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A City With Amazon at the Center: California’s Inland Empire

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This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

What happens when Amazon becomes a fixture in America’s towns and cities?

Erika Hayasaki wrote a recent article for The New York Times Magazine about Amazon’s influence on the Inland Empire, a region east of Los Angeles where the company is the largest private employer. More than 40,000 people in the region handle or deliver Amazon orders, about double the number from two years ago.

I spoke with Hayasaki, a professor in the Literary Journalism Program at the University of California, Irvine, about what she learned researching Amazon workers in the region and what the effects are — good and bad — when Amazon comes to town.

Shira: What made you interested in writing about Amazon in the Inland Empire?

Hayasaki: My family moved to a city there called Eastvale in 2018, and Amazon’s presence was immediately apparent. Near the Costco, you see twin giant Amazon warehouses with more than 6,000 employees in total. You see Amazon semi-trucks and new homes with Amazon products like Alexas built in.

Officials at the nearby Ontario International Airport showed me runways that were under construction partly for Amazon merchandise flying in and out. We see Amazon all the time as shoppers, but it’s different here. I started to talk with workers about what it was like for them.

What did Amazon warehouse employees tell you that they like and don’t like about their jobs?

They appreciate that Amazon offers them health and retirement benefits — and that they have jobs at a time when many others have lost work.

The biggest concern that I heard was safety. That’s not new, but when the pandemic hit it was intense to hear workers’ fears for their lives.

And some Amazon-related jobs are precarious. I rode around with an Amazon delivery driver who also worked for an app-based delivery company. His girlfriend did, too. They were stringing together multiple forms of income for themselves and their five children. It’s not an easy way to live.

Amazon is creating many new jobs with starting pay that’s more than double the minimum wage. Isn’t that good?

Most of the workers I spoke with would say that Amazon can do better given the company’s financial success. I heard workers ask why the company increased pay by $2 an hour but only temporarily. They’re working harder than ever and it’s still a pandemic.

For Eastvale, what has been the effect of having Amazon there?

City officials said that they appreciated the new jobs Amazon created, but they were fearful that automation might slowly eliminate the work. And because of the way state taxes are structured, the city is getting less tax revenue than it expected from Amazon’s presence.

City officials also said there’s a lot of wear and tear on roads with so many Amazon vehicles. And with so many people at the Amazon site, it generates a lot of calls to police and emergency services for worker injuries or just fender benders. That’s a pull on local resources.

Your article discussed “company towns” — cities like Hershey, Pa., that were once dominated by a single employer. Is Eastvale like that?

No, unlike company towns of the past, Amazon doesn’t control housing for employees or replace functions of the government. But in the Inland Empire there are some elements that are reminiscent of company towns. One that struck me was an Amazon career program for high school students. People spoke highly about it, but others in the community raised questions about teenagers being put on a pathway to an Amazon job.

Shoshana Zuboff, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, told me that Amazon goes beyond the company town phenomenon. It’s a company world. Given Amazon’s presence in our lives, its size and how many people the company employs, that’s a combination unlike anything we’ve seen before.


Tip of the Week

Are you wondering how old is too old for that television set or internet router in your living room? The New York Times personal technology columnist Brian X. Chen explores when to consider replacing four of the important gadgets in our lives.

I’m an advocate for making your technology last as long as you possibly can. But at some point, it’s time to replace your phone, computer, TV set and internet router. It’s hard to know when, though. Here is a cheat sheet for when to consider retiring your current models:

Smartphones: It’s wise to replace your device when your phone can no longer receive operating system updates. When that happens, some of your favorite apps may stop working properly, and you won’t easily be able to get security enhancements that protect you from attacks and malware.

Apple iPhones typically can get software updates for five years, and Android phones normally get software updates for two to three years.

Computers: Similarly, when your computer can no longer get important software updates, it’s probably time for it to go. But Windows and Mac PCs tend to get these updates for far longer than smartphones — from nine to 15 years. (I’m still rocking an iMac that I bought nine years ago.)

Within that time frame, though, other parts like your hard drive, laptop battery or screen may fail. When repair costs add up to become impractical, it may be time to look for a newer model.

Television sets: You could hold on to a TV for decades if you don’t mind missing out on improvements in video quality. But also think about what connects to your set. If your TV is so old that you can’t plug in modern devices that you want to use — video game consoles, streaming video sticks and audio equipment — then it’s probably time to retire it.

Internet routers: Your Wi-Fi hub is a critical piece of infrastructure that affects everything that connects to your home internet. Generally, new Wi-Fi technologies hit the market every five years. If your router is more than five years old, you’ll want to get on the latest Wi-Fi technology, because you’ll probably see meaningful improvements to speed and coverage.


