mfioretti: amazon*

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  1. Why do Nomads live like this?

    We live in a culture where if your number didn’t come up, you’re a bad person, you’re lazy, you should be ashamed of yourself. It eats away at people. It makes them more exploitable.

    What are the challenges they face?

    I talked to one couple, Barb and Chuck. He had been head of product development at McDonald’s MCD, -0.84% before he retired. He lost his nest egg in the 2008 crash and Barb did, too. One time, Barb and Chuck were standing at the gas station to get $175 worth of gas and the horror hit them that their account had $6 in it. The gas station gentleman said ‘Give me your name and driver’s license and if you write a check, I will wait to cash it.’ He waited two whole weeks before he deposited it.

    These jobs can be rough physically, right?

    I know someone in his 70s who walked 15 miles on a concrete floor, sometimes for 10 hours. Your feet can get messed up, you can get repetitive stress injury and a tendon condition. The Nomads talked to me about soaking their feet in salt baths at night and being too tired to go out. When I went to the sugar beet harvest, it was 12 hours a day in the cold, shoveling. Oh my God, my body hurt! And I was 37!

    Tell me about Amazon’s CamperForce program, which hires thousands of Nomads.

    It began in 2008, within months after the housing collapse. Amazon contracts with an RV park and pays the CamperForce to do warehouse work loading and packing and order fulfillment. From the outside looking in, you’d say: ‘Why would you want older people doing this? The jobs seem suited to younger bodies.’ But so many times, the recruiters in the published materials talk about the older people’s work ethic and the maturity of the workforce and their ‘life experience,’ which is a code word for ‘Hey, you’re old.’

    You write that sometimes the Nomads are exploited. How?

    I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Forest Service and learned that some of their workers aren’t getting paid for all their hours. They weren’t allowed to invoice.

    Some of the Nomads had to work alongside robots, such as in the Amazon warehouses. How was that?

    The robots were making them bonkers. This is isolating work and there’s one scene in the book where a robot kept bringing a woman in her 70s the same thing to count.

    What needs to change to prevent people from having to become Nomads or to help them live better if they are?

    For one thing, Amazon should pay its workers more and give them better working conditions. It’s laughable that the workers get a 15-minute break when they have to spend it walking to the break room. It’s completely insane.

    Nomads need a voice, but at the same time, it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll organize for better working conditions because they’re vulnerable and always on the move.
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  2. Similarly, GOOG in 2014 started reorganizing itself to focus on artificial intelligence only. In January 2014, GOOG bought DeepMind, and in September they shutdown Orkut (one of their few social products which had momentary success in some countries) forever. The Alphabet Inc restructuring was announced in August 2015 but it likely took many months of meetings and bureaucracy. The restructuring was important to focus the web-oriented departments at GOOG towards a simple mission. GOOG sees no future in the simple Search market, and announces to be migrating “From Search to Suggest” (in Eric Schmidt’s own words) and being an “AI first company” (in Sundar Pichai’s own words). GOOG is currently slightly behind FB in terms of how fast it is growing its dominance of the web, but due to their technical expertise, vast budget, influence and vision, in the long run its AI assets will play a massive role on the internet. They know what they are doing.

    These are no longer the same companies as 4 years ago. GOOG is not anymore an internet company, it’s the knowledge internet company. FB is not an internet company, it’s the social internet company. They used to attempt to compete, and this competition kept the internet market diverse. Today, however, they seem mostly satisfied with their orthogonal dominance of parts of the Web, and we are losing diversity of choices. Which leads us to another part of the internet: e-commerce and AMZN.

    AMZN does not focus on making profit.
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  3. this time around, Walmart’s renewed focus on its “Everyday Low Price” promise coincides with Amazon’s increased aggressiveness in its own pricing of the packaged goods that are found on supermarket shelves and are core to Walmart’s success, industry executives and consultants say.

    The result in recent months has been a high-stakes race to the bottom between Walmart and Amazon that seems great for shoppers, but has consumer packaged goods brands feeling the pressure.

    The pricing crackdown also comes in the wake of Walmart’s $3 billion acquisition of and its CEO Marc Lore. Lore now runs and has said one of his mandates is to create new ways for the retailer to beat everyone else on price, including Amazon.

    The pricing pressure has ignited intense wargaming inside the largest CPG companies, according to people familiar with discussions at Procter & Gamble, Unilever, PepsiCo, Mondelez and Kimberly-Clark. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

    “It’s dominating the conversation every week,” said an executive at one of these companies.

