Monthly Archives: January 2014

While the recession hit men harder than women, it’s women who are facing longer-term unemployment.

Recent research says that offshoring is overrated at least when it comes to R&D. I wonder if this is why we’re hearing less about its inevitability in the tech world. My own observational experiences are that it isn’t the threat that we have made it out to be (in the tech sector, at least). I’ve seen it tried at multiple employers, and it either doesn’t work out or when cuts are made they are made over there and not over here.

tigerhugIndia apparently has an industry around street-typing, but it’s disappearing.

Japan is aging, here’s a positive spin on how it’s adapting.

There are a lot of misperceptions about World War I. We’ve recently discovered that we have underestimated the death count by a significant margin.

Scotland is looking towards tidal power.

Kaiser has a good report from 2012 on why health care costs are rising. An interesting fact from it: In 1970, out-of-pocket costs for health care was 40% of the total. By 2010, that had fallen to 14%.

There’s a new class of cancer treatment that may significant increase patients’ odds of survival. Unfortunately, it’s expensive. It’s pressuring physicians to control costs.

io9 has stories on rotating buildings and “skytwisters

Japan has been shockingly successful at keeping Tokya as affordable as possible.

Public Interest Design is changing how we do things. has numerous examples.

Jim Russell argues that walkability won’t attract talent. People need transit.

For Mr. Huntrice: Seinfeld reunion?

Category: Newsroom

I have a featured post over at Ordinary Times involving my disdain for Eli Manning and about the intersection of sports narrative and race. I thought I would comment just a bit on this:

My dislike of Eli Manning goes back to the 2004 NFL Draft. He was slated to be picked by the San Diego Chargers and threw a hissy fit. But he didn’t want to play for the Chargers! He wanted to play for the Giants! Waaaah! This was followed by getting his daddy to straighten everything out and eventually to New Jersey he went. The whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. We have a draft for a reason, to try to keep the teams as competitive as possible. He was going to be making millions of dollars and after four years he could sign with whatever team he wanted to. What an entitled little snot.

I went on a rant about this with my father-in-law who responded with two words: John Elway. John Elway? That guy is apple pie, the American flag, and everything good and right about this country! My father-in-law went on to explain that John Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts but refused to play for them, using a potential baseball contract as leverage.

Oh, but that’s totally different I reasoned. Elway wasn’t being an entitled little snot. He was simply using leverage at his disposal to go to the team of his preference. Totally different! Except that’s a very selective reading of the facts. Elway’s reasons for not wanting to play with the Colts actually mirrored Manning’s desire not to play for the Chargers. I still think the baseball thing is important, but if I am being honest with myself I probably think it’s important because it allows me to stick to my preferred narratives. It allows John Elway to still be apple pie without having to take back my criticisms of Manning.

I’ve mentioned before that my own Southern Tech Packers have a history of running up the score. Perhaps not coincidentally, I completely have little problem with teams (above a certain level, anyway) running up scores. As long as you take your starters out in due course, have at it!

It’s easy to forget this when I’ve watched the Pack get pummeled. I do find myself really, really hoping that the other team just gives it a rest. When they don’t – and sometimes they don’t, particularly when it’s a team that we have scored more than 80 points on in the past – I have to fight back feelings of abjectly hypocritical outrage.

In recent seasons, our team has also gotten a couple of showboats. I think this past season we had more excessive celebration penalties called on us than in the previous three seasons combined. I am typically not a big fan of excessive celebrating whether a penalty is called on it or not (as they say: when you get to the endzone, act like you’ve been there before). But I have to say, while I tut-tut disapprove, I do find myself looking at it a little bit differently than I used to. If not allowable, then at least understandable.

Category: Theater

Angry Protesters Block, Smash Google Bus

In another display of ire directed toward vehicles that haul Google employees to and from work, a smattering of protesters blocked the GBus from moving Friday morning. Said protesters have even allegedly resorted to damaging the buses.

Today’s initial protest began at 24th and Valencia at around 9 a.m. where residents angry at the tech industry blocked the bus and carried signs reading “Get off the bus and join us!” and “Eviction Free San Francisco.” As many of you know, the Bay Area is undergoing a brutal eviction crisis, with San Francisco feeling the brunt of it. Mission District Supervisor David Campos introduced anti-eviction legislation earlier this year, which would provide “incentives against the Ellis Act” to landlords. These google buses — which, in all fairness, do combat the impact the workforce has on local sustainability, as well as the release of CO2 and other emissions — have become a symbol of the gentrification and economic disparity many denizens feel has taken over their city.

As Mission Local reports, the other dustup was “at MacArthur BART station and in West Oakland at 7th and Adeline.” Craig Frost, who was inside the Oakland bus that was physically damaged, tweets, “My Gbus got hit by protesters in Oakland and they broke a window.” While Google software engineer Joel Weinberger (rather adroitly) points out, “I assume all the #googlebus protesters tweeting ‘get out of the Bay, techies’ see the irony of doing so on Twitter?”

When Is a Google Bus Not Just a Google Bus?

Part of what makes the debate about Google buses — as all tech shuttles are collectively known here, no matter whose they are — so fierce is that there seems to be a fundamental disagreement about what’s at stake. Tech employees see the Wi-Fi-equipped shuttles as nothing more than a boring corporate perk — “a thing on wheels that gets us to work,” as one Googler put it at the hearing. As my year-ago ride on a Facebook shuttle confirmed, these aren’t party buses in the least; most tech workers sleep or answer e-mails on a silent hourlong commute to the peninsula. And it’s hard to argue with Google buses on the merits. They reduce emissions, cut down drastically on the number of individual cars being driven in San Francisco, and make the city a more livable place for people who would otherwise be stuck in San Jose. They do produce some first-order consequences that aren’t great (clogged bus stops, frequent delays for public-transport riders) but nothing that couldn’t be ironed out with better data and planning.

Of course, the Google bus wars have never really been about the Google buses.

For concerned locals, the shuttles symbolize their collective fears about the rise of the tech sector — that rents are spiking, that long-time residents are being pushed out by coddled 22-year-olds with Stanford BAs and venture funding, that a great American city with a rich countercultural history is turning into a staid bedroom community for Silicon Valley. It’s hard for people to put these feelings into words, and even harder to get them heard in front of cameras and policymakers. And so, when the MTA board announced a hearing on the bus issue with time set aside for public comments, it was a good bet that the tech resisters would turn it into a catchall venting session.

“This is class warfare! This is not an accident! This is privatization of public spaces!” said one opponent of the bus proposal.

“These buses represent filthy rich corporations that could pay more,” said another.

“We need to squeeze them for everything they’re worth,” said a third.

The G-Words:

The underlying force is this: the megacompanies of Silicon Valley — Facebook, Apple, Google, et al. — and their economic ecosystem seem to have grown into an enormous employment engine; analagous to the biggest urban concentrations of factories in the Industrial Age. However, these companies’ campuses are located in the leafy suburban municipalities of the Peninsula, a hour to two hours south of San Francisco.

These municipalities are tightly legislated low-rise, low-density burghs, with residential real estate values that have ascended into the stratosphere as Silicon Valley became more important over the decades. Now, people who’ve paid a million or two million for their 3-bedroom 1960′s tract home are not likely to embrace zoning changes that would allow more housing to be built, as that would greatly dilute the value of their property, as well as changing the kind of suburb they’ve paid so much money to live in.
As a result, these municipalities reap the benefits of having enormous employment centers, and those benefits are then divided among a small number of residents. But the companies themselves have no place to house their workers. Thus, they created the Google Buses, luxury coaches replete with wi-fi and other amenities, deployed to expand the radius in which a Silicon Valley tech worker can practically live.

It’s Not Too Late to Make San Francisco Affordable Again. Here’s How

Protect existing rent-controlled housing units

San Francisco has roughly 172,000 units of rent-controlled housing. Rent control is the city’s core tenant protection, allowing many people to stay here. The first thing the city needs to do is to make sure we don’t lose those units.

As housing prices go up, there is ever more incentive for owners of rental units to find a way to get out of the landlord business and sell. One of the most often abused mechanisms is California’s Ellis Act, a state law that says that landlords have the unconditional right to evict tenants to “go out of business.”

Tenant groups in San Francisco have developed a set of proposals to make it more difficult for landlords to use the Ellis Act as a tool to evict people. One of the proposed reforms that seems to make sense is to discourage the practice of buying rent-controlled units for the purpose of converting to Tenancy-in-common units (TICs) or condos by requiring landlords to have been in the landlord business for some set period of time before using the Ellis Act to “leave the business.”

There is a social compact in San Francisco that needs to be upheld: rent-controlled units should stay under rent control, while ownership opportunities should come from new construction.

Japan Shows the Way to Affordable Megacities

Japanese cities have for centuries taken a much more laissez-faire approach to development than their counterparts in the West. Building regulation in London started in earnest after the Great Fire of 1666, with the city moving away from flammable wood buildings to sturdier stone and brick, and giving authorities the power to widen streets to act as firebreaks. Manhattan was gridded in 1811 and wood-frame construction was banned in 1815. Paris cut wide avenues through its dense, medieval city center under the direction of Baron Haussmann in the mid-19th century. {…}

As a result of lax development rules, Tokyo — whose greater metropolitan area has surpassed 35 million inhabitants, putting to shame piddling two-bit towns like Mexico City, Delhi and Jakarta — is still growing at a rapid clip, despite the fact that Japan as a whole hit its population peak in 2008. (Rural areas and second-tier cities, and even some neighborhoods in first-tier ones, are emptying out as young people flee to large cities for better economic opportunities.)

The number of apartments and houses in the metropolitan-prefecture of Tokyo — whose population is a bit more than 13 million, compared to New York City’s 8.3 million — rose, on average, by 1.95 percent a year between 1998 and 2008, or more than twice as fast as its three world city competitors. (London’s housing stock grew by 0.82 percent annually around the same period, while the number of homes in New York’s five boroughs, as well as Paris and its inner suburbs, inched up just half a percentage point.)

What is Japan’s reward for allowing its largest cities’ housing supplies to keep up with demand? As your economics 101 professor could probably guess, relatively cheap housing.

Category: Downtown

Click on image for uncropped version, mostly but maybe not entirely safe for work.

A study recently suggested that the MTV show 16 and Pregnant has reduced teenage pregnancy rates. Ryan Jacobs explains that this is not the case.

Playoffs, once instituted, expand.

Tyler Cowen argues that streaming services encourage variety, while downloading services do not, while TechRadar laments binge-watching

The markets for contracts. As in… hitman contracts.

Democrats want higher wages, Republicans argue that it would mean less jobs. Democrats hire more people at lower wages, while Republicans hire fewer people at higher wages.

India has a new handgun for rape victims.

South Korea is launching 5G… and its very, very fast.

Suggesting that the jobless should lose benefits for failing to speak English is something you would expect a Republican to say. Instead, it’s coming from UK’s Labour Party.

A Norwegian mountianside is cut off from sunlight for six months of the year, so they’re using mirrors.

Doctors aren’t meeting PPACA’s EHR goals. At a basic level, EHR is a time-saver and win-win-win, but the amount that physicians are often being asked to put in them, if the economic incentives are not high enough, it may not be worth their time to do it.

Category: Newsroom

Because high school never ends… I remain puzzled why certain Facebook friends from old days friended me but not other people we know. By way of example, I was friended by Whirlwind. She and I knew one another, but we were never close. Or friends. Or even friendly. She went with Clint for a little while. She knew Excalibur quite well.

I wonder if she kind of looks back on yore with less than positive thoughts. I’d understand. It was not a particularly good time in her life, I kind of gather. By the time the BBS that we were both members of fell by the wayside, I sort of expected things not to end up well for her. She had lost a lot of her popularity and her looks had transitioned from stunning to plain. I didn’t know how well she was doing in school, but I figured it probably wasn’t very well. I was wrong about that last bit, though, as she apparently upped and moved to a state boarding school for the gifted and talented and considering how well she appears to have turned out, I assume that it was a really good thing for her.

But there were people who were friends and who cared about her from that era… and I wasn’t one of them. She was snooty when it came to me. About the only nice things I can say about her is that:

1) There was a time I was in a pretty bad way and I was acting really obnoxiously. She was the ringleader of a group of people that deliberately started to avoid me and were telling other people to do the same because I was such a loser. This actually turned out to be a good thing because when I heard what people were saying, there was too much of it that I couldn’t entirely disagree with. That is to say, I was turning myself into a very unpleasant person. This marked a real turning point for me, making me far more conscientious of how I was coming across to people. So she gets credit for the result, if not the intention.

2) The last year or so she started warming up to me a little. I remember when she and I had a conversation at a party. It was remarkable in the lack of negative undercurrent. That I still remember the conversation, and that the conversation was one of the things I remember from the party it was at, tells you how frequent that was. But I did get the feeling that things between us were going to start being not-so-frosty. But the BBS community fell apart shortly thereafter.

Anyhow, while it would make sense if she wanted to put the whole thing behind her and block out that part of her history, she has done so with the only exceptions being myself and a frivolous old flame from that era.

The most likely explanation is that I was a suggested friend or something through mutual friends… except that we have none except the ex-boyfriend.

I wrote about this previously in Unleaving Las Vegas, wherein Porky friended me one night and unfriended me the next. That one was more easy to dismiss, though, on the possibility that she confused me with somebody else and then unfriended me in horror when she realized her mistake. This time? Whirlwind is very unlikely to have mistaken my identity.

She messaged me shortly after I accepted the request. I wasn’t around, though I wonder if I had been if I’d gotten my answer.

Category: Server Room


A Los Angeles liberary is offering high school diplomas. Fortunaely, they don’t have to be returned.

Katey Heany explains how one might come to believe they’ve been abducted by aliens.

Good news for the states offering more generous Medicaid packages: It won’t really attract sick people.

This may be the most convincing case I have heard, to date, on the utility of the Bitcoin.

A great article on the history of Superman, exploring the question of who can claim to have discovered him.

Oil is making everyone in Norway is a millionaire.

Adam Ozimek asks… why do economists disagree so much about the minimum wage?

The twinnish cities of Duluth (MN) and Superior (WI) are on different trajectories thanks to the state line between them.

For aliens living underground, astrobiologists say that there may be a lot more habitable zones than we think. Thinking of how intelligent aliens living so far underground might evolve is interesting. It’s the only sort of aliens I could imagine us coexisting with, to an extent.

For IT staffs, is there too much supply or too much demand?

Category: Newsroom


The case for moving tech jobs to Iowa. When I lived out west, the husband of one of my wife’s colleagues was making inquiries about starting a tech company and found himself on the phone with the governor. He points to numerous cases of tech companies opening offices in unexpected places (including Dubuque, Iowa).

Will robots usher in shared wealth or a more divided society? Some have argued that automation is a driving factor behind the current stagnation of wages, but Dave Schuler isn’t convinced.

A part of me hopes that there’s more to this story than the guy is letting on. Some sort of suspicious behavior that warranted the attention, or that the incident was not what he says it was. The other part of me feels bad for hoping that a guy that might have been unduly harassed is a liar. Anyway, it’s the story of a guy who was (allegedly) harassed by Maryland cops for a gun that he didn’t have with him.

Good news! We’re probably not backing that Mexican drug cartel!

James Poulos argues that our obsession with bad romance is the ultimate first world problem.

Hollywood is increasingly turning to the Bible.

Japan is planning to meltdown a nuclear reactor, to prevent unplanned meltdowns of reactions.

Europe is trying to block UK’s wind subsidies as it experiences a dirty coal rebirth.

We may be on the cusp of power storage innovation, which has implications for wind and solar power.

Category: Newsroom


I love the fact that there are people that follow their dreams and shoot for the moon. We would be bereft of innovation, art, and so on if everyone accepted a nice comfy cubicle. But I would expect most of the people who manage such feats to be the sorts of people who simply couldn’t do anything else. And if you can’t do anything else, you have to do what you can. Whenever I used to go to anime/sci-fi conventions, I would get irritated with writers on the peril would invariably open their panels saying how terrible it is to be a writer and that you should do something else. Better advice, in retrospect, was given by some in the form of “If you can do something else, then do something else. Writing is for people who are so overwhelmed by the need to write that they cannot do anything else.”

Beyond that, though, don’t follow your dreams. Screw your dreams. While you should do what you can do avoid what you hate – if for no other reason than that if you hate it, you won’t be good at it and if you won’t be good at it you probably won’t advance in it – the most important part of life, to me, is what you come home from the job to.

Further, the notion that you should love your work only works if you actually succeed in doing what it is you want to do. Sometimes you shoot for the moon and don’t make it, you can more easily end up in the deadly abyss in space instead of on the moon or another star. Or you can miss entirely, and plummeting back to earth in a stunning death. Okay, maybe I am taking the metaphor too far, but you get the idea. If you go into fashion design, you may become a fashion designer, or you may be relegated to something less pleasant than what you would be doing if you had simply signed on to a more conventional career track.

I have seen people become far less than they could be because they came to the conclusion that the decision not to follow your dreams would actually be a failure to follow your dreams, which is a mentality that is toxic. So it’s no surprise that I read favorably Miya Tokumitsu’s admonition against telling people to “doing what you love” (DWYL), which she considers to be classist and exploitive:

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? And who is the audience for this dictum?

DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

I don’t come at it from quite the lefty perspective as Tokumitsu, which leaves me less than concerned about the exploitation angle. There is a cost with everything, and with doing what you love it’s having to accept the concessions of being in a very competitive field. That’s why following your dreams is often a bad idea for a lot of people, but not why it’s a bad idea for society as a whole. The class element, though, is more significant.

Following your dreams is a fantastic idea if you have a trust fund. It’s also a fantastic idea if you have upper class social networks that can help you in your career or catch you if you fall. The belief that one should follow one’s dreams come-what-may is impossible to separate from a sense of security that a lot of people lack. When I look at my peers in the upper middle class, a differentiation between “follow your dreams” and “get a job” is a sense of financial vulnerability. While I myself come from a family where my father had a good government salary and a good salary, I was also born into a family where my parents were raised poor or lacked that economic security. I was raised with that insecurity and the belief that “No, just because you try your best and follow your own path does not mean things will work themselves out” even though, in retrospect, the odds that they would, for me, are better than they are for a lot of people.

James Joyner argues that even when people say that you should follow your dreams that they’re not saying that you’re a failure if you don’t, but the undercurrent is there. Not unlike how “We should encourage (almost) everyone to go to college” inadvertently signifies that people who didn’t go to college failed to go to college. If we associate the path to happiness with goals that so often rely on luck, social networking, and a money cushion, we’re defining goals upwards in a way that will be detrimental to more people than helpful. A stronger safety net can only help with one of the three. All of this is especially true when supply far outstrips demand for certain career paths.

Which brings us to the other bit that a lot of people (including Joyner and Lion) are criticizing, which is that somebody has to do the grunt work – which they are unlikely to love – so that Steve Jobs can live his dream. Especially poor people in China. This part resonates less with me than with others, however, because it touches on such cosmic injustices that the failure of a Chinese sweatshop worker to pursue their dreams is putting the First World Problem stamp on people with much greater problems. It leads us down a path most of us (excluding Jacobins, to be fair) are not seriously willing to go, to the point that the argument strikes me mostly as a distraction to the conversation between the people actually having the conversation with one another.

Andrew Simmons makes a class argument when it comes to college:

My students are understandably preoccupied with money. They don’t have the privilege to not worry about it. They fantasize about what their future wealth will permit them to enjoy. They dream about specific models of cars in certain colors and gargantuan houses in particular neighborhoods and opulent meals at their favorite restaurants any time they wish. Many swoon over the East Coast liberal arts colleges they visit on the special trips that my school is thoughtful enough to arrange. Colleges like Swarthmore and Haverford fly students like Isabella out during college applications season. A few are accepted but most attend state schools, which, especially in California, can provide excellent educational opportunities. The irony, though, is that many of these students aspire to go to a liberal-arts school but don’t necessarily understand its significance. They’re drawn to sleepy quads, weathered brick, and cascading ivy, but they are resolutely pre-professional in spirit.

In contrast, at the private school I attended for the last two years of high school, my classmates thought about what they wanted to learn in college, not only what they wanted to become. Some knew medical or law school loomed in the future, but they thought about the work in a different way. My privileged classmates enjoyed money, from what I could tell. A few reveled in their cars and clothes, but most appeared to take it for granted. They didn’t talk about it. Instead, a future doctor talked about working at the CDC to fight public health epidemics. A future lawyer envisioned starting a defense firm to provide a service to the hometown community. Most of us wanted to do something special.

He seems to be treating his private school as the norm, rather than his economically insecure students. I would wager “college as getting ahead” is actually more commonplace than “want to do something special.”

The desire to follow one’s dreams, to do what you love, and to do something special, are typically luxuries of economic comfort and should be, in my mind, generally viewed as such. I think it’s great that he has a student that has an eye on the “economic security” ball and also wants to accomplish more. But if there’s one that should be strongly emphasized, it’s not doing something special. It’s taking care of your business and being in a position to take care of your family

The aspirational ideology is problematic because it designs success and failure in such a way that places a moral or spiritual value on aspects of life that they are particularly well-positioned to pursue. There is an implicit declaration of a shortcoming, or emptiness, on the part of those that are not afforded such luxuries. I would argue that there is far more honor in going in every day to a job that you don’t like than there is spiritual value in dedicating yourself to the ethereal career path, and in my personal hierarchy the starving artist is subordinate to the bored IT guy who jams on weekends.

The Onion, in its almighty wisdom, had it right: Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.

Category: Coffeehouse

Even the New York Times seems to have been exasperated over the New York City Council’s recent debates on vaping:

In a city where the technocratic mayor prides himself on making decisions based on the evidence, the proposed ban produced one of the most scientifically vague and emotionally charged health committee hearings in recent memory. Anyone who used the word “smoke” or “smoking” to refer to electronic cigarettes, which typically contain nicotine, was instantly corrected by audience members hissing “Vapor!” and “Vaping!”

The health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, said electronic cigarettes were such a recent invention that he could not say whether they were hazardous to the health of those smoking them or those who might breathe in secondhand vapor. He said that they do put out fine particles and chemicals, and “I certainly can’t guarantee that that is safe.”

And what we do when we can’t “guarantee” something is safe… we here in the land of the free ban it. Of course, ecigarettes are not banned, but only because a judge said so.

To be fair, it’s hard to have a scientific discussion when the evidence, pro or con, simply isn’t in yet. I have said before that I expect we will find out this thing is more dangerous than its advocates suggest for vapers. But I also think it will prove to be fine for non-vapers, no matter how much Of course, after years and years of hearing about how smoking bans were justified because of the physical dangers of second hand smoke. That threshold – a reasonable one within limits (family restaurants, yes, entire college campuses, no) – has been lowered to “I don’t like it” and “it makes me uncomfortable.”

The other two arguments are (a) it brings “smoking” back into the public eye which will entice children and (b) “bartenders and staff can’t tell the difference between cigarettes and these things.” In the case of the former, this could be avoided by pushing smoking out of the sidewalks and into the bars. In the case of the latter, as with the discomfort, that’s a fair reason for an establishment to ban them, but not a reason for City Council to get involved.

But, of course they have to because Big Tobacco and Big Tobacco’s invincibility. Big Tobacco, which hasn’t really won a political battle since… I don’t know when. Hookah lounges are still legal in NYC, but vaping lounges are more important because… it’s harder than targeting establishments primarily operated and patronized by Middle Easterners?

Having said all of that, the people who were vaping in the council session? Bad messengers. Terrible messengers. The same applies to a lot of vapers who seem to get a thrill out of being in-your-face about it because they can. That’s a good part of the reason why they won’t be able to for much longer. While “it makes me uncomfortable” isn’t a sound basis for a law, it is more than a sound basis for common courtesy. Smokers lost the smoking ban wars in large part because of their own lack of courtesy. Vapers are positioning themselves for the same fate.

Which I fully expect to happen. This is a certain loss. At this point, the real battlefield is (a) keeping it legal, (b) keeping the flavor spectrum as wide as it is now, and (c) keeping Internet sales as open as possible.

Category: Hospital, Statehouse

The Cracked team explains why Back to the Future is actually somewhat horrifying.

Category: Theater