I saw an article today about the UK labor market. Stay with me - this does get interesting! In the article, they talked about the idea propogated on the right that making it easier to hire and fire people will make businesses more efficient. We've all seen some variation of this story - the teachers nobody can fire so they just put them in a room collecting a salary, etc. (usually in combination with some sort of anti-union rhetoric).
But there's a reason we often buy these stories, as the article notes: "Common sense says that if firms can easily fire people then workers’ incentives to work hard are sharpened by a greater fear of the sack, whilst companies can more easily adjust their workforce to changes in market conditions."
As with many things, however, our common sense might be wrong. The article notes that people might change their behaviour based on the knowledge that their job is precarious. Which got me thinking about my own behaviour as a worker. I've never planned to stay at a company - the idea of a 'job for life' has never even crossed my mind. I've always thought it sounded pretty dull. So I've gotten jobs, done them until I felt like I had a handle on them, like I'd learned what I came to learn, and then left. I've never assumed my employer would be 'faithful' and I've never felt I owed them anything. It's a pure business transaction. But, as the article points out, this is a rational reaction to a labor market without any protections. Which made me wonder if my behaviour would have been different had I come up in a different set of, e.g. labor protections.
Thinking about it as an employer, I'm an expensive employee - I'm just going to get trained, and then you'll have to hire a new employee and start over. But I also don't care if you don't offer any guarantees about the job. In fact, I don't expect it. If I underperform, I'm gone. OK. That's the bargain. But, now that I've reflected a bit on it, I'm not sure that's a better deal for the employer. Which would you rather have - underperforming employees that you can't get rid of, or high-performing employees you can't keep? I'm not sure which way leads to better outcomes.
:: David (9:49 in Arkansas, 16:49 in Paris) - Comment
:: Thursday, February 2 2017 ::
I find myself needing to cut back on social media - there were a few days there when I was all rage, all the time. There's been a lot happening, and unfortunately none of it has been good (though it is clear to me that not everyone shares this sentiment, which is also unfortunate). So we went two weekends in a row to a protest at the state capital, with more planned. But there's a real danger of rage fatigue, so I'm working hard to keep a balance.
In the meantime we're having the house redone a bit, which means some crazy days of people wandering through the house with saws and drills and lots and lots of dust and noise. In the end I think it will be worth it. We had a lucky break when someone sold the vanity we had purchased, so they sold us the display, saving us a bunch of money. But for the most part it's all money going out. I think the result will be worth the pain.
Also in the meantime, classes have started, and I'm teaching as well as taking. It's busy, and hard work, and I occasionally wonder if I'm too old to keep up, or if I was just better at drowning when I was younger. But the learning is interesting, and I'm told it will keep my brain nimble.
I've also made a pledge to myself to head to the gym when I go to campus, which so far I have been doing. No results yet, but it's early days.
:: David (17:05 in Arkansas, 0:05 in Paris) - Comment
:: Tuesday, January 24 2017 ::
I am both taking and teaching a class this semester. The class I'm taking is Spanish, and as it's a fairly accelerated class I find myself with much less time than I expected. But I'm learning Spanish, which is something I have intended to do since forever, and I've always been a little embarassed that I didn't speak it. So I'm fixing that. Hopefully, at the end of the class I'll head to Costa Rica and practice for a while.
Teaching a class the second time around is both good and bad - I worry that my prep the first time wasn't good enough, and that therefore I won't be able to use my notes from last time to get through class. A class that lasts 85 minutes is stressful both from a performance point of view and from a pacing point of view - what do I do if I run out of stuff to talk about? But if today was any indication, what's actually going to happen is that I'm going to have too much to talk about. Which is also bad, but less bad.
We seem to be in the first full week of Trump policy making, and it's so far been a long list of things I don't like. We'll see if things continue in this vein for the next four years. In the meantime, we had a giant march down in Little Rock the day after the inauguration, just to keep folks honest.
:: David (19:17 in Arkansas, 2:17 in Paris) - Comment
:: Friday, January 6 2017 ::
2017. We were offline (or, more accurately, running radio silent) while we were in Bermuda for a couple of weeks, but now we're back for a new year. We managed to send holiday cards to a pile of people this year, then promptly found the box of cards we had actually intended to send. So we'll probably do it again next year, even though it's a bit of an operation.
We're having a snow day today, the first in a while, so naturally we're running out of milk, which is what happens to all Southerners, as near as we can tell, when it snows. I have some sort of awful cold that hit me the day after we got back from vacation, which on the one hand is awful and on the other hand is quite OK, at least as far as timing is concerned.
