peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Okay, I need to rant. A few years ago, our local Cumcasters demanded, and The Wife™ and I were forced to comply. In the process, I nearly started a riot. Fun story, but first some technical background might be appropriate. )

I know, you want to hear about my quiet riot. )

So here's my chief question, one to which I don't yet have an answer. Somewhere in the mix and history, that big-assed digital tuner, the one I needed for the Tivo, allowed the Cumcasters to limit the bandwidth problem even more than before. Instead of the clunky scramblers outside every cable customers' house (perched on the pole, I assume), the pay-per-view stations like the soft core porn, boxing matches and movie channels all got changed from a strictly down-stream delivery system to a two-way demand and deliver system. Viewers at home would change their tuners to the desired event, agree to pay the premium (which would later appear on their bills) and wait. Their digitally signaled desire to pay more went to Cumcast central. Cumcast central then sent a digital stream to the set-top box, a stream which was decoded into audio-visual entertainment.

This is important. For the first time, the box communicated with central headquarters, kinda like the intertubes you are quite probably using to read my long-winded question. Two-way communication; Cumcast is here using a proprietary internet to deliver telly content. That's why they have such "blinding fast" internet speeds; those cables carry a lot of info. Trouble is, this blinding fastness only appears when none of your neighbors is watching the telly. It really slows down on Fridays when a tired bill payer just decides to tube veg with a bourbon and coke. Put both Game of Thrones or Dexter on at the same time and I can imagine your six tabs of You tube might have to stumble buffer.

Cumcast has transformed over the years from actual telly-read signal to a proprietary on-demand video streaming service.

Which brings me to the million-dollar question. At what point does Cumcast transform itself from delivering digital television into an entity delivering streamed digital content? The distinction is significant, simply because they insist that they are local monopolies legally allowed to perform a certain task; when they no longer perform that task, perhaps it's time to transform them into a utility, much like neighboring Tacoma did.

Years ago, tired of the local cable monopoly missing their upgrade promises, Tacoma simply yanked the monopoly. They bought the cable infrastructure and turned it over to a newly-formed utility that maintained and installed cable just like the phone, water, sewer or power utilities. They then opened that infrastructure to any company that would like to provide Tacoma service. The system that digitally streams video to the home could now do so from a variety of different companies. They home bill for service went down for just about everyone.

(Of course, soon thereafter cable monopolies passed a law saying that this private-to-public transformation was no longer an option, but hey. It happened once; it can happen again.)

So, if your telly can no longer read the cable directly, can what comes through that coax wire be properly called "cable television?"
peristaltor: (Default)
I recommend perusing Conrad Schmidt's ideas. He's the founder of the Work Less Party of British Columbia and author of the book Workers of the World Relax: The Simple Economics of Less Industrial Work. His argument; that though increased mechanization increases the amount of goods per worker, the increases fail to increase the buying power of those workers. The gap between worker buying power and increased production eventually leads to a recession/depression.

The solution? Work less, specifically at industrial production. Spend time doing other things, and buying less. He makes a convincing argument in his interview at The Extraenvironmentalist Podcast.

I will take exception with one tenet of his argument. I don't believe the increase in production was the only change that lead to the Great and Current Depressions. His theory leaves out the exacerbating factor of finance and the machinations thereto that banks, et al. can exert. After reading half of The Pecora Report of 1934 (aka Stock Exchange Practices. Hearings before the Committee on Banking and Currency Pursuant to S.Res. 84 and S.Res. 56 and S.Res. 97), it's apparent that banking practices covered up and thereby postponed the economic declines started by industrialization with leverage, continuing and accelerating the economic velocity beyond the level the actual economy could sustain. The result? Unlike a slowing of economic growth after an industrial increase (what one would expect following Schmidt's theory), the increases continued, inflating the money supply for years beyond a sustainable level.

Hyman Minsky seems to have articulated this phenomenon, pithily described as a "Minsky Moment." Sadly, thanks to the reign of the neo-classical economists who debate even the existence of "bubbles," not many know of Minsky's theory. It is, thankfully, gaining some traction after the most recent crisis, so hopefully you'll be hearing more about it, rather than the drivel that passes for economic commentary on the commercial noisy box media.

