Category Archive 'Amazon'
18 Jul 2009

Big Brother Deletes “Animal Farm” and “1984”

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Maybe readers allowing you to purchase electronic copies of books from giant impersonal corporations are not such a good idea after all.

What happens when Amazon decides, for reasons of its own, that you should not be in possession of a particular book? Pop! It’s gone. Eliminated by your friendly corporation’s software update system.

Big Brother came calling on Amazon customers yesterday, as the New York Times reports.

In George Orwell’s “1984,” government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the “memory hole.”

On Friday, it was “1984” and another Orwell book, “Animal Farm,” that were dropped down the memory hole — by Amazon.com.

In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers,” he said.

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.

03 Aug 2008

Pelosi Censors Amazon Reviews

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Nancy Pelosi’s new book, Know Your Power, has been less than well-received.

It’s ranking 1576 this morning on the Amazon best-seller list, and 23 of 34 reviews give it one star (Amazon’s most negative rating).

Lone Pony reports that Nancy Pelosi has leaned on Amazon, forcing the on-line bookseller to remove more than 200 negative reviews. How lame is that?

Via Pam Geller.

09 Jul 2007

Legendary Amazon Mapinguari, A Giant Sloth?

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A statue of the Mapinguari in Rio Branco, Brazil.

Sunday New York Times:

Perhaps it is nothing more than a legend, as skeptics say. Or maybe it is real, as those who claim to have seen it avow. But the mere mention of the mapinguary, the giant slothlike monster of the Amazon, is enough to send shivers down the spines of almost all who dwell in the world’s largest rain forest.

The folklore here is full of tales of encounters with the creature, and nearly every Indian tribe in the Amazon, including those that have had no contact with one another, have a word for the mapinguary (pronounced ma-ping-wahr-EE). The name is usually translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast.”

So widespread and so consistent are such accounts that in recent years a few scientists have organized expeditions to try to find the creature. They have not succeeded, but at least one says he can explain the beast and its origins.

“It is quite clear to me that the legend of the mapinguary is based on human contact with the last of the ground sloths,” thousands of years ago, said David Oren, a former director of research at the Goeldi Institute in Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon River. “We know that extinct species can survive as legends for hundreds of years. But whether such an animal still exists or not is another question, one we can’t answer yet.”

Dr. Oren said he had talked to “a couple of hundred people” who had said they had seen the mapinguary in the most remote parts of the Amazon and a handful who had said they had had direct contact.

In some areas, the creature is said to have two eyes, while in other accounts it has only one, like the Cyclops of Greek mythology. Some tell of a gaping, stinking mouth in the monster’s belly through which it consumes humans unfortunate enough to cross its path.

But all accounts agree that the creature is tall, seven feet or more when it stands on two legs, that it emits a strong, extremely disagreeable odor, and that it has thick, matted fur, which covers a carapace that makes it all but impervious to bullets and arrows.

“The only way you can kill a mapinguary is by shooting at its head,” said Domingos Parintintin, a tribal leader in Amazonas State. “But that is hard to do because it has the power to make you dizzy and turn day into night. So the best thing to do if you see one is climb a tree and hide.”

David Oren and his sloth theory also made Discover magazine in 1999.

09 Jan 2006

Brittle Software, Antigorai, and Culture

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Jaron Lanier

Jarod Lanier (above) writes about Technology the way certain of my college friends used to talk about these kinds of things after a couple of hash brownies. This specific (brilliant, crossing the barriers of a variety of separate and distinct topics, wildly original and speculative, and a trifle daft) form of discourse was referred to in our circles as space-ranging. Criticized by his interlocutors for his prolixity, for the profusion of his ideas, for their chaotic disorganization, and for indulging in the characteristic intellectual overreach of the seriously stoned, one Early Concentration Philosophy classmate of mine, had on a particular occasion declared memorably in his own defense: “I am a Space Ranger!”

As the rings of Saturn fade distantly in the view-finder, Lanier remarks:

As it happens, I dislike UNIX and its kin because it is based on the premise that people should interact with computers through a “command line.” First the person does something, usually either by typing or clicking with a pointing device. And then, after an unspecified period of time, the computer does something, and then the cycle is repeated. That is how the Web works, and how everything works these days, because everything is based on those damned Linux servers. Even video games, which have a gloss of continuous movement, are based on an underlying logic that reflects the command line.

Human cognition has been finely tuned in the deep time of evolution for continuous interaction with the world. Demoting the importance of timing is therefore a way of demoting all of human cognition and physicality except for the most abstract and least ambiguous aspects of language, the one thing we can do which is partially tolerant of timing uncertainty. It is only barely possible, but endlessly glitchy and compromising, to build Virtual Reality or other intimate conceptions of digital instrumentation (meaning those connected with the human sensory motor loop rather than abstractions mediated by language) using architectures like UNIX or Linux. But the horrible, limiting ideas of command line systems are now locked-in. We may never know what might have been. Software is like the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which each day is the same. The passage of time is trivialized.

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But, as is often the case in space ranges, there is some very good stuff in here. The concept of the Antigora, i.e., a privately owned marketplace whose owner benefits both from its use by, and from the volunteer labor of, entrants is potentially quite useful.

I have a strong suspicion that Lanier’s use of Agora, and variations thereon, as his preferred term for one kind of marketplace and another, stems from the influence of the late Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947-2004), founder of a unique strain of California counter-cultural Libertarianism which he called Agorism, whose theories were promulgated via Sam’s own Agorist Institute. Potlatch metaphors were also a characterististic trope of Konkinian Libertarianism. One can hear the echo of Sam Konkin’s sunny optimism in the following analysis:

Perhaps it will turn out that India and China are vulnerable. Google and other Antigoras will increasingly lower the billing rates of help desks. Robots will probably start to work well just as China’s population is aging dramatically, in about twenty years. China and India might suddenly be out of work! Now we enter the endgame feared by the Luddites, in which technology becomes so efficient that there aren’t any more jobs for people.

But in this particular scenario, let’s say it also turns out to be true that even a person making a marginal income at the periphery of one of the Antigoras can survive, because the efficiencies make survival cheap. It’s 2025 in Cambodia, for instance, and you only make the equivalent of a buck a day, without health insurance, but the local Wal-Mart is cheaper every day and you can get a robot-designed robot to cut out your cancer for a quarter, so who cares? This is nothing but an extrapolation of the principle Wal-Mart is already demonstrating, according to some observers. Efficiencies concentrate wealth, and make the poor poorer by some relative measures, but their expenses are also brought down by the efficiencies.

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An amusing read and a fine provocation. John Perry Barlow, Eric S. Raymond, David Gelernter, and Glenn Reynolds will all be replying.

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Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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