We've also started our New Year's Resolution, which is to clean the attic. It's... enlightening... to see how much stuff we haven't needed in the nearly two years since we got back from Europe. Of course, some things (like the Christmas cards) were just lost in the shuffle, and I'm sure more is going to turn up shortly.
I'm teaching a class again this Spring, which should be easier since this is the second time I've taught it. I do have some prep to do for it, so hopefully my head will clear before it's time to start teaching. Again, though, that's more than a week off, so the timing of this (cold? flu?) is pretty fortunate.
:: David (11:33 in Arkansas, 18:33 in Paris) - Comment
:: Wednesday, November 9 2016 ::
Today is the day after the American elections. For the most part, the election was a run-of-the-mill affair. We chose a new mayor, re-elected a senator, things of this nature.
And then there was the presidential election.
Like many/most of my friends, and like-minded information sources, and apparently even some old-guard republicans, I wasn't sure what to do with the rise of Donald Trump. A bizarre aberration that would soon be gone, we thought. And then he was the Republican candidate. So not soon gone, but easily dispatched by the Democrat's candidate.
On the other side, I supported Bernie Sanders through the primaries. I had concerns - he clearly didn't get race or international affairs - but I felt that he was addressing the concerns of the middle class and the poor. And his heart seemed to be in the right place, so I was hopeful that he could be trusted to learn the issues where he was weak. But I also understood that people felt safer going with the clearly more experienced Hillary Clinton as the candidate. She was a strong candidate, and with the exclusion of my personal disagreement with her foreign policy (which actually made her a stronger candidate with most people who aren't as left-wing and pacifistic as I), she seemed to be where people were. Where the center was.
The one thing she lacked, but started to come around to, was Bernie's (and Trump's) appeal to the economically disenfranchised. But pro-business had its own political capital, and as a Democrat I was confident that even if she didn't have all the populist talk she would be very good for the poor.
What I did not anticipate was how strongly those populist ideas that had come up in the primaries had resonated with the right.
And then Trump started saying all the many things that were beyond the pale of American politics, and I was quite sure we were in the clear. Sexist, racist, horrible things, that surely would turn off many of the people who might otherwise have supported him.
I was, obviously, wrong.
I do not actually think that 59,245,678 (give or take) of my fellow Americans are racist, or sexist, or 'deplorable'. I suspect many of them are the same people who, at the Thanksgiving table, would prefer to breeze past the racist spoutings of their relatives rather than confront them. They prefer to look at the 'whole person' or somesuch. We are all, to some degree, like this. I was willing to vote for a candidate with whom I strongly disagreed on certain issues, thinking that, on the whole, we agreed, even if there were places I would have preferred they were different.
But it is not the same. We knew, of course, from the discourse of Black Lives Matter and of white privilege and of campus sexual assault that Americans were, in large part, not woke. But I'm not sure we had recognized (in fact, I sure we had not) that in Trump we had a confluence of these ideas that so conflicted a large percent of the country. He spouted the things that 'right thinking, salt of the earth' folks felt were obvious: cops are good, criminals are bad. Jobs are going overseas, and it needs to stop. Etc.
And of course the insidiousness of this platform is that I can write it in short, easy to read (and understand) sentences. That's not a dig at his supporters - what I'm saying is that the ideas were pithy and easy to digest. Whereas things like 'most cops are good, but the fact that the people we call criminals in this country are disproporionately black indicates there is systemic racism that we need to fight' is not pithy, nor easy to digest.
Moving forward, of course, is challenging. The supreme court alone is going to destroy this country for a generation. But if we draw one lesson from this, I am personally of the opinion that it's the economic question. People with good, stable jobs don't spend their days hating the foreigners who 'took their job'. However, it must be said that part of the reason I choose that lesson is because I'm still at a loss about the racism and the sexism.
That said, I'm off to scroll through facebook looking at the pictures of kittens and puppies people are posting to try to cheer each other up.
:: David (11:15 in Arkansas, 18:15 in Paris) - Comment
:: Monday, October 31 2016 ::
Home finance remains insane to me, long after I have learned many of its ins and outs. We are in the process of knocking another few points off the mortgage, and I'm still running my spreadsheets and losing my mind. Sometimes you just gotta go with your gut, which is disturbing. Either way I'm pretty sure I don't want to wait until the Fed raises rates!
:: David (12:07 in Arkansas, 19:07 in Paris) - Comment
:: Thursday, October 27 2016 ::
I've spent the fall working on several projects - a local food project, an education project, and then teaching an intro to business class. It's been fun, and also revealing about my preferences for different types of work. I find myself happily plugging away at my class when I know I should be working on something else. Regardless, for the time being it gives me the flexibility to deal with the various and sundry things that come of having a teenager living in the house. The financial side of that is stressful, but we seem to be keeping afloat for the moment. We're also plotting a refinance, which while it might not change the payment situation dramatically will still end up saving us tons of money due to interest rates, which remain bonkers (in a good way).
