IN THIS ISSUE:
iToon on New Grill?
Tech It to the Speed Limit
The Rise of the Blogs
iToon on Popularity
THE NEW WORLD
A CYBERBARF CYBERSPACE ODD-ESY
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EXAMINE THE NET WAY OF LIFE
The tension between capital and labor began when they concepts were separated from the independent agricultural economy of self sufficient family farmers. The United States was founded on vast open lands, rights of homestead, plentiful raw materials, adaptive immigrants and the concept of personal opportunity. The purist form of equality: your survival depended upon yourself.
It is ironic that today the U.S. is perceived as the industrial giant but in reality its number one export is agricultural products. The boom of industrialization of America was not the infinite plane but possibly another economic cycle, downturned by alternative cheap labor, cheap raw materials, or new opportunities from other parts of the world. Just as the U.S. was that economic engine a century ago, China, Korea and other Pan-Asian countries have copied the blueprint for industrial success.
The labor pool has changed. Some would say that the traditional factory worker is floating face down in the pool. The manufacturing of parts and assembly of parts into bigger tangible things was the backbone of the growing economy. The U.S. was self-sufficient in natural resources to feed this beast: steel, oil, transportation networks and most important, a materialistic all consuming population which spurred the growth. Economists debate the hidden forces that drive wealth, but it is really a common sense observation: when a country makes value added products that it can consume, all parts of the economy will rise. When a country is dependent on nontangible services, such as tourism, as a primary means of its economy, value is difficult to add to a service so not all parts of the economy will benefit.
Governments have been trying to micromanage economies. It is an impossible task; it is just as accurate as predicting the weather a month from now. No one can accurately know what 300 million different people are thinking on any given day. No one can tell what 300 million consumers are going to buy next. Educated guesses would include the basics of life: food, shelter, transportation. But the chief economists sit on Mount Olympus in their academic robes to make pronouncements which they never correct. The economy runs on billions of individual decisions. Choice. Free choice. Unpredictable. A cruel example of this is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans was destroyed by a natural disaster. The immediate reaction was that the demand would be huge for building materials, labor and all the associated services to rebuild a large city in a short amount of time. The perfect seed for explosive economic prosperity. Despite billions of alleged dollars poured into the parish to reconstruct the city, most residents have abandoned their homes and businesses. Personal free choice. Those who did not return had reasons beside the promise of economic redevelopment. Those displaced found new opportunities in the cities and towns. The real economic prospect for New Orleans remains guarded because the federal, state and local politics of reconstruction is as draconian as the Reconstruction post Civil War.
Employers have found the computerization of the workplace a productivity boom and a liability bust. Companies have used the concepts of internet auctions and best pricing to squeeze suppliers to maintain profits. Companies have found new distribution, marketing and sales opportunities by posting e-commerce sites on the web. They have been able to recruit nationwide with a net listing instead of blanketing the country with individual newspaper ads. But at the same time, a worker with an internet connection can lead to unauthorized access, viewing inappropriate materials, violation of trade secrets, evidence of harassment in the workplace, and enabling laziness. In the industrial factory world, a person on an assembly line had a specific task to do in a specific time otherwise the entire product line would back up and crash. There was little time to daydream or goof off. But a worker in a cubical in front of a monitor . . . a recent study indicates that the average office worker wastes 1.86 hours per work day (not including lunch and breaks). Most of the wasted time is random surfing of the world wide web or personal emailing.
Employers have countered with installation of spyware, software to track the mouse clicks and URLs of each employee. This is not a new concept. Even industrial barons used eyes in the warehouse sky, detectives and piece meal counts in order to keep workers in line. An out of balance work place will lead to the same tensions that can boil over into employment upheavals. Employers today have the ultimate hammer: outsourcing and job elimination. The internet and telecommunications can have a Bombay call center picking up orders, customer service or cold call sales just as well as downtown office worker.
On the other end of the technology spectrum is this year's immigrant marches. The illegal immigrants were demanding rights normally afforded only to legal immigrants and citizens. The illegal immigrant rights movement is another special interest lobby attempting to extract headlines and political favors from elected officials. But there was a heated (though not well published) backlash against these protesters; the most vocal from new legal immigrants and naturalized citizens who believe that this movement is merely a gross attempt to jump to the head of the immigration line without following the law. So even non-technology can create tensions.
The native American work population is growing older. Most segments of the work chain are affected by this change. Unskilled or semi-skilled labor can find jobs in construction, factory, assembly and agricultural services. High school graduates from urban areas seem to gravitate toward the minimum wage sector (fast food, store clerks). College graduates compete to get engineering, technical, marketing, or professional employment as doctors, lawyers, accountants. The upper middle class manager supervising several lower middle class teams is slowly being whittled away in the corporate culture. The lean mean fighting machine of the Board room usually cuts this area of the corporation first. There is a glut of corporate cubical workers who have run through their severance, unemployment and savings. Some have to start their own businesses (franchises, services, or selling stuff on e-bay to make the mortgage payments) just to get a weekly paycheck and stop the gaping hole in their resumes. Corporate management finds computerization and telecommunication advances the justification to get rid of employees. (But at the same time, during shareholder meetings, many proclaim that the most valuable intellectual property asset a company has is its employees.)
