June 4, 2023

Martyl Langsdorf, Artist Behind Doomsday Clock, Dies at 96

In 1953, with the United States and the Soviet Union testing hydrogen bombs and the cold war increasingly frigid, that ominous minute hand of hers stood just two ticks from the symbolically catastrophic 12. By 1991, after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, it retreated to a relatively reassuring 11:43 p.m.

But the Doomsday Clock, which Ms. Langsdorf drew for the June 1947 cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as a way to evoke the potential devastation of nuclear weapons, did not stay in reverse. Before Ms. Langsdorf died on March 26, at age 96, the board of the Bulletin, which adjusts the minute hand according to its annual assessments of threats to humanity, had set the clock to 11:55 p.m.

“The challenges to rid the world of nuclear weapons, harness nuclear power, and meet the nearly inexorable climate disruptions from global warming are complex and interconnected,” the board wrote when it moved the minute hand most recently, in 2012. “In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges.”

Ms. Langsdorf was a painter who specialized in abstract landscapes. Her husband, Alexander Langsdorf Jr., was a physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb. In 1945, as preparations were being made to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mr. Langsdorf and others formed the Bulletin as debate was escalating within the group about what it had created. When the Bulletin converted from a newsletter to a magazine in 1947, Ms. Langsdorf was hired to design the cover.

“Martyl first considered using the letter U, the chemical symbol for uranium, as her design,” Kennette Benedict, the Bulletin’s executive director, wrote in an essay on its Web site this week. “As she listened more intently to their conversations, though, she soon realized that it was the atomic scientists’ urgency about the looming dangers of this new technology that was most compelling.”

Mr. Langsdorf spent much of the rest of his career at the Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Chicago. When he died in 1996, Ms. Langsdorf told The New York Times how he had become one of 70 scientists to petition President Harry S. Truman not to use the bomb.

“He thought it was unbelievably inhumane to drop it on an open city and kill so many civilians,” she said.

Ms. Langsdorf’s career designing magazine covers stopped and started with that first magazine issue of the Bulletin (which declared that it was 11:53 p.m.). She devoted herself instead to her artwork.

When she was 18 she had sold a painting to George Gershwin, and her art sold well throughout her life. Her works have been collected by museums in Washington like the National Museum of American Art, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. She also painted murals in post offices and other federal buildings for the General Services Administration.

Martyl Suzanne Schweig (her first name is pronounced mar-TILL) was born on March 16, 1917, in St. Louis. Her mother was a painter and her father was a portrait photographer. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis.

Ms. Langsdorf died of complications of a lung infection at a rehabilitative hospital in Schaumburg, Ill., her family said.

She is survived by two daughters, Alexandra Shoemaker and Suzanne Langsdorf; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a brother, Martin.

Ms. Langsdorf painted well into her 90s. An exhibition of her work opens at the Printworks Gallery in Chicago in May.

“People would ask her, ‘Are you still painting?’ ” Ms. Shoemaker said. “And she would say, “Are you still breathing?’ ”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/us/martyl-langsdorf-artist-behind-doomsday-clock-dies-at-96.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

All Nippon Says Grounded Dreamliners Have Cost $15 Million

With a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, delivered in late 2011 ahead of any other airline, All Nippon is the world’s largest operator of Boeing’s new jet. But that fleet remains grounded as U.S. and Japanese investigators try to figure out why a battery burst into flames and another spewed smoke last month on 787s operated by All Nippon and Japan Airlines.

All Nippon has scrambled to use replacement aircraft to keep routes operating. But the airline has been forced to cancel about 450 domestic and international flights, affecting almost 60,000 customers. The airline has said it expects disruptions to continue, and was unsure how long the disruption to its services would continue.

The airline said Thursday that so far, the 787 grounding had caused an estimated $15.4 million in lost revenue, a disappointing reversal after the airline touted the big fuel savings brought about by the fuel-efficient jets. For now, All Nippon kept its profit forecast for the year through March unchanged at ¥40 billion, though it remains unclear how big an impact the Dreamliner woes will have on the airline’s future earnings and strategy.

