Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Taxing Commute

I like technology but like anything else if it comes without an opposable thumb it has no morality.  It's far too easy to overlook a nefarious motive when it comes with a purported benefit.

Have you ever noticed when governments have money problems it's suddenly time for all of us to "tighten our belts?" 

The latest round of whining comes as state governments are coming up short in highway funds from declining fuel taxes thus making them desperate to recapture that lost revenue.  Seems all those admonitions about driving more fuel efficient cars and spending less on "frivolous" purchases like food and shelter have finally backfired.

Capitalism, at least theoretically, is about buyers and sellers.  Offer something somebody wants and you can make a living selling it.  If a lot of people want it you've got room to make a tidy little profit and even kick a bit back to the public coffers to fix all those potholes.  It's seems only fair to give a little back for the  greater good. 

No harm in that but that's not the way it works these days.  While Joe Public is watching his wages fall and prices rise he's got less to contribute to the engines of the economy.  He can't afford the better house or the new car or the family vacation.

Too bad for him, some would say.  In reality it's too bad for everyone.  When nobody is able to buy anything nobody's able to pay taxes for the things we all rely on.  Government revenue shrinks making it harder to meet public obligations. 

Ok, so nothing's free and we all need to pay our share if we want to have nice things right? 

But we still see big oil  enjoying billions in tax breaks claiming the loss of them would be catastrophic to the economy.  They never say "whose" economy, just that layoffs would result.  Of course that would be just fine for them since financial markets always reward "rightsizing."  Put 100,000 people out of work and watch your share price go up 20%.  Blaming public policy for it is just a benefit.

Corporations enjoy tax loopholes big enough to drive a truck through all the while moving ever closer to "personhood" with few of the responsibilities of the label.  Increasingly money=speech and the fatter your wallet the more of the government's ear you get.

So what do you think is going to happen when somebody comes up with a scheme to fleece taxpayers more for doing something they already do every day. 

There's a new movement amongst state governments to try to make up for all those lost highway taxes caused by fewer fuel taxes coming in.  That's right you Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf owners! You're destroying the economy!

It seems they seek to start monitoring your driving habits and tax you based on them.  All you have to do is just allow them (state governments) to put a little black box in your car about the size of a cell phone.  It's able to record  the number of miles traveled and (potentially) everywhere you went among other things. 
I'll dispense with the privacy argument, it's been a fallacy since the dawn of the Patriot Act. 

We've accepted that our communications are monitored, our speech diminished and our civil liberties curtailed in the name of security.  After all, every great civilization leveraged fear to keep the masses in line.  Rome used armies and the Church used eternal damnation.  Government always finds a bugaboo to prop up. 

But we're not looking for terrorists in your Kia here, we're talking about yet another way to squeeze even more money out of you.  The program supposedly rewards drivers with a lower tax bill if they drive less but states are counting on more not less revenue.  That means the entire premise is  based on punishing drivers for something they have little control over, their commute.  Forget picking up the kids from soccer practice in the minivan, best get them a bus pass!

Now your every move is about to be fair game to be judged for the sake of refilling public coffers .  Let's not forget why those coffers are running dry, however.  A capitalist economy is dependent on people buying things.  When you're broke, you're not buying anything.  Almost everything you purchase has a tax so it follows that with buying down so are revenues.

It comes down to the "fair share" argument and there's a huge demographic that's paying far more than theirs and they're not living in mansions.  Schemes like taxing your driving habits violate not only civil liberties but continue to ignore the core problem. 

It's not the 40K per year cubicle dweller that's to blame.  After all, he did what he was told to do.  He drives a more fuel efficient car and accepts an ever increasing tax burden on everything from his wages to his food.  He can't participate in the economy because he's being subjugated by it. 
Rather it's huge corporate interests dodging their responsibilities, political graft and public projects woefully mismanaged.   In my state, for example,  it's common for public roadways to be built from state tax revenues and bonds instead of Federal funds. 

Rarely do any of these projects come in on budget or schedule and often when you look deeper you see why with millions in wasted public funds if not outright misappropriation.  It's an environment ripe for corruption which only makes the cry of diminished resources from state transportation departments that much more hollow.

All those fiercely independent states who eschew Federal highway funds likely do so to avoid the scrutiny of all of those "outsiders."  

There's 2 things that have become apparent to me as I've watched the population grow in my state.  The first is that it seems the Federally funded roads almost always get built on time and on budget while the state road projects can rarely make that claim. 

The second is that you can always count on there never being enough money for public projects so long as public policy keeps squeezing those who have the least to offer.
It's an economic catch 22.  A vicious cycle easily broken by correcting a lopsided fiscal construct but lacking in the political will to achieve it. 

Remember that change never happens overnight.  It's always a series of subtle events that often go unnoticed.  Paint poor public policy with the brush of patriotism or the public good and bad things will happen. 

Taxing Joe Public more for his commute while ignoring those who refuse to pay their fair share is bad public policy, period.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Breaking Bad: Felina

Heard the spoilers, saw the episodes yada yada.