So strange is the grinding to a halt of the traditional American economic engine. More people retire, early. Employers claim a shortage of low paying workers so they clamor for open immigration rules, but at the same time, 50 percent of high school students do not go to college, and of those who do, less than 45 percent graduate. Many colleges rope students to staying on five or six years to get a degree. It keeps them out of the work place where degree jobs are tougher to find. So 25 percent of high school students don't complete college, and if the employers are right, what is this segment of the population doing for a living?
Meaningless part time work? Living off mom and dad? Spending an inheritance? Waiting for a winning lottery ticket? Looking to score welfare or child support? Crime? Or living an underground life? Virtual worlds, which started off as entertainment sites (The Sims Online or Second Life) are now morphing to real world substitutes. People are buying and selling digital real estate for real money. People are selling virtual goods for real money. People are setting up virtual resorts for other players to stay at and are getting paid real money. One can tell how serious this is becoming when the first lawsuits have hit the courts about getting booted from the gamesphere or losing their valuables to cybertheft. Ancient philosophers once opined that Life is merely a Game played to the Death, but these virtual worlds are becoming an extreme form of denial. If society is measured by the public achievements of men and women, a virtual society is creating avatars and props; a new form of modern alchemy?
Anywhere there is the scent of money, the pigs will boar their way through a jungle to pick the bones of those who fall in their paths. Working on-line means working marks in these internet communities, in legitimate ways under the rules of the game, and at times, illegitimate ways. Can a pure on-line entertainment world support a labor force of would be self-entertainers?
Tech It To the Speed Limit OBSERVATIONS
Rocky, our Tech Guru, decided to drive from Montana to Illinois for a college radio reunion. He rented a Nissan Murano. He found that the rental clerks statements that they checked it out and everything was good to go a bogus joke. There were numerous paint chips and scratches over the vehicle. And worse, the cigarette lighter-power plug was disabled. Not working. Not functioning.
Why would a car rental company disable a cigarette lighter? To keep people from smoking in the car? People have lighters. Rocky cannot travel without a vast personal power grid. On the road he can have a scanner, an iPod, a cellphone, and/or portable electric cooler (not the two soda can but the National Park bear size) cranking through the volts. He said driving cross country without his iPod (music and podcasts) unacceptable. I classify it as the equivalent of starting out a trip across the Mohave without any water.
So what did he do after signing the rental receipt? Starting his search for portable power generator!! I could see him wandering down hardware aisles chanting Power . . . Power . . . plugs . . . lots of plugs . . . power. . . So at night, he recharges the power box. Each morning he reloads the rental vehicle with his electronic gadgets. This is like a NASA launch every morning.
So Rock plows through middle America, listening to his iTunes; watching the large fuel economy dashboard screen count down the miles left on the last tank; snapping cellphone or digital camera pictures at 75 mph; then stopping to upload photos to his flickr account, his website, or to surf the web to find more podcasts, check email accounts, find weird news items or unsecured wi-fi networks. It is amazing how many wi-fi networks have no secure firewall protection. At the motel, Rock turned on the Powerbook and was locked and loaded to go.
The motel had wi-fi; basically an unsecured base station. But he remarked he had acceptable access speed. I checked to see if the parking lot was filled with high schoolers in their parents' car surfing for free bandwidth. No one in sight. For the tech savvy traveler, the idea of a motel having dial up internet service is like being put into a hellhole dungeon. Unacceptable at many levels. With so many people at work using their employer's high speed DSL + connections, a 28.8 land line is slow torture; cruel and unusual punishment.
Despite a loaded vehicle of techno-appliances and applications, Rocky mostly used his Powerbook, iPod and digital camera. His Treo, portable printer and camcorder never left the car.
In the end, the packed techovehicle 2006 left the parking lot toward Wyoming. A few days later, I found a small remnant of his trip. He has yet to discover that something from his electronic stash is missing. Any guesses?
Connecticut bloggers are claiming victory. The political cyberjunkies claim to have defeated incumbent Senator Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic Party primary. Did they defeat Lieberman or were voters tired of incumbent politics? Say it ain't so, Joe.
Lieberman's web site went down on election day. The Senator's camp suspects his opponent's supporters for downing the site. His opponent's technicans say the neophyte incumbent did not have enough bandwidth to handle an election day surge in visitors. This petty sniping is no different than campaigns finger pointing each other about improper flying, vote coaching or street money hugs on election day.