Seven operators grounded their 787 fleets on Jan. 16 after regulators around the world followed U.S. and Japanese regulators in ordering the suspension of all flights until the battery problems could be resolved. Earlier that day, a 787 operated by All Nippon was forced to make an emergency landing in western Japan after pilots spotted a battery error signal and a strange smell in the cabin.

Just 10 days earlier, a similar battery burst into flames aboard a parked 787 operated by Japan Airlines at Boston’s Logan Airport. The charred remains of the lithium-ion batteries have been recovered from both planes, and are now being scrutinized by U.S. and Japanese investigators.

All Nippon has since said that it replaced batteries and chargers in its Dreamliners a total of 10 times before the emergency landing, and Japan Airlines said it had done so several times. U.S. investigators are now asking for more data on the devices’ past performance.

All Nippon has not asked Boeing for compensation linked to the grounded 787s, but will discuss the issue once the total financial impact is more clear, the executive vice president Kiyoshi Tonomoto was quoted by Reuters as saying.

According to Boeing, the two Japanese airlines account for about an eighth of the 848 orders the aircraft manufacturer has received for the Dreamliner so far. Japan Airlines, which owns seven of the jets, reports its earnings next week.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/business/global/01iht-ana01.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Disruptions: Your Brain on E-Books and Smartphone Apps

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Last week, my brain played a cruel trick on me. While waiting for my flight to take off, I was reading The New Yorker, the paper version, of course — I know the rules. I became engrossed in an article and swiped my finger down the glossy page to read more.

To my surprise, nothing happened. I swiped it again. Nothing.

My brain was trying to turn the page the same way I do on my iPad, with the swipe of a finger. (I quickly realized that I had to physically turn the page.)

A few days later, my brain played another technology-related trick. In New York City, I hopped in a cab and told the driver, “59th and 6th, please.” I didn’t think anything of it when we arrived at my destination and I said thanks and hopped out of the cab, without paying.

The cabby yelled at me bluntly, clearly not very happy: “These taxis aren’t free. Are you gonna pay me?”

I quickly apologized and paid him — with a good tip — when I realized that my brain thought I was in an Uber car, not a taxi.

In San Francisco, where I live, I often use a car service called Uber when I go out for the evening. You order a car from your smartphone, it arrives, you get in, tell your driver where to go, and then get out at your destination. There is no money exchanged; your credit card is automatically billed after the trip, and you are e-mailed a receipt.

But I did spend a few moments standing at the curb trying to figure out if I was suffering from some sort of mental fatigue.

I called the closest thing to a technology doctor I know: Clifford Nass, a professor of cognitive science and communications at Stanford University, and the author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.”

“Brains love habits; brains are built for efficiency,” Mr. Nass said, noting that I wasn’t sick, maybe just a little too technological for my own good. “Our brains are built to put two things together in space and time and then say, ‘Great, I can remember that these go together.’ Then we execute on that, like you trying to scroll down a piece of paper with your finger.”

Although videos have been floating around the Web showing 1- and 2-year-olds trying to use a magazine like an iPad, you would think a 36-year-old man would know the difference. Gary Small, director of the Longevity Center this is its new name at the University of California, Los Angeles, has performed studies showing that the human brain adapts to technology in seven days, regardless of age.

I rarely read things on paper anymore. Magazines, news articles and books are all consumed on touch-screen devices like iPads, smartphones and Kindles. (The content is the same; the device is different.) Mr. Nass explained that my brain had been habituated to change the page by sliding my finger, no matter what I read. (This is also why I uselessly swipe ATM monitors or my laptop screen.) The same thing is happening with the taxi: my brain categorizes any car I am not driving as an Uber car.

All of these brain changes hasten the adoption rate for technologies, Mr. Nass said. It’s what happened with the telephone or the use of cruise control in cars. “You no longer drive a car,” he said. “You use a car.”

What is now happening with reading, we will soon experience with paying for things without cash, check or credit cards. And it will happen quickly.

