Round up #151: 5 reviews a week, don’t pay as you exit

Round up #151: 5 reviews a week, don’t pay as you exit

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Check this out…or rather, don’t and just walk out

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and I managed a couple of other types of stores, too.

This is truly revolutionary! Sure, Amazon does revolutionary things, but this is not online…it’s in a physical store.

What is it?

It’s called “Amazon Go”. It’s a new store concept…and the first one is opening in Seattle in 2017, so it’s not just a concept.

You have an app on your SmartPhone. As you walk into the store, you scan your phone while passing through a turnstile (sort of like some mass transit systems). Then, you just take what you want off the shelves, and you walk out.

That’s right…you don’t check out, you don’t pay, you don’t even scan your phone again on the way out.

Your Amazon account is charged.

That’s all a quantum leap change…we haven’t been gradually moving towards this, it’s a revolution, not an evolution

Watch this video:

YouTube

Note that is uses computer vision, among other things…it’s not just RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or UPC (Universal Product Code) tags.

We do see an Amazon employee restocking the shelf, although that could largely be done by robots. You want some employees, though, at this point…for one thing, to answer questions (the app could probably help with that, perhaps in the future as an Alexa-enabled app, or by having Alexa-enabled devices in the store). The other major thing would be to discourage shoplifting…no doubt, people will try to run into the store (hopping the turnstile, perhaps) and grab and go.

This is brilliant for Amazon for several reasons.

Everybody who goes in there pays through Amazon.

I think customers will like it…a lot.

Customers will also have a lowered awareness of how much they are spending. I’ve seen people in front of me in line at a grocery store look at the total and put something back…not going to happen here.

This first store will have grocery type items, including prepared meals…not, I would presume, fresh produce, although I suppose that could be done.

Amazon could eventually expand this, especially at the holiday season. I see clothing being particularly appropriate here, so people could try on the clothes.

Amazon…always innovating, and increasingly, offline.

Specialty Best Books lists

Here are some links to specialty Best Books lists from The Guardian:

Note that this is a British news source, but that has affected availability less in recent years, I believe.

こんにちは, Dash buttons!

Do you know why Microsoft Word won out over WordPerfect?

I was active at the time in computing, and I remember it pretty well.

WordPerfect was, I think most serious word processors agreed, better.

However, we did everything with keyboard shortcuts…we didn’t have mice and menus, for the most part (it worked with them quite a bit later). Some of you will remember plastic trays you put around your keyboard that listed the shortcuts…you might have had several of them.

Microsoft brought in this “menu” thing. People laughed: the only people who used a word processing program were superior typists, and they weren’t going to want to take their fingers off the home row to pick up a mouse and go to a menu.

Well, of course, what happened was that lots of people who weren’t good typists started using word-processing…and if you were a bad typist, that was better.

Microsoft won because they provided multiple ways to do the same thing. They didn’t eliminate keyboard shortcuts…they added another modality.

I bring that up because some people may wonder why Amazon does

Dash buttons (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

when they have the beauty of voice shopping with the Alexa-enabled devices, including the original

Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

With a Dash button, it does one thing. It orders a specific product, whenever you push a button.

Those are two very different approaches…and Amazon is making them both work, and apparently they are both selling well.

The USA Kindle store now has 226 Dash buttons…and when you buy one for $4.99, you get a $4.99 credit on your first purchase (so it is effectively free).

Well, Amazon just introduced the Dash button to Amazon.jp (the Japanese store):

Dash buttons in Amazon.jp

They are starting with 16, but I think it will be a success there, too. 🙂

“Winner Wonderland”: win an Echo Dot and a whole lot more from C/NET

You could win an

All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) – White (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and a whole lot of other home automation hardware in the

Winner Wonderland giveaway at C/NET

You do have to agree to get the e-mail newsletter (you can drop out), but this is a good giveaway. There’s a giveaway each day through December 15th, 2016.

“BANNED BOOKS AND BLOCKBUSTERS”

This

New Yorker article by Louis Menand

is one of the best articles on publishing I’ve read in quite some time…although, I will warn you that there is an “obscenity” early on in it (what some people call the “c word”…it can be used as an insulting term for women, and refers to part of the female anatomy, which is how it is used in the quotation appearing in the article). As regular readers know, I don’t use obscenities in my “real life”, and when I write in this blog, I typically censor them (even something like “H*ll”). However, I do not object to their use by others, and have used them when quoting something.

It’s important for this story, which gives real insight into the history of obscenity laws and the first amendment, and how they have affected publishing.

I found it insightful and edifying, and it’s relatively long.

