Apple Deepens Austin Ties, Expands Operations East and West

Apple will build a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, break ground on smaller locations in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City, California, and over the next three years expand in Pittsburgh, New York and Colorado.

The tech giant said Thursday that the new campus in Austin, less than a mile from existing Apple facilities, will open with 5,000 positions in engineering, research and development, operations, finance, sales and customer support. The site, according to Apple, will have the capacity to eventually accommodate 15,000 employees.

The three other new locations will have more than 1,000 employees each.

Early this year, Apple said that it would make more than $30 billion in capital expenditures in the U.S. over the next five years. That, the company said in January, would create more than 20,000 new jobs at existing and new campuses that Apple planned to build.

Where U.S. companies open new facilities or plants has always had the potential for public and political backlash.

That potential has intensified under the Trump administration, which has pushed companies to keep more of their operations inside the country’s borders.

While CEO Tim Cook has steered mostly clear President Donald Trump’s ire, Apple did receive some push back three months ago from the White House.

Apple sent a letter to the U.S. trade representative warning that the burgeoning trade war with China and rising tariffs could force higher prices for U.S. consumers.

Trump in a tweet told Apple to start making its products in the U.S., and not China.

Apple uses a lot of facilities overseas to produce components and its products, including China.

Top tech executives from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm gathered at the White House earlier this month to discuss strained ties between the administration and the industry, and trade tensions with China. Cook was not among them, nor was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

There are already 6,000 Apple employees in Austin, its largest operation outside of company headquarters in Cupertino, California, where 37,000 people are employed.

“Apple has been a vital part of the Austin community for a quarter century, and we are thrilled that they are deepening their investment in our people and the city we love,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a prepared statement Thursday.

Apple said nearly a year ago that it would begin canvassing the U.S. for another campus.

Cities offered incentives to lure the company, but Cook avoided a high-profile competition that pitted them against one another as Amazon did over the last year and a half.

Amazon, too, expands

Amazon announced in November after a 14-month search it had selected Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Virginia, as the joint winners. Each site will employ around 25,000 people.

Cities are eager to bring in more tech employers because companies like Apple and Amazon ladle out six-figure salaries to engineers and other skilled workers.

The infusion of thousands of new and highly paid residents can ripple through an economy, with those employees filling restaurants, theaters, buying property and paying taxes.

Annual pay will vary at the new locations, but Apple workers in Cupertino have an average annual salary of about $125,000, according to a report the company submitted to the city.

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Virgin Galactic’s New Flight Test to Soar Closer to Edge of Space

Virgin Galactic is preparing for a new flight test Thursday that aims to fly higher and faster than before toward the edge of space.

The U.S. company run by British tycoon Richard Branson is aiming to be the first to take tourists on brief trips into microgravity.

Virgin Galactic’s fourth flight test on the VSS Unity is scheduled for Thursday, weather permitting.

The flight will take off from a spaceport in Mojave, California.

The vessel does not launch from Earth but is carried to a higher altitude — about nine miles (15 kilometers) high — attached to an airplane.

Then, two pilots on the VSS Unity fire the engines toward the frontier of space, typically defined as an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers).

In July, after burning the rocket motor for 42 seconds, the VSS Unity reached a height of 32 miles, a part of the atmosphere called the mesosphere.

Commercial airplanes typically fly at an altitude of about six miles.

The VSS Unity reached a top speed of over 1,530 miles per hour, or beyond Mach 2.

“Overall the goal of this flight is to fly higher and faster than previous flights,” said a statement from Virgin Galactic.

“If all goes to plan our pilots will experience an extended period of microgravity as VSS Unity coasts to apogee, although — being pilots — they will remain securely strapped in throughout.”

Another U.S. rocket company, Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is also racing to be the first to send tourists to space, but using a small rocket to get there.

Virgin’s first flight date has been pushed back multiple times, following a test flight accident that killed a co-pilot in 2014.

Branson told CNN in November he hoped to send people to space “before Christmas.”

More than 600 clients have already paid $250,000 for a ticket.

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Wall Street Gains on Better Signs in US-China Trade Talks

Wall Street stocks finished higher on Wednesday due to improved hopes for the US-China trade talks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.6 percent at 24,527.27.

The broad-based S&P 500 advanced 0.5 percent to 2,651.07, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 1.0 percent to 7,098.31.

Wall Street stocks have been volatile in recent weeks in part due to unpredictable and ambiguous events connected to the Beijing-Washington trade negotiations.

The latest indicators have been more upbeat, with a Chinese Huawei executive granted bail in a Canadian court in a closely-watched legal case and confirmation from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a television interview that Beijing had offered to cut tariffs on autos imported from the United States and resume soybean purchases.

Unlike the last two sessions, there were no major gyrations lower on Wednesday. But stocks still finished well below their session highs, with the Dow falling about 300 points from its peak in the last three hours of trading.

Gainers included some equities that have been seen as vulnerable to a trade war with China. Boeing advanced 1.5 percent, Caterpillar 1.7 percent and Deere 0.8 percent.

Tech shares were also upward-bound, with Google parent Alphabet winning 1.1 percent, Amazon 1.2 percent and Netflix 3.6 percent.

Tencent Music, in its first session after going public, jumped 7.7 percent a day after the music streaming company raised $1.1 billion in an initial public offering.

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OMG: California Regulators Consider Charge on Text Messaging

California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations.

The newspaper says it’s unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.

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Sports, Deaths Among 2018’s Top Google Searches

Sports, disaster and death were among the top searches on Google last year.

Each December, the technology company releases it’s top trending searches of the year. Topics that drew the interest of Americans included the World Cup, Hurricane Florence and three people who died in 2018 — rapper Mac Miller, designer Kate Spade and TV host and author Anthony Bourdain.

Google does not come up with its lists based on the number of total searches. Instead, the company looks at the search terms that enjoyed the highest spike compared to the previous year.

“Black Panther” topped the list of most searched movies, while rising stars in the Democratic party dominated the list of most searched politicians.

Here are the Top 10:

1. World Cup

2. Hurricane Florence

3. Mac Miller

4. Kate Spade

5. Anthony Bourdain

6. Black Panther

7. Mega Millions Results

8. Stan Lee

9. Demi Lovato

10. Election Results

Other categories include:

News

1. World Cup

2. Hurricane Florence

3. Mega Millions

4. Election Results

5. Hurricane Michael

People

1. Demi Lovato

2. Meghan Markle

3. Brett Kavanaugh

4. Logan Paul

5. Khloe Kardashian

Politicians

1. Stacey Abrams

2. Beto O’Rourke

3. Ted Cruz

4. Andrew Gillum

5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Movies

1. Black Panther

2. Incredibles 2

3. Deadpool 2

4. Avengers: Infinity War

5. A Quiet Place

All of the 2018 Google top trending search lists can be found here.

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Twitter CEO Acknowledges Suffering of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims

Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey is under fire for failing to address the humanitarian crisis involving the Rohingya Muslims during his recent meditation retreat in Myanmar.

Dorsey published a thread on his Twitter page Sunday praising Myanmar’s people as “full of joy,” and heaping equal praise on the nation’s cuisine.

Critics angrily accused Dorsey of ignoring the plight of more than 700,000 Rohingyas who fled from northern Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh to avoid a scorched earth campaign launched by the military in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya militants on security outposts.

A special United Nations fact-finding mission said the military acted “with genocidal intent” against the Rohingyas, based on interviews with hundreds of Rohingyas, who revealed numerous atrocities, including gang rapes, the torching of entire villages and extrajudicial killings.

Dorsey responded Wednesday that he was “aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar,” and that he did not “intend to diminish them by not raising the issue.” But he conceded that he “could have acknowledged that I don’t know enough and need to learn more.”

Critics have also pointed the finger at Twitter for allowing virulent anti-Rohingya hate speech onto the site during the height of the crackdown. Dorsey said people can use Twitter “to share news and information about events in Myanmar, as well as to bear witness to the plight of the Rohingya and other peoples and communities.”

This is not the first time the Twitter boss has gotten into hot water during his overseas travels. Dorsey caused a stir in India last month when a photograph emerged of him holding a poster that read “Smash Brahminical patriarchy,” a reference to India’s highest Hindu caste.

 

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Sustainable Tree Farming Means Better Lives for Kenyan Farmers

Wood consumption — including logging and the production of charcoal — is a leading cause of forest degradation in Africa. In some of Kenya’s coastal regions, recurring droughts have made the problem even worse.  Now, farmers in those regions are planting trees, putting their once-barren land to use in a venture that enables them to earn a living and conserve the environment at the same time. 

At Be Sulubu Tezo, in Kilifi county, Kenya, Kanze Kahindi Mbogo tends to her tree farm. She thins out the trees whose wood is now strong enough for her to sell for home-building and making fences.  

The money she makes is for her six children. 

A better life

Kahindi says she has been able to educate her children, pay a couple of debts and do lots of other things. She adds she was also able to take one of her sons to college and right now he is a driver.

Before growing trees, putting food on the table was difficult in this land where droughts are common and crops often fail.

With the help of NGOs and entrepreneurs, farmers are learning how agroforestry can make them money and at the same time save the environment. One of those firms is Komaza, a Kenyan firm that is working with 14,000 farmers to plant drought-resistant trees for harvest, reducing the drive to deforest. 

Help with the harvest

“Farmers are able to nurture the seedlings into trees, and then the trees become fully grown trees ready to harvest,” said Allan Ongang’a, a manager at Komaza.  “Once they are ready for harvest we have the operations team from the forestry department that identify trees that are ready for harvest, agree with the farmers on a fair price, the trees are marked and harvested.”

The firm trains farmers on cultivation and selective harvesting.  

But not all farmers have the resources to plant a tree and wait for it to grow, so some farm subsistence crops among the trees.  Researchers say this arrangement counters the effects of climate change. 

Everybody benefits

“Trees end up absorbing carbon dioxide when they making their food and therefore essentially the trees are actually getting to bring carbon from the atmosphere into the tree stem and therefore on land,” explained researcher John Recha with the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program, a private entity in Nairobi.. “That means there is the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emission through more enhanced agroforestry systems.”

For these Kenyan farmers, environmentalism begins to make sense when it starts to translate into a sustainable income. 

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