Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired In Alabama, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is a Haunting Metaphor

Hexbyte Tech News Wired In Alabama, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is a Haunting Metaphor

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Pro-choice advocates wore the attire of women in Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale novel while protesting Alabama’s new abortion ban bill.

Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser

The year is 2019. It is a time of chasmic divides. Republican rule has taken hold in America. The land aches from unrest. In the Deep South, once a province of notorious racial and social subjugation, history again flirts with twisted judgement. On Tuesday, 25 state senators—all of whom were white men, and who, like clowns at the circus, bear names like Del Marsh, Shay Shelnutt, and James “Jabo” Waggoner with mischievous, cowardly grins—voted to all but ban abortion in Alabama. Their bill makes no exceptions for rape or incest, and it punishes doctors who perform the procedure with life in prison. Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law the very next day, and effectively transformed the Heart of Dixie into a Republican theocracy.

Protesters flooded the streets outside the Alabama State House in Montgomery as news of the bill began to spread. Signs colored the cool spring, exclaiming “Protect Women’s Health” and “Get Out of My Uterus.” By midweek, the national temperature had grown into a violent heat. The women of Alabama no longer possessed authority over their bodies. The newly-minted law—which forbids termination at every stage of pregnancy—read like a grim portent of a larger evil that is slowly brewing to a crippling boil: the nullification of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established the essential liberty of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

As metaphors go, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian saga The Handmaid’s Tale found a frightful resonance. A cabal of women appeared before the state house in long red dresses and pristine white bonnets. Mirroring the likeness of Atwood’s tortured Handmaids, they regarded themselves as emblems of conquest, a collective harmony with no song. “My body is an argument I did not start,” the poet Morgan Parker once wrote, conjuring the peculiar bind—though battleground, too, seems appropriate here—of history, race, and gender. Cogent and layered, photographer Mickey Welsh would also capture this particularly American bind in an image of the chaos in the streets of Montgomery. In it, a woman stands, looking forward. Her stare is a puncture. It stings, stirs.

Flanked by a chorus of protesters, the woman is dressed in Handmaid’s red—stoic, unmoved. She is sustained by those who join her in the ongoing fight to return autonomy to all women. Amid the roar, though, a quiet calm seems to have overtaken her. She is the lone figure awash in sunlight. These characteristics have the effect of 3D. It’s as if the woman stands outside the photo—or, rather, in front of it. She has exited the fray, as warning and perhaps martyr, to inform us of a very possible future ruled by divine law and enforced by senseless, Gilead-like political brutes. But the image wants her back. Notice how a sharp shadow eclipses her face, attempting to pull her in, to encase her in time. Therein, I believe, lies the magic of Welsh’s photograph: It’s got length, breadth, depth. It propels and pulls inward, it moves with time. It moves like time. And, like history, it flows in every direction.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Amazon’s Dash Buttons Aren’t Dead—They Will Haunt Us Forever

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Amazon’s Dash Buttons Aren’t Dead—They Will Haunt Us Forever

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Elena Lacey; Getty Images

This story is part of a collection of pieces on how we spend money today.

Amazon’s Dash Buttons were either the pinnacle of gimmickry—a bunch of plastic purchase-dongles that served no use except to stuff your cabinets with more home goods—or a prime example of streamlined, purpose-driven design. Like a lot of products: It depends on who you ask.

But what if Amazon Dash Buttons, which were discontinued as of February 28, were both? What if every time we pushed one of these silly buttons, we—the consumers—were helping Amazon build a bridge to a future of interface-free shopping? In this future, physical shopping apparatus will be quaint. No sooner will our eyes lock on an empty bottle of dish soap or a pair of sneakers in a social media app than the item will appear in a virtual shopping cart. If that doesn’t work, we can shout at Alexa to order it for us. That’s what Amazon seems to be angling for, anyway. Where they’re going, they don’t need buttons.

Amazon Dash Buttons launched in the spring of 2015. The March 31 birthday didn’t help things: People on the internet wondered if they were part of an April Fool’s Day joke. They were mostly plastic, mostly white, not much larger than a key fob. Each Dash Button included a Wi-Fi radio, an LED light, and, of course, a button. And each was sheathed in a specific #brand, tiny advertisements for Hefty or Brita or Gillette or Olay plastered all over your home. Provided you were an Amazon Prime subscriber, all you had to do was push the button. In a couple of days, the preset product would arrive at your door.

