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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…

Is Nothing Sacred?

May 15, 2014

Oh, goodness… um, not goodness gracious… not for goodness sake… oh, for the love of Pete!  There.

From NRO, but really from the Forum of Fargo Morehead:

A Fargo first-grade class won’t be participating in the school’s talent show after a concerned parent called a planned act “racist.”

The students were supposed to be performing the song “Y.M.C.A.” during Bennett Elementary School’s May talent show.

For the show, a first-grade teacher asked parents to have their kids wear clothes like the Village People, the group that recorded the hit song in the 1970s. Some would come dressed as a policeman, a cowboy, a biker dude, a construction worker or a Native American.

But one mom, Elaine Bolman, said asking her daughter and her classmates to dress up like an Indian is offensive.

Someone, anyone… please tell me that people don’t get that this is a joke.  Even the Village People would probably tell you that this was a parody of a joke.  I suppose the easiest way for the mother to change her mind would be for OK Cupid to start boycotting her because she’s anti-gay and wants to diminish the value of the Village People in culture.

People, SERIOUSLY!  We’re now stuck in a world where having an opinion that might even have the slightest hint of “*ism” is a sin against nature.  Doesn’t anyone have a sense of humor at this point?  I mourn for the generations after me, because they won’t be able to express an opinion without first checking whether it’s the approved one.

Slight tangent, but it’s actually worth nothing.  The day I started my change from moderate liberal with a sense of Christian values to a nutjob conservative was 9/11.  After those homicidal maniacs executed their attack, I got mad.  And then I got madder when everyone around me was just sad about it.

How many people are going to get mad about the political correctness that’s so confused it can’t even support all the politically correct opinions before it twists itself into knots?

And I’m too lazy to look it up now, but wasn’t the original Indian Chief a true Indian?

Disclaimer: I once saw the Village People live.  They were actually pretty good, if ancient by the time I saw them.

Oh, whatever.

The Geek’s Guide to Net Neutrality

May 10, 2014

Lynn is actually better at Net Neutrality than I am, but I did find a good, and technically objective, primer today.  Just one snippet:

The IP header reserves bits for what kind of packet, the “terms of service”. In other words, right from the start, the internet was designed as a multiservice, or “poly service” network. Packets were never “equal” – they could and would have to go at different speeds. The TOS headers have never been implemented, the job of shunting things through at different speeds being inferred from the traffic flows rather than interpreted from the data itself. But TOS shows what the original thinking behind the internet was.

Yep, IP was designed to actually take advantage of differing service levels.  So don’t assume that technology is neutral.

And if you haven’t figured out that I’m totally against government regulation of technology standards, then you don’t read this blog enough.

Coach Fired for Being Horrible

May 5, 2014

Really, this is news?  It’s been all over.  Let’s go with ESPN:

Oregon State has fired Craig Robinson, the school announced on Monday.

Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama, had three years remaining on his contract. He was 94-105 in six seasons in Corvallis, making him the fourth-winningest coach in school history.

The Beavers, however, failed to make the NCAA tournament or even the NIT in his tenure.

Anyone get the odd sentence in there?  The coach was less than .500, couldn’t recruit despite some potential name power, never made the big dance, and never won in the small dances.  So… the real question could be why he didn’t get fired two years ago…

…Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama…

Oh, right.

I don’t begrudge his ability to keep a job, and he’s walking with an extra $4M as a parting gift for the rest of his contract.

But really, this thing is getting coverage well beyond your standard sports news, and it’s usually all about his brother-in-law.  I suppose that’s all it really is at this point, otherwise it’s not really news.

Anyway, I wish Mr. Robinson well in his next head-coaching tenure, since I’m sure he’s going to get another shot.  Hey, you do what you can to keep the family fed.

Words Hurt… You.

May 5, 2014

Here’s a fun one courtesy of PayPal.  And it’s a fun reminder that anything you say electronically can be used against you, and likely will.

PayPal has fired an executive after less than two months in the job over an ill-advised Twitter rant in which he cursed out colleagues and called them ‘useless.’

Rakesh ‘Rocky’ Agrawal bashed his new colleagues after the company hired him as director of strategy – and then he blamed it on not knowing how to use an Android phone.

The vitriolic, spelling error-riddled tweeting began around 1.00 a.m Saturday while he was out in New Orleans and ended with him saying he quit the firm.

PayPal, whose company headquarters are in San Jose, California, has sinced confirmed Agrawal’s exit by tweeting the company had ‘zero tolerance’ for his behaviour.

It sounds to me like the old equivalent of “reply all” to the wrong e-mail, but really…

Folks, PUT DOWN the electronic device at some point.  At 1AM on Saturday in New Orleans, pictures, comments, e-mail, and the like just aren’t going to be any good.  I spend a lot of time reminding kids who haven’t learned yet that it’s not a good idea to just say or do whatever you want online, since it’ll be there forever.  In some cases, forever is about 48 hours.

It’s almost funny to read the progression, and watch a guy who plainly was too enamored of himself realize what he’d done.  In many cases, Twitter is reality TV for people who don’t have a camera crew, and this guy got to tape his own meltdown in front of America.

So… at some point, we all need to watch what we do in public, especially when that public has a worldwide audience.

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