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wmd     I’m currently reading a book called Weapons of Math Destruction, inside Cathy O’Neil details how ‘Big Data’ (via the use of opaque algorithms) is increasing inequality and threatening democracy in the industrialized world.

About half-way done and the sad word of the day that I’ve learned from the book is this –

This untidy word in question is “Clopening” and is defined as this:  When an employee works late on night to close down the store or cafe and then returns a few hours later, opening it again.  It makes logistical sense for a company, but leads to sleep deprived workers and crazy schedules.

Oh, and another term – “Churn” – the negative costs associated with hiring for and training a new person in a position.  Churn speaks directly to the company’s bottom line and thus is a large input factor into many HR related algorithms.

Terminology aside, let’s take a look at the central idea of the chapter called ‘Sweating Bullets”:

“Scheduling software can be seen as an extension of the just-in-time economy.  But instead of lawn mower blades or cell phone screens showing up right on cue, it’s people who badly need money.  And because the need money so desperately, the companies can bend their lives to the dictates of a mathematical model.

[…]

The trouble, from the employee’s perspective, is an oversupply of low-wage labour.  People are hungry for work, which is why so many of them cling to jobs that pay barely eight dollars per hour.  This oversupply, along with the scarcity of labour unions, leaves works practically with no bargaining power.  This means the big retailers and restaurants can twist workers’ lives to ever-more-absurd schedules without suffering excessive churn.  They make more money while their workers’ lives grow hellish.  And because these optimization programs are everywhere, the workers know all too well that changing jobs isn’t likely to improve their lot.  Taken together, these dynamics provide corporations with something close to a captive workforce. 

    I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I consider scheduling software one of the more appalling WMD’s (weapons of math destruction).  It’s massive, as we’ve discussed, and it takes advantage of people who are already struggling to make ends meet.  What’s more, it is entirely opaque.  Workers often don’t have a clue about when they’ll be called to work.  They are summoned by an arbitrary program. 

   Scheduling software also creates a poisonous feedback loop.  Consider Jannette Navarro.  Her haphazard scheduling made it impossible for her to returnprecariate to school, which dampened her employment prospects and kept her in the oversupplied pool of low-wage workers.  The long and irregular hours also make it hard for workers to organize or to protest for better conditions.  Instead, they face heightened anxiety and sleep deprivation, which causes dramatic mood swings and is responsible for an estimated 13% of highway deaths.  Worse yet, since the software is designed to save companies money, it often limits workers’ hours to fewer than thirty per week, so that they are not eligible for company health insurance.  And with their chaotic schedules, most find it impossible to make time for a second job.  It’s almost as if the software were designed expressly to punish low-wage workers and keep them down. 

    The software also condemns a large percentage of our children to grow up without routines.  They experience their mother bleary eyed at breakfast, or hurrying out the door without dinner, or arguing with her mother about who can take care of them on Sunday morning.  This chaotic life affects children deeply.  According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, an advocacy group, “Young children and adolescents of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside daytime working hours are more likely to have inferior cognition and behavioural outcomes.”

  -Cathy O’Neil.  Weapons of Math Destruction p. 128 – 129

    I look at the grossly unfair conditions these people are facing and can see the self-perpetuating cycles that are being established.  I thank the many heavens that I have a profession that keeps me out of this particularly cruel circle of horror.  Unionized, and organized through my work, through my collectively bargained contracts I can count on stable work hours and a reasonable compensation.  This condition of relative comfort seems far out of reach for so many people who are no less deserving than I – a stable means to live an raise a family are not unreasonable demands to make- but the Precariate’s humble demands are dismissed and ground down with the help of these WMD that perpetuate, codify, and bring to fruition the crippling inequality in our societies.

The push for unionization must always be kept at the forefront of any progressive movement, because left to their own machinations, corporations will exploit people and society for their own selfish ends.

 

1st-chart

A reminder, that the more egalitarian a society is, the better off it is for both the poor *and* the rich.

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Hey…heeeeey… JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier…frack you and your paywalls.

This is from Sci-Hub’s main page.

“We fight inequality in knowledge access across the world. The scientific knowledge should be available for every person regardless of their income, social status, geographical location and etc.

Our mission is to remove any barrier which impeding the widest possible distribution of knowledge in human society!

We advocate for cancellation of intellectual property, or copyright laws, for scientific and educational resources.

Copyright laws render the operation of most online libraries illegal. Hence many people are deprived from knowledge, while at the same time allowing rightholders to have a huge benefits from this. The copyright fosters increase of both informational and economical inequality.

The Sci-Hub project supports Open Access movement in science. Research should be published in open access, i.e. be free to read.

The Open Access is a new and advanced form of scientific communication, which is going to replace outdated subscription models. We stand against unfair gain that publishers collect by creating limits to knowledge distribution.”

Knowledge, available to the plebs?  What is heresy is this??

Of course the fascists are up in arms

“That’s all well and good for us users, but understandably, the big publishers are pissed off. Last year, a New York court delivered an injunction against Sci-Hub, making its domain unavailable (something Elbakyan dodged by switching to a new location), and the site is also being sued by Elsevier for “irreparable harm” – a case that experts are predicting will win Elsevier around $750 to $150,000 for each pirated article. Even at the lowest estimations, that would quickly add up to millions in damages.

But Elbakyan is not only standing her ground, she’s come out swinging, claiming that it’s Elsevier that have the illegal business model.

“I think Elsevier’s business model is itself illegal,” she told Torrent Freak, referring to article 27 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.

She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. “All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold,” she said.

Elbakyan hopes that the lawsuit will set a precedent, and make it very clear to the scientific world either way who owns their ideas.

