How I tried to get Microsoft to turn me away from MacBooks

Commentary: How is Microsoft selling its new laptop? I went to a couple of Microsoft stores to see whether they could persuade me to give up my MacBook.

I’m vulnerable.

I look at my MacBook Air and think it a little dowdy.

It works just fine, but there are those times when you want to believe there’s something better out there.

So when I heard that Microsoft had released its Surface Laptop, I wanted to be sold. I wanted someone to take me gently by the hand and lead me to a land of new promises, even if I had to experience them through Windows. And for that, I needed a real live human being. I’m old-fashioned that way.

I went to two local Microsoft stores, clutching my usual naivete like a glass of fine sauvignon blanc and told them my story. It happened to be the truth. I’m a lifelong MacBook user. Please tell me, I begged, please sell me on why this Surface Laptop is better. After all, Apple’s always been the one who was supposed to be a good at selling. Has Microsoft caught up?

Microsoft store no. 1: A slippery Surface

At the first Microsoft store in Marin County, California, I sat down and began to play with a burgundy-colored laptop. Very quickly, a saleswoman came up to me. I bared my inner plight. “Why is this better than my MacBook Air?” I asked. She began by telling me that it came in a lot of different colors. Which didn’t quite sway me. The next sales avenue was the touchscreen, which was certainly an improvement, but did it really matter that much?

Still, I was in a positive frame of mind. I wanted to type on it. I do a lot of typing. “Does this have Word on it?” I asked. “I don’t know,” came the reply. It turned out either that it didn’t or that the saleswoman couldn’t find it. This wasn’t going well.

“How easy is it to transfer photos and files from my MacBook?” I asked. “Oh, that can be quite complicated,” the saleswoman replied. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

What was odd was that this saleswoman didn’t seem sold on the laptop herself. In a very short time, she explained that I didn’t really want the Surface Laptop at all. I wanted the Surface Pro 4. This was a problem for me. I have a very bad ergonomic habit. I type on my lap, almost all the time. There’s no way I could balance a Surface Pro 4 on my lap. I tried. It didn’t go well. I left the store painfully unsold.

Microsoft store No. 2: ‘We thought about Macs when we designed it’

A week later, I wandered into another, slightly larger Microsoft store in San Francisco. My story stayed the same. The salesman’s spiel was very different.

“Why is this better than my MacBook Air?” I asked. “Have you picked it up?” he replied. I picked it up. It felt slightly heavier than my MacBook Air. But it is slightly bigger. So, yes, I was warming. Next, the salesman asked me to close it and notice that it was very sleek, without a single visible screw.

I appreciated being sold on emotional values, rather than specs. This salesman then proceeded to (try to) sell me by telling me how Microsoft had designed the Surface Laptop with a lot of Mac gestures. “We thought about Macs when we designed it,” the salesman told me.

I found this quite clever. Instead of making me feel alienated or confused — I think of Windows as an unaesthetic world — the idea here was to make me comfortable by seeing that, for example, the two-fingered gesture on the trackpad felt identical. Not once did this salesman try to fill me with facts and figures about, say, RAM.

He chose, instead, to guide me toward emotionally uplifting aspects — like the sound coming from speakers buried beneath the keyboard or the amusement of writing on the screen. Oh, and when it came to the file transfer question, he was honest that files in some Apple programs couldn’t be uploaded, but insisted that photos were simple to transfer — and showed me how.

When he saw I was still wavering, he also tried to direct me to the Surface Pro 4. Why? Because he wanted me to see how amusing it was to write on the screen and have the Surface turn my handwriting into text. My handwriting is very bad. Sometimes, I can’t read it. The Surface Pro 4 only got one word right.

I turned back to the Surface Laptop. “Do you find that you’re selling this more to Windows users or to Mac users?” I asked. “50-50,” came the reply. “Some people are just tired of Apple.”

I’m just a little tired of my Air. And I’d have bought many items from this salesman. He was clever, mentally agile, listened and had good, positive answers to my questions. He knew Macs and knew what could be good and bad about them.