Just occurred to me...

Apologize if this is already common knowledge but Vince Gilligan played a funny with the last episode of Breaking Bad....

Here it is.

The title is Felina....

Strange title until you realize that Felina is an anagram....


                       F E L I N A
                       F I N A L E

clever...very clever...

Friday, October 11, 2013

A troglodyte gets a Smartphone

I don't understand you people.  You stand there all day long scratching on your little 4 inch screens and think you're getting something done.  I just don't see the attraction.

Everything  evolves and I suppose I have to as well.  I work in technology and the way I used to do things just isn't possible anymore.  I've resisted the onslaught of the mobile revolution and for the most part I've found my convictions justified.  In short, mobile devices are about as intuitive as disarming a bomb.  One false move and everything blows up.

Here's an example of one such "intuitive" user interface.  On my phone if you dial a call and it connects the screen turns off.  This prevents the inadvertent "Butt dial" that could be caused if your face made contact with the screen during your conversation  That's fine except for those times when you really need that keypad  to be there.  Say, when you're deep into your voicemail setup or stuck in your bank's 34 levels of menu options where you just  must "press the # key." 

You have to press the power button and then fight the phone as it keeps trying to shut off the screen.  Does great things for my productivity.  Don't even get me started on the weird alien symbols that are  about as intuitive as a European road sign.

There's so much pain involved but I must persevere.  I knew this was coming and even borrowed a friend's deactivated Droid Bionic to get used to the way the interface works.  Unfortunately, the time spent didn't do much to prepare me for what was to follow. 

As i slowly navigated through my "pop" culture shock, questions swarmed my tiny Paleolithic brain...

 Where the hell are my apps?     What's the difference between an App and a Widget?   Is my phone really using Wi-Fi or am I going to get a $500 bill for data overages?  Why do I have to sign up for Gmail just to get an app to tell me if I'm going to get that $500 bill?        I agreed to what?           Why did my phone shut itself off?           Why do they call it a "Play" store if I'm not having any fun?


There was one point where I became so frustrated that I had to put the phone back in its little white box.  Otherwise it was going to end up in pieces on the floor after a sudden violent impact with a nearby wall.
I have a low tolerance for BS...

Now this isn't the first time I've been "Forced" to deal with a Smartphone.  I've had to work with every generation of Iphone and a few Android phones but never had to live with one or more to the point, pay for the consequences. 

None of them have ever proved to be as intuitive as the commercials make them out to be.  Is Apple easier to figure out than Android? Sure but that's not saying much.   That's like deciding whether to be burned at the stake or drowned. 

Maybe I'll get used to it but I've already figured out how to turn off the 4G radio for Internet functionality and removed a blinding array of apps whose only purpose appears to be to provide me that $500 data charge.  And no, I didn't customize my ringtone...

As for you mobile media mavens...

If you believe that you can have a full, rich visual experience with that tiny spec of screen real estate on your Smartphone you are undeniably insane. Sorry to break it to you but someone had to tell you before you started having conversations with the voices in your head.

Even with the supposedly "generous" 4.3 inch screen on my phone, reading web pages is painful, Watching videos is quite simply a disappointment.  Navigation is a joy (not) with my ample digits (fingers) and often an exercise in frustration.  Yes I know about gestures and pinches and all they do is make everything worse. 

Voice control  is just a band-aid.  Well, aside from the amusement  found in how badly it mangles the English language. Try saying your email address to Google Voice and see what you get, hilarious.

Well, at least I didn't pay much for this technological abomination.  I have a refurbished HTC EVO 4G from Ting that cost me just over $100 and all I want to do with it is make calls and occasionally use it as a hotspot when I'm on a client site with no Internet access.  That's it. 

I could care less about videos, apps, email or anything else.  I don't even browse the Internet on the phone because it's pointless for reasons I've already mentioned.  Even installing  apps, the core activity of any self-respecting phone geek,  is a chore.  Forget that tiny screen,  I just go to the Google Play store and set up the whole process from there.   At least that option is intuitive.  Too bad I had to go to a website on my PC to enjoy it.

On-screen keyboards?  Predictive or not they still, in a word..."suck."  Sorry folks,  I'm a touch typist so this whole culture of hunt and peck makes me wretch.    Let's not forget that I have fingers the size of hot dogs.

I was trained to control text without having to look at my fingers especially considering their unattractive aesthetics.

In short, I'll grudgingly use this thing the way I need to use it but it might as well be a Wi-Fi dongle with a keypad.   I'm amazed how gullible and accepting consumers are.  Confusing user interfaces, Horrible control surfaces and design about as intuitive as Rorschach test.

The marketing departments have won the war.  They've convinced consumers that counterintuitive is the new ergonomics.   

In short they're selling BS and like I said, I have a low tolerance for it.  That tech pundits call these devices "computers" is laughable.  A Smartphone isn't a computer, it's a device.  Using a Smartphone like a computer is like having to drive a car using two steering wheels and four brake pedals. 

Oh well, I have to go make sure my updates are using Wi-FI instead of 4G now....