The Real Reason I’m For $15/hour

It’s no secret to anybody who hangs around me that I’m for the $15/hour minimum wage. But you may not understand all the reasons I’m for it. It may not be why you think.

I truly believe in the concept of The Singularity. We are approaching a society whereby people don’t actually “need” to work to get by. We grow enough food to feed the entire planet (so much so that we can write 40% off of all the food we make as “spoilage” in transport) and we do it with about 2% of the population involved in agriculture.  Automation has turned the family farm into a machine, growing uniform crops that are picked, packaged, and trucked to market with ruthless efficiency, ever in mind of the commodity status of most of the foods we eat.

And the amount of automation that can still be performed is staggering, and increasing.  Because, let’s face it, farm work sucks.  It’s a lot of drudgery and back-breaking work.  Fuck it, let a machine do it.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 has the effect of making human labor too expensive to waste.  It forces the issues of “how do we support a society where there isn’t enough work for everybody” to the forefront.  Because regardless of what you might think, there isn’t.  I strongly disagree with those who say “well, automation took jobs before, and look what happened: better jobs came along”, and while that might be true for some that’s rapidly changing.

I call this the “third wave” of automation going on now.  There’s a big difference between the automation of the first two.  The First Wave of Automation was the “leverage” phase.  That phase was dominated by using machines as “leverage” of human labor.  The human operator was still highly involved in the process… think of a farmer using a tractor pulling a hay bailer.  You still needed the human to drive the tractor, and typically humans still needed to handle the hay to load it.

Second wave automation went beyond leverage.  Second wave automation was when we started to make machines “think”, at least at a primitive level.  Telephone exchanges went from a human operator to a meshed network of machines that not only handled calls based upon numbers dialed but actually made decisions about how to route around damage and congestion.  Computers started talking to each other over this network, and started automating deliveries.  As products were sold at stores, the computer could order more all on its own.  “JIT” (Just In Time) manufacturing and delivery techniques are the pinnacle of Second Wave Automation, and is the herald of the Next Wave.

Third Wave Automation combines the two: the muscle leverage of the First Wave and the thinking leverage of the Second Wave.  We are now building machines that do.. well, anything.  You want to build a machine to make burgers?  Totally doable (and you can bet McDonald’s already has one in their labs).  3D printing technologies have created that Third Wave: if you can draw it, you can “build” it.  Machines to self-drive?  Here they come.  Machines that program themselves?  Yes, what do you think Watson is, anyway?

Third Wave Automation is coming for your job.  It’s coming for mine, it’s only a matter of time.  What jobs will exist in the near future?  How many people do you think need to fix these robots, and how long until they simply fix themselves?

Here’s an example that should scare you if you think “you have to work to eat” is how the future economics are going to work out.  How long until you can live in San Francisco, hail a self-driving cab, it breaks down on the way.  No problem, self-driving car is aware enough to know it’s not moving, it hails you a replacement car, and you ride away in the second car.  What happens to the first?

A self-driving tow truck picks it up, drives it to the recycling yard where it is dismantled (automatically, of course) for parts, and the factory JIT delivers a new “disposable” self-driving cab to town.  They maybe even predicted this failure based upon a MTBF model and have the replacement already there.

Before you get home from your little jaunt to the Embarcadero the car that broke down has already been dismantled and the replacement is the one that takes you home.

This is possible TODAY with the technology we have.  The only thing stopping it is that at the moment it costs less in human labor to deal with the broken cab, the tow truck, and in some cases even the driver.

Guess what the $15/hour minimum wage does.  It makes human labor less competitive with robotic labor.  And it should be: humans can be injured, suffer long-term disabilities and repetitive stress, and overall a lower quality of life when forced to do drudge work.   As a human being, I (and you, and even the Hispanic farm worker) are worth more than $15/hour, period, and we’re worth having a quality of life free of such drudgery.

Is your life worth $15/hour?  Mine isn’t, it’s worth a lot more than that.  So I’m willing to let the machine do the work for me, and I will rejoice on the day I can order a cheap burger and have a robot gleefully fling out that hockey puck that has never been touched by human hands.  That’s one less person subjected to the indignity of wage-slave labor.

