Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

For those who have read Day of the Triffids

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Books, Technology

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the new gilded age

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James Fallows in this post points out a speech by Elizabeth Warren that is (as he says) “actually worth reading.”

“Actually” in that it was neither just a bleat/complaint about the injustices of the new tech economy nor a simple assurance that technology and innovation will solve all the problems they create. (Ie, that the long-term arc of creative destruction will always bend toward greater creativity.)

Instead Warren addressed the question I said was on my mind, at the end of my March issue article. That was the Second Gilded Age question: if the dislocations, the inequalities, the injustices, but also the possibilities of this era of high-speed technical change parallel those of 125 years ago, is there any hope or guidance to be drawn from the responses of the Progressive era through the New Deal?

Since it’s actually worth reading, actually read it. Here it is. It begins:

Thank you, Ann Marie, for that kind introduction. And thank you to the New America foundation for inviting me to come and speak today about the so-called “gig” economy.

Across the country, new companies are using the Internet to transform the way Americans work, shop, socialize, vacation, look for love, talk to the doctor, get around, and track down a 10-foot feather boa—which was my latest Amazon search. These innovations have improved our lives in countless ways, reducing inefficiencies and leveraging network effects to help grow our economy. This is real growth. For example, increasing broadband penetration boosts GDP and increasing 3G connections increases mobile data use, which, in turn, increases GDP.i

The most famous example is the rise of ride-sharing platforms in our cities. The taxicab industry was riddled with monopolies, rents, and inefficiencies. Cities limited the number of taxi licenses and charged drivers steep fees for taxi medallions.ii They required drivers to pay additional fees to pick up passengers at airports.iii They micromanaged the paint jobs for individual cars and even outlawed price competition.iv Uber and Lyft, two ride sharing platforms that came onto the scene about 5 years ago, radically altered this model, enabling anyone with a smartphone and a car to deliver rides.v They also enabled customers to find a ride any time of day, with the touch of a button. The result was more rides, cheaper rides, and shorter wait times.vi

The ridesharing story illustrates the promise of these new businesses—and the dangers. Uber and Lyft fought against local taxicab rules that kept prices high and limited access to services. vii But as the dispute in Austin, Texas, has demonstrated, the companies fought just as vigorously against local rules designed to create a level playing field between themselves and their taxi competitors, and they have also resisted rules designed to promote rider safety and driver accountability.viii While their businesses provide workers with great flexibility, companies like Lyft and Uber have often resisted the efforts of those same workers to access a greater share of the wealth generated from their work. Their business model is, in part, dependent on extremely low wages for drivers.ix

It’s exciting—and very hip—to talk about Uber and Lyft and Taskrabbit, but the promise and risks of these companies isn’t new. For centuries, technological advances have helped create new wealth and have increased GDP. But it is policy – rules and regulations – that will determine whether workers have a meaningful opportunity to share in that new wealth.

A century ago, the industrial revolution radically altered the American economy. Millions moved from farms to factories. These sweeping changes in our economy generated enormous wealth.

They also wreaked havoc on workers and their families. Workplaces were monstrously unsafe. Wages were paltry and hours were grueling.x

America’s response wasn’t to abandon the technological innovations and improvements of the industrial revolution. We didn’t send everyone back to their farms. No. Instead, we came together, and through our government we changed public policies to adapt to a changing economy – to keep the good and get rid of much of the bad.

The list of new laws and regulations was long: A minimum wage.xi Workplace safety.xii Workers compensation. xiii Child labor laws.xiv The 40-hour workweek. xv Social Security.xvi The right to unionize.xvii

But each of these changes made a profound difference. They put guardrails around the ability of giant corporations to exploit workers to generate additional profits at any cost. They helped make sure that part of the increased wealth generated by innovation would be used to build a strong middle class.xviii

The changes weren’t all focused on workers. Antitrust laws and newly-created public utilities addressed the new technological revolution’s tendency toward concentration and monopoly and kept our markets competitive.xix Rules to prevent cheating and fraud were added to make sure bad actors in the marketplace couldn’t get a leg up on folks who played by the rules. xx

These changes didn’t happen overnight. There were big fights – over decades – to establish that balance. But once in place, these policies underwrote the widely shared growth and prosperity of the 20th Century. xxi From 1935-1980, the 90% — everyone outside the top 10% — got 70% of all income growth. As the economy grew and became more productive, so too did the average worker’s wages.xxii Instead of all the wealth going to a handful of giant companies, factory owners, and investors—the robber barons of the early 20th Century—the growth created by our manufacturing economy supported the growth of a strong, prosperous middle class. That distribution happened because of a newly-emerging basic bargain for workers.

