mfioretti: amazon*

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  1. In early February, media outlets reported that Amazon had received a patent for ultrasonic wristbands that could track the movement of warehouse workers’ hands during their shifts. If workers’ hands began moving in the wrong direction, the wristband would buzz, issuing an electronic corrective. If employed, this technology could easily be used to further surveil employees who already work under intense supervision.

    Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon, recently instituted a complex and punitive inventory system where employees are graded based on everything from how quickly and effectively they stock shelves to how they report theft. The system is so harsh it reportedly causes employees enough stress to bring them to tears on a regular basis.

    UPS drivers, who often operate individually on the road, are now becoming increasingly surveilled. Sensors in every UPS truck track when drivers’ seatbelts are put on, when doors open and close and when the engines start in order to monitor employee productivity at all times.

    The technology company Steelcase has experimented with monitoring employees’ faces to judge their expressions.
    http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry...s-amazon-ups-tracking-orwell-dystopia
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  2. Four companies dominate our daily lives unlike any other in human history: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. We love our nifty phones and just-a-click-away services, but these behemoths enjoy unfettered economic domination and hoard riches on a scale not seen since the monopolies of the gilded age. The only logical conclusion? We must bust up big tech.
    https://www.esquire.com/news-politics...15895746/bust-big-tech-silicon-valley
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  3. Rome and London are two huge, sluggish beasts of cities that have outlived millennia of eager reformers. They share a world where half the people already live in cities and another couple billion are on their way into town. The population is aging quickly, the current infrastructure must crumble and be replaced by its very nature, and climate disaster is taking the place of the past’s great urban fires, wars, and epidemics. Those are the truly important, dull but worthy urban issues.

    However, the cities of the future won’t be “smart,” or well-engineered, cleverly designed, just, clean, fair, green, sustainable, safe, healthy, affordable, or resilient. They won’t have any particularly higher ethical values of liberty, equality, or fraternity, either. The future smart city will be the internet, the mobile cloud, and a lot of weird paste-on gadgetry, deployed by City Hall, mostly for the sake of making towns more attractive to capital.


    Whenever that’s done right, it will increase the soft power of the more alert and ambitious towns and make the mayors look more electable. When it’s done wrong, it’ll much resemble the ragged downsides of the previous waves of urban innovation, such as railways, electrification, freeways, and oil pipelines. There will also be a host of boozy side effects and toxic blowback that even the wisest urban planner could never possibly expect.

    “information about you wants to be free to us.”

    This year, a host of American cities vilely prostrated themselves to Amazon in the hopes of winning its promised, new second headquarters. They’d do anything for the scraps of Amazon’s shipping business (although, nobody knows what kind of jobs Amazon is really promising). This also made it clear, though, that the flat-world internet game was up, and it’s still about location, location, and location.

    Smart cities will use the techniques of “smartness” to leverage their regional competitive advantages. Instead of being speed-of-light flat-world platforms, all global and multicultural, they’ll be digitally gated communities, with “code as law” that is as crooked, complex, and deceitful as a Facebook privacy chart.


    You still see this upbeat notion remaining in the current smart-city rhetoric, mostly because it suits the institutional interests of the left.

    The “bad part of town” will be full of algorithms that shuffle you straight from high-school detention into the prison system. The rich part of town will get mirror-glassed limos that breeze through the smart red lights to seamlessly deliver the aristocracy from curb into penthouse.

    These aren’t the “best practices” beloved by software engineers; they’re just the standard urban practices, with software layered over. It’s urban design as the barbarian’s varnish on urbanism.

    If you look at where the money goes (always a good idea), it’s not clear that the “smart city” is really about digitizing cities. Smart cities are a generational civil war within an urban world that’s already digitized.

    It’s a land grab for the command and control systems that were mostly already there.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/stupid-cities/553052
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  4. There’s an understandable impulse in the face of growing national divisions and what for many was the shocking and unpleasant outcome of the 2016 national elections to retreat to a comforting cocoon of the like-minded. Blue cities will do all the things that a solidly Republican national government won’t do: respect LGBTQ rights, provide sanctuary for immigrants, denounce climate change, and tax themselves to pay for needed investments and public services. But withdrawing to the safety of agreeable blue localities cedes the important national battle at just the time when it needs to be contested.

    It is well and good to celebrate the successes that mayors and local leaders are having. But transforming these heartening but small successes into a sweeping call for a new localism is misplaced when the fundamental functions of the national government are being steadily undermined. None of this works in a world in which the federal government is not simply rending holes in the safety net but knocking down its foundations.


    While the rest of the world’s nation-states adopted the trappings of modern social democracies, the U.S. was late to implement things like unemployment insurance, social security and universal health care. The New Deal, the Great Society, and Obamacare were only enacted after various local and state programs to address these problems were simply overwhelmed.

    Cities are not merely ill-equipped to tackle our major challenges on their own. Localism has an undeniable history of making many problems worse. Take two big issues of our time: climate change and surging inequality. Mayors and cities can strike a pose and demonstrate effective tactics, but they lack the policy throw-weight to solve these problems.

    It’s also worth noting that a key aspect of localism that has been effectively exempt from federal control—local control of zoning and land use—has worsened the economic segregation of our nation’s metropolitan areas
    https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/0...vernment/552446/?utm_source=SFTwitter
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  5. 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.
    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/man...g-a-desperate-nomadic-life-2017-11-06
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  6. 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.
    https://staltz.com/the-web-began-dying-in-2014-heres-how.html
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  7. 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 Jet.com and its CEO Marc Lore. Lore now runs Walmart.com 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.”
    https://www.recode.net/2017/3/30/1483.../amazon-walmart-cpg-grocery-price-war
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  8. 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.
    https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/27/hey...nch+%28TechCrunch%29&sr_share=twitter
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  9. 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.
    http://mashable.com/2016/07/23/3d-printed-failure/#mdrEZMdoXGqo
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-07-24)
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  10. 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.
    http://www.annchristy.com/ku-scammers-on-amazon-what-you-need-to-know
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