India’s $75 Million Mangalyaan Mission

India Mars missionThe other day I read in interesting article about a mission to Mars that you probably haven’t heard about and a few days later a friend of mine linked her blog to a Siemens seminar about manufacturing. An item in each of those links dovetailed into something that struck me.

The entire Mars mission is costing India the equivalent of $75 million dollars and a large part of this is because they have such a glut of incredibly intelligent young engineers that their starting salary is less than one-third of their counterparts in the United States. The team that designed the satellite has two people on it over the age of 31.

Meanwhile I read this quote from the Siemens article.

High-tech factories require a dependable supply of a well-trained, technically adept labor force. By one estimate, America will need over 120 million workers with advanced skills by 2020 – and may be on pace to prepare less than half of what’s required with adequate qualifications.

Not long ago I wrote a blog about how last year China unleashed seven million college graduates onto the world.

It’s my opinion that the Automation Age is coming and if you want a good job you need to have technical skills. Robots will be doing the vast majority of menial jobs in the future.

If the United States cannot provide businesses with a workforce that can do the job, businesses will look elsewhere. That’s the bottom line.

I’m happy to see this incredible wealth of intelligence arising in China and India. I don’t think this has to be a dire threat to the United States. As the world becomes smarter so too will our lives become better. But let’s not kid ourselves; we must continue to produce a highly qualified and technically advanced workforce. If we do not we risk being left behind.

We can’t be complacent. We can’t lie to ourselves and say, well, those Asian and Indian kids might get good grades but they can’t plan, design, and manufacturer a robotic mission to Mars. Trust me, they can.

No matter your political party try to refrain from attacking scientists even when they don’t agree with your political agenda. Read a science article now and again. Download an astronomy app so when you see a bright object in the sky you can identify it.

You might not be able to tell a youngster to become a scientist but you sure can inspire them.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Airline Phone Calling to be Banned by Act of Congress

Talking on a PlaneThe FCC is finally loosening rules on using your phone while flying. These rules are ridiculous and I wrote a blog about why. But now that the rules are changing your friends at Congress want to get involved.

The United States Congress is considering a bill sponsored by Bill Shuster (R – Pennsylvania) and co-sponsored by 29 members (18 Republicans and 11 Democrats) to make talking on the phone during a commercial flight a crime. The Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act of 2013 is coming to an airline near you. Hooray!

The federal government is poised to make me safe from obnoxious phone callers, fathers and mothers wanting to talk to their kids, business travelers who need to keep up with projects, friends who want to touch base, and anyone who wants to talk on the phone.

Why have they taken on this potential crisis issue? Because their focus groups tell them it will be popular, that’s why.

Well Congressman Shuster, I hate to break the bad news to you but we don’t live in a Democracy (thank goodness). We live in a Representative Republic and there is a little document called the Constitution of the United States that supposedly limits your power.

Judging by the comments below the article the focus groups are doing their job well. Most people apparently want the government to ban talking on phones during a flight.

I’ve got a crazy idea. If the person next to you on the plane is talking too loudly you could ask them to stop. If they refuse you can get a flight attendant to ask them to stop.

Should we pass a law to prevent someone from snoring too loudly on a plane? How about a law to prevent someone listening to headphones from singing too loudly on a plane? How about a law to prevent someone from kicking my seat back?

Is talking loudly on the phone in a movie theater or at the table next to me such an offense the federal government needs to get involved?

My gym has a rule about cell phones and somehow they didn’t need Representative Shuster to come in and do it for them. Airlines themselves are considering such a ban. Fine and dandy. The gym can and should make that call and so should the airlines. If they make such a rule and I decide to fly that airline or go to that gym then I should abide by that rule, but the federal government? A law? Presumably to be subject to imprisonment for violation therein?

Are you kidding me?

If they can pass a law like this; what can’t they outlaw?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Kansas and the Anti-Google Bill – Capitalism at its Finest

Ban GoogleI’ve been railing against Crony Capitalism on this blog for about as long as I’ve been writing it. There are any number of instances where a business decides that the best way to get a bigger market share is to bribe legislatures to pass laws destroying their competition.

There’s an blatant case of this going on in Kansas although because the company that was being legislated out of business is a big boy, Google, the fight just got ugly.

Basically the large cable companies that “serve” the people of Kansas; Comcast, Cox, Eagle Communications, and Time Warner Cable, submitted, on their own, a bill to the Kansas State legislature. You can read all about the bill but it basically prevents any municipality in Kansas from providing broadband service to their customers or hiring anyone to do it.

The stated reason for the bill is that legislatures, bought by campaign funds from cable companies, don’t think it’s fair for tax dollars to be used in competition with private companies. It seems reasonable on the surface but try to remember how you get your water, electric, and gas. The real reason for the bill is that communities are starting to provide, on their own, wireless access to the internet. Kansas City partnered with Google to provide fiber-optic speed internet access to their community.

This bill hasn’t passed yet and the uproar has already forced the legislature to offer tweaks but the reality is that is the way business is done in the United States and it’s not good for consumers.

The cable companies have essentially had monopolies in their communities since their inception. Read this article from the Cato Institute. Basically cable providers pay municipalities huge sums of money so they can be the only source of television in an area. Yet somehow the legislation being proposed doesn’t outlaw this sweetheart deal.

Changing technology in the form of broadband internet is altering the game organically but cable companies fear they will lose their audience because people are unhappy with the service they get. The solution, of course, is to try to legislate away competition, not actually provide a service that people like.

I strongly suspect that this particular piece of legislation will fail and their will be general rejoicing. However, the reality is that this is the way business is done in the United States and it is destroying capitalism, destroying our faith in our country, destroying our faith in elected officials, destroying our trust of the judiciary, and contributing greatly to the trend of monetary inequality.

Liberals argue that big business is the source of this inequality while conservatives cite over-regulation. The real culprit is Crony Capitalism. When a business conspires with a government agency to eliminate competition through legislation rather than providing a better product the fallout is dangerous to us all.