For a while I had a few Dash Buttons barnacled to surfaces in my kitchen, but they ultimately ended up in a drawer. The most remarkable moment I experienced with a Dash Button, aside from my very first order, was when my cat stepped on one and ordered Clorox cleaning wipes. Dash Buttons must have had at least some modicum of success, because they stuck around (bad pun alert) for four years, dressed in the branding of hundreds of different products.

But Dash Buttons are no more, sort of: Amazon said it will continue to support existing buttons. It seems the Dash Buttons were destined to be cast into internet-of-things irrelevance, to be as boring as the Dash Wand, as awkward as the Amazon Tap speaker. That’s what you might assume, anyway, if you read some of the online obituaries for the Dash Button.

Some disagree with that premise. “I thought it was very successful from a design perspective,” says Matt Rolandson, a partner at San Francisco design firm Ammunition. “It did something we don’t see nearly enough of, which is that it seemed silly and lighthearted—an IoT device with Doritos branding on it is pretty hilarious—but, based on what Amazon said, it was actually successful in driving conversions for those brands.” Translation: They drove sales.

Rolandson went on to note that Amazon doesn’t launch something just because it has a “hungover, wouldn’t-this-be-cool moment in a dorm room.” The company is strategic in its approach, often hiding complex systems behind simple interfaces.

Sometimes these simplified designs are to the detriment of consumers, because they obscure privacy violations or dupe people into spending more than they want to. That was the case with the Dash Button: In January a court in Germany, Amazon’s second biggest market, ruled that Dash Buttons weren’t displaying adequate information about a product or its pricing to customers.

But Amazon almost certainly isn’t shedding any tears for Dash Buttons, because their spirit lives on. At the same time the company was trying to convince people to litter their homes with Buy buttons, it was creating virtual Buy buttons. It was also building the Dash system directly into appliances and completely infiltrating our homes with a harmless-sounding voice assistant. Thanks to Amazon’s Alexa, it’s now just as easy to place a voice order for 16 rolls of jumbo toilet paper as it is for your child to call up “Baby Shark” for the 1,127th time.

Those virtual Dash Buttons, which Amazon started rolling out in 2017, are digital representations of the plastic dongle. Instead of living in a cabinet or on a wall, these buttons live in the Amazon app, or on your Samsung smart fridge display. They also represent that universally acknowledged truth about our personal to-do lists: The stuff we need to take care of at home often comes to mind at the most inconvenient times, like when we’re sitting in meetings, commuting, or attempting to sleep. Physical Dash Buttons were great if you happen to do all of your effortless shopping for the kitchen while you’re standing in the kitchen. Digital Dash buttons are wherever your smartphone is: You just open an app.

And then there’s the Dash Replenishment Service, which Amazon says now works with hundreds of home devices and appliances, and claims double the number of customers from a year ago. DRS is a combination of sensors and software that lets device makers build Amazon’s replenishment system directly into your connected dishwasher from Whirlpool, your washing machine from Samsung, your pet feeder from Petcube (yes, really). Your washing machine knows you’re out of detergent well before you do; a new bottle shows up without you having uttered a word about it.

This is the ultimate future for Amazon, and the company isn’t shy about saying so. “We’ve always said the best shopping experience for many items in your home is one that doesn’t exist at all—there’s no action to take—you don’t even have to think about it,” Daniel Rausch, vice president of Amazon’s smart home division, said by email. “You know you won’t run out of the essential items you count on most, so you can focus on other, more important things.”

This interface-free shopping ideal is probably not going to appeal to everyone, especially people who prefer to track household budgets closely or who are unnerved by the idea of every single device in our homes being connected. As Rolandson puts it, “The Dash efforts don’t say a lot about how we want to buy things, but it does say something about how Amazon wants us to buy things.”

You might even say it’s like throwing a bunch of buttons on the wall to see what sticks. Given Amazon’s track record, something almost certainly will.


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Hexbyte  News  Computers Amazon Jumps Into Freight Brokerage

Hexbyte News Computers Amazon Jumps Into Freight Brokerage

Hexbyte News Computers

Hexbyte  News  Computers AmazonAn Amazon package in a mailbox. (John Zeedick/Associated Press)

Amazon.com has jumped into the market of the third-party logistics broker, roiling the waters and raising concern that the Seattle-based e-commerce giant could disrupt the freight industry forever and indelibly.

