The Echo Look: help from Amazon for the style-disadvantaged?

The Amazon Echo, which came out in 2015, is a smart speaker that responds to voice input. Amazon just released an update, called Echo Look, which not only includes the Alexa voice-response system but also has a camera, so it can both listen to you and look at you. It’s designed to sit in your bedroom and serve as some kind of fashion aide. Here’s how Jessi Hempel of Backchannel described it at the start of a short discussion: “Speak to the white oblong assistant, and it will take selfies of your outfits and let you consult style experts to improve them.”

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Simple desultory philippic department: Elon Musk

A good candidate for the person I’m most tired of hearing about lately: Elon Musk, who was described yesterday by technology writer Steven Levy, in a remark that may be half tongue-in-cheek and may be purely serious, as “our current Visionary In Chief.” (That phrase appeared here.)

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Honey, I shrunk Thackeray’s novel: A condensed Vanity Fair at the Pearl

12-Pearl_Vanity Fair(c)Russ Rowland(w)

Doing the social climb: from left, Debargo Sanyal, Tom O’Keefe, Ryan Quinn, Zachary Fine, Kate Hamill, Joey Parsons, and Brad Heberlee in the Pearl’s Vanity Fair. (Photo by Russ Rowland)

Rebecca Sharp—who is not quite the central character in Thackeray’s 1848 novel, Vanity Fair, but who would like to be—resembles a reality-TV performer. By chance of birth, she occupies an ordinary station in life; what’s worse, or perhaps better, given their own dubious careers, her parents have died, leaving her—as we’re often reminded in the novel—alone in the world, forced to fend for herself. For her, as for any number of present-day persons, there’s no reason why anyone should pay attention to her, give her any leeway, give her anything at all. And so, when any chance of advancement presents itself, she feels she must take it, apply whatever skills she has (but it happens that she has many) in order to bring herself up. She seizes opportunities; she maneuvers and manipulates, not always to serve herself alone, but always to her advantage; she’s developing her brand and pays no mind to bad PR. Becky Sharp would be a sensation on social media.

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Passing glances: protests and sex on campus

The University of California at Berkeley, which in the 60s originated what came to be called the free speech movement, has now become a major home of an un-free-speech movement, and American college campuses are now one setting for a clash, which is also playing out in the wider world, between conflicting stances toward sexual behavior. Some recent reading illustrates the issues.

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