Pittsburgh dad, consulting software developer and architect with Summa, bicyclist, beer drinker.
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Republicans don’t want to hurt ‘real America.’ By repealing Obamacare, they will.

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Any vote to repeal Obamacare without a plan is a vote to deprive many of their health insurance.

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cwinters
528 days ago
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Pittsburgh, United States
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The war between cars and bikes has a half-life

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Apple’s 1984 ad launched the Mac vs. PC war (later Mac vs. Windows)

War! What is it Good For? Absolutely something, sorting out the technological future.

Standards and technology wars can be brutal. Edison characterized electrocution as “Westinghousing”, to promote his preferred (but doomed) DC transmission system as safer than the shocking AC alternative promoted by Westinghouse and Tesla.

The Minicomputer vs. Mainframe platform wars took years to resolve, but the personal computer vs. Minicomputer wars resolved more quickly. Everyone knows the Mac vs. PC wars have filled many screens of Usenet postings .

All of those however are today meaningless, and one wonders why people were so religious about a technology standard with the rise of mobile computers (smartphones), which most of you are holding right now right around the corner.

Moving from electrical engineering/computer science to civil engineering, my really old readers will remember the wars between turnpikes and the canals. (Well, okay, remember is probably not the right word, will recall history tell of). Both modes were largely deposed by the new steam train, and neither has many flag-bearers today.

Horsescars were replaced by electric streetcars (trolleys/trams). The streetcars were, with post-bellum nostalgic bitterness, replaced by buses, but buses, like the streetcars before them, were kicked over to the sidewalk by the automobile.

There was great rivalry between electric, steam, and the internal combustion engine, but we know how that turned out. We almost all drive ICE cars with small electric systems with very large batteries driving the starter and the other appliances (radios, lighting, etc.). It’s just an everyday case of technological endosymbiosis. This will likely get reversed in coming decades with the rise of the modern electric vehicle, but it hasn’t really happened yet.

There has long been a war on walking, waged (and mostly won) by motordom, as described by Peter Norton in Fighting Traffic. I still think the US needs radical pedestrian advocacy organization (Jaywalkers United … Will Never be Divided) rather than orange flags of surrender. This war is not just over convenience or user interface preference. Lives are at stake. Not too many motorists are killed by pedestrians.

Lately there has been a highly vocal and occasionally violent modal war between cars and bikes. (just Google War on Carsor War on Bikes).

  • They compete for market share (though not much of a competition in most of the US).
  • They compete for mindshare, which explains all of the religious advocacy to partisans assuring themselves of their rightness within their bubbles.
  • They compete for public funds.
  • And, this is where it matters from a transport planning perspective, they compete for roadspace.

What does the future look like though? If we assume transportation gets smarter (I know, a stretch, but bear with me), and follow paths from other technologies, we will get waste out of the system. To quote myselfdescribing the sources of waste:

  1. Most roads are under-utilized most of the time. We have plenty of capacity outside the peak.

  2. Most of the pavement is unused even at peak times, there are large gaps between vehicles both in terms of the headway between vehicles [1] and the lateral spacing between vehicles (we drive 6′ wide cars in 12′ lanes, often on highways with wide shoulders).

  3. Most seats in most cars are unoccupiedmost of the time.

  4. Most cars are carrying around far more weight than required to safely move the passenger. While bigger cars tend to be safer for the occupants, they are less safe for non-occupants. This is an inefficient arms race.

  5. Most roads are so wide we use them for storageof vehicles most of the day.

  6. There is a tremendous amount of excess delay at traffic lights, especially at off-peak periods, wasting time (and space).

  7. Most trips during peak periods are not work trips and have temporal flexibility, yet these trips travel in the peak because they are underpriced.

  8. Most trips produce negative externalities (pollution, congestion, noise, risk of crash) in excess of the price paid by their driver. They produce so many of these externalities because they don’t pay for their full cost.

