Hacking through Amazon’s jungle of coverage -Much has been written about Amazon and about the New York Times’ recent piece on Amazon’s work culture, with even the paper’s own Margaret Sullivan suggesting that the article needed more “irrefutable proof” and less “generalization and anecdote.” That I found some of the insights in the piece familiar, even though I’ve never worked at Amazon is another issue entirely, although it did make me wonder at the fervor of the response to the article. But apparently it bothered Jeff Bezos enough to warrant an email to his employees, basically saying that if anyone feels like they’re working at the company the Times portrayed that corrective corporation action might be required. Still, I appreciated this piece by Jeff Jarvis, because he talked about the extreme lengths the Times went to research this story (2 reporters and six months of investigation) and the tone of argument, rather than impartial reporting that characterized the article. He also addressed a potential conflict of interest for the Times with Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.
On that last point [potential unionization at Amazon], you may think I sound like an owner. I am. I have long held a few shares in Amazon. So you should judge what I say here with that conflict of interest well in mind. You’re probably scolding me right now for not saying it at the top of this piece. You’d be right. And that is how I illustrate my last point: The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times.
The problem at a moment like this is that once one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be: against Amazon and its owner, Bezos, who is a competitor; against technology, a direction too much of media is taking (you should see the latest from Der Spiegel; its technopanic should be printed in purple ink); in favor of big labor? I wouldn’t be wondering that if The Times had given me greater context and balance and sufficient information to let me decide about Amazon for myself rather than having it decided for me. And that’s too bad. There is much good reporting here. There are important issues and modern-day phenomenon that deserve discussion. Instead, we’re starting to discuss The Times. –Buzz Machine
Do book tours sell books? Maybe not, but that shouldn’t stop you from having a good time. – And speaking of Bezos and the Washington Post, here’s a piece from that very paper from Bullet author Mary Louise Kelly with advice to authors about how to enjoy a book tour. I don’t actually remember seeing a lot of author-to-author advice in mainstream media, but maybe I haven’t been paying so much attention (promo tends to make my eyes glaze over pretty automatically now). I’m not sure about the wisdom of “don’t wear stilettos,” and as a reader I’m not convinced that reading aloud from the book is a bad idea (some authors are great narrators of their own work; others not so much). But by the time I got to #3, I was wondering whether the point was just to have a “good time.”
3. Embrace your inner traveling salesperson.
Schlepping suitcases of books around in rental cars is not the most dignified aspect of the literary life. Get over it. Being an author today means writing books; it also means selling them. Publishing lore has it that “Valley of the Dolls” author Jacqueline Susann and her husband, Irving Mansfield, perfected the modern book tour back in the 1960s. “The invasion of Normandy was child’s play compared to the way Jackie and Irving orchestrated a media blitz,” sniffed a former publicist, in a Times piece that ran after the author’s death. “Nothing escaped them, nothing was an accident.” The couple even sweetened up the truckers who delivered Susann’s books with doughnuts. –Washington Post
Digital star chamber -And if we really want to give some thought to Amazon and to how the media is and isn’t fairly investigating or representing its own research and data, maybe we should start with this wonderfully provocative piece by University of Maryland law professor Frank Pasquale’s essay on the ubiquity of algorithms and the increasing invasiveness and potential inaccuracies of these calculations. Pasquale notes that while we tend to focus on security and privacy, we should also be paying attention to accuracy, because the wrong data can be very difficult to remedy (think a mistaken credit report and the often Herculean efforts required to fix an obvious error). Lots of insights here to think about , especially as we become more and more used to, and perhaps even jaded about, data collection.
The infancy of the internet is over. As online spaces mature, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and other powerful corporations are setting the rules that govern competition among journalists, writers, coders, and e-commerce firms. Uber and Postmates and other platforms are adding a code layer to occupations like driving and service work. Cyberspace is no longer an escape from the ‘real world’. It is now a force governing it via algorithms: recipe-like sets of instructions to solve problems. From Google search to OkCupid matchmaking, software orders and weights hundreds of variables into clean, simple interfaces, taking us from query to solution. Complex mathematics govern such answers, but it is hidden from plain view, thanks either to secrecy imposed by law, or to complexity outsiders cannot unravel.
Algorithms are increasingly important because businesses rarely thought of as high tech have learned the lessons of the internet giants’ successes. Following the advice of Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do, they are collecting data from both workers and customers, using algorithmic tools to make decisions, to sort the desirable from the disposable. Companies may be parsing your voice and credit record when you call them, to determine whether you match up to ‘ideal customer’ status, or are simply ‘waste’ who can be treated with disdain. Epagogix advises movie studios on what scripts to buy, based on how closely they match past, successful scripts. Even winemakers make algorithmic judgments, based on statistical analyses of the weather and other characteristics of good and bad vintage years. . . .
Regulators can make data-centric firms more accountable. But first, they need to be aware of the many ways that business computation can go wrong. The data used may be inaccurate or inappropriate. Algorithmic modelling or analysis may be biased or incompetent. And the uses of algorithms are still opaque in many critical sectors – for example, we may not even know if our employers are judging us according to secret formulae. In fact, however, at each stage of algorithmic decision-making, simple legal reforms can bring basic protections (such as due process and anti-discrimination law) into a computational age.–Aeon
FDA approves ‘female Viagra’ with strong warning -And in a complete non-sequitur, yesterday the so-called “female viagra” was approved by the FDA. Addyi is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which means that it works in the brain instead of the blood vessels, as Viagra does (and what does it mean that autocorrect capitalizes Viagra?!). There has been extended controversy over this drug, with accusations of gender bias because the FDA failed to approve it a couple of times, weighed against significant potential side effects and a less than perfect track record of success. Is it any surprise, really, that women continue to bear more risk than men when it comes to achieving sexual pleasure?
Addyi will come with a prominent “boxed warning” about side effects, including among people with liver impairment or who take Addyi with alcohol or with medicines known as CYP3A4 inhibitors that include certain steroids.
Originally developed by Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim under its chemical name flibanserin, it was first rejected by the FDA in 2010 after an advisory panel said the benefits did not outweigh the risks. Sprout acquired the drug, conducted additional studies and resubmitted the application. In 2013, the FDA rejected it again.
The rejection sparked a lobbying campaign by Sprout, aided by some women’s groups who accused the FDA of gender bias because it had approved Viagra for men – a charge the FDA vigorously rejected. –Yahoo News