A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘computers

[LINK] “No Laptops, No Wi-Fi: How One Cafe Fired Up Sales”

leave a comment »

Writing for NPR, Annie Russell describes how Vermont’s August First Bakery & Cafe boosted business by banning portable computing.

When owner Jodi Whalen first opened four years ago, she initially offered free Wi-Fi to customers. Students like Colt flocked to the business and started typing away — and staying. All day.

“We saw a lot of customers come in, look for a table, not be able to find one and leave,” Whalen says. “It was money flowing out the door for us.”

That’s why Whalen decided there’d be no more screens. It was a gradual move. She started by shutting down the Wi-Fi two years ago. Then, the cafe banned screens during lunch.

“A lot of people were disappointed,” Whalen says. “But we actually saw our sales increase.”

What’s socially acceptable when it comes to using a laptop in public, anyway? Student Luna Colt says it’s about how much money you spend.

“You should buy something every two hours if you’re going to be here and just work all day,” Colt says.

As long as you’re being a good customer, she says, there’s nothing wrong with working on a laptop. It’s why she’s been coming here in the first place.

“If I was going to be here all day, I’d probably come here and eat breakfast. Then a few hours later, I’d have lunch,” Colt says. “I would guess that wouldn’t lose them any money, really.”

Not quite, according to Whalen. It’s less about how much any given laptop user buys, and more about table space.

“Even if they think they’re a good customer because they buy lunch, they’re still here for four hours,” Whalen says.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 24, 2014 at 3:59 am

[FORUM] Do you think that robots will cannibalize our economies?

leave a comment »

A recent post at Lawyers, Guns and Money by Paul Campos the 11th of this month entitled “Economic possibilities for our future robot overlords” caught my attention. Briefly? A prescient essay by John Maynard Keynes about wealth per capita and income was interestingly wrong.

[I]n 1939 John Maynard Keynes published what eventually became a famous essay, entitled “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren,” in which he tried to predict what “the progressive countries” (what would now be called the developed world) would look like in 2030.

The essay makes two big predictions:

(1) By 2030 the developed world would be in per capita terms four to eight times wealthier than it was a century earlier.

(2) This explosion of wealth would produce a tremendous reduction of hours worked, as people chose leisure over yet more income.

The first prediction was almost uncannily accurate, while the second has turned out to be completely wrong in regard to the United States, and largely wrong about Europe.

[. . . W]ork hours in the US and Europe had declined considerably over the previous half century, and Keynes assumed that the income effect — the declining marginal utility of income in relation to leisure — would cause this trend to continue. Since then, however, the decline in working hours has ceased almost completely in the US, and slowed down drastically in Europe (Europeans do work about 20% fewer hours than Americans however, which is not a trivial distinction).

Economics being a rather tautological discipline, there is of course a ready theoretical explanation for this as well: the substitution effect — i.e., to the extent that productivity increases are reflected in higher income per hour worked, each hour of forgone work in favor of leisure becomes more costly to the worker.

Income growth has fallen far behind GDP per capita, and may be likely to continue to fall.

In the late 1960s, median household income was nearly double per capita GDP, while today we have nearly a one to one relationship between the two metrics (Households are on average only slightly smaller today. I don’t have figures for 1967 handy, but in 1975 the average household included 2.89 people, while in 2012 it featured 2.54 persons). Or to put it another way, if over the past 45 years the nation’s increasing wealth as measured by output had ended up getting distributed equally across income groups as income, median household income in the US would be nearly $100,000 per year, rather than half that sum.

Why? At his blog, Noel Maurer has complained at length about robots and advanced computer systems cannibalizing formerly middle-class occupations. (He has a tag, and everything.) At a deeper level, this slow income growth–accompanied by growing inequality–is ultimately a matter of policy.

Will this trend change, do you think? Or will it persist until something–I dare to predict something unpleasant–occurs?


Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2014 at 3:55 am

[NEWS] Some Friday links

leave a comment »

  • Al Ahram notes that, as Ukraine is starting to turn towards the European Union, Russia is doubling down on its Eurasian Union project.
  • Al Jazeera notes that the Russian Orthodox Church is more skeptical of the costs of Crimea’s annexation than the Russian state, for fear of losing followers in Ukraine.
  • The Atlantic Cities commemorated the brief return of Major League Baseball to Montréal a decade after the Expos’ death with a Toronto Blue Jays away game, shares pictures of London’s first cat cafe, and maps imbalances in supply and demand in New York City’s popular but troubled bike share program.
  • Bloomberg notes how IKEA’s dreams for expansion in Ukraine were undermined by corruption.
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek chronicles falling Japanese stock prices, warns that Russia is becoming a junior partner of China, and notes the threats facing Ukrainian agriculture.
  • CNET examines the story behind the iconic Windows XP photo “Bliss”.
  • Global Voices Online hints, by way of a recent quitting, that Ukrainians might be disenchanted with Russian-owned Livejournal.
  • The Guardian notes that the Australian city of Darwin is a military garrison par excellence, and observes that Bulgaria has derived some benefit from the Greek economic collapse as businesses have migrated north.
  • MacLean’s suggests that Ukraine can be anchored ittno the West if it can experience Polish-style prosperity.
  • National Geographic News takes another look at the proposed Nicaragua Canal project.
  • Radio Free Europe notes that a Russian plan to institute fast-tract citizenship procedures for professionals has sparked fears of brain drain in Central Asia, observes the effects that currency devaluation has had on immigrants in Kazakhstan, and comments that Afghanistan’s support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea has much to do with Afghanistan’s long-standing irredentism aimed at Pakistan.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Anders Sandberg of Andart links to a paper suggesting that mind emulations–uploaded human minds–are likely to arrive not too late after 2050.
  • Cody Delistraty wonders why writers are so often depressed and in bad relationship.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that analyses of the atmospheres of five hot Jupiters.
  • The Dragon’s Tale observes evidence that First Nations in British Columbia practiced mariculture.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog observes that Euroskepticism and hostility towards the Euro is growing in Italy.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money takes note of Paul Ryan’s tone-deaf statement about inner-city men.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that, at least in the United States, large amounts of property are held by governments which don’t make use of them.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wades into the question of just how many constitutions Argentina actually has had.
  • Towleroad links to Stephen Colbert’s interview with former Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl.
  • The Way the Future Blogs shares an old Frederik Pohl article from 1988 describing his experiences on a book tour.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that apparently more Russians don’t believe Ukraine is a nation and think Russia has legitimate claims on Ukrainian territory, and shares an article written by one man who thinks this threatens Russia’s future.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • io9 links to an online version of a 1984 text game, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • After disproving the existence of Tyche, Centauri Dreams meditates on the rich data provided on the interstellar neighbourhood by the WISE infrared telescope.
  • The Dragon’s Tales maps the distribution of Russian and Ukrainian military forces.
  • Eastern Approaches visits the western Ukrainian village of Chervone, a community dependent on remittances from guest workers that finds itself getting along increasingly well with Poland and Poles. (Russia and Russians, not so much.)
  • Joe. My. God. notes that seven billionaires on Forbes’ famed list are openly gay.
  • Language Log has issues with the reported sensitivity of the new test for Alzheimer’s.
  • Marginal Revolution follows up on Edward Hugh’s suggestion that all Abenomics in Japan has been doing is boosting the Japanese trade deficit.
  • Livejournal’s pollotenchegg maps the demographics of Ukraine. Despite a significant recent improvements, the west and cities in the center of the country are the only ones avoiding population shrinkage.
  • Savage Minds features a post from anthropologist Robin Bernstein talking about how she likes grant writing.
  • Strange Maps notes a Dutch doctoral thesis arguing that the portolan charts of the early modern period are much too good to have been done in the medieval period. Are they legacies of Greco-Roman civilization?
  • Towleroad notes the testimony of a gay singer-songwriter Justin Utley before a state committee in Utah as to the persecution he has experienced on account of his sexual orientation.
  • Transit Toronto’s Robert McKenzie notes the expansion of parking at the Pickering GO station.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell complaints that his Firefox is crashing repeatedly and with frequency aren’t things I’ve experienced yet, fortunately.

[LINK] “Rise of the Gaymers”

Bloomberg BusinessWeek‘s Kurt Soller has a nice article talking about LGBT (well, mainly male gay) computer gamers and their increased visibility.

(As an aside, I’m a bit surprised that Soller didn’t mention the playable same-sex romance in Mass Effect 3. That got a lot of, well, play.)

In Looking, a new HBO comedy about gay men in San Francisco, a handsome, single nerd named Patrick goes on dates with a series of thirtysomething professionals. During one particularly awkward dinner with a doctor, Patrick explains what he does for a living and is met with a sneer. “Isn’t that just a bunch of kids playing air hockey and going down slides?” the doctor asks. “How old are you?”