:: David (15:34 in Arkansas, 22:34 in Paris) - Comment
:: Wednesday, September 21 2016 ::
I'm a developer. A programmer. A hacker. These aren't intended to be credentials, they simply represent how I think about the world. If I see a problem, I think about the steps I would take to fix it. In some cases, I take those steps, whether they involve a problem on my computer, where I might write a piece of code, or a problem with local government, where I might write letters to the responsible parties.
One of the things that concerns me most about concentrated power is that it takes away my ability to fix problems. Nameless faceless bureaucrats, be they politicians or employees at Facebook or Google, have no incentive to care if I've seen a problem I think I can fix. It's not worth their time.
This summer, a programmer who had written an extension for Google's 'Chrome' web browser wrote a post that went viral, talking about this very problem, when Google, for no particular reason, killed an app he had written that had 24,000 users. In the end, after much work to fix the problem, he just gave up.
This is the danger we find ourselves in. Concentrated power, in the form of two party systems that exclude third-party candidates or so-called 'walled gardens' that force us to operate only within the confines of what Google, or Apple, or Facebook deem acceptable, reduce the number of people willing to take the time to fix problems. So things don't get better. And all anyone really wants, hacker or not, is for things to get better.
I'll be sharing this post on Facebook. Because really, what other choice to I have if I want people to read it?
:: David (9:35 in Arkansas, 16:35 in Paris) - Comment
:: Thursday, September 15 2016 ::
I got a little crazy and spent some money on the website, getting some help with a goofy logo and a new color scheme. I did it through a site called fiverr (not my fault) that does little gigs for five bucks each. It was actually surprisingly worthwhile - five bucks is just small enough that if it doesn't work it's OK, but if it does I feel like I've gotten a deal. If nothing else now I have a goofy avatar to use on websites. The other thing I bought, though, was a new color scheme for the website, and a new logo. You can see both of them on my how to study abroad page that I put together to offer guidance to family and friends who might want to study outside the US.
:: David (16:27 in Arkansas, 23:27 in Paris) - Comment
:: Thursday, August 11 2016 ::
Procrastination is an amazing thing. I don't think I did it in college, at least not the way I do it these days, where I have to work, intend to work, but then do anything but work (including posting on my blog). It's been interesting to me to realize how easy it is, when one's work is self-directed, to simply put it off, but not actually decide to put it off. Just avoid it by doing other things. It's not even work I find particularly distasteful, and yet, here I am, delaying...
:: David (15:32 in Arkansas, 22:32 in Paris) - Comment
:: Monday, August 8 2016 ::
For a while now, we've been going through the process of having my niece move in with us full time. This has meant, among other things, that we've needed to get some sort of piece of paper saying the state recognized this relationship. Although the number of times people actually ask to see proof that you are responsible for someone is small, it is usually something really important where they will ask. So, to head off awkwardness we applied to become legal guardians. Now, it is possible to pay a lawyer to take care of this, but since everyone I talked to quoted me a price of $1500 I figured I could do it myself. There are lots of guides online to help you through the process, but as it turns out if you don't read them carefully enough you may still end up looking silly. At our hearing, we made it all the way to the end, with only a few promptings from the judge (for example, he made me state for the record that I was, in fact, over the age of 18), before we ran into a snag. It turns out, when you win a court case, you are expected to provide the judge with an order to sign, basically confirming the ruling that was made. I didn't have it (I should have - it was included in the packet - I just didn't print everything off when I should have). But no real problem. It's nice to have verification from time to time that the legal system really is something one can navigate without a lawyer, even if it isn't all that much fun to have to learn everything on the fly.
:: David (14:54 in Arkansas, 21:54 in Paris) - Comment
:: Thursday, July 28 2016 ::
Our old car is a 2007 Yaris. It's nice. We love it. And we thought, with my niece just about to get her driver's license, that it would be a great vehicle to learn in. Although it technically has very little value in monetary terms, it's been well maintained, and will probably live another 100K miles or more.
So when a recall notice came in for it, I was not too surprised - I've taken it in for a few things, like the rails that hold the seats in place needed to be replaced (as one person described it, 'Toyota didn't take into account how big Americans are'). These things happen.
And I kind of expected this recall anyway - I've certainly heard the news about the takata airbags and their tendency to shoot metal shrapnel into people's faces, so an airbag recall was not a surprise.
