it on national television.
Over the previous decade, Costas had become the face of football on NBC, hosting one of TVʼs most-watched programs, "Sunday Night Football." As part of every broadcast, Costas would take two minutes at halftime to speak directly to the programʼs 18 million viewers about the NFL issues of the day. Mostly, his commentaries were celebrations of the sport -- Brady vs. Manning, a tribute to Lambeau Field -- but, occasionally, he addressed subjects like gun control or the controversial name of the Washington, D.C., football team.
With his 28 Emmys and eight National Sportscaster of the Year awards, Costas had become the most-respected broadcaster of his generation -- a kind of Walter Cronkite for sports. He believed it was his responsibility to address uncomfortable truths, or "elephants in the room," as he often called them.
The release of "Concussion" seemed a natural topic given the nationwide awakening about head trauma in contact sports, especially the NFL. Costas believed it was important to have viewers confront footballʼs existential crisis and consider their own moral dilemma as fans complicit to the sportʼs carnage.
Yet he recognized such a speech posed a challenge for his bosses and NBC. The network was paying the NFL billions to air games on Sunday nights. Even more, Costas knew NBC executives were hoping to expand the networkʼs NFL package to Thursdays.
Costas sent the essay to his bosses for approval, something he typically did not do -- and waited.
What would ensue that week -- and in the years that followed -- reveals for the first time how a broadcasting icon went from fronting Americaʼs most popular sport to being excised from last yearʼs Super Bowl and, ultimately, ending his nearly 40-year career with NBC.
Outside the Lines spoke with the 66-year-old Costas dozens of times over the course of the past year. Those conversations provide not only the never-before-told backstory of how he became an NFL outsider, but also deep insight into his personality: the intelligence and self-assurance that have driven his career; the years-long struggle as he reconciled the celebration of a sport that enriched him financially and helped make him a broadcasting icon, but also weighed so heavily on his conscience; and the insecurity and intense worry -- near agony -- about the possibility of betraying his colleagues and friends by sharing his story. All of it points to the all-encompassing influence of the NFL -- even over the most distinguished broadcaster of his era.
In the end, Costas wished he had never spoken to Outside the Lines about any of it: "The upside is not equal to the fear I have."
At his career peak, Bob Costas was everywhere -- Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Olympics, Kentucky Derby, golf, boxing, hockey, and on and on. NBC even created a talk show for him, "Later," which lasted for seven seasons. NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
BY DECEMBER 2015, nobody at NBC should have been surprised that Bob Costas would want to speak his mind about football. After joining the network at age 27 in 1979, he had become one of NBCʼs signature go-to voices.
With NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol as his champion, Costas established himself as somebody who could do just about anything: play-by-play, commentary, hosting, interviewing.
He was everywhere -- Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Olympics, Kentucky Derby, golf, boxing, hockey, and on and on. NBC even created a talk show for him, "Later," which lasted for seven seasons and displayed his interviewing talents. The diversity of people Costas interviewed over the years is mind-boggling, speaking to his intelligence and utility: From Johnny Cash to Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Tom Jones to Pierre Salinger, Gary Busey to Ozzy Osbourne, William Shatner to Charlton Heston.
Itʼs not just that he was comfortable outside of sports, itʼs that he melded a near-photographic memory with a genuine interest and passion for pop culture, politics and history.
"Look, the guy was not only talented, but he had just a great amount of credibility built up between hosting, play-by-play, studio work, his show -- remember, he hosted his own show!" says Vince Wladika, who spent 11 years as a communications executive at Fox and NBC, working with Costas from 1989 to 1994. "Between all that exposure, the audience trusted him. ... There was never an issue with Bobʼs willingness to speak his mind."
Wladika recalled an incident during the 1993 NBA Finals when Costas interviewed then-commissioner David Stern in the throes of gambling allegations involving Michael Jordan. The interview grew contentious, and as Costas pressed Stern about Jordanʼs alleged gambling debts, the commissioner snapped: "How much money do you owe?" To which Costas retorted, "It doesnʼt matter. I donʼt represent the NBA."
When the interview ended, Costas says Ebersol expressed his displeasure.
"Dick would have preferred to give the league a little easier ride," Costas says. "In the end, he always understood I had my view of things. In the big picture, we always worked it out, but there were times when I went off what they would have preferred was the script."
This, Costas says, was hardly unusual throughout his career at NBC -- though he and Ebersol remain close and Costas had nothing but glowing things to say about his mentor. Ebersol declined to be interviewed for this story.
Costas told Outside the Lines that his credibility -- and, frankly, that of the network -- relied on his willingness to address hard topics.
Few subjects are sacred to Costas, even his beloved baseball. Anyone who knows anything about Costas knows that he genuflects to the sport in ways that make non-baseball fans cringe. Still, Costas says he felt obligated to address the steroid scandal as it consumed the sport throughout the 2000s. "A friend of mine said ... ʼWhether itʼs news or sports, you can never go wrong being on the right side of history,ʼ" Costas says. "I was right about steroids in baseball, and I was the only network broadcaster who even mentioned it. And I mentioned it all the damn time."
Costas says he never heard from Major League Baseball executives or any of his bosses when he talked openly on MLB broadcasts about how the gameʼs most hallowed records were being devalued as baseballʼs hierarchy stood by.