What does this mean for jobs is an exercise left for the reader.  But I feel it is going to escalate the arrival of the robotic Singularity, and it’s a future I welcome.

Why I’m bear-ish on Bitcoin

OK, this has come around again, so I guess I need to actually fill a few of you in on something. I hate to be the one to break this to you. But, Bitcoin isn’t going to ever achieve any kind of mass success.

There’s no conspiracy theory, no “big banks are keeping it down, man!” plot. The reasons why Bitcoin will fail like EVERY OTHER ATTEMPT to create a digital currency before it simply boils down to this.

Social and political issues have never been solved technologically. They’ve always been solved.. well, socially and politically first, and the technology has only played a factor long after the shouting has stopped.

The reasons for this involve “tipping points”, and I won’t go into the whole theory on tipping points and macroeconomics here. Go read Freakonomics and The Tipping Point if you want an exhausting analysis as to the reasons Bitcoin has yet to achieve enough critical mass (and more importantly, enough critical mass in the right areas).  The TL;DR edition: until you can use Bitcoins at a mass-market retailer, fuhgeddabout.

But let’s wander back to the first point, which is, technology never solves social ills by itself.  It only solves social and political problems when it is clear to enough “somebodys” that Societal Ill A can be solved by Technology B in a direct, linear fashion.  And, to that end, Bitcoin doesn’t even serve to solve the societal ill it claims to combat.  And that goes double here in the US, I’m afraid to say, because we do live in a self-styled “democracy”.. and I’m ashamed to admit this, but most Americans are too dumb to understand any cause and effect that can’t be summed up in a 15-second infographic on CNN.

Bitcoin is trumpeted up as being a way for, say, the Occupy Movement to finally free us from the financial tyranny (*snort*) of the Big Banks.  Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but.. please explain to me how any third-party currency, be it Bitcoins, Lindens, or Disney Dollars, “frees” me from dealing with the Big Banks when it is impossible to buy any of the “necessities” of life (food, clothing, shelter, and transportation) without using US Dollars.  It’s not just difficult, it is impossible.  Even the handful of small merchants who accept Bitcoin are doing it largely via automatic exchanges that are converting the coins into US Dollars at clearance.  You can probably count on one hand the pure-play merchants who are keeping any quantity of Bitcoins on hand.

And that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  How many brick and mortar merchants keep a large quantity of cash on hand?  None of them do, don’t be silly.  They may keep a few hundred dollars in change, and they may have a day’s receipts worth of cash because they haven’t made the bank run yet.  But in the back of the grocery store on the corner there isn’t some massive safe with thousands of dollars locked away in it for any longer than it has to be.

And that goes double for Bitcoins, because of the very volatile nature of the “currency.”  Minute to minute prices of Bitcoin fluctuate, so if you’re a merchant that accepts Bitcoin you are playing a game of “beat the clock” every time you accept Bitcoin.   You want to get that out of the liquid state of Bitcoins into cold, hard US Dollars as quickly as possible, lest you potentially lose the entire value of the transaction when the Bitcoin market has one of it’s frequent and violent cases of shitting itself.

Businesses are highly risk-averse, and there is no greater risk heavier than acting as a currency exchange.  In effect, every merchant that wants to accept Bitcoin has to know the value of Bitcoin to whatever they’re paying out in expenses in (and with rare exception, regardless of where in the world it is, that essentially becomes the US Dollar).  There is actually one or two of the major Bitcoin trading houses who do this automatically via a “shopping cart”: and guess what they clear the funds in.  Usually, the quicker the better.

Point is, even in some hypothetical future scenario where Seven-11 takes Bitcoin (hey, it could happen, they take PayPal, amirite?) they’re not going to be trading in Bitcoin, just accepting it and converting it to a more fungible, negotiable currency.  Right now, that currency is the Federal Reserve Note US Dollar, who.. yeah, we know.  Big banks.

At the end of the day, big banks have their hold over us precisely because they’re.. big banks.  When Kroger needs a loan to open a new store, they’re not going to launch a Kickstarter. They’re going to talk to their banker, and depending on their financial solvency they may issue more stocks, or a capital bond, or borrow the money.  In all three cases, the people who are giving them the money will be giving it in US Dollars, and expecting payment in US Dollars.

And why not?  The US Dollar is a reasonably stable currency.  You know that if you loan out $1,000,000 at 5% interest exactly how much you’re going to get paid back.  And the only calculation you have to make as the loaner of the money is the risk of the investment itself compared to other potential investments: you don’t have to necessarily worry that the currency will be worth substantially less in five years’ time.  The ups and downs of the US Dollar are “well understood”, the risks are largely able to be mitigated.

The only way Bitcoin will ever succeed as a widely accepted currency is if the US Dollar fails.  And to be honest, if that happens, no cryptocurrency will save us: there will be no capital available to keep the lights on to even think about a cybercurrency.

Occupy? My ass.

I really want to be wrong with where I’m going with this entry.  However, I fear that I am more correct than even I realize.

Let me start by saying I in principal agree with most of the points that seem to be proffered by many of those protesting in our nation’s cities.  I’m heartened to see many of the younger generation finally starting to “get it”: that corporations have too much power, and that the cornerstone of our Republic has been so compromised that change is needed.

That change needed to happen before September 11, 2001.  It just can’t happen now.

This war you are fighting was lost a century ago when corporations were declared “persons” not by an act of Congress, nor by Presidential decree, but by a series of court decisions and even more centuries of legal precedent.  Our entire society has been based upon this bit of legal wrangling.  It’s not just as simple as declaring it “not to be true.”  Corporations exist for a reason, and many corporations use their legal “personhood” to do much public good.

Case in point.  Occupy Portland began their march today in the shadow of MercyCorps “corporate headquarters”, on the site of the old Skidmore Fountain Market.  As I look at the live feed of the video, I wonder how many people.. many of whom are literally LEANING on this very building, are aware of how much “corporate personhood” allows MercyCorps to do what they do.   I don’t even understand many of the legal implications, let alone understand what I do know well enough to explain them to someone else.

Do you really want this corporation to cease to exist?

The American Red Cross provides much in humanitarian aid to not only those affected by large-scale natural disasters, but small personal ones as well.  The blood services they provide alone have saved countless lives.  I have my disagreements with how the Red Cross is often run, but that does not stop me from acknowledging the greater good they do to society as a whole.

Do you really want this corporation to cease to exist?

For good or bad, much public infrastructure depends on the legal infrastructure of the corporation.  There isn’t a communications technology invented in the past 200 years that could have existed WITHOUT the corporation.  The Pony Express (the United States Postal Service is, in actuality, a corporation owned by the US Government), the telegraph and the railroads that it was built along side of, the telephone (and the telegraph network it supplanted), cellular telephones (which by their very nature requires a very tightly integrated network that would be financially impossible to build by a private individual on the scale required for blanket coverage [Side note that ties this together: Did you know that Sprint was, at one point, part of the Southern Pacific Railroad?]), and the Internet (which requires some of the same infrastructure as much of the above).  All of these very “democratizing” forms of communication REQUIRE a corporation to make happen.

Do you really think the government (who is likely the only entity who could effectively manage and control all these resources effectively) would do any better?

Banks exist for a reason.  We can argue that reason until we’re blue in the face, but the reality is we could no more switch off the Federal Reserve System tomorrow if we wanted to.  Even if we decided, as a nation, that the short term economic destruction was worth it.. it just couldn’t happen.  Small-scale reforms?  Maybe.  But even then, any significant changes to our financial system would likely have huge repercussions that nobody would understand.  Nobody. Anybody who says otherwise is either lying, mentally deranged, or just simply an idiot.

We can all shift our money to Credit Unions.  There are implications to that.  Also, as auxiliary members of the Federal Reserve System, you  aren’t really changing much.  The money you deposit into a credit union will often find it’s way right back into Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, or any one of the Big Banks We All Hate.  As an example, did you know that if your credit union is a member of the CU Service Center network, when you deposit at a CU Service Center the transaction is actually “cleared” via accounts held at Citibank?  (CLUE: Why do you think VCOM machines at Seven-11 are both Citibank ATMs and CU Service Center locations?)

There’s no wonder that conspiracy theories abound in this environment.  Everybody has blood on their hands.


Which is why nothing will change.  Here’s a fact that many of you who are protesting don’t understand.  That 99% vs. 1% dichotomy you keep parroting?  It isn’t that simple.  Most of us in that 99% depend on that 1% for our paychecks.  Most of us in that 99% depend on that 1% to keep our money, our streets, and our homes safe through insurance and bank accounts.  Most of us in that 99% depend on that 1% for what little heath care one can get without the aforementioned job and/or insurance.

At the end of the day, most of that 99% lives in relative comfort.  Most of us live in peace.  Some of us are old, frail, and/or sick and would quite literally die if society were to collapse tomorrow.  A few of us fear for the Republic if things continue the way they are.

But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, if tomorrow the corporation ceased to exist, I’d be dead within a week.


Is that what you really want?

In which Apple won’t take my money..

Today I had what amounts to the worst experience I’ve ever had in an Apple Store.

Before I start, let me just say that this is, in the grand scheme of things, a minor annoyance.  Nobody at the Apple Store was less than courteous (although admittedly it is a bit crazy in there), and it wasn’t like the worst experience I’ve ever had in retail in general.  But it was an extremely frustrating experience nonetheless, and one that has me scratching my head in amazement at why it needed to be so f$@#^ing difficult.

Anyway, my experience.  After poking around a bit at various machines, I decided to purchase a particular iMac and a few accessories after deciding it wasn’t worth fixing my old Apple Cinema Display.  After kinda standing around for 15 minutes, I approached somebody holding an iPad and asked if I could talk to somebody about buying an iMac.

About five minutes later, I get approached by a young man who happily talked to me a few minutes about the machines.  I didn’t get my answers answered exactly to my satisfaction, but just getting it out allowed me to come to a decision about which machine I wanted and the options.

I then asked him to get me a total, as I needed to, in my exact words, “walk across the street to USBank and get a cashier’s check” for the total amount.  He kindly created a subtotal from a spreadsheet and sent me on my way.

After navigating the bank, I went back to the rear of the store and went directly to the person who looked vaguely like a cashier.  She then proceeded to inform met hat they could not take a cashier’s check.  They would take Mastercard, VISA, and a personal check or travelers checks.

Wait a minute.  You can take a personal check, which has absolutely no real guarantee of payment, but not take a cashier’s check written by a major national financial institution like USbank?  Worse, I thought: I now have a $1666.00 check written to you that you won’t take.

I can’t wrap my head around this. Really, I can’t.  How can you take a personal check.. even weirder, a travelers check (people still use those?) and not handle a cashier’s check?

What happened next gets even weirder.  I talk to the “manager”, and she (more on this in a minute) tells me they have no ability to do this, to the point of encouraging me to take my business elsewhere if I don’t like it.  It is only after I press the issue that she begrudgingly gives me a 408 number to “customer service” which I call as I’m leaving the store.

Of course the 408 number was wrong: it said something about “journalists”.  I bounced though a few people and eventually had an enlightening conversation with somebody in the right department who couldn’t even really tell me what the reason for the policy was, or more frustratingly, seemed to just foist everything off onto the store manager.

As of this writing, I’m waiting to hear back from this person and what they can do.

I have some pretty strong personal feelings about Apple the company, and I guess a lot of  those “warm fuzzy” feelings I have about the company died today.  The entire process of dealing with a crowded store with employees who were overwhelmed, dealing with a “manager” with no actual decision-making abilities, and a customer service department that seemed powerless to actually explain policies or make exceptions has reminded me that Apple is now just another company with stockholders to keep happy, and all that “think different” marketing is just marketing.

I still want my new, shiny iMac.  But I guess I also want my “inner child” enthusiasm for Apple as a company back, too.  I still believe Apple makes some of the best stuff on Earth in their product categories (my personal opinions on iPhone not withstanding), and is a company that is driven by some very ingenious engineers.  However, Apple’s image in my head was for a long time driven by my childhood experiences of the Apple Computer that managed to be both an engineering driven company that had a very “soft” human side.

I believe in the power of words.  And I guess there are no more powerful words than the name of the company.  It once was Apple Computer.  Today, it is just Apple, Inc.  And today, my inner child feels a little like he just had his piggy bank taken by the banker in Mary Poppins.  I’m still going to get my money back, and the computer I want.. but Apple is no longer a friend, they are just another soulless corporation trying to take my money.

Heading rapidly towards obsolescence…

As a lot of you know, I’ve been playing with the phone since I was a child.. and that’s now multiple lifetimes in Internet time. I remember the cutting of crossbar offices to electronic, and the cutting of electronic switches to digital. I’ve seen “mobile phones” go from clunky two-way radio style devices to (now) 4G data handsets.

I would have never thought it would have come to the point it is at now.

As part of an upcoming move, I’ve been pricing my options. Where I’m moving, it looks like I have three choices: the incumbent phone company, the cable company, and the WiMax provider. So, I go to the web sites of the three companies to shop.

First, we’ll talk to the WiMax provider. The website shows me a coverage map, and it looks like I’m in good coverage, but I have some concerns because I’m not in GREAT coverage. However, I’m able to get the pricing and coverage information quickly and efficiently. A big A+ here. Of course, it’s just Internet and phone only (no TV), but the price looks right.

Then I go to the cable company’s website. It’s a little messy at first, because I already have service with them at my present address, and they don’t seem to want to price out my options for the new address. I load up Chrome’s “Incognito” mode, and it all works great. Boy, there’s a lot of packages, and the packages with Internet included area little vague at first what the available speed options are. But, with a little bit of bouncing between the individual unbundled service information page and the bundles, I’m able to figure out that a 15 down 3 up package with TV and an unlimited phone is around $100 on a promo, and the cost after the promo is clearly spelled out and easy to understand. An “A” here, and that’s only because it would have been nice if the bundles made it clearer what tier of Internet service was included without having to bounce between screens.

Then, I tried to check with the incumbent telephone company.

For starters, the website wouldn’t even load. Okay, I think, maybe Comcast is messing with the website (hehehe, “net neutrality” anyone?). So, I fire up the wireless modem and try that. Still no dice. I can get the basic information screens, but they don’t have any pricing and availability for the specific area I’m interested in. This is concerning for me, because where I’m considering moving to (Oregon City) there’s no guarantee that anything will be available. When typing in the address of the apartment, the website just returns a blank screen, an error, or just returns me to the screen with vague pricing and no specifics.

Okay, maybe their website was down when I tried. And sure enough, this afternoon the website SEEMS to load.. but there’s nowhere near the clarity of information present that the cable company and the WiMax provider offers. I want a package with Internet and phone service, no TV really needed, preferably something in the 8-15 Mb/s down range. The best I can figure out is that unlimited phone is $35/mo and that there is some kind of $14.95/month promotional price on high speed Internet, up to 7 Mb/s down. But I’m still not sure what the price on the high-speed is after the end of the promotion, nor am I clear if there’s any higher speed options available (and it’s worth noting that they DO advertise 20 Mb/s speeds in this market generically). They’d love to have me talk to an agent to give me more information!

I wanted to root for the phone company. I gave them a fighting chance to give me the information I needed in the format their competitors do, and in a way that saves me time. This is information services we’re talking about here, folks. If there ever was a product that you should be able to sell over the web it’s.. well, the web, dammit. Your competitors websites all would have let me order the services right then and there: just a credit card entry away.

The capper is when same phone company tried to engage me on Twitter after I posted a one-liner about the site not working. If I had time to “talk to an agent” about my needs, if I wanted to, they were merely a phone call away. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted the information on the web in a clear, concise format like both your competitors do.

After all, you’re an Internet provider now, right?