Category Archives: Technology

My New Website Experiment: greenedata.com

So I have become increasingly dissatisfied with a host of news aggregators, from Huffington Post to Google News to reddit to the Drudge Report. This is for a variety of reasons. The agendas of places like HuffPost or Drudge I find highly disagreeable. I disagree with HuffPost for their brazen support of Hillary Clinton and Drudge for his non-stop agitating for Donald Trump.  This type of agenda-driven news reporting is problematic because it means the reader must filter through the bias of both the aggregator and the story that it links to. I have problems with social news sites like reddit because the inherent bias and popularity towards certain kinds of stories, as well as a highly flawed upvote/downvote system, mean some important news items get ignored. The problem with sites like Google News is that it is highly reliant on algorithms instead of human editors, so very important stories can be left behind and not featured on their main pages. It should also be noted that most aggregators generate exactly none of their own content. I figured if I am going to have to filter through a thousand different news sites to get to the stories I want to see, maybe someone else would be interested in what I find. So that’s when I decided to create my own website, greenedata.com, where I also don’t generate any of my own content (ha ha), but I provide a limited number of links each day. I link to the stories I view as either the most important and relevant, or the most interesting.

Greene Data Screen Capture

I don’t really have any rules for how I do this, but I am developing a method to find things. I do have preferences for what I post. I will never link to a website like Forbes, which has a hard paywall and harasses you for using an ad-blocker. I prefer to always link to stories that are on sites with no kind of paywall if I can help it. I also try to link to local news stories when possible. If I see something on Yahoo! News that is just a republication of an interesting AP or Reuters story, I will attempt to find the original story on either AP or Reuter’s website as well.  My standards are simple: is it important, relevant, or interesting? In terms of bias, I am basically critical of everyone. I don’t have a rooting interest for any major political party, corporation, or institution. I don’t receive payment from anyone. I don’t show ads. I have no one giving me money to put forth a point of view. I have no one giving me money for this, period. The purpose of the website at this stage is how to best execute my idea and to test the market to see if there is a demand for this kind of thing. For example, I imagine many Bernie Sanders supporters are very unhappy with CNN and Huffington Post for their poor treatment of Sanders and their highly favorable coverage of Hillary Clinton. In the same way, many conservatives and libertarians who do not like or support Donald Trump are currently disgusted with people like Matt Drudge. If I can demonstrate there is a demand for this website from people like this, as well as others, maybe I have something here.

For now I just want to present a daily set of links to stories. I want the website to load quickly and be as simple and easy to use as possible. Hopefully so far I have achieved those goals. Give it a look, won’t you?

How to end global poverty with radical change

It’s hard to find sources on this, but many of my ideas have been suggested by economists and think tanks before, I just combined the ideas that I think would work best. I think there are benefits to both capitalism and socialism, but the excesses on both sides can be harmful. Too much capitalism or too much socialism can lead to different bad forms of totalitarianism in my view. I think proponents of both tend to idealize their systems and ignore some of the inherent flaws.

I believe there needs to be a balance between the two, combining their strengths. Capitalism mixed with government investment in key areas is a great way to advance technology, for example. Capitalism is very effective at generating wealth, but without a social safety net enforced by the government, wealth inequality becomes such that the very wealthiest consolidate so much power that they are essentially able to write the rules for everyone else, in the form of local laws as well as international regulations (think trade deals). I basically think a stronger form of global governance is needed. Here’s a brief list of some of the things I think should be implemented on an international level to deal with poverty:

1) Eliminate all government subsidies for all corporations. This would have to be enforced internationally, but would allow small business owners and producers in all countries a more level playing field, because as of today they aren’t able to purchase the political influence major corporations can.
2) institute a global currency. I think there would be many benefits to doing this, namely wealthy countries wouldn’t be able to use their currency and foreign exchange rates to dominate weaker countries. Here’s an article on the subject that deals with what I’m thinking of.
3) eliminate all trade laws, tariffs and excise taxes. These laws mainly serve to protect corporate interests and the interests of the wealthiest countries and companies that write the trade laws. Eliminate them, create true global competition.
4) create a flat, unavoidable corporate profits tax, as well as personal income tax, worldwide, eliminating corporate inversions and tax shelters and havens of any kinds. Make sure all global money is taxed in one form or another.  60 minutes just did a big investigation into how the rich are able to shelter their money from taxes due to weak laws.
5) provide a basic social safety net that includes food, shelter, clean water, health care, and education to everyone on the planet. Pay for it with the money raised from eliminating tax shelters and corporate inversions.
6) Find a way to reform patent law so price gouging doesn’t happen – either buy out the patent of successful medicines or pay companies a bounty for succesfully coming up with a cure, like an X-prize. This model can be applied to government funded research in all areas, especially green energy technology and medical technology.
7) provide a minimum income (cash payment) for everyone on the planet. This website provides a good explanation of the benefits of a basic income.
8) any money you make on top of that and the taxes you pay, you get to keep
9) set a limit on the ratio of how much more an executive can make than the lowest paid worker.
10)  require corporations to give a share of the ownership to the workers, so that the workers have voting power in the companies. This is basically a lighter version of what is known as anarcho-syndicalism.
11) Create a global set of environmental regulations and labor laws that include jail time for executives that violate them.
12) Some form of debt forbearance or forgiveness for countries at the bottom of the economic system.

