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The working poor in the sharing economy

The working poor in San Francisco are often hired as independent contractors via web apps for menial jobs, have no job security, and are forced to live long distances away because the cost of housing is so high. The Sharing Economy is great for those on the top, as it’s quick, easy, and completely depersonalized, but not so great those who must live of its crumbs.

One neighbor rents her apartment via a web-based home sharing site. She then hires people from another website to do the cleaning. For her this is the “Sharing Economy” in action. It’s all point and click, instant, anonymous, and profitable. But when I pop in to check on things for her when she’s out of town I’m confronted with the reality.

The reality is the working poor. They have roommates, live in trailers or tiny houses, do whatever they can to keep housing costs down. And that’s really what the Tiny House movement is about.

The Tiny House movement is often seen by outsiders as either a novelty for eccentrics, or an aberration that must be stopped before the neighborhood is taken over by Bedouins. But it’s simply a logical response to economic conditions. A significant portion of the population understands that they won’t be owning property anytime soon. They can’t manage rent on a working wage. And they need to stay nearby whatever work is available. So they cobble together a home that satisfies their needs. Such is the reality of the new working class.

Housing prices can’t and won’t keep soaring in the Bay Area. There will be a correction. There always is.

From the comments:

I wonder what the end-game in the Bay Area (and to a lesser degree other expensive-across-the-board metros) will be. As housing gets ever more expensive, when measured as price/wage ratios, a larger % of the population is completely priced out, and the ones that can afford mortgages taking half their post-tax earnings just have all incentives to do everything possible to keep prices of their residences high and over-water.

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Autonomous weaponized drones can be created easily now

Basic drones, available now, can simply enough be made to carry bombs, fly themselves autonomously on a predetermined path, scan for targets, land on the targets, then ignite. This is not a nightmarish, dystopian, future world fantasy. It can be done now.

John Robb says we need to start planning for this now, because the evildoers (drug cartels, terrorists) probably already are. The answer will not be more of the same Orwellian more eye in the sky surveillance so favored by the Pentagon and defense contractors, who in a bizarre coincidence, profit mightily from it. NSA has admitted that all of theit hugely expensive monitoring and storing data has not produced a single actionable piece of intel that could have stopped an attack.

Besides, monitoring all the skies all the time for drones and reacting to potential threats in real time is simply not doable. Let’s say Empire State Building scanners spot fifty possibly weaponized drones heading towards it. Does it shoot them down, risking injury to those on the streets below? What if the bomb explodes when it crash lands?

The best and perhaps only way to prevent such attacks is before the drones take off. This requires a whole different mindset than passively sucking up data from everywhere and trying to make sense of it in real time.

Drones and their software will be getting much smarter too. This trend is irreversible.

Robb details how an airport could be attacked now.

Even this basic capability is more than enough to turn a basic drone into an extremely dangerous first strike weapon. Here’s a scenario that pits ten drones against a major airport:

  • Ten drones would take off autonomously in 1 minute intervals.
  • Each would follow a GPS flightpath to a preselected portion of an airport.
  • Upon arrival, a digital camera would identify the nearest wing of an aircraft.
  • The drone would autonomous land in the middle of that wing.
  • A pound of thermite in the payload would ignite upon landing.
  • The thermite would burn through the wing, igniting the fuel inside…
  • Most of the airport and nearly all of the planes on the tarmac are destroyed.

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amateur hour

Oregon protest was cartoonish, inept, not professional

amateur hour

I was once a member of a group in Los Angeles that organized dozens of protests on multiple issues, most notably on the Iraq War. Some of our antiwar protests drew hundreds of thousands. Our enemies said we were professional agitators. We took that as a compliment. Even LAPD had a grudging respect for us because, for example, if we said the stage would be torn down 60 minutes after the speeches were over, it was.

So, as a professional protester and agitator, it is my considered opinion that the Bundy clown show in Oregon was the most inept, counter-productive protest in recent memory. If you occupy property, it should be symbolic to your cause. Your demands should be able to be clearly expressed in a sentence or two. Making buffoons of yourself by telling people you need snacks will make you objects of ridicule. One person should be the media spokesperson. This avoids contradictory and mixed messages.

