February 27, 2023

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 27th 2023 Edition

  • Smart technologies for disciplining the poor. "Prepayment meters don’t protect customers at all. They protect suppliers and humiliate customers." All of this. The gas meter in my flat is a pre-pay one. I wish I'd kept the leaflet that I got at the start of using it—it was full of patronizing copy explaining how it made my life better and was for my benefit. People with well-paid jobs sat around and wrote that copy. It's written to make them feel better, not the customer who reads it. Thankfully I don't need to worry about how to pay for it, but it's still no end of annoyance: I'll wake up to a cold flat because it's run out; I have to leave the flat and go into the basement (where the meter is) to turn on the "emergency credit"; it can only be topped up at a handful of places, which require a special trip as they're not particularly convenient; you have to top-up in cash, you can't pay by card; the maximum amount you can top-up is £99 (it's gone up since the cost-of-living crisis, it was £49 before then), not £100... It's full of things like that, seemingly designed for the customer's inconvenience.
  • Britain is screwed. "On most measures, the [UK] has the most limited welfare state of any developed country, including the United States"
  • Don't believe ChatGPT - we do NOT offer a "phone lookup" service. You best hope that you don't end up the target of ChatGPT's plausible bullshit. Sigh.
  • How Clean is Hydrogen, Actually? Interesting discussion about the challenges of using hydrogen as a fuel.
  • Gas industry paid lobbyists £200,000 to get MPs’ support for ‘blue hydrogen’. The MPs and areas mentioned in this article are around Teeside, but we have similar large petrochemical plants and plans here in the North-West. We need alternative employment options, to let the workforces transition as well as our energy sources.
  • BBC Radio 4 - Seriously…, The Privatisation of British Gas. Not related to the last two links. As Denise notes: "Tell Sid he already owned British Gas." Late on in the podcast they note that big, nationalised industry was good at the start and drifted into bureaucracy; and that privatisation shook things up but then suffered from the same state. They wonder if that's inevitable and just a cycle that will repeat. How about we try finding a way to keep the energy companies smaller and in public ownership? How about we acknowledge the tendency towards stasis and try to design a system that allows for change?
Posted by Adrian at 01:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 13, 2023

How to Respond to Tech Layoffs

Reading through Ed Zitron's Tech's Elite Hates Labor, I was reminded of the Lucas Combine's battles over job losses with defence firms in the 1970s.

Faced with factory closures and downsizing of the workforce, the workers themselves drew up plans for other technology that could be developed. They proposed things like wind turbines, fuel cells, and more—which could open new markets and provide for employment whilst also benefitting society more than tanks and bombs.

In a book written about the Lucas Plan (the name given to the proposals drawn up by the group of unions at Lucas Aerospace) we learn:

The reasons for these cutbacks have not been "technical". Rather they were a result of corporate priorities and financial objectives. This helps us to rule out at least one explanation of why negotiations did not take place over the Combine's Plan.

and further on:

Lucas Aerospace, however, is not in the habit of looking for new markets. In fact probably one of the main reasons why the company wants to stick with military aerospace is that it can then forget about "marketing", relying instead on profitable cost-plus defence department contracts.

Management asserted its power over the workers by refusing to pursue these ideas; even though in some cases there were already orders for the work on the table. There's more background on the plan in my dog-eared pages notes for the Lucas Plan book.

Of course, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Tech workers should definitely join a union, particularly if they're going to continue working for somebody else.

There are a few bright spots of hope for ways that things could be better this time round.

One is the work that the CoTech community are doing to encourage and help tech folk set up as co-operatives.

And the other is the fact that digital tech workers tend to own the means of production. It was hard for the Lucas workers to set up their own production facilities, given the capital cost of the machinery required. I think hackspaces and makerspaces are starting to shift the balance there; but it hasn't really existed in the digital world for my entire multi-decade career, especially with the continued rise of open source. That said, there are always companies looking to reverse that, with things like Github's Copilot, or AWS's myriad of services and APIs which try to lock you into a single provider.

Still. Opt out of closed tools and languages; make careful decisions (at least considering your escape route) about platforms; and resist the siren song of easy VC money. More co-operatives, indie manufacturers and indie developers please!

Posted by Adrian at 12:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 06, 2023

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 6th 2023 Edition

  • Yeah but…I don’t really have anything worth sharing. "Follow your passions, your frustrations, your intrigues, and see where they take you. Then share how you see it, in your world and in your own words. You might believe everything has been said by voices more expert than yours but, trust me, your perspective is just as valid as theirs. And, if your context and lived experience is underrepresented in what’s written about your topic, then your contribution to our collective understanding will be more valuable than most. "
  • The sky is falling. Why do groups of well-meaning, nice people make such wrong (and harmful) decisions? This is excellent. And chiming with me particularly as watch the status quo of the regeneration cycle reassert itself. Not that I really expected anything else, I'm just laying down markers and continuing to play the long game. Maybe it's a gyroscope, not a cycle.
  • You wise up. Are we seeing the beginning of the end for the Online Safety Bill? Let's hope so.
  • Why the super rich are inevitable. Fantastic interactive exploration of economic models to show why a meritocracy isn't the best economic approach.
Posted by Adrian at 11:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack