Jesse Jackson Jr.: The iPad Is Killing American Jobs

I’m going to divert myself from my normally safe topics of conversations, and briefly wander into a matter of politics, because Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. has been getting a lot of press lately for his astonishingly stupid remarks about the iPad costing American jobs.

Jesse Jackson Jr.: The iPad Is Killing American Jobs.



Sigh.

First of all, blaming the demise of Border’s on the iPad is a bit like blaming the winning horse for making slower horses lose. Go to your favorite financial reporting site, and examine the stock prizes for Borders, for Barnes and Noble, and for Amazon. As recently as 2007, they were all running neck and neck in terms of performance: in fact, the traditional book sellers were outperforming Amazon through most of 2001-2003. But in 2007, Amazon exploded, nearly tripling in price, and despite the recession which caused a temporary dip, it has continued its remarkable growth. Amazon is now trading at nearly $200, while Barnes and Noble is limping along at $9 and Borders faces bankruptcy.

Why would this be the case? Well, it’s simply because Amazon is a better way to buy books.

For one thing, to many destinations, it’s cheaper. For reasons which escape me, Amazon doesn’t charge sales tax for orders shipped ot most destinations. Here in California, that means that list prices are often lower than you’ll find in brick and mortar stores, and often lower even if you take shipping into account. We can thank the Internet Tax Freedom Act for this, which says that stores which do not have a physical selling presence are not required to collect sales taxes. (According to Amazon’s page on the matter at least, I am still confused by the rationale.) Presumably Congress can address this potentially unfair issue with legislation, although state and local governments frequently make curious choices in decreasing the value of money in their jurisdictions by imposing additional taxes, putting themselves at a disadvantage when compared to other areas.

But beyond cheapness, Amazon also is simply a better place to buy books. In the first place, I can get very close to any book that I want, new or used. I have rather esoteric and technical tastes in books, and it’s not wrong to say that most stores (such as Borders) simply don’t have the books I’m interested in buying. But, if I go Amazon’s website, I can get anything which is print, and many used books (integration of new and used books in search is an awesome feature of Amazon). I recently got old out of print books on analog computing and computer architecture by doing searches on Amazon.com. B&N and Borders simply aren’t any help for those kind of searches. Yes, if you wander into a Borders, you can have them order a book for you, but presumably you don’t need their help to do that: if you know what you want, you can just order it yourself. And if you don’t know what you want, you can use their recommendation service to help find books that maybe you do want.

And of course lastly is that Amazon actually has an electronic book strategy. Amazon recognized the potential of electronic books early, invested and developed consumer products to fuel demand for ebooks, and now is reaping huge benefits. B&N is a step behind, but is at least trying to be competitive. Borders? They didn’t have a clue.

Amazon has recognized that it isn’t Borders who is their competition: it’s Apple. The iPad is an excellent ebook reader (and the Kindle app is the best of the ebook readers) so Amazon has to figure out a way to compete in that market without having to go directly toe-to-toe with Apple. And, they discovered a good way: the Kindle, a less expensive (if less capable reader) that has enough good features to make it a reasonable choice.

Okay, now, back to Jackson’s comments.

The iPad (and probably just as importantly, Amazon) probably did destroy American jobs in one sense: they provided an insanely great product that changed the way that people buy and consume books. That’s disruptive: it means that the thousands of people whose job it was to insert themselves between publishers and book buyers are simply lost. You probably don’t use a travel agent any more either, since services like Expedia and Travelocity exist. But the fact is that there really isn’t any practical reason for you to not just download your books or have them shipped directly from a central warehouse, and there are many consumer benefits to doing so.

We are facing an employment crisis: the skills that many of us have are simply not that valuable, especially in the sales arena. We can lament the loss of jobs (and it is a serious problem) but we shouldn’t misunderstand what is going on here: technology is creating new ways for manufacturers to sell more directly to consumers. It’s just more efficient. As consumers, we’ll enjoy reduced prices, right up until the point where our own jobs are lost, and we can’t afford to be consumers any longer.

If you thought about this a little bit harder than Jackson did, you might be comforted by the idea that there are winners and losers, playing in some kind of zero sum game. But don’t get too happy: the winners are very few in comparison to the number of losers. Besides widening the gaps between rich and poor (which I’d submit isn’t good) it also has certain risks. As wealth becomes concentrated, the power of the few wealthy is increased. With increases in power comes increased potential for abuse and, well, insanity.

Blaming winners is silly. If the game is unfair, change the rules. If it’s no fun for the majority of participants, change the game. Provide value to participating in society, rather than exploiting it.

I can appreciate sarcasm…

If you can as well, try checking out this Open Letter to the Kansas school board who is struggling with the idea of teaching so-called “Intelligent Design Theory” in their science classes.

I am writing you with much concern after I read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design to be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design..

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

Heh.

Oh Good Lord…

We’ve seen plenty of games, chock-a-block full with violence, sex, sex and violence, but I must admit that it never dawned on me that someone would make a game out of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I mean honestly, did someone pitch this idea? Was there some session where this project percolated to the top of all possible project ideas? What ideas were rejected? O.J.’s Rampage? John Wayne Gacy’s Playground Partyland? Scott Peterson Goes Fishing?

Bleh.

Talking Boards Patents and Trademarks

Ouija Board PatentFor some reason, I found a reference to an early patent on Ouija boards, and with a bit of digging, came up with this page of Talking Boards Patents and Trademarks. Most of these early patents declare it a game, rather than a legitimate way to contact the dead.

Using pat2pdf, I extracted a few of these patents as PDF files:

Becker, 1880
Patent 233,198
Bond, 1891
Patent 446,054, the first patent to mention the term “Ouija”
Fuld, 1892
Patent 479,266, makers of Ouija boards until the bottom fell out of the market in the 1970s

It appears that patent examiners of the past were every bit as diligent as those we have today.

