essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
The Business recounts a slice of life in an up-and-coming executive in the eponymous organization. It's a fictional(?) millennia old organization devoted to making money and amassing power. Not particularly secretive, but they don't make waves. Given its age and the nature of compound interest, The Business is well-funded and thinks big. On the current business plan is to find a modestly sized country and acquire it for business purposes. Being a Banks novel, it's populated by oddballs, strange details, and crackling turns of phrase. Lots of Machiavellian plots within The Business as different executives jockey for benefits both business-related and personal (and many of them can barely distinguish the difference). I enjoyed it, but felt the loose ends got wrapped up much too rapidly at the end.
essentialsaltes: (space invader)
Each year, The Strong National Museum of Play inducts a new group of toys to the National Toy Hall of Fame. This year, the museum inducted three new toys: Dungeons & Dragons, Fisher-Price’s Little People figures, and the classic swing. The recognition for fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons is long overdue, as its innovative approach to playing complicated, creative games has had an outsized impact on the larger gaming world.


I love the inclusion of a non-commercial thing like the swing. It's also adorable that one of the previous inductees is the cardboard box.

But I confess this is the first I can recall hearing of the Strong. Or its benefactress, Margaret Woodbury Strong, who may well have married into some distant part of Dr. Pookie's family.

"Developing her youthful interests, Margaret became a skilled competitor in golf, archery, bowling, flower arranging, and collecting. She recalled later that her collecting began with miniatures, when she was allowed “to carry a small bag to put my dolls and toys in, and to add anything I acquired on the trips.” That small beginning led to an expansive task that dominated her later life. Margaret’s collecting included everything from fine art to the ordinary, all linked by the common themes of play, imagination, “let’s pretend,” and fun."

Another great detail is her father's perspicacity in selling high: "Margaret travelled the world with her parents beginning around 1907 after her father retired and sold the business started by Margaret's grandfather, The Strong and Woodbury Whip Company."

Buggy whips have become one of the go-to examples for product obsolescence. Getting out in 1907 was a pretty good move. (As was subsequently investing in Eastman Kodak.)

Anyway... field trip? Rochester, NY is a ways away, but maybe someday.
essentialsaltes: (poo-bush)
While I don't want to minimize how awful this is, it reminds me a lot of 2000 when we also elected an incompetent moron. All that cost us was our budget surplus, one or two hundred thousand dead brown civilians, and a few thousand dead American soldiers. We got through that, right? Right?

essentialsaltes: (shoot)
Stuff on ebay

Kinda interesting that the four books (from an estate sale a while back) are from four different specialty science fiction presses: Gnome Press, Fantasy Press, Prime Press, and Shasta Publishing.
essentialsaltes: (facegouge)
It will likely cost $260 million more to create the much needed high speed rail link for travellers to get from Merced to Bakersfield. This is a 5% increase on the initial $5 billion segment.

"The construction is running more than two years behind schedule, though the rail authority has said it has enough “float” to complete the work on time. Its own funding plan shows that it will not finish until 2019. The original plan was to compete the work in 2017, when federal grants expire."

But at least the project has raised $0 in private funding. Of course, such funding is not expected until "the system is generating positive cash flow." I should live so long.
essentialsaltes: (unleash the furry)
A bidder with 0 feedback won two of my videogame auctions. During the auction, he cancelled a $90 bid on one of them, which is not a problem, other that it shows that he doesn't know what he's doing. After winning the two auctions -- he made several bids on that item, and only retracted one of them -- here are a selection of his messages over the next 6 days, each line a separate message.

I told uto cancel them
Im sorry but i dont want them i all hmhave them i for got to tell u i been so busy working sorry
U can sell them ti tge next person
I ma pay u for this next friday ok thanks
Cancel it mistakes rong system


At this point I cancel both auctions. Unfortunately, the bidder has to confirm the cancellation (to confirm that he hasn't paid money).


I told u next friday u blinde
Next friday
Friday. Ok
Cancel the shit


I started the cancellation process. You have to confirm it.


I did i check with paypal its ok


You have to confirm it on ebay. Check your messages From Ebay.