The slowest part of the process may be convincing businesses to produce the changes. “This is where businesses have a difficult time adapting to what’s happening in society,” Mr. Nass said. It wasn’t publishers, for example, who introduced electronic reading devices. “People entered the publishing industry because they loved the feel and smell of books.”

But if they don’t recognize the speed of these changes, their brains are playing tricks on them, too.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/your-brain-on-e-books-and-smartphone-apps/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Disruptions: Will Apple Be the First to Break $1 Trillion?

Timothy D. Cook, Apple's chief executive, at the introduction of the iPhone 5.Eric Risberg/Associated Press Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, at the introduction of the iPhone 5.

If Apple continues on its current trajectory, something remarkable might happen on April 9, 2015, at around 11 a.m.

That is, statisticians and investors I’ve spoken with say, a conservative estimate of when Apple could become the first company ever to be valued at $1 trillion. (Yes, you read that correctly: the number one, followed by 12 zeros.)

Other analysts are making even more aggressive estimates for the company’s value, which, as of Friday, was $656 billion. Those people put the trillion-dollar mark at less than a year from now: Aug. 16, 2013.

“It’s hard to imagine Apple growing any faster than it has grown on both the release of the iPad and iPhone,” said Michael E. Driscoll, chief executive of Metamarkets, a big data and predictive analytics company, and one of the people betting Apple will top $1 trillion in 2015.

Estimating when, or if, Apple will become the first to be worth $1 trillion is a bit of a parlor game, but we can all likely agree on one fact: today, it is a juggernaut.

Not long ago, Apple was a boutique PC maker. Since then, it has rolled over almost every company in its path, first with music players, then with cellphones and, more recently, with laptops. Nokia, Sony, Research in Motion, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have all watched open-mouthed as Apple took markets they thought were secured. Each time, Apple’s stock rose and their stock fell.

“They are certainly a different kind of company,” said Walter Piecyk, a wireless research analyst at BTIG Research. But, he warned: “So was Nokia in the late ’90s. No one thought they’d ever be challenged, and look at where they are today.”

Even with this growth, there is another possibility: that Apple never reaches $1 trillion. “In a worst-case scenario, Apple could befall the fate of Microsoft, which had a similarly dizzying peak in late 1999,” Mr. Driscoll said. “In this scenario, it will never happen.”

If $1 trillion were the peak of Mount Everest, Microsoft would have been rising through the highest base camp in December 1999, when its market capitalization hit an all-time high of $616.3 billion. Since then, the company has slid down the side of the mountain and is currently valued at a mere $261 billion.

Indeed, the flap over the poor-quality maps on the iPhone 5 has led some people to wonder if Apple has already jumped the shark. But remember how well it has weathered other challenges, like poorly functioning antennas and Siri’s erratic behavior.

Apple is different from Microsoft. “When Microsoft peaked in 2000, it had 20 years running the PC revolution. We’re essentially only five years into the smartphone revolution,” said Charles S. Wallman, a securities analyst who runs an investment group in Middleton, Wis. “Apple has 435 million customers based on the number of credit cards in iTunes. That’s 6 percent of the world’s population. It’s not a stretch to say it can get to 10 or 12 percent of the world’s population.” (Before we go any further, stop and reflect on the power that gives Apple.)

Even if Apple didn’t enter any new product categories, it could reach $1 trillion by doubling its sales. That’s hard for a big company, but in many respects, it is already happening. According to the latest statistics released by I.H.S. iSuppli, a research company, the Apple iPad accounts for nearly 70 percent of the tablet market. BTIG Research predicts Apple will sell 45 million iPhones in the December quarter alone. (During the same quarter last year, the company sold 37 million iPhones, doubling its revenue from a year earlier.)

While it used to be a presence in the United States and a nobody overseas, Apple is now rolling out products like the iPhone 5 worldwide on the same day. The company will also, predictably, continue to increase its global retail division of 388 stores. These stores make an average of $5,647 in sales per square foot. By comparison, shopping malls in the United States make an average of $341 in sales per square foot.

