Friday, December 24, 2010

Free Markets & Infrastructure

This was going to be a slashdot comment, but I decided it was too long.

Somehow we must nail this myth that deregulation means competition: it doesn't

I could be convinced, assuming nobody educates me on my ignorance, that the idea of free markets was from the beginning not actually meant to include the kind of infrastructure we see today in telecoms, power, and transit--or at best, it was simply not thought about.

Infrastructure is essentially a two-phase investment--in the first part, huge sums of cash are used to build it out, and in the second, relatively small sums are used to maintain it, while it receives little (if any) income. That means in principle that
1) It requires a substantial investment for phase I
2) That investment will not be paid back for an exceptionally long time

However, assuming that the infrastructure is well made, everyone who uses it will be happy. It is perceived as a steady revenue stream (assuming it is paid for--counterpoint being roads) because it improves quality of life and is therefore worth the payment. That payment will not come as a lump sum by the consumers (which would repay the initial costs), but only through a long subscription. If that cost is too high--which is necessary to pay back all the loans or recover the investment, and therefore finally be in the black--consumers balk. If the cost is too low, it takes an unreasonable amount of time to cover both the investment and the maintenance costs; especially given loan interest, it can be utterly devastating.

However, there is a median price which is presumably just fine. The biggest question is, "will the company accept it?" And this in my mind is where free market and infrastructure part ways. Free market rides entirely on people's ability to turn a profit. You aren't supposed to turn a profit right away when providing infrastructure, but someone who comes from a capitalist world will see "continuous revenue stream" as "unlimited profit" and will bleed the market dry trying to achieve that profit. From the standpoint of the company itself, as long as it someday is guaranteed to turn a profit it has succeeded. From that point forward, the infrastructure is in place and the debt is paid off--the world is better than it was before, nobody's the poorer for it, and meanwhile the company has been paying everyone their salaries, which frankly should be what the employees worry about anyway. However, from the point of view of An Executive In The Company, the value of The Company rests on Profits This Year, and An Executive is of no value if The Company is of no value.

Setting aside whether or not you trust the government with internet/telecoms and power, they really are public interest and should be treated as such. Even if you say that private companies will do telecom improvements faster, etc, there really ought to be a minimum value-per-service such as is provided by cheap government utilities. I have to imagine tons of people would gladly pay reduced cost for reduced service in telephone, power, and internet if they're currently paying for more than they need. As long as those functions get moved out of "these are infinite profit potential" and into "if you need it, it's there," then that should fix the process at least a little.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Powers of 10

If I had $1, I'd waste it.
If I had $10, I'd hang on to it a short while before spending it, probably on food.
If I had $100, I'd waste it, but slowly, dragging it out for a while.
If I had $1,000, I'd waste it rather quickly.
If I had $10,000, I'd try to live on my own for a little while, and probably end up wasting it.
If I had $100,000, I'd try to live on my own, but meagerly, to rest and recover and discover myself. I might try to make some progress on things while I'm at it.
If I had $1,000,000, I'd try to start a business doing things I love, while trying to keep enough money to live on.
If I had $10,000,000, I'd waste a bunch of money on frivolous things, then start my business, probably not being as careful with that as I should.
If I had $100,000,000, I'd probably get some kind of god complex, set up all the businesses that I have ambitions on, and not brook opposition if I had my mind set on something. kind of a scary proposition.
If I had $1,000,000,000, I'd probably go swimming in it, and drown. Metaphorically, I mean.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Why is it so hard to find a man that knows how to truly romance a woman. I mean like dinner, conversation, opening doors, etc....and excpecting nothing in return at the end of the night except a kiss.
This is a question I stumbled upon on a Craigslist ad. The answer is actually pretty simple, although hard to say just right: You're expecting the wrong thing from the wrong people.

Sharing meals, having good conversation, being polite, and not expecting anything in return are what you do with people that you care about--with everyone that you care about. Coworkers, classmates, exes, that nice girl you met, that nice guy you met, that nice transvestite or transsexual you met, anyone.

Caring about people--giving them affection, and giving them a piece of your time, wanting them to be part of your world--is not romance, and if you expect that sort of thing to only be found in romance... people who truly believe that are going to be jerks, exactly because they're not nice to the people they care about by habit. And if you find someone who gives affection to everyone around them and try to get them to give it only to you--because you believe that doing otherwise betrays your "romance"--you will hurt them, hurt the people they care about, and make your own world a sadder place.

Nobody who is genuine treats the people that they love differently than they treat everyone else around them. If you want to see men who are gentlemen, who enjoy taking meals with you, who enjoy talking with you, then you must encourage them to do so even when it doesn't benefit you. If you encourage them to only think about the person they're Romancing, then they will only do these things when they want something from you--your relationship and most likely sex.

All flowers--from the most beautiful, to weeds--grow from their roots, into whatever ground they are planted in. If you want a flower to grow strong and healthy, you must care for its needs, which is a tedious business. You must understand that we are all gardeners, and we are all flowers. If you neglect the flowers that you pass by every day, you will most likely neglect the one flower you truly mean to cultivate, if only by force of habit. And those that you find truly are good at tending to flowers, the true Romantics, only learned how by being good gardeners, every day, to everyone.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gender Wounds

I feel like the genders have been damaged, on purpose, in order to make them a 'match' for each other. By damaged, I mean that each side has been told to do and be something, rather than a normal, thinking, feeling purpose, solely so that someone can fill a role that by rights, they should be fulfilling on their own. It's a sort of... "You won't be liked for yourself; you'll be liked based on standards." So men try to be useful, and women try to be pretty, and neither of them focus on what they'd do if they ever convinced a mate to be interested in them.