Building a protest or occupation takes months. You want as many groups and coalitions on your side as possible. You want the media at least neutral towards you. We started organize for big antiwar protests at least two months before the event. Doing this right takes dozens of volunteers and thousands of hours of work.

By contrast, the Bundy Oregon debacle chose an occupation site that had nothing to do with their cause, never explained exactly what their cause was, had little local support, no clear plan, and then seemed gobsmacked when it predictably blew up in their faces.

Like I said, they were amateurs.

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No such thing as single-issue struggle

Intersectional feminism. Is Gloria Steinem now clueless?

No such thing as single-issue struggle
Alt-hero, author, and philosopher Robert Anton Wilson said as we age we must fight ferocious battles with ourselves to avoid becoming calcified, resistant to change, and scornful of new ideas. He never succumbed, staying alive to new ideas until his death. By contrast, Gloria Steinem apparently gave up that fight long ago. Sometimes the revolutionary from two generations ago becomes a quaint anachronism or worse to the current generation, who mostly then shakes their head about crazy old people and ignores them. “One generation got old, one generation got soul,” as the Jefferson Airplane sang long ago.

Steinem came to prominence during the end of first-wave feminism / beginning of second-wave feminism. Third-wave feminists find her views, especially about young women supporting Sanders to attract boys, clueless, condescending, and insulting. Third-wave feminists are often intersectionalists, believing that fighting for gender equality must also include issues of race and class. That, they say, is what Steinem ignores.

Your “joke” came as young women are constantly being told we have to support Clinton because she’s a woman, as though having women in leadership equals an automatic feminist paradise. (You know, like Thatcher’s Britain!)

Your sexist, dismissive words about millennial feminists and Bernie supporters suggest a growing chasm between your brand of feminism and the intersectional feminism that young activists have been leading the charge on. And your bias toward the Democratic Party’s brand of insular, upper-class white feminism—the brand of feminism Clinton herself is so closely associated with—is evident in more than this one controversial statement.

In 2002 you joined other liberal feminists like Eleanor Smeal and Eve Ensler in calling for U.S. intervention to “liberate Afghan women from abuse and oppression,” a campaign that wound up providing ideological cover to Bush’s “War on Terror.” And when it comes to sex workers, you’ve argued that all sex work is rape and that sex workers should be rescued by the carceral state. In addition, though in 2013 you apologized for your 1970s position on transgender issues, during the Real Time interview you participated in transphobic humor with Maher, laughing at his comment that “the Woman of the Year has a dick.”

One of the primary divides between second- and third-wave feminism is – to oversimplify – second-wave believes if it has a penis, it’s male. Third-wave is much more likely to accept gradients of sexuality and doesn’t tie gender strictly to biology. Heat-seeking missiles are being lobbed in this debate. There are plenty of smart, savvy people arguing both sides of this argument. The culture at large is changing as a result of it. Yet Steinem isn’t even on the second-wave side to any appreciable extent. She mostly seems to have left the battlefield. Except when she beams in from Arcturus.

This doesn’t just happen in feminism. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones recently made silly comments about how rap isn’t music, insulted metal and the Beatles too. Yeah, whatever Mr Geezer. You’ve upholstered your rut, and appear comfortable living in it.

“One generation got old” indeed. Don’t let it happen to you. And since for many of you, I am old, I can say this without being ageist! And completely agree with Robert Anton Wilson about the ferocious fight.

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Multiple indicators show the economy is ailing, weakening

The restaurant industry is contracting. This is bad news for the millions employed by restaurants but also a serious indicator that people are cutting back on discretionary spending. When times get tight, dining out is one of the first things to go.

Restaurant industry suddenly tanks, worst plunge since the beginning of the financial crisis

Plunges like this only occur when something big is going on.

The National Restaurant Association just released its Restaurant Performance Index for December. And it suddenly plunged.

“As a result of broad-based declines in both current situation and expectations indicators,” – as the report started out – the RPI for December fell to 99.7, from 101.3 in November and from 102.1 in October, 2.4% in two months, the worst two-month plunge since early 2008, at the cusp of the Financial Crisis.

In addition to this restaurant canary in a coal mine, other indicators point towards a wobbling economy.

Nonfarm Productivity collapsed by 3% QoQ, notably worse than expected as labor costs jump.

Highest January layoffs since 2009.

It’s probably nothing”: January truck orders collapse 48%.

Also, low oil prices are creating carnage in energy-related industries. Yes, oil companies are baddies, boo hiss, however thousands are losing their jobs and that means lots of pain. Plus, China is doing poorly and that will have negative consequences here too.

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Once King now Idiot Child, Yahoo is circling the drain


There was a time Yahoo owned the Internet. They were the portal everyone went too. That’s one of their many problems. Yahoo keeps trying to be a portal again, apparently clueless the Internet has moved on. No one goes to portals now. First came the onslaught of search engines, and now social media is dominant. By contrast, Yahoo has barely changed. I mean, their idiot Yahoo Mail has a pathetically ineffective spam killer, and they charge for it – while Google Gmail relentlessly kills spam and is free. Who you gonna call to be a spambuster.? Not Yahoo, that’s for sure.

Today Yahoo announced they will lay off 15% and sell off its assets, which with the exc eption of its stake in Alibaba, is junk no one wants, except maybe for hugely cheap prices.

Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $25 billion.

That number is remarkable because Yahoo as a whole isn’t worth much more than that. Indeed, if you subtract the value of all of Yahoo’s major assets — including a multibillion-dollar stake in Yahoo Japan (an independent subsidiary in which Yahoo is a minority shareholder) and a few billion dollars in cash — from its market value, you get a big negative number.

Cringely agrees, saying Yahoo is worth less than nothing, so sell off everything and become a VC or hedge fund or just return money to shareholders and shut down.

In practical terms there are only two logical courses of action for Mayer and Yahoo. One is to wind things down and return Yahoo’s value to shareholders in the most efficient fashion, selling divisions, buying back shares, and issuing dividends until finally turning out the lights and going home. That’s an end-game. The only other possible course for Yahoo, in my view, is to turn the company into a Silicon Valley version of Berkshire Hathaway. That’s what I strongly propose.

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Federal panel for pain killers has ties to big pharma


Gosh there’s no conflict of interest here. Nearly a third of members of the federal Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee have financial ties to companies selling opoid drugs. In a shocking coincidence the panel has strongly opposed federal plans to recommend doctors scale back on prescribing legal heroin. Because that’s what these opoids are.

Our government is essentially a drug pusher for highly addictive drugs. The FDA approved OxyContin for children without bothering to convene a panel of experts to make recommendations. Opiate addiction from legally prescribed pills is a major health problem nationwide among adults, to such an extent we have the obscenity of TV ads offering drugs to help with constipation caused by using opiates.

Any relation between this and a government that actually cares about the health of its citizens is of course strictly coincidental. And if this happened in a Third World country, we’d laugh at how corrupt they are.

The government advisory panel consists of federal scientists, outside academics and patient representatives. Of the 18 committee members at a recent meeting to discuss the government’s handling of pain issues, at least five had drug-industry connections.

One, a pain specialist from Duke University, has received thousands of dollars in payments from drugmakers, including OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, which sells generic painkillers. Another, a patient advocate, holds a nonprofit position created by a $1.5 million donation by Purdue.

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Woo Themes. Canvas

Woo Themes Canvas for WordPress

Woo Themes. Canvas

I’ve been hunting around lately in WordPress, determining what to do next. Have decided to focus on Canvas, the flagship theme from Woo Themes, which was recently bought by WordPress. Themes are the look and feel of a website. Woo has dozens of themes, which often have specialized purposes. By contrast Canvas is designed so website developers can do whatever they want without limitations set by the theme. Canvas can be a magazine, blog, business site, artist portal, and with the Woo Commerce plugin, a full-featured eCommerce site.

Hundreds of settings can be configured in the Canvas admin panel. This saves huge amounts of time mucking about in the CSS. I do know how to muck about in CSS. However, the Canvas style.css is over 5,000 lines and finding what you’re looking for can be tedious. It’s much easier to, say, change the default font for pages and posts in Canvas admin, click Refresh, and see what it looks like.

If you need to make CSS changes, WordPress has a useful feature. Just put them in custom.css and it’ll override the default CSS.

What I really like about Canvas is it lets you design the site how you want it. Plus, WordPress and Woo have enthusiastic developer communities who are always creating new plug-ins, add-ons, themes, and tweaks.

Let me know if I can help with your website.

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Google data center

SCM disrupting data centers. Now CPUs could be bottleneck

Google data center

Google data center

It used to be computing and software development assumed CPUs are fast, storage is slow, and thus CPUs would spend time waiting for much slower hard disks. Architecture of data centers is based upon that assumption. However, this is rapidly changing. Storage Class Memories (SCM), the non-volatile flash memory found in smartphones, is now so fast it has to wait for CPUs. This is a classic case of technology disrupting existing systems.

SCM isn’t just a little bit faster. New SCM devices are 1000x faster than hard disks.

They are outstripping CPUs on performance improvements and are closing in on inverting the I/O gap, where storage devices struggle to keep CPU’s busy.

“Today’s PCIe-based SCMs represent an astounding three-order-of-magnitude performance change relative to spinning disks (~100K I/O operations per second versus ~100),” the authors state. “For computer scientists, it is rare that the performance assumptions that we make about an underlying hardware component change by 1,000x or more.”

SCM is expensive compared to hard disks, so the challenge to data centers now is they will need to keep them busy. This means vastly more CPUs. Hard disks can’t simply be replaced by SCM, because that means performance issues elsewhere. The entire system needs to be re-engineered.

1. The age-old assumption that I/O is slow and computation is fast is no longer true: this invalidates decades of design decisions that are deeply embedded in today’s systems.

2. The relative performance of layers in systems has changed by a factor of a thousand times over a very short time: this requires rapid adaptation throughout the systems software stack.

3. Piles of existing enterprise datacenter infrastructure—hardware and software—are about to become useless (or, at least, very inefficient): SCMs require rethinking the compute/storage balance and architecture from the ground up.

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Leaving San Francisco for affordable, walkable urbanism

Johnny at Granola Shotgun in San Francisco said good-bye to five friends last month who moved away town because S.F. is increasingly unaffordable, even for those making a good living. His friends are moving to urban areas with walkable streets where housing prices aren’t nosebleed.

Where are these people moving to? In these five cases: Seattle, Washington. St. Petersburg, Florida. New Orleans, Louisiana. Toledo, Ohio. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Second, what are their new neighborhood destinations like? In short, a place that comes close to the qualities they love about San Francisco, but at a lower price point: older, funkier, walkable, mixed use, and lively. It seems that almost every city in America has a tiny sliver of pre-World War II Main Street urbanism left in a little pocket somewhere. And that’s where these folks are headed.

Des Moines, Iowa is another example of a city that transformed itself from dull, dull, dull to a creative hub. Vegas too, in a different way. Home and rent prices in Vegas are low. Artists and performers can make it there based on what they do because casinos are huge buyers of art and need talent for shows. Plus, it’s very much a startup city, and is always reinventing itself. The downtown area is coming back with increasing amount of walkable streets and a growing Arts District.

From the comments:

A lot of people lament this as the beginning of the end for cities like San Francisco, but as a Rust Belter I see this as evidence of how the new beginning starts and builds here. I think it’s really interesting that the cities your friends are moving to include Toledo and Pittsburgh. There may be family considerations in their moves, making them boomerangers in some sense. But they will take what they’ve learned in the Bay Area and put it to work in new places.

This is an economic development strategy.

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