Patrick is a video game designer for a fictional tech company. He spends long hours creating products like Naval Destroyer (which he refers to jokingly as Anal Destroyer when his mostly straight co-workers aren’t around). He’s part of what, in the real world, is an often-mocked, but hugely profitable $5 billion industry in the U.S., at least when Economists Inc. last measured it in 2009. The field employs 32,000 people, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and midlevel workers such as Patrick can make a decent living of more than $100,000 a year, plus bonuses when their projects ship.

The bulk of this work occurs in the Bay Area, one of the gayest places in America, and there’s no shortage of LGBTers working in technology. Yet Looking, which premièred on Jan. 19 and has averaged about 400,000 viewers weekly, according to Nielsen (NLSN), marks the first time guys such as Patrick have been portrayed in a TV series. “In our culture, oftentimes we view being gay as one very specific thing,” Jonathan Groff, the gay actor who plays Patrick, says of Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype guys as fashion mavens or one-liner-spouting sidekicks. Groff did the appropriate Silicon Valley research to get into character: “There’s a real community of gay gamers that connect and have parties and hang out with each other.”

It’s fitting that this group of gay gamers—or gaymers, as some call themselves—first coalesced behind the comforting remove of a computer screen. The website gaygamer.net was marginally popular when it launched in 2006; many of its ardent fans have since migrated to forums on reddit.com, where obsessives of all stripes can form subreddits, or digital communities, around virtually anything. On one called r/gaymers, about 32,000 subscribers offer device recommendations, share baked-in codes that make attractive characters go shirtless, and recruit teammates to play new MMORPGs—massively multiplayer online role-playing games—such as World of Warcraft or the Final Fantasy series.

“Gay geeks have been fighting for their own space,” says Matt Conn, 26, an independent game publisher, who points out that game plotlines are overwhelmingly heterosexual, and players online have a locker room habit of ribbing each other with homophobic epithets. “They want to express their fandom and their geekdom and say this character is hot without a bunch of people calling them f—– or making them feel like crap.” When the website Gamers Against Bigotry was founded in 2012, it was quickly hacked and defaced with similar insults. In 2006 a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study of 10,000 gamers concluded that “mainstream gay culture and media is not supportive of video games. Then you have the video game culture that is not supportive of gay culture. So you have these people stuck in the middle who have this double-edged prejudice.”

Conn joined Reddit in 2011 and realized there were “tens of thousands of people” like him who “shouldn’t feel like they’re alone.” He formed a Facebook (FB) group called SF Gaymers, through which he planned public meetups in San Francisco’s Dolores Park, where a few hundred acquaintances would get together and discuss their preferred video games while playing analog board games. Soon he realized that, like Comic Con or South by Southwest, what the gaymers were looking for was their own gathering.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 26, 2014 at 1:51 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Bag News Notes’ Michael Shaw takes a look at NSA Edward Snowden, as good as look as can be taken.
  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster reflects on Iain M. Banks as a designer of megascale structures.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird reports on Chinese interest in paying for the reconstruction of a Nicaragua canal.
  • Eastern Approaches notes that the iconic Gdansk shipyards, which fostered the growth of solidarity, are at risk of closing.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig writes about the coverage of the news of the last speaker of the Baltic Finnic language of Livonian, in all of its flaws.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen likes a book describing why some East Asian economies hit the First World and others didn’t, while Alex Tabarrok advocates for a new regime in the United States for the approval of medications.
  • New Apps Blog’s Lisa Guenther uses a documentary on the fate of the long-term incarcerated to start a discussion on what we grow to tolerate.
  • Normblog’s Norman Geras interviews Daniel Libeskind.
  • The Signal’s Bill LeFurgy writes about word processing, the killer app that jumpstarted the computer revolution.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Ukrainians generally haven’t assimilated the Crimean Tatar history of deportation into their own and quotes from a Kazakhstani writer who argues that real, broad-based Russian influence is much more threatening to Kazakh identity than anything the Chinese have done or are likely to do.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Charlie Stross mourns fellow and recently passed Scottish writer Iain (M.) Banks.
  • Crooked Timber, Lawyers, Guns and Money, and New APPS all take a look at the disgusting self-justifying behaviour of philosopher Colin McGinn towards a female grad student of his.
  • Daniel Drezner wonders about the extent to which ideology will become important in upcoming seasons of Game of Thrones.
  • Language Hat wonders if Dutch spelling reforms have cut off contemporary speakers of Dutch from easy access to Dutch literature predating the mid-19th century.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders if European Union Internet privacy and security regulations will make things worse for American firms.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw writes about the continuing mystique of the monarchy in Australia.
  • Registan’s Reid Standish talks about the marginal improvements in law and order in Kyrgyzstan.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs talks about the recent map reimagining the countries of the world on a reunified Pangaea as a rhetorical ploy.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little charts the ways in which life for Chinese has improved over the past four decades, asnd the ways in which things are still lacking.
  • Window on Eurasia quotes from alarmists worrying about the “de-Russification” of Tatarstan, demographically and otherwise.

