news report: 93% of those horrified by Facebook data leak(s) will still leave Amazon Echo plugged in

amazon-echo

It’s perfectly normal to have a live listening device inside the privacy of your home, say trendy tech savvy people.

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Geoffrey’s bound for the woodshed

Does anybody remember Geoffrey the Giraffe?  To be honest, until this morning I’d completely forgotten he existed.  Even reading the articles about how Toys R Us is finished didn’t prompt me to remember.  Only when I started to write this post did I recall.

Here’s the backstory.  In 1948 following service in The War, Charles P. Lazarus descended into the African jungle in search of nothing but the highest quality products he could sell to the people, namely bicycles.  He employed the finest in German explorers (unemployed since May 1945), coolies, and technology.  After getting lost in the bush, soon only Lazarus remained alive.  Soon to expire, he awoke from his pre-death slumber held in the firm embrace of one Geoffrey the Giraffe.

As he was slowly nursed back to health over many months, Geoffrey explained to Lazarus that the real money was in selling toys and baby products to the Boomer generation.  Lazarus agreed to implement Geoffrey’s plan, but only on the condition that Geoffrey ended his self-imposed three-thousand year isolation and rejoin the known world.  And so for near seven decades Toys R Us existed and Geoffrey delighted millions with his special powers.

Well, that was fun, but now the ride is over.  Geoffrey is said to have tried to make a break for it.  He’d procured tickets on a tramp steamer bound from Brooklyn to Kinshasa.  But assassins in the pay of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts Bain Capital (who own Toys R Us) got him on the quay at 3am as he was trying to sneak up the mooring line.  Rather than rejoin the jungle to wait for three-thousand years again, Geoffrey’s getting taken to the woodshed.  At KKR Bain’s exclusive Adirondack retreat.  But KKR Bain’s Masters are merciful, the deed will be done quickly.

It’ll be hard for future generations to understand just how central Toys R Us once was to the American experience.  Now, gone.  Any coincidence that it’s end came as a result of a private equity firm mismanaging it and filling it up with endless debt?  I think not.  I’m sure KKR made billions in profit off Toys R Us’ demise.  But it still doesn’t change the long term dive in retail.

Six months ago after a personal experience with bad stores, I predicted the doom of retail.  I thought this would take decades.  But perhaps the rout has already begun.

Maybe in less than a decade there will only be the following physical stores left:

– Ultra Cheap Retail (Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, etc)

– Cheap Retail (Walmart, Target, etc)

– Niche Rich (Starbucks, Small Bookstore, Craft (of any variety), etc)

– Groceries

– Restaurants

– Pharmacies

– Home Improvement

And in the end, maybe it won’t be that bad after all.  I took a look at the top 50 retailers in America.  Of all those 50, here are the ones that don’t fit into my list:

Best Buy

Macy’s

TJX

Sears

Kohl’s

Nordstrom

Ross

JC Penny

Gap

L Brands

Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Toys R Us was #62.  So that’s roughly 15-20% of all stores are doomed.  That’s a lot, but it’s not like it’s 50%.  So I guess the rout / realignment has already started.

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Poor Geoffrey, RIP.

Giant Octopi, The Little Guy, and the curse of the Trump lens

I would gather that if I walked up to ten people on America’s streets and asked them what Qualcomm is, nine of them would provide one of these answers:

1) the quality control program my stupid boss(es) make me use

2) an internet or phone company

3) a robot assassin bent on revenge for the untimely murder of his girl

4) a blank stare indicating the person’s desire not to talk to idiots like me

Only one in ten would know they’re carrying Qualcomm in their pockets.  If the brave new modern world is one where your smartphone is more important than having two functioning hands, then Qualcomm is more important to your life than your ability to digest food.

Qualcomm chips and semiconductor technology run in almost every new thing of the internet age.  They have a monopoly on the business that would make even the most jaded of 19th Century railroad tycoons sweat with envy.