True competition is the best wealth distributor. Crony Capitalism concentrates wealth in the hands not of the best business but with those businesses that know best how to bribe their legislatures into eliminating competition.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

 

Misleading Headline Crowdfunding and Zach Braff

ZachBraff and CrowdfundingZach Braff tried to destroy crowdfunding, at least that’s what the headline seems to proclaim.

Despite Zach Braff, crowdfunding Continues to Grow.

The article goes on to explain how Braff’s crowdfunding movie project, Wish I Was Here, brought a whole new level of interest to the idea of crowdfunding which is exactly the opposite of what the headline suggests.

For those of you who are not familiar with the idea of crowdfunding I’ll explain. The concept is that you start a project and anyone donates money towards it in exchange for future rewards dependent on the level of money given. For a movie perhaps you would get entrance to the screening and attend an after-party with Braff.

As I read the comments below the story there was a distinctly negative tone to them. People were angry that the wealthy, like Braff, were asking regular people for money to fund projects. The comments were filled with angry people suggesting that anyone donating money was a fool.

I shook my head, why this animosity, why the anger? Time to put on my Critical Thinking cap. Who would be against crowdfunding?

A quick perusal of the Wiki article brings immediate clarity to the subject. Bankers. Legislation is already signed and regulation is on the way. I expect a veritable flotilla of articles and politicians trying to convince us how dangerous is crowdfunding and how it must be regulated. All for our own protection, of course.

Let’s imagine for a moment a community needs a road repaired. In the past the government would contract out to do this using bonds. Perhaps a business needs to make a capital improvement and they raise money by borrowing it from a bank. The money is returned with interest.

In a crowdfunding situation who is left out of the equation? Banks.

I contribute to a cause of my choosing directly. I’m aware of exactly what my “interest” payment will be. Perhaps I fund a Kickstarter campaign for a Pathfinder Compatible Role-Playing Game called Throne of Night. I give $150 dollars and, if it is completed, get all the books in the campaign signed by the authors.

Naturally there is a risk. The books might not be finished; although there are then legal remedies to get my money back. Crowdfunding is considered a legal contract.

Crowdfunding appeals directly to my Libertarian ideology. If a community cannot raise the funds for a road improvement then perhaps the improvement was not needed.

The idea is certainly appealing to people as more and more projects are funded this way. Imagine a world where projects that are the most worthwhile to people are the ones that get financial backing. Wasteful projects that appeal to a very few cannot get funded. You loan directly to friends; you take out loans not from banks but from a group of people who believe in you. Tax dollars not needed because projects were funded directly by the willing.

Is there danger? Certainly. Is it possible that a hugely valuable project isn’t appealing to the masses and doesn’t get completed? Yes. Can you lose your investment to shady operators? Absolutely. Are your neighbors going to crowdfund your gutter replacement, probably not.

I’m certainly not suggesting that crowdfunding can pay for all capital expenses but each project funded by people is one less funded by banks. That’s money out of someone’s pocket.

I expect to see a big push to vilify crowdfunding. It’s a danger to a certain group of people. People who have a lot of money and a lot of power in politics.

Where do you stand?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

You are Destroying America by Linking too Much (Share this Post Now or Your Family will Die)

Spreading LiesA friend of mine just went on a Facebook rant about how blog posts are often Liked, Shared, Linked, and otherwise disseminated to the public with no one actually bothering to check if what was written has any validity. Apparently he saw one too many miracle cancer cures roll by on his feed.

I’ve sort of spoken on this topic before. Here I talked about our culpability in spreading fake cancer cures on Facebook, and here I spoke about the idea of how the news story you click on drives it up the page. I have a weekly Stupid/Misleading Headline feature on this blog.

My friend included a link to this beautifully written and researched blog post on how to spot lies and distortions on the internet. After reading and admiring the post I didn’t want to simply reiterate the points so accurately made by David Wong.

The ways to spot fake articles listed by Wong are not particularly earth shattering. Whenever we read such a headline or story we generally realize it probably isn’t true. What harm could there be in putting in a Link? A Share? A Like? It’s just one click. Wong eloquently explains how these links, shares, and likes drive a story to more and more viewers, generating more and more hits, causing the information to gain credibility.

So, why am I writing this post? I hope to get people to spend some time thinking about their own responsibility for the plethora of false information out there. There is so much false information that it’s very easy to believe what you read and then spread the lies. When we pass along lies of this nature we are doing no one any favors. It is likely that a friend will believe us and tell someone else who will then laugh at them and correctly call them stupid. When you believe something, particularly something that seems unlikely, without bothering to do any checking of facts; you are stupid.

This problem has become so prevalent that many dishonest people are taking advantage of your clicks. They are using you for their own ends. Wong’s blog goes into great detail. As an example; magazines like Forbes now post the blogs of anyone who signs up. This is designed to drive their click rates up. Anyone can write anything and the blog link appears to go to a Forbes article. By having the Forbes name on it, the link seems legitimate, it is not.

The same goes for completely made up science articles, polls, news stories, and just about anything else you see. People simply make up something attention grabbing and sensational and then count on you to link to it.

The very nature of this fraud goes to my Libertarian philosophies of personal responsibility. Do you really want to link horoscope information? The article that proclaims your least favorite politician is DOOMED? Do you want to spread lies? Most of us would feel extremely guilty if we spread a lie about a friend but every time we Share an article we are spreading that information, if the article is a lie, we are liars.

Each time we do something like this we increase the amount of false information on the internet. This sort of thing cannot be stamped out through legislation. It is up to each of us to examine the information and Share it only if we have spent at least a few seconds confirming its veracity.

My advice is that you should avoid being stupid. Spend some time looking into that article before you share it with friends. And, of course, SHARE THIS NOW!!!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

When Nostalgia is Stupid

NostalgiaThe Save button vexes me, or at least the icon for the Save button.Save Button

I turned on my computer at work this morning and was once again confronted by the diskette save button that seems ubiquitous on most software. I’m also annoyed by the designation of the C: drive.