It's stupid. Any man worth pining for has more nuanced interests than breast size, and most won't run out on a romance because you're average rather than pretty. Any woman worth lusting after isn't going to spend her entire childhood learning to look pretty--because once you and she are past the banging stage and gotten settled down, all those years she dedicated to looking pretty are either going to be no longer useful, or else she's cheating on you. Well, movie stars excepted, I suppose.

Now mostly, I think, men get the better side of that deal. On the other hand, men are supposed to be easily seduced--that's the whole point of the "women looking good" obsession, after all. Look good, get a man, end of story. If the man is married happily, well then, ruin his life, because he's supposed to still be seduceable. Oh, that panicked look on his face where he feels the bonds that are precious to him slipping away? He'll get over it. After all, you have tits. Whoo.

And then there's women. Okay, you got a guy, you got married, maybe you even got a kid, maybe the kid's even grown. If you fell for the stupid bullshit, you now no longer have any purpose, even though you're still alive. What do you do? Look pretty again? Have more kids? You didn't spend your formative years on something silly like, you know, hobbies, or ambitions, or a career.

Are people actually like this? No. Fortunately, even the worst cases will likely hit a hard time, fall out of the storybook, and land on their feet, even if they scrape their knees on the way down. The point isn't that people are forever scarred by this, it's that the feeling is there, and frankly speaking, that feeling does not trust human beings to be human beings. It does not trust them to be able to deal with the opposite sex in a rational way, in spite of thousands of years of breeding, and it tries to force them to be something they're not. Most people, except maybe a crazed subset, will end up normal in the end, because normal is the way humans were designed.

But I'd like to see something better in this world--I'd like to see a place where people weren't expected by friends, relatives, and suitors to be something other than humans with their own thoughts, feelings, ambitions, and standards. I don't know what I can do to help the world be like that, but I'll certainly try to do my part.

But it's really not all that easy. After all, I, too, like tits. Guess I must just be a man.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I think that politics is the fine art of saying "That problem is unsolvable; here, have a cookie." If it's a very nice politician, they won't even charge you for the cookie; if it's a very bad politician, they'll throw you in jail for bringing the problem up in the first place.

The problem politicians have now is that as more and more smart people learn more and more about the problems at hand, they come to understand that almost none of them are unsolvable, and they expect the politicians to actually do the job they were hired to do instead of being politic.

Frankly I wish everyone who thinks that politics is a better idea than actually trying should be shot. Whether something small and sharp is shot into them, or they themselves are shot out of a cannon that's just strong enough to get them out of office, I don't care.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why Google is the new NASA

Now I'm not old enough to know the '60s, that age when man was actually going to the moon for the first time. By the time I was born, the moon was a place man had been, and that's all there was to it. And frankly I'm not really old enough for the internet to be a mind-boggling concept either; by the time I reached maturity, chatting with other nations was commonplace. This isn't about making your place in the stars, though, nor making your place in the world-wide web.

In the 60s and 70s, really bright people had not only something to look up to, but a place they could believe in, a place that said, "Come here. Get away with war, away from profit-hoarding corporates. See the things you want to develop be built in front of your eyes. Watch people reinvent what's possible; then, have a hand in it yourself." That was NASA.

In ye olden times, there was a similar system called patronage. At the time, it was a decision of nobles or royalty to be the patron of someone who wished to do art or science for its own sake; looking back on it now, though, they are responsible for who knows how much of what we remember of the history--of the notable scientists and notable artists of the era, how many could only do their work because they didn't have to worry about having enough bread to eat?

NASA wasn't exactly a patron; they were an employer, one who gave science- and engineering-minded men and women a place. And frankly, since capitalism has taken root so deeply, that's exactly what's expected in today's world; if you don't demand that people work for their money, it's assumed, they'll laze about ungratefully and produce nothing of consequence, and don't you dare think about wasting money like that... not in America!

In Google we see a sort of mix of the two. Google is an employer first and foremost, but we also see in their policy a particular thing called "Innovation time off"; it's been covered elsewhere, but essentially, their engineers are told to spend a portion of Google's time (and consequently, a portion of Google's dime) working on something extra, which from my limited understanding is only limited to something that interests them. Google does get hold of the results of that labor, but even so, engineers flock to be allowed access to that environ.

Why? Let's put people, or at least prospective engineers, into categories--that never quite works, but it's illustrative. Let's say that they can either be searching for something to dedicate themselves to, or they have one and are looking for labor to carry it out. An engineer in search of a project may never find a project that is both interesting and pays well; an engineer with a project in need of labor may not be able to pay laborers enough without either becoming a money-grubber or risking a great deal by being indebted to a lender. Even in the latter case, if the project tanks, the engineer--and any other ideas he may have--are in the crapper, maybe for good, and so getting the project to completion stops being about doing it right as much as getting it finished. Similarly, in the first case, the project becomes more about designing the project to make cash than designing it to fulfill its purpose.

In the original patronage system, the artist had to answer only to their patron, who most likely wouldn't have brought them on if they hadn't thought that the end was worth the investment. At NASA, as long as the project was right, money was virtually no object; billions of dollars were spent, and although you would get your project finished, you weren't seeing much in the way of monetary reward for it. At Google, aside from your projects not being yours, they generally aren't all that highly monetized, but you can still see them completed.

And that's what an engineer--or an artist, or a scientist--wants. If an idea exists, and if it would be a good idea, it should get its day in the sun. You don't have to be a greed-monger searching for an infinite spiral of profits, and in fact that tends to get in the way. I think if there was a genuine, non-greedy, non-corrupt science/tech/engineering patronage, it would be heaven for those people, and maybe, just maybe, the world would be improved. Google comes close, though, and I think they should be lauded for that.