Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Walmart as vending machine? It might happen.

Further to my ongoing ravings about minimum wage and how it is killing us, we have news. Walmart is doing an experiment.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is creating a technology-startup incubator in Silicon Valley to identify changes that will reshape the retail experience, including virtual reality, autonomous vehicle and drone delivery and personalized shopping.

The incubator will be called Store No. 8, a reference to a Wal-Mart location where the company experimented with new store layouts. Marc Lore, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart's e-commerce operations, announced the incubator Monday at the ShopTalk conference in Las Vegas.


Amazon is kicking their ass lately, is what this boils down to. The "virtual reality, autonomous vehicle and drone delivery" part is to reduce employee headcount in the store. "Personalized shopping" is code for data mining. They track your every move in the store, and on-line, then serve you advertisements based on your behavior.

Pretty much they want a situation where you drive up, the store automatically knows exactly what you want, and spits out a box. You load the box in your car and drive away happy, while they bill your bank account remotely. What they really, really want is for you to chose items on their web site, then robots deliver them to your house. Because that can be end-to-end machinery.

Pretty soon, the only retail jobs that will be available will be robot mechanic.

Hacking your way to freedom, farmer style.

This is just unbelievable, on a bunch of levels.

To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America's heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that's cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform "unauthorized" repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time.

"When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don't have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it," Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. "Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix]."

The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn't be anything a farmer could do about it.


You call that a nightmare? How about this: somebody else who isn't John Deere could shut down -every- tractor. Maybe the local government, maybe the state or federal government, or maybe plain old criminals. Hold the whole state of Nebraska to ransom at harvest time? They could do it!

On a plain old corporate level, every farmer who had to sign that contract is now looking at John Deere's competition for an alternative, because JD just pissed him off. This is what happens when sociopaths get into a company's management. They see the customer as a sheep to be sheared, and they trim as close as they can.

On a societal level, this is a thing we cannot allow. You are not leasing your house and everything in it, you -own- it. It belongs to you. Those two words, "own" and "belong" are the basis of Western civilization. Nobody is going to buy a tractor or a car, for tens of thousands of dollars, and then meekly accept that they have to keep paying the company so they won't turn the thing off. You buy it, you own it.

Except as we know, there's a huge push from Big Corporate and Silicon Valley to make this leasing model the new reality. They want Ford to retain ownership of your new Mustang, and prevent you from repairing or modifying it outside their dealer network.

Keep your eyes open for this, coming soon to consumer appliances in your house. Annual fee to keep your Smart Fridge going. You will be seeing this soon.

The Phantom Cassandra

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pernicious special pleading.

I stumbled across something irritating in the National Post. This isn't surprising, but as it was about science fiction and writing, I looked into it.

Fireside Fiction owner and editor Brian White outlined a systematic structure of racial biases that have been built into the larger sci-fi publishing community.
"The advice to write 'what the market wants' is code for white characters and white stories," he wrote in his editorial, also arguing that black authors leave the field due to the lack of opportunities, while "subtle biases" continue to proliferate on a wide scale.

Making news when there isn't any, 101: take any issue and add "race" to it. Instant news story. Colour me bored.
But I looked up his editorial anyway, and found this:

Fiction, we have a problem.
Racism.
Structural, institutional, personal, universal.
We all know this. We do. We don't need numbers to see that, like everywhere in our society, marginalization of black people is still a huge problem in publishing. Specifically, as outlined here in Fireside's special report, we see that marginalization in short fiction magazines and their online equivalents. These same problems persist across publishing, but our study is focused on the world Fireside lives and breathes in: the speculative short fiction market.
We don't need the numbers to know that racism is a problem in our field. But we have them.

Oh, there's numbers. Whee.

So I looked into that a bit. To my eye its the usual crap, because the study authors do not know how many black authors submitted work, they don't know how many went independent on Amazon instead, and they don't know the criteria the publishers use in choosing submissions. They don't really know much of anything. Plus, their analysis seems a bit thin.

Besides which, I am a science fiction author. I have submitted work. I haven't even been turned down yet, I just haven't heard back. What I have to show for a couple of years of solid work is zippo. I will be going indy for my next work.

I don't have anything to blame for my failure so far. Nobody knows who I am, after all. I'll admit to being a bit weird in person, but nobody can tell when I hide behind a keyboard.

