Outta My Mind

A Joneser's rants and riffs, ideas and trends, musings and innovations - all for your perusal and reuse. Steal it. Use it. Tell others.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Part 2 - Chile dispatch

After breakfast at the casino we checked out and made our way north to the ferry, and then drove another couple of hours landing ourselves in Puerto Varas, our landing spot for the next couple of nights.

Our B&B room promised a nice view of one of the two nearby volcanoes across the lake except for the fact that the heavy clouds obscured both completely. Undeterred we jumped in the car and made the journey east about an hour to the foot of the volcano. Having skipped lunch we decided to make a quick stop along the way and see if we could get some food in us.

Our waiter took good care of us describing the days special which we translated to mean lambs feet. Deciding it was probably not the feet but something like a lamb shank we ordered it along with potatoes, Pisco sours and some wine. Our host explained to us that the gray ash covering the property and parking lot was the result of an April eruption of the nearby volcano. Apparently it destroyed many homes and businesses and parts of the road, and damaged quite a few more.

Another half an hour down a long dirt road landed us inside the national Park. We drove to the lake front through deep sandy ash and parked in the deserted parking lot.

The trail map indicated a 23 km eight hour hike in and out. We decided that was more than we were up for at 7:00 PM after dinner and drinks. We chose instead a shorter 10 km hike that made a gentle traverse up the side of the volcano and then finished along the lake.

The entire trail and do the surrounding areas were blanketed in a very uniform deep gray sand - actually volcanic ash. This made for some heavy walking. Fortunately it was made a bit easier by the intermittent showers which dampened the surface, firming it up.

We got glimpses of the snow covered side of the volcano but never saw due to the thick low clouds. Still it was a great little high and well worth the effort. We never encountered another soul the whole way.

Starting a point was right here in national Park Lodge which looked quite inviting. It was by then 930 or so at night and we decided to stop in and have a postprandial drink before making the hour Drive home.

A nice Carmenere wine was an offer as well as hot tea, so we settled into a deep sofa in front of the fire and enjoyed the remaining light of the evening sipping wine and looking across the lake.




The next day and greeted us with rain which was settled and studying and not going anywhere. We decided to jump in the car and make a brief rundown the Carretera Austral, the famous road through Patagonia. This is a beautiful rough road through the wilderness. An article said it was built in the 80s by a government interested in tying together the various regions of this narrow but long country. It's also a fantasy road for moto adventure riders from around the world, who ride it South until the land ends and the next stop is Antarctica. We haven't seen many bikes at all on this trip; and none on the road today. I have to say I was not feeling cheated by traveling in our dry, stable 4WD instead of on two wheels today.


Our original plan was just to go as far as Cochamo and turn around. We stopped for a look around, took the requisite church picture (with Philippa's new friend, "doggie"), and had a cup of coffee by the sound.



Since it was still early afternoon, and the road wasn't that bad we decided to continue on and do the loop back to Pto Varas via the ferry to La Arena.


This landed us in the town of Puelo, hungry and looking around for options to eat. Not finding much, we checked out the grocery store, which was pretty sparely stocked with basics and not a lot else. The woman there did suggest that we try the lunch spot just behind the market. It looked like a house, but did say something about food - sounded good to us. 

Turns out hospedaje residencial are traditional eating spots set up in someone's home. This one offered a couple types of soup, fresh bread and fruit juice. The wood burning stove that cooked our lunch made the dining room cozy and we had a great steaming bowl of seafood stew. `


We drove around 70 KMs on the road until the small town of Puelche, where we boarded a ferry for a 40 minute crossing of the bay we had been driving along. This picked up the road back to Pto Montt and on to Pto Varas. Great loop and perfect adventure for the day. 

Next stop: Frutillar, en route to Pucon





Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 Chile Adventure - First leg - SFO-Santiago-Puerto Montt-Chiloe

Day 1-2: 12/17-18/2015 - departed SFO for Miami and then on to Santiago; where we boarded a domestic flight to Puerto Montt, rented a car, drove south an hour or so, then boarded a ferry to the island of Chiloe in the upper reaches of Patagonia. 

Another hour or so drive through beautiful countryside landed us in the island's principal town, Castro, where our accommodations for the first couple of nights were in a beautiful pension known locally as a palafito, or shoreside stilt house. 