Why is the image for the save button a diskette? (no, it’s not a floppy disk, that’s something else, go look it up, I’m too lazy to show you).

There was a good reason the save button was a diskette. The diskette was, for a short period of time, the way we saved files. It could hold up to 1.44 MB of data and every computer in the world had a B: drive which could read from the diskette. Yes, the B: drive. The reason it was the B: drive was because the aforementioned floppy disk was the A: drive. The internal drive eventually came along and was called the C: drive.

You may have noticed that there are no drives for floppy disks or diskettes anymore. That we now save files either on the network, the web, or a removable USB drive. The diskette no longer has a place in the world. There is no A: or B: drive on your computer but there is certainly a strange little icon we use for saving things. I’ve often heard it referenced as “The little TV set button”.

People in this world have a fondness for something called nostalgia. We remember past events with what are called rose-colored glasses. This is something we see every day in the world and it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Wikipedia tells us: The term nostalgia describes a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

I’m of the opinion that a over-reliance on nostalgia can be a negative influence on life. When we base our behavior on misconceptions about the past it is bound to make our lives worse.

As an example; there were good things about simpler times in the 19th century but there were also awful things as well. Women had few if any rights. Racism and anti-Semitism were the norms not the exceptions. If we yearn for a simpler time without understanding that we also give away the ability to travel long distances easily, eat oranges outside warm regions, have cold drinks, and many of the other things modern society offers us, we do a disservice to ourselves.

My point in all this? I want to end the Save button icon as a diskette. It makes no sense to the modern users and thus can cause confusion. It’s bad in general. Death to the Diskette!

P.S. Can someone please make the C: drive the A: drive and end that madness?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Stealing Electricity in Georgia

Nissan-Leaf-Fast-ChargeI just read an interesting story about how the owner of a Nissan Leaf plugged his car into an outside outlet of the Middle School where his son was playing in a basketball game. He did not have permission from the school administrators to do so although he had not been denied either. There was no one around and he plugged in.

A police officer spotted the activity and took his information. Eleven days later an officer arrived at his door and arrested him. He was kept in jail overnight and released the next day.

The story didn’t indicate if the police did an investigation and if the school administration wished to press charges. It’s difficult for me to believe this was the case but it is possible. The school might have wanted to set a precedent.

Twenty minutes of electricity is the equivalent of about five cents. There are probably few among us who have not plugged in a device at an airport, a friend’s house, a coffee shop, or any other place where electrical outlets are available. The difference between the incidents is, I think, that the outlets at airports and restaurants are intended to be used by customers. That’s their purpose. The business places them there to be used by patrons. In this case that was not the intended purpose of the outlet.

That being said, I’m not convinced that arresting Mr. Kamooneh was the appropriate course of action. Perhaps a warning was in order. Stealing five cents doesn’t generally rise to level where the police would normally become involved. Stealing is stealing, I agree. I don’t think the officer was out of line to question Kamooneh.

Certainly the resources necessary to pick up Kamooneh, deliver him to prison, house and feed him overnight, and process him cost far more than the theft.

On the other hand I certainly wouldn’t want a neighbor plugging into one of my outside outlets to power their holiday lights.

This is the sort of case where I think everyone would have been a little better off with some common courtesy. Kamooneh should have gone in and asked someone if he could plug-in his car. I’m sure the answer would have been yes. The officer should have told Kamooneh to go get permission and unplug until he had done so.

A little decency, courtesy, and some manners can go a long way in life. I read a lot of stories looking to find fodder for my blog and it seems to me that more often than not if people had just shown a bit of decency and kindness at the first sign of trouble that the ensuing disasters could have easily been avoided.

What do you think? Criminal or not?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Star Trek Replicator – What it Means for Society

ReplicatorI wrote a post yesterday about how I thought unemployment was based upon money rather than there not being jobs to do. The idea being that there is plenty of actual work to be done, it is a matter of being willing to pay people to do that work. That if there were enough money to pay people, the only unemployment would be those who chose not to work.

In the Star Trek universe they have a device called a replicator. This device will fabricate what you want out of base elements. You want something to eat? The replicator provides. You want something off which to eat it? The replicator provides.

Today we are in the early stages of creating a replicator. We call it a 3D printer. This device uses base element to print layer after layer of an object until it is complete. These printers are soon going to be on space missions to print food, much in the same way the replicator worked on Star Trek.

I’m going to take a little leap ahead here. What if the material for these devices was incredibly cheap? What would that mean for society? For employment?

The Star Trek universe does not explore these ideas but I’ve thought about them quite a bit.

One of the arguments we hear against entitlements is that people who do not need to do anything, don’t do anything. If people are given things in life then they don’t understand what it is to work. This is a philosophy espoused to a certain degree by Ayn Rand and I largely agree with the principle of the matter.

If we give people food and shelter they will then be unmotivated to do anything. They will lay about getting fat and eventually they will die. They will be endlessly entertained by their Holodeck wasting their life away. That society will suffer from all these people doing nothing.

Another idea is that if people are freed from the massive effort of providing food and shelter they can use their lives in far more productive ways. They can get an education, learn an art, use their minds and their time to improve society.

So if the replicator is coming, if cheap food, cheap energy, and cheap shelter are soon to be available to all (and I think they will be), and if robotics will free us from mundane tasks; what is the looming future? Will we become a society of do nothing people or a society of great achievers?

I think it all depends on the individual. It all depends on how we choose to educate and motivate people. People who are motivated to achieve will do so at levels we cannot imagine. Productivity has skyrocketed and will continue to do so as automation increasingly enters our life. People who decide to lay around doing nothing will be allowed to do so because of amazing technology created by the achievers.

The most important thing to understand is the true meaning of life.

Happiness is derived from relationships with friends and family and achievement. Happiness is not derived from sitting around doing nothing all day. That only makes us feel miserable in the end. We are happy when we accomplish something, when we overcome a difficulty, when we achieve.

The joy in my life comes from teaching a good class, helping create a good website, helping a company improve their Search Engine results, finishing a session at the gym, running a good Dungeons and Dragons game for my friends.