My explanation for it is:

A) I'm nobody in the industry, with zero track record. Who's going to take a risk on that? Only a publishing house that has money set aside for test-flying new talent. With the industry in a downturn, the new talent is going to have to be pretty damn special.

B) The publishing industry is in a downturn. Bookstores are closing left and right. Amazon.com is kicking sand in their faces and then eating their lunch.

C) Social Justice Warriors are running New York and Chicago publishing houses these days. They're running Hollywood too. They're also running Marvel and DC comics.

D) I'm a new writer. My stores are probably not Super Duper enough to leap up off the page and grab the slush reader by their nose.

That's what's going on, from my perspective. Black authors aren't getting published? Boo hoo, neither am I. It ain't because you are black. Try harder.

But then something interesting popped up. I read this bit here:

We strive to be honest, open, up-front and straightforward, which is why when we received an odd email last week, we declined to engage with it beyond what we posted publicly.
Tonight, the author of that email made good on their promise and published their report, albeit still pseudonymously. After just a few hours of getting some pretty valid critique on twitter, citing "receiving threats," they decided to take it down.
Well, we think that's a shame—now that they've published it, their work should be available for the rest of our community to refer to and to engage with. So we've taken the liberty of copying their original Medium post, and pasting it in here.

Somebody posted a rebuttal to the bad study? Then they had to take it down, because they got threats? Now I'm interested.

Then I remembered a while ago there was another of these "studies" that claimed to show black authors were not getting published because racism, so I looked that one up again.

A final note: We know that some usual suspects will attempt to invalidate what we've captured by claiming that our analysis lacks rigor, or our methodology was faulty. This is a smokescreen that these individuals use to hide the fact that they are against making the speculative fiction publishing space inclusive and respectful to black writers–all writers, really–and their work. Using assumed (and faulty) scientific expertise to attack the experiences of marginalized people is not a new tactic, and one that is frequently used by these groups in an attempt to maintain the oppressive systems that they believe should solely benefit them. They will never admit that fact so we are making it plain here.
This report is not for those people.

Again, this was a terrible study. This one the authors come right out and tell us all we better shut up if we don't agree 100%. To be fair to the first study, they only heavily imply doubters are racist, they don't come out and say so.

That appears to be where we are at right now, ladies and gentlemen. You put out some dodgy statistics, and then call down the wrath of the mob upon your opponents.

Classy!

The Doubting Phantom

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Amazon is destroying America!!!1!

More overwrought stupidity from the business newsies. Amazon.com is DESTROYING American retailers! Oh noes!

What Amazon AMZN, -0.06%  won't tell us is that every job created at Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn't want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did.

How is this destruction happening?

For the consumer, Amazon has brought lower prices and unimaginable convenience. I can buy almost any consumer product I want just by clicking on my phone or computer — or even easier, by just saying: "Alexa: buy me one" — and it will be shipped to my door within days or even hours for free. I can buy books for my Kindle, or music for my phone instantly. I can watch movies or TV shows on demand.

But for retail workers, Amazon is a grave threat. Just ask the 10,100 workers who are losing their jobs at Macy's. M, -0.76%  Or the 4,000 at The Limited. Or the thousands of workers at Sears SHLD, -0.45%  and Kmart, which just announced 150 stores will be closing. Or the 125,000 retail workers who've been laid off over the past two years.


Oh. Amazon is better/faster/cheaper than the competition? Those BASTARDS! How dare they be better!

Could Amazon actually kill more American jobs than China did? It's quite likely. Economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson have estimated China's manufacturing exports to the U.S. may have cost as many as 2 million jobs.

If Amazon can capture 40% of the GAFO market within five years (as seems likely), about 1.5 million jobs at brick-and-mortar stores could be lost. Add in the jobs Amazon will kill at grocery stores, drugstores, warehouses and delivery services, and the total would be well over 2 million.

And unlike the manufacturing jobs lost to China, which were clustered in a comparatively few counties, those retail jobs are located in every city, town and hamlet in America.


There you have it. Amazon.com is a THREAT to the American way of life because they are out-competing the crappy big box retail stores that I hate going to and never have what I want anyway. Or, ghod help me, the mall. I -hate- the mall. It is a pit of despair.

Don't I remember this same argument from twenty years ago, when the Big Box retailers were a THREAT to Small Town America and were DESTROYING Main Street USA? I think I do. I've heard this song before. It was bogus then, and it is bogus now.

The Phantom


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Intel releases rootkit finder.

Intel has released a new piece of software that allows a user to see in the firmware of their PC is compromised by a rootkit.