Obviously, these ideas would require some radical changes to be made. I think it’s time to make globalization work for the people instead of the elites. Due to the rates of technological change and interconnectedness of markets, it is in my view impossible to stop globalization or capitalism, I think it needs to be directed to more positive, just ends.

Robots and the Basic Income

Robots will replace much of the workforce in the next 20 years. Predictions vary, but as automation technology and software improves, more and more jobs will be replaced by robots. There is a strong business incentive to replace workers, skilled or unskilled, with robots and software. This is because software, or robots, require minimal maintenance, and do not require a salary or benefits of any kind. The potential costs savings to businesses are enormous. It’s important to note that both skilled and unskilled labor will be replaced by robotics and software. Higher skill jobs like attorneys, insurance adjusters, or accountants could easily be replaced, as well as lower skilled jobs like cashiers, drivers, call-center employees or janitorial workers. Most forms of labor outside of creative work or work that requires direct person to person interaction is a candidate for replacement by technology. This process is already well under way, and the replacement and loss of these jobs for the human workforce is probably inevitable.  One consequence of this process is that unemployment on a global scale will probably increase.

While many see the coming increase in automation as inevitable, very few people are offering up any kind of plan for how to address the job loss that will result from this automation. The workers displaced by the advancement of technology will need money to live, and will need alternative ways to earn money. I get the feeling that the super wealthy are not particularly concerned about this problem. Indeed, most of them only seem concerned with increasing their bottom line. A permanent underclass of 30% unemployed, or possibly more, could be formed, and my guess is many of them still wouldn’t care, since they can all afford private security and their own fortresses in an increasingly destabilized society, a society collapsing due to massive unemployment.

This coming situation calls for what is known as a basic income, minimum income, or citizenship dividend for all citizens, rather than means-tested welfare that countries like the United States currently use today.  A set amount of tax free money would be given to each person on a monthly or yearly basis, sort of like a permanent stimulus. Any money earned on top of this by an individual would be taxable. This would give each individual enough money to live on their own, and also allow them the flexibility to pursue alternative means of earning money, be it through creative work, or pursuing an education in a new field, acquiring new job skills online, or any number of other activities. As a starting point, it would encourage most people to want to earn more as a way to improve, build a savings, own a home, buy a car, and take part in the consumer economy. It would allow people at the bottom of the economic totem pole to spend money, and would help drive the economy, especially in the USA, where nearly 75% of the economy is powered by consumer spending.

Naysayers may argue that it would be too expensive, that giving everyone $15,000 or $20,000 a year is fiscally impossible, but that is a lie told by austerity hawks whose primary goal is to further enrich and protect the wealthy elites that run the world system. The fact is, we can easily afford a basic income, especially compared to how much money the Federal Reserve has generated for the banks, or how much was given to Wall Street for the bailout in a single year. The bailout for the banks and the automakers was for hundreds of billions of dollars, and in 2008 and 2009 alone, the Federal Reserve gave $13 trillion dollars to the banks, primarily to Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch.  $13 trillion in two years. Imagine if that money had been put in the hands of regular consumers, education, and national infrastructure. The impact would have been enormous. Instead the money went to the wealthiest people in society, and went to managers and bank executives in the form of bonuses.

 

A basic income could actually result in a net cost savings for the government, because it could replace the complicated welfare and social security system bureaucracy, where everyone simply gets a check or electronic deposit based on carefully monitored economic need. Means-tested welfare as it is administered today keeps people in a poverty trap, because if an individual earns too much money then they lose their government benefit. It encourages people not to work or save money. It requires a massive bureaucracy to make sure everyone follows the government’s ridiculous rules. A basic income simply issued to all people would make all of that unnecessary. Skeptics say it is impossible and violates basic tenets of human nature, that people need an incentive to work. Well, it’s already been tried, and it worked quite well.

The time is now to seriously consider implementing a basic income, for everyone.

