Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Ben Thompson takes a look at how Amazon.com began, but quickly arrives at what Amazon is doing today. Hint: it’s a $25 billion per year business (and growing) at Amazon alone.

Today, public clouds are the future for the vast majority of businesses; the economics of scale achieved by Amazon (and its closest competitors, Google and Microsoft) are so incredible that multi-billion dollar companies like Netflix view it as more efficient to pay Amazon than to build their own data centers. The calculus is even more stark when it comes to any sort of startup: it’s so much easier and cheaper to get started with AWS that the idea of buying your own server infrastructure — an expense that consumed the majority of venture capital in the dot-com bubble era — is preposterous.

This is great from Amazon’s perspective: the company effectively has a stake in nearly every significant startup, and for free; if the company succeeds, Amazon will be paid, handsomely, and if they fail, well, Amazon covered their own costs of providing cloud services along the way.

Filed on under The Digital Age

Jon Jones is one of the best mixed martial artists in the world. Up until very recently, he competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the biggest MMA league in the world. But last week, he did one of the stupidest things… in the world.

Reports filed by Detective Tommy Benavidez of the Albuquerque Police Department indicate that Jones is a primary suspect in a hit-and-run accident that took place Sunday afternoon. According to witnesses, a silver Buick driven by a man believed to be Jones allegedly ran a red light and caused a three-car accident that left a pregnant woman with a broken arm.

In 2012, Jones pled guilty to drunk driving in my hometown after wrecking his car which cost more than most houses in said hometown. At least the only thing he hit last time was a telephone pole. This time, he’s very lucky he didn’t kill anyone.

But it gets way dumber:

The man allegedly fled the scene on foot, before returning to retrieve cash from his vehicle then fleeing once more.

Well, okay. That’s… dumb. Must have been a lot of money if he was willing to return to the scene of his felony hit and run and then re-run away. But at least he got everyth-

A pipe with marijuana inside of it was found within the rental vehicle by officers, along with paperwork with the name “Jonathan Jones” affixed in relation to MMA and Nevada.

Oh, come on. You took the cash and left the controlled substance and your license to fight? How high were you, man?

Well, okay. Maybe you can lie and say a friend of yours was borrowing your rental car for some reason. Everyone was probably too shocked to get a good description of you for the cops f-

Off-duty police officer J. Sullivan identified the man as Jones, stating on the report, “I watch UFC all the time, I know what Jon Jones looks like.”

Oh, honey.

Filed on under You’ve Got Time

Damon Young, writing for Very Smart Brothas, about the most educational part of March Madness:

During a post-game press conference after losing to Wisconsin Saturday night, a sensitive mic caught Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison saying “Fuck that nigga” under his breath while at the podium. The comment was a response to a reporter’s question about Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky, who is about as far from Black as you’d expect someone from Wisconsin named “Frank Kaminsky” would be.

Young explores this odd situation in a way that even I (and the Wisconsin Kaminskys) can understand, by employing a sort of reverse Socratic dialog.

Why would Harrison use that word in reference to a White guy?

Well, sure. We were all thinking it. Fortunately, Young has the perfect answer:

In the past month, I’ve referred to each of the following things as a “nigga.”

My car. A bottle of hot sauce. A basketball. The weather. My dog. My wife. A grape. Jason Statham. The concept of having an all-red party. The concept of attending a party where the hosts expect you to wear all red. The eight of clubs. The internet.

No wonder white people are so upset they don’t get to use that word. Look at how universally applicable it is!

Wait, really; a grape? Well, was it a white grape, or…?

Filed on under Jest, Mostly

Google’s driverless car doesn’t have a steering wheel. Why would it? The car has a computer system which gets the car from A to B better than a human can. Sure, it seems weird to get into a car with a completely barren dashboard, but there’s no point to it. But some car companies are still going to put steering wheels into their cars.

With all apologies to my fellow humanities majors, there’s a word for pointless endeavors: theater. When the TSA requires airline passengers to remove their shoes before getting on a plane, that’s security theater. When your phone’s digital camera makes the noise of an analog camera’s whirring shutter, that’s design theater.

