AMITIAE - Monday 2 April 2012

Cassandra - Monday Review - It will soon be Friday

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

Foxconn again. Don't let facts get in the way of a good headline. Patronising comments on farm workers from Charles Cooper. Apple may be winning a significant patent battle. Apple and Australia: 4G defined for Oz; iOS OK for spies. Ashton Kuchner to play Steve Jobs in a movie. MAD Magazine on the iPad: Alfred E, Neumann for iOS? Apple, publishers and DOJ coming to some agreement. Ghosts of Orwell's 1984 walk in the UK. FCC to be hobbled in the US.

Apple Stuff

It was probably not a coincidence that Tim Cook being in China saw the release of the first report from the FLA which indeed (and unsurprisingly) found some violations. That was the point of them being asked to go in by Apple, surely? But many people have not been able (or willing) to join that particular set of dots. Every time Apple releases a report on labour conditions, the hounds start baying.

Indeed, Foxconn had violated labour laws, mainly over work time, but despite the outcries things may not be as bad as they seem. Not good, but not bad; at least as long as you are not a Chinese worker. Diallah Haidar on Wall Street Cheat Sheet reports on some of the findings and -- bless my soul -- also mentions other companies that use Foxconn. Some of the problems are outlined in another item on WSCS by Aabha Rathee who also includes mention of other US companies.

As Apple was the instigator, has promised to make things right (when it is Foxconn that is the employer) and has been trying to be open about the situation all the way along, the headline from Charles Cooper, calling this a fiasco and claiming it is not Apple's finest hour heads an article that is looking the wrong way through the telescope, which has been Cooper's approach to Apple before.

He clearly disagrees with the comment by Cook that, ""no one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple" with a sarcastic, "Really?" Well, until Apple is able to find out what the problems are, the company can only take certain steps, for example asking the FLA to check. And the last time I looked, Foxconn was not owned by Apple, so there is a limit to what can be done. And clearly, when the information was outed, Foxconn did react with cuts in hours (see below). Also, who else is doing anything from the other US companies that have business with Foxconn, or would that get in the way of Cooper's hit-whoring? That sarcastic, really, is more than misplaced.

Reading between the lines, especially with the way that overtime units were allocated in 30 minute segments and the staff were not paid if they worked for 28 minutes, there are problems at lower management levels that the executives cannot be aware of: welcome to the real world.

Cooper also refers to past incidents which have been addressed, but may not really be interested in facts, as he also includes "the spate of suicides and suicide attempts by Foxconn employees who could no longer take the pressure" which have been examined by other sources: the numbers of suicides there are lower than the Chinese national average and actually lower than in some parts of the United States. But don't let facts get in the way of a good headline. He is also patronising to the Chinese workers with his dismissive, "It still beats working with the water buffalo back home." I know a well-known Thai author, Pira Sudham, who was educated in the UK. He started life as a buffalo boy. We all have hopes and ambitions.

As for problems being on display outside, this sounds more like the Mike Daisey version of Foxconn than the versions we have read from documentaries and other news reports from those who really did go in rather than sneaking round the gates, although one of those reports visited the shopping areas and the restaurants and the dorms and found not despair but an upbeat working population.

An interesting view was put forward by Dave Johnson on Huffington Post which, while I disagree with several points does set out the points and the problems, but still follows that "violations of human rights" meme that others have laid out before several points of which have been covered and cleared. I was also taken aback by the comment that "Foxconn even says they'll start obeying Chinese law -- but not until next year" which should horrify many, but does not surprise me as I have seen exactly the same sort of thing here, especially when new laws appear. When the time comes for enforcement, there is always an additional grace period, then sometimes another, then nothing ever happens again. Like in China, the bosses complain that the minimum wage is going up and that they cannot afford it, but still drive to their luxury homes in chauffeur driven Benzes while the workers grab a 20 baht (65 cent) bowl of noodles.

I think too that he is fudging definitions on the points that "Chinese law limits weekly work time to 49 hours but "industry code" and Apple's standards limits weekly hours to 60" for two reasons: Apple's codes do not just apply to China; and it is not clear to me in those short extracts if we are talking about a working week with or without overtime. I would like some clarification there. It is up to Foxconn to comply with the laws of the land, not Apple as Apple employs none of those people, yet is taking all the flak for this. US commentators might do better to look at some of the abuses of US and immigrant workers within the US.

It did not take too long for some of the fallout. This what happens when western do-gooders try to impose their standards on non-Western cultures (we are still suffering from the fallout from Colonialism): people will not leave well enough alone. OK, hours are too long. Solution? Cut the hours. Result: an awful lot of unhappy Chinese workers who left their homes, their families, their villages and their farms to go to the big industrial cities and make money. Now having been volunteering for all that overtime they are told it has to stop: you can go back home in ten years, not five. Simon Sage on iMore reports on some of the reactions from those at the sharp end. There is little I want to add to his comments which are spot on.

We discussed the problems Apple was having getting those in Australia to understand what was meant by 4G when it was written on its sites (different information for different countries too), so while they offered money back to anyone who wanted it, there is also a more pointed clarification, we read in an item by Federico Viticci on Mac Stories, that includes -- as there had been before -- the comment, "This product supports very fast cellular networks. It is not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE networks and WiMAX networks." Maybe the Australians ought to be asking their carriers about what snake oil they have been selling them.