Let us use Candy Crush as an example. This game taps into the human desire to achieve. Games that sell are those that allow us to achieve by overcoming obstacles. They are not too hard and not too easy. They have low-level, moderate level, and high level goals. When we achieve them we are happy.

This is life.

The Automation Age is coming. People will eventually be free from spending their lives finding food and shelter. If we help people understand that the real way to happiness is through achievement this will become a Utopia. Don’t be fooled though, we could also become an indolent society, trapped in holodecks, overweight, uneducated, feeding our base desires, and miserable because of it.

My advice, get out there and achieve!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Amazon Drones, Luddites, and John Maynard Keynes

Amazon DronesThe news story that is catching everyone’s eye this week is from an episodes of 60 Minutes where Amazon owner Jeff Bezos declared that the company is contemplating using drones to deliver packages to customers.

This idea is frightening to a number of people as explained by this article.

The theory is that technology will replace jobs and there will not be enough work to go around. The idea first came to the forefront in the early 19th Century when textile workers began protesting against labor-saving machines like stocking frames, spinning frames, and power looms. This movement eventually became known as the Luddite movement.

A famous economist by the name of John Maynard Keynes promulgated the idea of technological unemployment in the early 1930s. This idea has waxed and waned over the ensuing decades but usually comes to the front when unemployment is high.

Judging by the comments I read; it seems many people today are more than happy to embrace the Luddite argument of technological unemployment. I don’t and I’m going to tell you why.

It’s absolutely true that technology ends jobs, certain kinds of jobs. If tens of thousands of drones are delivering packages and mail all over the United States then we will not need people to drive trucks and deliver goods. What we will need is mechanics, electricians, engineers, and designers to envision, design, build, and maintain the drones.

There was a time when owning a stable was very profitable but the advent of the automobile changed all that. There was a time when being a Chandler (candle maker) was a necessary and important function in society. The same for a blacksmith. Technology ended these jobs but unemployment did not skyrocket. New jobs were created and often better jobs. Skilled jobs that required an education but paid well. Jobs that were interesting and fulfilling.

I think the biggest misconception is that there isn’t going to be any work to be done. Look around. Look at your house, your street, your lawn, your computer network, a nearby bridge, a park, a hiking trail, a power line! Look in any direction and tell me you don’t see work that needs to be done. There is far, far more work to be done than there are people to do it.

Why do we have unemployment? Money. There isn’t enough money to pay people to do the necessary work and things fall into disrepair.

When we free people from delivering packages we make them available to pour concrete, to create art out of lawns, to make beauty where ugliness currently resides.

Will there be a transition as we move into the Automated Age? Absolutely. People who don’t have an education will have an increasingly difficult time finding a job. As automation takes over there will be fewer and fewer unskilled labor positions available.

But the positions that are available will largely be more rewarding and make society a better place. With automated vehicles police officers will focus on crime rather than traffic control. Roadside accidents will vanish, thus reducing the need for emergency vehicles and services. This will lower taxes substantially and reduce the size of government. Car insurance will shrink to nothing. For every awful forecast a Luddite threatens I promise wonders.

I guess I’m saying you can fear the future, fight against it, rail against it, shake your fist in rage or you can revel in the amazing glory that it will bring. The freedom that it will bring. The beauty that it will bring.

A people freed from the mundane and able to create. Robots that make life safer, better, easier, and cheaper.

Not enough work? I don’t think so.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Are you Still Paying for TV? Why?

Cable TV SubscribersI just read an absolutely fascinating article from the financial world about how the television business is having a dismal year and the future looks bad.

The reason I found the article fascinating is that it completely agrees with everything I’ve been saying about those who make content and those who deliver it to the consumers. Here’s a hint for anyone that wants to be my friend, just tell me I’m amazingly smart and always right!

Massive ego aside, I did want to take a quick look at what the metrics from this article mean about our future consumption of content. What I think is happening is that there is a growing separation between those who create content and the companies that distribute it to us. In the past these two industries were often combined. The networks, studios, publishers, and labels created the content and delivered it to us.

With wireless internet becoming more universally available and with devices that can take advantage of that medium becoming almost ubiquitous we are seeing a trend where people consume content when they want and where the want. That content is no longer tied to a provider.

I’ve been hammering away for years that the major content creators should simply give up on delivering content. They should give their content away for free to the providers and get revenue each time someone consumes content.

Naturally there has been reluctance to accept this business model. The content creators had huge revenue streams through their delivery arms.

What is happening now is that people don’t want to pay for access and subscribers are falling. They want to pay for individual items they purchase. We don’t pay to have access to the grocery store, we pay for the items we buy. As times goes on fewer and fewer people will have dedicated television or internet devices. All media will be delivered electronically to whatever device we are viewing at that moment. We will pay for this by watching advertisements and possibly some monthly fee. Advertisers will pay the content providers a certain amount per view. The content providers will then pass along a share to the content creators.

As it stands, when I see my favorite shows being pulled from Hulu, my favorite sporting events being pulled from ESPN3 I get angry. However, I see a bright future for me and others who enjoy content. No longer will we be tied to a service. I will watch what I want, when I want. Those that provide popular content to the largest audience will get the lion’s share of the revenue.

The content creators will open their vast libraries to Hulu, Netflix, ESPN3, and other providers that will arise in the future.

New content creators will arise, regular people who write their own amazing Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels for example! People will consume what we want at a reasonable price.

There will be more success stories like Felicia Day. Regular people will be able to showcase their talents directly. More content, more creativity, more variety, more goodness!

Children will dance in the streets. Dogs and cats will live in harmony. The Cardinals will win the World Series every year (darn you and your beards; evil Red Sox).

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Increased Fees for Solar Panel Homes in Arizona

Rooftop Solar PanelsAs alternative energy sources like solar become more affordable it is only natural that people will want to use them as a way to both save money and be environmentally friendly. This is particularly true for solar power in western regions like the Grand Canyon state of Arizona that see a large amount of sunshine over the course of the year. This presents a problem to utility companies who derive their revenue from the monthly fee that customers pay to get their electrical services.

