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American Bigotry

August 15th, 2017

Being the token American overseas for the better half of two decades now I have had the “American Racism” conversation many times. Usually my stock response is something like this:

“Bigotry is the norm. I’ve seen, though not often experienced racism everywhere I’ve lived and most places I’ve traveled — all over Europe and many places in Southeast Asia. The big difference between racism in American and everywhere else is that America has an ongoing, public discussion of its own racism. Most places don’t. Americans are racist. So are The British. And the Chinese. The Japanese and the Swedish are racist. The mix of passive vs. active racism differs, but it seems that racism is a universal human trait (really bigotry in all its ugly -isms is: racism, sexism, ageism, chauvinism, etc.). America’s history of slavery and global immigration means that in many places, where the melting pot extends beyond Europeans, we are confronted daily with the reality of people who are visibly different, and not just their skin. We have a much longer history of this than most places, possibly exception London and its imperial heritage. Even places far from the city have, in my lifetime — in my adult lifetime — have experienced more diversity. The number of Hispanics in my home town or in Northern Virginia where I attended college. The number of Somali refugees in Souix Falls, South Dakota near my grandparents farm.

When I lived in London there was a big news story about a murder, I don’t remember the details but the story sticks in my mind because of an observation one of my dorm mates made of a press conference. They pointed out the police official stumbled over the correct word to use to describe the mans race. This was the first time I had the thought that the public discussion of racism in America meant they everyone knows the acceptable terms for people of different races. There are norms about how you refer to people of this or that race. There are norms of speech and behaviour that when crossed will get someone accused of racism. It’s not to say that people don’t say things that are racist or act in racist ways, just that they know what is legal and what is socially acceptable. This does not fix the problem, it pushes active racism to the fringes though passive racism persists. It’s a step in the right direction but we have a long way to go to realise our founding principle of equality.”

Now those norms have been challenged, Trump has emboldened those who want to return to active, in-your-face racism. My hometown has become ground zero for the new race war [nytimes.com]. I don’t even know what to say about it. I abhor what the bigoted fucks who showed up for the “Unite the Right” rally stand for. At the same time I believe in the liberal idea of free speech. Free speech isn’t absolute but, except very few and specific things, people should be free and feel free to voice their opinions. No other system works, just imagine if your opinion was the unpopular or “wrong” one… should you be prevented from voicing it? I Guess all I can say is that I absolutely believe bigotry in all it’s guises is wrong, I try to live that way and we need people who believe that to scream it at the top of their lungs to drown out the bigots and drive them back beyond the fringes.

AppleTV + HomePod

July 11th, 2017

Dear Apple,
The HomePod is cool and all, after all the Echo is cool, and I’m sure it would be awesome in the bedroom. But… what I really want is a mashup of the HomePod and another Apple product. The AppleTV.

Rather than have an AppleTV and a HomePod in my living room I’d like to have a soundbar-esque AppleTV that incorporates the HomePod functions.

Thank you,
\beggs

Big Data and a Brown Paper Bag

June 18th, 2017

So, Amazon bought Whole Foods. I haven’t read much analysis — just seen a lot of jokes about Alexa misunderstanding Jeff Bezos and buying it for him. I think it makes total sense for a couple of reasons and I’ve been intending to write a post one one of those reasons since before Amazon opened the Amazon Go store (yes, I’m slow writing and posting things here…).

The first reason I think Amazon-Whole Foods makes sense is that Whole Foods gives Amazon a perfect platform to take AmazonFresh national. Whole Foods shoppers are exactly the type of people that would use the AmazonFresh service so Amazon gains access to these people. Whole Foods stores and the local contracts allow the currently limited service to to launch the nationwide.

The second thing — the one I have been meaning to write about — is about fundamentally changing the model for supermarkets and how we shop is about the data.

I’ve been talking about this with a colleague at work for a while. The discussion basically comes down to “Supermarkets business model is dead. Because… Data. If they don’t embrace the data then someone else will and they’ll put us out of their misery”.
At issue is the basic supermarket business model, as I understand it. That is getting people into the shop to buy the staples goods they need and selling them overpriced extra goods they don’t need. As far as I can tell this model has not changed since the 50’s. In order to enable this buiness model supermarkets need to be huge and stock everything and use every psychological trick in the book, and invent a few more over the past half century, to get you to put that extraneous stuff into to your cart.

But supermarkets have been sitting on a treasure trove of data, from their loyalty programs, that they are basically ignoring. Millions of people have loyalty cards for their shopping and every time they swipe it the supermarket can link their purchases to a person. Think about how they could use that data. They know what you purchase and how often. They know I buy milk every week, they know the brand. They know I buy cloths detergent every month. Why don’t they take the initiative?

Why don’t I get a message from them every week that my regular purchases are ready for delivery or pickup at my regular store? They could offer me specials that I have purchased in the past or similar offers. They could offer to delivery my regular basket. Would I like to add this weeks super-special-only-for-me to my basket. They could turn week-in, week-out grocery shopping into eCommerce and take advantage of a whole new back of tricks.

By taking the initiative they could streamline their logistics chain and maybe reduce their physical store sizes since they don’t need to keep all that just-in-case stock. Lowering they rent bill needs to more than make up for the losses for those impulse buys. Has someone done this analysis?
This model relies on selling me the things I need with greater convenience. Increasing the margins on those sales and not relying on impulse buys. I think the traditional supermarkets are blinded by their established business plan. They survived the dotcom bubble and the various grocery delivery startups that popped up them and maybe they don’t think the time is up for the current model this round. But I think big data will kill the supermarket (as we know it) and I expect to see Amazon disrupting the supermarket landscape quickly once this deal is closed.

Buy more ammo

May 2nd, 2017

“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, quoted in Neglecting the State Department does real damage, in the April 29th, 2017 edition of The Economist

Chiang Mai, Thailand, March 2017

April 21st, 2017

IMG_0768

I took a short trip to Chiang Mai in March with the family. Just a few days. We visited an Elephant sanctuary and a place called the Bua Thong waterfall — for which there is no Wikipedia article a pitty!. The waterfall is also known as “Sticky Waterfall” because the calcium rich waters have created cascading mounds of limestone and there is very little algae on the rocks meaning you can get a very good footing in the limestone and despite the relatively steep incline you can walk up and down the face of the waterfall with ease. It was very fun and refreshing walking around in the cool water in the 40° temperature, lots of green (most of the area was more brown than green this time of year) and lots of butterflies.

The photo above is of the Chedi at Wat Chedi Luang [wikipedia.org] —which does have a wikipedia page! The Wat is very beautiful and I was there just in time to catch the wonderful light at sunset. You can see a few more photos in in the photoset on filckr [flickr.com].