A hundred years ago, nobody grappling with the rapid changes in technology and work seriously entertained the idea of banning manufacturing advances. And today, nobody seriously entertains the idea of pulling the plug on the Internet. Massive technological change is a gift – a byproduct of human ingenuity that creates extraordinary opportunities to improve the lives of billions. But history shows that to harness those opportunities to create and sustain a strong middle class, policy also matters. To fully realize the potential of this new economy, laws must be adapted to make sure that the basic bargain for workers remains intact, and that workers have the chance to share in the growth they help produce.

The challenge today is doubly difficult. At the same time that we need to adapt to new work relationships of a gig economy, the basic bargain of the old work relationships has become badly frayed. Over the past three decades, workers have been under merciless attack. For decades, big – 3 – business has tried to squeeze more profits out of workers by ducking and dodging regulations and by taking advantage of loopholes in employment policy, by skirting enforcement efforts, and even by flagrantly violating the law.xxiii Giant corporations have deployed armies of lobbyists and lawyers to freeze, limit, or dismantle as many worker protections as they could. The result is that for decades, the guardrails that once served to build a robust middle class no longer offered the same kind of protection.

More and more of today’s jobs have sharply limited protections and benefits.xxiv. Long before anyone ever wrote an article about the “gig economy,” corporations had discovered the higher profits they could wring out of an on-demand workforce made up of independent contractors.xxv Labor law makes a sharp distinction between employees and 1099 independent contractors, and many employers figured out how to exploit that distinction. xxvi They hired people who do the work once done by people characterized as employees, but then re-characterized them as independent contractors or as somebody else’s employees.xxvii The result was that these workers lost their benefits, lost the stability of guaranteed work, and lost the ability to form a union and bargain collectively.xxviii

But the employee-1099 divide is not the only way the basic work bargain is fraying. Employees, particularly low-wage employees, face challenges that are not unlike challenges facing gig workers and independent contractors. They too have lost both benefits and the stability of a guaranteed work schedule and a steady income. As employers have moved to just-in-time staffing, more hourly workers are trapped in part-time jobs or stripped-down full-time jobs.xxix An increasing number of workers are in sub-contracting or franchise arrangements where their employment conditions are controlled by firms they can’t bargain with or hold accountable for meeting basic wage or safety obligations. They may not even know the name of their actual employer.xxx

At the same time that the bargain with workers has become increasingly one-sided for millions of independent contractors and hourly employees, yet another part of the basic economic bargain has also begun to fray. The safety net—unemployment insurance, workers comp, Social Security—hasn’t been updated to fill in the holes that employers have created. Temporary workers, contract workers, seasonal workers, permatemps, and part-time workers rarely have access to these benefits, which means that the workers who most need that safety net are least likely to have it.

The gig economy didn’t invent any of these problems. In fact, the gig economy has become a stopgap for some workers who can’t make ends meet in a weak labor market. The much-touted virtues of flexibility, independence, and creativity offered by gig work might be true for some workers under some conditions, but for many, the gig economy is simply the next step in a losing effort to build some economic security in a world where all the benefits are floating to the top 10%.

The problems facing gig workers are much like the problems facing millions of other workers. An outdated employee benefits model makes it all but impossible for temporary workers, contract workers, part-time workers and workers in industries like retail or construction who switch jobs frequently to build any economic security.

Just as this country did a hundred years ago, it’s time to rethink the basic bargain between workers and companies. As greater wealth is generated by new technology, how can we ensure that the workers who support this economy can share in that wealth?

I believe we start with one simple principle: . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing and think about it. Her conclusion:

. . . My message today is straightforward: Workers deserve a level playing field and some basic protections, no matter who they work for, where they work, or how the law classifies them. They deserve a strong safety net, dependable benefits, and the chance to bargain over their working conditions—that’s the basic deal. And that’s the deal that is necessary to restore a strong and sustainable American middle class.

Most workers aren’t asking for the moon. They want to be able to take care of their families, buy a home, send their kids to college, and save a little money for retirement. They want some security, and they want to know their kids will have a chance to do better than they did. That’s the promise of America, but that promise won’t come true unless we make some real changes.

Workers have a right to expect our government to work for them, to set the basic rules of the game. If this country is to have a strong middle class, then we need the policies that will make that possible. That’s how shared prosperity has been built in the past, and that is our way forward now.

Change won’t be easy. But we don’t get what we don’t fight for. I believe America’s workers are worth fighting for.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 10:21 am

Your augmented reality future

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From this article by Jason Koebler in Motherboard:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 8:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Making velcro on metal

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More in this Motherboard article by John Wenz.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2016 at 11:44 am

In Oracle v. Google, a Nerd Subculture Is on Trial

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Sarah Jeong reports in Motherboard:

The problem with Oracle v. Google is that everyone actually affected by the case knows what an API is, but the whole affair is being decided by people who don’t, from the normals in the jury box to the normals at the Supreme Court—which declined to hear the case in 2015, on the advice of the normals at the Solicitor General’s office, who perhaps did not grasp exactly how software works.