The electronic frontier of elections is a daunting storm on the horizon. CNN's Lou Dobbs has had numerous reports on his business show on the perils of e-voting machines. The parts, the guts of the electronic devices, are being sold on e-bay. Enterprising hacks could acquire the base technology to manipulate votes under the nose of any election judges. People generally don't trust the hidden calculator - - a paper trail is still a trail of trust in most voters minds. But politics embraces the new technology to gain another advantage; this time over their own party loyalists. Machines take out the patronage vote watchers out the of the equation. Machines can be programmed easier than human voters. The potential for vote fraud increases when the ballot process is taken away from the average citizen and placed in the consultant's hands (who are being contract paid by the very politicans who have a vested, conflict of interest in the outcome of said elections).
The incumbency rate in American elections is an appalling apathy tribute to eastern bloc one party rule. More than 95 percent of incumbents win elections. It is news when one loses. In order to lose, one must commit the political equivalent of murder. Heck, politicans in prison or deceased have won elections. It is not an endorsement that no change is needed; the procedure to initiate any change has been legislatively stacked against any challenge (third party or independent) to the status quo. When more and more people believe their vote doesn't count, it doesn't count; that's what the now career politicans want to hear - - because that means less votes means easier victories for the incumbents. The less work needed to maintain those cushy public perks the better.
The blogs are supposed to be a way to counteract the apathetic slide of American culture. A personal web page is the last soapbox on the town square. It is the founding father's concept of freedom of expression in its purist form. But instead of creating a valuable voice, the blogs have become an arrogant self serving tool for the mainstream party talking point lists. The bloggers claims of becoming the new force in politics is the same hollow preachy statements of the original dot.coms who have lost been lost in the cyber graveyard.
With traditional news sources being less and less noticed by the average voter, the bloggers believe the statistical probability that they would become the news source for these lost surfers fails to consider that there are hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of web pages (most not devoted to politics) that captivate these souls away from all news sources. It is a personal decision to acquire information to make an informed choice on the ballot. It is part of citizenship to be an informed voter, to know the issues, and to make your viewpoint known to your leaders. Do they even teach this is school anymore? The whole procedure has been packaged into ten second soundbites, toothpaste hawking commercial messages, and special interest group peer pressure that the leaders only want mindless drones punching the right numbers on the punch ballot. It is no accident that as voter turnout declines, the rate of incumbent victories increases.
The status quo is bad for America. Apathy leads to power mongers which leads to loss of freedoms. Legislators believe that their job is to legislate, create rules, control more and more aspects of one's personal and business lives. They become addicted to this power like a street junkie to cocaine. If bloggers can get more people interested in the process, then more power to them. But just as the two major parties steal ideas, convert platform and drown out the message of third party or independent candidates, so to will the DNC or the RNC think of a strategy to counteract the blog message. The party regulars sole purpose to maintain their power stranglehold on the seats of government. Remember, these are the same people who wanted laws and regulations that banned any political free speech, and advertising for 30 days before election day. Why? To stop any last minute mistakes from an incumbent. Let name recognition on the ballot rule the day.
Look forward to the party regulars to knock down the internet sites as being naive, fringe elements of society, uninformed, out-of-the loop, anti-intellectual or worse, mere troublemakers. But quietly the regular parties and PACs have launched their own sites in a gold rush mentality to stake a claim as the political voice on the net. It is in their best interest that you remain uninterested in what They are doing, what they are spending your money on, and what new laws lobbyists want passed in the middle of the night.
The blog run will probably be like the AM Talk Show format that sprung to life with conservative radio hosts in the mid-1990s. AM radio was the bastard child of the industry. Music was on the high quality FM bandwidth, leaving AM to news, weather, not for profit stations and sportscasts. The field was fertile for a new format. The jousting of political views was the perfect seed for the rebirth of AM bandwidth. The intenet is slightly different. It is not a finite bandwidth, with a limited number of stations and hours of the program day. The net is a wide open universe with millions of users and millions of topical pages. One blog is like a needle in a haystack. But with the fickle, feature oriented media picking up user driven content rankings (like Digg), some blogger will have a breakout and possibly a short run. Politics does not have the steam to generate a long term staying power like news portals like Drudge.
THE NEW WORLD A CYBERBARF CYBERSPACE ODD-ESYThe Sultanate of Clintonia-Rogstaden
The global on-line gaming experience has quietly exploded into a a bandwidth python of multi-hour, multi-kingdom game spheres. Whether it is the team combat arena, or the total simulated fantasy genre, more and more men and women are using their free time to escape to a virtual world. As a result of our tech guru's prodding suggestion, cyberbarf.com has created Sultanate of Clintonia-Rogstaden. Readers will have a running update of the status of this virtual country; you can peek at the real game pages, or get the backstories outside the game's program. For example, check out the images of the national currency. There will be inside jokes, satire, humor and pulse of a real bizarre country. New features will be added on a regular basis. So check out the cyber-soap opera of nation building here at cyberbarf.com
THE NATION OF CLINTONIA-ROGSTADEN IS CONTINUALLY UPDATED DURING THE MONTH. CHECK BACK FOR UPDATES ON YOUR FAVORITE PAGES.