There were times, though, when Costas was seen as less aggressive. He hosted his first Olympics in 1992, in the midst of Juan Antonio Samaranchʼs 21-year run as IOC president. In 1996, journalist Frank Deford conducted a devastating interview of Samaranch for HBOʼs "Real Sports," in which he confronted the Olympics chief about his ties to the fascist Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and the fact that he had honored Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. In a New York Times piece about the interview, TV critic Richard Sandomir wrote: "Nothing quite so controversial occurs Wednesday at 9 p.m. during ʼPrelude to the Games,ʼ the two-hour Olympic preview show produced by Sports Illustrated TV for NBC. Nothing harshly critical of the I.O.C., other Olympic organizations or sponsors is said on the special with Bob Costas as host."
Of Samaranchʼs ties to the dictators and why he didnʼt confront the topic, Costas told Outside the Lines: "If I had interviewed Samaranch, I would have, but Samaranch did not appear for an interview with me."
Costas did, however, use the moment of the Ukrainian womenʼs biathlon team taking gold in the 2014 Sochi Games as an opportunity to address Russiaʼs intervention in the country, its "hostile" record on gay rights and its sponsorship of a vicious regime in Syria.
After joining the network at age 27 in 1979, Costas quickly became one of the networkʼs signature go-to voices. Focus on Sport/Getty Images
IN THE SPRING of 2005, NBC, led by Ebersol, agreed to pay the NFL $600 million per year to televise its games on Sunday nights. The decision was a direct response to declining viewership, especially among the networkʼs most sought-after demographic: men, age 18-49.
NBC had fled the football arms race back in 1997, complaining that rights fees had risen out of control. Fox had drastically altered the landscape in 1993 when it agreed to pay nearly $400 million per year to air NFL games -- a move that left CBS, the leagueʼs original TV partner, out of the NFL package and had practically destroyed the network.
"Without the NFL, who could possibly exist? CBS almost proved nobody could," says former TV executive Rick Gentile, who was with CBS from 1982 to 1998 and oversaw coverage of some of the worldʼs biggest sporting events, including several Super Bowls. "As soon as we lost the NFL, we lost like 16 of our best [affiliate]stations to Fox. It was a devastating blow for the network, and it literally took years and years to pull out." In 1994, CBS balked at paying $295 million, he says, but when the network got another chance, it was "ʼHow much do you need? Hereʼs the check, fill in the number.ʼ"
So in 2005, cognizant of CBSʼs free fall, NBC committed $3.6 billion over the coming six seasons to get back into the NFL fold. "NBC Decides It Canʼt Live Without Football," declared a headline in The New York Times.
At the time, Costas says he had sworn off the sport. He had hosted NBCʼs NFL pregame show for nearly a decade in the ʼ80s and early ʼ90s but asked to be taken off the broadcasts after the 1993 season.
"As I got closer and closer to the game, I became ambivalent about it," he says. "The sheer violence of the game, and then the celebration of that violence, even before CTE became a specific issue ... I just didnʼt feel comfortable with that. That felt stupid to me."
Costas did host "Inside the NFL" on HBO for six seasons beginning in 2002, but he says he justified that in his mind because the show provided autonomy to offer commentary and typically conveyed a level of journalism.
But when NBC returned to football in 2005, Costas says Ebersol asked him to return as host and he agreed "out of loyalty" and "as kind of a good soldier."
Over the next decade, NBC would own Sunday nights, and Costas would become the emcee of "Football Night in America," setting the tone for a five-hour broadcast every week. He had a reputation as a trustworthy and reasoned voice, someone who was willing to offer his opinion but not shout it out like a carnival barker.
At the same time, his relationship with football was growing increasingly complicated. As evidence mounted tying the sport to brain disease, Costas says he felt compelled to talk about it. During Week 2 of the 2010 season, following a series of high-profile, concussion-related incidents, Costas presented his first essay about the topic to NBC viewers.
* [IMG] From the NFL to rec leagues, football is facing a stark new threat: An evaporating insurance market that is fundamentally altering the sportʼs economics, squeezing and even killing off programs faced with higher costs and a scarcity of available coverage. * [IMG] The NFL says the number of concussion in practices and games dropped significantly in 2018.
"More and more is being learned about the now-undeniable link between concussions especially repeat concussions -- and subsequent problems with dementia, depression, early onset Alzheimerʼs, an entire array of serious medical problems stemming from an injury that is more common in football than in most other sports."
"Hereʼs the truth," Costas said. "Americaʼs most popular sport is a fundamentally dangerous game where the risk of catastrophic injury is not incidental, it is significant."
It was a decisive moment in the history of football in America. Here was the preeminent voice of televised sports, looking straight into the camera, telling millions of fans who tuned in that he, they -- all of us -- were essentially complicit in the human destruction caused by a gladiator sport. Equally surreal -- but unstated -- was the fact that even as Costas was describing the problem as "undeniable," the NFL was publicly denying any link between football and brain damage.
In the ensuing years, as research accumulated, Costas became more emboldened. His blend of humor, wit and unfiltered opinion was gold on the talk-show circuit -- from CNN to Bill Maher to NBCʼs "Today" show -- as well as to anyone who wanted to discuss the dangers of football.