But I didn’t buy the Surface Laptop. Why? Please forgive me, but to my eyes, it felt too square and the cloth covering just looked cheap. The more I used it, the cheaper it both looked and felt. (Some versions of this cost more than $2,000.)

Sometimes, one salesperson is much better than another. Sometimes, the gap between a successful sale and failed one is very narrow.

What was I supposed to do now? Go to an Apple store, I suppose.

Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to my request for comment.

Amazon Is Trying to Control the Underlying Infrastructure of Our Economy

Companies that want to reach the market increasingly have no choice but to ride Amazon’s rails.

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and co-author of its recent report, Amazon’s Stranglehold.

We often talk about Amazon as though it were a retailer. It’s an understandable mistake. After all, Amazon sells more clothing, electronics, toys, and books than any other company. Last year, Amazon captured nearly $1 of every $2 Americans spent online. As recently as 2015, most people looking to buy something online started at a search engine. Today, a majority go straight to Amazon.

But to describe Amazon as a retailer is to misunderstand what the company actually is, and to miss the depth of the threat that it poses to our liberty and the very idea of an open, competitive market.

It’s not just that Amazon does many things besides sell stuff—that it manufactures thousands of products, from dress shirts to baby wipes, produces hit movies and television shows, delivers restaurant orders, offers loans, and may soon dispense prescription drugs. Jeff Bezos is after something so much bigger than any of this. His vision is for Amazon to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy. Amazon’s website is already the dominant platform for digital commerce. Its Web Services division controls 44 percent of the world’s cloud computing capacity and is relied on by everyone from Netflix to the Central Intelligence Agency. And the company has recently built out a vast network of distribution infrastructure to handle package delivery for itself and others.

Image: Shutterstock/remix Jason Koebler

Companies that want to reach the market increasingly have no choice but to ride Amazon’s rails. With Prime and digital assistant Alexa, from GE appliances to Ford cars, Bezos has lured a majority of households into making Amazon the default provider of everything they order online. Most Prime members no longer comparison shop. This has forced competitors of all sizes—from major brands like Levi’s and KitchenAid to small-scale producers, e-commerce innovators, and independent brick-and-mortar stores—to abandon the idea of reaching consumers directly. Instead, they have to rely on Amazon’s platform to sell their goods.

Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.”

Amazon exploits this dependence to dictate terms and prices to suppliers, and it uses the data it gathers from companies selling on its platform to weaken them as competitors. A company that designs a popular product and builds a market for it on Amazon’s site can suddenly find that Amazon has introduced a nearly identical version and given it top billing in search results. One study found that, after a retailer becomes a seller on Amazon, it’s only a matter of weeks before Amazon brings the merchant’s most popular items into its own inventory.

Being both a direct retailer and a platform for other sellers gives Amazon novel weapons for shaking down suppliers. Last week, Amazon offered to police the many counterfeiters that sell fake Nike shoes on its site as a bargaining chip to get Nike to agree, for the first time, to offer a full line of its products to Amazon. Similarly, when the publisher Hachette resisted Amazon’s demands in negotiations over book pricing, it found the buy-buttons removed from all of its titles, putting thousands of books off-limits to both buyers and sellers.

With commerce rapidly moving online, Amazon has positioned itself as lord of the realm, which means that online commerce is no longer a market in any meaningful sense of the word. It’s now a privately controlled arena where a single company sets the terms by which we may exchange goods with one another and decides which products—which new authors, which new innovations—get to find an audience.

Investors are fully aware of the implications of this. As Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya put it last year, Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.” That assessment explains why Wall Street has bid up Amazon’s stock value to a level that bears little relationship to its current profits. Investors are eyeing a future of spectacular, monopoly-style returns.

Last week, investors got to see this future taking firmer shape when Amazon announced its intention to buy Whole Foods. In the hours after the news broke, Amazon’s stock did the opposite of what usually happens in such deals: It surged by almost as much as the $13.4 billion purchase price, which means the acquisition essentially paid for itself.