U have to do it i check





So I spent ten minutes on the phone with a nice gentleman at an Indian call-center, who seems to have sorted things out for me. Although he said that he was going to send a message to the bidder to explain the process, and that the bidder would have to confirm, I suspect he (mercifully) made the cancellation happen by fiat, because they were cancelled by the time I got off the phone and refreshed my account.
essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
Just checked E*TRADE's estimate of my dividends, etc. It's like I have an average worker from Kyrgyzstan working just for me. If I lived in Kyrgyzstan, I could retire.






If I climb the ladder to Greece or Mexico, you may never see me again.

Agenda 21

Feb. 10th, 2015 04:50 pm
essentialsaltes: (perill of Breakdancing)
We were walking around the neighborhood, when a young guy on a bike slowly catches us up and starts talking at us. The conversation was odd from the get-go, and got odder. He was not satisfied with our explanation that we were taking a walk, and said something like...

"Oh, I know what's going on. This is some Agenda 21 action."

"Uh, no we're taking a walk."

"Yeah, Agenda 21. I have a well over 200 IQ and know what's going on. Where are your notebooks? Aren't you taking notes?"

"No, we're taking a walk."

With some last words about how we were carpetbaggers, he drifted down a different street.


Agenda 21 is "non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development", but it has turned into some sort of (largely rightwing) conspiracy about how the UN is going to take over America. But there's also Democrats Against Agenda 21.

Although, you have to admit, they may be on to something here:
Bicycle advocacy groups are very powerful now. Advocacy. A fancy word for lobbying, influencing, and maybe strong-arming the public and politicians. What's the conection with bike groups? National groups such as Complete Streets, Thunderhead Alliance, and others, have training programs teaching their members how to pressure for redevelopment, and training candidates for office. It's not just about bike lanes, it's about remaking cities and rural areas to the 'sustainable model'. High density urban development without parking for cars is the goal. This means that whole towns need to be demolished and rebuilt in the image of sustainable development. Bike groups are being used as the 'shock troops' for this plan.


It certainly does seem like Washington is in the pocket of Big Bike.
essentialsaltes: (quantum Mechanic)
For decades, workers have been worried that automation and robotics would steal their jobs, and although it hasn't happened wholesale, we seem to be edging closer to realizing that future.

And it still remains an open question what the result is:

NF: In a thought experiment, you imagine an android that can do any job a human can. What would the implications be for society?
AM: One far-future scenario is something like a digital Athens, where the citizens are free to pursue their enlightened lives supported not by an army of human slaves but by automated technologies.

But the other scenario is something like dystopian science fiction, where a fairly small core of elites own the capital and the androids, and are walled off from the rest of society where people live without a lot of opportunity.


Recent history seems to be showing the gap between the haves and have-nots widening, which suggests we're headed for the dystopic version.

But while most of the focus has been on, say, robots taking over manufacturing jobs -- and soon, maybe, robots taking over burger-flipping, and other service jobs -- SciAm published an interesting Forum essay that makes me think about the more data economy in the same terms.

Interestingly, the online title is "How to Prevent the End of Economic Growth" while the print version is "The End of Economic Growth?"

Last September e-commerce giant Amazon acquired Twitch, a live-streaming video company, for $970 million. Not long ago a new billion-dollar company would have been a boon to job creation. Yet Twitch employs just 170 workers.

...

Whereas in 2013 IBM and Dell employed 431,212 and 108,800 workers, respectively, Facebook employed only 8,348 as of last September.

The reason these businesses spin off so few jobs is that they require so little capital to get started. According to a recent survey of 96 mobile app developers, for example, the average cost to develop an app was $6,453. Instant-messaging software firm WhatsApp started with a relatively meager $250,000; it employed just 55 workers at the time Facebook announced it was buying the company for $19 billion.


Just ponder the mismatch in those two numbers.

Again, the trope of yesteryear is that robots and automation increase efficiency, so that a handful of robots and a human overseer can do the job of 20 factory workers, making 19 employees superfluous.

But computer science and the internet have also made the information economy efficient. A few dozen employees can generate a billion dollars of value.

It would be nice to think that this tremendous value was just sort of being created, even better than pulling diamonds out of the ground through mining. To some extent this is probably true, and the pie is getting higher.

But I think there's a limit to that, and these grotesque deals are random lightning strikes that are creating -illionaire haves, and leaving behind relative have-nots. And as the spread continues, how do we navigate the course towards utopia?

Finally, while digital technologies may create fewer jobs than previous innovations, they also substantially reduce the amount of money it takes to start a new digital business—and that will make it possible for more people to become entrepreneurs. Indeed, self-employment might become the new normal. The challenge for economic policy is to create an environment that rewards and encourages more entrepreneurial risk taking. A basic guaranteed income, for instance, would help by capping the downside to entrepreneurial failure while boosting spending and combating inequality.


It might well be the answer, but don't hold your breath.
essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
Item #1: One of my mutual funds had some sort of huge capital gain, so it paid out a dividend of about 28% of its own value.
Of course, that money going out to investors means the fund is worth less, so its price dropped about the same amount.
But I have it set to automatically reinvest, so I now own more shares of the cheaper fund.
Net result: pretty much diddly.

Item #2: I bought ValueClick a year and a half ago.
It changed its name to Conversant earlier this year.
Now it has been acquired by Alliance Data, and the terms were for current shareholders "to be paid with approximately 48 percent cash and 52 percent ADS shares"
So I got a lump of cash and 14 shares of ADS.
Net result: I got less cash out than I put in, but the total package is a nice gain.
essentialsaltes: (City Hall)
IMG_2100

Front lawn torn out. Railroad ties spiked down with rebar. Earth moved. Decomposed granite surface. Manzanita, phormium, and a line of trailing rosemary along the front terrace.

Boy are my arms tired from writing the check to the guys that did all that work.
essentialsaltes: (Patriotic)
TIME magazine has a little section with infobits about the different income segments of the US. The different income tiers are:

Households earning $200K+ ("The 5%")
$100K-$199K (The 17%)
$60K-$99K (The 22%)
$30K-$59K (The 26%)
<$30K (The 30%)

So there's little factoids like the percent of each group that smokes:

12% (<-- I assume the bump is for big fat Cuban cigars lit by flaming $100 bills.)
10%
15%
20%
28%

But I was most struck by the data about the children of these different households.
Average SAT scores of the kids of those households

1151
1094
1036
987
897

(Before you go all Social Darwinist on this, the 5% can afford pretty good tutors. I remember when I was trying to finally weed off that last client. I couldn't raise my prices enough to make them stop calling me.)

Perhaps the more surprising one was Percent of their children who have had sex by age 16.

32%
41%
46%
54%
61%
essentialsaltes: (Eye)
Yeah, we moved. I may get around to journaling about it the whole thing, but it's too big a topic, and I'm too tired.

But more importantly, the digital antenna seems to really work like a charm. I was so happy the setup was so easy, and the results so good. I know we're probably weirdos for only having basic cable before, but we've stopped paying Time Warner a buttload, and we get more channels. Sure, half of them are foreign language (including like a dozen in Armenian), but my mind boggled when the initial scan dredged up like 158 channels. OK, some turned out to be just beyond the antenna's range, but still.

So if you only want basic channels, and you don't need cable for internet, and you have a line of sight to Mt. Wilson, ditch your cable.

[The internet thing may be a bigger pain point; we've yet to get U-verse set up for internet, but I wasn't encouraged by the CAPTCHA when I tried to check on the order:

I'm worried AT&T may be no better than Time Warner.]

For the interested, the antenna is a Mohu Curve. Since our TV is older, we also needed a digital tuner, so I just picked a top seller on amazon, which can also function as a DVR if you plug in a USB hard drive or even a flash drive. Total cost = less than 1 month of our Time Warner bill (for TV & internet).

Plug antenna into tuner, plug HDMI from tuner to TV, turn it all on, and then the tuner was raring to go scan for channels. After that, I cruised through Armenian, Vietnamese, Khmer, Spanish, Chinese, and a dozen variations on the Home Shopping Network (including several in those preceding languages) and stopped on some random channel (Get TV) showing the Caine Mutiny. Jackpot.

ETA: LA TV Stations.
essentialsaltes: (Yellowstone Falls)
... [and] the effects of climate change are branches hitting the windshield along the way.”