For years Qualcomm has been investigated, fined, sued, yelled at by its customers, rivals, and competitors as one of the very worst of the Giant Octopi.  Qualcomm’s two biggest current problems are a massive lawsuit from Apple (which I find delicious given Apple’s known desire to cheat its own customers) and a $1.2B fine from the EU’s competition watchdogs.  Over the last decade Qualcomm has likely kept food on the table for at least 13,487 lawyers, judges, court clerks, court security guards, and court security doggies.

Nobody knows about these things or cares.  To them, their Apple or Samsung smartphone is Apple or Samsung.  They don’t know or care that the chip that makes it all possible is from Qualcomm.

(As a brief aside, you need to admire the gall, guile, and skill of Intel’s marketing goons that got them front and center in the psyche of every computer user on the planet.  In the 1990’s anybody who knew anything about a computer knew about Intel chips.  You bought computers based on what Intel processor it had, and barely cared whether Dell or Compaq made the overall machine.)

So for those who don’t know what Qualcomm is, or are too busy wondering who Jennifer Aniston’s ninth husband will be, Qualcomm has been under a hostile takeover bid by Broadcom.  Broadcom is another chipmaker based in Singapore.  The purchase price offered was $117B.  Yes, $117B.  Or enough money to manufacture ten large aircraft carriers with swanky Slavic tracksuit racing stripes included.

This deal was always controversial because it would have further increased a trend in American business lately: CONSOLIDATION.  There are only four major American airlines left.  There are three major American cellular providers.  Americans pay four or five times more for cable internet compared to other Western nations, and get slower speeds for the privilege.

So it was always a concern that Qualcomm and Broadcom could become one company, when Qualcomm is already essentially a Monopoly Man of the Giant Octopi.  The question was if the Trump administration would allow the deal to proceed, or block it on anti-trust grounds?

Well, all of that’s changed yesterday.  What’s happened instead is Trump has disallowed the deal on national security grounds.  Essentially, USA is not going to allow THE American internet chipmaker to be owned by foreigners.  Trump signed an order as such.

The Washington Post, as the newspaper of the capital, thus covers this story.

Because this is politics, and it’s DC, the article must of course focus upon Trump.  According to the Post, Trump has signed this order because of his “protectionist instincts”.  They even got some guy (everybody loves the anonymous quote now) to state that Trump wants the lesson “don’t screw with the government” and that the order is “brutal”.  Again, “It smacks of anger on the part of the government to me. This feels a little more personal to me.”  How dramatic.  I’m seething with excitement at the rage drama associated with this esoteric technology topic.

So what we have here is a situation where one of the worst Monopoly Man companies on the planet wants to merge with another member of the Giant Octopi and then make the situation for the consumer even worse with a super-super Giant Octopi company.  The US government stops this effort, for any reason at all, and the answer of the capital’s newspaper is it’s about Trump?  Really?

You know, I’ve avoided saying this for a long time, because to me there’s almost no point addressing Trump.  It is what it is.  People think what they’ll think.  Many people seem to have a visceral emotional reaction to Trump (one way or the other) that I just can’t understand.  But essentially it’s this: Trump will be gone someday (likely in three years).  Trump is who he is, for all the awfulness that he is.  But one day he’ll be gone.  But the Washington Post will still be here.

If I was a member of The Washington Post, I think I’d make it a point to understand that.  Because essentially what has happened is The Washington Post, The New York Times, and most other major news organizations have mortgaged what little benign credibility they had left, in order to get at one singular man.  I get it, I hate Trump too, but that credibility is never going to return.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve, and certainly wasn’t before Trump came onto the scene, but it’s gone over the edge.

Hey remember when it was generally considered suspicious when a newspaper article quoted anonymous sources?  Now it seems every news article is based on anonymous sources.  Now I guess we just have to take it on faith that they didn’t get the quote from some guy down by the Sizzler.  But seeing as how we can’t trust them [get Trump at any price] why would I believe anything an anonymous source says?