If you can get past that word in this context, and some other discussions of what obscenity means (and potentially objectionable language), I recommend the article.

For a previous post of mine about judging books from older times by current standards, see

The Chronological Cultural Context Conundrum

That may not be exactly the issue here…both of these books use the “n word”, but in the latter especially, it’s used for a purpose, and the purpose is certainly arguably intended to be instructive.

Microsoft may challenge the Echo…through computers

The Echo really realized the home assistant market, but there are now multiple competitors…which is a good thing. Competition drives innovation, after all.

This

Engadget post by Jon Fingas

discusses rumors that Microsoft may turn Windows PCs into Cortana-powered home automation centers. Cortana is Microsoft’s digital assistant, like Alexa or Siri.

It’s an interesting idea and makes a lot of sense to me.

We don’t know if this is real, or what it would eventually be able to do…but I don’t see any great barrier to this. It might particularly apply in businesses…I use our

Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile*)

at work, but that’s not very subtle. 😉 I’m not doing anything wrong listening to music on it and such, but I think it can distract people that it is there in a different way than a feature of Windows 10 would do. When I say that, I’m picturing the office having smart home technology which would tie to it, by the way.

Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird pulled from school district due to parent complaint

This kind of thing happens…a parent complains about a book, and it gets pulled from a school or school district, sometimes to be restored later:

Huffington Post article by Claire Fallon

The complaint was over the use of the “n word”. I’ve seen the parent (I think it was the complaining parent) comment, and the thought was that the word being in a book give it an imprimatur and children will feel okay using it.

As I’ve seen this story in multiple places, there is a tendency to tie it into current political events…I wouldn’t say I’m seeing something here that rules that in or out. After all, there is a Banned Books Week every year…

Amazon continues to go after “fake reviews”

A reader sent me a heads up to this

Washington Post article by Gene Marks

that asserts that there is a new Amazon review policy. I’ve written about Amazon’s customer reviews quite a bit…a powerful tool, but one that has been…vulnerable to at least attempts at manipulation.

According to this, the new policy is that an individual can only write up to five non-verified purchase reviews per week.

That will stop people who are “review factories”. They get paid (in cash and products) for writing those reviews…and they may use software or a team of people to do it.

They can still try to make a number of accounts, I suppose, but this does put a hurdle on the track.

Does it affect people who are legitimately reviewing?

Potentially, although I think not a huge number.

If I was retired, I could see deciding to sit down and write a review for every one of the Doc Savage paperbacks, for example, and that might be writing more than ten a week. They wouldn’t show as “verified purchases” at Amazon, since I bought them before Amazon existed. 🙂

However, older books don’t tend to have very many reviews, so I don’t think that sort of Before Amazon bulk reviewing happens much.

Thanks for the heads up, reader!

What do you think? How should schools handle parent challenges to books…and how should they handle “objectionable words”? What do you think of the Amazon Go store? How about a computer that did home automation? Do you like Cortana? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

This post was improved through a comment from Edward Boyhan.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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14 Responses to “Round up #151: 5 reviews a week, don’t pay as you exit”

  1. Man in the Middle Says:

    When my wife was in library school for her MLS almost 50 years ago, censorship was THE sin among librarians. Didn’t matter what book you wanted censored. Didn’t matter why you wanted to do so. Librarians were united against the idea. I wonder if that’s still true among current MLS students?

    As for the specific goal of censoring “Huck Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” as racist, to me that just shows the ignorance of the would-be censors, as both of those books are famous precisely for their opposition to racism when written.

    I could see the value of an Amazon “Go” store precisely for the reason suggested – trying on clothes to ensure proper fit. On the other hand, it isn’t as though such stores aren’t already everywhere.

    I write a lot of Amazon reviews, both of Vine products, and of things I’ve purchased, usually from Amazon. Being restricted to 5 a week of things I did not purchase from Amazon seems entirely reasonable to me. The honesty and ubiquity of their reviews is one of the best advantages Amazon has over competitors, and definitely needs to be protected.

    Too many of their competitors want to moderate customer reviews, perhaps not even allowing negative ones, no matter how richly deserved. Needless to say, I don’t trust reviews at such sites the way I do those at Amazon, and rarely shop again at any place that fails to post a review of mine exactly as written and promptly.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      Interesting about your wife!

      I suspect that not everybody making decisions for school libraries based on parent complaints has a Master of Library Science degree (or the more recent Master of Library and Information Science degree). What the librarian wants may not be what happens in a public school system.

      From what I’ve seen of the complaint, it isn’t that the books advocate racism…it’s that the “n word” is in them at all. If there was a poster on the wall in a classroom that said, “Never say n****r” (with the letters instead of the asterisks), there would still be complaints about it.