In 2011, in a conversation with Robert Lipsyte of The New York Times, he told an audience, "The game is unacceptably brutal. Can I say it any more clearly than that it is unacceptably brutal?" Two years later, on NBCʼs "Meet the Press," he said, "The way football is currently played in the NFL is fundamentally unsustainable." And the following year, on "The Last Word," he called the sport "inherently violent and brutal" and suggested that head trauma could lead to off-field criminal conduct by some players.
Costas says he never heard from anyone with the NFL complaining about his statements, nor does he say his bosses at NBC protested or suggested they had ever been contacted by league officials.
Gentile, the former CBS executive, says it wouldnʼt surprise him that Costas never received complaints from the NFL -- because the league officials always called Gentile and not the broadcaster himself when they had concerns. Still, Gentile says, the NFL was "never really dictatorial, at least in my lifetime." It was nothing like, for example, the networkʼs relationship with The Masters, which kept intense pressure on CBS by signing only one-year contracts.
And so it was that The Masters could force the network to banish Gary McCord from the broadcast for describing Augusta Nationalʼs speedy greens as "bikini-waxed," or Jack Whitaker for referring to a "mob" of fans on the 18th green at the end of a playoff.
Gentile, though, understands why the NFL might have become more controlling over time.
"Itʼs an existential issue," says Gentile, who also is the director of the Seton Hall University Sports Poll, which conducts regular surveys on sports-related issues. "The NFL is faced with this looming head-injury issue. We conducted polls at Seton Hall and you could see the numbers go up of parents who didnʼt want their kids to play football. That doesnʼt speak well to the future, so I think thereʼs a strong sensitivity there [from the NFL]. This is, ʼDo we exist or not.ʼ
"And itʼs just as important to the networks that the NFL continue to be the NFL."
So the more Costas talked definitively about the connection between football and brain damage, the more it created tension between him, his bosses and the NFL.
Something was bound to give.
Costas attended a 2015 screening of "Concussion" and was moved by the filmʼs portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who first posited that former NFL players had died with a brain disease caused by football. Andrew Toth/FilmMagic
TO UNDERSTAND THE symbiotic relationships between the television networks and the NFL requires acknowledging the obvious: An undeniable power imbalance exists. The NFL -- like other leagues -- has several options to air games and highlights, from the Big Three networks to ESPN and a variety of cable venues -- and now Facebook, Google, Amazon and other developing media. But thereʼs only one NFL, and only so many games to go around. The result is a financial windfall for the league.
The NFL took in more than $7 billion from its television partners this season. By 2027, according to a USA Today report citing the sports analytics firm Navigate Research, that number could hit $17 billion -- meaning each of the leagueʼs 32 teams would pocket more than a half-billion dollars from TV every year.
At ESPN, the network is in the middle of a contract that pays the NFL $1.9 billion per year to air Monday Night Football, a deal set to expire in 2021.
These are partnerships, but they tilt heavily toward the leagueʼs Park Avenue offices.
Says Costas: "Look, the NFL isnʼt just the most important sports property, itʼs the single-most important property in all of American television. And it isnʼt even close."
Because of the stakes, the NFL has enormous influence over how networks portray the sport. When a broadcaster like Costas goes rogue, or investigative reporting touches on sensitive issues like concussions or politics, tensions inevitably surface.
Those tensions have surfaced at ESPN, which famously cancelled its popular 2003 series Playmakers after only one season following complaints from the NFL. Outside the Linesʼ yearslong reporting on footballʼs concussion crisis has led to numerous complaints from the NFL.
In 2013, ESPN abruptly ended a partnership with PBSʼs award-winning program "Frontline" on "League of Denial," a documentary that explored the NFLʼs two-decade effort to deny and rewrite the science connecting football and brain disease. After ESPN pulled out of the deal, The New York Times published a story that suggested the network had bowed to pressure from the NFL. ESPN denied it, saying it dropped out over lack of "editorial control." ESPN ended up running excerpts from the film and a companion book, as planned, and it continues to cover the concussion issue to this day.
Says Costas: "The networks, all of them, dance to the NFLʼs tune. Itʼs just kind of the way it goes. Everyone walks on eggshells around the NFL."
Costas and his mentor and friend, former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. Robin Platzer/FilmMagic
IN 2015, COSTAS was invited to a November screening of "Concussion" in Hollywood. He was moved by the film and even thought Will Smith might earn an Oscar nod for his performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who had ignited the NFLʼs concussion crisis a decade earlier by first positing that former players had died with a brain disease caused by football.
NBC was scheduled to air Indianapolis at Pittsburgh on Dec. 6. The movie was set largely in Pittsburgh, and former Steelers great Mike Webster was a major character in the story.
"It was a natural lead-in," Costas told Outside the Lines. "I thought that the movie would make an impact, and I thought this was a way not only for NBC to acknowledge it, but to get out in front of it."
Costas typically wrote his essays on the fly on game day, sometimes even as the first quarter of the Sunday night matchup was under way. This time, though, he wrote it in advance to give his bosses an early look, recognizing it could create problems.
The essay, which has never been made public but was provided to Outside the Lines, began with a description of Omalu as "the neuropathologist who clearly demonstrated what just about everybody now understands -- but which for years the league denied: There is a direct and often tragic link between football and brain damage."
