The happiest campers

Reclaimed wood, stained glass, pretty tiles Handcrafted conversions are giving old vans a new life. By Emma Love

Old removal vans dont conjure up a vision of happy holidays. Yet increasingly these vehicles are being lovingly converted and handcrafted into camper vans that are used both for rent and as permanent homes.

Lindsay Berresford kitted out Bella, a Mercedes Sprinter, as a home. With her husband David, they added carved wooden panelling, a rustic kitchen and a handmade wood-burning stove. In 2010, when they signed up for a stint of volunteer work in Kenya, they decided to see if they could rent her out. We could only find VW vans or plastic fantastic motor homes for hire online, recalls Berresford. We assumed there was no market for vans like Bella but, at the same time, couldnt believe that no one would want to rent her.

Bella turned out to be so popular that on their return the couple set up Quirky Campers, now a 30-strong (and rapidly growing) collective of camper van owners who rent out their vehicles when theyre not using them. Theres Finn in the West Midlands, a Mercedes Vito with an oak and cedar Scandinavian-style aesthetic; a Citron Relay called Cleopatra in Devon featuring a stained-glass window, a copper panel rescued from an old water tank and walls painted racing green.

Picture this: Bella. Photograph: Quirky Campers

In Bristol theres Priscilla, whose owner hired a Herefordshire company called Rustic Campers to create the interior, which includes kitchen cupboards made from the old floorboards of a Welsh chapel and childrens bunk beds with canvas sewn by a yurt maker.

Our business is built on the basis that theres a growing trend for people wanting something handcrafted and handmade, and that applies to all the spaces they spend time in, including camper vans, says Bill Goddard. A former tree surgeon, he set up Rustic Campers with his wife Becks in 2008 after someone wanted to buy the 1970s Leyland FG that they had renovated and were living in. Now, home for the couple who run a glamping site alongside taking commissions for custom conversions using locally sourced materials is a shepherd hut. For us its an entire lifestyle. All weve known for the past nine years is small-space living and, every winter, we travel around in Europe in a Mercedes Sprinter.

For Cornish couple Lauren Smith and Calum Creasey, a handcrafted van also isnt just for holidays. Seven years ago they bought a Volkswagen T4, which they named the Rolling Home, and totally transformed it themselves using mostly reclaimed pine.

Window on the world: wooden van interior with stained glass. Photograph: Quirky Campers

I just looked at the space and tried to make it as liveable and ergonomic as possible, recalls Creasey of the van which has plenty of nifty design details from a pull-out bed and wall storage to patterned ceramic handles on the cupboard doors.

After travelling more than 80,000 miles across Europe in the Rolling Home, the couple turned their story into a Kickstarter-funded book and now publish a quarterly journal that celebrates alternative living. Many people are intrigued by camper vans. On a deeper level, if you think about issues such as the housing crisis and energy usage, living in small spaces can make a lot of sense, but they are also catalysts for connecting people through wanderlust and escapism.

It only takes a quick scroll through Instagram feeds such as @vanlifediaries (full of images of people living in vans all over the world) and @tincanhomestead (artist Natasha Lawyer, who renovated and lives in a 1972 Airstream Sovereign with her husband and dogs in Seattle) to want to pack up and become part of this camper van community, even if only for a short while. Go back a few years and camper vans would often be fitted out with cheap materials, such as chipboard and poor-quality laminate, says Creasey. Now people are realising that if you spend a bit more time and use great materials, these small spaces can become incredible standalone designs in their own right.

If I were a carpenter: a van interior from Rustic Campers.

Read more:

Tech giants face no contest when it comes to competition law | John Naughton

Amazons acquisition of Whole Foods Market ought to be blocked by monopoly regulators, but as long as they keep delivering the goods no one seems to mind

The news that Amazon had acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn sent shivers down the spine of every retailer in America. Shares in Walmart fell 7%, and rival Kroger by 17%. Amazons market capitalisation, in contrast, went up by $11bn. So why the fuss? At first sight it seemed straightforward: Amazon wanted to get into food sales, and it fancied having a network of 400 urban stores; and Whole Foods (which some of my American friends call whole wallet because of the cost of its products) was ailing. There was also a small political angle: John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, had been enmeshed in a row with an activist investor that threatened to drive him from power; by selling to Amazon, he gets to keep his job. So: small earthquake in food retailing, not many dead?