The company will continue to grow in China, too, where many of the more than one billion people who own mobile phones are upgrading to smartphones.

And don’t forget those clunky old PCs. While other computer makers have lost ground, sales of Macs have grown each quarter for the past six years.
And none of these staggering drivers of growth consider Apple entering entirely new markets.

“When we invented the car, it was a substitute for horses, but it was the second phase of the car revolution — when we invent things around the cars like gas stations and drive-ins — that created new business markets,” Mr. Wallman said. “We’re seeing this happen now with the technology we have in our hands. We’re entering the second phase of this revolution, where entirely new markets will be created, and Apple could create those.”

For instance, Apple could transform the television industry, making its own TV set built on iOS, which analysts estimate could bring in another $20 billion a year in revenue. Or it could try to reinvent money itself, turning on the 435 million credit cards it has on file and enabling mobile payments. And there are consumer electronics areas that haven’t even been invented yet, like wearable computing.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone, people slept in the streets to buy one. Five years later, people are still lining the streets to snatch the latest update, even though it is only a slight variation on the one before it. A company that can pull that off, selling two million iPhones in the first 24 hours, might be worth $1 trillion in no time at all.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/will-apple-be-the-first-to-break-1-trillion/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Disruptions: With Apple’s Siri, a Romance Gone Sour

Results from Siri can be less than satisfying.Karen Bleier/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesResults from Siri can be less than satisfying.

Late last summer, I was introduced to a new special someone. I wasn’t looking to meet this new muse; it all just kind of happened.

We met at an Apple product announcement in Cupertino, Calif. She was helpful, smart and even funny, cracking sarcastic jokes and making me laugh. What more could a guy ask for?

Since then, we have had some major communication issues. She frequently misunderstands what I’m saying. Sometimes she is just unavailable. Often, she responds with the same, repetitive statement.

Her name is Siri.

At first, Siri, the voice-activated digital assistant on Apple iPhones, seemed a little too good to be true. Siri lured me into a relationship promising to help me set up appointments, to gently wake me in the morning for work, and to give me the ability to text someone while I was driving.

It didn’t work out that way. “There’s something wrong, and I can’t answer your questions right now. Please try again in a little while,” Siri will say when I ask something. Or: “I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while.”

She is always polite. But I’m starting to suspect that “I’m really sorry” is just something Siri says to shut me up.

Apple introduced Siri as a beta test, meaning it was still a work in progress. That was unusual for Apple, but the company was counting on it to change the way people searched for information on mobile devices. It wanted a head start. But it doesn’t seem ready to change anything yet. Many people I have spoken to have switched Siri off and reverted to the iPhone’s voice dictation service (the little microphone next to the keyboard), which is more reliable because it doesn’t use Siri’s artificial intelligence software.

Those who have left it have done that for good reason. Gene Munster, a securities analyst at Piper Jaffray, recently ran a series of tests with Siri and discovered that this is a significant problem for Apple.

Mr. Munster subjected Siri to over 1,600 voice tests, half in a quiet room and half on a busy Minneapolis street. In the quiet room, Siri understood requests 89 percent of the time, but she was able to accurately answer a question only 68 percent of the time. On a busy street, Siri could comprehend what people were saying 83 percent of the time, but answer a question correctly only 62 percent of the time.

It could hear well enough. The problem in his analysis was that the software was not good enough to understand questions. Mr. Munster gave Siri a “grade D” and said it needed to sharply improve in order to be an alternative method of mobile search.

Over time, things have really soured between Siri and me. We barely speak anymore. And, although she doesn’t know this, I’ve started seeing someone else. Her name, although not as mysterious or sexy, is Google Voice Search.

Google Voice Search, available in the latest operating software for Android phones, is a much better listener. It’s definitely smarter. If I ask Google Voice Search a question, like, “Who is Tim Cook?” it responds with an answer. (He’s the chief executive of Apple.) If I ask Siri the same question, the response is: “I don’t see Tim Cook in your contacts.”