Costas says he sought to mitigate the potential embarrassment for the NFL by highlighting its efforts to improve player safety. "I purposely toned it down," he says.
He wrote, "To its credit, the NFL now has put millions into medical research and the possibility of improving equipment. They have instituted rules changes aimed at making the game safer, awareness programs aimed at youth football, and stricter head trauma protocols, which, even if they donʼt always work, at least appear to be a step in the right direction."
But Costas didnʼt hold back: "Even as the ratings rise, so, too, does a certain ambivalence. Because as much as we may try to push it into the background, thereʼs a kind of Russian roulette going on on the field tonight and on our television screens throughout the fall and winter, since we know that for all the gameʼs appeal, many of its participants will one day pay dearly for their part in our national obsession."
Costas says he submitted the essay to Ebersolʼs successor, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus, and executive producer Sam Flood and awaited their response.
"I remember the reaction almost verbatim. They said, ʼThis is a very well-written piece, wouldnʼt change a comma. We canʼt air it."
Costas says he asked why.
"Weʼre in negotiations with the NFL for Thursday Night Football," he says he was told.
"It was at that point that I realized that this was an untenable situation for me," he says. "I knew my days there were numbered."
Lazarus and Flood did not respond to requests seeking comment for this story. An NBC spokesman provided a statement that read, "We have historically given our commentators a lot of leeway to speak on our air about issues and controversies, and Bob has benefited most from this policy. Weʼre very disappointed that after 40 years with NBC, he has chosen to mischaracterize and share these private interactions."
Even before he offered the "Concussion" essay, the tension had ratcheted up between Costas and the network. At the start of the season, the NFL had introduced an ad campaign called "Football is Family." The spots were designed, in part, to counter negative publicity that had come to surround the league, especially around head trauma. One ad showed female fans wearing their favorite team gear, working out, drinking coffee, taking walks with their similarly decked-out children; another had Packers running back Eddie Lacy mowing the lawns of fans who lived near Lambeau Field.
By the time the divisional playoffs rolled around -- less than two months after his "Concussion" essay was killed -- Costas had had enough. In speaking with Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News, he said of the leagueʼs promotion: "Itʼs a little much to take, while watching a game, that you are constantly bombarded with ʼFootball is Familyʼ [commercials]."
He described to Raissman the significant number of players "acting like creeps and criminals" and concluded with, "You see all this stuff and the first thing that comes to mind is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Yes, ʼFootball is Family.ʼ Bring out the hearts and the tinkling piano music, because it really is a touching tableau."
It didnʼt take long for Costas to hear from his bosses: Why did he need to take such a gratuitous potshot at NBCʼs biggest business partner?
"My response was, ʼThe purpose of it is so I can sleep at night,ʼ you know?" he told Outside the Lines. "Some of this is like blinking in a hostage video. Itʼs like, ʼYou know I sort of have to do this. I hope you get what Iʼm really thinking right now.ʼ"
Two months after Costasʼ "Concussion" essay was rejected and two weeks after he ridiculed the "Football is Family" ads, the NFL announced a contract with NBC to air five Thursday night games in each of the following two seasons. NBC would pay the league another $450 million -- or $45 million per game -- to share the broadcast rights and simulcast the games on the leagueʼs own NFL Network.
When NBC returned to football in 2005, Costas agreed to return as host "out of loyalty" and "as kind of a good soldier" to NBC. Over the next decade, NBC would own Sunday nights, and Costas would become the emcee of "Football Night in America." AP Photo/Matt Rourke
BY THE TIME NBC was officially signing its new deal, Costas says he had invoked a clause in his contract that would allow him to step away from football and the Olympics to take on an emeritus role. He would host one more season on Sunday nights and then turn the show over to Mike Tirico. Costasʼ NFL swan song would be Feb. 4, 2018, when NBC next aired the Super Bowl.
But three months before the Super Bowl, the plan imploded during one dramatic week. First, on Nov. 7, 2017, Costas appeared at a journalism symposium at the University of Maryland.
There, he told a crowd of more than 400, "The issue [in sports] that is most substantial -- the existential issue -- is the nature of football itself."
He then went on a nearly one-and-a-half minute riff about football and brain damage that was punctuated by this statement: "The reality is that this game destroys peopleʼs brains -- not everyoneʼs, but a substantial number. Itʼs not a small number, itʼs a considerable number. It destroys their brains."
Two nights later, Costas was honored by the Concussion Legacy Foundation -- an advocacy group affiliated with researchers who have been at the forefront of the science connecting football and brain disease. Costas accepted the award from CLF to a standing ovation.
By this point, Costasʼ line at Maryland -- This game destroys peopleʼs brains -- had gone viral, raising hackles in the NBC offices. The New York Daily News asked NBC for comment, and a spokesman responded, "Bobʼs opinions are his own, and they do not represent those of the NBC Sports Group" -- prompting a story from Raissman under the headline, "NBC throws Bob Costas under the bus and in the process sends warning to rest of its talent."
Sensing a budding problem with his employer, Costas says he decided to appear on CNN on Saturday morning to make it clear he wasnʼt being critical of NBC. So, for the third time in a week, Costas was talking publicly about football and brain damage. He didnʼt soften any of his comments -- in fact, he reiterated them -- but he did attempt to defend the network.
