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Amazon Go’s “just walk out” technology sounds like a headache for shoppers of color

Minority shoppers know this feeling all too well: A store employee singling us out, continually checking on us, issuing warnings. Store managers operate under the false assumption that people of color are more likely to steal. 

It’s an effort known as “loss prevention,” but it looks and acts like racial profiling. Which is why a store like Amazon Go is exciting, yet unnerving.

“In a world where even Oprah has been profiled for walking around a store, there are lots of people who might not want to risk trusting a store to treat them fairly,” tech CEO Anil Dash said in an email.

White people who have never been “randomly” followed around at a Walgreens may have no problem walking into a store, grabbing an item and leaving. But shoppers of color, who already see enough unwanted attention, may have their doubts. Read more

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An Overdue Introduction

It would seem appropriate to tell new readers a bit about myself. Of course this is easier to say than do, because you suddenly become very introspective, and start filtering all sorts of things out. I’ll do my best to leave as much in as possible without gnawing my own fingers off.

I live in England (yes, I have an English accent). I grew up near Oxford, and it really is like the picture postcards people send of the “Dreaming Spires”. Of course the postcards don’t tell you how much parking costs, or how many drunk students wander the streets at night.

I am married to a lovely girl that I met on the internet back when it was very rare indeed to do so. For years the story about how we met would draw a fascinated crowd at parties and nights out. We have put up with each other for over 15 years now, and even claim to quite like each other from time to time.

We have three children – all girls – all adopted. We went from zero to three overnight, after spending the better part of two years wrestling our way through the various levels of bureaucracy involved in adopting. The kids are brilliant, and have become most of my happy thoughts. When they were little they were eerily similar in both appearance and character to Agnes, Edith, and Margo in Despicable Me, which of course became our favourite movie.

We have three cats – brothers – all ginger. They might look cute and cuddly, and amuse people with their antics, but it’s all an act. They are evil killing machines that study human behaviour, and gently tip the balance of the world against their human captors purely for their own amusement.

We have had a number of chickens over the years. We get visited by foxes from time to time, and the foxes seem to delight in disassembling the chickens all over the garden. Most recently the chickens just vanished into thin air after my other half forgot to shut the chicken run. No sign of a struggle. Nothing. The children didn’t seem overly upset, so we have not replaced them.

I work as a software and web developer. While it sounds lofty and clever, in reality it means I spend most of my day thumping the desk like King Kong, whispering dark magic incantations, or pretending to know what I’m doing. My job takes me all over the country to stand in front of rooms of strangers, and to pretend I know how to teach anybody anything too. Apparently I’m quite a good fake, because they keep asking me to do it.

Many years ago I studied art at college – the only clues that still exist are a few sketchbooks with drawings of people in them. I spent the better part of two years drawing and photographing people in various states of undress. Sometimes I draw cartoon doodles at lunchtime, and people say “oh, you’re really good!”, but have no clue that the doodles should really be much better than they are.

The internet has slowly but surely become my escape from “real life”. In the few minutes I get to myself each day, I invariably jump straight down the rabbit hole, and catch up with far flung friends I am very unlikely to meet. The blog started out in 2003 as a bit of a curiosity, and then turned into something of a mania. I’m still in touch with a lot of the people I met through blogging over the years, and they always express surprise when they discover I’m still writing. Maybe blogging is something that should be diagnosed as a condition.

I post most days, and am trying to get back to “brain dump” type posts, rather than trying to impress anybody.

And now I can’t think of anything else to write, so I’ll just stop. Do click the like or follow buttons though – I’m an agreeable sort of chap, and will talk to anybody about anything.

What your smartphone germs say about you

Every time you touch your phone, you’re transferring the molecules that linger on your hands to your device’s surface. And since most people rarely clean their phone (gross), those molecules have a habit of staying put much longer than they do on your hands — sometimes for months at a time.

The process for collecting these molecules involves swabbing the object, taking a liquid extraction, and using the scientific technique called “mass spectrometry” to weigh the parts of the molecules found. These days, the process takes about two hours to complete. But with a bit more work, in the future, it could be done in a matter of minutes or less, says Pieter Dorrestein, who co-authored the research paper. “We can almost start to think about doing this in real time,” he adds.

So where, exactly, can these molecules be tracked back to? They could be from the coffee you guzzled that morning or the Tums you ate after lunch or the moisturizer you lathered on your hands before going to bed. For example, one cellphone used in the study told researchers that its owner was likely female, given the wide array of cosmetic products found in the sample. In addition, she was probably a vegetarian who drank a lot of tea, owned a dog (since there were traces of molecules typically used in dog treatments), and took anti-depressants. How’s that for specific?