[LINK] “Film Crew Tries to Unearth Atari’s ‘E.T.’ Game Graveyard”

Mashable’s Chelsea Stark is one of the many journalists covering the news that a Canadian film company is planning to excavate a New Mexican landfill where–reputedly–millions of copies of the 1982 Atari 2600 game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were buried.

Atari released a video game in 1982 that was such a commercial flop that the company buried the evidence in a New Mexican desert. But, since the past can never remain buried, a film crew now wants to dig up a stash of those ET The Extra-Terrestrial games, in an attempt to uncover gaming history.

According to Albuquerque, N.M., television station KRQE, film production company Fuel Industries has been granted six months of access to the Alamogordo, N.M., landfill where Atari dumped nine semi trucks worth of E.T. game cartridges and other merchandise in 1983.

[. . .]

The E.T. game was considered by many to be the final straw in a series of poorly manufactured games, which contributed to the United States’ video game industry crash of 1983. At that time, the market was saturated with low-quality games, created by just about anyone, for the variety of consoles trying to hold market share. That included the Atari 2600, for which E.T. was created.

The game was apparently a five-week rush job meant to catch holiday sales and tie in with the release of the Steven Spielberg classic. That rush is apparent, however, as E.T. was full of weirdly-colored characters and backgrounds, nonsensical gameplay and a host of glitches that made it practically unplayable. After poor reviews by critics and consumers, Atari was left sitting on 3.5 million copies.

PC Magazine‘s Damon Poeter debunks the myth that the landfill is filled with the game; see also Wikipedia’s article.

Marty Goldberg, co-author of Atari Inc.: Business is Fun, thinks the treasure hunt being conducted by Fuel Industries is a “non-issue publicity stunt.” In a comment on PCMag’s original article about the film company’s mission to uncover the legendary E.T. cartridges, Goldberg said he and co-author Curt Vendel debunked the myth of the buried games based on interviews with former Atari employees they conducted and internal company documents they pored over to research their book.

“There were never thousands of E.T. games buried in Alamogordo, that’s a myth that sprung up later and was also never once mentioned by the actual press articles of the time. The dump there was simply a clearing out of Atari’s Texas manufacturing plant as it transitioned to automated production methods and a focus on personal computer manufacturing. It had previously been one of the main plants for manufacturing of game cartridges and other hardware, and game manufacturing was being moved overseas to China,” Goldberg said.

“As part of the transition, the unused cartridge stock of a group of titles (not just E.T.), console parts, and computer parts were all dumped there in New Mexico. It was covered in detail by the Alamogordo press at the time, and is just such a non-mystery that I’m surprised by all this.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 6, 2013 at 1:36 am

[PHOTO] Against the war in Central Africa, on College Street

I was walking last month off of College Street west of Bathurst when I saw this poster pasted on a utilities pole. This was the first poster I’ve ever seen in Toronto relating to the wars that have ravaged central Africa from the mid-1990s on. While I would fault the poster for not emphasizing the roots and ideological sustenance of the conflict in the region’s political and ethnic conflicts, I don’t disagree with its message about how resource exploitation has literally fueled the different factions.

“Since 1997, more people have died in Central Africa over precious metals found in your phone than died in the Holocaust (6 million). A woman is raped every 70 seconds on average by young soldiers who are used to clear villages near areas that are to be mined. Children are spared only to become slave workers in the mines. Fair Trade would cost only $1 more per device. The news has made no major effort to report the subject. The only person who can help is you. Please let other people know, too. If the majority of people know about this issue, companies will be forced to use Fair Trade instead of rape, murder, deceit and slavery. Find out more at conflictminerals.org or watch the documentary, Blood In the Mobile (bloodinthemobile.org). Good organizations to donate through are fallingwhistles.com and foodgrainsbank.ca.”

There are two footnotes, the first explaining what coltan ore and the metal tantalum are, the second emphasizing that the added cost would be trivial. The graphic at the bottom features the African continent drawn in the fashion of the Apple icon, and the transformation of the word “iPad” into an abbreviation for “innocent People are dying”.

Against the war in Central Africa, on College Street

Written by Randy McDonald

June 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 354 other followers