Customers who install rooftop solar panels reduce the amount of their monthly fee by a large amount both in limiting the amount of electricity they use but also in selling power during sunshine hours, when they are using nothing from the power plants, while others are at peak demand. They only use power when there is no sunshine and then at a reduced rate.

The reason this is a problem for utility companies is because the fees they charge for their electricity include upkeep on their vast distribution network. This includes the installation of power lines and poles as well as the constant upkeep on those items. Those who use solar panels are both receiving and sending electricity through this infrastructure.

In Arizona there was a proposal by the utility companies to charge anyone who put solar panels on their roof up to $100 a month in excess of their normal bill. The rational being that solar producers reduce their monthly rates by about $100. This fee would cover the difference so that solar panel owners would pay their share of the upkeep and maintenance of the infrastructure. The real reason for the massive fee is, of course, to discourage people from purchasing solar panels and keep them dependent on the power companies.

The power companies spent $4 million on a campaign to convince people the fee was justified. The argument being that if there was no fee that the companies would have to charge more in general to cover the revenue gap. The regulatory committee decided on a $5 a month surcharge to anyone with solar panels.

In my opinion the utility companies are acting disingenuously. The reality is that solar power is becoming increasingly economically affordable without any subsidies. As this happens more and more people will install such panels. Batteries are becoming more sophisticated so that such people will be able to store energy accumulated during the day and rely even less on utility companies.

Those who get solar panels and reduce their costs should not be punished for such a move. Power companies that try to disrupt the future of solar energy are fighting a losing battle. They must recognize this coming trend and adjust their business model rather than trying to regulate competition out of business. One suggestion in the comments that made sense to me was to break the bill into sections for actual electricity use and infrastructure. Everyone would pay the infrastructure portion of the bill equally but payment for use would be based on … use.

This attempt to disrupt natural capitalistic processes via regulations stands against everything for which a libertarian stands. Let the market dictate. If solar becomes viable then it will produce its own economic winners in an organic fashion. If it is not viable, then it will not.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

 

I Hate the NFL Blackout Rule – But I hate the FCC More

NFL Blackout RulesI just read an interesting story about how the Federal Communication Commission thinks they need to be involved in deciding when the National Football League broadcasts its games.

The NFL has a series of rules in which if the home team does not sell a certain number of tickets then the game cannot be broadcast in the home team’s market. This blackout includes fans who paid for the NFL Season Package either through their cable provider or internet provider.

I’m of the opinion that the NFL policy is misguided because they should desire to expand their audience, not decrease it. Even when most games were not televised on multiple outlets I think the rule was a mistake. The idea of the blackouts are to promote ticket sales by forcing people to attend the game. In the modern age the NFL is essentially shutting out a large segment of potential viewers when they do this.

The NFL is coming around to my way of thinking and has reduced the sellout rule down to 85% sales of what are called non-premium seats. They also now allow the selling of blocks of tickets at discounted rates to avoid the blackout. These new rules have meant that not a single game in the NFL has been blacked out this season. This is capitalism at work.

So now the government is getting involved. A year ago Senator John McCain of the Grand Canyon state of Arizona originally proposed a bill to force the NFL to televise all games and now the FCC is getting involved. The FCC’s argument is that those who cannot afford tickets should not be punished. What, what, what?

Those who cannot afford tickets don’t attend games, that’s the law of economics. If the NFL wants to prevent people from watching the game on television then that’s their own, misguided, business decision to make.

If a person can’t afford to see a first run movie should the studio be forced to televise it? If I can’t afford to get HBO should the network be forced to show the program over the airwaves? This is government nonsense at its worst.

Don’t mistake me, I think the NFL is better off showcasing its game on as many outlets as possible. I think content providers should release their media as broadly as possible so as to have more people watch it. This builds a loyal fan base who will watch content, buy merchandise, and see advertisements. The only reason I know about Australian Rules Football, Archer, and 20/20 Cricket is because they were released on Hulu and ESPN3.

When content providers practice to limit their audience they hurt only themselves. That being said, it’s not the government’s job to prevent a company from making stupid business decisions. When the AFL pulled their games from ESPN3 they lost me as viewer. Likewise when FX pulled Archer from Hulu. That’s their decision to make.

We Libertarians often get criticized for hating government meanwhile happily enjoying roads, appreciating teachers, police officers, firemen, parks department employees, electricity, plumbing, and many of the other things governments provides.

We don’t hate government, we just want to see it limited to the areas of its purview. When it gets involved in things like this the end result is usually bad for everyone. This NFL Blackout/FCC story isn’t the most egregious of violations but it is typical of an overreaching government that tries to right all wrongs.

Maybe they’ve got better things to do?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

No Coders, No Code

Computer CodeThere was an interesting article today in Small Business news about how the United States is not graduating many people who know how to write computer code. We don’t have teachers who can teach computer code.

The article points out that it is a growing field that requires far more people each year than are graduating from college. To a certain degree this is capitalism at work. If there are not enough people to fill a job, the salary for that job goes up and attracts more people.

Here’s the problem. Salaries aren’t going up because there are plenty of people to fill those job. They just aren’t from the United States. In countries like India, China, and Russia they are graduating large numbers of people with coding skills. The rest of the world is churning out scientists while the U.S. has a smaller and smaller percentage of their college graduates filling these niches.

As I’ve said before, I’m thrilled that the so-called Third World is changing their society in a capitalistic fashion. It’s great that China graduated seven million students from college last year. That India and the European Union are growing as well. When the world becomes filled with educated people who can do technical jobs with a high level of skill it helps everyone. That’s a great thing.

Women are becoming empowered. The birth rate and population growth is slowing and may soon even become negative! These are good things for our world.

What’s bad is that the United States is in danger of falling behind. We still graduate many students with scientific degrees, with the ability to write computer code, and who excel in all fields. That being said, the trend is not looking promising.

The success of the free market and capitalism is infecting the world. Oppressive nations cannot hide the lifestyle of those who live in modern, western countries. People who see that it can be better, want it better. The internet has made the world aware that it’s possible to have a good job, a nice house, and plenty of food.

This change has inspired nations like China and India and that’s good.

If China, India, and other nations start to produce all the best scientific minds, the best computer programmers, the finest researchers, and the most strident capitalists; what will happen to the United States? Will we be the world’s leading economy? Will we be wealthy and prosperous?

We face challenging times in the United States.

While our politicians play games and offer false solutions we sit by in idle leisure, generally happy with our lot in life. We have a roof over our heads, food in the pantry, and entertainment to consume. We are content to blame the other party for all ills without bothering to look in the mirror.

I’ve talked long enough about problems. What can we do to stop this trend?

I offer no easy solutions. Teach people critical thinking skills from kindergarten on up. Teach people how to think. Give them the tools they need to succeed in life. People with critical thinking skills realize that learning to write computer code will guarantee them a job and a decent salary in the modern world. They will not blame everyone else for what is wrong with their lives. They will not end up in a dead-end job and a miserable life. They will enrich their own lives and the lives of everyone around them.

The years are rolling past and time waits for no one. The modern world requires people literate with technology. The societies that produce the highest numbers of these people will become dominant. Those that do not will fall by the wayside. Not this year, not next year, but the wheels are in motion.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length novel)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (Out very soon!)

Enforcement of the Standard Patent – Obama Ruling

Samsung vs AppleI was astonished to read the headlines that the Obama administration essentially voided a trade panel ruling in the ongoing Apple/Samsung patent wars. Without even reading the stories my immediate reaction was the administration overstepped the separation of powers but I’m learning more and more about this case and my opinion is evolving.

The Essential Patent or Standard Essential Patent is a patent different from non-standard patents. It sounds more complicated than it is. Let’s say I invent a device that makes walking easier, the Easy-Walk. This is a non-standard patent and other people cannot produce anything that is too similar to the Easy-Walk.

On the other hand there are technical standards that everyone who creates particular device follows so that consumers have a standardized product. Plumbing pipes are a certain size for the kitchen as an example. The owner of such a patent is generally required to sell licenses rather than keep the technology for themselves. Otherwise an entire industry, and consumers, suffer.

Watch this video for a better explanation.

Most countries do not enforce patent claims on Standard Essential Patents although Germany is an exception which is why much of the litigation between Samsung and Apple is taking place in that country.

The ongoing dispute between these two technology companies has descended largely into trying to enforce Essential Standard Patents to prevent a rival from selling their technology. If these sorts of lawsuits are allowed to continue there will undoubtedly be a negative effect on the consumer electronic industry which could easily spread to other industries.

The injunction the Obama administration voided was of this kind. Samsung has a patent on an Essential Standard which Apple used in some of their older models. Samsung insisted that Apple should not be allowed to sell them. The Obama administration decided that this pattern of abuse with Essential Standard patents needed to stop. They stepped in with the hopes that the action will discourage others from filing similar claims.

These injunctions represent a real threat to capitalism and, in a way, freedom. If a large company is allowed to enforce Essential Standard Patents then it inhibits, in a significant way, the ability of others to compete in a free and open market. Companies are attempting to destroy each other in the courts rather than making a superior product.

I’m not completely convinced the Obama administration did the right thing in this case but I’m leaning in that direction. Normally I would suggest that the courts impose fines for lawsuits of this nature but the fines are minuscule compared to the loss an injunction against sales causes. Fines are essentially useless in this fight.

If these sorts of lawsuits stop because of the action then it was the right thing to do. If the suits continue then another remedy must be found.

Still, I learned a lot about this because rather than just leaping to a conclusion I stopped and learned more. Always a good thing.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and you can read it on your phone!)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The best laid schemes of Dongles and Men

Twitter FiringThe tech world is currently in an uproar because of this.

In a nutshell there was a conference for developers using an open-source programming language called Python in which two male attendees were supposedly making crude jokes about dongles and forking. Both are legitimate computer terms rich with humor potential. Use your imagination. A female attendee grew disgusted with the jokes and snapped a picture of the men and tweeted about it.

The result is that one of the men telling the jokes was fired as was the woman.

To give some clarity I’d like to elaborate on the male dominated culture of IT. It’s male dominated. It’s nerd dominated. Nerdy males sometimes don’t have the best social skills. Ask anyone who knows me. However, it can also be misogynistic. Really, really misogynistic. I’ve seen some things. My job as a technical trainer takes me to many different companies and I’m often immersed in the backroom getting things setup before class. I’ve seen women IT staffers treated like garbage. I’m talking, “Go get us coffee” type behavior. Crude jokes about body parts. I’ve seen women employees who needed help from the IT staff treated in humiliating fashion, forced to almost beg. I’m not saying it’s common, I’m not even saying I’ve seen it frequently, but I’ve seen it.

It’s quite likely that the women who tweeted the message was just fed-up after being immersed in that atmosphere. It’s quite likely that the men meant no harm or even knew they were being offensive. I don’t know, I can’t say for sure. Maybe she lied and there were no crude jokes? Maybe the guys were intentionally trying to humiliate her? It’s impossible to say.

What is clear is that two people have lost their jobs. Why?

I’ll take it at face value. They told some off-color jokes. She was a little peeved and tweeted it. That’s the end of their part in this. What happened next has to do with the companies that employed them. One company decided to fire the jokester. When the internet storm began to slam the other company because of the tweet-instigated firing, they fired the tweeter.

In the end a company can generally fire people for any reason other than one protected by the government; age, sex, race, religion, etc. If they want to fire, they can fire. The publicity from the tweet was bad for both companies although the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity isn’t without merit. Both companies were afraid and that’s the crux of the issue.

Ok, I’ll finally get to my opinion. What is happening to the United States? We have become a nation of cowards. Our politicians tell us to be afraid, our media tells us to watch out what we say, our employers fire us for the least sin. We eagerly attack anyone who makes a mistake and roast them on the spit of public opinion. Fear is not our friend. Fear is the enemy. When we embrace fear, and that is all the two firings represent, we destroy freedom.