"Iʼve been saying these things for the better part of a decade, and often on NBC, in front of the biggest audience not just in all of sports, but in all of television -- ʼSunday Night Football,ʼ" Costas told host Michael Smerconish. "And I think NBC Sports deserves credit for this."
Within an hour, Costas says he received a text from Flood, who oversees sports production for NBC.
"I think the words were, ʼYouʼve crossed the line,ʼ" says Costas, who says he no longer has the text.
"My thought was, ʼWhat line have I crossed?ʼ"
Later, Costas says he pointed out that he had been saying these things about football for years -- often on NBC. That didnʼt matter; it seemed this was one time too many.
Costas was told he was off the Super Bowl LII broadcast.
"I recall the phrase, ʼItʼs a six-hour, daylong celebration of football, and youʼre not the right person to celebrate football,ʼ" Costas says. "To which my response was not, ʼOh please, please, change your mind.ʼ My response was, ʼYeah, I guess youʼre right.ʼ"
Costas insists that rather than being upset or feeling punished, he felt relief. Still, he says he and NBC recognized that pulling him off the Super Bowl would raise questions. Costas had a proposal: He should interview Roger Goodell.
"I was looking out not only for myself, because Iʼd like to do the interview, but I was also looking out for NBC because that would have taken them off the public relations hook and eliminated all the confusion about them supposedly kicking me to the curb or throwing me under the bus."
Costas says Lazarus and Flood told him they would check with the NFL. The answer came back quickly: Goodell wouldnʼt do it.
"I donʼt know how far they went," Costas says, positing that they could have demurred without argument "as opposed to what you could say, which is this: ʼHey, we pay you guys billions of dollars, and 99 percent of what we do celebrates and promotes the league. Donʼt you have some obligation to us here? Itʼs our year in the three-year Super Bowl cycle.ʼ I donʼt know if that kind of pushback took place.ʼ"
Costas says he had asked to interview Goodell before Super Bowl XLIX but been rebuffed then, too. This was not the norm across all sports. Costas says he had regularly interviewed league commissioners during their championships.
"It tells you who calls the shots," Costas says. "The only business arrangement I can think of where the buyer must continually flatter the seller is the sports TV business. ʼWeʼre pulling a Brinks armored truck up to Park Avenue, Mr. Goodell. It contains the billions of dollars that weʼre going to pay you for the right and privilege to televise your games. But if weʼve delivered them in a denomination that does not please you, weʼre terribly sorry, weʼll back the truck up, and weʼll bring it to you in 20s and 50s if thatʼs the way youʼd prefer it.ʼ"
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Outside the Lines in an email that, often, each network airing the Super Bowl asks for an interview with the commissioner. "Commissioner Goodell has done one sit-down interview in the last five years with the network airing the Super Bowl," says McCarthy. "That was for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016. Commissioner Goodell has not done an interview with NBC for the four Super Bowls it has aired since he has been commissioner."
McCarthy says the NFL did not ask NBC to remove Costas from the Super Bowl.
In the days before the Super Bowl, when NBC first revealed that Costas wouldnʼt be part of the coverage, statements released by the network suggested that he wasnʼt doing the game in deference to Liam McHugh and Dan Patrick, who had served as "Sunday Night Football" hosts throughout the season. Costas was quoted: "It wouldnʼt be right for me to parachute in and do the Super Bowl" -- even though that had been precisely the plan before things went awry.
The next day, in an email to Sports Business Daily, Costas wrote, "The decision was mutually agreeable, and not only do I not have a problem with it, I am actually happy about it. I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, itʼs better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it."
That was only partially true.
Says Costas now: "I was hoping that the whole thing wouldnʼt cause a stir. And what I said was true as far as it went. I was completely comfortable with it, I had no personal stake in hosting, I was happy football was in my rearview mirror."
In his statements to Sports Business Daily, he had also dismissed any suggestion that his comments at Maryland had prompted NBC to pull him from the game. He wrote about how he had been making these same kinds of comments about football for a long time, "So the idea that I am only now finding my voice on this, or that NBC was taken aback by what I said at Maryland is just wrong. Itʼs all simple and straightforward."
Except that it wasnʼt.
Costas is the only person to win sports, news and entertainment Emmy Awards. Marc Bryan-Brown/WireImage
IN DECEMBER, COSTAS was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, he singled out Lazarus and Flood.
Of Lazarus, he said, "If there is a better, more reasonable person in a prominent position in network sports than Mark Lazarus, I havenʼt met him or her."
There was nothing surprising about this. For the better part of a year, during dozens of conversations with Outside the Lines -- short ones, long ones, in person, on the phone -- Costas made a point of noting how, in spite of everything he was saying, he had no issues with anyone at NBC.
"Toward the end, I was something of a square peg in a round hole," he said during his induction speech, a phrase he had used repeatedly with Outside the Lines.
What was surprising about Costas was not that he was concerned that he might offend anyone at NBC, but how concerned he was. Over the past few months, rarely did a conversation take place without Outside the Lines having to reassure Costas that the story would reflect his respect and admiration for his colleagues, and that he held no ill will toward them or NBC.
