Tag Archives: Amazon

Cars Have to Go

I’m not a huge fan of private enterprise and I don’t hold much hope that for-profit ventures will save our planet. But if there is one single private product that I desperately want to see exceed expectations, it’s Zoox (see here), or at least something like it.

Zoox is a startup taxi-share service that was acquired by Amazon for roughly a billion dollars in 2020. Unlike other taxi-share ventures, Zoox will be totally automated. You summon a driverless Zoox vehicle using your smartphone, it pulls up, the doors slide open, you get in, and the Zoox takes you to your destination. Since no driver’s compartment is needed, Zoox is designing their vehicles completely from scratch to seat passengers. It looks a bit like one of those Ferris-wheel cabins with doors on each side and center-facing benches. The all-electric vehicles can transport you to your destination at expressway speeds up to 75 mph.

Why am I so enthusiastic about this venture?

It is unquestionable that private automobile ownership has been one of the key drivers of all the amazing progress and advancements we have made since the early 1900’s. But it is also unquestionable that private vehicles have brought with them terrible side-effects to our societies, our cities, our health, and our planet (see here). The simple truth is that traditional car ownership must change dramatically if we are to survive as a sustainable planetary civilization.

I know that the vision of Zoox in the short-term is simply to complete with traditional ride-share services like Uber and Lyft. But we need to carry this much, much farther. I want to see, like yesterday, a total shift away from private vehicle ownership to a near-total reliance on driverless shared-vehicles like Zoox. We need to get to a future where private vehicle ownership is simply too impractical, too expensive, and too inconvenient to continue.

Consider the benefits of doing away with private vehicle ownership…

  • Driving will be far safer if we take human drivers and poorly maintained cars off the road.
  • Automated cars can operate in the most energy-efficient manner.
  • Computers are not subject to road-rage.
  • Driverless vehicles can’t be used as weapons.
  • Driverless, pool vehicles require far less police enforcement.
  • Driverless vehicles would allow us to begin to redesign our spaces in a way that is more conducive to human quality of life rather than for automobiles.
  • Sharing of pooled cars means far fewer cars sitting idle much of the day and more efficient resource utilization overall.
  • Since too many folks feel compelled to alter their cars to make them as obnoxiously loud as possible, corporate-owned vehicles will be quieter and create a more pleasant environment for everyone.
  • Frees people from insurance, maintenance, and liability risks and expenses.
  • Without private vehicles people will “cruise” less for fun thereby saving fuel and creating less pollution and less congestion.
  • Fewer cars overall means less space dedicated to public and private garages and more for cheaper and denser housing and business space.
  • Driverless vehicles make new innovations like tunnels, vehicle conveyor belts, and other exciting transport solutions much more feasible and cost-effective.

Look, I know that these ideas are all heresy in a nation that is still in the throes of a century-long love affair with their cars. Heck, I love cars too. But the simple truth is that traditional car ownership, however we might tweak it, is not sustainable if we wish to survive as a planet. We have to make big changes and that means big sacrifices. If it means that I can no longer feel pride in my cool car, that I give up the joy of working on it, that I stop going cruising on Sunday afternoon, and that I wait a few minutes for my robo-car to arrive… that’s a small price to pay to save the planet.

I know that many will say that even if I’m totally right on all counts (and I am), people will no sooner give up their private automobiles than their guns and their Bibles. But to that I say, no, we can get there. And soon. All it takes is that we make shared, pooled, driverless vehicles so easy, enjoyable, cheap, and safe compared to private ownership that people would be idiots to own their own car. Or, if they are idiots, they can no longer afford to own a private vehicle.

And the other big reason this could actually happen is that in this one unique instance the self-interest of Amazon and other private companies aligns with the sensible and right solution for people and for the planet. This is one public-private partnership that our government should help in every way to make a reality.

Swarm the Trumpephant

You are hopefully wondering what you can do, if anything, to push back against the unfolding tin-pot dictatorship of Donald Trump (see here). The good news is that this President is particularly vulnerable in two critical areas. The first is his wallet. Money is all he cares about. The second is his brand, because that is what brings him his money.

trumpephantBoth of these vulnerabilities are at the mercy of us, the public. If we work individually but in sufficient numbers we can bring him to his knees like an army of ants swarming to bring down an elephant – the Trumpephant.

Trump is not really a great businessman. He doesn’t build or produce much of anything. The Trump hotels he pretends to own are mostly owned by others who just license his brand name. He is essentially just a brand marketer and his brand is his only real product.

For example, his newest hotel, The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver was actually built by a Malaysian businessman named Joo Kim Tiah (see here). Although Trump pretends to build and own these hotels, he does not. Mr. Tiah simply licensed the Trump name for branding and marketing. The Trump Hotel Collection just manages the hotel portion of the tower.

Reportedly, Mr. Tiah attempted to cancel the licensing deal as soon as Donald Trump ran for President but was unable to get out of his contract with the Trump Organization. This should show you just how vulnerable Trump is. All he has to sell is his brand and if that gold tarnishes, he has nothing left to sell to his major partners.

All we need to do is to taint his brand name. We, you and I, can do that. We just need to take the Trump name that he has worked so hard to make synonymous with luxury and quality, and instead make it inextricably linked with corruption, lies, and excess.

So, make “Trump” a part of your everyday language. Every time you wish to ridicule something or point out a poser or liar or charlatan or cheap excess, refer to it as a Trump.

“Wow, check out that pathetic Trump over there.”

“That guy was a pretentious idiot, I’m talking Trump grade.

“The Congressman must think we are complete morons, he tried to pull a Trump on us.”

“Wow he really messed up, an epic Trump up.”

“You she looked absurdly tacky in that dress, a total Trump.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead going in there. It’s so… Trump!”

You get the idea. Be imaginative, wicked, relentless, and merciless. We need to take away Trump’s only real asset by turning it into an overused joke – a derogatory expression that will endure for generations as a cautionary tale to those who would follow his example. We need to make sure that the next Joo Kim Tiah does not even consider signing a deal with the Trumps.

YOU can ninja this Trump brand anti-marketing every day. But you can also take direct action as well by boycotting companies that peddle his ridiculous Trump crap. Boycotting DOES work. We know that. And boycotting in this case is easy. Just keep track of companies that sell Trump shit. Simply search their site for “Trump” or check this spreadsheet (see here). There is even an app for that (see here).

For example, Amazon was petitioned for nearly a year to stop promoting Trump merchandise. They continue to do so. Now, I know you probably cannot stop using Amazon entirely, but you can still pressure them. On occasion, just go to their feedback page and send them an email saying that I am NOT buying my new <fill in the blank> from you because you continue to promote Trump. Do this for all the retailers you can.

Even if you only do this occasionally, it is still huge when enough people do it together. One ant nibbling on the Trumpephant does nothing, but together we can reduce it to a zombie skeleton in minutes.

Now I know are probably rationalizing that it’s unfair to punish retailers. But you’re wrong. Now that Trump is President, these retailers are no longer non-political when they continue to sell his crap. Amazon (as the largest example) is potentially currying favor with the White House by continuing to offer his junk. They also implicitly condone his activities by hawking his garbage. Don’t feel sorry for them, this is part of the territory.

And are you thinking that boycotting is unfair because Trump cannot extricate himself from his businesses? Too bad! That would be like saying that it’s ok if Melania were a Slovenian spy because, well, he can’t really just be expected to divorce her! But that’s exactly what he would need to do, or step down as President. Our President simply cannot make policy that impacts Amazon and other retailers without concern about a conflict of interest, any more than he could remain free of legitimate concern if Melania were a known Slovenian spy. If retailers sell his products, will he favor them? If they do not might he punish them? Do companies favor him simply out of fear that he might punish them? He is after all known to be singularly petty and vindictive. We cannot ever know for sure and every decision he makes has this inherent uncertainty. That is why his particular conflict of interest situation is deeply unacceptable and just one reason why Donald Trump is entirely unacceptable as President.

Yes maybe 50% of Americans voted for Trump knowing that he would have business conflicts while in office. So what? If 50% of America voted for a candidate with a spy-wife, we should not simply accept that situation either. If 50% of Americans voted for a slave owner, well that is why we have checks and balances – including direct action by the other 50%.

So, tarnish the brand as much as you can. Turn it into a sad cliché of a joke. At the same time boycott not only Trump crap, but all companies that carry Trump crap. Make association with his brand a “loser” for business partners and retailers and elected officials and for voters.

Oh yes, and keep organizing, protesting,  and pestering your representatives. Call them out and embarrass them for aligning with Trump. We can bring down this lumbering Trumpephant that is trampling all over all our great nation – if we all relentlessly piranha his thin orange hide at every opportunity.


Alexa, Like This Article

Back in 1966 we watched Captain Kirk chat with Mr. Spock through his Starfleet issue flip phone communicator. Such technology was so fantastic back then that that most people assumed we’d have to wait until 2265 for personal wireless communications. Little did we know that in 1996, just a mere 30 years later, Motorola would release the StarTAC flip-phone (StarTAC, StarTrek, hmm). Although it had buttons instead of a tuning dial, it was essentially the same design and functionality as those Starfleet Communicators.