Also in Australia, we are told by the Herald Sun that the government has approved the use of iPhones and iPads for storing and communicating classified government information. Just don't lose them, eh? I bet they have that covered. My link to this item came from MacDaily News.

There had been some concern about an app called Girls Around Me that linked to foursquare and other apps, so that with location data too it could track down members of the fairer sex in the immediate area. I guess like Path there may have been an innocent intent behind this, but several commented on the creepier side. Foursquare were quick to react and locked the app out we are told by Harrison Wheeler on TNW, who does comment that the app only accesses data that the young ladies had already authorised as accessible and wonders if they see the risks. Later we read on a number of online sources that the developer had withdrawn the app on a voluntary basis, but defends the app. Electronista reports that there was a misunderstanding of what the app was about.

A blast from my juvenile past arrives this week with the announcement that Mad magazine is coming to the iPad. I checked on Sunday evening, but there was nothing in the iTunes app store here. I will put out some information if I have any update.

A nice hint this week from OS X Daily on how to see source on an iPad or iPhone. It takes a bit of copying and pasting from an external site to set this up, but there may be occasions when some of us may find this useful.

News this morning is that Ashton Kuchner is to play Steve Jobs in that movie that has been rumoured for a while about the late head of Apple, I read on Huffington Post. He certainly does look like Jobs as he was in the 1980s. Just as interesting will be who plays the others.

Half and Half

Apple had some good news on the patents front when respected Judge, Richard Posner issued an order upholding part of the touch screen patents, Josh Ong reports on AppleInsider. A more full report was written by Florian Mueller on Foss Patents who explains the mechanics of the patent, the reasons behind the decision and the effects it could have. Nuclear. . . . So much for Open Source Android. Just to reiterate, Foss Patents is a must read for anything connected with such litigation.

In more legal matters concerning ebooks, it is not a surprise to read in an article by Joe Aimonetti (among others) that despite earlier roars and other loud noises, it seems as if the US Department of Justice, Apple and the publishers are coming to some form of agreement and there may be changes in contracts: and in pricing. Not that it will affect us here as the iBook Store is verboten apart from the copyright free stuff that is allowed. Amazon -- and the Kindle apps -- unfortunately make much more sense. Electronista also carry news of a possible settlement.

Other Matters

Of course Sunday being 1 April, we were on the watch-out for April Fool articles and The Next Web caught me with its fake move to subscription services (I think it was fake), but Google had some good ones including 8-bit maps for Nintendo and morse for G-Mail: Gmail Tap (Rene Ritchie and many others).

Andy Ihnatko Tweeted, "I've seen Google's April Fool's jokes, and I've seen the app store for Google Android-based tablets. The apps are way funnier."

Despite lots of rumours and news claiming that RIM was leaving the consumer sector, a report by Mikey Campbell on AppleInsider tells us that this is not so, which will relieve about 90% of Thailand's teen population.

Orwell warned about Big Brother in his landmark novel, 1984, which has become symbolic of government control; but people have not been listening, have they? Despite warnings about Echelon and other such surveillance systems, the very parties that claim they are for hands-off government (e.g. the nanny state) are the worst when it comes to imposing control. The UK government is about to announce new legislation that will allow them to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK we are told by the BBC. This is a shocking step and all parties should roundly condemn this and send it to the legislation trash that it so deserves.

The authorities make the same excuses (updated) that it is to allow them to tackle crime and terrorism (it used to be porn). If something needs to be checked -- if someone really needs to be monitored -- there are sufficient provisions in current laws to enable the police or other services to apply to a court for a warrant rather than have the ability to conduct fishing trips. Another report on this dangerous idea is to be found on The Independent. Late Sunday I also saw that the Bangkok Post mentions this in reference to a Sunday Times report, so I guess the cat is out of the bag there.

A certain relaxing of controls is happening in the US for the telecomms industry, but this may not be good for the consumers there as a new FCC Process Reform Act, has passed into legislation we read on The Hill and it will limit the powers of the FCC. In't it odd that this sort of bill always passes into law with the GOP in control of the House. We are still suffering from the "liberalising" moves in the Reagan era.

We reported a week or so ago that the government of Australia had banned Huawei from bidding for a major contract for fear of backdoors and other insecurities. The world is a big place of course, so it is not a surprise to find reported in the Hindu Business Line that Huawei is trying to muscle in on India -- a massive market that is fairly untouched -- in the hope of providing 4G services there.

Local Items

I had been debating whether to subscribe to the MotoGP live link that Dorna provide, but at €99 it was in the balance. I still have a week to decide. However, storms on Saturday afternoon may be part of my decision. I had heard of the effect that rains bring to the True satellite service, but with the cable connection I had at the old house, had never experienced this. Like clockwork, as soon as the rains came and the lightning struck --- really spectacular all around me here, with three direct hits on one building -- off went the TV: And not for a brief few moments flickering, either. It was off for about 30 minutes on one occasion. I can just imagine how frustrated and infuriated I would be if that happened in the middle of some of my Sunday afternoon's motorcycle GP viewing. I am also surprised F1 has no equivalent.

Late News

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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