Low Cost Cruise Missile Designer Seeks Job

Cruise Missile DesignerBruce Simpson, designer and builder of a low cost, homebrew cruise missile, has posted a rather interesting plea to sell his services. He claims that after the New Zealand government shut down work on cruise missiles, his family has been placed under significant economic stress, and he is how willing to design low cost cruise missiles for anyone who is willing to pay his modest requests (but as he assures us, not for terrorists).

I first read Simpsons webpages several years ago, and marvelled at his good work on pulse jets including his jet powered gokart. He’s a very skilled designer, and his pages have lots of good information about pulsejets, metal spinning, and all sorts of other good stuff. I’m left with a vaguely unhappy feeling about this mercenary turn of mind. I wasn’t very happy when I heard word of the NZ government shutting down the project, as it seemed a heavy handed way to deal with him, but I’m less certain after reading his diatribe. A man as talented as he is could find work in any of a number of industries, and it seems odd that he would focus on trying to become a weapons supplier in preference to other occupations of a more socially redeeming nature.

His page goes on to explain that he is basically doing this to show how feasible it is, and to call attention to the danger that developments like this represent. The arguments sound suspiciously like those of so-called hackers who break into systems to illustrate their weakness. It’s far from clear to me how why breaking, entering and vandalizing computer systems should be considered a benefit to society. In the same way, building a weapons system that can deliver 10kg of explosives doesn’t make anyone safer.

The Rapture and Armageddon

A couple of days ago I was driving around and caught an interview of Tim LaHaye on NPR’s Fresh Air program. LaHaye is the author of a 12 volume fictional series called Left Behind which centers around the Christian fundamentalists belief in Armageddon and the Rapture. He’s written a billion other books, including this self help guide to surviving the Rapture. LaHaye believes that the current generation will see the Rapture and Armageddon.

Let’s make no mistake: Christians of this ilk want the Rapture and Armageddon. They think that they (the true faithful) will be transported to heaven to be with God, while the rest of the atheists, Jews, Muslims, and Catholics battle it out with each other for Armageddon). They look forward to it. They wish it would happen tomorrow. Try listening to Jack Van Impe and his wife Cruella on TV some time. They speak in gleeful hushed tones about the fact that they will be safe but that millions will die in Armageddon. They support Israel because they think that Biblical prophecy requires Israel to be formed before they get to go
to heaven, but they aren’t doing Jews any favors: they expect all of them to die at Armageddon.

This would be funny except for the fact that:

  • Hoping for the death of even one person, much less millions doesn’t have much humor value.

  • People like author Tim LaHaye have founded organizations that carry considerable clout, particularly among conservative Republican groups.

The only thing that comforts me is the certain knowledge that each of these people will ultimately be placed in the ground as we all are, their prophecies unfufilled, and they will have wasted their lives pursuing a distorted, warped, twisted, and ultimately false view of the world.

In the mean time you can amuse yourself with the flowchart for Armageddon and its more sensible revision. You might also look at someone else’s view of humanity’s path to salvation. There is a nice page on snopes.com which details an Internet myth about a woman who jumped the gun a bit on the entire Rapture thing.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Ark of the Covenent Found!

I am fascinated by pseudoscience, creationism and all sorts of other leger de brain that people engage in. Occasionally I end run accross websites that don’t really deserve Quote of the Day status, so I’ve created a new Quack of the Day to take its place.

I was inspired today by Anchor Stone International. There are lots of sites which claim to have evidence that Noah’s Ark has been found, but few with as many mind boggling claims as this one.

From their own Ark of the Covenant FAQ, we find such gems as:


Now that the Ark has been found, how is it being protected? Is there any danger of it falling into the wrong hands?

The Ark has been in its present location for about 2600 years and has been perfectly safe for that time. There is no reason to believe that it is in any danger now.

From time to time we get reports such as the following: ?the area (where the ark is located) is surrounded by a high fence and is being guarded by military troops.? This is absolutely not true. The Ark is located in a cave just outside the north wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is protected in the same way God has always protected it …………. by His angels. There is no need for anything beyond this.

Yeah. Right. They go on to say that the Ark will be revealed to the world (like putting up a website saying it has been found isn’t revealing it to the world?) when Ron Wyatt, the head of this endeavor sees the right signs.

Unfortunately, Ron joined the choir invisible in 1999, so I guess we are stuck.

It’s quite a piece of work. But they do run tour groups!

Noah’s Ark Found!

I am fascinated by pseudoscience, creationism and all sorts of other leger de brain that people engage in. Occasionally I end run accross websites that don’t really deserve Quote of the Day status, so I’ve created a new Quack of the Day to take its place.

I was inspired today by Anchor Stone International. There are lots of sites which claim to have evidence that Noah’s Ark has been found, but few with as many mind boggling claims as this one.

From their own Ark of the Covenant FAQ, we find such gems as:


Now that the Ark has been found, how is it being protected? Is there any danger of it falling into the wrong hands?

The Ark has been in its present location for about 2600 years and has been perfectly safe for that time. There is no reason to believe that it is in any danger now.

From time to time we get reports such as the following: ?the area (where the ark is located) is surrounded by a high fence and is being guarded by military troops.? This is absolutely not true. The Ark is located in a cave just outside the north wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is protected in the same way God has always protected it …………. by His angels. There is no need for anything beyond this.

Yeah. Right. They go on to say that the Ark will be revealed to the world (like putting up a website saying it has been found isn’t revealing it to the world?) when Ron Wyatt, the head of this endeavor sees the right signs.

Unfortunately, Ron joined the choir invisible in 1999, so I guess we are stuck.

It’s quite a piece of work. But they do run tour groups!