I’m never going to look at The Washington Post the same way again.  It will always be an organization whose handlers sold their souls and journalistic integrity to get at one guy.  To the point that they can’t even write an article about one of the most consequential technology topics of this year, without making it all about Trump.

Normally this wouldn’t be a massive problem.  You’d be like, whatever, go read another newspaper each day.  True.  Except that every, single, person, in DC who makes decisions (Democrat or Republican) reads the Post every day.  As in, the people who run government, and make decisions that impact people’s lives every day, are fed information by a publication that essentially has no credibility.  That’s not a good place for any democracy to be in.

If the Post was a responsible newspaper, or at least understood their place in society, they would cover the Broadcom / Qualcomm deal through the lens of the status of monopolies, how the deal impacts American consumers (who pay more each day for their stuff because Qualcomm is corrupt), and also address the completely valid national security implications of handing Qualcomm to a foreign buyer.  But instead, it’s about Trump and Trump and Trump, and the Trump lens.  For everything.

That doesn’t help the Little Guy, it doesn’t help America, and that’s a sad, sad thing.

Qualcomm-Logo.jpg

That this deal is dead, for any reason at all, is a good thing.

don’t know what to raffle? we’re here to help

They’re running a raffle at my work right now.  People give money against their fellow employee’s name.  The person with the most money off the draw on their name gets a pie in the face.  They then take the money for the employee recreational fund.  I don’t know how this is legal.  Current workplace behavior laws are at the point it’s against the rules to ask a person what they had for dinner last night because that’s personal business.  But we can hit somebody with a pie?  I wonder what would happen if the person refused?  Would they get held down by multiple people in some type of weird pie based hazing ritual?

I guess they could have raffled a gun?  That’d be really fun.  For, I guess, this is something people actually do.  Lost among the usual recent, and entirely futile, gun violence headlines is this thing I saw where people are upset that a few (as in, more than one) active workplace raffles on the planet involve winning an AR-15.  I don’t know how this is legal either.  In most cases (local gun laws are more complex than trying to follow a Brazilian soap opera) I think the way it’s supposed to work is if you buy an assault rifle it’s for you.  I’m not sure how you buy one, and then raffle it off like it’s a fruit basket.

Whatever.  Both these raffle ideas are terrible.  But don’t worry!  We at TAP are here to help.  Please pay attention as we explain how you can execute the very best of workplace raffles.  Your cooperation, as always, is truly appreciated.  As always, we truly desire to keep liquidation to an absolute minimum.

– Baby Lemur!

What’s the point in raffling a puppy or kitty?  Boring.  Everybody does that.  Step up your game!  Nobody on the planet has ever raffled a baby lemur.  Trailblazing is one of the exciting parts of life.  Live your life to the fullest!  Can you imagine the look on your smiling coworker’s face when they awake at 3am and this little guy is perched on their comforter?  What a moment!  Little dude looks like a serial killer.  I wonder if those eyes glow in the dark.  That’d be awesome.

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– Five Gallon Can of Unleaded Gasoline!

Everybody needs gas for things, cars, lawnmowers, torching the local Kia dealership, tire fire riots against the establishment, and so on.  You rig the bidding by generating a fake news article (it’s easy nowadays, apparently) saying that the Saudi Aramco terminal in Dhahran exploded.  Gas prices are going to triple overnight.  But you, of all workplaces, are prepared as you have this can sitting on the break table.  Be advised, most humans are crazy, so after showing the article you’ll need a security guard to watch the can and escort the winner out of the building.

gas can

– One Ham Sandwich!

Keep raffle costs down to the bare minimum with this most classic of winning lunchtime creations.  What’s that you say?  Nobody will ever bid on a ham sandwich?  Wrong.  This is where you’ll need the support of your boss(es).  Most workplaces are traditionally run by fear, or incompetence, or both.  It’s why Dilbert exists.  All you need is for your superiors to threaten to fire anybody who doesn’t bid on the sandwich.  They’ll be joking (hopefully) but only you and your boss(es) will know that.