Yet, it didnʼt seem to matter. The conversations would end, Costas would appear to trust the process, and then, days or weeks later, it was like Groundhog Day and the same conversation would occur again. Costas also was concerned with what internet trolls and commenters might say about him after they read the story. Asked why he cared so much when it was clear he couldnʼt satisfy everyone, Costas replied, "I guess I find unfairness or untruth annoying." He had suggestions for how to phrase and contextualize certain elements of the piece, and he regularly lamented that some people might perceive him as bitter -- again, despite regular assurances that the story would not reflect him as bitter.
The reporting on Costas revealed not only his mixed feelings about revisiting the more difficult portion of his career, but also NBCʼs reaction to him making it public. NBC declined to license ESPN its footage involving Costas in a video version of this story that aired on E:60. Costas repeatedly suggested that Outside the Lines reach out to his longtime NBC producer and one of his closest friends, Bruce Cornblatt, saying he would be an excellent resource who would be happy to talk. Cornblatt, though, did not respond to calls and, ultimately, sent a text saying he declined to comment; asked why, Cornblatt didnʼt respond. Outside the Lines asked an NBC spokesman whether Cornblatt had been told not to cooperate, and the spokesman denied that was the case.
In the end, Costas says he regretted ever taking part in the story; not because he regretted his comments about football, but because of the strain it created around his relationships with NBC colleagues.
Taken as a whole, it reflected something Costas said in one fashion or another during several conversations with Outside the Lines: As much as he cherished his time at NBC, he and the network simply had reached a point of divergent interests.
"I am not a Howard Cosell at the end of his career deciding he doesnʼt like boxing," Costas says. "I decided long ago that I had misgivings about football, and I tried to use the forum they gave me to make those points. They gave me bits and pieces, but eventually they took those bits and pieces away from me."
When Costas had decided he wanted to stop hosting Super Bowls and Olympics, the plan was to take on an emeritus role that would have him appearing to host or offer commentary on select major events or programs. Instead, Costas and NBC agreed to terms this past fall to end his contract early. Costas had said at one point that he expected a joint announcement in January, with both sides releasing statements that described their mutual respect and admiration. Instead, the news trickled out when Costas confirmed it to the New York Post in a Jan. 19 story headlined, "Bob Costas and NBC are quietly and officially broken up."
"Itʼs very fair and very amicable," Costas told Outside the Lines. "It was a very, very fruitful run of nearly four decades, and I have nothing but respect and appreciation for all of it."
David Lubbers, a producer in ESPNʼs enterprise and investigative unit, and Julia Theaman, a content associate for Outside the Lines and E:60, contributed to this report.
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Britain is leading a group of European Union states who are trying to block an E...
Article word count: 624
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19113836
Posted by glassworm (karma: 862)
Post stats: Points: 143 - Comments: 85 - 2019-02-08T13:19:40Z
#HackerNews #blacklist #dirty #london #money #off #pushes #saudis #take
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain is leading a group of European Union states who are trying to block an EU plan to include Saudi Arabia and 22 other jurisdictions on a blacklist of countries that pose money-laundering and terrorism financing threats, sources said.
Saudi currency, riyal, is seen at a local currency exchange in Manama, Bahrain October 16, 2018. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed
The EU’s executive commission adopted last month a draft list that adds Saudi Arabia, Panama and small Pacific and Caribbean islands to the existing list of 16 states, which currently includes Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and North Korea.
The list needs the endorsement of a majority of the 28 EU nations but Britain and other heavyweights of the bloc, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are raising concerns, three EU officials told Reuters.
Two of the sources said EU states’ reluctance to endorse the list was mostly driven by concerns over the inclusion of Saudi Arabia and Panama on the list.
Listed countries face higher scrutiny in their financial dealings with the EU, with bloc’s banks forced to carry out additional checks on payments involving entities from those jurisdictions.
Britain is the country that is pushing more openly not to include Riyadh in the list, one official said, while Spain is insisting it excludes Panama.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is a top importer of EU products and weapons, while Panama is a major financial center in Latin America with many EU firms involved in the multi-billion-dollar expansion of its trans-oceanic canal.
British officials were not immediately available for a comment. A Spanish government official declined to comment.
Countries are blacklisted if they “have strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism regimes that pose significant threats to the financial system of the Union,” the existing EU list says.
Panama’s ambassador to the EU Miguel Verzbolovskis said the country had reformed its anti-money laundering rules and urged the EU not to include Panama in the new list. Saudi government officials were not immediately available for a comment.
Several EU states in a meeting of national envoys this week in Brussels called for more time to assess listed jurisdictions, the officials said. They resisted the EU Commission’s plan to take control of the listing process.
This has so far been carried out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body composed by wealthy nations, including half of the EU countries. The existing EU list mirrors the FATF list of 16 states, while the new one would be expanded by imposing stricter criteria on countries to avoid listing.
EU states’ pressure against the new listing has intensified after a meeting of EU and Arab League foreign ministers ended with no agreement on a joint statement on Monday, in a sign of worsening relations between the two blocs.
Relations between Brussels and Riyadh, which plays a prominent role in the Arab League, have grown colder after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2.
A Saudi government team of diplomats has set up shop in Brussels to lobby against the listing, one EU official and one source in Saudi Arabia said.