My most recent novel, the Sword of Water addresses the concept of fear directly. There are two characters who embody the opposite ideas of how to treat fear. I’m going to include an excerpt here from both of them.

*********************************

High Priest Amalagaz talking to his son:

“Do you see what a little fear injects into the relationship?” said Amalagaz with a smile as he leaned back on the cushions, a satisfied smile on his face. “As I have told you many times, you must befriend fear, you must take it close to your heart and understand it completely, fully, intimately. Without fear you cannot rule. Without fear your subjects will overthrow your throne and burn you on a pyre. They will rape your wife and they will murder your children. You must instill fear in their hearts and then they are yours. You must make them afraid of you. Your enemies must fear you and they will react to your moves. Your allies must fear you and they will do as you say. If your enemies don’t fear you then they will take the initiative, they will deploy their forces with vigor and energy. If they fear you they will hide in their citadels and await your approach hiding behind useless defenses, slowly sapping their will to fight, waiting for you to conquer them.”

Taragaz stared raptly at his father, “Fear.”

“Yes, my son. It is not limited to your enemies; it is your most potent weapon in driving your people. Tell them the enemy is plotting against them, tell them the enemy is waiting to destroy them, tell them that the enemy is lurking behind every shadow and they will do anything to stay safe. They will throw their own children onto the flames to keep the fear at bay. Lie to your people to inflame them. Wipe out a little village on your border and claim it was your neighbor’s rapacious armies. Tell them that an unknown enemy is building a fleet, arming ten thousand soldiers for an invasion and they will jump up and shout your name as they kill anyone who speaks against you. The voice of reason is the first casualty to the blade of fear.”

*********************************

Jon Gray to Silenia:

“There’s always reason to fear,” said Jon waving his hands to both sides. “The world is a dangerous place. Someone might be lurking around every corner, waiting to stick a dirk in your ear. You could fall off a horse, you might slip on the ice and break your leg, get an infection, die. You might fall out of a tree because you climbed too high and smash your brains on a rock.”

“So, you’re telling us to just do anything without thinking about the dangers?” said Sorus. “Come now, Jon. These are children. Do you mean to frighten them?”

“She is already afraid. Fear is the great enemy,” said Jon. “Fear can destroy a man or an entire nation.”

“Or a little girl,” said Silenia trembling but standing firm before Jon.

Jon nodded his head and smiled narrowly at the girl, “Exactly. I say that there is much to fear. Sorus suggests we must use caution because of those dangers. He is not far wrong, but we must never succumb to fear. Fear is the tool of evil. Fear is the tool of the despot. The first time you hid from your siblings you did so because of fear. Did that help you?”

“No,” said Silenia, blinking back tears as the memories flooded into her mind with such vividness that she suddenly felt back in that place, hiding, always hiding. “Eventually I had to come out and they used the flat of the knife on me,” she sniffled.

“Yet was it ever easier to hide the next time and the time after, wasn’t it?”

Silenia nodded her head, pursed her lips together, and stifled another sob, “It got easier each time.”

“Fear is the enemy,” repeated Jon. “Sorus, when you were a boy and the others were being chosen as squires did you stand up, did you shout out?”

Sorus shook his head, “I was smaller, sickly.”

“Did not standing up serve you well, each time you failed to say something was it easier to remain silent the next?”

Sorus nodded his head, “Yes, each time was easier, but it did work out in the long run though. You arrived in Elekargul and now I’m here.”

“True enough,” said Jon. “But would you rely on luck, on coincidence, to drive your life?”

“No,” said Sorus, Jerichi, and Silenia in the same whispered tone.

“When your father first murdered an innocent in front of you, Silenia. Did you say anything?”

Now the girl was crying, “No, I didn’t say anything.”

“Why?”

“I was afraid.”

“Fear destroys nations,” said Jon. “People think that it’s fine to say nothing when they see an atrocity, when they see evil. It’s easier to let it be than to get involved, it’s dangerous to try to stop something like that. When you let evil have its way, when you stand idly by, then people who do evil are emboldened. They think they can do more evil and no one will stop them. A petty man with a petty life sabotages a good man to get ahead. An inferior warrior gets an ally to weigh down his opponent’s armor and gains a promotion. Then he becomes a captain, then a general and he promotes his equally unethical companion. Then the battle is lost, the war is lost. All because the person that saw it happening was afraid to step in and do something.”

“But they might die if they step in,” said Jerichi his hands now at his side and his voice barely audible.

“They might,” said Jon. “They often do.”

“What good does it do if they die?” said Jerichi.

“What you are asking me is, ‘What good does it do to conquer your fear and act?” said Jon with a snort. “It makes a nation strong. It inspires those around you to do the same.”

*********************************

Would you take the advice of Amalagaz or of Jon?

Make no mistake, the firings were based on fear. So many other options were available. I’m not going to discuss them today. Fear won again.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Bullied out of Tennis?

Rebecca MarinoThere’s an interesting story hitting the news today about a woman tennis player who is quitting at least partially because of the trolling attacks on her social media site. I find a number of things discouraging about this story and, of course, I’ll tell you all about it. First, let’s recap the facts.

Rebecca Marino is a largely unsuccessful 22-year old Canadian tennis player who made it to one final in her eight year professional career. Her top ranking was 38th in the world and she has since fallen out of the top 100. She suffered an injury late last year and lost in the first round of the Australian Open this year before withdrawing from future tournaments. It’s fairly safe to say that she was never going to be a top-ranked player in the Women’s Tennis Association. I’m not trying to be cruel here, I’m just giving background information. To be in the top 100 players in the world means she is an astonishingly good tennis player, just not good enough to be among the elite.

Her stated reason for retiring from the game is that she has been prone to depression for most of her life and that the constant barrage of negativity on her social networking pages contributed significantly enough to that depression that she felt quitting was a better choice for her mental health. It’s also possible that she realized her career was going nowhere and used this an excuse.