In short, if we do eliminate this waste, vehicles will be the right size forToyotaiRoad the job,  and trips will only be made when they are worthwhile, each trip-maker paying for the cost that trip imposes. We will recognize that road infrastructure has been largely overbuilt. This implies we will generally have ample capacity for both “cars” (which will be narrower and automated and electric and seat a single passenger and far less a danger than now) and “bikes” (which may have electric supplements built inside the frame), as well as, on selected corridors,  “buses” (which will have the right number of seats for their passengers). When capacity is scarce, the road owner will allocate capacity based on value using prices.

All of which is to say, this war between cars and bikes probably has a half-life of about 10-15 years as this technological transformation of the car and roads takes place. This is not to say that fighting the good fight doesn’t have some value – bike lanes now are better than a 50% chance of a bike lane 15 years from now, and will save lives in the interim. But the faster the systematic switchover takes place, the sooner there will be safe transport everywhere.


Filed under: Economics
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cwinters
801 days ago
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Pittsburgh, United States
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why the fuck does it hurt so much when she doesn't reply to my texts? seems dumb

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It hurts because you want it to. 

Think about animals. They fall into two categories: those with rights and those without. Animals without rights exist at our pleasure, pleasure and we take it to be our right to do to them whatever we want. Microbes, fleas, mosquitoes, spiders, locusts, lobsters, snakes, pheasants, turkeys, pigs, cattle, etc. All of these can be killed or bred or crushed into fertilizer at our pleasure. 

Animals with rights are pets. These are things like cats, dogs, cute pigs, horses, certain sharks, some dolphins and most whales. These animals are pets whether we have tricked them into living in our houses or allowed them to remain alive in the habitat to which they are indigenous. (It goes without saying that to the conservationist the Earth is simply taken to be humanity’s largest house and the charismatic animals that we protect by this fiction simply high-caste housepets.) 

Anyway the point is that animals exist by and large for us. This is because humanity is a meddlesome trait. If there is an arrangement of matter in the world you can trust us to try and fuck with it. Domesticated animals are an excellent example of this tendency and the degree to which we cannot help ourselves. For instance, the most profitable breed of turkey, something called the Broad Breasted White, has been so effectively bred for meat that its it’s gigantic breast muscles keep prohibit the sexual opening of the male from contacting that of the female. Hence every single turkey you have ever eaten has been the ultimate product of a person holding a hen upside down between his knees and injecting sperm into her vagina with a pneumatic gun. This is what happens when the index finger of the human mind cannot resist probing the velvet curtain of present possibility for a hole through which the future can pour. 

I think that animals show what we do to the external world and represent what we do to the internal world: what we do to ourselves. 

Shy or not, gregarious or not, your mind is an outward facing thing. Try imagining even the most abstract sequence of thought without the concepts captured in phrases like “what’s before us” or “put that out of your mind.” It is nearly impossible to imagine thinking at all without the concepts that these phrases represent (here, what you need to focus on and what you can forget.) This is because the mind thinks of itself as an indivisible point and one in relation to which all movement of body or thought is defined (forward progress, for example, is when we move “ahead.”) 

Now how is the mind supposed to interact with itself when it is an indivisible point? Rather than worry about the fact that this is all a fiction we tell ourselves to keep from turning inward, we start to meddle. In this way other people (who presumably feel at least as self-contained and point-like in their perspectives as ourselves) become the subject of our manipulation. When we manipulate other people we are generally making them into mirrors by which we can know ourselves. This is a good rule of thumb for understanding casual interactions but it is like a law of physics when it comes to intimate ones. 

Our dominion over animals was meant to reflect the dexterity of our minds. In actual fact this dominion simply shows off the dazzling clumsiness that appears when we think we know just what we’re doing.

We dismiss this essential clumsiness as merely another problem to solve and so sleep through the lesson that artificially inseminating millions of turkeys every year would teach any sane species. Likewise, the lights we shine on ourselves tend either to melt or to cast into shadow the parts of ourselves it would be inconvenient to see. And so the realizations we have about ourselves are like mice: fugitive, seen by accident, and very difficult to grasp. In the end, it doesn’t hurt

It hurts not because she hates you you, but because in the particular mirror that you’ve made of her it makes sense that she would. 

The real question is why this makes sense to you. 