The EU official said the Saudis have threatened to cancel lucrative contracts in some EU countries.
Two senior officials of the EU Commission said that Brussels was, however, not inclined to bend to pressure and would formally adopt the list, with Saudi Arabia in it, in the coming weeks.
EU states could however reject it within two months of its approval by qualified majority.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Belen Carreno in Madrid; Editing by Toby Chopra
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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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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Planning on quitting the social platform? A major new study offers a glimpse of what unplugging might do for your life. (Spoiler: It’s not so bad.)
Article word count: 1822
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19041021
Posted by pseudolus (karma: 7875)
Post stats: Points: 82 - Comments: 34 - 2019-01-31T00:09:12Z
\#HackerNews #brain #facebook #glimpse #off #offers #study #this #unplugging #your
Planning on quitting the social platform? A major new study offers a glimpse of what unplugging might do for your life. (Spoiler: It’s not so bad.)
Subjects in a Stanford study had to be paid $100 on average to quit Facebook for a month. At the end, they were less politically polarized than people in a comparison group.CreditCreditMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
The world’s most common digital habit is not easy to break, even in a fit of moral outrage over the privacy risks and political divisions Facebook has created, or amid concerns about how the habit might affect emotional health.
Although four in 10 Facebook users say they have taken long breaks from it, the digital platform keeps growing. A recent study found that the average user would have to be paid $1,000 to $2,000 to be pried away for a year.
So what happens if you actually do quit? A new study, the most comprehensive to date, offers a preview.
Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever. A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime.
The study, by researchers at Stanford University and New York University, helps clarify the ceaseless debate over Facebook’s influence on the behavior, thinking and politics of its active monthly users, who number some 2.3 billion worldwide. The study was posted recently on the Social Science Research Network, an open access site.
“For me, Facebook is one of those compulsive things,” said Aaron Kelly, 23, a college student in Madison, Wis. “It’s really useful, but I always felt like I was wasting time on it, distracting myself from study, using it whenever I got bored.”
Mr. Kelly, who estimated that he spent about an hour a day on the platform, took part in the study “because it was kind of nice to have an excuse to deactivate and see what happened,” he said.
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Well before news broke that Facebook had shared users’ data without consent, scientists and habitual users debated how the platform had changed the experience of daily life.
A cadre of psychologists has argued for years that the use of Facebook and other social media is linked to mental distress, especially in adolescents. Others have likened habitual Facebook use to a mental disorder, comparing it to drug addiction and even publishing magnetic-resonance images of what Facebook addiction “looks like in the brain.”
When Facebook has published its own analyses to test such claims, the company has been roundly criticized.
The new study, a randomized trial financed principally by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a nonpartisan supporter of research in science, technology and economics, sketches out a nuanced, balanced portrait of daily use that is unlikely to satisfy either critics or supporters of the platform.
The paper, along with similar analyses by other research groups, has not yet undergone peer review. The Times asked five independent experts to look at the methodology and findings.
“This is impressive work, and they do a good job sorting out causality,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on the Digital Economy, who was not involved in the research.
“This is the way to answer these kinds of questions; it’s the gold standard for how to do science. A lot of what we’ve heard before about social media’s effects was based on surveys.”
A Facebook press officer said, in a prepared statement: “This is one study of many on this topic, and it should be considered that way.” The statement quoted from the study itself, which noted that “Facebook produces large benefits for its users,” and that “any discussion of social media’s downsides should not obscure the fact that it fulfills deep and widespread needs.”
The researchers — led by Hunt Allcott, an associate professor of economics at N.Y.U., and Matthew Gentzkow, a Stanford economist — used Facebook ads to recruit participants over age 18 who spent at least 15 minutes on the platform each day; the daily average was an hour, with heavy users logging two to three hours, or more.
Nearly 3,000 users agreed and filled out extensive questionnaires, which asked about their daily routines, political views and general state of mind.
Half the users were randomly assigned to deactivate their Facebook accounts for a month, in exchange for payment. The price point for that payment was itself of great interest to the researchers: How much is a month’s access to photos, commentary, Facebook groups, friends and newsfeeds worth? On average, about $100, the study found, which is in line with previous analyses.
During the month of abstinence, the research team, which included Sarah Eichmeyer and Luca Braghieri of Stanford, regularly checked the Facebook accounts of the study’s subjects to make sure those who had agreed to stay away had not reactivated them. (Only about 1 percent did.)
The subjects also regularly received text messages to assess their moods. This kind of real-time monitoring is thought to provide a more accurate psychological assessment than, say, a questionnaire given hours or days later.
Some participants said that they had not appreciated the benefits of the platform until they had shut it down. “What I missed was my connections to people, of course, but also streaming events on Facebook Live, politics especially, when you know you’re watching with people interested in the same thing,” said Connie Graves, 56, a professional home health aide in Texas, and a study subject. “And I realized I also like having one place where I could get all the information I wanted, boom-boom-boom, right there.”
She and her fellow abstainers all had access to Facebook Messenger throughout the study. Messenger is a different product, and the research team decided to allow it because it has similarities with other person-to-person media services.
When the month was over, the quitters and control subjects again filled out extensive surveys that assessed changes in their state of mind, political awareness and partisan passion, as well as the ebb and flow of their daily activities, online and off, since the experiment began.