The Last Drop: America's Breadbasket Faces Dire Water Crisis - an eye-opening look at the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. I think the most mind-blowing fact is that, in the great state of Texas, water is not a public resource:

No other state’s water law allows such unfettered individual control. The danger, especially apparent as the Ogallala disappears, is that it favors an individual motivated to turn a profit in the present day above community needs of the future.

The Texas law allowed billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens to sell trillions of gallons of Ogallala Aquifer water beneath 211,000 acres surrounding his majestic Mesa Vista ranch, in Roberts County, near the Texas-Oklahoma border. In 2011, the now 85-year-old sold his water rights for $103 million to 11 water-impoverished cities nearby, including Lubbock and Amarillo.
...
Elsewhere, particularly in Kansas, farmers irrigating where the Ogallala is shallowest are required to meter their wells, observe water-use restrictions, and are fined for not doing so.

Landowners in the HPWD – even today – can choose to suck their portion of the Ogallala dry any time they like.


Whew! I'm sure glad California has no water problems!
essentialsaltes: (Quantum Mechanic)
Of 20 countries, the US ranks #4 in average (mean) wealth per capita at $301,000. Yay!

But #19th in median wealth per capita at $45,000. Boo.

A person who has the mean wealth would really be wealthier than about 95% of the population.



PS The average human being has about one testicle.
essentialsaltes: (Danger)
We received three offers on the house. We sent out counteroffers, and got some responses, and just a few minutes ago, we accepted one of them. It's not signed, sealed, and delivered, but we may have just sold our house.

On the buying front, we made an offer on the hipster place. We've received a counteroffer. I expect there were a lot of offers, so they're probably fishing for more money. But I figger -- hey, these people are hipsters... Let's send in the same offer, but we'll put a bird on it. It's a lock.

We dithered on the coke palace with a view, but ultimately we decided not to make an offer. And there's more fish in the sea at open houses this weekend.
essentialsaltes: (City Hall)
Things are moving fast. We've received three offers on the house. All have their good and bad points. This evening, we fired off our counteroffers. May the best bidder win. We also saw a couple houses today. At lunch, I snuck off work and we saw a place among the Dons. Digger had a look earlier, and Dr. Pookie actually got some live feedback from her visit. Now was our turn. I want to smack the hipsters who live there. But once you removed their ironic (but very real) moose head, and the organic chicken run, that place was pretty awesome.

This evening, we saw another place in the Dons. The view would kill lesser mortals. Literally, you would die. That first housewarming party, I'll just take presents and stack up bodies. The owner was in the music industry, and you can still feel the echoes of the cocaine fueled orgies that once took place there in the 1980s. Or possibly that's the coke that's still stuck between the mirror panels on the wall. It needs some love (most of us relics of the 80s do) but seriously, the view is un-be-fricking-lievable. Million dollar view, for less than a million dollars, with crumbling house thrown in.

We may be making offers soon....
essentialsaltes: (Dead)
For the past few days, I've been living about 2.5 lives, and not had time to catch up on it. Until now (?) We'll see how far I get.

click at your own risk )
essentialsaltes: (Jimi)
Wyrd Con 5 is Memorial Day weekend at the Westin LAX.

Live Game Labs will be running a number of events:

The Association for the Advancement of Rights for Fairytales Creatures

Limbo!

Thursday night, I'll be involved in supporting a benefit to support Seekers Unlimited, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit dedicated to using live role-playing in education:




But most importantly...

On Saturday I'll be running "A Happening":
May 1969. The famous, the infamous, the obscure, the sublime, and the ridiculous gather together in a hotel in Los Angeles, just to find out what happens. A rules-light role-playing experience, where you portray the historical or fictional person of your choice (as they were in 1969).

Some character ideas.
Some background on the history leading up to May 1969. I'm inordinately happy that the calendar for 1969 is the same as 2014. I'm also inordinately happy that, on Mat 24th, 1969, Apollo 10 is on its way home from lunar orbit.
essentialsaltes: (Christian Disposal)
World Vision recently changed its rules to allow them to hire gay people who are legally married.

So certain segments of the Christian population behaved predictably, decrying the change and announcing they would stop supporting them.

Apparently, no one was around to shout, "Won't somebody please think of the children?"

And World Vision has unchanged its rules: "We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness."

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