Despite the futuristic awesomeness of the flip-phone, most people back in 1996 didn’t see much value in wireless phones. Why do we need them? Our trusty old Ma Bell phone works just fine! People could not imagine that soon they’d spend a huge part of their day with their head bent over their cell phones.  And so it is with most every new innovation. At first no one can imagine why they’d want that new gadget – even if only a few years it would be the one thing they’d take along if stranded on a desert island.

AmazonEchoAnd here we are again. Now we have the Echo from Amazon. It is our new StarTAC flip-phone. Remember how the Enterprise computer spoke with Kirk wherever he happened to be? Echo is our own personal Enterprise computer. It is Tony Stark’s Jarvis – before getting incarnated as Vision. It is Gideon, the AI of the Waverider from Legends of Tomorrow. Well the start of Jarvis and Gideon at least. Most people don’t see it as anything more than a novelty. But today it’s already immensely useful. Tomorrow it’ll be as indispensable to our households as electricity.

The Echo is a simple device, elegantly simple. It is a small cylinder you place centrally in your house, plug it in, let it connect to your WIFI, and start talking to it. The Echo is mostly speaker, and a pretty good one. I have always been a hardcore audiophile and I’m happy enough with the quality. The rest of it is just a WIFI device that communicates with a very pleasant and smart woman named Alexa whom I assume works 24/7 at Amazon just to talk to me. Just ask Alexa something, anything, and she’ll respond in her reassuringly competent voice with helpful information. Alexa isn’t quite “Her” but she’s pretty insightful.

Alexa, what time is it?
Alexa, spell consensus.
Alexa, what is the population of Uruguay?
Alexa, what’s in the news today?
Alexa, play Enchanted by Taylor Swift.
Alexa, read about Deadpool on Wikipedia.
Alexa, wake me at 8 A.M.
Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes.
Alexa, put peanut butter cookies on my shopping list.
Alexa, what’s another word for amazing?
Alexa, why is the sky blue?
Alexa, when was Kennedy president?
Alexa, who is the Speaker of the House?
Alexa, play Ratatat Radio on Pandora.
Alexa, what is 34 + 75 + 26?
Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow?
Alexa, what was Mark Twain’s real name?
Alexa, continue reading Night Without End by Alistair MacLean.

I know, I know, big deal. I tried Siri. She lost her attraction pretty quickly. Don’t talk to her much anymore. Have flirted with Cortana too I guess. Don’t talk to her that at all. I could look up any of those questions just as quickly on my phone. I’m pretty good with my thumbs. Voice is just a novelty gimmick with little real value.

How wrong you are. The big deal here is not what it does but how it does it. Sure, you could stop what you’re doing, get your phone, find an app, select some options, type in some stuff, and read an answer. Or, you could just conversationally mumble “Alexa, how many tablespoons in an ounce” from the kitchen while you continue to stir your batter. While you’re tying your shoes in the morning you can just ask “Alexa, will it rain today?” You don’t need to make a mental note to listen to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” after you finish your soak in the tub. Just ask Alexa to play it for you.

Even in its current young form, Alexa is incredibly empowering. I find myself asking tons of questions and making many more casual requests than I would have if I had to go to my computer or my phone. It deeply enriches my life with a world of information not at my fingertips, but simply “in the air” of my house.

Alexa is has access to the Internet but it is also essentially a platform for third party applications. Other third parties can write Alexa “skills” to do pretty much anything. Right now, most skills are pretty silly. Why people write take the time to write skills to tell jokes or play random dog barks is beyond me. But the potential for far more serious stuff is there and they will come in the near future. Alexa and successors like it will continue to get more and more powerful. Soon you will be able to ask them questions like “what percentage of males under 35 voted for Donald Trump in North Carolina as compared to females in the same age group?” Through 3rd party skills you’ll be able to give directions like “let my uncle Joe into the house when he arrives today.” The possibilities extend far beyond my imagination.

But you don’t need to wait for another 20 years or even another 10 years. Alexa can enrich your life in subtle but dramatic ways right now. You can already free yourself from your “mobile” device in liberating ways with an even more intimate connection to the world. Do I have an ulterior motive in trying to get you to buy an Echo? Damn right I do. Every Echo that you purchase pulls those amazing new killer skills out of the distant future and into my immediate future.

Alexa, where is the nearest coconut on this desert island?