Wobbling among the Elsa princess outfits and the dinosaur models at the Toy Fair in London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week was a four-foot, buildable robot, the $399 Meccanoid G15 KS.
With its big saucer-shaped eyes and moveable limbs, the toy has revived interest in its maker: Meccano, which was created by the British toy maker, Frank Hornby, a century ago.
Spin Master, the Canadian company that bought Meccano in 2013, hopes it will be essential kit for parents hoping to get their child interested in building and engineering.
It is very much in the spirit of the “maker movement” — an enthusiasm for manufacturing and making things, helped in part by the rise of 3D printing. Read more
The next Machine Age will not just augur job losses and the transformation of some professions. The future could be a lot worse. It may also let loose an army of needy robots.
This week, the MIT Technology Review described a new generation of Cobots – collaborative robots – made by a team under Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These are autonomous intelligent mobile robots capable of performing service tasks and interacting with humans.
The robot is as polite as Star Wars’ C-3PO but there the similarities end. It has no arms and no legs. In fact, the article describes it as “a laptop and a cluster of sensors sitting atop a wheeled bar-stool”.
Unfailingly civil; it also turns out to be demanding of its human co-workers’ attention. Prof Veloso maintains that it is hard to program a robot to decode conversation but it can understand simple instructions. Therefore, when it has run out of tasks it will nag the nearest human. If that does not work, it will send out an office-wide email asking for assistance. Read more
The worst-kept secret is out: Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, is gay.
“For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation,” he wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek. “Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky. Read more
Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.
And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? Read more
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images
What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. Read more
Sir Richard Branson’s “non-policy” on holidays is the latest attempt by a company to tackle the “work-life balance” conundrum. The news that he is allowing 170 staff in his head office to take holiday whenever they like, without seeking prior permission, so long as it does not damage the business has been greeted with great enthusiasm by commenters on his blog.
One summed up the Branson cheerleading: “As always, leading the way for Generation Y. I hope someday, before my time is done – that most can enjoy more freedom through work, not enslaved by hours and limits but set free to make a difference whilst living out some dreams. Good start to this movement Richard.” Read more
© Bryce Vickmark
“Professional narcissism” is to be avoided, warned Steven Pinker this week to an audience of business executives. In other words, writing in jargon, brandishing your expertise and thereby making it impenetrable to the general reader. The latest book from the Harvard psychologist and linguist, The Sense of Style is all about language and stylish writing.
Business, he said, is a “target rich area” when it comes to ridiculing the use of language. Although he pointed out that the rarefied world of academia is no better. Read more
Open-plan offices are coming under attack. Jeremy Paxman, the British broadcast journalist, let rip last week: “An open-plan office is a way of telling you that you don’t matter. Here you will sit for your allotted hours, at a work station, devoid of any personal touch, while opposite you someone you don’t know shouts into the telephone to a person sitting in an almost identical human warehouse in Bangalore.” Read more
Fabrizio Rongione and Marion Cotillard in 'Two Days, One Night'
Two Days, One Night, which stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a depressed employee in a small solar-panel factory, is a modest and gentle film. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgian brothers who have won two Palmes d’Or at Cannes, the new release is a modern parable about the impact of management decisions on employees’ lives. Read more
Max Schireson says no one ever asked him how he balanced work and parenthood
Last week, Max Schireson announced his decision to step down from his post as chief executive of MongoDB, an open source database developer. The reason? To spend more time with his family. It was no euphemism. He really meant it. Read more
Luis Suarez, right, and Giorgio Chiellini after clashing during their World Cup match. Photo: Reuters
If you bit someone at work – as Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez appeared to on Tuesday night – would you get sacked? It seems likely. Read more
So concludes a new research paper that used data collected from tests compiled by the Swedish military on men born between 1952 and 1978, who were entering compulsory military service. It then tracked these men’s income, education and service as CEO of any Swedish company – both public and private, small and large. The sample included 1.3m men of whom about 41,000 served as a chief executives.
The findings will add fire to the debate over high compensation for chief executives. Read more
An artist's impression of the revamped bunks with en suite shower Photo: Transport Scotland/PA Wire
The revamp of the Caledonian Sleeper train service between Scotland and London looks like good news for the business travellers who account for half the traffic on that route.
Serco, the outsourcing group that has just snagged the franchise from FirstGroup, said more than £100m would be invested in new rolling stock that would come into service in 2018, with taxpayers footing much of the bill.
It already offers luxury sleeper services in Australia, including double beds at the very top end. The new Caledonian Sleeper carriages will feature berths for one or two travellers with an en suite toilet and shower, a safe, larger “hotel quality” towels and Shetland wool blankets (or duvets for the unpatriotic). Read more
Private personal details: a luxury? Photo: Dreamstime
A little while ago I conversed with someone over email. He calls himself Alastair but I have no idea if that’s his real name. I doubt it. Read more
Companies expanding overseas have made great efforts to counter past mistakes of corporate imperialism – rather than merely exporting home grown staff and products they make an effort to adapt to local culture and consumer tastes.
McDonalds, for example, offered vegetarian burgers and samosas in Gujarat, where most citizens are vegetarian. In New Delhi, it sold the Maharaja Mac with lamb and chicken for non-beef eaters. It also recruited local managers in New Delhi, which helped the company negotiate bureaucracy. Read more
Marian Robinson with Barack and Malia Obama
Michelle Obama’s secret weapon for this week’s China trip has been unveiled: she is taking her mother Marian Robinson along, as well as her two daughters. Dubbed “grandma diplomacy“, it is seen as a way of charming the Chinese, who place greater emphasis on tight family bonds than their American counterparts. Read more
Following the recent news that some investment banks had decided to make working conditions more palatable for junior employees, one former intern emailed the FT a poem he wrote last summer while completing a stint at a bank.
On rings the cow bell,
Bringing cattle to their shed
Buy sell, buy sell
Work, work, work until you’re dead.
Steve Jobs has joined Lenovo. Well, almost.
Actually the truth is only a little less outlandish. Ashton Kutcher, the Hollywood star of Two and a Half Men, who recently played the Apple co-founder in the poorly-received biopic Jobs, is the Chinese computer group’s latest recruit: a product engineer. Read more