What was a surprise was what the letter contained. It informed me that my car had defective airbags, they were working on a fix, and in the meantime could I please refrain from letting anyone sit in the passenger seat. Of course, I'm assuming (but I don't know) that the driver's airbag is the same brand, so I read the letter as 'we would like to inform you that your car will kill you, we're working on it, in the meantime please don't drive your car'. Which seems a bit much. But I guess the alternative is not telling me. And considering the number of lawsuits I'm sure are already flying around at least they can say they've covered their bases on this one!
:: David (17:03 in Arkansas, 0:03 in Paris) - Comment
:: Tuesday, July 26 2016 ::
So we spent nearly a month in San Diego, after spending nearly a month driving all over the US. It was a great vacation, a nice reminder that the US is full of variety, but also that the world is quite small, as we made the drive home from the west coast in less than 48 hours.
I had a bit of a weird moment when I realized that although I was jealous of aspects of life on the coast, I really didn't want to live there. I listened to a podcast on the subject of the tradeoffs of city life, and one of the elements they listed, as sort of one leg of the stool that one tries to balance when choosing where to live, was quality of life. And although their definition of quality of life was surprisingly different from ours, it was still a nice reminder that Arkansas, for the most part, works for us. It may be that we aren't too picky, but having lived in many urban centers around the world there's no question in my mind that city life just isn't my thing. It's fun for a while, but that's it.
I'm hoping to put together a photo album that hits the highlights of our trip. It was so extensive and so long that I'm not sure where to begin. But it would be silly for all the photos I took (2500 if Lightroom is to be believed) to never see the light of day.
So now it's back to the real world - work I've been delaying, including working up the syllabus for the class I'm teaching in the fall. I can't decide yet if I'm recharged, or if I need a really long vacation from my really long vacation.
:: David (16:37 in Arkansas, 23:37 in Paris) - Comment
:: Friday, July 15 2016 ::
We're in the middle of phase 2 of our giant summer vacation, spending nearly a month in San Diego. Scuba and surfing and snorkeling and, yes, Pokemon Go. Also a stop by the Grand Canyon. All in all a giant month, and we haven't even made it to Comicon yet!
:: David (19:53 in Arkansas, 2:53 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments
:: Monday, June 27 2016 ::
The provider who hosts my website is shutting down my server, and the price is set to double if I stay with them, which means I need to block off a couple weeks to do a serious move and refurb of the website. I assume at some point they'll just shut it down randomly, which really means I need to get things moved sooner rather than later. Heaven only knows when I'll find the time. I suppose my coming month in San Diego is an option, except I'd rather be diving and such. But at some point fairly soon. Maybe in the fall, when I'm only teaching one class (Business 101) and maybe taking one (Jazz?). Planning a major block of time in the future is hard.
:: David (17:04 in Arkansas, 0:04 in Paris) - Comment
:: Wednesday, April 20 2016 ::
Something I haven't remarked on yet, despite being completely obsessed with it, is the 2016 U.S. elections. This has been a fascinating year (well, let's say 'election cycle' since 'year' really doesn't cover it). I am an unapologetic leftist, so seeing a candidate like Bernie Sanders come out and do well has been quite lovely, a real reminder that the United States is not completely populated by the right wing. Although it's fairly clear at this point that barring something quite unforseen Clinton will be the Democrat's candidate, at least the conversation has been more substansive than we could have expected otherwise. And on the Republican side, we've had this rise of the populist candidate and on some level a complete self destruction (or re-awakening, depending on how you think about the whole thing). It's going to be a very interesting election. The one thing that really has taken a beating has been the candidate selection process. It's not clear to me that either side will reform it, but it has certainly become clear that when the U.S. uses the word 'democracy' they mean something very different indeed.
:: David (10:19 in Arkansas, 17:19 in Paris) - Comment
:: Wednesday, April 13 2016 ::
As part of the 'significant lifestyle changes that come from having a teenager', we've bought a new (to us) car. Despite some of the serious costs one incurs from having a third person in the house, I stand by my earlier assessment that one can afford to live any lifestyle you want if you're willing to make sacrifices for it (this obviously only applies when the basics of life are covered - food and shelter come first for everyone). Specifically someone asked if this was going to cut down on our travels, and I responded 'why would it?' Obviously the cost has gone up, but only by a bit - we certainly won't be going first class anytime soon, but we (probably) wouldn't have before. The challenge, of course, is figuring out where to cut. It's a learning experience.
:: David (10:05 in Arkansas, 17:05 in Paris) - Comment
:: Monday, February 22 2016 ::
At the turn of the year I started freelance writing on Economics with a company called Shmoop. It turns out that writing, even about something you like, can be exhausting. I can't believe how hard my brain has been working since I started, mostly trying to remember all the knowledge hiding under 13 years of cruft. And even though I've kept my hand in, the basic 101 concepts are hard to put in a simple form, without overwhelming the reader with other stuff that maybe they haven't learned yet.
