Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thursday's Random Thoughts

Cultural Archiving and Thermal Limits.

We're keeping too much stuff online. With every photo you upload to Instagram, every blog post about global warming or every web-video appeal, a piece of glacier disappears.

That's the connection we need to make. Talking about cars or industry (the pollution we can 'see') allows us to project participation in 'the problem' on others.

Is it possible one's internet usage can use as much energy as owning an automobile? (has anyone done this math?)

Well, yes. From a recent NYT article:
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.
“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single data center can take more power than a medium-size town." 
Emphasis mine.

That's 30 nuke plants today. What of next year? Moore's law says we're going to keep storing even more data, so we're going to be pulling even more energy off the grid.

How do we stem the pace of global warming AND keep our blogs?

Short of denial (who's power I won't underestimate), something's got to be done.

Someone has to pay.

I don't know enough about carbon offsets to know if they'll address this because they seem (in my current understanding) targeted at energy producers and not energy consumers. Am I wrong about that?


Point-of-Sale Systems and Time Taxes

I call it "Prompt Creep." It's a spin on the concept of "Feature Creep" - the idea that systems will tend toward complexity. Practically every POS system I come across now prompts me for:
  • a "customer loyalty" or "club" or some other membership card or identification
  • whether I prefer a credit or debit transaction. My choice has some consequence, as it can be a net gain or loss for the vendor (who I may be wishing to support) depending on the relationship they have with their own bank.
  • I am prompted for a PIN or signature
  • I am asked if I want any cash back (every cash register is an ATM, too!)
  • Prompted for a donation (at many grocery stores)
  • Prompted for receipt options
    • Printed Reciept
    • Email 
    • Txt Message
      • If you select this option, you are prompted to sign up for a store membership and accept advertising (ahem, "PROMOTIONAL") messages sent to your mobile device
    • No Receipt (???)
  • Finally prompted to confirm the total (do I carry a calculator with me?)
This part of a commercial transaction is downright inhuman. As a customer, I have to focus my attention on a keypad and screen (I'm not acknowleging another human being) and the clerk has to focus on their screen. If there is a line, there is added pressure to make the transaction occur as hurriedly as possible.

So all of these prompts, the pressure of a building line, and the last (and arguably MOST stressful part of a POS experience) is the waiting for "APPROVAL". The actual system of ATM/Credit is voodoo to most people, but the neurological effects of shame and embarrassment when one's transaction reads "DECLINED" are very, very real. That few seconds of waiting... "Am I about to experience public shame and embarassment?" causes a momentary elevation of adrenalin.

(read Google Scholar articles on "effects of adrenaline neural memory")

Of the contributing factors to this stress is the combination of decision fatigue and a sense of frustration related to the sense you're time is not being respected. Instead, you and I are being both figuratively and literally, taxed.

So why not use cash?

I want to do more thinking on this, but I have a sense about a collision of a few forces: a cultural association between cash and criminal activity, an economy where many single items can exceed common denominations, that most cash dispensing systems use only $20 bills, when $5's are much more useful (creating a problem for vendors when they run out of smaller bills for change).

That's a dense set of elements.  And while it may seem trivial at an individual level, every time you prompt someone, you're adding as many as five seconds to the transaction. Scaled over just one local grocery operation (250k customers daily) that's a lot of people standing in line (lost productivity = regressive tax).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday's Random Thoughts

Facebook's new "Promote This" feature:
"Traditional" business interests are reacting to Facebook's new promotional opportunities as if its a death knell (see: Mark Cuban, Mavericks). The assumption implicit in their thinking is they should have a monopoly on speech.

I don't know how long Facebook's new thing will last, but opening up the ability for anyone to "promote" a post for a few bucks (or a lot, depending) kind of changes the degree of access. It's not really revolutionary, but it is slightly more democratic (easy, one-click access).

In the next election cycle, proponents will mobilize their own voices more directly by sponsoring their own (or candidate's) posts. Facebook will make a lot of money.

This is the best summary of the media frenzy over Gen Patreus having a personal life.
Hotels are hiding fees in your bill to suck a few extra bucks from your wallet. 
Voters raised taxes all over the country.
John Gordon at Kateva on the connection between corporate structure and Soviet-style central planning:
Central planning triumphs because, even if we ignore regulatory capture and senatorial acquisition, corporations are only capitalist on the outside of the cell membrane. Inside the corporation there are no contracts, no currencies, and no markets. Inside the corporation, we have the hallmarks of Soviet central planning - goals and quotas and commissars and imaginary numbers and dictates from the central commission.
I was wrong about Prop 37 passing by a wide margin. Marion thinks this speaks to the power of money in political advertising, but I'm not so sure. The big money was right on this one, but for different reasons. I still thing GMO labeling is coming, but it will be in a more marketable form. Look to the DeBeers Diamonds model (use long-term marketing to create a perception that GMO is a premium product.)
John Gordon (again!) predicts the demise of climate change as a party platform in GOP politics within the year. Do you agree?
How corporations use rent-seeking to extract value from economic activities they don't support:
Here's another good example that affects Internet policy. We hear a lot about "free content" on the Web, and the idea that users are getting something for nothing. "They don't want to pay for their content." And yet, most people access the Internet by paying an Internet service provider $60, $70, $80 a month. You think of a company like Comcast. The user pays them $80 a month and watches television, and we say, "Oh. They're paying for content." They pay $80 a month for access to the Internet and we say, "Oh. They're getting their content for free." Something is clearly wrong with that picture!
In fact, the reverse is actually true. The free rider is Comcast. If people watch television, the Cable company has to pay money downstream to content providers. When people watch YouTube, or use Facebook or Twitter, or just surf the Web, they pay nothing for content. So it's not users who are getting the free ride, it's these big companies. That's just one of many implications that come to light when you start thinking about the Clothesline Paradox.
What are you thinking about today?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

 Random Thoughts on a Thursday:

Why do all the good ideas happen in the shower? My hypothesis: it has something to do with neural stimulation via water hitting the skin. That and your psychological guard is down.

The view that tablets (particularly iPads) represent a 'next generation' of devices is a marketing framing that has become the dominant way of thinking. But I think tablets are still version 1.0 tech.
They are merely a convergence of two media approaches: print and video (it's a paper movie screen!) The most fundamental premise of the iPad's (and by proxy all tablets) design is that people are going to consume media on these devices. This is still tech 1.0 thinking. Tech 2.0 is all about data and analysis.

Musicians need to think about car sales, but not in the way we have been - we have to think about the lot size as analogous to an individual's available time. There's only so many cars (songs) you can
put on the lot. But what do you do with a massive oversupply of cars and customers that are still incredibly particular about what they want, and most cars are actually crap?

I want to know what the price of Coca-Cola says about a business's operating model.
Why is 64oz of Coke $0.99 at Circle K, but right next door at the ice cream shop, a "large" Coke is a $1.29 and contains roughly 10-12oz of soda (depending on the proportion of ice in the served beverage.)

The "Information wants to be free" founding ethos of the internet has scaled past relevance. It's only someone else's data that you want to be free - *yours* is worth a premium, right?

There is no such thing as "online anonymity" - your name/face and web history are all compiled at some corporate marketing headquarters. YouPorn and your bank use the same tech to track users - they know it's you.

Science and tech are taking a lot of the mystery out of the world, and so many people are afraid of the new mysteries. Most Americans need a refresher biology course in the worst way.

Everyone thinks the next president will be Republican Jeb Bush. I think it will be Schwarzenegger.

What are you thinking about today?