User Interface Design is Underrated (Why Windows 8 Sucks)

Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, was such a failure and so widely hated that the man in charge of its development was fired within a month of the software’s release. Criticisms of the operating system are many, but the main failure of Windows 8 is that it ruined the User Interface Design that people had come to expect from the Windows product line. For one thing, the software tried to force mouse and keyboard users on desktops and laptops into using a touch screen interface meant for tablets. It also eliminated the Start menu and replaced the famous Windows Start Menu icon with a button that essentially does nothing except bring up the tablet interface. Instead of being able to access your installed applications or browse your computer’s files, you got shunted to a tablet menu that is difficult to interact with. Another extremely annoying feature of Windows 8 was the fact that the user had to make 4 or more button clicks just to shut down or restart their machine. Getting rid of the Start Menu meant they had to introduce a new way to shut down via the mouse, and that involved bringing up the tablet interface window, clicking on Settings, and then clicking on Shut Down and confirming with an additional click. The result of these decisions is that pretty much everyone who needs a new computer to do work or play games hates Windows 8.

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Internet Service: United States vs South Korea

In a report published by technology company Akamai, South Korea ranked 1st in the world for average download speed, clocking in at 25.3 MBPS (megabits per second). The United States, by comparison, ranked 11th, with an average speed of 11.5 MBPS. South Korea’s speed is more than twice as fast. To make matters worse, compared to the average cost for an internet connection in South Korea, internet service is much more expensive in the United States. This report by the Open Technology Institute, released in 2014, gives an extremely detailed analysis of internet speed and price in various major cities around the world. For the sake of comparison, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, averages about 300 MBPS download speeds for a price of around $50 per month. The United States, for the same price, offers an average speed between 25 and 45 MBPS.  Only the cities with Google Fiber, as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee (which has its own innovative municipal fiber network) bring this average up with extremely competitive prices for gigabit internet, the fastest service available to the consumer in the United States. The rest of the country lags so far behind in terms of price per speed that it drags down the averages by several orders of magnitude.

Why are we so far behind? The monopolies that control almost all internet service in the United States are primarily responsible for this sad state of affairs. They don’t compete with each other. While they don’t directly co-ordinate with each other in setting prices, they have little, or in some cases, no competition, and they don’t need to compete on price as a result.  They know what the other monopolies charge so they all offer poor service for a high price, in the same range so they don’t undercut each other. Between Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T, American consumers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Why is any of this important? Does it really matter if the United States isn’t number 1 in internet speed and price? I say that it absolutely matters. We aren’t even in the top 10 in speed. Poor, overpriced internet has serious consequences. It limits economic opportunity for people that can’t afford internet access. It stifles innovation by putting technical limitations on what people are able to do with their connection. The difference between a 25 MBPS connection and a 1000 MBPS connection (gigabit) is like the difference between a children’s tricycle and a Ferrari.

The internet service situation in the United States raises billions of dollars per year for the same 3 mega corporations who spend millions of dollars a year lobbying politicians to continue to protect these failed, terrible policies that created this situation with the monopolies. The United States, the birthplace of HP, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and many more hugely influential tech companies, should be the de facto leader in internet speed and price. We should be head and shoulders above the rest of the world, but we aren’t. If we are going to remain competitive in a global marketplace, this has to change, and quickly.

The Internet vs Religion

My own personal journey away from religion was fueled by my connection to the internet from a young age. I was raised in a very religious, Christian based family and church. In high school I went to religious schools. In high school I also attended a Christian “worldview” seminar two summers in a row in Colorado, at a place called Summit Ministries, in Manitou Springs. The purpose of Summit was to provide Christians about to enter into the college world the tools they would need to defend their religion against the naysayers, to equip them to fight and win the “culture war.” After my trip to Summit, I was filled with religious zeal, and figured since  I was on the internet all the time, even back in the late 90s, that I should carry the message of Christ to the non-believers I encountered on the internet.

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The Death of Pay TV

I’ve never paid for cable television. Neither have any of my close friends. I’ve never paid for a newspaper subscription either. Since young adulthood I’ve always gotten my news on the internet. My friends and I all much preferred playing video games, or watching DVDs of imported movies and TV shows to watching cable TV. After Youtube came around in 2005, and with the appearance of Netflix, I never saw the need for cable TV. I only watch cable on occasion for live sports, but in general, I can’t watch a movie on cable TV, because the experience is totally ruined by ad breaks every 12 to 15 minutes. The movie is censored, edited, cut down, and worst of all interrupted by commercials. Watching TV shows is equally annoying. I would much prefer to simply wait for a show to come out on Netflix and then binge watch it at my leisure. I could also watch on Hulu, which while it shows ads, shows fewer ads than TV and at least gives you the option of watching the show when you want. Using a DVR to record a cable TV show and then fast-forwarding with the remote through every ad break is an annoying and wasteful “solution” to commercials.

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