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– Battered VHS Copy of E.T.!

Oh man, I haven’t seen this film in two decades.  Remember the heartwarming scene where the FBI guys accidently shoot Elliott and fumble around trying to get the burner gun into Elliott’s little fingers while they erase their body cam footage?  And then E.T. uses his powers to explode all their brains inside their skulls in a grim vengeful rage, calmly saying “Elliott” as he methodically downs each screaming FBI guy one-by-one?  Man, I loved that part as a kid the best.  Oh, and somebody will bid on this tape.  There’s at least one hipster in every office.

E.T..jpg

– Toy Car!

It is within our base human nature to be incessantly cruel to one another.  If you doubt me, kindly take a stroll through any Walmart parking lot.  The raffle is openly for a toy car.  But you get the office jerk (most have more than one option) to begin leaking that he heard the boss say the car is a real car.  The enthusiasm will build and somebody will win hoping that it’s true and that their life is about to change.  Instead you mike drop the toy car on them and walk out.  That somebody else is miserable will greatly increase the overall quality of your day.

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– M134 Minigun!

If you can get away with raffling off a rifle why would you set your expectations so low?  Show your employees you have the imagination and determination necessary to exceed even the most ridiculous of standards.  Plus, as the Las Vegas shooting has shown a standard AR-15 isn’t enough anymore.  In order to truly defend yourself you need firepower.  And man, does this baby deliver!  As long as you don’t happen to encounter an alien in a jungle, you’re good to go.

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– Complementary Copy of TV Guide!

The most irrelevant of magazines is a good star of your raffle because it will only highlight how far we’ve come as a human race since the days where its use was actually needed.  Think of it, once you had to use TV Guide to figure out what was on tonight.  Now your television can tell you that electronically.  Granted, mass shootings are 73 times more prevalent, our politicians are insane, giraffes still roam the Earth, and we’re poisoning our oceans (and bloodstreams) with minute particles of plastic, but, but really, your television’s got the guide in it now.  Progress!

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don’t let rich men own your brain

We’re back!  After an unrelated 16 month absence.  Did you miss us?  No?  Oh, well, uh, so that’s too bad, we, we thought folks missed us.  [cricket, cricket, cricket]

And we’re back to talk about what important topic to humanity?  War?  Politics?  Dwarves?  Deep seated cultural problems?  Elves?  Fine culinary tactics?  Nope.  Instead we’re on to the most important topic of the day:  Why I now consistently hear people use the phrase, “Dilly, Dilly”.

I heard people use it on the airplane flying out here.  I’ve heard people use it in the street.  It keeps happening.  Why?  Because rich men own people’s brains.  I guess.

This phrase first appeared during the Bud Light ads folks have seen during football games.  It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.  Robbing from the ever-present Game of Thrones theme they basically just have a medieval court / king who worships Bud Light.  And they slam back Bud Light and say “Dilly, Dilly” to each other as affirmation for their divine right to consume booze.

What they don’t show you is Bud Light “Dilly, Dilly” (After Dark) which is where the king is 13 Bud Lights into his evening and he screams at the queen, overturns many chairs, gets grabby with both male and female servants, and sentences numerous people to death by hippopotamus mauling.  The commercial ends with The Usurper stabbing the king to death with a broken Bud Light bottle.  Fade to black.

I suppose people think that “Dilly, Dilly” must have some cultural connotation or history outside the Bud Light ad?  This would thus make it okay to say this phrase in full open view of the public.  It does not.  They literally made it up.  It has no history or meaning outside a Bud Light ad that a bunch of very, very rich people made.

So why do people say it then?  I have no idea.  There’s got to be some facet or working function of the human brain I just can’t comprehend.  Maybe I’m just a jaded contrarian who can’t see fun anywhere?  Perhaps.  But you’d have to slash me up with a broken Bud Light bottle for an extended length of time before I’m saying “Dilly, Dilly” in the course of my daily conversations with a fellow human being.

