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Cutting Off Their Nose to Spite Your Face

June 5, 2014

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, so only catching news on occasion.  I saw this one late last night.  Hey, you gotta’ love New York.  See, not all the whacky ideas come from California.  From the New York Post, thanks Hot Air:

More than half the members of the City Council have fired off a letter to Walmart demanding that it stop making millions in charitable contributions to local groups here.

Twenty-six of the 51 members of the Council charged in the letter that the world’s biggest retailer’s support of local causes is a cynical ploy to enter the market here.

Walmart has apparently given upwards of three million in the last year to charities in the New York area.  Protests will include a nice demo in front of City Hall where people not at all associated with the charities will protest that Walmart is giving money to charities, probably ones that the protesters have not given to at any point.

I’m sure the charities are so excited.  A charity has the option to accept or reject money given to it.  The city council members, of course, don’t have that option, but can certainly raise s stink about how organizations contribute to make a score of cheap political points.

Erika Johnson has a nice video segment of Neil Cavuto destroying one of the council members over said member’s inability to distinguish from personal bias.  Go watch.

It’s a free country, and you can speak your mind… well, unless you disagree with the Left, and then you can’t speak your mind, or donate money, or anything else.  I wonder what would happen if Walmart had been donating to charities that helped some protected class, instead of broad education funds and work programs that can easily be targeted?  Whatever.  Consistency of message is not necessarily the game of some players.

 

 

It’s Not Easy Being Expensive…

May 30, 2014

Hey, would you like some office space in a nice building?  Would you like to pay a lot for it?  One World Trade has some openings.

Only four companies have signed on to base their operations in the World Trade Center as the majority of the world’s most expensive office building remains available for rent.

Magazine publishing company Conde Nast are the largest tenants, having claimed 24 floors starting on the 20th floor.

The China Center, a company that provides office space for Chinese businesses, has signed on for floors 64 through 69.

A hospitality management company, Legends Hospitality, has purchased 100,000 square feet on the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors which includes the observation deck.

The fourth tenant?  The government… GSA grabbed some space.  Apparently prices for the space are about $15-$20 per square foot more than nearby buildings with less reputation.  Hey, renting new space is tough anyway, and paying for an expensive building project makes it even harder.

And I thought someone quoting me nearly $2 a square foot was egregious last year…

 

Pick Better Statistics

May 28, 2014

I think anyone that read this blog knows my position on gun ownership, and most of you also know that I was polar opposite of my current views on gun ownership less than ten years ago.  So I’m familiar with statistics from both sides of the equation.  I caught this article from Mother Jones tonight though (this looks to be a just post-Newtown article by the way), and I have to comment… the statistics that both sides use have a lot of flaws.  Given the example in front of me, let me make a couple comments:

Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0

So, um, how do you know that the bad guy that the good guy shot wasn’t about to go on a rampage?  This just says that when an armed civilian has the opportunity to intervene, violence is typically deescalated.  I can’t back mine up with statistics, but I can clarify the logic of your dumb statistic.

Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer.
Fact-check: Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicidesuicide, and accidental death by gun.

Most of these statistics miss the fact that gun ownership tends to be higher in higher-crime neighborhoods, which would of course have, um, higher crime rates.

Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
Fact-check: …
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.

So all those people in high-crime areas carrying a gun (many of them probably illegally) get in trouble in gun fights.  Check.

You could argue I’m cherry-picking the statistics that are dumb here.  No, I was just skimming.  The point is that statistics won’t help if they’re pretty easily seen as just talking points that can’t stand a couple questions.  That goes for the pro side, too, by the way.

My term for stuff like this is: “Term Paper Marketing.”  You decide on your conclusion and then only look for facts that back up your point.  Yea, don’t do that, at least not if you want to try to reason with me.

Will Code for Futon

May 28, 2014

I’m sure plenty of people would be against this for various reasons, but I can see the logic on both sides:

Valleywag has the scoop on this local Craigslist apartment ad offering a 1-bedroom apartment’s living room space along with, one assumes, use of the kitchen and bathroom. The cost of camping out in a stranger’s den? $900 a month. But wait, there’s more! In addition to monthly rent and $50 for utilities, the lucky renter will need to provide 20-25 hours of highly skilled technical labor.