    Representatives for these companies either declined to comment or failed to respond to requests for comment. Executives inside these companies would only speak on a condition of anonymity because negotiations with retailers are confidential.

    An Amazon spokesperson said in an email: “At Amazon we protect low prices for our customers, every single day — nothing has changed in terms of our focus or how we operate.”

    Walmart did not provide a comment.

    One piece of the battle, executives say, is an Amazon algorithm that works to match or beat prices from other websites and stores. Former Amazon employees say it finds the lowest price per unit or per ounce for a given product — even if it’s in a huge bulk-size pack at Costco — and applies it across the same type of good on Amazon, even when the pack size is much smaller.

    So let’s imagine Costco is selling a pack of 10 bags of Doritos for $10 — or $1 per bag. Amazon’s algorithm notes that one bag is $1 at Costco and, in turn, lowers the price on Amazon of a single bag of Doritos to $1.

    That is a great deal for customers — something that is likely driving the decision at Amazon, where an obsession with customer value dominates its strategy.

    But now, Amazon is selling individual items at Costco prices while not getting the same wholesale price that Costco enjoys. In short, it’s going to be really hard for Amazon to turn a profit on those goods.

    When Walmart sees this, it freaks out on the supplier, industry executives say. And it doesn’t matter to Walmart that Amazon may not be getting the same wholesale price that retailers like Costco or other membership clubs receive. In other words, even if Amazon isn’t profiting from its extremely low prices, Walmart is still demanding the same bulk-rate discount applied to individual items.

    “Walmart has had it explained to them by myself and others,” said one industry insider who asked for anonymity talking about private discussions. “My conclusion has been that they beat all suppliers up regardless because they need it to be a problem at the senior levels of these companies.”
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  4. They say that news is what happens to a writer on his way to the bathroom and I’ve recently discovered something fascinating. Alexa – and, to a degree, Siri and Google’s OK Google solution – have become indispensable additions to our home. The kids tell Alexa to turn on the lights and start Netflix. We ask her how to spell words and do basic math. She tells us which day it is and what the weather will be. She sets timers for us and reminds us to buy milk. In short, she’s our own special helper monkey.

    Then we see the news that hotels are planning on adding Alexa to hotel rooms, police are requesting Amazon Echo data in a murder case, and pundits are calling for voice to be the Next Big Thing.

    “Forget the onerous process of pulling your Pixel or iPhone from your pocket, unlocking it, opening apps, and tapping your desires onto a screen (Ugh!),” wrote Jessi Hempel on Backchannel. “Soon, you’ll speak your wants into the air — anywhere — and a woman’s warm voice with a mid-Atlantic accent will talk back to you, ready to fulfill your commands.”

    The world thought it wanted smart watches but what it really wants is to be heard. And Alexa and her ilk are only going to get more and more powerful.

    Analysts estimate that Amazon has sold six million Alexa-cabable since launch.

    What we most want from our devices is freedom. We want to be able to tell them to do the things we’re thinking and get immediate results. Turning off the lights in my home takes four physical taps on my phone or one sentence to Alexa. Turning on the Star Wars theme music takes five taps on my phone or one request to Alexa. Getting the answer to “seven times eight” (we have small kids) takes a solid six seconds of tapping or two seconds of talking. Once Alexa and other bots become ubiquitous we’ll all be shouting commands into the air and expecting our homes to react.

    Does anyone else worry that we are just basically "wire tapping" our houses for the feds? The FBI recently just said they have "no comment" on whether they are using the devices as a wire tap. That's enough to put me off.
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  5. But you know what, the fact that all of those things have to be done to successfully 3D print something proves that this technology is just not ready for regular people.

    I'm a very tech-savvy person. I'm great with gadgets and have been taking stuff apart and putting them back together for as long as I can remember. But the 3D printer is too much effort for me. I'm sure if I dedicated the right amount of time and attention to it, I could make it work.

    For me, my time is ultimately more valuable and I think I would just opt to buy something pre-built anyway.

    But the pipe dream that every house will have a 3D printer that will be one-touch simple — that's not going to happen. And what about someone like my mom? Forget about it. This stuff is too complicated for tech-savvy people, let alone normals.

