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I Need More Money, Thanks

April 22, 2015

In Oregon a while back, there was a proposal to move our road tax system to a full weight-mile tax.  The complaint was that cars were getting too fuel-efficient, and Oregon wasn’t getting enough from gas taxes.  The only reason it failed was that they couldn’t figure out how to implement it without years of lawsuits.

Why did I think of government trying to get money out of people who try to be efficient?  Um, no reason

State energy regulators on Tuesday proposed major changes to the way residents pay for electricity in the biggest overhaul of utility rates since California’s energy crisis more than a decade ago.

The changes may seem counter to the state’s long-standing push for energy efficiency. But, according to the commission’s staff, the most efficient California households currently pay less for electricity than the utilities spend supplying it to them. They are, in effect, subsidized by households in the higher tiers.

Ah, California…

The point is not how much is costs to supply a particular household.  If that were true, you’d charge varying rates based on distance from a grid point.  More distant places need all that power line infrastructure, and have to cover loss.  No, I’d suspect more that it’s the energy companies deciding that people who are supplying their own power are diminishing the value of the actual utility.

Though the article doesn’t mention it, this likely only applies to retail power rates.  If you haven’t played with your own energy production, the utility buys your electricity at wholesale rates, and then charges you varying retail rates if you need more than you produce.  That’s not really part of the discussion above, but it’s worth noting.

To a degree, I’ve been waiting for this to happen.  To some extent, the customers who are using little energy do cost the utility a disproportionate amount, because the infrastructure has to be spread across all the users, and the only way to recoup it is by unit.  So supplying to someone who doesn’t pay you back in proportion is always taxing (pun only partially intended).

But this is what you get.  The utility is still a profit-making company, and people using less of a profit-making company’s stuff really don’t help said company make profits.  And when you also happen to have a near-monopoly approach to business, the little people who are trying to break you, even in subtle ways, just get run over.

We’ll see how far this goes, but I bet it gets a lot farther than the weight-mile tax.

You Lose, So I Didn’t Cheat

April 1, 2015

So… I’m juxtaposing two stories.

First, I think everyone has seen the story of “The Pizza Place” in Indiana.  After reporters canvassed the entire state trying to find a spec of bigotry, they came across a small pizza place where the owner said that she’d be willing to serve pizza to anyone, but wouldn’t cater a gay wedding if asked.  If you check the link above, people immediately jumped to erase said pizza place from the face of the earth, and it appears that they may have succeeded.

So far in the battle of Indiana, we’ve seen zero gay marriages stopped because of a law that 20 other states and the feds have on the books.  But we’ve now seen at least one Christian couple forced out of business by the forces of tolerance.

The second case concerns the former head of the Senate, Harry Reid, who says that dissembling on the Senate Floor is just politics, and that’s okay if you’re trying to win.  So, it’s apparently okay to do anything to take out your opponent by any means necessary as long as you successfully take out your opponent.  This is similar to the semi-famous comment from Barack Obama to John McCain not long into his first term: “I won.”

So, for the record, I’m an evangelical Christian.  I believe homosexuality is a sin.  I believe sex outside of marriage is a sin.  I believe looking lustfully at someone is a sin.  I believe that lying is a sin.  I believe that worry is a sin.  There’s a much longer list of things that are sins.  The list of things that aren’t sin pretty much comes down to being Christ-like, and I fail at that most minutes of my waking life.  And yet, I love most (but not all, and that’s a sin, too) sinners.  My actions speak loudly, and they say I’m unworthy.

So… I have no opinion on either of the above that’s relevant to what most people consider the discussion.  The one thing I do want to say is that it appears that there are people that will do anything to win, and the cost to the people on the losing side is irrelevant.  I don’t get that.  But then again, I guess I’m not supposed to.

Oh, You Wanted to Earn MORE?

March 5, 2015

I have at least one family member who says I’m against people making a fair wage.  And that’s not true.  I’m all for the market paying what it can bear, but not so much that the market is upset.

Here’s one case from Oakland.  The city recently enacted a wage hike, and that’s starting to mean that restaurants have to pay the employees more.  In some cases, that’s being passed on in the prices, but here’s an interesting take on things:

At Bocanova, a high-end restaurant in Jack London Square, there’s now no line for tipping on the check. A note on the menu reads: “In lieu of gratuity, a 16% Lift Up Oakland Surcharge & 4% Service Charge will be added to your check beginning March 1st, 2015.”

The 4 percent goes directly to servers. The 16 percent covers the cost of raising other staff salaries.

Owner Rick Hackett is betting on the idea that customers will respond better to a percentage fee than increased prices across the menu.

And hey, this is fair.  Instead of the servers making money on tips, they now just get what’s essentially a flat salary based on business, and that goes the same for the rest of the restaurant workers.  I mean, this is what the people who enacted the measure wanted, right?  It’s perfectly fair to make sure everyone is equal and not open up the opportunity for good service to be rewarded unfairly…

I hope Oakland figures this out.  It’s interesting to see how the real unintended consequences work out.

Incidentally, I’m sure you saw that Walmart recently raised its minimum wage for workers.  Or maybe you didn’t, because all those people who were complaining about still hate Walmart, so they’re not trumpeting the change.  You know what’s going to happen with that?  Walmart workers will get paid more.  And all the other retail businesses around Walmart will be either forced to raise wages or risk losing their best people to Walmart.  It’s not at all surprising to me that the companies that can best afford to raise wages will do so, and that other companies will suffer as a result.

So, glad this push for higher wages is working out so far…

Proof Positive…

February 27, 2015

…that I have a face and a voice made for blogging.  But here I am guesting on a friend’s blog talking about the latest in Enterprise Trends.

Here’s the link.  The video was longer, but the audio was painful enough that we just kept it short.

When Technology Gets Commercial

February 27, 2015

Let’s face it.  Everything goes commercial eventually.  Part of this dumb Net Neutrality debate is all about the perception that the Internet is getting commercial.  After all, we wouldn’t want someone to build millions of dollars of infrastructure for their service if everyone else can’t just take advantage of it for free.  That totally goes against the fairly communist (small c) underpinnings of the Internet.

So why aren’t more people up in arms about the wholesale commercialization of DNS?

ICANN has been gradually auctioning off the different domains since June 2014 in what can be a competitive and expensive process (Dot Tech LLC spent $6.7 million on the “.tech” domain last year, reportedly beating out Google, which also bid).

Amazon bought “.buy” for nearly $5 million and “.spot” for $2.2 million last fall.

Comparatively, Google’s $25 million investment in “.app” looks pretty steep; it’s the most any company has paid in one of ICANN’s auctions so far.

Frankly, I don’t particularly care.  I, for one, don’t necessarily believe that technology is only there for technology’s sake.  It’s cool to build things, but it’s cooler that things people build can become a source of revenue for them over time.

So turning the entire domain name industry into a commercial enterprise is something that I’ve expected to see for a while.  After all, Tuvalu, a small island country, has made a fair amount of money selling off pieces of its .tv domain, even if nobody’s noticed.

But still, the tech community almost crashed the music industry over “free” music before Apple managed to broker peace.  And the Linux operating system move changed the whole business model over how operating system software, and all subsequent infrastructure pieces are monetized.  Well, sort-of monetized… nobody’s making any real money off open source yet, other than services.  Anyway, tech is supposed to be the great equalizer if you ask a lot of the geeks in charge.  I wonder how the big companies like Google and Amazon are getting away with going commercial on naming?

Partial answer… ICANN is the source of all IP redirection in the world, and I think most people who really know stuff in tech are terrified that it’s going to eventually run out of operating budget and have to sell off to a commercial company for maintenance.  So funding them from big companies is okay, as long as they don’t actually take them over.

Just interesting if you ask me…

Great Tin Cans… Where’s that String?

February 26, 2015

Here’s an interesting piece from JD Tuccille over at Reason Mag.  He talks about something that I think about quite a bit, as I live in a relatively remote part of the country with very limited access to the rest of the world.  I wonder how people would react if, one day, it totally lost any modern convenience?  All it might take is cutting the right communications cable.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for the stations to get back online so they could process company credit cards to fill their tanks. It’s not like the drivers could just take out cash—ATMs were down, too.

My wife’s pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays, scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

The US communications grid is essentially a set of large-interconnected rings that are cabled along major trunk lines.  More remote places that aren’t right on the trunk are essentially spurs off those rings.  Mr. Tuccille’s example is one that could happen to many large swaths of the Western US, and some areas elsewhere.  Where there’s a lot of miles in between you and a city of a million people, it starts to get pretty lonely.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was discussing how to get somewhere with a friend.  I was patiently explaining a couple landmarks that could be easily spotted on a trip, and he responded by whipping out his cell phone and typing in the address.  I pretty much asked point blank what he’d do without the phone.  Well, that’s something we all need to consider.

I’d like to explain at this point that I’m not a totally crazy prepper hoarding ammunition in my closet… except that I’m a sort-of-crazy prepper who does have a month of food and multiple alternative cooking sources.  We can talk about the ammo later.  Most of the reason that I think about stuff like this is that stuff like this can happen.  And it’s not a bad idea to think a little bit about some answers just in case.

Last I Heard

February 19, 2015

I’m sitting here reading e-mail and listening to the President talk to the Whitehouse Summit on Violent Extremism, otherwise known as the, “It’s not anyone’s fault but ours, really,” apology session.  It’s a nice summary of the strategy that the current administration is trying to combat the terrorist threats.  Here’s what I’m hearing:

  • Don’t treat the Islamic faith as a problem, everyone in the West has to understand the faith to see that it’s not violent.
  • Try to open lines of communication between the West and the rest of the world to show them that we have a nice culture and they shouldn’t hate us.
  • Find ways to drive higher employment and opportunity worldwide so kids have more hope.
  • Hope hope hope.  Change change change.

Maybe I’m missing some of the nuances, as the spokes people say, but this seems like it’s all one way in its efforts.

Let’s look at Eastern Africa as an analogous example.  For years, we’ve been funneling money there trying to improve the lives of the people.  The most success has been when we’re there working with the people to bootstrap themselves to success.  So our money helps, but only when we show them how to use money to create wealth of their own.  That says positive things about the need to create jobs, but mostly that only works when the people desire peace with each other first.  You can’t sell something to someone when they want to kill you, or when you’d rather kill them.

And the trope overall seems tired to me.  It really does seem to be all about the hope that we can show people a better way, and that they’ll believe and change if the vision is that positive.  If we were talking about Christianity, that might work.  But we’re talking about capitalism.  While wonderful to live in, capitalism is tough to understand when the only opportunity you know comes after violence.

I’ve compared the current crisis in the Middle East with the war we faced with the Japanese culture in the 30’s and 40’s.  The real change that finally happened was one where we enforced peace and then focused on changing the culture.  In this case, we’re hoping that peace happens, and then that they recognize that different culture is better.  The strategy might be a sound one (I doubt it, but it could be), but there needs to be action to support it.

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