The hyperloop system sounds like something from The Jetsons or a science fiction story. Using magnetic levitation technology and special propulsion units, the hyperloop would send sleds of people and cargo rocketing through above-ground tubes at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour. Proponents say the finished product would allow people to get from San Francisco to LA, or from Washington, D.C. to Manhattan, in just 30 minutes. Hyperloop buffs also argue that the system would have lower energy costs and would create no carbon emissions.
Hyperloop has a long way to go, and there will be huge issues involved in developing the technology, getting the land rights and funds to build the sleds and elevated tubes and, eventually, convincing people to use a system that would put people in the position of the bullet in a gun. Still, we should all welcome the pioneers who try to develop new transportation approaches. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they prove uneconomical — anybody remember the SST? — but they always push the technology forward.
A fair question, though, is whether a sufficient number of people will be willing to sit in a tube and be propelled forward at hundreds of miles an hour. Why not? When you think about it, that’s basically what happens when you board an airplane.
It’s great to live in modern times because, among other things, it’s easier to wish people happy birthday, and in more communication methods and forms, than ever before. I’ve received grossly inappropriate, unforgivably ageist cards from family and friends, Facebook congratulations from pals old and new and a post from UJ with a picture of us as toddlers, text message birthday greetings, and nice emails from clients and colleagues. It’s been great to be the target of so many good wishes.
I’ve even received happy birthday emails from my optometrist, my periodontist, and the America Red Cross. I suppose there’s a kind of message there, too.
Hacking hackers are everywhere these days, and all at once. For the IT guys amongst us, that means tinkering with firewalls and new defensive software and systems vulnerability checks and incident response plans and all of the other technical gibberish that makes IT guys boring death at a party. For the rest of us, we can only groan in grim anticipation, because we know that we’re going to be asked to change our password . . . again.
One of the great challenges of modern life is remembering all of the different “passwords” that we must inevitably use to access our various electronic devices and internet accounts and computer access points. Unfortunately, we can’t use passwords like Allen Ludden would recognize. In fact, they can’t be a properly spelled word at all. So that it’s a “strong” password, it’s got to include a weird combination of capitalized and lower case letters, numbers substituting for letters, and random characters, like ampersands and pound signs and question marks. The result often looks like the sanitized representation of cursing that you might see from the Sarge in a Beetle Bailey cartoon — minus only the lightning bolts. (@#%*$^@#!) In a way, that’s pretty appropriate.
Of course, all of these suB5t!tu+ed characters, plus the fact that you need different passwords for different devices and accounts, plus the fact that passwords now must be changed much more frequently, make it impossible for the average human being to remember the passwords in the first place. How many of us sit down at a computer or pick up our tablet and idly wonder for a moment what the &*%$# the password is? And there’s the new year/check writing phenomenon to deal with, too. When a new year comes, how long does it take you to stop automatically writing the old year in the date, because you’d been doing that for the past 346 days? I had to change my iPhone password several weeks ago, and I still reflexively type in the old password every time I’m prompted, until I dimly realize that I’ve changed it and it’s time to key in the new one — if I can remember it.
There’s a positive aspect to this. We’re all getting older, and people who deal with aging say that if you want to stay mentally sharp as the joints creak and the brain cells croak you need to play word games or solve puzzles. Well, this generation has got that covered. We don’t need silly games, because we’ve got frustrating passwords.
But if you’re concerned about complying with state law while at the same time wanting to be absolutely sure that no one will claim that you’ve exceeded the boundaries of their consent, how do you memorialize the consent in a way that will hold up? Do you draft up a written agreement, or try to make a recording? What are college students supposed to have at hand when passion strikes?
I guess it was inevitable that we would get to the point where people would be using their phones to document, in a legally meaningful way, that they’re engaging in sex by mutual consent. Why not? Phones are used for everything else these days. Why stop at selfies?
Yesterday Kasey and I were out for a walk when we encountered an orange bicycle chained to a traffic sign. And when I say “orange,” I mean this bike was totally orange, from the seat to the frame to the tires to the brake lines, chain, spokes and pedals. The only non-orange item was the black foam handlebar grips.
What’s the significance of a completely orange bicycle chained to a traffic sign? These days, who knows? It could be that the bike’s owner and rider just really likes orange — or maybe it’s some kind of weird advertising campaign for a new start-up tech company called Orange Bicycle. Or maybe Orange Bicycle is the name for a rock band or a new beer; nowadays new high-tech companies, rock bands, and beer brands seem to draw from the same reservoir of abstract and improbable names.
Now that I think of it, Orange Bicycle would be a pretty good name for a rock band.
But Comey’s reaction also is instructive, and illustrates some apparent hypocrisy. People who worry about their privacy and governmental overreach are chided for not helping to catch the bad guys and told that if they’ve done nothing wrong they’ve got nothing to worry about — but then even the FBI director takes a basic step to protect his own privacy against unwanted intrusion. He thinks he hasn’t done anything wrong, and he doesn’t like the idea of somebody spying on him. He might rationalize it as protection against hacking by a terrorist cell, or a rogue foreign government, rather than concern about surveillance by his own government, but the principle is the same. If an unhackable iPhone might “hinder law enforcement” in certain circumstances, couldn’t a strip of black tape over a laptop webcam prove to be a hindrance at some point, too?
I’m with the privacy advocates on this one — and Comey’s own actions help to say why.
These arguments seem to defy basic rules of economics and normal human experience. We know from our own lives that the cost of something matters. How many people shop without looking at the price tag? We also know from our own experience that if something becomes too expensive, we will try to do without that costly item. So the notion that you can raise the cost of anything without any negative reaction or consequences seems both naive and outlandish. The across-the-board minimum wage hike arguments presuppose that those who employ minimum wage workers — who are, by definition, the most unskilled, untrained, fungible people in the national workforce — have an endless supply of money and will simply accept a minimum wage hike without taking any steps to account for their increased costs. If you know anyone who has worked as a manager of a fast-food restaurant, you know that assumption is fantasyland.
Some municipalities have increased the minimum wage anyway. So, how is it working? While the data is preliminary, it seems to show what any rational person would suspect — that minimum wage increases affect hiring. A recent economic research study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concluded that “the overall body of recent evidence suggests that the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.” The study adds that “allowing for the possibility of larger job loss effects, based on other studies, and possible job losses among older low-skilled adults, a reasonable estimate based on the evidence is that current minimum wages have directly reduced the number of jobs nationally by about 100,000 to 200,000, relative to the period just before the Great Recession.” And more recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that hiring slowed in those locations where the minimum wage was increased.
I’m sure the minimum wage hike advocates will dispute the data, or argue in the alternative that the better earnings by the employed more than compensate for any job loss that might have occurred. Such arguments seem to me to be both misguided — wouldn’t we rather have more people working, and taking that first step up the job progress ladder? — and short-sighted. If employers of minimum wage workers are cost-sensitive, as the data is indicating, they’ll look for other ways to avoid paying wages that are too high as a result of governmental fiat. As the Washington Post has reported, one option that is being explored is increased reliance on machinery and robotics in places like fast-food restaurants, which already have seen declines in worker employment.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Hiking the minimum wage is no panacea, and we don’t live in a fairyland where employers have endless supplies of money. Don’t be surprised if, in a few months or years, you don’t see that teenager behind the counter at your favorite fast food restaurant and are served your burger by Robbie the Robot instead.