Er, not quite, and only if you avoid taking the long view. And, with Amazon, the long view is the only one that makes sense. In the mid-1990s, people thought that its founder, Jeff Bezos, just wanted to run an online bookshop. After a while, as Amazon rapidly started selling lots of non-book stuff, people thought he just wanted the company to become the next Walmart. Spool forward a few more years and people realised that Bezos aspired to run the everything store. Then he launched Amazon Web Services (AWS) and rapidly became the dominant provider of cloud computing services. And so it went on, to the point where people began to ask: what business does Jeff Bezos not want to dominate? And the only answer to that currently is: no one knows.

Just consider the numbers. According to New York Times figures for the US, Amazon now accounts for 43% of all online retail sales; half of all online shopping searches start on Amazon (eat your heart out, Google); in 2016, the company had revenues of $63bn from online sales which is more than the next top 10 online retailers combined; it controls 74% of ebook sales, and is soon set to become the biggest clothing retailer in the US. AWS, for its part, has become a $10bn annual revenue business with more than 50% of big companies preferring it to rivals market share is expected to reach 64% in three years.

By any common-sense yardstick, therefore, Amazon wields monopoly power and its activities should trigger action by regulators. The problem is that US antitrust (competition) law has long parted company with common sense. The rot set in when Robert Bork published The Antitrust Paradox in 1978, in which he argued that competition law had become too focused on preventing cartels, price-fixing and mergers that create monopolies, and should return instead to what he claimed was its original concern with protecting consumers. This view was then energetically promulgated by the influential Chicago Law School and seems to have become the conventional wisdom of competition authorities across theworld.

Crudely put, the implication of the Bork view is that no matter how big or dominant a company becomes, if theres no evidence that its dominance is harming consumers, then theres no antitrust concern. And the digital giants that now dominate the landscape have driven a coach and horses through this loophole. Google and Facebook, for example, argue that since they are providing superb free services that are highly valued by consumers, then punishing them simply for their market dominance would amount to penalising excellence and efficiency.

Although Amazon does not provide free services, it can and does argue that it provides excellent customer service and very competitive prices. The company has grown prodigiously year-on-year, but has consistently returned very small profits. Instead it poured money into advertising, investment in infrastructure and price discounts. Amazon recorded consistent losses for the first seven years that it was in business and yet its sales and stock price continued to rise. And its still doing it: in two of the last five years, for example, it reported losses and its highest yearly net income was still less than 1% of its net sales.

Amazons Whole Foods acquisition will have to be approved by the Federal Trade Commission, but my guess is that it will get through. The company will argue that even after buying Whole Foods Market its share of the American grocery market will be less than 5%. Monopolist, moi? will be Mr Bezoss plea. But if the FTC does indeed accept this argument, then we will have a really good measure of how irrelevant antitrust law has become in curbing corporate power in a digital world. The law does not concern itself with trifles, used to be the proud boast of legal theorists. Now it doesnt seem to concern itself with giants either.

Read more:

Facebook is releasing a new app for YouTube-like creators

Image: facebook

Facebook wants more video, so it’s releasing a new app just for creators, the company announced at the annual online video conference VidCon Friday.

It’s in part an update to Facebook Mentions, an app currently available to verified accounts on the social network, which includes celebrities, online influencers, and journalists.

Mentions is where Facebook first released Facebook Live back in August 2015 and it provides a lighter version of Facebook with a Following tab, a Trending tab, and a Mentions tab.

But this new app, to be released later this year, will be focused on the creator, Facebook product director Daniel Danker announced during the “Future of Facebook Video” panel at VidCon.

“It has never been a better time to be a creator on Facebook,” Danker said. “With Facebook we can connect and create community with your audience and tell stories that are social, personal, and authentic.”

The app will still feature access to Facebook Live as well as a new live creative kit, where creators will have access to special tools that include adding intros and outros to live broadcasts. They will also have custom stickers that viewers can use and custom frames for the creator.

The update includes a new Community tab, where creators can more easily connect with their followers on Facebook as well as Facebook’s other apps, Instagram and Messenger. The app also will have more insights, such as who the creator’s followers are and how they are consuming the creator’s videos.

Over the last year and especially at VidCon, Facebook has made a big push for being more of a YouTube-like destination, where users come to watch video. That includes Facebook making an effort to recruit more YouTube-like stars, as Mashable reported. Bringing in creators who can make high-quality, engaging video is another way Facebook can make money and so can creators.

“We think were successful when youre successful,” Danker said.

Read more:

Google vows to stop its creepy practice of reading your emails to target ads

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google will no longer scan your emails to steer the ads it shows youa longstanding controversial practice that you may not have even been aware the company was doing.

The surprise announcement seems to be an effort to appease paying users of Google’s office email software. The search giant has never shown those customers ads or skimmed their emails as it does with its free Gmail service, but some were confused about that point, according to Google Cloud SVP Diane Greene.

“This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products,” Greene wrote in a blog post.

Users of free Gmail will still see ads in the form of promoted messages, but they will only be targeted based on data Google’s collected on you through other avenues, like search history and YouTube activity. Given Google’s massive reach, the company no doubt has more than enough information with which to personalize ads without digging through inboxes.

The move comes as Google is investing heavily in cloud computing and its G-Suite software packagewhich includes enterprise Gmailin a bid to catch up with companies like Microsoft and Amazon. That this announcement came from the company’s cloud department rather than its ads people suggests that customer privacy concerns may have been making it harder to enlist new corporate customers on this front.

Google has used the contents of user emails to direct ads since just after Gmail’s inception, and it expanded its intake to encompass entire inboxes in 2011. The program has drawn criticism from consumer advocacy groups as well as multiple lawsuits.

Google doesn’t break out a standalone revenue figure for Gmail, but historically, it’s never been a huge moneymaker. Rather, the free tier’s primary business purpose has been to bait customers into its more lucrative enterprise platforms. That means the priorities of the latter arm come first.

Thankfully, Google still lets you disable personalized ads through its settings tab.

Read more:

Virgin Media wants you to change your router password

Thousands of Virgin Media customers are affected.
Image: REX/Shutterstock

Virgin Media wants you to change your router password.

The company recently published guidance on how to do that for older router models after Which? magazine a publication “known for testing household products” found that Virgin Media routers weren’t so hard to hack.

Which? found that Virgin Media’s Super Hub 2 “can be hacked in a matter of days” if users don’t change the default password the devices come with. Once someone hacks into a router, that person can often get access to devices that use that router. Around 864,000 people apparently own a Super Hub 2.

Virgin reacted quickly to the Which? investigation, and has provided step by step instructions on how to change Super Hub 2 passwords.

“The security of our network and of our customers is of paramount importance to us,” the company said in a post. “We continually upgrade our systems and equipment to ensure that we meet all current industry standards.”

That sounds like corporate-ese, but Which? found that “Super Hub 3.0 uses much stronger passwords than its predecessor.”

These stronger passwords run 12 characters long, and include numbers as well as upper and lowercase letters, a significant upgrade from the last version, which used single case passwords of only eight characters.

So, if you have a Super Hub 2.0, change your password. Go to the link. It’s easy. And while you’re at it, change your email passwords just because it’s a good thing to do. Make it harder for hackers to get in there. It’s one of those things that seems annoying to do until your personal information ends up in the digital hands of someone without the best of intentions.

Read more:

Airbnb set to launch a premium tier to compete with hotels

Airbnb wants to be more like the hotels it’s disrupting.

The short-term home rental platform is getting ready to launch a premium tier of rentals that would compete more directly with hotels, according to a report in Bloomberg.

The service would match higher-paying guests with high-quality home rentals, checked by Airbnb’s very own inspectors. To pass inspection, Airbnb hosts would have to treat their listings like hotels and provide fancy towels and bed linens and travel-size shampoo and conditioner. They’d even have to keep the kitchen stocked with bottled water, coffee, and tea.

Hosts who make the cut will have their listings featured in a special, prominent section of Airbnb’s website. They’d also get the help of a professional photographer and an interior decorator provided by Airbnb.

Airbnb hasn’t confirmed their plans yet. According to Bloomberg, the program is already inviting hosts to participate and could be called Select.

“We’re continually experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb,” Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said.

For hosts who are already basically Airbnb professionals, it’s a way to make some extra money. For Airbnb, it’s a way to gain traction with business travelers and customers who are swayed by the reliability of traditional hotel amenities.

Read more:

5 tips on how to overcome the entrepreneurial dilemma

Randi Zuckerberg is a businesswoman who marches to the beat of her own drum.

As a serial entrepreneur, NYTimes best selling author of Dot Complicated, speaker, television host and producer, and founder & CEO of Zuckerberg Media, one skill-set Randi had to learn was time management.

Below, Zuckerberg outlines five tips professionals should follow to overcome the entrepreneurial dilemma of work-life balance.

For the full interview and more discussion, check out the above episode of #BizChats.

1. Chooseyour three major focuses of the day: work, family, friends, fitness, sleep, etc.

“You get three of those, you can pick a different three tomorrow. The goal is for it to balance out over the long run, not to try to do all those five things everyday.”

2. Stave off the urge to do tasks outside of those three choices (save it for another day when you can enjoy it)

“Once you pick your three, stick with it. Don’t say, ‘alright I’m going to try and sneak in in this fourth or fifth [activity].’ Do those three things really, really well. If you didn’t choose fitness that day, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t try to squeeze in a 5-mile run. Save it for another day when you can enjoy it and you can do a great job.”

3. Hold yourself accountable by tweeting your choices or sharing them to friends

“If you don’t think you’re the kind of person that can hold yourself accountable to picking three things and sticking with it, bring other people in on the action. Get social! You can text your friends and share with them your three things you picked that day. You can tweet it, you can post it on Facebook, have other people help you be accountable for picking three.

“I also like to say, instead of creating a really daunting ‘to-do’ list of things that you have to do that day that are weighing over your head, make a ‘ta-da list’ of the things you accomplished that day that you can feel proud of at the end of the day.”

4. Keep a journal or calendar of your choices so you can see how your month balanced out

“Just like if you’re trying to watch your nutrition, the biggest advice is to keep a journal of what you’re eating so you can see what you chose. Keep a journal of which three [activities] you picked. Again, work, sleep, family, friends, fitness, you get to pick three. You want to make sure you’re balancing out over the long run, but it’s okay if you pick the same three over and over again for a short time. We’re entrepreneurs, we’re busy, sometimes you’ve got to focus and drill down, but write it down to make sure you’re not letting anything in your life go by the wayside.”

5. Profit financially, physically and emotionally

“If you give yourself that permission to really focus, first of all, what you’re going to find is that you’re going to be so much more productive, you’re going to be happier, and I know in my own personal life and my professional life, I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished anything I was truly proud of when I felt like I was just balancing everything really well. It was when I really deep dove into one area and was really focused and I felt like I accomplished anything I was really proud of. So that’s why I think the new reality of being an entrepreneur (especially for those of us who are parents too) is that you have to maybe be a little more lopsided instead of balanced and it’s okay as long as it shifts back and fourth.”

Read more:

We now live in a world in which White House press briefings must be drawn to be seen

CNN sent a sketch artist to cover Spicer's Friday meeting.
Image: Bill Hennessy

When life gives you off-camera White House press briefings, make your Supreme Court sketch artist draw them.

That seems to have been CNN’s thought, anyway.

The network sent its Supreme Court sketch artist Bill Hennessy to visit White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s domain on Friday. While he didn’t have his easel to work with, he did a pretty decent job standing up in the back of the room.

The drawings and Hennessy’s presence at the briefing highlighted just how few on-camera briefings the White House holds anymore.

As CNN pointed out in its own article on the subject, Spicer and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have held just four on-camera briefings this month, out of 17 weekdays.

Read more:

Amazon registered a patent for giant drone beehives

A worker bee.
Image: Amazon/REX/Shutterstock

Picture an Amazon Echo. Maybe you have one, or a friend does, or you’ve seen one in a commercial. They’re cylindrical and black, and small enough to be unobtrusive sitting atop a kitchen counter. Now picture them the size of a skyscraper, amid buildings of a similar height. Picture this giant Echo full of little doors through which package-carrying drones buzz in and out, the delivery people of the future.

Amazon has registered a patent to do this.

Maybe this Jeff Bezos dream will come true. Maybe it won’t. Amazon has, after all, also registered a patent for huge flying drone warehouses, like blimps that spew miniature versions of themselves out into the world below, a design built to deliver packages so quickly that customers will barely have ordered the thing before it shows up at their door.

Amazon drone hive.

Image: USPTO

Or maybe the hives will look more like strange wheels of cheese.

Or perhaps they’ll look like space pods.

Who knows which of these things will come true. Maybe neither, maybe both. But do know that Amazon sees drones as the way of the package-delivering future, and that they’re hellbent on delivering items at a rate any other delivery service hasn’t a prayer to keep up with. Doing this requires lots of drones and lots of packages. All those packages must be stored somewhere, and if drones are the future of delivery, those storage centers must cater to them.

So maybe, some day in a city near you or a city in which you now live, it’ll be normal for you to step outside or off the train and to look up at a tall, cylindrical building around which hundreds of seemingly very large flies flit about, stopping to reload before setting off with bundles of cat food or books or groceries to be delivered to yet another person who just clicked “place your order.”

Read more: