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Innovation Meets Stagnation

April 16, 2014

When you actually look at how this is playing out, it might be a decent model for industry/government interaction.  Well, all the way to the government trying to put people out of business.

Here’s a fine money line:

“Most people freak out when they find out they are washing their face with plastic,” said Stiv Wilson, associate director of the 5 Gyres Institute in Santa Monica, which studies marine plastic debris and is backing bills to ban microbeads.

Microbeads have been used for a while, since small beads of benign plastic don’t cause a lot of allergic reactions, thus preventing lawsuits.  But the size and volume of the particles is causing potential problems.

Wilson said recent reports by the 5 Gyres Institute found microbeads prevalent everywhere from oceans to the Great Lakes to the Los Angeles River. The plastic particles absorb toxic substances from contaminated runoff and are a danger to marine life that mistake microbeads for food, Wilson said. While research is still in its early stages, Wilson said there are concerns about long-term health risks when people eat larger fish that consume the smaller microbead-eating fish.

From the article, it looks like larger companies have already started to phase out the products given some of the research.  Meanwhile, some legislatures are starting to look at laws that would close the markets to companies that haven’t moved.  Now it’s down to negotiating how to move the industry before the legislatures force it.

But honestly, this is probably a better model than, say, the FDA.  Under that model, nothing can be done other than limited tests for years while the government dithers over what’s safe and not safe.  Then the products go to volume, and volume discovers some problems.  So, you get similar results, except they’re delayed by a decade.  So in the least this model tries to work in real time.

Let’s see how the legislation moves forward.  If it’s pushing legal changes after the industry moves, then we have a winner, at least for progress.

Who’s Money Is Better Money?

April 15, 2014

Here’s an interesting article on competing business interests going against each other in an effort to make more money.  It starts with a soccer stadium, and ends either there or with a new crane for the docks.

David Beckham is facing a huge backlash against his plans for a 25,000-seater soccer stadium in Miami.

An alliance of shipping businesses and a billionaire car dealer have launched a campaign protesting the football star’s venue, which would be situated at the Port of Miami in Florida, and include a restaurant and a nightclub.

The consortium, which publicized their opposition in a full-page advertisement in two major newspapers yesterday, said if given the green light, it would threaten the city’s plans to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Go read the whole thing, especially for the pictures of all the beautiful people with more money than we have.

I have to admit, that I’d generally side with the dock owners.  Sports stadiums are not known for actually revitalizing the area they inhabit.  Shops aside, the real draw is only on occasion.  Meanwhile, an expanded dock employs people and drives commerce.  But some of that is dependent on the actual dock owners developing it, rather than just wanting to develop it.  And overall, I’d bet that the only reason the stadium side wants a stadium RIGHT THERE is that the property is cheap and has a nice view.

Either way, it’s interesting to see competing business interests go at each other.  In the area where I live, we recently funded a new aquatic and exercise facility for the community.  The biggest opponent of the facility during the homeowners’ vote?  The real-estate people who had already built a smaller private facility.  It got pretty contentious, and we noticed the other day that the private one was up for sale now that the public one is open.  Hmmm.

So watch this one to see how it plays out.  I’d bet the soccer stadium goes elsewhere, because large dockworker unions are hard to ignore if you’re on the city council.  I’m sure there will be other reasons, too…

A Very Happy Tax Day

April 15, 2014

I suppose…

For the people who are just starting their taxes today, I just wanted to comment that I used to do that with my Field Theory homework in college, and it never did much for my grades.

I should also note that I usually get grumpy if the government has been helpfully holding some of my money all year, but given the way the market’s been going, it’s at least a stable savings account this year

Crumbling Foundation?

April 14, 2014

Or maybe, how do you build a technology fortress when the foundations are a bunch of pebbles?

The Gnome Foundation is out of cash, though they view it as a temporary thing:

The Foundation has articulated a plan to get things back on track, including “Following up on unpaid invoices more actively”.

No such worries over at the OpenBSD Foundation which, as of late last week, says it has secured the $US150,000 it needs to keep going for another year.

There’s a couple things to take away from this.  First, there are a boatload (dozens? hundreds?) of foundations managing interfaces and source trees for technology.  A lot of these things are one to two people, some storage, and a lot of travel.  I’ve worked with a bunch of these in the past, and they do good work.  But they’re almost all hanging on because someone wants to support the technology, but not own it.  This makes building on technology interesting at times.

Or, perhaps  more appropriately, foundations and alliances like this are a good barometer of the industry.  When a technology is cool, it’s a funded foundation.  As the technology wanes, it eventually falls to a couple volunteers to manage it as the foundation falls apart.

I can’t tell you what’s happening with Gnome.  It’s likely just a bit of mismanagement due to some distraction.  But what’s interesting to me is the fact that technology depends so much on stuff like this.


The New Threat of Warfare

April 10, 2014

As a kid, I can remember all the fun of living under the threat of all-out nuclear war.  It was often something that would come up in conversation, and there were occasional drills or reminders.  And heck, that’s not anywhere near as bad as it used to be in the 50′s when air raid drills were a regular occasion.

These days, most people don’t think about nuclear war, even though the threat still exists.  The general belief is that humanity could not be anywhere near so barbaric as to destroy itself.  Well, maybe not, but there are a lot of crazy people out there, and there are threats that go beyond all-out destruction.

North Korea has the capability to deliver on its threats to carry out a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States, it has been claimed.

Dr Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, has reportedly seen a long-suppressed government report that concludes North Korea is capable of using an Unha-3 rocket to carry out an attack on the U.S..

He says the U.S. would be particularly vulnerable to such an attack, as any rocket from North Korea is likely to travel over the South Pole and approach from the south – something American missile defences would apparently be powerless to stop.

I have to admit, I don’t necessarily believe the “coming from the south” part, though it’s possible.  The Germans had a pretty simple plan to drop a bomb on New York using a manned V-2 and skipping off the atmosphere.  It’s likely they could have done it with another five years and less allied bombers slowing them down.  So a rogue nation doing some form of skip bombing is likely feasible.

But I would expect that the real effect would be from a North Korean nuke targeted for Japan in an EMP attack.  To keep China and Korea from bearing too much of a hit, they’d have to angle a burst out over the North Pacific, and I could see it touching the US in some areas.

All of these scenarios are pretty low in likelihood, but not zero.  And it’s a different problem than just a quick annihilation of a city…  Very few electronic devices are shielded well enough to stop an EMP, and even a moderate disruption of systems could cause local chaos.

I would still think that cyber warfare is a larger threat, but we still have to be prepared for a variety of attacks.  It’s good that we’re no longer holding the sword of nuclear war over ourselves and our kids… but it’s not good that we’re saying all is well.


Progress Sucks

April 9, 2014

I’d hate to see what the people who wrote the report would say about Detroit…

The movement of middle-class people into low-income neighborhoods is profoundly and rapidly reshaping the urban core of the Bay Area, from San Francisco’s Mission District to the farthest reaches of East Oakland, according to a sweeping report released Tuesday.

The gist of the report is that close-in neighborhoods that have been traditionally fully of crime and lousy housing are being spruced up to attract people who’d like to live close in, and the resulting drop (slight drop, mind you) in crime and better housing is meaning that rents and prices are going up.  I get that this displaces poor people.  But really, we should never improve a neighborhood because it would make things better, and that’s bad?

Jon Bean, 31, is among those displaced. A longtime resident of North Oakland, he moved to 94th Avenue in East Oakland in 2004 for cheaper rent. But last year he was forced out of there, as well, when his rent for a two-bedroom apartment jumped from $1,100 to $1,800, despite the neighborhood’s high crime rate.

Now he and his three kids live in a $945-per-month apartment in Antioch, and he commutes about three hours round-trip daily for his job at a nonprofit in Oakland.

“I spend so much time commuting I hardly see my kids,” he said. “On my lunch break, sometimes I go to my old neighborhood in North Oakland and it’s totally different. There used to be kids playing in the street, basketball games going on. Now it’s a lot of ‘For Sale’ signs and cafes.”

So now it’s a place where people would like to go, and that means profit for the landlords and homeowners?

Again, I get that this is hurting poorer people who no longer can live affordably in the Bay.  I lived there for quite a while in the 90′s, and this isn’t new.  I knew many people back then who commuted three hours to their jobs.  When they got tired, they found new jobs where they lived, since people created jobs there for similar reasons.  It’s not magic to assume that people move based on changes in neighborhoods.

I note a couple things… take a look at this comment:

“Change is always good,” he said. While gentrification once meant only more white people moving in, today many Latinos are part of the incoming middle class. Reid noted that his district is increasingly Latino as African Americans continue to move away. “Where we once had vacant storefronts, we now have Latino businesses. And in the hills we’re seeing young families from San Francisco. It’s definitely shifting.”

And this one:

“It’s true, I’m beginning to see white people in (deep East Oakland). … The only reason it hasn’t happened sooner is because we have six shootings a day around here,” she said. “The question is not whether this change is good or bad. It’s how do we find a balance, and how do we start the conversation?”

And I wonder what this is really about… is this a focus on what constitutes a “good” neighborhood?  Oakland has always been a diverse environment, but maybe some diversity is viewed as better?  I think it’s useful to see change happening in an environment, because changes motivates people to do better things.  Hopefully the changes in Oakland result in this.

Who Will Be Brendan Eich?

April 4, 2014

I hold unpopular opinions.  We all do, though some of us more than others, apparently.  If you look at Brendan Eich, the brief CEO of the Mozilla Project, you see some curious things.  He’s been with Mozilla since the beginning, and was apparently a very respected CTO for quite a while.  But when someone discovered that he’d once donated to the Prop 8 Campaign in California, the word spread virally.  Even with his assurances that he didn’t run a company convergent with his personal opinions, he was out in well under a week.

So that makes me wonder… what have I written on this blog, or on Facebook, or what political sign in my yard will eventually end my career?  I can’t guarantee that it will end that way, obviously.  Tomorrow is different, today is the only thing I can really work.  But still, there’s a trail of yesterday that I have to say is mine.

I’ve often said that having this blog, even as small as it is, will likely stop someone from offering me a job in the future.  There’s a possibility it already happened… and I’m okay with that.  If having an opinion makes me unpopular in some areas, I have to live with that, since having an opinion and being able to voice it is part of what makes this country so great.

But still, it’s chilling to see the comments from people on both sides.  Measured people will show some discomfort across the spectrum of the Internet, and comments will rapidly fill in from one side… less so from another.  Can an opinion so widely held (by somewhere around 50% of the population in most polls) is now a reason for not just exclusion, but for expedient dismissal.

Several years ago, my wife and I were at a tradeshow for her promotional business.  A person came up and asked if we could help him with items for his business, a winery that has a suggestive name and markets innuendo.  I’ve since seen the winery and its promotional items in a lot of places… it would have been a lucrative contract.  But we politely declined the business and referred him elsewhere, because we didn’t feel that our corporate image or brand would support a customer like that.

Now photographers and cake makers are being put out of business for similar reasons.  You can argue that some opinions are worse than others, and I’d agree.  But are things truly at a point where we’ll begin to brand people for a belief?  If so, I mourn for what we were.  And I wonder what will cause them to come for me?


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