Side-by-side comparisons, in videos posted on YouTube, give the upstart from Google the advantage. Apple used Siri as a primary selling point for its new iPhone, and now Apple is losing its advantage. At the D: All Things Digital conference in May, Mr. Cook was asked about Siri’s mistakes. “We have a lot of people working on this,” he told the audience.

“You’ll be really pleased with some of the things that you’ll see over the coming months,” he promised.

Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said, “Siri is currently in beta, and we are continuing to improve it.” She also said, “Siri is one of the most popular features of iPhone 4S and customers love it.”

She’s apparently not wrong about that. John Barrett, director of consumer analytics at the Parks Associates research firm, recently surveyed 482 iPhone owners. “Although there were some mild frustrations, most people really like the service,” Mr. Barrett said. Of those surveyed, he said, 55 percent gave Siri a high rating, 21 percent said it was quite satisfactory, and only 10 percent were completely dissatisfied.

The question will be whether those who find Siri frustrating will toss the iPhone aside and embrace Android.

I still find it disappointing, and last week I had what will probably be my last conversation with Siri for a while.

“Siri. I think it’s time for us to take a break,” I told her.

“Hmm … Let me think. … one second,” Siri said in response, adding a few moments later, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘I think it’s time for us to take a break.’ ”

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/with-apple%E2%80%99s-siri-a-romance-gone-sour/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Glitches in BlackBerry Service Continue

The service interruptions that began on Monday and initially affected BlackBerry owners in Europe, Africa and the Middle East had, by Tuesday migrated to Brazil, India, Chile and Argentina. By Wednesday, users in North America began complaining of the same disruptions.

Earlier this week, Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, attributed the problems to equipment failures and backup systems, blaming a faulty switch that links its internal network to the Internet as a whole. The failures have left subscribers in the affected regions without access to BlackBerry’s instant messaging service and the Web.

Marisa Conway, a spokeswoman for RIM, a Waterloo, Ontario company, said that the company was aware of the problems and delays with the service.

“We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and we apologize to our customers for any inconvenience,” she said. “We will provide a further update as soon as more information is available.”

Frustration erupted on social media sites like Twitter and online forums that cater to the owners of BlackBerry devices. “Uugh. If i don’t get back to you today, this is why. BlackBerry outage appears to be spreading,” a user named Diana_Knight posted to Twitter on Wednesday.

Such failures are not rare occurrences for RIM. Last month, BlackBerry’s popular messaging service, which works like phone text messaging but doesn’t incur carrier fees, crashed for several hours in parts of Latin America and Canada.

The latest blackout comes at a precarious time for the company, which is struggling to battle against sluggish sales and a tablet that landed with a thud. Dozens of sleek new Android devices are arriving on store shelves in time for the holiday season and Apple is releasing the latest version of the iPhone this Friday.

On CrackBerry.com, a popular online forum that caters to BlackBerry owners, a thread called “Enough is Enough” had attracted thousands of views and hundreds of comments by Wednesday afternoon. “This is it. This is the boiling point. Someone has to go over to Waterloo and slap those in charge at RIM,” wrote a user going by the name BlackLion15.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/technology/hiccups-in-blackberry-service-continue.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Modest Growth in Jobs Tempers Recession Fears

But with a ballooning European debt crisis sending ripples across the Atlantic and anxiety continuing over the tortured political landscape here, there is little indication that American employers will hire enough to put the millions of unemployed people back to work any time soon.

The Labor Department said Friday that American employers added 103,000 net new jobs in September, indicating that the economy is at least not weakening and that businesses have weathered the oil price shocks and the Japanese disaster-related supply chain disruptions earlier this year.

The government also revised its estimates upward for the previous two months, suggesting that job growth in the summer was better than originally reported. Still, the Labor Department’s monthly snapshot captures the economic challenges as President Obama continues to press Congress to pass his jobs bill.