The Advanced Threat Research team at Intel Security has created a new module for its existing CHIPSEC open-source framework to detect rogue EFI binaries. CHIPSEC consists of a set of command-line tools that use low-level interfaces to analyze a system's hardware, firmware, and platform components. It can be run from Windows, Linux, macOS, and even from an EFI shell.

The new CHIPSEC module allows the user to take a clean EFI image from the computer manufacturer, extract its contents and build a whitelist of the binary files inside. It can then compare that list against the system's current EFI or against an EFI image previously extracted from a system.

If the tool finds any binary files that don't match the clean EFI list, it's possible that the firmware has been infected. The rogue files are listed and can then be further analyzed.

No word if this new tool will find -official- CIA rootkits. However, if those heinous Russian hackers have invaded your PC, you are all set.

The Phantom

Shia LaDoof p0wn3d by 4Chan

This is hilarious.
Shia LaBeouf launched Version 3.0 of his plagued He Will Not Divide Us exhibit, originally intended as a four-year-long running protest of President Trump, but it barely lasted a day before Internet detectives conquered it using an astonishingly skillful scientific approach.
LaBeouf and his co-creators erected a white flag emblazoned with the words "He Will Not Divide Us" in an undisclosed location and trained a webcam on it, which he planned to stream continually at the website dedicated to the project.
Spoiler, they found it.

Users deployed to the location, lowered the flag, and replaced it with a bright red "Make American Great Again" hat and t-shirt depicting Donald Trump and Pepe the Frog.

Can you imagine the aneurysm LaBeouf must have had when he finally looked at the feed? Bwaha!

The Eeevile Phantom

Update: Welcome to Kate's flying monkeys from Small Dead Animals! Woo hoo!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Violent video games -not- harmful!

Here's something you don't see every day. Confirmation of what we already know to be true, playing video games does not turn you into a sociopath.

The link between playing violent video games and antisocial behavior, such as increased aggression and decreased empathy, is hotly debated. Researchers in Germany used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on long-term players of violent video games and found that they had the same neural response to emotionally provocative images as non-gamers. This finding suggests that empathy is not blunted by playing such games long-term.

 No duh. If games did make you violent, Pewdie Pie and Mariplier would both be serial killers by now. Always handy to have a measurement though, eh?

The Measured Phantom

Inevitably, a burger flipping robot.

This one is a show-piece, but it does replace one kid in a kitchen.

A burger-flipping robot has just completed its first day on the job at a restaurant in California, replacing humans at the grill.

Flippy has mastered the art of cooking the perfect burger and has just started work at CaliBurger, a fast-food chain.

Notably, it is a self-contained robot that you can roll up beside any grill, and set it to work flipping away.

For the McDonalds of the world of course, this machine is much too slow. They use a conveyor oven and pre-cook everything. But there's no reason they can't design a machine-deliverable sandwich. I'm sure they're doing it right now. Eliminating one human saves a franchise $30-50K a year, I would guess. In a 24 hour operation, that's three people. There's your profit margin back to looking a little more healthy in one shot.

The Mechanical Phantom

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Wikkileaks: CIA is listening to YOU.

Reposted from Small Dead Animals, the new Wikkileaks document dump pulls the sheets off the CIA.

A total of 8,761 documents have been published as part of 'Year Zero', the first in a series of leaks the whistleblower organization has dubbed 'Vault 7.' WikiLeaks said that 'Year Zero' revealed details of the CIA's "global covert hacking program," including "weaponized exploits" used against company products including "Apple's iPhone, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones."

The repercussions of this are going to be YUUUUGE, if you get my drift.

The Phantom

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Stay classy, Snopes.

Snopes is partisan now. Just thought y'oughta know.

Snopes is a well-known fact-checking site that looks at "rumors, urban legends, myths and misinformation." That includes stories that involve politics. Yesterday the top story on the site was a fact check of claims that Democratic Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Keith Ellison refused to give a standing ovation to widow Carryn Owens during a joint session of Congress.

Initially, the site listed that claim as unproven but then changed it's rating to false. There was a problem, though. The claim wasn't false, at least not if you noted the caveats made by the people making the claim.

It appears that Snopes has abandoned principle and fallen back on the usual Lefty rules-lawyering, goalpost moving, SHUT UP! argumentation we have come to expect from Left leaning partisans.

Fake news at its finest.

The Deplorably Fake Phantom