      You can try on clothes in stores…but you have to check out, which can take forever, and you can’t pay with Amazon. The Go stores will likely largely give you an experience you can’t get online, while still feeling like you are shopping with the familiarity of Amazon.

      No question, Amazon has one of the least moderated review systems I’ve seen. If somebody posts in a review (as part of the review in context), “Amazon sucks!”, it’s still going to get posted, from what I’ve seen.

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Wow, a lot to comment on here.

    The Go store in Seattle is already open for Amazon employees. They have two other stores mostly already built in the Seattle area as well to test out different food merchandising concepts. Both are setup as warehouse stores: one will support curbside pickup only; the other will enable in store browsing along with curbside pickup — both are considerably bigger than the Go store (30,000-40,000 sq ft as opposed to the Go store’s 2,000 sq ft).

    Warehouses (and retail stores to a lesser extent) have robotic opportunities. In the warehouse there are basically three activities: receiving/stowing, picking, and packing. Amazon’s Kiva robots are currently used with some success for picking. They are actively exploring how to get robots to pack (they actually have supported a contest to explore different packing options). I guess if you can do packing well, you can probably do stowing as well — that latter capability would be very useful in restocking retail shelves. In their curbside pickup only stores, I can see where the Kiva technology might lead to a store with very few humans on site (:grin)

    The use of a smartphone in the GO store brings up an interesting question. Clearly they’ll support Android and iPhones, but the other big employer in the area is Microsoft many of whose employees use Windows Phones. Amazon has not done much in the Windows Phone app support arena … I wonder …

    In order to use Dash you have to have a supported smartphone. Windows phones are not supported — so I have no interest in Dash (I can’t see it being very interesting/useful in my shopping scenarios anyhow).

    I used WordPerfect a lot back in the day — it had an embedded command approach to document formatting which enabled you to achieve very precise formatting, and leading effects. Things which to this day are either very imprecise or just not possible with Word.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about possible Echo scenarios. The rumors of an Echo with a screen got me to thinking about the concept of a “smart room” as opposed to a “smart device” like a smartphone. An always listening infrastructure has a lot of ease of use advantages over keyboards, mice, and touch. I think I’ve mentioned in another post that putting a phone into an Alexa-enabled device opens up a whole nother set of possibilities both in the home and in a business environment.

    The rumors about a possible Microsoft “Cortana Box” are quite confused, and possibly nuanced. What is known is that MS has a “Home Hub” project under development. This is apparently NOT a device, but rather software (some kind of family account and sharing mechanism) the bulk of which apparently will appear in Windows 10 “Redstone 3” (late 2017).

    MS’s CEO recently said that they are actively pursuing mobile opportunities where they can provide some meaningful “differentiation”. MS has also said that there will be some major H/W announcements to come along with the W10 Creator’s Edition (Redstone 2 — spring 2017) — so it’s possible that some kind of “Cortana Box” might come then. MS has been remarkably close-mouthed about their H/W announcements — most of what they announced back on Oct 6th was not pre-disclosed, and came as pretty much of a surprise to everyone.

    I think your headline about book removals should read Parent Complaint rather than Patient Complaint?

    I think I saw a while back that someone had published a “politically correct” version of Huck Finn?

    I mostly look at book reviews, and there mostly only at the star counts rather than reading individual reviews — I will occasionally read a potpourri of negative reviews. The kinds of things that Amazon is doing would most affect me when looking at physical things. Not too long ago I was in the market for a router, and I found the reviews (both positive and negative) very difficult to sort through. I’m all for anything Amazon can do to improve the quality of reviews.

    I do find the asked and answered question sections more useful than many reviews.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      More later, but thanks for the parent/patient catch! That one amused me…it’s clearly because I work in a healthcare organization, and I thus hear the word “patient” a lot more than “parent”. Patient complaints are not something I encounter at all often, by the way. 🙂

    • Roger Knights Says:

      I used WordPerfect a lot back in the day — it had an embedded command approach to document formatting which enabled you to achieve very precise formatting, and leading effects. Things which to this day are either very imprecise or just not possible with Word.

      Microsoft Publisher ($100) can achieve precise formatting and graphics placement.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        Later on, there were some great layout programs…Adobe Pagemaker also comes to mind. I did use Publisher…it’s funny, but I especially associate it with tri-fold brochures. 🙂

    • Roger Knights Says:

      I think I saw a while back that someone had published a “politically correct” version of Huck Finn?

      “Bowdlerized.”