    And if you ask me, that's why the 3D-printing revolution has stalled — at least in the home space. I fully expect commercial and educational usage of 3D printers to soar. But for regular people? Hell. No.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-07-24)
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  6. For those who don’t know, to be in KU, a book can’t be available at any other vendor. Amazon exclusive. The bonus is that it gets slightly better visibility simply because it can be a “recommendation” to KU browsers. Books not in KU are often not shown to them unless they are bigger names.

    On to the issue of the scammers and what’s really going on…

    KU pays authors based on a communal pot. It is not based on the price of the book. The amount KU subscribers pay is then divided between all authors based on how many of their pages were read by users.

    So, it’s a pie. Some get a bigger slice, some a smaller, but the pie is finite and must be shared. So, if scammers take out of that pie, it comes directly out of the pockets of the others. That’s important.
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  7. Credo che un incarico così importante dovrebbe essere remunerato, risolvendo il conflitto di interessi con l’impegno a non tornare in azienda al termine dell’incarico. Oppure, più semplicemente, si sarebbe potuta scegliere una persona meno di parte. Invece, “senza oneri per l’Amministrazione” regaliamo due anni di scelte tecnologiche, che avranno effetti per almeno altri 20 anni, ad una delle più grandi realtà commerciali d’oltreoceano.

    Parlo di 20 anni non solo perché ogni scelta politica ha effetti sul lungo periodo, ma in particolare perché ogni scelta tecnica nel digitale è quasi inevitabilmente condita di “lock-in”. Il fornitore di un servizio o di un prodotto fa sempre tutto il possibile per legare il cliente a se stesso e rendergli impossibile o estremamente oneroso ogni cambiamento. Quando per esempio tutti i dati di anagrafe e catasto sono in uno specifico sistema informatico, a fronte un contratto di abbonamento annuale di cinque o sei cifre, possiamo capire che il fornitore non sarà interessato ad aiutarci a passare ad un suo concorrente.

    Ricordo in proposito che il nostro CAD (Codice dell’Amministrazione Digitale) era noto per essere uno dei migliori d’Europa, includendo clausole preferenziali per il software libero e requisiti di interoperabilità per ogni acquisizione informatica da parte della PA.

    Purtroppo lo era, ma non lo è più. In gennaio è circolata, sotto silenzio, una bozza di revisione del CAD in cui sono scomparsi gli articoli relativi all’interoperabilità. Si tratta(va) di una buona salvaguardia contro le pratiche di lock-in. Un sistema è interoperabile quando è possibile accedere ai dati o fruire dei servizi da altri sistemi, per esempio usando formati di dati “aperti” per la gestione documentale. La modifica del CAD va a colpire il punto più critico per i monopolisti, perché in pratica la preferenzialità per il software libero viene facilmente elusa.

    Non credo sia un caso che, sempre a gennaio, il Governo abbia “stretto un patto con Cisco per la digitalizzazione del Paese”: l’azienda investe 100 milioni di Euro nella scuola, nella ricerca e nelle “start-up”, senza più nessuna richiesta di interoperabilità. Questi investimenti “senza oneri per l’Amministrazione”, in particolare quelli nella scuola, normalmente consistono in regalie di apparecchiature e software, rubricati come spese in detrazione dal reddito anche se il costo per l’azienda è sempre inferiore, ma per il software è addirittura zero. L’investitore, in pratica, pastura nelle scuole, in esenzione fiscale (“senza oneri per l’Azienda”), per poi pescare una frotta di clienti fedeli e paganti nel prossimo futuro.
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  8. Un Piacentini consulente non pagato dal governo italiano e sempre dipendente da un colosso come Amazon, nella bufera nei mesi passati per non aver pagato il dovuto di tasse (e che ha una potente azione di lobby sulla politica italiana), desta più di una condizione di imbarazzo.

    Negli Usa quando la Casa Bianca attinge professionalità dall’industria privata, i prescelti si dimettono dai loro incarichi nelle aziende.

    È una regola che regna ovunque, in tutto il mondo avanzato: politica e istituzioni non possono essere confuse con gli interessi dell’industria privata.

    Purtroppo in Italia quello di Piacentini non è neanche il primo caso, proprio in materie attinenti lo sviluppo del digitale.

    Ora sembrerebbe che addirittura Diego Piacentini sarebbe disposto a dimettersi da Amazon per assumere l’incarico gratuito offerto dal governo italiano.

    Va tutto bene, ma Piacentini non ci venga a dire che lo fa per amore del suo Paese o per dare un contributo al suo sviluppo digitale o per mettere la sua esperienza a disposizione dell’Italia.