This is part of my 2016 'year of the gig economy' that I am living, where I cobble together a living from odd jobs. I'll tell you in 2017 how it worked out, but right now I'd say it doesn't pay all that well.
:: David (17:03 in Arkansas, 0:03 in Paris) - Comment
:: Wednesday, February 3 2016 ::
I haven't mentioned the elections happening in the states, even though I've been following them quite closely. In part this is because, for all the hot air, there wasn't really much to say. I knew who I liked, others knew who they liked, we probably weren't going to agree, unless we already did. The Republican field was insanely large, the Democratic field was weirdly small, and the press had decided their narrative.
Then Iowa happened, which gave us some actual data, and things got a little more interesting. Trump wasn't as strong as people thought, and Sanders was far stronger than many gave him credit for.
Now that there are actual votes happening the election is a lot more fun. It's still weird we have to do this for the next couple months, before we even get to the actual campaign.
I was about to type that all this lead up to the real campaign means we don't get an Ed Miliband type situation where the candidate is truly awful, and then I remembered that guy who ran against Obama (seriously, every time the topic comes up I can't remember his name - it's Mitt Romney) or Al Gore. So we just waste a lot of time and still might end up with some stinkers.
Much more importantly for us, we have local elections coming up at the same time. At this point I don't know who is running, but I know that will really matter to the city in a way that the president most likely will not.
:: David (12:12 in Arkansas, 19:12 in Paris) - Comment
:: Monday, January 25 2016 ::
As of this last weekend we have my niece living with us. A significant change of lifestyle, I expect, is coming.
:: David (16:38 in Arkansas, 23:38 in Paris) - Comment
:: Thursday, January 14 2016 ::
I recently (at the end of last year) read an article on the Guardian about an Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, who had been an important figure in the blogosphere until 2008, when he was arrested and put in prison. The article basically says that social media was killing the power of the internet to effect change, by removing the democratic nature of the blogosphere.
I've thought a lot about this since Facebook et al. started eating my blog, by dint of giving my silly thoughts a wider audience and at the same time sharing with me the silly thoughts of my friends. But, as was feared by many back in the early days, it has led to a lack of, for lack of a better term, 'feature length content'. A quick quip and a share of an article or picture. Or worse, a quick quip about a picture with a quick quip written on the image. Goodbye deeper thought.
But, as Derakhshan writes, it goes beyond this.
The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralisation – all the links, lines and hierarchies – and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks. Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realised how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.
We've moved debate, discourse, to centralized areas. It's been good, in a way - certainly more convenient. And some platforms have done interesting things with their power. Tumblr has in some ways brought together some features of the old and the new in a good way. But that doesn't change the fact that it's centralized.
When I built my blog, including writing the software, I did it out of fear that if I allowed anything to live on some other company's servers, everything would disappear the day that company shut down. That hasn't changed, but the odds of these companies shutting down I think is much reduced.
Now the fear is censorship. Twitter and Facebook can be blocked. Google can be blocked, or can be made to block (witness the 'removed due to DCMA' notifications one sees at the bottom of search results). I don't necessarily think my words in particular are of such note, but I think that, at its height, the blogosphere as a whole was a powerful thing. One that, as we saw, governments had trouble controlling.
And more than that, really - there's also questions of internal censorship, like the 'free the nipple' movement. Interestingly, this is an example of nested levels of censorship:
During a talk in London on Wednesday, the app's [instagram's] co-founder and CEO explained that because Instagram is housed in the tech giant's App Store, it -- like every other app -- is designated an age rating. The paradoxical guidelines that govern this rating system have received a fair share of criticism all their own, but basically: the store only permits explicit nudity if an app is rated 17+. Instagram is currently rated 12+, a status Systrom argues allows it to appeal to a more diverse audience, including younger users that aren't interested in nudity.
So here we see censorship rolling down from on high.
Regardless of your thoughts on this particular topic, it's easy to see how this sort of censorship can be applied anywhere it is convenient. One we see often is government's blocking news outlets' publication of certain stories. And if there aren't stories, they can't be shared. Or, using the new predictive algorithms they can simply be 'disappeared', by not allowing them to show in other people's feeds.
I'm not suggesting blogs were a panacea - obviously people wouldn't have moved to social media if they had been. But I'm convinced things were lost during the transition, and I don't think we've got them back yet.
:: David (14:09 in Arkansas, 21:09 in Paris) - Comment