Firing

There’s hardly a worse feeling than firing someone you like.

I’ve had to do it several times in my career and it is a dreadful thing to have to do. When I worked as night shift supervisor over 10 years ago now, there was someone who was just a pleasant person, kind, punctual and enthusiastic, and someone who obviously really needed the job, too.

I worked with her for weeks and weeks, even staying late to help her out. She was just too slow, though, and too inflexible to really do the work. I couldn’t cover for her any more, and I had to let her go. One of the worst days of my working life, I think; what made it worse rather than better is that she hugged me in thanks as I walked her out the door. I appreciated being thanked for helping her, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like a devil walking back to my desk.

I have no problem firing terrible people, though. I kind of enjoy it. Canning someone who was harassing women at work was pure fun.

Strangely enough at the same job I nearly got fired myself for refusing to let someone go who while also slow was the most accurate person at any job I’ve ever met. I’d give her the most complicated, insanely unorganized tasks imaginable (as that’s the way they came in) and she’d do them with no issues and no questions — and unlike anyone else who did them (including me), they were 100% correct at the end.

Unfortunately, literally the day I left as team leader, she was let go and the department’s quality never recovered after that.

 

Hidden costs

This rent vs. buy calculator from Trulia contains some pretty dubious assumptions in its calculations, making it mostly invalid unless you go in and change quite a few things. And even then, there are some costs that the majority of people will pay that are large and completely unaccounted for.

Basically, don’t trust it at all.

The calculator makes an assumption of a 20% downpayment. Most people receiving a mortgage will not be able to come up with this and thus will have to pay PMI. 

Also, the utility costs are defaulted to $100 additional month. This more realistically is $200-$500 a month, depending on where you live, the weather, and how large your house is. Many people in Michigan and similarly cold areas even in relatively small houses pay $500+ a month for heating oil or propane alone from October to March. This is assuming that most people are coming from an apartment or townhome, which is more realistic than whatever Trulia is assuming to generate $100 extra a month.

I am nearly-reflexively against home ownership, but that doesn’t make me wrong or Trulia’s accounting correct (as it is really, really not).

It also ignores harder-to-quantify costs like how difficult it is to move if you own a house and can’t sell it, which this being tied to a house appears to lead to higher unemployment.

And there is also the fact that though many people have homeowner’s insurance, this often does not or refuses to cover truly catastrophic repairs that can run sometimes into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In other words, your risk goes up greatly from owning a house. And of course there is the risk of a precipitous decline in the housing market that could leave you underwater for a decade or more. (And don’t tell me that can’t happen again. It will happen again.)

None of this is factored into Trulia’s calculations.

If you want a house, sure, go ahead and buy one. But understand the real costs first.

 

Usability and its opposite

My mind boggles at all the user-hostile unusable software released lately.

Even in Mac OS — which I like — some of the decisions are frankly fucking stupid. Such as not having scroll bars. Or having tablet-style scrolling on a non-tablet device. By not having any scroll bar, it is impossible to easily determine where one is on a page. If it were not possible to return to having scroll bars, I could not use Mac OS. That is how much I depend on their presence.

The new Google Maps is also nearly unusable. The interface is much slower. Icons are cryptically unlabeled. Previously-available options are removed, with no replacement.

As quite a few people have pointed out, even if only 10% of your user base uses a particular feature, it’s often not the same feature that each 10% is using. Designers and developers seem not to have a firm grasp on this as the way they compile their usage stats usually is not designed to suss this out.

And of course no matter how much designers claim they are using stats, they often implement what they think is “cool” regardless.

That’s completely ignoring what I think is the largest factor in these user-hostile decisions, which is the increasing authoritarian mindset of our society that influences every milieu.

How we’re getting ripped off

Here’s a post examining the true cost of bandwidth in a worst-case scenario, using as an example a very-expensive 14,000-kilometer undersea cable. I like these worst-case scenarios as they illustrate just how much we are being overcharged for much, much cheaper (by about two orders of magnitude) over-land fiber (on the back end, not to the last mile).

1.9 cents per gigabyte on a very expensive system. Remember that we already baked in a 200% profit margin. But even if you want to get greedy and mark that up an additional 100%, it is only 3.8 cents per gigabyte.