And this slowing of the worker hours is nothing new. Mr. Kellogg of cereal fame tried an experiment near the turn of the last century. One of his factories ran normally, while the other went to a seven-hour work day. The latter had the same productivity per worker as the former, but the town surrounding the shortened workday factory was more vibrant, with greater community cohesion and more economic activity. (From Daniel H. Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us)

In the meantime, give Schmidt a listen or read. You can view a short movie at the web site.
peristaltor: (Default)

"This is about people being persuaded to spend money we don't have
to buy things we don't need to create impressions that won't last
on people we don't care about."

I've got some work in the pipeline that addresses Mr. Jackson's observations. I think I'll read his book first, though.
peristaltor: (Default)
[ profile] kmo delivered another great podcast the other day, interviewing economist Frank Rotering. Prof. Rotering has an interesting take on human progress and the limits the planet itself places on our expansion, part of which resonates well with what I accept.

For example, I whole heartedly agree that our biological imperative drives our expansion, the desire to eat the richest food (to give us strength and build our energy reserves as fat) and live in the best areas conducive to sating our desires to, well, eat and reproduce a lot. The number of simple behavioral studies that reveal this simple unconscious drive abound, each confirming that despite what we say, we are greedy little piggies that crave tasty (meaning energy-rich) foods and sex with the most reproductively viable candidates. Remember, folks, Darwin's "survival of the fittest" referred to reproductive winners, the organisms that most successfully got as many biological copies of themselves made before they croaked.

Where Frank went off the rails in the talk with [ profile] kmo, though, was where he started talking about . . . capitalism. Wait, haven't I gone over this already?!?

But then the Professor did something very few who throw the C word about willy-nilly actually do: He explained what he meant. I'm not saying he got it right in my eyes, but I will say he at least had the courtesy to quote Marx's writings directly and explain the nitty-gritty details that might elude the less familiar. Someone who has obviously read Marx so carefully is rare to find even amongst Marxists. That was refreshing.

This explanation, though, confirmed something that has been nagging at me for quite some time: That Marx himself missed the most salient element of capitalism's expansionist tendencies, specifically by by conflating the necessity to expand with the ability to expand. )
peristaltor: (Default)
Remember just a few weeks ago Warren Buffett bought BNSF outright? The press blather was predictable: "Our country's future prosperity depends on its having an efficient and well-maintained rail system."

Last night, though, while discussing an oil-poor future, my economist friend mentioned an alternative situation for buying the rail: electrification.

From The Journal of Commerce:

Earlier this year, BNSF Railway’s chairman, president and CEO, Matthew K. Rose, said he was in talks with transmission line companies that want to install new power lines in the railroad’s right of way. And he said BNSF was exploring whether that could help the railroad convert large parts of its sprawling western network to electricity.

Industry sources indicated other large carriers were looking at the same options, as Congress and the Obama administration push to upgrade the capacity of the U.S. electricity grid and tie in more alternative power sources including wind energy farms.

My friend also sent me a post from a rail site (sadly, one locked down to members only) which said:

If the wind- and solar-power crowd are really able to create some critical mass in their plans for mass conversion to such energy generation, transmission corridors for new high voltage lines are going to become necessary in the West. The battles for these rights-of-way are already starting to brew in several places in the West. . . .

Single steel pole towers, which are more easily situated on a railroad right-of-way than the old wider-footprint lattice-work towers, are now capable of handling up to the 765,000 volt lines being discussed for transmission from potential wind and solar fields in the West. . . .

Combine this observation with Buffett's planned wind farm facilities and one sees a definite business plan shaping up.

Buffett started as an oil man. He knows what's coming: Fuel shortages leading to ever higher fuel prices. Electric rail lines -- fed by the power lines sharing the corridor -- give him an incredible advantage, if he can get the major routes powered in time. And because he bought the rail outright, he won't have to dither about with quarterly stockholder reports. This means he can take his sweet time electrifying without worrying about "enhancing shareholder value" every few months.
peristaltor: (Default)
Okay, folks, I'll be honest; I've been waiting for a device like Amazon's Kindle for quite some time. Small, portable, readable, and -- perhaps best of all -- connectable directly to the internet for content. It's cheaper than a laptop, uses less power (I assume), has a direct-light readable screen, and could solve one of the nagging problems faced by the newspaper industry today: It could lower the high cost of printing papers.

According to an episode of On The Media, however, the Kindle might be destined for the dustbin. )


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