The economy is not growing fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate, which held steady at 9.1 percent in September. Local governments and school districts are cutting large numbers of workers. And about a third of the jobs added by the private sector last month were actually 45,000 Verizon workers who had been on strike during August and were simply returning to work.

More than two years after the recovery officially began, 14 million people are searching for work, a little less than half of them for at least six months.

The employment numbers for last month were “certainly not consistent with recession,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR. But “it’s certainly not off to the races, and in absolute terms it is still very, very weak.”

The tepid jobs report provided more ammunition for Mr. Obama’s Republican rivals, who seized on Friday’s results as further evidence of what they say is the president’s ineffective stewardship of the economy.

Large-scale job losses might have offered Mr. Obama help in pressuring Congress on his jobs bill. Strong growth in employment would help counter criticism from Republican presidential candidates. But the so-so results merely add to his dilemma.

“The president is offering only bad medicine — higher taxes, more spending, more dubious ‘green jobs’ boondoggles, and more tactical blame-gaming,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said in a statement from her presidential campaign.

The rhetoric from Capitol Hill was equally critical. “Across the country, millions of people remain out of work, and uncertainty from Washington continues to freeze capital and prevent businesses small and large from hiring,” said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader.

In an interview, Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, said that critics of the jobs plan offered no viable alternative. “For anyone in Washington to look at an economy with 9.1 percent unemployment and projections that growth will be too weak to even improve it to then argue that we should sit on our hands and just do nothing is simply inexcusable,” Mr. Sperling said.

Some recent data paint a slightly better picture of the economy. Auto sales rose nearly 10 percent in September to their highest level in five months, and sales at chain stores increased last month, led by luxury purchases.

Still, the housing market is teetering and the number of people filing weekly for unemployment insurance remains high. The average length of unemployment rose to 40.5 weeks last month. Including those who are working part time because they cannot find full-time employment and those who are too discouraged to look for work anymore, the total unemployment rate rose to 16.5 percent last month.

Some economists worried that the headline on the September jobs report was not galvanizing enough for the president’s agenda. “Policy is running out of ammunition and the willingness here, particularly with today’s number, may be even less to do anything dramatic,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank.

“The optimists could argue that now we don’t need any more support because we have at least some evidence that the economy is not falling apart completely,” Mr. Slok continued.

Jennifer Steinhauer and Michael Shear contributed reporting from Washington.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e9620d4af751b579e862678a53656875

Boeing Labor Battle Is Poised to Go Before Judge

Boeing, the N.L.R.B. and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers local that initiated the case all still say they would like to find a way to settle. Appeals could grind on for years, clouding the future of Boeing’s $750 million Dreamliner assembly plant scheduled to start production in July in North Charleston, S.C. Negotiators and outside analysts said that any deal would most likely require Boeing to commit to adding some level of new production lines to its Puget Sound manufacturing hub in exchange for certain union concessions, like a no-strike pledge.

The labor board’s top lawyer says Boeing’s decision to move the operation to South Carolina constituted illegal retaliation against Boeing’s unionized workers in Washington for engaging in their legally protected right to strike, including a 58-day walkout in 2008.

Boeing has acknowledged that the fear of labor disruptions factored into its thinking, but it said the main reason for moving the line was South Carolina’s lower production costs. Starting pay at the South Carolina plant is $14 an hour, while starting pay in Washington is $15 an hour, rising to an average of $28 an hour.

The case has stirred a political firestorm. Republicans have joined business leaders in accusing the labor board of trying to sabotage right-to-work states as well as the fundamental right of corporate managers to decide how and where to run their businesses.

South Carolina’s governor, Nikki R. Haley, wants to make the dispute an issue in the presidential campaign, while Congressional Republicans have threatened to cut the labor board’s financing and have urged President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, who brought the Boeing case.

“It is absurd, in this country that represents free enterprise, that one unaccountable, unelected, unconfirmed acting general counsel can threaten thousands of jobs,” said Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina. “This is something you would expect in a third world country.”

Although the president appoints the board’s top officials, the agency operates independently. Several Republicans have accused President Obama of carrying water for organized labor by having the board bring the case. Mr. Solomon and Obama administration officials say the White House has had nothing to do with the dispute.

The White House has been largely silent about the case, although numerous Congressional Democrats have assailed Republicans for attacking an agency that they say is merely enforcing the law and protecting workers’ right to strike.

Mr. Solomon brought the case after the machinists’ union filed a complaint, arguing that the South Carolina plan was illegally taking jobs from Washington State. As a remedy, he wants Boeing to move the 1,000-employee production line, which will initially build three planes a month, to Washington.

Mr. Solomon said in an interview that he spent three months in settlement talks with both sides before the board filed the case, and that contacts continue intermittently. “Nothing would make me happier than to reach a settlement,” he said.

In a speech last week at a conference at the New York University School of Law, he added: “I felt and still feel these parties have a longstanding relationship with each other. They have a deep past together and have a deep future together, and it would be advantageous to all if a settlement could be worked out.”

Many legal specialists say the N.L.R.B. and the machinists’ union have a good chance of winning before the administrative law judge in Seattle and in the next stage of the legal process, an appeal to the Democrat-dominated, five-seat labor board in the District of Columbia. The case before the law judge is expected to last weeks as the board and Boeing spar over which documents to turn over to the other side.

Boeing and some legal specialists say the company is likely to win in the federal circuit court that would hear appeals after that.

But no one wants the case to drag on for years.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7549f85edc78338f63345a0bf9d3efb3

Projects Use Phone Data to Track Public Services

The city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been trying to provide a better sense of predictability in recent years by adding displays in stations that state when the next train is expected. Now, a Web development firm called Densebrain says that it can do the same thing at practically no cost, by analyzing how people lose phone service when they head underground.

Urban planners, technology companies and officials from local governments see potential in projects like these that mine data collected from phones to provide better public services.

Boston is developing a system called Street Bump that uses a smartphone’s accelerometer and GPS system to detect when a driver hits a pothole and then sends that information to city officials.

Techniques like this may help cities collect data that until recently would have required expensive network sensors.

“It is unlikely that we are going to be able to invest in that sensor system. But what we’ve recognized is that many, many constituents have already invested in a sensor platform,” said Chris Osgood, co-chairman of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, which is responsible for establishing Street Bump.

Densebrain’s project works by taking note of which cellphone tower a phone is communicating with. It then looks for disruptions in service followed by significant changes in location. If a phone located near Times Square suddenly loses service and reconnects at Prince Street and Broadway 15 minutes later, then it has almost certainly traveled there using the N or R trains.

This type of data, when taken from large numbers of phones and analyzed algorithmically, could give an accurate look at the performance of the entire subway system in real time.

Or so Alex Morgan Bell hopes. Mr. Bell began designing the system last year, when he was studying electric engineering at Columbia. After trying to get the idea going by himself and luring only several hundred people as users, Mr. Bell joined Densebrain, a Web development company that makes NYCMate, a transit map app (and is perhaps best known for SitorSquat, an app that maps public restrooms).

Users of the free transit app, who number about 600,000, according to the company, will be asked to activate the feature starting on Monday. Mr. Bell believes that the system needs 10,000 users to give a reliable view of the trains in Manhattan.

There are still questions to work out. In its pilot stage, the NextTrain app will work only for trains underground. The system will also include an experiment that uses phones’ microphones to sense when riders are on buses, but Mr. Bell believes that some sort of hardware would probably have to be installed for the system to work above ground.

There are other ways to track mass transit. NextBus, a technology company based in California, works with about 90 transit systems nationwide to analyze data drawn from GPS devices to provide real-time updates on the movements of buses and trains. Los Angeles began using NextBus for its entire bus system in May, the largest transit agency to do so.

Mr. Bell said the information appearing on the authority’s subway arrival clocks did not help riders who were still above ground. The authority said that though it would like to provide that information to developers eventually, it had no specific plans to do so.

“You can stay in the Starbucks instead of leaving, because you’ll know when to say, O.K., now I’m going down into the hot sweaty disgustingness,” Mr. Bell said.

The authority says that NextTrain could be a useful service for riders as a supplement to its own projects, and an engineer at the authority said that Densebrain’s data might prove useful for its own planning.

Data automatically collected from large groups of cellphones is a new frontier for planners and local governments, said Frank Hebbert, director of civic works for Open Plans, a nonprofit technology and planning association.

“It’s a completely different source of data,” said Mr. Hebbert. “The idea that you suddenly have data sets coming to you in which you haven’t had to go and physically put in infrastructure is pretty amazing.”

Another smartphone app, Waze, combines data on how fast users’ cars are moving with other data sources to determine traffic patterns. It then suggests alternate routes.

Waze, which says it has about four million active users, said it was in talks with several city governments to provide insight into traffic patterns near large construction projects. The company says that its benchmark for critical mass is to have 0.25 percent of drivers in a metropolitan area as users. It has not reached that goal in any American city.

Apple and Google have been collecting traffic data from iPhone and Android phones for similar purposes. Mr. Hebbert said he would eventually like to see phone companies provide a database of anonymous location information that planners and developers could use to build applications relevant to civic projects.

This could be a challenge, as it is clear that many people are uncomfortable with technology companies or government agencies tracking their every move.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=68ee318d77a75a38909f4dbb7f8788c2

A Weak Consumer Weighed on Growth in the First Quarter

The economy grew at an annual 1.8 percent rate in the first three months of this year, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, unchanged from an earlier estimate and weaker than most forecasts.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed the number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by 10,000, to 424,000.

Some of the slowdown in growth was linked to bad weather in early 2011 and an 11.7 percent decline in defense spending.

Economists were cautious about forecasting a rebound in the second quarter, citing the rise in jobless claims and a moderation in factory output, which has been hit by disruptions to supply chains after the March earthquake in Japan.

“The second-quarter rebound is likely to be muted,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.

The economy expanded at a 3.1 percent rate in the October-December period. Economists had expected the first-quarter pace to be revised up to 2.1 percent.

The economy has expanded for seven straight quarters, but growth has been tepid by historical standards, leaving both the Obama administration and opposition Republicans scrambling for ideas to put it on a faster track.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity, expanded at a 2.2 percent rate in the first three months of this year, slower than the previously reported 2.7 percent.

After rising at a 4 percent clip in the fourth quarter, spending in the first quarter was slowed by high food and gasoline prices, which pushed inflation to its fastest pace in two and a half years.

The personal consumption expenditures price index rose at an unrevised 3.8 percent rate in the first quarter. That compared with the fourth quarter’s 1.7 percent increase. The core index, which is closely watched by the Federal Reserve, advanced at a 1.4 percent rate, the quickest rate since the fourth quarter of 2009.

Fed officials would like to see this measure close to 2 percent. The lower rate suggests that the central bank will be in no hurry to raise interest rates once it concludes its $600 billion, government bond-buying program in June, analysts said.

“This may put off the day where the Fed starts normalizing interest rates until even further down the road,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York. “The Fed is going to want to see G.D.P. above 3 percent certainly before taking their foot off the gas.”

Although consumer spending pulled back in the first quarter, economists hope a recent drop in gas and food prices will ease the pressure on household budgets.

The soft consumer spending overshadowed a $52.2 billion increase in business inventories, which was well above the initially reported $43.8 billion rise.

But a decline in vehicle production so far in this quarter because of shortages of parts from Japan could cause a drawdown in inventories and weigh on growth in the April-June period.

Motor vehicle output added 1.28 percentage points to first-quarter G.D.P.

The G.D.P. report also showed after-tax corporate profit fell at a rate of 0.9 percent in the first-quarter after rising at a 3.3 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

The drop in profit, the first since the fourth quarter of 2008, likely reflected a slowdown in productivity growth as businesses stepped up hiring. Economists had expected corporate profit to grow at a 2.3 percent pace.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2d3b8a334d595c01e06cc24e04a2289d