In other words, bandwidth by the gigabyte is incredibly inexpensive. Pennies per gigabyte. And that is on one of the most expensive systems we can imagine.

What’s amazing is that even if you bake in a 300% profit on the most expensive long-haul imaginable, the actual cost is still only around 2-5% of the overage charges ISPs want to rake in per extra gigabyte.

In other words, a co-op ISP could charge $20 per month for 50mbs symmetrical and make a tidy profit for re-investment in future upgrades. And don’t tell me it’s impossible as other countries and their ISPs already do just that. A 1Gbs connection (20 times faster than the 50mbs link) in Sweden for instance is around $25 per month.

Net loss

This has to be one of the dumbest articles I’ve ever read, about how supposedly getting rid of net neutrality will help underdogs.

It shows an extensive and willful misunderstanding about how bandwidth works, how peering works, how cheap data actually is these days for ISPs and how that cost is falling all the time.

If you haven’t worked in this area or done extensive research about it, you shouldn’t really be allowed to write about it. The problem is that most people don’t seem to realize just how very very cheap bandwidth — yep, even to the last mile — is.

I know because one thing I used to do for a living was to bring in that bandwidth as needed. I know exactly how much it really costs.

And it’s getting cheaper at something like 5-10% per month, and has been since the late 1980s.

So know that when ISPs moan and complain about how much it costs to stream House of Cards realize that per subscriber ballpark it costs (total, including last mile) somewhere around 1/4 to 1/2 a cent per gigabyte these days. That’s including all infrastructure costs. Every last one of them. And that is in a high-cost, for-profit ISP. A co-op ISP might be able to do it for somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/16 a cent per gigabyte.

What the article doesn’t mention — as the writer is absolutely clueless — is that many ISPs have turned down or refused to put in Netflix’s caching boxes at crucial bandwidth provision points (the technical details of which I won’t go into here) to essentially make that traffic free to them.

So it’s their intransigence and not any form of undercapacity that is causing problems.

Of course that is only one issue with that very dumb, very under-researched piece of tripe.

And of course I always like to mention the $200 billion the broadband providers stole from the taxpayers, providing nothing in return.

 

Oligopoly

Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable.

This will be disastrous for the open and free (what’s left of it, anyway) internet in the US. Comcast has data caps, too, and this will make it all the more likely they will get smaller.

Wherever we live next we should make sure it’s not in a Comcast service area. And of course it will sail right through the FCC review.

Data

I hadn’t thought of it this way, but I agree.

This is why Windows 8 and equivalents are coming in so heavily. Windows 8 separates those who will handle data and those who will be excluded from any form of competency in this area.

I don’t think it’s a formal conspiracy, but like many great shifts that occur in society this one has come about because a bunch of powerful, self-interested people who can exert control decided to do so nearly simultaneously. It takes no organized cabal, just as flowers blooming require no grand conspiracy; both just occur at the most propitious time.

Tablets, locked-down phones, interfaces optimized only for consumption and user-facing OSes that can’t be changed or modified on the threat of legal punishment — this is exactly analogous to the professionalization of occupations such as law and medicine.

In the future, I would also expect it to require an expensive license to even operate a true, general-purpose computer with severe legal penalties for doing so without government and industry authorization.

 

DRM == no security

Another reason DRM is unacceptable.

An increase in the security of the companies you buy your media from means a decrease in your own security. When your computer is designed to treat you as an untrusted party, you are at serious risk: anyone who can put malicious software on your computer has only to take advantage of your computer’s intentional capacity to disguise its operation from you in order to make it much harder for you to know when and how you’ve been compromised.

If you infect your machine with DRM (yep, even including your smartphone or tablet), you no longer own it — someone else does. And they can in principle and  in practice do anything they want to do to it — all without your knowledge or consent.

Why anyone would want that, I haven’t a clue.

NB don’t see

Well, I just deleted NBCNews.com from my bookmarks.

What in the hell have they done over there? What is that optimized for? Reading on the side of a cow?

Insane designers have apparently taken over the entire internet. There’s about 10 sites left now that I can read without having an aneurysm. How did that make it through any sort of usability review?

Web 2.0 was pretty crappy. It looks like Web 3.0 is going to be utterly useless except to the crowd who still drools into their meals and requires everything explained in one-syllable words or grunts.