For abstainers, breaking up with Facebook freed up about an hour a day, on average, and more than twice that for the heaviest users. They also reported spending more time offline, including with friends and family, or watching TV.
“I would have expected more substitution from Facebook to other digital things — Twitter, Snapchat, online browsing,” said Dr. Gentzkow. “That didn’t happen, and for me, at least, it was a surprise.”
On tests of political knowledge, the abstainers scored a few points lower than they did before deactivating their accounts.
“The political-knowledge findings suggest that Facebook is an important source of news that people pay attention to,” said David Lazer, a professor of political science and computer and information science at Northeastern University. “This is not a trivial finding. It could have gone either way. You could imagine that the other chatter and information on Facebook was crowding out news consumption.”
Scores on several measures of political polarization were mixed, although one scale, called “polarization on issues,” dropped for the abstainers by 5 percent to 10 percent, whereas the control group remained the same.
“It’s hard to know what to make of this,” Dr. Gentzkow said. “It may be that seeing a lot of news and politics on Facebook tends to polarize people. But once they’re off Facebook, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using the extra time to read The New York Times.”
Reduced knowledge, in short, may blunt partisanship, although this relationship is far from clear.
The most striking result from the study may be that deactivating Facebook had a positive but small effect on people’s moods and life satisfaction. The finding tempers the widely held presumption that habitual social-media use causes real psychological distress.
This notion is drawn in part from surveys that ask social-media users about their extent of use and overall moods. For instance, research led by Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has found that high levels of passive browsing on social media predict lowered moods, compared to more active engagement.
But previous research could not discern whether mood problems followed heavy usage, or moody people tended to be the heaviest users. The new study supported the latter explanation.
If heavy Facebook use caused mood problems, the researchers would have expected to see the moods of heavy users improve by a greater amount relative to lightweight users. But that didnʼt happen, which suggested that the heavy users were moody before they were sucked deeply into Facebook.
In an interview, Dr. Kross said that it was too early to draw hard conclusions on the psychological effects of quitting Facebook. He pointed to two recent, smaller randomized studies that found users’ moods lifted when their access to social media was restricted.
“What I take away from these three papers” — the Stanford study and the two smaller ones — “is we need to know more about how and when social-media use impacts well-being, not conclude that the relationship doesn’t exist,” or is very mild, Dr. Kross said.
Thus far, the debate over the effects of social media on mental health has focused mostly on children and adolescents, not on the older population that was the focus of the new study.
“In terms of age groups, they’re comparing apples and oranges,” said Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy.”
“It is entirely possible, and likely, that the dynamics of social media and well-being are different for teens versus those ages 30 and over.”
Psychologists and computer scientists have made the case that social media are addictive, and few habitual Facebook users would disagree. The new experiment provided plenty of supporting evidence: After it ended, the subjects who had quit for a month said they planned to use Facebook less, and they did so, reducing their previous habit — at least for a while.
About 10 percent were still abstaining a week later, compared with 3 percent of the control group, who had voluntarily deactivated; and 5 percent were abstaining two months later, compared with 1 percent in the control group.
The financial incentives told a similar story. After the monthlong portion of the study ended, the researchers asked the abstainers how much they would need to be paid to stay off Facebook for another month, hypothetically. This time, the price point dropped below $100 — though not for everyone.
“I told them $200 for another four weeks,” said Ms. Graves, who has not yet returned to Facebook. “Minimum.”
Benedict Carey has been a science reporter for The Times since 2004. He has also written three books, “How We Learn” about the cognitive science of learning; “Poison Most Vial” and “Island of the Unknowns,” science mysteries for middle schoolers.
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Apple dismissed just over 200 employees from Project Titan, its autonomous vehicle initiative, according to people familiar with the group.
Article word count: 349
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18986417
Posted by tmp092 (karma: 111)
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Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Apple dismissed just over 200 employees this week from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle group, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.
An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the lay-offs and said the company still sees opportunity in the space:
"We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple," the spokesperson said.
"We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever," they added.
In August 2018, Apple enlisted a Tesla engineering vice president and Apple veteran, Doug Field, to lead the Titan team alongside Bob Mansfield. This weekʼs dismissals from the group were seen, internally, as anticipated restructuring under the relatively new leadership.
Other employees who were impacted by the restructuring of Project Titan are staying at Apple, but moving to different parts of the company.
Of late, Apple CEO Tim Cook has touted his companyʼs initiatives in health as the key to its future growth. "I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, "What was Appleʼs greatest contribution to mankind?" it will be about health," Cook told CNBCʼs Jim Cramer.
Meanwhile, Apple executives have remained mum in recent months on the companyʼs car prospects, which appear to have been scaled back from the initial rumored vehicle to a focus on software. In 2016, Apple laid off employees from the same group, shifting its strategy. Fully self-driving cars remain experimental, even for major players in the field such as Waymo, Cruise and Tesla.
Venture investors and strategic investors from the traditional automotive world have poured billions into start-ups developing self-driving vehicles including: Zoox, Pony.AI, Aurora, May Mobility, Embark and others.
— Paul Eisenstein and CNBCʼs Jordan Novet contributed to this report.
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