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samuel
799 days ago
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That's quite the connection.
The Haight in San Francisco
cwinters
802 days ago
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Pittsburgh, United States
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Property vs. Liberty

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Some people place property rights above human rights, and want the government to defend with force their right to discriminate (against group X) in their own business. The right to discriminate on the basis of race (or worse, the obligation to discriminate) with the protection of the state, which has a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of force was made illegal in the US some 50 years ago due to the success of the Civil Rights Movement.*

While property arrangements are generally accepted, they are not themselves the product of pure merit, and should not be treated as sacrosanct. How did any particular distribution of property come to be? Is that the most just distribution of property? And why is that right privileged above all else? There is a strong truism that, as Balzac said “The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime forgotten, for it was properly done.” More colloquially, due to Puzo, “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” Certainly hard work coupled with great crime is more productive than crime alone. Similarly good luck, hard work, inherent ability, and great crime is best of all. As popular as she may be, who exactly elected the Queen?* Buckminster Fuller dubbed the class which established many great fortunes during the pre-Industrial seatrading era “the Great Pirates” in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.

The government (with its monopoly of force earned by force) grants monopolies all the time, often for very practical reasons, ranging from natural monopoly to patents to encourage the useful arts, to ownership of property (which is a very localized spatial monopoly). But they are monopolies none the less, and thus move us away from an idealized atomistic perfectly competitive economy which is the basis for pure libertarian reasoning about rights to trade with whomever, whenever you want. So if the assumptions on which the logic are based are invalid, the conclusions do not necessarily apply.

From an efficiency perspective there is great value in stable property relations and encouraging hard work. If you thought your wealth would constantly be confiscated and redistributed, you would be very tempted not to produce anything. That after all is the libertarian argument against high tax rates, estate taxes, and so on, empirically corroborated from a reading of history in communist countries, though derivable from first principles about human behavior.

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Equality vs. Equity: Source http://interactioninstitute.org/illustrating-equality-vs-equity/ This is really about Equality of Opportunity (everyone is given the same box) vs. Equality of Outcome (everyone can see the game).

From a social perspective, while we perhaps cannot do much to control inherent ability, and we discourage great crime, we can create the conditions for good luck (tending towards equality of opportunity: a minimum level of food, health, knowledge, political access, and so on) and reward hard work. Yet there is a tension between the two. The resources necessary to ensure equality of opportunity somewhat diminish the reward for hard work. This is the nature of the system. The system however can raise more resources with less disincentive to work by how the tax code works. What is taxed: work or land, consumption or production?

Today, the initial distribution of property (and talents) people are born with is far from equal. And people with wealth are able to channel some of their wealth to persuade (via campaign contributions, revolving doors, and straight-out bribery) the state to preserve their wealth (through crony capitalism, special tax breaks, and other means), while using the commons (e.g. the air, the atmosphere, the ocean) as a dumping ground for their pollution, and exploiting the unregulated commons for private gain. This is all selfishly rational, homo economicus behavior. We are not surprised by it.

Some groups are further able to use police powers to control other groups. While this is far from rational in an economic sense, it is rational in a political sense, keeping the “in group” in power and keeping the “out group” down.

But just because we expect hypocrisy in the name of preserving wealth, doesn’t mean we should accept it. The rules of the game may be tolerable (not perfect, but good enough) if everyone starts at the same place, but are far from acceptable when some are kept down by the instruments of the state while others are promoted (at least in a relative sense, if only by not being kept down).

The American founders were wise enough establish a set of principles that, though they didn’t live up to them themselves, have steadily increased democracy. Instead of just propertied white men, almost everyone can vote (children, convicts and undocumented immigrants among the excluded classes). Instead of slavery, we now have defined rights more broadly.

We should seek a society where everyone can fairly trade with whomever they wish, without interference. That requires property rights. Such a system is inherently unfair though that is unpersuasive to those who care solely about efficiency. It is also politically unstable (and thus fails in the long-run) without an underlying fairness in the initial distribution. And the initial distribution will be inherently unfair each generation without some periodic corrections. (And likely get unfairer over time in absence of remedies.) Abilities are not randomly distributed; neither are wealth and opportunity when some can benefit from the work of their ancestors, and others cannot. If we ancestors are not permitted to provide benefits to our descendants, that greatly diminishes our incentives to create, produce, and save/invest.