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        That’s funny, I considered using that word recently when I wrote about my doing things like “d*mn”, but that’s not really the same thing, in my opinion. I think of Bowdler and Shakespeare, and that’s a much bigger change to the material than letter substitutions…

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      You’ve responded with a lot of thoughts as well! 🙂

      Let’s see…

      One big difference in a warehouse versus a retail store (even one for food) is that the retail store will commonly be restocking (putting the same thing back in the same place to replace sold stock) while the warehouse will often be putting something different on the shelf. That’s especially true the way that Amazon does it, in one of their cleverest processes. In their warehouses, they don’t necessarily have the same thing in the same place…if it’s a popular item, having all of, say, the Dots in the same section can create a traffic jam. However, in a retail store, people expect the same thing to be in the same place, and they tend to shop thematically (they’ll buy all of the produce at the same time, and will balance off which produce to buy based on other produce they are buying). As a former brick-and-mortar store manager, I suspect people might back off when a robot is restocking a retail shelf…in a different way than they do when a human is doing it.

      On Windows phones: I thought I saw recently that the Windows phones will finally actually run desktop apps? That might help get apps on the phones, right?

      I remember a “sanitized” version of Huck Finn making the news back in early 2011. There are bowdlerized versions of public domain books published probably every year.

      I always picture tech disappearing, become less and less obvious…I’ve written about that being a problem for science fiction works. I’m reading one right now (Fate of Perfection, one of the Kindle First books) and while there are some really interesting things in it, the description of “futuristic” tech which is peripheral to the story is a distraction. This is my future science fiction mystery: “A crime has been committed. It’s been solved.” 😉 Still, a display of some kind is necessary, even if it’s not a physical screen a distance from the device. If an Alexa box is really an Alexa controlled tablet where you can watch videos, that works.

      I’m liking Cortana on my Galaxy S7…without talking to her at all. 🙂 The notifications are good, so far better than Google Now.

      I do read some negative reviews…to see if I disagree with why they are negative. If I do, that tells me a lot about the item.

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment!

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        “On Windows phones: I thought I saw recently that the Windows phones will finally actually run desktop apps? That might help get apps on the phones, right?”

        Short answer — no — the kinds of apps missing from Windows Phones are not desktop apps, which are mostly irrelevant to the vast majority of smartphone users (not just windows phone users).

        That said: what Microsoft finally made public at WinHEC in Shenzhen China is potentially revolutionary as it will lead to PC’s and tablets that contain full cellular capability.

        That leads to my most hoped for development: a device with cellular capabilities married to a far field interaction device (essentially the fancy microphones inside the Amazon Echo & Dot). If I could only ask Alexa: “Alexa call my sister” or better yet: “Alexa take a letter”.

        Interestingly, within a week of each other, both Amazon and Microsoft announced collaboration agreements with Intel, a big part which deal with Far Field Voice devices.

        As far as an Echo with screen goes that will require significantly more processing power on the device — perhaps going so far as a full operating environment. Still with such a screen, even if small, you should be able to “throw” screen content onto a nearby big screen TV using Miracast.

  3. Roger Knights Says:

    I suspect that Amazon will eventually tighten its review policy. I suspect that it came out with a more moderate version of the one it envisages, so as to avoid possible backlash—and also to see how far this initial step goes toward solving the problem.. I think it’s right to have done so.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      I think their liberal review policy, which includes negative reviews even of Amazon items, has been a big plus for them. No question, there are problems. I wouldn’t have a problem with them only allowing authorized purchasers, provided that borrows and gifts would count. 🙂 On the other hand, I like reading reviews from people who read a book even before Amazon existed…

  4. D. Knight Says:

    Just wanted to comment on the Dash button. I tried one and hated it, mostly because it was hard to set up and hard to change which version of the product was ordered when you pushed the button.

    I did, however, just recently get the Amazon Dash Wand:
    https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-All-New-Dash-Wand/dp/B015YEXOR2
    (I did not pay $50 for it. I got it as an Alexa deal for $10.)

    This I really like a lot–you either scan the bar code or speak the item into the microphone, and you can hang it up easily where you need it or just put it on your refrigerator (it’s magnetic). It doesn’t complete the order for you, just put things in your shopping cart. If it doesn’t understand you (happened only once to me so far), it puts a line (description, not an item) in your shopping cart with what it thought you said, which can act as a reminder to look the item up. This is a lot more practical for my usage patterns that a single item dash button, especially the part about only putting it in the cart vs going ahead and ordering it.

    You do need an iPhone or an Android phone to set it up.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, D.!

      That’s an interesting field report about the Dash button! I haven’t tried one yet myself. The wand sounds intriguing!

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