In a world where Silicon Valley is coming into dominance, Oracle v. Google is an unusual instance in which the nerds are getting totally owned by the normals. Their judgment on the technologies they have birthed is being overridden by old people in black robes; their beloved traditions and mythologies around free and open source software are being scoffed at by corporate stiffs in suits as inconsistent hippie nonsense.

Google’s witnesses are—or at least profess to be—true believers in free and open source software (FOSS), and FOSS isn’t purely about the technology, it’s also a bastion of copyright radicalism. The General Public License (GPL) and other licenses carve out a counterculture amidst a harsh copyright law. In trying to explain the facts, the nerds must also explain their religion, and Oracle attorneys have nothing but scorn and skepticism for them.

And to be fair to Oracle attorneys, although the copyleft idealism of the free and open source software movement infects Silicon Valley at its very foundation, Silicon Valley is a capitalist enterprise, and has always had an ambivalent relationship with FOSS. It’s all well and good for Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android, to sit in a courtroom and explain that Android makes money despite giving a product away for free, but outside the walls of the courthouse, the elegant, perfectly manicured, proprietary walled gardens of Apple are beating the goddamn pants off Android.

The nerds don’t want to dwell on that. There’s one big thing on their minds: they are really, really worried that the jury does not understand nerd shit. The witnesses that Google calls keep turning to the jury and trying to explain what an API is, only to be halted by Oracle’s objections that Eric Schmidt (once an executive at Sun Microsystems, later chairman and CEO of Google, now executive chairman of Alphabet) and Jonathan Schwartz (CEO of Sun during Android’s development) aren’t expert witnesses.

Schmidt and Schwartz are just there to talk about how things went down over the years that Google created Android: the who, what, where, when. They aren’t there to explain the technology as experts—that job falls to the actual expert witnesses, who are, as Judge Alsup speculated disapprovingly on Wednesday, likely being paid millions of dollars to play their roles in this litigation. But to Schmidt and Schwartz, the definition of an API—which may be an arcane, slippery concept for the jury—is fundamental to the questions they are being asked about who, what, where, when. They know this, and with the classic compulsion inherent to every nerd, they want to explain so very badly.

Eric Schmidt sought to describe APIs and languages using power plugs as an analogy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2016 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Technology

A 2-acre farm, packed into a shipping container that doubles as a farm building

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Interesting development.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2016 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

GPS tracking device catches major US recyclers exporting toxic e-waste

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Elizabeth Grossman reports in The Intercept:

A two-yea investigation of electronics recycling using GPS tracking devices has revealed that policies aimed at curtailing the trade in toxic e-waste have been unsuccessful, with nearly one third of the devices being exported to developing countries, where equipment is often dismantled in low-tech workshops — often by children — endangering workers, their families, and contaminating the surrounding environment.

A report from the Basel Action Network (BAN), a Seattle-based non-profit devoted to ending the trade in toxic waste, raises major questions about U.S. government e-waste policies and oversight as well as the voluntary programs the electronics recycling industry relies on to ensure that this equipment is handled responsibly. BAN’s early data has already resulted in one major recycler losing an important certification as a responsible e-waste handler and launched state investigations into possible hazardous waste violations. The data BAN obtained with these tracking devices also shows equipment left at Goodwill, with whom Dell partners for recycling, was also exported.

Knowing that e-waste exports were ongoing and frustrated by recent federal government commissioned reports suggesting that these exports had dropped dramatically, BAN decided to physically track devices sent for recycling. “In our view those reports underestimated the export flows,” said BAN’s executive director Jim Puckett. “So we decided if the government is not going to use tracking devices, we will.”

BAN installed 200 GPS tracking devices into “used, non-functional computer equipment that its research team delivered to publicly accessible e-waste recycling drop-off sites around the U.S.” This equipment was left for recycling in more than a dozen states across the country between July 1, 2014 and December 31, 2015; 149 devices went to recyclers, 49 to thrift stores (mainly Goodwill) and 2 to retailers.

“What we found out is that quite a large percentage of this equipment is flowing offshore,” said Puckett. “These are like little lie detectors that we put out there. They tell their story and they tell it dispassionately.”

As of this month, BAN has found that 65 of all those devices (or 32.5 percent of the equipment tracked) has been exported. Of that equipment, BAN estimates that 62 devices (or 31 percent of all the tracked equipment) were likely to be illegal shipments based on the laws in the countries or regions where the electronics ended up. Of the equipment left with commercial recyclers, 39 percent of the tracked equipment was exported. Of the 46 tracked devices sent to Goodwill stores, 7 (or 15 percent) were exported. This includes 6 (or 21 percent) of the 28 delivered to Dell Reconnect stores.

Most of this equipment went to Hong Kong. But others were tracked to 10 different countries that include . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2016 at 9:55 am

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