Politics in a democratic republic is about balancing these interests. Factions will favor one over the other – pushing more toward efficiency or more toward equity. That is what we want if we believe there is a collective wisdom.  But if a faction or party tells you only one side of this see-saw matters (either growth at the expense of any redistribution, or redistribution at the expense of efficiency), they are rigid ideologues not to be trusted.

 


  • Montgomery Bus Lines, the public transit firm serving Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 was owned by National City Lines, a private firm at the time of the famous boycott. Martin Luther King and others were jailed for boycotting, conspiring to interfere with a business, which had a government-granted monopoly. Today even most Alabamans probably recognize the wrongness of the situation.
  • Kings and Queens were once elected. E.g. Royal Elections in Poland. The current Queen of England obviously was not elected.

 


Filed under: Economics
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cwinters
814 days ago
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Pittsburgh, United States
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“Religious Liberty”

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John Adams  Annie Hall

ALVY: Are you even listening to yourself? And the funny part is…’Religious Liberty’…! You don’t know anything about religious liberty!

MAN IN LINE: Oh, really? Well! I’m a former professor of constitutional law. I’m now a lobbyist with a top firm who’s successfully drafted the language that appears in several religious liberty laws that have either been signed into law by, or are currently on the legislative floor of, many states. So I think my insights on the founding fathers’ principle of religious freedom have a great deal of validity.

ALVY: Do you? That’s funny, because It just so happens that I have one of the Founding Fathers right here. C’mon out, John. Come right on out. Tell him.

JOHN ADAMS: I overheard what you were saying. When we underscored the importance of religious liberty, we were specifically trying to prevent the government from allowing the tenets or agendas of any one religion to restrict the rights of any citizen. If you’re creating laws to limit where Americans can work, shop, live…laws that even dictate where and how a severely mistreated and physically-endangered minority of the citizenry can use the privy, and you’re promoting this as defense of ‘Religious Liberty,’ you’re negating our — nay, everybody’s — entire premise of liberty! How you got into any sort of position of influence in the crafting of laws is totally amazing. And, by God, heart-chilling.

ALVY: Boy…if life were only like this.

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cwinters
817 days ago
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What’s up with the blog?

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Have I really not written a blog post since October?

It’s probably worth discussing what’s been going on with my blog for the past four years or so, and why I’ve been so much less prolific in recent years than I was in years prior.

One answer came to me not long ago when one of my colleagues asked on Twitter about the value of blogging. After thinking about it, I realized that one of the big reasons is that I was trying to generate the kinds of conversations I wanted to participate in. I hadn’t found a venue for these conversations in the offline world, so I wound up trying to create it online.

These days, I have the benefit of having a job at Etsy where many of the technical conversations I once had to go online to find are happening every day. If I want to talk about the ins and outs of engineering management, or the difficulties of releasing an internal tool as open source, or the pros and cons of typesafe languages, I can just grab someone at work and hash it out. Talking about this stuff in the offline world has consumed some of the energy that I once channeled into the blog.

Another complication is that as a manager, management is one of the topics I really want to write about. Unfortunately, it takes extra care to write about management in a way that doesn’t generate anxiety at work. I don’t want to air people’s dirty laundry here, even anonymously, and more importantly, I don’t want to give people them impression that I’m writing about them when I’m not. The person who was the subject of this post read the post, and it wasn’t hard for them to figure out it was about them. Oops. I probably should have told them about that in person rather than blogging about it.

Finally, over a very long period of time, as blogging has become more popular and more professional, I’ve become less willing to air my dilettantism publicly. I once wrote frequently about ecomics and politics without self-consciousness, but I don’t feel very comfortable doing so any more. The world is full of too much armchair analysis by the underinformed. I don’t enjoy feeling like another noisemaker.

There’s plenty of room out there, though, to write about things I do know about, and I do plan to write more. I just thought you might be interested in why I haven’t written as much lately.

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cwinters
918 days ago
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Pittsburgh, United States
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