NYU Law’s Karen Levy and Tim Hwang (of Robot, Robot, & Hwang) wrote an excellent introduction to this second kind of theater. Putting a steering wheel in a driverless car is a 21st century design theater. Here’s what the 19th century came up with:

Other design theaters are aimed not at providing direct usability cues, but at smoothing technologies’ entry into social life by increasing their acceptability. An early example is the Horsey Horseless, an 1899 vehicle design intended to coexist with horse-drawn carriages. Horses were spooked by the strange new cars on the road; the Horsey Horseless was, essentially, “a car with a big wooden horse head stuck on the front of it,” which doubled as a fuel tank.

It’s not clear that the Horsey Horseless was ever produced, nor that it would have worked as planned, but its intentions were clear — to present a misleading social cue (to horses!) that would help make this new contraption less scary and easier to live with.

Even more impressive: I’m given to understand that horses in the 19th century were also driverless.

Filed on under Disrupt Everything

Update: The verdict is out.

In every state, police officers get a lot more leeway than ordinary members of the public when it comes to the use of deadly force. For an ordinary person, self-defense laws come with (or used to) certain caveats. At times, it can feel like it’s impossible for a police officer to be charged with a crime for shooting people who turn out to be unarmed.

Well, here’s how badly an officer has to screw up to get charged. It comes from Cleveland, where the grand jury’s still out on whether or not shooting a twelve year old boy holding a toy gun gets you charged with a crime. But! This guy; he actually got charged.

We’ll start with a car chase, because in media res is a powerful literary device, and Barely Legally is nothing if not a platform for powerful literature. During the climax of a wildly unprofessional chase involving more than a third of all the police officers in the city of Cleveland, the police engaged in a shootout with two suspects. We’ll get to the shootout in a bit, after we talk about the hardened criminal masterminds who orchestrated this chase.

Filed on under Legal Theory

Hey, remember that story from back in December about Seattle’s new tunnel project, and how poorly construction is going? A 500,000 pound machine custom-built to dig this one tunnel broke down after making it about one-tenth of the total distance it’s scheduled to dig. Ominous!

It started out as a boondoggle, and it’s only gotten worse from there. I find this whole thing baffling beyond comprehension, but Karen Weise wrote a wonderful story for Bloomberg Business about how it all went so wrong. Basically, this particular project isn’t special or remarkable at all. Gigantic public works projects are always way more expensive and way more time-consuming than the contractors are willing to say. Seattle is no different.

Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at Oxford’s Saïd School of Business, has followed [Seattle’s problems] from afar. His research on megaprojects has been cited by both backers and critics of the tunnel. Nine times out of 10, massive infrastructure jobs go over budget, he says. Tunnels on average cost 34 percent more than anticipated. No region is better at predicting costs, and estimates over the past century haven’t become more accurate, his data show.

Wow. Those are some pretty earth-shattering numbers. How can experts get these so wrong almost all the time? Whether that means that big public works contractors are lying or simply inept, it’s hard to tell.

Just kidding!

The [Washington State Department of Transportation] WSDOT awarded a $1.4 billion design-build contract to STP, a joint venture between Tutor Perini, a California-based construction company with $4.5 billion in annual revenue, and Dragados USA, the local division of a Spanish company with an expertise in tunneling. […]

STP beat out another consortium in part by estimating it could finish the project by December 2015, 11 months ahead of the state’s schedule. It was time to stop hyperventilating, the state said. “With this contract, we are confident that the tunnel will be built within budget and delivered on time,” declared Paula Hammond in 2011, then the head of WSDOT. (She left in 2013 for the engineering firm that led the reviews.)

Got that? The company that Seattle paid to double-check whether the project would be a disaster gave it a thumbs-up. And then they gave the official in charge of the contract a paycheck. Oh, and by the way, that whole “eleven months ahead of schedule” bit might have been off a little; the tunnel is roughly two years behind schedule. Nothing shady here, though! This is definitely a very large surprise to the reviewing firm. Yes.

Aside from the conspicuous appearance of corruption, Seattle’s ongoing tunnel problems are impressive. According to Weise’s article, the machine hadn’t even begun digging through the difficult part of the terrain when it broke down. I’m sure this story will keep spiraling out of control into a cautionary tale that another local government will ignore at their own peril. I can’t wait!

Filed on under Procurement Hell