Don’t let rich men own your brain.

dillydilly

we use our first ride hailing experience to ponder the future downfall of the human brain

I took my first car app ride a few weeks ago. Most of you will probably wonder what took so long. You must understand, part of me wishes for the return of the stone age. I could probably do without the tetanus, lack of running water, or everpresent ancient angry demon gods, but otherwise a lot of that simplicity appeals to me. If it wasn’t for my dogs, I’d spend most of my evenings at home lit only by candles. Because night should be night and day, well, day.

So when on travel, and for whatever reason I don’t have a rental car, I’ll typically either walk or just call for a traditional cab. If I have a rental and can’t or don’t want to drive because alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, then regular cabs or walking work then too.

But a few weeks ago I just figured I’d try ride hailing apps. I’m moving overseas for work in a few weeks and the country has ride hailing there. Which I figured would be vastly superior to some of my prior international cab experiences I’ve had where I threaten to debark the cab while in motion because the crook in the front seat refuses to run the meter.

Work is sending me out the door so my colleagues (who I actually like) want to do a farewell party downtown. I’m in a hotel in the suburbs that’s an hour away by train. The hotel is three miles from the train station. Usually if the weather is decent and the walk is safe, I’m walking those three miles. In this case, the weather was rainy, chilly and it was most certainly not a safe walk.

Ironically I could’ve just driven to the train station. We all had to work very early next morning and so we hardly drank at all. My need for a ride from the hotel to train station and back later in the evening turned out to be entirely unnecessary. But I can’t see through time, so I used the app. I won’t tell you which app I used because that’s not really the point of the post.

The driver ends up at the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I found this timely and easy to arrange, so far so good. I’ve been driving around this area a long time so I know my way around. The driver clearly has no idea where he is. I offer to guide him but he refuses and says he’ll follow ‘her’ directions. The app takes us the wrong way, and then down an industrial access road that adds about five minutes to what is otherwise a short three mile drive.

But then the app starts to tell him to go the wrong way. At the intersection the train station is right. The app tells him to go left. He has no idea where he’s going and so is in the left lane to obey the app. I tell him the app is wrong and he should turn right. He refuses. I have to tell him three times that the app is wrong. He keeps saying he has to obey ‘her’, like he’s the app’s mind slave or whatever.

Eventually I talk him to the train station. The entire time the app is telling him to turn around blaring in the car. I get out and the driver mentions to me that he’s going to have to drive back to where the app tells him to. I ask him if the app can’t just be told he dropped me off where I wanted to be, that the app is wrong? He says no and drives off.

While I’m waiting for my train out of curiosity I observe his movements on the app. He does indeed drive the wrong way for ten more minutes arriving at the ‘destination’ of the train station. Even though I’m sure what the app thought was the train station was just a parking lot. Only after he arrived at this mythical area did my ride close out and I was prompted to tip him. Total cost $10 with tip.

Following the evening’s abbreviated festivities I’m back at the same station off the train. Now I need a ride back to the hotel. I use the app to hail a ride and it refuses to work. It keeps telling me that where I am, where the train station is, is at the mythical parking lot to the north. I can’t find a way to fix this.

This goes on for ten minutes until I finally just decide to acquire the ride and then call the driver once he’s chosen, or whatever. Again, this is my first ride app experience, what the hell do I know? The driver agrees and I see his car is a mile down the road. Awesome. I call him and let him know the app says I’m way up north, but I’m actually at the train station. Please come to the train station and get me here.

The driver says he doesn’t know where the train station is. I’m at the only train station within five miles. He’s one mile away, on the same road as the station, he doesn’t know. I offer to talk him to me, but he refuses, gets frustrated and starts to run his mouth against me. I immediately hang up.

I then call a regular traditional cab company. I tell them where I am on the phone to the dispatcher. A cab arrives in about 90 seconds. When I get into the cab, I tell the driver my hotel name and the street it’s on. He agrees and we’re off. That’s it. He needed no additional information, he needed no directions, he knew exactly where to go.