    No, questo no, per favore.

    Il secondo dubbio riguarda l’ulteriore aggiunta di nuove personalità, più o meno dirompenti, oltre a quelle esistenti.

    Se guardiamo al settore pubblico, abbiamo l’AGID, agenzia governativa per la digitalizzazione della PA, che deve lavorare proprio per l’Italia digitale. Forse il suo direttore generale Antonio Samaritani non è in condizione di poter procedere da solo?

    In aggiunta abbiamo a Palazzo Chigi anche un altro consigliere sull’innovazione, in questo caso addirittura un imprenditore, Paolo Barberis, incaricato di costruire Italia Login, il mega progetto dell’Italia digitale, la porta d’accesso a tutti i siti della PA digitale, insomma la madre di tutte le battaglie, che purtroppo è ancora rappresentato solo in poche slide che vengono di volta in volta aggiornate.

    Abbiamo poi il nostro Digital Champion Riccardo Luna,
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  9. la nomina di Piacentini - ottima persona - ripropone con forza la questione della dualità tra tecnocrazia e democrazia. Ed è decisamente un punto (un altro) a favore della prima. Con la politica che si piega alle "capacità tecniche" del manager ignorando o fingendo di ignorare i contenuti politici e culturali che questi immette nella gestione della cosa pubblica e gli interessi economici che questi sostiene (tanto più sapendo di tornare a pieno ruolo a Seattle tra due anni).

    È interessante come questa cessione di ruoli dalla democrazia alla tecnocrazia avvenga in contemporanea con lo scenario dei tre top manager (Sala, Parisi, Passera) candidati a sindaco di Milano: altra storia, naturalmente, e su cui qui non ritorno, ma con tratti simili: cessione - o resa - ai tecnocrati "capaci", nella finzione che questi non abbiano carature e interessi politici.

    Peccato che invece la tecnocrazia non sia neutra, politicamente: è di parte, è una parte. E per averne conferma, se proprio non si ha tempo e voglia di leggere saggi e analisi sull'ideologia della Silicon Valley, basta vedere cos'è diventata l'Europa, in mano a tecnocrati da due o tre decenni.
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  10. my core prediction for 2016 is that all the things that got worse in 2015 will keep on getting worse over the year to come. The ongoing depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources will keep squeezing the global economy, as the real (i.e., nonfinancial) costs of resource extraction eat up more and more of the world’s total economic output, and this will drive drastic swings in the price of energy and commodities—currently those are still headed down, but they’ll soar again in a few years as demand destruction completes its work. The empty words in Paris a few weeks ago will do nothing to slow the rate at which greenhouse gases are dumped into the atmosphere, raising the economic and human cost of climate-related disasters above 2015’s ghastly totals—and once again, the hard fact that leaving carbon in the ground means giving up the lifestyles that depend on digging it up and burning it is not something that more than a few people will be willing to face.

    Healthy companies in a normal economy usually have P/E ratios between 10 and 20; that is, their total stock value is between ten and twenty times their annual earnings. Care to guess what the P/E ratio is for Amazon as of last Friday’s close? A jawdropping 985.

    At that, Amazon is in better shape than some other big-name tech firms these days, as it actually has earnings. Twitter, for example, has never gotten around to making a profit at all, and so its P/E ratio is its current absurd stock value divided by zero. Valuations this detached from reality haven’t been seen since immediately before the “Tech Wreck” of 2000, and the reason is exactly the same: vast amounts of easy money have flooded into the tech sector, and that torrent of cash has propped up an assortment of schemes and scams that make no economic sense at all. Sooner or later, as a function of the same hard math that brings every bubble to an end, Tech Wreck II is going to hit, vast amounts of money are going to evaporate, and a lot of currently famous tech companies are going to go the way of

    my best guess at this point is that photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is going to be the next big energy bubble.

    Solar PV is a good deal less environmentally benign than its promoters like to claim—like so many so-called “green” technologies, the environmental damage it causes happens mostly in the trajectory from mining the raw materials to manufacture and deployment, not in day-to-day operation—and the economics of grid-tied solar power are so dubious that in practice, grid-tied PV is a subsidy dumpster rather than a serious energy source. Nonetheless, I expect to see such points brushed aside, airily or angrily as the case may be, as the solar lobby and its wholly-owned subsidiaries in the green movement make an all-out push to sell solar PV as the next big thing.
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