What investors see in Amazon, though, federal antitrust regulators have so far failed to grasp. The Whole Foods deal, which requires federal approval, will be a fresh test. If regulators look at the deal in conventional terms, they may decide that it should go ahead on the grounds that brick-and-mortar grocery is a separate market from online shopping, and that the transaction would give Amazon only a modest share of the supermarket industry.

But that’s an analog notion of how commerce works. We’re rapidly moving toward a world in which the boundaries between online and offline shopping become fluid, and much of commerce will be, in one way or another, digitally driven.

Jeff Bezos’s big bet is that he can make buying from Amazon so effortless that we won’t notice the company’s creeping grip on commerce and its underlying infrastructure, and that we won’t notice what that dominance costs us.

Buying Whole Foods would help Amazon expand its control of commerce. It would provide a new stream of exploitable data by enabling Amazon to surveil customers offline as well as online. Indeed, the company recently filed patents for technologies that would keep digital tabs on us and block our phones from visiting competitors’ websites while we’re in its stores.

Amazon would also gain a network of fresh-food warehouses that it could use to quickly leapfrog into being the only viable online grocer. The 460 Whole Foods stores offer prime locations, too, for making last-mile deliveries. This is critical because controlling the infrastructure needed to quickly deliver packages to doorsteps is a key component of sustaining a monopoly in online commerce. Should Amazon succeed in weakening UPS and FedEx, it would harm other online sellers and leave them dependent on their biggest competitor, Amazon, to deliver their goods.

Jeff Bezos’s big bet is that he can make buying from Amazon so effortless that we won’t notice the company’s creeping grip on commerce and its underlying infrastructure, and that we won’t notice what that dominance costs us. Amazon has unprecedented power to steer our choices. Ask Alexa to send you batteries and you won’t get the option of Duracell or Energizer; you’ll be shipped Amazon-branded batteries. Browse the Kindle bestseller list and you’ll see many books published by Amazon. Peruse the “customers also bought” carousel and Amazon’s algorithms will favor displaying its own products, even when they’re not the best match.

Amazon’s bid to buy Whole Foods should be a wake-up call. Our anti-monopoly policies have fallen into disuse and today’s big tech monopolies have used that opening to seize too much power. As Senator John Sherman, co-author of the Sherman Antitrust Act, declared as his bill came up for a vote in 1890, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.”

Minimize stress eating with a good night’s sleep say researchers

stress eatingFeeling stressed at work often leads to eating more junk food, but getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce this negative effect according to new research. © Paul Velgos/

Feeling stressed at work can lead to us reaching for unhealthy snacks and extra portions, but a new study has found that getting enough sleep could help buffer the negative effect of stress on eating habits.

Carried out by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Florida, and Auburn University in the U.S., along with Sun Yat-sen University in China, the study is one of the first to look at how psychological experiences at work can affect eating behaviors.

The team looked at two studies of 235 total workers in China who experienced regular stress in their jobs.

One study included IT employees who had a high workload and felt there was never enough time in the workday, while the second included call-center workers who experienced stress from dealing with rude and demanding customers.

The researchers found that in both studies employees who had a stressful workday also had a tendency to take these negative feelings home with them, and to the dinner table, leading to them eating more than usual and make unhealthier food choices.

However, the study also showed that sleep could be a way to buffer this effect of stress on unhealthy eating, with the team finding that employees who got a good night’s sleep the night before tended to eat better the next day after a stressful day at work.

Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois gave two possible explanations for the findings.

“First, eating is sometimes used as an activity to relieve and regulate one’s negative mood, because individuals instinctually avoid aversive feelings and approach desire feelings,” he said.

“Second, unhealthy eating can also be a consequence of diminished self-control. When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms.”

Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author, also commented that the findings that sleep has a protective effect against unhealthy food habits shows how the three health behaviours of sleep, stress, and eating are related.

“A good night’s sleep can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again, which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating,” she explained.

The team now believe that companies should take into consideration the importance of sleep and healthy behaviors and think about providing sleep-awareness training and flexible scheduling for employees, as well as rethinking food-related job perks, which have become very common.

“Food-related perks may only serve as temporary mood-altering remedies for stressed employees,” Chang said, “and failure to address the sources of the work stress may have potential long-term detrimental effects on employee health.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Forget the iPhone 8, add wireless charging to any iPhone for under $20

Wireless charging is expected to be one of the new features coming to this year’s iPhone 8 that Apple will really shine a light on this coming September when it unveils the phone. In fact, rumor has it the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus will get wireless charging as well. The technology has been around for what seems like ages, but it looks like Apple is finally getting around to supporting it in the company’s iPhone lineup. Of course, who needs to wait for September to get an iPhone with wireless charging capabilities?

The Antye Qi Wireless Charger Case adds wireless charging to the iPhone you already have, whether it’s an iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6/6s, or iPhone 6/6s Plus. Best of all, it’s only $20 on Amazon!

Here’s what you need to know from the product page:

  • WIRELESS CHARGING ENABLING CASE : iPhone 7 itself is not Qi-enabled, Antye® Qi Charging Case with built-in wireless receiver delivers wireless charging capabilities to your iPhone 7.
  • MATTE FINISH PHONE BACK COVER : Made of durable hard plastic with matte finish helps prevent fingerprints, dusts… Precise cutouts gives full access to all ports.
  • DETACHABLE LIGHTNING CONNECTOR : Built-in Flexible Lightning Connector makes it easy to sync and charge in the old fashioned way as well.
  • REMINDER : A wireless charging pad is required to charge your iPhone 7 wirelessly. (Not Included); Works seamlessly with any Qi-standard wireless charger dock.
  • HASSLE-FREE WARRANTY : At ANTYE, we provide 12-month warranty, with Amazon 30 days money back guarantee; 24 hours/7 days a week friendly customer support.




Here’s a nice inexpensive wireless charging pad that’s highly rated and will work with the Antye case:

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Google’s DeepMind Is Now Capable of Creating Images from Your Sentences


Google’s DeepMind team has developed a way for their AI to be able to create images from sentences. The more detailed the sentence, the more detailed the resulting image will be.

The folks at Google’s DeepMind are hard at work bringing the world the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI). Their latest breakthrough shows that their AI is capable of creating photorealistic pictures from human input in the form of sentences.

This is the latest development in the use of AI to do some truly amazing things with pictures. In February, Google Brain scientists developed a way to “enhance” photographs much like the way you might see in a science fiction movie like Blade Runner or a network procedural like one of the many CSIs. Using PixelCNN, the machine was able to turn low-resolution photos into high-resolution ones with an impressive approximation.

Now that same technology is being used to turn text into pictures. The researchers found that a more detailed prompt would deliver better results than a less detailed one. For example, the prompt of “A yellow bird with a black head, orange eyes, and an orange bill” returned a highly detailed image. The algorithm is able to pull from a collection of images and discern concepts like birds and human faces and create images that are significantly different than the images it “learned” from.

Model 3 Photos Show Tesla’s New Car in the Wild

Tesla’s new Model 3, an electric car aimed at middle-income buyers, is projected to begin delivery soon. On Thursday, a sharp-eyed photographer named You You Xue says he spotted one on the road in San Matteo — presumably in the hands of a Tesla employee — and helpfully took detailed photos as the car charged.

The photos have been collected in an album here, and are also embedded below.

They seem to show slight exterior tweaks compared to earlier Model 3 prototype images, with sharper contouring on the side panels and a more aggressive profile – though that might just be a matter of angle and lighting.

Either way, while Tesla has been at pains to paint the Model 3 as its entry-level vehicle, the new photos show a car with a lot more curb appeal than your average Corolla.

Xue also caught glimpses of the car’s interior, where the impression is much more obviously bare-bones. The only visible instrument panel is a touchscreen at the center console.

As observers have noted since the design was first revealed, it could really take some getting used to — and having to take your eyes so far off the road to see your speed could even be unsafe.

Tesla’s high-end Model S, by contrast, features both a center console screen and a readout above the steering wheel.