Looking at the comments to the story I think the initial reaction to this announcement is that people will tell her to just ignore the negative things and move on with life. I think ignoring the comments and moving on with life is great advice but when you are prone to depression it’s not as easy to follow as many might imagine. To begin with I’m not sure that everyone is fully acquainted with the lengths, depths, and disgusting depravity to which trollers stoop. I don’t want this blog to be about the problems associated with internet bullying and trolling but they are significant and I don’t want people to underestimate their power.

While I respect Rebecca’s decision I think it is a mistake. She should work hard on ignoring such attacks because giving in is the worst decision. Easier said than done but worth the effort. It’s not an easy road but I think she will be best served if she gets some help to learn how to deal with such vicious attacks. There is still plenty of time for her to change her mind and I hope that she does so.

There are many trollers out there who do it more for amusement than to cause pain. A troller who posts on a political story to get a reaction is not really making a horrific personal attack but it can get out-of-hand quickly. Civil discourse is a good thing for you and for this nation.

I’m of the opinion that when a troller makes vile posts they are really hurting their own sense of self-worth in the long run. It’s not worth it. Making a positive contribution is the best feeling you will ever have. Give it a try.

In summation I guess I’d say there is no final answer. There will always be those who hide behind anonymity to say awful things and words do hurt. I hope Rebecca decides to return to tennis and I hope that some trollers out there decide they’d rather do something positive with their free time. That is their decision. In the end we are only responsible for ourselves.

Tom Liberman

File Sharing and the Illegal Arrest of DotCom – The Saga Continues

DotComI know the world is fascinated with Lance Armstrong and Manti T’eo but today I’m going to post on a subject that I think is far more important to all of us. File Sharing. It’s not a sexy topic outside the geek world in which I reside but give this a read and see what you think.

About one year ago today the FBI asked the country of New Zealand to arrest a fellow named Kim Dotcom and his partners over his ownership of an internet file sharing site called Megaupload. It was a file sharing site where people could place files to be searched by others and downloaded. Some, if not many, of these files were copyrighted material. The movie industry, the recording industry, the publishing industry, and others consider people who purchase their material and then share it with others to be criminals. Because the site had this copyrighted material the FBI became involved most likely at the behest of the powerful music and movie industry.

The arrest itself used illegal warrants and Dotcom was illegally under surveillance; all of which has come out in court. He was subject to torture like tactics in prison, little food and water and deprived sleep. He was initially refused bail.  He is now free on bail and come up with an interesting way to start his company anew and be immune to prosecution. His new site will feature files encrypted so that the site administrator will not have access to the file contents. This means he will have no real knowledge of copyrighted material on his site. The FBI will have to go after those participating in file sharing rather than those simply providing a medium for others to carry on illegal activity. Because there are so many people fire sharing on such a vast scale it is all but impossible for authorities to arrest everyone involved and, if they did, would likely be subject to serious questions about their own families who are likely also sharing files illegally.

I’m an author of eBooks so this is a question that affect me directly. If people share my books without buying them then technically I lose money. But, the real losers, the ones who are pursuing this case, are the industries that profit off the artist’s work. Artists on their own will find a price point for their material that people are willing to pay instead of ridiculously inflated prices foisted on the public by the recording, movie, art, and publishing industries. I sell my books for $2.99. Almost everyone I know thinks that this is a reasonable price for a 300 page novel. If I went through traditional methods and got a publishing house to showcase my novel; the price to you would likely be $19.99. Now, in fairness, I went to agents and tried to get them to try to sell my books to the publishing houses and failed. So, maybe I’m just bitter. But as it stands now, I want nothing to do with the publishing industry. If people want to purchase my books for $2.99 then they will buy them. If my books are good, I will find an audience. If not, oh well.

That’s all beside the point to some degree. Digital media is here to stay and a real way to combat file sharing is for prices of such content to be lowered to a point where people won’t want to steal it. The other method is to put your content on Hulu and Pandora and other places where advertising pays per view. People watch what they want at the minor inconvenience of a few commercials. But, the illegal arrest of Dotcom and the continued prosecution of his case is nonsense. I have no doubt the movie, music, and publishing industries will try to stop his latest endeavor but I hope at some point they realize it’s hopeless.

File Sharing means that artists like myself can create and sell their work without an industry. That means you, the public, will have access to more material, better material, and at a better price. Sure, there are lots of horrible self-published books out there, and you might think mine are among them; but there is also amazing books, art, music, video, and other media out and available that would never have seen the light of day without file sharing and the internet.

Dotcom, you go! This eBook author applauds your efforts and prices his product so that even if someone does illegally download my books, they might enjoy them enough to go back and plunk down the $2.99 for legal copies.

I’d like to hear from other independent authors, artists, musicians, and the like to see what they think about this subject,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

World of Warcraft and Maine Politics

World of WarcraftI love this story and I eagerly await the outcome of the election.

In short, a woman is running for the State Senate in Maine as a Democrat and was “outed” as a World of Warcraft (WoW) player by her Republican opponent. There was an ad posted that quoted some of her in-game messages “I like to stab things”, “I love poisoning and stabbing”, “I can kill stuff without going to jail”, and similar. The goal was to discredit the candidate as someone who doesn’t live in the real world.

As far as I can tell the smear attempt has backfired badly and the candidate is getting support from everywhere, including a fellow Horde member who happen to be Republican.

The candidate is a big fan of Skyrim and gets a big thumbs up from me even though I’m not a MMORPG player myself. I am friends with quite a few players (long live the Alliance!).

The most interesting aspect of the story, for me, is the level to which gaming has saturated both the United States and the world. I love gaming and have been playing role-playing games since I was a teenager and plan on continuing until the day I die. It’s great fun and the fact that, apparently, the majority of people understand the difference between saying, “I like to stab things” in a game, as opposed to in life, is encouraging.

From Angry Birds to World of Warcraft; I say, keep playing!

Would that the spirit of cooperation between Republican and Democrat Horde members could somehow make its way to Washington D.C.

In the end, we’re all part of a great big faction called The United States of America.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Book: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water