Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Video Recording of Government Workers. Why Not?

Any program requiring more tax dollars should be willing to accept public video monitoring via the Internet.

For years my technology friends and I have discussed that in the near future it will become practical to record every waking moment of our lives.  Have you ever fantasized about playing back a section of video and being able to show your spouse or your boss that the way you handled a situation is not as they described?  Imagine the arguments you could settle!  Google Glass will make this easier on a personal level.  Recently the price of network cameras (as opposed to the old CCTV style) have come down enough that I replaced my home cameras with IP cameras and a Windows based machine running Blue Iris that captures motion around my home.  I love the new system.  It's easy to use, monitorable via the Internet and reasonably priced.  Storage prices are coming down, and power usage of the new system is pretty low so it's possible to imagine retaining a lot of video if you had reason to do so.

All this video footage got me thinking about the great debate on our hard working government sector employees.  As a guy who has climbed around working on computers in government buildings, I've seen my share of civil servants slacking off.  As a Libertarian I've been pretty vocal most my life that the government sector is too large.  I've talked to friends and former employees who actually work in Federal and State positions and they've confirmed that they were asked to "slow down a bit" when they first went to work there because they were making others look bad.  I've heard stories of welfare fraud and abuse through friends that make my hair curl.  The stupidity and waste in the military is legendary.   Whether it's education or healthcare, city or federal, police or fire, social security or the DMV....they are all known for inefficiency.    Democrats seem not to worry about how deeply dysfunctional all aspects of government are and want to continue to "invest" more.  My preferred solution is to have competing government agencies that the public can chose to use as I feel competition would keep them on their toes and outweigh the inefficiencies of duplication.  But given that probably won't happen another thought is wouldn't you love a deep expose on government efficiency?  I wished the press would place spies in government jobs and record the shenanigans over a number of years. Unfortunately the press never had the budget or the patience for this type of sting.  Back 10 or 20 years ago it might have been possible to do such an undercover assignment, but budgets have gotten pretty bleak for journalists  these days.

15% of our population now work for our tax dollars.  Public sector unions are so damn adamant that they are under paid and over worked.  Democrats and Republicans alike seem very anxious to borrow the country into oblivion to pay for more government.  What if we turned the tables on the government?  Why don't we start recording full video and audio in government workplaces and make that video available to independent auditors?  In fact, if no private data is at stake, we should make that video to the general public on the Internet.  Government workers seem to have no problem violating our privacy so it seems turn about would be fair play. Snowden showed us that the government is highly involved in monitoring our private communication.  The cell phone in your pocket literally allows where you go to be tracked.  Cops access private video and cell data all the time when investigating crimes.  Shouldn't it be the other way around as well? If you've never used security software like Blue Iris, it allows you to scrub quickly backwards and forwards through the video and get a pretty good idea of what's going on.  A person could review an entire year's worth of video in a few hours and learn a lot about work habits and efficiency.  If I'm paying a government worker with my tax dollars don't I have a right to be able to scrub quickly through the video of their work and workplace to get a sense of what they do all day?  If nothing else it could be used as a compromise proposal the next time a politician or government worker asks for more money.  "Oh you'd like to expand that program and hire more people?  In return for our funding you wouldn't mind us installing security cameras in the workplace to monitor how those people are doing would you?  Oh.. and it will be searchable and viewable via the Internet so you may not want to do anything you don't want seen."

I've wrestled with explaining to spiritual friends my ethics and morality over the years.  I feel the same rules basically apply whether we're being watched by a supreme being or not.  I finally came up with a universal litmus test to explain it that also helps me determine if I am "doing the right thing".  I merely ask myself  "If what I'm about to do were on camera is there anyone in this world I wouldn't want to see this video?"  If the answer is yes it's a good indication I shouldn't be doing it.

Isn't it time we held government workers to that ethical standard?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Next Twinkle in Hillary Clinton's eye: Rent Control

I assume that Hillary Clinton will win the next presidency.  It's a fair assumption given the discovery by the 60% of citizens who don't pay tax that they can vote themselves benefits from the treasury.  I also assume that at some point in the next 10 years, interest rates will go up and a certain amount of
inflation will return.  Rising interest rates will make it difficult to afford houses so it's safe to assume the next generation will do more renting.  Depending on how fast baby boomers die off, (making housing available for the next generation), I'm thinking rents will go up.  Rising rents would be a combination of inflationary pressures, as well as increased demand for rentals if there isn't enough supply.  This will be a bigger problem in the larger cities obviously.