This is the view from our room's side window. The main view was into a magnificent bay, with views of the snow-topped Andes in the distance. Facing east, we were awakened shortly after 6am by blazing morning sun streaming into our room, along with the sound of seagulls and shore birds , and, it must be said, no small amount of dog barking. 



The car stays parked and we take the short but steep walk up the hill into the center of town.


A walk around town yielded some nice surprises, including the local fish market, which was just cleaning up from the day's sales of fresh catch.

The island is known for its UNESCO-listed wooden churches, of which there are several. The main one is right in the center of Castro, the Iglesias de San Francisco:
Built entirely of wood and mostly lacking the ornate stone work and stained glass that characterizes European cathedrals and churches, these reflect the character of the Chilean people in this region, who are mostly skilled fishermen and boat builders. 


An interesting house on the waterfront. If you look at it at the right angle you'd swear it was a floating houseboat in Sausalito. Perfect. 
Things are old here, situated among new, modern infrastructure, like the local high school soccer stadium. Pretty impressive for a country town of 70,000 people. 


They were playing at 10:30 at night. It had only been dark out for an hour or so by then - longest day of the year was yesterday - over 15 hours!

Dinner was at a small bistro that we happened upon down the street from the fish market. Seafood for dinner of course. Ceviche that was like nothing we'd ever had before, featuring chopped sea snails, fresh clams, and hake. Delicious. The salmon main was also fresh and delicious. Still haven't found a great wine selection - but I'm sure that is coming. 

12/19 - Day 3 - A wild drive to the West Coast

Steep, narrow and twisty - just my kind of roads. Unless, of course, they happen to be dirt, full of ruts, and oncoming locals honing their Paris-Dakar driving skills in their 4WDs. But - this was the toll for entry into one of Chile's national parks, featuring a great interpretive walk, empanadas for lunch (which Philippa, unbeknownst to me, objected to fairly strongly due to the rubbery consistency of the bits of boiled egg they contained. Who knew? Not me.). 
At the park. These leaves were huge - some nearing five feet across!

Quite an interesting ecosystem here. They did a great job preserving it and explaining it. 

And then off to the beach, still in the park, and 25 miles long. 

Desolate, deserted, and drive-on. Yeah, that was pretty fun. The locals dug clams on the beach, which was paved with clam shells in places. Crunchy driving. 




The harrowing part of the drive started from here, which was 30km of pavement from the main road, followed by another 30 km or so of two-track dirt and fast graded stretches. We were seeking a special place we had only seen a picture of, and had no real idea how to locate. 

We knew it was on the coast, but the woman working at the lunch stop didn't speak English. All she could convey to us was to turn left at the fork in the road in town. Something about the way she was explaining it made me feel like she wasn't entirely sure of the advice. 

So when we got to the fork we turned right. Hey - you want to find a place on the water, you're gonna have to stay ear the water, right?

Well, it was a good hour - maybe more - of some pretty gnarly dirt. We nearly flew by the little sign on a fence post saying something about 3000 pesos (about $5) to park and a guy standing next to the entry. Reversing a few yards, we asked him what it was for. He said in Spanish it was a nice view, and a short "just over 2km" walk. Well, OK. 

Muelle de las Almas, Parque de Nationales, Chiloe.






Found it.


Down below on the rocks was a sea lion colony (in Spanish, Sea Wolves). And in this case, their name was not inapt. I made a sound recording of the racket - it was not like anything we've heard in California. Loud screeches, crazy howls and deep grunts coupled with the myriad birds and their various calls mixed in with the crashing surf made for a rather surreal scene.

The next day would be just as interesting, in a slightly different way. 

12/20/15 - Day 4 - Trip to Isla Lemuy

Having satisfied our curiosity about Chiloe, we decided to venture farther afield - asea? - to visit a nearby island. This is easily accomplished via the excellent system of inter-island car ferries that run continuously between the islands. Having no plan or much of an idea as to what we might find there, we drove onto the good ship Valparaiso, bound for Isla de Lemuy. 



Truth be told, this island is one of the main reasons we came to Chile. A travel writer wrote a great article about his adventures to the island in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/travel/off-the-coast-of-chile-an-island-getaway.html). He told of a privately owned park with a rope bridge and a nice cafe that served good food, with an interesting character for the host. Yayanes Parque became our destination, and whatever else we might find along the way would be a bonus. 

So here we were, driving off the ferry with only a vague idea as to how we'd find Yayanes; and no idea what else might be on offer on the island. Perfect.

Sadly Yayanes was well-signed, nearly from the wharf. We decided to have a look around first, and then make our way back to the place on our exit. It turned out Isla de Lemuy was well-known for its nine wood churches located in the villages that encircled the small island. 

We stopped at this one in Aldachildo and took a look inside, and found a couple of women setting up Christmas decorations. 

The older one told us a great story - in Spanish of course - about the small crib containing the baby Jesus that was part of the crèche scene they were working on. She was very proud of this artifact, as it had some long history with the church. 
Such friendly people, these.

A bit further up the narrow dirt road we came upon Pulchilco with its church and not a soul to be seen. 

Unlike the other churches, this one was locked up tight, with no windows to peek into. There was, however, a small knot hole in the front door about two feet above the porch. On hands and knees, took a look.

Satisfied that we had a good look at its interior, we were about to head out when a local came wandering over and said hello. 

Rodrigo introduced himself, and smiling said he was watching us from his nearby house as we tried to get a look inside. We must've been a sight.


As it turned out Rodrigo's wife, Sandra, was from the little village and they were visiting her parents, whose house was right next to the church. Rodrigo was a great tour guide, explaining that there were nine churches on Lemuy, and only one pastor to say mass at all of them. So the pastor rotated around the towns saying mass, and the locals either skipped it or made their way to the town that had him on any given Sunday. 

Our tour finishing up, Rodrigo asked us if we liked empanadas. We explained that we'd only tried them once, and I thought they were great, but Philippa didn't care for the boiled egg bits in them - too rubbery for her. But these were meat empanadas, and Rodrigo asked us if we'd like to try some seafood ones. 

How could we say no? Off we went to meet the family and enjoy a home-cooked lunch.



His wife, Sandra, dug the clams that morning that we were eating in the seafood empanadas (without chopped egg).

Then Rodrigo offered us a walk on the beach. 


His 17 year old son, Nicholas, spoke great English and ended up being our translator. He's aiming for university in Santiago. 


It was a great visit with a delightful family. Friendly people, these Chileans. 

Back in the car and off to finish up our loop, we encountered some traffic.

Then we found Yayanes - the place that drew us to Chile in the first place. 
There we found a little hike and a cozy cafe in the rainforest. Expected to see gnomes around the next corner on our walk. The owner himself was a bit of gnome, come to think of it.

And then back on the ferry to Chiloe, where we spent our last night in a casino at the Enjoy hotel/casino - which was absolutely fantastic, and completely free of dogs barking. Slept like a king. Very cool place.



Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The weakness if the crowd: Part 2

I wrote these two posts completely independent of one another, only to realize there is a common thread connecting them - just as there is a common thread connecting the two articles below.

 Something's going on here. 

1.http://www.salon.com/2014/08/31/why_uber_must_be_stopped/

2.
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/opinion/david-brooks-the-revolt-of-the-weak.html?emc=edit_th_20140902&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=48794199&_r=0&referrer=

Here we see the weak working to tear down the rules and institutions that society has erected, leading to disorder, chaos, entropy. 

In Uber's case it is the Wildwest mentality of unfettered and unregulated competition. A business model emerged so quickly that legislative powers had no time to implement a regulatory environment for it to operate within. And since ethics are a function of cultural relativism - which is to say there is no commonly shared set of them available to operate from - the competitive landscape is reduced to a bare-knuckle brawl.

Now take a look at Putin, Syria, Somalia, and other "medium-sized" conflicts playing out on the world stage in the New York Times article. The underlying dynamic is eerily similar. With no Imperial body to stop them nationstates, or tribes within them more to the point, are behaving just as they please, with complete disregard for any rational, ethical limitations. In other words they're behaving in an unfettered, Wild-west, no-holds-barred fashion -- just like Uber. 

I do not believe this is a coincidence. People who feel franchised, with very little or no access to the system that leads to great success, feel as if they're left with no choice but to co-opt the system. 

The weakness of the crowd: part 1

The economic hollowing out of our services-based economy that defines the American economy of the 20 century is somewhat analogous to the extractive practices that drive the economies of countries that rely heavily on mining and other extractive practices. 

In this case the resource that is being mined is the relative wealth that our nation affords even an average worker. With a median household income that is greater than most developed nations in the world, we can afford discretionary spending at a level that most countries can only dream of. This means that so-called luxuries like cable TV, high speed Internet service, and vast levels of public services at the local state and national level have come to be considered near necessities for most households. This provides a juicy target for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of entities, which are in a position to make pricing and thereby extract incrementally more and more from every household. 

With so many entities reaching into their pockets, no single individual has any chance of taking on even one of the large entities that is doing it. This is partly a problem of isolating a target to go after. And then developing a coordinated assault on that target to try to drive prices down. There are so many targets to go after and so many households to coordinate, how does one possibly begin?

This is somewhat analogous to those wildlife documentaries where the shark tries to attack a school of fish but can't single out a target to go after, so he goes away hungry. 

Companies, municipalities and other entities have come to understand this. They have come to understand that they needn't rise pricing exorbitantly. They just need to keep raising their pricing and coordinating their lobbying efforts to ensure that policy continues to move favorably in their direction.

If they all do it together it leaves the hapless individual consumer with little recourse to fight them. As a result individuals are reduced to price takers and end up being nicked away at by large entities. 

These same entities also are organizing themselves to back political policy and legislation which works in their favor. Again any single individual has very little power to fight against these coordinated assaults. And that assumes that individuals are even aware that these assaults are taking place, which in most cases they are not. So the same entities are in effect creating the rules that enable their ability to continue to hollow out the middle of our economy. 

Take for instance taxation. The prevailing political sentiment is that by lowering taxes we create the possibility for new jobs because business owners will have more money to invest in their businesses which will lead to creation of new jobs. 

Meanwhile state local and federal government have less tax revenue to deploy on public works and infrastructure projects which are the very things that lead to new jobs as well as improved public infrastructure, both of which benefit society as a whole. 

These types of investments are not done ultimately to increase any single entity's profitability. They benefit society as a whole.

Businesses, on the other hand, do not operate this way and therefore the monies that they do attract only serve to improve their own profitability, often at the expense of society as a whole. Cumulatively this has been done at a great cost and detriment to our public infrastructure as a whole over the last few decades. 

How many of us were aware of or involved in the discussions around setting pension levels for public employees in our communities, as they were taking place? 

How many of us were given the opportunity to have a say voice our opinion or vote in favor of other similar decisions which over time are coming to have a catastrophic effect on our communities?

How many people actually understand what "Net Neutrality" means, or have an opinion about whether or not the federal government should support it? For those few folks who do,what chance could they possibly have in swaying federal opinion, when they are up against millions of dollars spent by large Internet, telecomm and cable companies funding professional lobbyists?  

In all these cases there have been thousands of small, incremental decisions that move in favor of these entities that seek only profit maximization. No one of them could be viewed as significant on its own for the most part. But collectively their effect has been cumulative and devastating for the average individual.

What can be done?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Aereo and our confused Justices confuse me



“Your technological model,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told Aereo’s lawyer, “is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don’t want to comply with.”

“What disturbs me on the other side,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, “is I don’t understand what the decision for you or against you when I write it is going to do to all kinds of other technologies.”


And so it went during yesterday's Supreme Court hearing of the case, ABC vs. Aereo, in which the presumable fate of the entire free-to-air television broadcast industry will be decided. The background of this case has been well covered by the media (and not just TV media) in the months and weeks leading up to yesterday's hearing. At issue is whether tech startup Aereo has the right to capture free-to-air tv signals and store them for later use by its subscribers, who pay a monthly fee of $8. The cable companies and the "big 3" tv networks are all crying foul, saying that Aereo's practice constitutes theft of copyrighted material, and if they want to rebroadcast this content they must pay the content owners.

For its part, Aereo says it is not violating anything. It is simply leasing an antenna and a DVR to willing subscribers, who will gladly pay the $8/month fee in order to get the local broadcast signals delivered to their home without the hassle of installing and managing their own antenna on their roof.

And the justices are confused as all getout because to them it looks like a flimflam scam aimed at exploiting a loophole in order to mine the airwaves for free and sell the resulting product. And they're worried about the implications this case may have for other technology innovations, particularly in the area of cloud computing (which they obviously don't understand, either - but more on that in a minute).

So here's my take on Aereo's business model and this case: Aereo wouldn't even exist were it not for the fact that most households do not have adequate access to the free signals that the broadcasters are required to provide. By failing to provide a signal that can be easily received by many households, the television broadcasters are able to package and resell their "free" local broadcasts to cable television carriers, who then charge their subscribers to view these broadcasts. It is the broadcasters, not Aereo, who are exploiting a legal loophole by appearing to comply with the letter of the law by airing their broadcasts for free, yet still managing to charge the majority of households to view them. 

Free means free, right?

The basic premise of broadcast TV is based on a covenant between the government, the broadcasters and the American public. The federal government owns the rights to the entire radio spectrum, which is considered a public good. The FCC manages access to the airwaves, making portions of the radio spectrum available for commercial, public, and private use. Because it is a public good, and because it has value, the FCC charges for access to some portions of the spectrum, including the part used for television broadcasts. It made a deal with the major tv networks way back when, basically saying the networks could have free access to the broadcast spectrum if they in turn made their broadcasts freely available to the public. As a result we got to watch All In The Family, Ed Sullivan and Bonanza for "free" - along with an unending barrage of content from Madison Avenue's finest (i.e., commercials).

Theoretically you can still put an antenna on your roof, run a wire from it to your television, and watch for free whatever shows your local tv stations are broadcasting. I say theoretically because the ability to do this in the digital tv era has become a bit challenging. TV signals require line of sight access, and residents living in the canyons of large urban areas like New York City often cannot get the line of sight access needed to receive these free signals. As a result if they want to watch local tv news they need to pay their friendly cable provider an additional fee for the local station package. Same thing goes for a large number of the tv-watching households across the US (did you happen to notice the rabbit ears sitting on top of your friend's 60" plasma when you were over watching the Superbowl? Me neither).

When broadcasters were forced to dump analog signal broadcasts and go 100% digital a few years ago it made matters worse because unlike analog signals, digital is a one or zero - you either have the signal or you don't (remember watching those "snowy" black and white shows?). And many households, particularly in suburban areas located several miles from the broadcaster or otherwise obscured due to buildings or geography, cannot in practice receive the free signals they are supposedly entitled to.

Enter Aereo

Aereo came up with a way to leverage some interesting advances in antenna technology, giving them a way to build a very capable, low-cost, dime-sized antenna, that they could use to pull down these free-to-air broadcast signals for customers who wanted to view their local stations' signals, but didn't have access to them. Aereo determined it could set up an antenna farm with thousands of individual antennas, each hooked up to a DVR, and use these to capture the local tv broadcasts, store them, and then give its customers access to the stored content via the internet using TCP/IP transmission. So now, instead of me having to figure out how to get an antenna on top of my apartment building's roof in Manhattan, I could just lease an antenna from Aereo, and skip having to put one on top of my building and running a wire from there to my tv, or having to deal with my landlord at all. Cool.

So: by the convenant between the US federal government and the tv broadcasters, everyone should have the ability to freely receive via an antenna in their home the complete suite of content broadcast by local television broadcasters, and, via a wire connecting their antenna to their tv set, watch this content on their tv for free. They should furthermore be able to save this broadcast content for viewing later on a DVR if they so choose. The broadcasters, for their part, have the right to include a specified number of minutes of advertising in their broadcasts; and can charge advertisers whatever the market will bear for inserting these ads in the broadcasts.

In the event that an individual doesn't wish to install and maintain their own antenna and dvr, or their viewing location is unfavorable for receiving the free-to-air signal from the broadcasters, why shouldn't that invidiual be permitted to lease an antenna and dvr from someone who is in a favorable location for receiving the signal? In effect that is what Aereo is doing. And instead of running a physical wire from the antenna farm to each subscriber's residence, Aereo is using the near ubiquitous TCP/IP data transmission capability of the internet to move the stored programming to a subscriber's home.

The US Supreme Court Justices are confused - but why?

The "other technologies" referenced by Justice Stephen Breyer include vague references to cloud computing, and some nebulous concern that the popular business models in use by other existing companies like Apple and Amazon could somehow be disrupted by this case if it ends up in favor of Aereo.

The network broadcasters and the cable companies both claim that what Aereo is doing amounts to theft of copyrighted material, and a violation of the laws restricting retransmission of broadcast content to public audiences. If you look at this closely, however, it doesn't quite add up.

Apple's iTunes and cloud-based music collections are not apt comparisons to what Aereo is doing. Sony and other owners of copyrighted music never intended to make their content available for free. You pay Apple for the music in your iTunes collection, and Apple pays the owner.

Radio stations pay a small fee to the copyright holder of every song they play over the air. And technically if you're in a bar (a "public place") listening to a song on a jukebox or over the air the bar is supposed to pay for making that song available to you because it is rebroadcasting the content for profit (I say "technically," because policing this has historically been a challenge).

All Aereo is doing is making available to the consumer a signal that:
a) the broadcasters had intended for the consumer to have for free; and
b) the consumer either cannot access due to physical inability to get the signal; or choose not to access for whatever reason
They are doing this by setting up a dedicated antenna, dvr and wire, for each of their customers, and leasing access to this equipment. That's it. The end result is exactly the same as it would have been had the customer been willing to set up their own antenna and DVR - assuming that they are in an area where their antenna would be able to receive the signal that they are supposed to be able to receive.

The revenue model from the broadcaster's position is not affected at all - they still have the right to charge advertisers whatever the market will bear for including ads in their free broadcasts. If anything, Aereo's model could end up increasing the number of viewers of free-to-air television, by capturing viewers who do not have cable tv, and are otherwise unable to receive the signal in their homes.

Conclusion

What Aereo is doing does not violate any copyright or rebroadcast agreements. It also seems to me that if Supreme court holds for Aereo in this case it could have quite a disruptive effect on the broadcast television industry. But it's the right thing to do, since it is consistent with current laws, and would benefit consumers.

As for the Justices and their comments, in my opinion the tenor of yesterday's discussion had more to do with positioning, and less to do with the actual facts and merits of Aereo's argument. At least, that's what I hope. Otherwise, I have great concerns about the ability of our highest court to understand and correctly evaluate the implications of other more complex technological developments that are surely coming their way. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What happened to the middle?

We live in a society that worships excess and lionizes those who achieve it with near-total disregard for how they did it, yet marginalizes dedicated effort and success of the plodder. This is a form of social dissonance that has become the new normal. Everyone knows that not everyone can be the winner - that was the whole point of the middle class; of large corporations; of the real working man or woman.

Being average was just that - average. Statistically, by definition, that's what most people are. So how is it that we've become completely disenchanted with anything so pedestrian as being average? When did winning at all costs become an imperative; ethics, kindness, and personal integrity be damned? And when did we decide that if you were among the unfortunate masses of averageness, you would be doomed to a stagnant job in a stalled career, with zero prospects of advancement, no salary increases at all, and the constant cloud of being laid off - possibly for good - looming ever overhead?

It's interesting that companies are scrambling to keep up with technology, citing the importance of being innovative with their products and services, while they are ignoring or laying off the very employees who are best positioned to help them do it: middle aged, stalled middle managers. Instead they look to their twenty-something or thirty-something rising star MBAs, who often have little or no business experience outside the company they hired into right out of grad school, and even less life experience. Meanwhile a fifty-something middle manager with twenty or thirty years of life and work under his belt is toiling away in some corner, hoping his job isn't outsourced or turned over to some new-hire half his age as a way of saving the company a few bucks.

The missing piece, it seems to me, is that companies talk a lot about the need to be innovative and creative, and how much they value that "out of the box" thinking we hear so much about. Yet if you look at the people charged with doing the work where that sort of thinking would be the most valuable, they are often completely ill-equipped. Young, ambitious, socially adept MBAs are also often linear thinking. Focused sometimes to the point of narrow mindedness, these are conservative achievers who's very success is a function of methodical dot connecting, not quantum leaps of imagination.

What's needed is a way of defining both a company's creative needs from a business standpoint, and the employees with the requisite background, talent and skills to fulfill them. And then add to that a recognition and rewards system that values true innovation and creativity, regardless of where it comes from in ther enterprise.

What would have to change in order for such a system to exist in a large, mature company?


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On Jaron Lanier's new book and luddism

@Jaron Lanier's new book, "Who Owns the Future", is getting quite a bit of play of late. This NYTimes article did a nice job of hitting some of the high notes:
Web businesses exploit a peasant class, that users of social media may not realize how entrapped they are, that a thriving middle class is essential to keeping the Internet sustainable. When “ordinary people ‘share,’ while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes,” even that elite will eventually be undermined.
 Well, I don't know about the undermined bit, but the rest rang true. The rant is basically that companies like Facebook are exploiting all of us by getting us to basically create content for free, which they then use to draw millions of viewers to their site, providing a juicy platform and trove of data for advertisers. Google does the same thing. So, why don't *we* start charging FB each time we post something there? After all, we're contributing content, and without content FB would be worthless. Then at least there would be some equity in terms of them making billions off of our contributions.

It would be an interesting argument, except that we've been doing something similar for a hundred years. We buy stuff using money that we worked for instead of making the stuff our selves. We're trading a resource that has value for an item that we want, that we either don't want to make, or couldn't possibly begin to make, by ourselves. Take your car, for instance. The auto makers and their chiefs make enormous sums of money which we gladly provide every time we walk into a dealership and fork over a huge amount of money that may represent half a year's wage for some people. In exchange we get a car - and we don't seem to mind that someone else is getting quite rich off of us.

So why should FB be any different? We contribute a small amount of time to make a post, knowing that we're also handing over a tiny scrap of information that by itself is nearly without value to anyone, but in aggregate is worth - well - a lot.  In exchange we get to stay in touch with family, friends, and high school buddies we had long lost touch with. Should we begrudge FB their billions because they are exploiting our desire to stay in touch with our social networks? Could we just go build our own platform and do it ourselves without them?

Each epoch of human technological progress has brought with it significant social disruption. The dawn of industrialization led to armed conflicts in Europe, as weavers began vandalizing the new knitting mills. They invoked their mythical leader, Ned Ludd, as the inspiration for their attacks, which were motivated by a desire to retain the rural, country life of individual artisans that allowed them to band together in small towns. Industrialization would eventually sweep it all aside, moving people into cities to work in large factories, and do away with much of what was then known as "the way things are" in terms of small towns and vernacular society.

What we are seeing now is some of that same disruption again. The drivers are similar, and so is the bargain we all make - every time we decide to buy something we could have made ourselves, or done without.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Citizenship

I am not a liberal, I am not a conservative - I am a citizen.

I think having a strong military makes sense; I think sticking our nose in other countries' business doesn't. I don't like oppressive regimes - at home or overseas.

Hunters should have the right to own and bear guns for hunting; and should be required to keep those guns in zip codes where it's legal to hunt.

Women should have the right to choose.

I believe access to quality health care should be provided for all citizens of our country. And if you're not a citizen or otherwise here legally, quit the free ride and and go back to where you came from.

I think overtly demonstrative public displays of religious preference, sexual orientation, and affection for one's partner should all be looked upon the same way - keep it to yourself, kids, because we're really not interested. Really.

Everyone has the right to work for a fair wage. And employers should be required to treat all employees fairly. This should include a company's leaders. And investors should be the ones who decide what's fair.

Corporations and other large institutions are not individuals, and should not be treated like them, because you can't send a corporation to prison (if you could, most of the Fortune 500 would be behind bars), and no individual can cross swords with a corporation on a level playing field.

I believe in science, facts, physics, and the mystery of the universe.

I believe we were once a truly great nation. And I believe we have allowed ourselves to fall into a state of disrepair.

I believe one of the things that made us great was the strong sense of individualism, ingenuity, and boldness that our European founders embodied. They enshrined this attitude in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I believe in the potential of every human being, and in doing what one can to help others realize their full potential.

I believe in the potential for our country to prevail as one of the world's greatest, but to do it we're going to have to take better care of our citizens.
It's time for each of us to think about what it means to be a good citizen, and to actively seek a change in our attitude about what it means to be an American, and what constitutes living a successful life here.

I believe that unless we do this or something else that drives a change in direction, in 100 years time we will not be the country our founders risked their lives to create.