I ended up talking with him for the whole ride back. He was a bit of an older guy, been driving cabs for a long time and knew the whole area. We talked about my brief ride hailing experience, which amused him, as if a master wood craftsman saw a child trying to build a chair with a hand grenade. He also told me where all the cop speed traps were. He then made various belligerent comments about fellow members of the human race, which we won’t get into, but had me laughing my ass off in the car. He was a well thought out guy. He drops me off at the hotel. Total cost $15 with tip.

I have seen the future. It goes like this.

As soon as five or ten years from now all my frustrating moments with ride hailing won’t exist. Using voice recognition, I’ll tell my phone simply, “Need a ride back to the hotel.” Within five minutes a car will arrive and take me there. That’s it. No problems with directions, or location finding, or drivers who are angry or incompetent. In fact, within a few decades I think the car that shows up will be driven by a computer. But, because tech freaks are the new robber barons of the Giant Octopus, the ride will cost $20. And something will have been lost to the human race.

Ponder if you will, that on one hand I had two app drivers, who were so utterly unaware of their surroundings that they were entirely reliant upon the app to tell them how to get from point A to B. Otherwise they couldn’t do the most basic aspect of their job. It’s like a nurse who can’t treat a patient without a computer telling them the commands step by step.

But hold on a minute, why can’t nurses be told exactly what to do on command by a computer in say 20 years? Why not? And why when I’m driving do I need to know where I’m going anymore? Why can’t I just always follow the map app’s directions? Why do I have to think or do things that can be done by an app for me?

Let’s leave aside the horrific privacy, security, financial, and ethical arguments of this brave new world for the moment. What I’m most interested in is what this does to the human brain. On one hand you have two dudes who can’t do their jobs, at all, without machine assistance. On the other hand I had a cabbie who could recall in his brain the entire map of a city on command. Without machine assistance. Without error.

We’re turning more and more of our most basic and timeless brain functions over to machines. What happens to the human race, to the human brain if say 50 years from now most people can’t get from point A to B without machines. What if 100 years from now there are no people, cabbies or otherwise, who can recall in their brain the entire map of a city on command?

Tech freaks will convince you their future world is going to be a swell place for us. Where technology can and will make all our lives easier.

At what cost? Technology is just a tool. The human brain, human thought, human knowledge are supposed to be timeless and eternal. I’m not sure what happens next.

retail stores are doomed

I didn’t choose my doggies’ brand of kibble (aka kibs).  Their kibs was chosen by another human who I no longer talk to.  But, it’s what they’ve always eaten.  They love it.

When I wake up in the morning they bounce off the walls because they know after a few short minutes in the backyard they get to eat.  The countdown towards dinnertime is when they’re most active and excited throughout the day.

So you better believe when I heard the retail store (Pet Valu) would no longer carry the brand on site I went into a bit of a mini panic mode.  Said retail store gave no valid explanation for why they were no longer carrying the brand.  They claimed that the company no longer makes it, which was untrue.

Anyways, I ended up trying to find another retail store but eventually gave up and went online to buy it.  How does one buy 30 pound bags of kibble online?  The thought never really crossed my mind.  Bags of dog food are large and heavy.  It’d be like buying huge bags of mulch online.

And yet, I found the brand online and for a decent and cheaper price.  I bought two bags.  What was my cost to ship 60 pounds of kibble to my front door?  $0.  Nothing.  It took me three minutes to make my purchase.  I did it from my cubicle.  I didn’t have to drive to a store.

Retail stores are doomed.  Doomed.  If they can’t compete on price, on saving you time, the only card they have left to play is that shipping things online can cost money.  But if online retailers just front the shipping costs?  It’s over.  There’s nothing else retail can offer you.

I’ll always buy my food in person because I want to handle my own produce and inspect it.  Other than that, I don’t really know what I wouldn’t have shipped to my front door.  Eventually we’ll all find out.