Yesterday, the US government reduced the maximum amount FHA loans could be made for.  The pressure not to fund "rich people" to have big houses is evident in the current administration and will continue.  The government doesn't mind helping the average Joe get a low down payment loan, but is loathe to help someone in Reno into a house costing more than $325,000 (The limit for 2014 in Washoe County)

In Germany, France, and UK where a larger number of people live in rentals,  rent caps are being discussed.  Surprisingly, they are being endorsed by both the left and the right and were promised during election campaigns.  Conservative (by European standards) center right Chancellor Angela Merkel supports them.  The french are expected to cap rents in Paris and other cities.  Investors are highly critical of rent controls, saying it will lead to reduced maintenance of properties.

While New York has struggled with rent control for decades, I have no doubt that when rent price pressures ratchet up that Ms. Clinton will be the first to propose rent controls at the federal level.  The assault on private property rights continues....

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Robots are Coming. Encourage your Children to Major in STEM Fields

  • After posting this photo on facebook recently a friend commented:  "Thats what they look like already. What is your point?".
    My point is that although they have them at home depot and other places it's not the norm...yet. By the way I hate these. My point was that robots are coming. Soon. Within the next 10 years. And that raising the minimum wage will accelerate it by making it financially more viable to replace labor with automation. You don't need imagination to see it. We are very very close already. Now as I have posted previously, I realize President Hillary Clinton will combat this by simply slapping a tax on the robotic station, the robotic hamburger maker, the Amazon delivery droid, the agricultural robot, etc and use this tax to pay unemployment benefits and food stamps. But my point is why accelerate this pain and higher joblessness by raising the minimum wage? If we were smart the tax President Clinton slaps on the robots would go to train people to work on robots. The universities should be discouraged from training more archeologists and history majors and encourage STEM majors (Science Technology Engineering & Math). Instead, because politicians are always stupid (and behind the curve) and because our university system is full of professors with stagnant skills and tenure, the tax will go to have people lay around in hammocks. Which would be fine if it increased human happiness. But I daresay it won't. It will breed MORE class envy and resentment. 

    My friend said " I hate robots also. These machines are in all of the grocery stores around here. I can see the day when they will take away our drivers license in lieu of self driving cars, etc. The problem we need to solve is that we have hard working people who are working full time and still are on government assistance because they can't survive on what they make. These people can't afford an apartment and food let alone health insurance, a car or classes at the local community college."

    I replied: Yup and it's about to get worse. It will no longer be an option to drop out of high school, or take some schlock major in College. Those on the lower end of the education spectrum will be hit hardest. It won't matter if you work hard. You will need brain power too.

    Momentum Machines has announced the hamburger robot that makes and serves up to 340 hamburgers per hour.  The next version will offer custom meat grinds for every single customer. Want a patty with 1/3 pork and 2/3 bison ground to order? No problem.  Agricultural robots are getting better. Imagine a fire fighting robot. It doesn't even take much programming to point a hose at the bright light and heat and try not to wet down the people. If cities can save a 70K firefighter salary and pension you bet they will. Waitress? I heard Applebee's restaurant is planning on putting WiFi tablets at every table so you can pay your bill or place a desert orderNot to mention Amazon delivery drones.  Taxi and truck drivers? Have you watched the blind guy get into a self driving car?  Sure, it will probably take a long time to make self driving cars legal (they already are in Nevada with a co-pilot).  You can bet professional drivers will delay acceptance even more. But if you're a young person do you think it's wise to become a truck driver? Life is good in America compared to other places.  I hope we become leaders in this field but we are in danger of losing to the Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese. Can you imagine the protests all over the world when truck drivers are replaced? Will that be evil corporations fault? You can't stop it. All you can do is tax it. Business owners like me will be pissed when you do that. But such is the dance of life.

    Google recently announced the existence of a previously secret robot division.  These won’t be robots for the consumer but will be instead focus on automating manufacturing and the supply chain.  The first company they bought was Meka. Look how Lifelike the thing is:

    The next Google purchase company is Industrial Perception.  I find it comical to watch this robot chuck boxes just like a real UPS loader.  It even watches to see where it has heaved them. The box that looks like beer bottles is treated no differently than any of the others. 


    And who hasn't seen the small robots that lift entire Amazon warehouse shelves into location for human packers to ship boxes?  Perhaps a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet will convince you things are getting interesting. 


    OK maybe just one more.  This is my favorite robot video because it sends a chill down my spine to think of something like this used by police to kick down a door.  Those of you who value guns as a last protection against government think about what good your fancy semi-auto assault rifle will do against police equipped with a Wildcat that has a shotgun strapped to it's back.

    So how do I summarize all this?  The future is coming rapidly.   Please encourage your children to learn to program and work on computers, electronics and robots or be left behind as one of the millions who will be put out of work.