Indy Digest: Aug. 8, 2022
WALL-E, released by Disney/Pixar in 2008, is one my favorite movies. The gorgeously animated film tells a sweet story, and has a happy ending—but in between, the film delves into dark territory, as we learn the Earth, dominated by megacorporation Buy n Large, had to be abandoned due to pollution and massive amounts of trash created by hyper-consumerism.
At times, I’ve half-jokingly referred to Amazon as Buy N Large. But as time goes on, this joking is getting less and less funny (presuming it was ever funny in the first place), because Amazon keeps getting bigger, more dominant … and, if you believe in either market competition or personal privacy, a hell of a lot scarier.
Late last week, Amazon announced it was buying iRobot Corp., the maker of the Roomba. At first, this sounds like a pretty ho-hum business transaction, as far as $1.7 billion business transactions go.
But the transaction is anything but ho-hum, as this Bloomberg article explains:
Amazon.com Inc. hasn’t just bought a maker of robot vacuum cleaners. It’s acquired a mapping company. To be more precise: a company that can make maps of your home.
The company announced a $1.7 billion deal on Friday for iRobot Corp., the maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. And yes, Amazon will make money from selling those gadgets. But the real value resides in those robots’ ability to map your house. As ever with Amazon, it’s all about the data.
A smart home, you see, isn’t actually terribly smart. It only knows that your Philips Hue lightbulbs and connected television are in your sitting room because you’ve told it as much. It certainly doesn’t know where exactly the devices are within that room. The more it knows about a given space, the more tightly it can choreograph the way they interact with you.
As I type this, an Amazon Alexa Dot sits about two feet from me. The device is a helpful little thing (even if it sometimes gets deeply confused, as if it’s hammered after drinking a half-bottle of hooch). It plays music when I ask it to; it adds things to my shopping list by request; and it can even distinguish between my husband and me.
As a result, it’s easier for me to enjoy music; I know what I need to get when I go to the grocery store; and Amazon knows what music my husband and I individually like, and what we buy at the grocery store—in great detail.
To repeat: Um, yikes.
We don’t have a Roomba right now; however, we’ve talked about getting one. Now I am thinking we should hold off on that purchase.
Buy N Large Amazon knows more than enough about us already.
From the Independent
CV History: In the Late 1800s, the Failed Town of Palmdale Briefly Had Its Own Train Going Down What Today Is Farrell Drive
By Greg Niemann
August 8th, 2022
Three investors set out to develop a new town they called Palmdale, where Smoke Tree Ranch is today—with a little railroad that ran from the Southern Pacific Railroad station. Alas, it would not succeed.
By Bill Frost
August 5th, 2022
Here are nine reboots currently in the works that will be supreme wastes of time and money, or mildly watchable, or maybe even—dare to dream—good.
The Boys Are Back: The First Two Comeback Episodes of ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ Feel Wonderfully Familiar
By Bob Grimm
August 8th, 2022
If you’ve had a hankering to see Beavis and Butt-head stuck for weeks in a cardboard box, mistaking a men’s room for an Egyptian-themed escape room, or having strange conversations with fire, this will surely justify signing up for Paramount+.
• Shortly before we were getting ready to send this Indy Digest, the news broke that the FBI was executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, former President Trump’s resort and residence. This, folks, could be a very big deal. Stay tuned.
• Wastewater tests show that the amount of COVID-19 continues to decrease—albeit slowly, and the amount of SARS-CoV-2 remains at a very high level. The results of testing done Aug. 1 and 2 by the city of Palm Springs were released today, and “the average of 539,134 copies per liter from the previous week has dropped to an average of 523,494 copies/L for August 1 and 2.” A deeper dive into the numbers shows the Aug. 1 reading (383,861) was lower than both readings the previous week, while the Aug. 2 reading (663,127) was higher than both readings the previous week. So, keep the masks handy.
• Semi-related: ProPublica takes a look at how misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine led to an increase in the number of stillborn babies related to the disease: “A majority of the disinformation came from a group of highly organized, economically motivated actors, many of them selling supplements, books or even miracle cures, he said. They told people the vaccine may harm their unborn child or deprive them of the opportunity to become parents. Some even infiltrated online pregnancy groups and asked seemingly harmless questions, such as whether people had heard the vaccine could potentially lead to infertility. … Disinformation flourished, in part, because pregnant people were not included in the vaccine’s initial clinical trials. Excluding pregnant people also omitted them from the data on the vaccine’s safety, which created a vacuum where disinformation spread. Unsure about how getting the shots might affect their pregnancy—and without clear guidance at the time from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—pregnant people last year had some of the lowest vaccination rates among adults. The decision to delay or avoid vaccination, often made out of an abundance of caution and love for the baby growing inside of them, had dire consequences: Unvaccinated women who contracted COVID-19 while pregnant were at a higher risk of stillbirths—the death of a fetus at 20 weeks or more of pregnancy—and several other complications, including maternal death.”
• Also semi-related: The CDC says people should isolate for five full days after testing positive for COVID-19. Alas, the Los Angeles Times points out that’s often not long enough: “Dr. Robert Kosnik, director of UC San Francisco’s occupational health program, said at a campus town hall in July that there’s an expectation people will test negative on Day 5 and can return to work the next day. ‘Don’t get your hopes up,’ Kosnik told his colleagues. ‘Don’t be disappointed if you’re one of the group that continues to test positive.’ In fact, some 60% to 70% of infected people still test positive on a rapid test five days after the onset of symptoms or their first positive test, meaning they should still stay in isolation, Kosnik said. ‘It doesn’t significantly fall off until Day 8,’ he said.”
• Moving from illness in humans to illness in our democracy: The New York Times looks at what a recent U.S. Supreme Court has done to boost gerrymandering: “Since January, judges in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio have found that Republican legislators illegally drew those states’ congressional maps along racial or partisan lines, or that a trial very likely would conclude that they did. In years past, judges who have reached similar findings have ordered new maps, or had an expert draw them, to ensure that coming elections were fair. But a shift in election law philosophy at the Supreme Court, combined with a new aggressiveness among Republicans who drew the maps, has upended that model for the elections in November. This time, all four states are using the rejected maps, and questions about their legality for future elections will be hashed out in court later. The immediate upshot, election experts say, is that Republicans almost certainly will gain more seats in midterm elections at a time when Democrats already are struggling to maintain their bare majority.”
• And finally … while I loathe this Buzzfeed format, the content is undeniably illuminating. The headline: “I Took A Receipt I Had For Groceries From 2020, Compared Them With The Prices From 2022, And Then Cried.” Spoiler alert: Not everything went up in price! But, well, other things did … a lot.
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