Amazon’s new freight-hauling site — located at freight.Amazon.com — has been up and running since August 2018, but it went largely unnoticed by media until early May, when The Wall Street Journal and others reported on Amazon’s entry into the market. Reports noted Amazon was offering “beta service” full truckload hauling in dry vans. The service is available for pickups in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Amazon has been brokering freight since 2016, according to Amazon spokesperson Rena Lunak, and the freight site, which offers spot rates, finally went up last summer.

Lunak told Transport Topics that in the flurry of reporting earlier in May, some outlets compared Amazon’s spot rates with contractual rates, which she said was not “apples to apples.”

IS AMAZON A LOGISTICS COMPANY? Why it doesn’t appear in our Top 50 rankings

Amazon officials bristled at the suggestion that the retail giant was using its might to muscle into freight markets and offer discounted rates to grab market share.

“We work with many linehaul service providers in our transportation network and have long utilized them to carry loads for Amazon,” Lunak said in an e-mail statement to TT. “This service, intended to better utilize our freight network, has been around in various forms for quite some time. The analysis suggesting dramatic undercutting of pricing is false.”

As for Amazon’s entry into brokerage, it likely is part of a plan to better execute delivery, say business observers. And by providing logistics, Amazon can lower its shipping costs, one top analyst said.

“It’s all about concentrating buying power,” Armstrong & Associates President Evan Armstrong told TT. “By offering services to shippers, they will increase their purchased transportation spend with providers and be able to garner more trucking capacity at better rates.”

Hexbyte  News  Computers Evan Armstrong

Armstrong

To other analysts, it is part of Amazon’s modus operandi: It’s not personal with freight, it’s just another service Amazon learned along the way. And when Amazon learns something, it begins to sell it. It’s a play Amazon has executed before, said Jeremy Bowman, a writer and analyst with The Motley Fool.

“I think with logistics/freight, they’re following a similar playbook to what they did with Amazon Web Services, fulfillment and other businesses that have become highly profitable for them: Develop a new business/infrastructure to serve the needs of its own massive e-commerce business and from there, once it’s ironed out the kinks, begin selling to whoever’s interested,” Bowman said in an e-mail to TT.

The comparison of Amazon Freight with Amazon Web Services is made often. Amazon started AWS in 2002 to accommodate Amazon’s web business. Eventually, the cloud-computing service was offered outside of house, to other businesses. At the end of 2018, AWS made $25.7 billion in revenue, earning $7.3 billion in net income, according to Amazon’s 2018 financial filings. The company also boasted of new businesses AWS attracted in 2018, with Korean Air and Santander’s Openbank going “all in” with AWS for cloud-computing.

Thus, one analyst wrote it is not that surprising that Amazon now offers freight hauling.

“Twenty years in, Amazon’s modus operandi is clear,” Freightos CEO Zvi Schreiber wrote on his blog. “They build internal tools and then offer them as a service, just like Amazon warehouses were first used for their inventory and then opened up for fulfillment by Amazon [FBA] sellers, trucking will go the same way.”

Hexbyte  News  Computers Amazon

Schreiber

Schreiber wrote that “[Amazon’s] snowball of success has relied on expanding from one market to the next, leveraging market dominance to penetrate new markets.”

Schreiber later told TT that with 60% of American households signed up for Amazon Prime memberships, “I think they have an unfair advantage that needs to be watched carefully.”

Amazon does things very well, and it wants to control the whole supply chain, from China to the ports to fulfillment centers to home delivery, Schreiber said. And to make money along the entire route, he added.

Bowman told TT that Amazon’s motives may be in-house before they are related to seeing market opportunity in freight, much like AWS. Bowman said past problems with insufficient capacity and speed during holidays likely has led Amazon to want to handle as much in-house freight and delivery as it can.

Hexbyte  News  Computers Amazon

Bowman

“And it doesn’t hurt that logistics is a huge industry/opportunity,” Bowman said.

Amazon’s new final-mile standard of one-day delivery means every season is like Christmas, and that means Amazon has to examine its own logistics better.

“To me, with their recent announcement of one-day delivery for Prime members, the company very clearly envisions a huge ramping up in its own need and demand for delivery,” Bowman said. “In order to make sure that goes right, they want to handle as much of it as possible themselves and build that logistics business from there.”