“If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge,” she said. “We have to win over Elsevier and other publishers and show that what these commercial companies are doing is fundamentally wrong.”

To be fair, Elbakyan is somewhat protected by the fact that she’s in Russia and doesn’t have any US assets, so even if Elsevier wins their lawsuit, it’s going to be pretty hard for them to get the money.”

[Sci-Hub]

We can lump this video in with the others that attempt to shed light on issues in society that matter while discreetly hawking their wares in the background.  The best form of advertising?  I’m not sure, but the commercial makes space for some thinking about how generational experiences are becoming increasingly stratified and foreign to one another.

Are today’s youth doomed to be nothing but cloistered vid-heads who only know nature through what they have seen on the screens of their tablets?  Possibly but I’m thinking that much of the fuss we see about losing out youth to technology is a direct result of our societies ruthless quest for economic productivity, seemingly at all costs.

productivity

Productivity has ever increased, but at what social cost?  Remember when only one bread-winner was required to live a reasonable life and raise children?  Successive generations have had to work harder for less money, just to stay in place.  Community life has taken a back seat to the lifestyle focused the individual and consumption – social technology directly feeds into our atomization and separation from others.

The leaders of our society have learned the lessons of the past.  All that New Deal/Civil Rights/ Second Wave Feminist scared them shitless and having witnessed what an organized community of like minded people can accomplish are doing their best to ensure that it (social change benefiting the masses) does not happen again.  People with common interests, common community and commitment to bettering their own interests change society.  Isolated lone-wolves mired in consumptive practices do not.  Hence witness the trajectory of our society in which the ‘tailored-experience’ is all the rage; the idea that making choices (ones that are carefully circumscribed mind you) is empowering; and sadly the idea that social power resides in competition and being ‘unique’.  These are all hallmarks of society geared toward preserving a status-quo that benefits a particular segment of society.

The video is playing up the same fears every generation has about the next.  Are some of the concerns valid?  I think so, but nothing that cannot be overcome with realization that social media friends are not the same as having friends in real life.  Sharing (not the facebook variety) your life with others is a necessary part of healthily existing in society and cannot be replaced by social media.  Can social media/technology be used to enhance and facilitate our social interactions?  Of course, but it is not a replacement for the attachment and community humans need to be healthy and happy.

Societal analysis aside,I for one am glad that video games have come as far as they have.  Video games are an immersive experience for me that allow me to spend some time outside of the real-world.  At the same time I do realize that video gaming is just one aspect of life and must be balanced with other pursuits/activities/interests.

Admittedly, one must be careful in allocating time to video gaming as hours seem to disappear, especially when playing with your friends .  It is very easy to lose yourself in the experience and come out bleary-eyed on the other-side wondering why the hell it is 2am and why you’re not sleeping. :)

How I feel about video games

How I (mostly) feel about video games

I grew up playing with Barbies and reading books, and didn’t really use a computer for anything other than basic word processing until around the turn of the century. On top of that, I have really bad hand-eye coordination, and not great depth perception, so simulated 3D environments just break my brain. In other words, video games are not something at which I’m primed for success. I’ve never made it past the first hole you have to jump over in the original Mario game. Ever.

Arb really enjoys video games, and over our years together, he’s tried to get me involved. I end up getting stuck in a door or falling off a cliff repeatedly or getting lost or just getting shot a lot and having no idea where I’m getting shot from. (On one memorable occasion, it was Arb shooting me in the back, running in a circle around me and keeping just ahead of me awkwardly spinning around trying to see what was happening.) And then I get mad and quit.

Now, I’m trying again. Read the rest of this entry »

The idea of having to be responsible 24/7 for the life of another is, frankly, quite repulsive.  I’m not sure as to the reasons why our society has a fetish for raising children, but it needs to stop.  There are too many of us human types on the planet anyways.

However, Buddy the robot, is a different story.  Imagine a house denizen that is reliable and attends to your needs.  I’m down with that.

It is kind of amazing how Wikipedia manages to survive given all the anti-reality tendencies of the human race.  Religion, extreme right and left politics – wikipedia manages to muddle through most of the time and present a version of truth that is mostly acceptable.  More amazing is that the editors are more or less, like you and me.

Listen and watch Zittrain explain how the useful Wikipedia is and how it could be used in the future as a hands on tool for participatory citizenship.

monitorsAsk any IT professional about security and you can almost always prepare yourself for a story or three about people using strongly encrypted passwords such as ‘password’ or ‘admin’.  Or if it is a particularly good day, helping people understand that encrypted functions exist…  Here is story from CBC.ca about how fallible people actually are when it comes to all this new fangled technology.

“Insecam.com, a new website, is broadcasting online private security camera footage from thousands of spots across Canada — all without the knowledge of the people who own and operate the cameras.

Insecam.com has feeds from internet protocol cameras (or IP cameras) all over the world.

“This is one of a series of websites that have been around for a while that basically go through and troll the internet for open ports,” said Tod Maffin, a tech columnist based in Vancouver. “Until fairly recently that information was just kind of held for people’s own curiosity, but now, as we’re seeing, this site and other ones as well are posting their findings.”

It is fairly amazing, you can spy on people across the world. Most are fairly uninteresting; parking garages and the like, but a couple are in residential areas and stuff. Crazy.

“Many of these cameras come with default passwords to access the footage on a website while you’re away — and often people fail to change them.

That’s where Insecam comes in. The site accesses the feeds using default passwords and broadcasts them.

CBC News watched several feeds from various locations in Winnipeg on Friday, including a car insurance sales office, a candy store, a tattoo parlour and others aimed at people’s front doors, backyards and properties.”

A word to the wise when it comes to technology. RTFM. (Read the Flippn’ Manual)  Oh, and use a difficult to guess password.

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