Striking Amazon ‘Spheres’ landmark opens in downtown Seattle

Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon.com, takes a walking tour of the Amazon Spheres, three plant-filed geodesic domes that serve as a work- and gathering place for Amazon employees, following a grand opening ceremony, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Updated 31 January 2018
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Striking Amazon ‘Spheres’ landmark opens in downtown Seattle

SEATTLE: From the fourth floor of a striking rainforest-like conservatory built of glass and white steel in downtown Seattle, Amazon.com boss Jeff Bezos turned toward the top of his newest headquarters building to summon his favorite assistant.
In a proud little show on Monday for the media and dignitaries — which also doubled as product placement for Amazon’s voice assistant — the world’s richest man ordered out loud, symbolically: “Alexa, open The Spheres.”
The domed structure is only steps away from the executive office tower where Bezos leads the online retail behemoth. It’s part of the company’s urban campus near downtown Seattle that is largely made up of unmarked office buildings where more than 40,000 people report to work.
The four-story Spheres structure from the outside looks like three connected glass orbs planted into the ground in a caterpillar shape. Lighting mimics a position near the equator, with 12 hours of shade and sun. During the day, the interior is maintained at 72 degrees with 60 percent humidity, to emulate a cloud forest ecosystem.
Amazon’s Amazonesque rainforest-like conservatory is now home to more than 40,000 plants from 50 countries on five continents. Its centerpiece is a 50-foot (15.2-meter) fig tree. Most plants will flower and some can yield fruit, though visitors must keep their hands off all plant life. About 90 percent of the plants were grown and tended to in a suburban greenhouse for years in anticipation for their permanent home in The Spheres.
Though masked by nature, the sleek and minimalist “alternative work space” is also designed to make you forget you’re at work, in a startup environment that is rumored to be aggressively demanding.
“The idea is that we connect them with nature. We get them away from their normal desk environment so you don’t see any desks or cubicles around,” said Ron Gagliardo, Amazon’s leading horticulturist.
The corporate office space, however selfie-worthy, is already such a hit that the company had to create a reservation system to contain the flow of traffic for the time being. Employees will have to snag a reservation to get in but it’s currently already booked out until April. The building has capacity for about 1,000 people but is more comfortable with about 800 at a time.
Once inside, workers can use nooks with tables and chairs that can serve as a casual meeting space. Coffee breaks can be taken in a cafe and “picnic” area offering an interior reprieve from Seattle’s unrelenting rainy season.
Critics have called the Spheres a vanity project, illustrating Seattle’s sometimes strained relationship with its largest employer. The company’s presence has changed the local economy and raised its cost of living — but none of that was on show at the unveiling of the Spheres.
Instead, Bezos received glowing praise from the governor, mayor and county officials for his recent commitments to the city’s homelessness crisis plus a personal donation of $33 million to a scholarship foundation that helps immigrant youth in the country illegally.
Bezos was coy when asked by The Associated Press whether the company’s much-anticipated second headquarters to be built in an undetermined US city will have another statement building space like the Spheres, saying: “We’ll see.”


Tech accessories: Are these ‘side’ devices worth your money?

Updated 15 October 2018
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Tech accessories: Are these ‘side’ devices worth your money?

  • Tech retailers have continuously introduced side accessories to augment daily gadget use
  • Some accessories can really be helpful, but there are some that are just unnecessary

DUBAI: Using your phone to capture a moment has become second nature. A reflex stimulated by literally any experience – from the time the waiter delivers your food to the table, to the moment your best friend gets married – they are all documented, hundreds and thousands of photos and videos stored in an easily accessible digital storage. Our phones have indeed become our photo albums.

But while the memories we make every day are endless, the storage capabilities of our devices are limited, and tech companies have introduced a number of side accessories that address this rather disconcerting fact.

We take a look at some of the most popular storage-enhancing tech accessories in 2018 – Virtual storage is big business, but is it worth the money and is it necessary?

SanDisk Extreme MicroSDXC UHS-I Card with Adapter

Action cameras have long caught the eye of frequent travelers – if you’re one of them, this might be for you. The SanDisk Extreme memory cards are among the most popular ones in this niche, with its 4K Ultra HD and Full HD video recording and playback capability, especially built for adventurers who are fond of taking content while on the rush. 

The memory card’s selling point is its ability to survive in the most severe conditions. The manufacturers say it still functions in extreme temperatures and after being submerged a meter-deep salt water for three days. 

Read and write speeds are remarkable, especially for a very good deal that does not involve splashing out too much cash – the 32GB version sells at $18.99, while the 256GB sells at $139.99.

SanDisk Ultra MicroSDXC UHS-I Card with Adapter

The SanDisk Ultra memory card is one of my favorites. For starters, the memory capacity ranges from 16GB to a whopping 400GB – and it handles file transfers in a breeze. Packaging suggests a read speed of 100Mbps, with a slightly lower write speed. But over-all performance still depends on the host device – my Samsung Galaxy S9 plus is a perfect match.

Ideal for smartphones and tablets, this high-powered memory card works wonders in capturing and storing full HD videos. I watch a lot of my favorite TV shows on the go – and this memory card’s performance ups that experience by a notch. Smooth app launches are also very noticeable, credit that to its A1 rating, which means that the card is fully optimized for app use.

The higher capacity versions of SanDisk Ultra are worth the extra cash, especially for users who are heavy on storing multimedia content on their mobile devices. 

But cheaper options are available, with the 16GB version at $8.99. The 400GB version sells at $184.99.

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick 

As the name suggests, the SanDisk Connect Wireless is a USB flash drive that uses built-in Wi-Fi to transfer and stream files wirelessly to and from multiple mobile devices. Available in several memory capacities up to 256GB, this comes with a free mobile app for file management. 

Upon testing, transfer speed is as slow as I expected, as the wireless stick only uses the older USB 2.0 technology – a weird choice in a spur of USB 3.0-capable flash drives. Wireless functionality can easily be dismissed in this area – I’d still use the classic wired-only memory sticks. But the multiple devices streaming feature was interesting, which is probably the product’s main selling point. However, I see very rare instances where this function really becomes necessary. For a $15.99 device, I’d pass on it.

SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive and Mini Flash Drive

Apple devices are notorious for their lack of flexibility when it comes to expanding storage capacity, compared to their Android counterparts, and this product is a clear attempt to address that. The flash drives sport a back-to-back connectivity setup – one for a regular USB port and the other for a lightning USB port, and are available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB versions.

But these flash drives can easily be brushed aside especially for MacBook or iMac users given Apple’s sophisticated cloud ecosystem. If you want to free up your memory by dumping photos and other media content, you can already do that directly to your laptop without using a thumb drive, potentially rendering this device redundant, if not unnecessary. 

Prices start at $25.99.

SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive m3.0

For Android users there is SanDisk’s Ultra Dual Drive m3.0. With a micro-USB and a USB 3.0 connectors on both ends, this OTG flash drive allows users to move content easily from both phones and computers.

As an Android loyalist myself, the Ultra Dual Drive does its job well in terms of speed and performance. As soon as it’s plugged in, the drive auto-mounts with ease – especially with the newer versions of the Android OS. The USB 3.0 connectivity was good enough for its price with an average write speed of 32Mbps and read speed of 110Mbps. The drive can also be used on USB 2.0 ports in slower read and write paces. 

But this Ultra Dual Drive is slowly becoming obsolete in the face of USB-C mobile phones. Recent releases from Samsung, for instance, are no longer compatible with this device. If USB-C is the future, then this OTG flash drive is definitely out of the list. Other android users can still take advantage of this product though, since some mobile developers have yet to join the USB-C craze. 

Prices start at $9.99.