Beware the terrifying sight of … a cat riding a Roomba pirate ship. (Turn the sound on for this one. And thanks to my colleague Erin McCann for tweeting this.)


We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@politicsay.com.

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries with palm scan

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries using its parent company’s palm-scanning technology.

Amazon said Wednesday its palm-scanning system — currently used in about a dozen of its brick and mortar stores — will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the first of many planned rollouts at other locations.

The system uses Amazon One technology, which employs high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a “unique palm signature” based on the ridges, lines and veins in each person’s hand.

Its high-tech sensors don’t require users to touch the scanning surface, like Apple’s fingerprint technology does.

Instead, palm-reading tech uses computer vision and depth geometry to process and identify the shape and size of each hand they scan before charging a credit card on file.

Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The company said that the palm-scanning tech will be offered as just one of many payment options at participating Whole Foods Stores and that it won’t impact store employees’ job responsibilities.

“At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers,” said Arun Rajan, senior vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Whole Foods Market.

Palm images used by Amazon One are encrypted and stored in a “highly secure” cloud, and customers can request to have their palm data deleted.

The company claims palm-scanning tech is more private than other biometric alternatives, such as facial recognition.

Amazon One builds on the “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon uses in its Go stores, which detects the items shoppers pick up and charges them once they leave — without the need for a checkout line

Amazon is also planning to expand the cashier-less technology to Whole Foods, as reported by The Post.

Meanwhile, the tech could be good for its bottom line. The online behemoth aims to sell its palm-scanning tech to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings.

Amazon One scanner
The scanner uses high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a unique palm signature which is then encrypted and stored in a secured cloud.
Amazon

Last September, it said it was in “active discussions with several potential customers.” But it is unclear if it has progressed on any of those fronts.

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Apple’s new iPad Pros and TV remote don’t have U1 locators to help find them in your couch

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Apple has been quietly sticking special locator beacon chips into some of its new iPhones that’ll let you unlock your car and find lost items through walls — the latter thanks to the $29 AirTags announced today — but sadly, you won’t find that chip in the new M1-based iPad Pros or the long-awaited new Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple confirmed to us that the U1 locator chip, which uses pulses of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to broadcast its precise location, won’t appear in the Siri remote. We’re waiting on final bulletproof confirmation about the iPad Pros, but it also doesn’t appear in their product page, spec sheet, or press release. Last year’s iP ad Pros didn’t include a U1 chip, either.

Is Apple expecting us to stick AirTags to our iPads and TV remotes to escape the jaws of the ever-ravenous couch? Unlikely, but the company has been pretty choosey about which devices get the chip so far. You can find it in the iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE) and the Apple Watch Series 6 (but not the Apple Watch SE), but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t made its way to any iPads or MacBooks that have been announced since the chip’s introduction in September 2019.

Theoretically, Apple could build an ecosystem where any Apple device can easily find any other Apple device (not to mention UWB devices from Samsung, which is also deeply invested in the tech and has its own AirTag-like device as well). But for now, you’ll primarily just be using your phone to find AirTags, not other gadgets, except perhaps your future car.

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Your iPhone has a completely hidden app. Here’s how to find and use it

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Apple’s iPhone is full of hidden features and tricks we’re constantly discovering. For instance, did you know the Notes app has a hidden document scanner? Yeah, pretty cool. The latest hidden feature that’s been popping up on Twitter and blogs is another type of scanner, dedicated to QR codes, and it’s better than the one built into the camera app.

Indeed, you would already be able to filter QR codes utilizing the easy route in Control Center, or simply open the camera application and it will check a QR code. Also, you’re correct. Both of those strategies turn out great. However, the committed Code Scanner application accepts the position above and beyond by introducing a greater amount of the data I need to see about an examined code.

For instance, the camera application utilizes a little notice at the highest point of the screen to open a connection or show you data, though the devoted Code Scanner application makes it exceptionally clear what’s inside the QR code you just checked. Yet, here’s the rub: The Code Scanner application isn’t found on your home screen, nor is it found in iOS 14’s new App Library.

As should be obvious, the best way to discover the Code Scanner application is to utilize the iPhone’s Spotlight search include. Go to your iPhone’s home screen and swipe down in the center of the screen. An inquiry bar will show up at the highest point of your screen, alongside application and alternate route ideas underneath. Type either code or scanner. As you type, you’ll see the Code Scanner application symbol appear as an application idea. Tap to open it.

The flashlight icon at the bottom of the screen acts as a flash to illuminate a code if your phone is struggling to read it.

If you don’t have the QR scanner shortcut added to Control Center yet, here’s a post showing you how to customize Control Center to your liking. For more hidden features, check out our list for iOS 14. We also cover more general, but useful features in iOS 14.

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