So it’s a 1-bedroom place, and you can sack on the couch for what ends up being a semi-reasonable rate.  Oh, and you need to do some web maintenance as well.  It’s a question I ask in the post below: how much is your time worth?  If it’s time you’d otherwise be hanging out watching someone else’s TV while you hope they go to bed early so you can pull out the futon, then it’s probably pretty cheap to be using it to do a bit of JavaScript.

Of course, having to make deals like this is why I moved out of the Bay in the first place, but I have to say I think this is an arrangement that would probably work for everyone in some circumstances.  It’s obviously not a lasting gig, but what the heck.  It’s good for someone trying to break into a job, and it’s conveniently located if you like being right next to hell.  The apartment owner, who seems to be out a lot, probably also gets some security of having a person in the apartment and parking space, which makes the place less likely to be robbed.

But yea, if it really takes this much to live in the Bay… I’m glad I moved.

Slowing Your Ability to Make Money So The Government Can Make Money

May 27, 2014

Years ago, an ambitious sibling gave me a t-shirt of a Far Side cartoon where Einstein actually discovered that time is money.  I agree, though I think the charge rate is variable.  There are plenty of things I can do where my time is pretty much free, and many others where I’ll charge double my internally-considered hourly rate if I have to do something that dumb.

But apparently, the government doesn’t subscribe to that type of equation, notes Reason Magazine:

The IRS announced in 2002 that it wouldn’t try to go after individuals for income taxes on frequent flyer miles or hotel loyalty points earned on company-paid business trips.  Yet the temptation to wring some tax revenue out of the vast non-dollar economy of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints, Marriott Rewards points, American Airlines AAdvantage miles, Delta Skymiles, and so on is apparently so great that that the government just cannot resist.

Sure enough, the Tax Foundation, a research group that tracks tax issues, flags a recent post on the View From the Wing blog that runs under the provocative headline, “The IRS Looks To Be on the Verge of Imposing a Big Tax Burden on Loyalty Points.”

The actual “big” burden isn’t that much, though it’s enough to cause pause to anyone who travels a lot, like I do.  There are plenty of people who travel more than I do who really take advantage of the customer loyalty programs, finding all sorts of ways to add to the hotel or air miles.  Me, I just collect what I get, and use them for the occasional vacation trip.  So a moderate reward for busting my tail suddenly becomes a mark on my income that I have to track and report, lest I be out of compliance with the Feds.

But more to the point, time is money.  How much time would we have to spend tracking and reporting the miles?  Sure, Alaska Airlines has a fine report on my mileage every year, and they could easily turn it in… with the creation of a new system and appropriate government checks and balances in place that would take resources, and — gasp — time to create.  That’s cost to them.

The time to me is not inconsequential either.  It’s extra time spent on taxes, and ensuring that the random trip I took on United that year got tracked.  And what if I have to track down a report from some fly-by-night place that gave me a reward and reported it, but got my address wrong when they sent the folder?  Now I need to track it down.

So the government, in an effort to pick up a bit of tax revenue, is potentially going to inconvenience a variety of industry players and individuals.  It’s typical of a government, which is focused on growing at the expense of business or worker productivity.  Maybe they can offer me rewards points that validate my time spent on doing work to pay them taxes… because then they can tax it.

Does Technology Need to Have a Conscience?

May 23, 2014

I was going to do a post about how much the technology I work on scares me sometimes, but I think this post leads me to take a different tack.  So that one comes later.

First, take a look at this:

Modern internet journalism is terrible and full of trivial clickbait designed for Facebook, says Mike Hudack, director of product management at, um, Facebook.

Of course, he didn’t quite phrase it like that.

Writing on (where else?) Facebook, Hudack takes aim at a mainstream media which he says has become a “hollowed out” husk: derivative, and lacking any depth and confidence. Then he pours scorn on old media’s would-be replacements, like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and Vice.

Well, that’s kind of funny, and started me down the path of my first post idea, but then I got to this:

Yes, somebody should. But who might this “somebody” be? Facebook has done nothing to ameliorate the trends Hudack decries, and plenty to encourage them. Facebook profits enormously from encouraging lowbrow click-bait. Its entire revenue apparatus is designed around quantity, not quality.

It’s one of those fabulously un-self-aware remarks that Silicon Valley web titans specialise in. Eric Schmidt told us that we should change our identity to escape Google’s crawlers, move house to avoid Google’s Street View cameras and took a weird pride in how Google creeped people out.

So… honestly, I’m torn.  There’s a difference between technology and engineering.  Engineering is, essentially, about not killing people.  Elevators don’t fall down or close doors on limbs.  Cars get safer and safer even as they get more powerful.  Computers don’t shock people if there’s a malfunction (other, perhaps, than mis-entering a web address and getting to the “wrong” kind of site).

Technology, on the other hand, is what engineers create to advance the world while not killing people.  Technology doesn’t have a lot of conscience.  It shouldn’t.  In fact, one of the bigger debates these days is what kind of conscience you have to put into a self-piloted vehicle if it has to choose what damage to do in an accident.  That’s another post too…

So, do the creators of new technology have a responsibility for how it’s used?  Yes, to a limit.  It needs to be safe, with safeguards, and protect the lives and essential well-being of the users.  It doesn’t have to appeal to the flowering sensitivities of everyone in the world, mostly because a good engineer is only up for miracles three days out of five.

That said, if there’s a problem, you’re supposed to fix it.  Can Facebook really fix the schlock that’s hitting us through new media sites?  Likely, not if it wants to continue to rake in revenue.  And Facebook is — hey, get this! — a public company, responsible for revenue.

So, it’s a dicey little world out there.  Don’t be sucked in by headlines.

The Freedom to Sell

May 18, 2014

Recently, Mississippi passed a law that would supposedly protect the religious freedoms of the people of the state, which of course is making people freak all out.  And the reaction of some of the businesses in the state is notable, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

The legislation was introduced by Philip Gandy, a Republican state senator who is also a Baptist minister, and found support from the Christian Action Commission, the Family Research Center, and the state’s division of the United Pentecostal Church. Before passage, a second Baptist pastor who serves in the Legislature, Republican Rep. Andy Gibson, told the Jackson Free Press that the measure was designed to “protect Christians in the state from discrimination.”

In response, some Mississippi business owners have started an opposition campaign under the slogan, “If You’re Buying, We’re Selling.” The campaign has already sold over 3,000 “We don’t discriminate” stickers that shop owners can place in their windows, and the stickers have spread as far Oregon, Tennessee and Texas. In New York, chefs are even protesting an upcoming Mississippi-themed catfish event in Central Park.

I say to both sides of this business argument: Good.  You people go.

How many people have ever raised an eyebrow at the signs that say, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” when they see them on a door?  If you see that, do you turn around and walk out just in case you know a class (or are of a class) that might be refused?  Or to another point, if a business decides not to participate in an economic relationship with another party, doesn’t that must mean that it’s turning down business?  Doesn’t it have the right to do that?

Let’s go another way, with all the discussions about Apple and Samsung in the press, does anyone for a second think that it’s about Apple not liking that Samsung is a Korean company?  No.

But this one still strikes me as people wanting government to make decisions that normal people could easily do on their own.  If you don’t like my place of business, don’t support it.  If I don’t want to sell you something, you have plenty of other options where you can likely buy it.  That’s both of our choices if you ask me.

I’m sure there would be plenty of people that would argue back that I’m suggesting that segregation was a bad idea.  No, because a lot of that was a specific restriction of public services.  Those shouldn’t undergo any blockage of access, obviously.  But what if I, as a business owner, don’t want to enter a transaction?  Is this a one-way street now where the customer can decide?

Let’s take things to the other extreme than most people are discussing.  Let’s say there’s a business that specializes in same-sex nuptials, and someone comes to ask whether they’d support a conservative Christian wedding?  Don’t they have the right to refuse if they’re uncomfortable?  Isn’t that denying themselves revenue?  Yes, and yes, if you ask me.

Where government gets into the picture, I worry that we all lose our rights.  So, bravo for both sides.  I hope they both get to weigh in the discussion.

Updated: First, thanks to Mike and Paul for the reblogs.  Very nice of the two of you.

Also, I wonder how far this could be pushed the other way?  I mentioned the wedding deal, but what happens if a gun store were to turn away someone wanting a gun for legitimate reasons, only to have that person sue for racism, or sexism, or whatever.  I wonder how far the left would let the legal system go on that one?  It could almost be a game… what hypothetical would cause either side of the aisle to break into furious spitting?  Feel free to suggest some…

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