Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for May 14th, 2007

Stop complaining about capitalism and make it your bitch

Posted by shannonclark on May 14, 2007

Sometimes the strangest searches lead to this blog.

I did not write the quote in the subject, but a few years ago I linked to the still highly relevant article “Queer Eye for the Green Guy” which coined this phrase.

Reminded of it tonight, I still agree with the comments I’ve read elsewhere online which suggest this could make a great bumper sticker (or t-shirt, though as the article suggests, perhaps one you wear underneath a more formal shirt).

I am a capitalist. But I am also, in many respects, a “bright” and to an extent a “green”. I am not, however, all that left leaning politically – yes on many social issues, but I’m probably too anti-union, pro-free trade, pro-global integration (though many of my personal policy suggestions would probably not sit all that well with many on the “right” either. I usually call myself a “radical centrist” – and no, that’s not a contradiction.

In my personal life I am relatively “good” from an ecological footprint. I do not own a car, my use of electricity and gas for heating is minimal (though I likely live in too many sq. ft. for a single person by many ecological measures). On the otherhand, I do a fair amount of bi-coastal travel with misc. other trips to parts of the US – about one trip a month, which probably is a bit worse for the environment than if I owned a car and did not fly (but it may be pretty close – I do generally fly dense flights on fairly modern planes which helps a little bit).

I buy a lot of organic and local products, though I do buy some furniture and clothing new, much of what I own is secondhand (though I do own a lot of books). I have recycled my old computers (with an organization in Chicago which refurbishes them for reuse whenever possible) but I do now own many computers.

And though I love vegetables, I’m certainly an omnivore though living in the bay area I can much of the time adhere to a diet that Slow Food would likely approve of (heck, here in San Francisco even many of the taquerias serve organic meats from Niman Ranch, along with it seems most of the independent burger joints!). Whenever possible I shop at local farmer’s markets.

But by all means I encourage you, even if to the left, right, up or down of me politically to “stop complaining about capitalism and make it your bitch” – sell. Add value. Make, gasp, a profit. Reinvest it. Do it again. Expand into other regions of the world. Show others how they too could make money AND be green AND be improving the lot of many.

Profit is not a scary thing – it is, fundamentally an opportunity at a point in time. i.e.  to make a profit, you have invested energy and resources and be allocated by others more than what you invested at that point in time – i.e. something you have done gave a number of others value and now you have an opportunity to pass that along, perhaps to repeat it (when possible) perhaps to explore other options (and perhaps to do both).

Value is embedded in networks. At a point in time when we have “made a profit” what that means is that by the way we were tracking value, what we invested was less than what we have generated.

But you have to always look at this cautiously. Often traditional accounting does not track lots of factors – for example if most people working on something are not being paid – then they are surviving (feeding, sheltering clothing themselves) based on resources they obtain somewhere else (other jobs, savings, gifts from friends or family). Yes, technically an organization might create value from their efforts during this time and transform that to a “profit” in some manner (from retail sales to services) but unless everyone involved will always be willing to get their personal resources in other ways then the system as a whole would show that that specific entity is not “really” showing a profit.

However it is indeed very possible to generate a profit which does, in fact, include the costs of the people involved in that process.

From an ecological standpoint here is where things can get really interesting.

Some businesses are built on top of something seemingly scarce (physical resources for example – a mining company). They usually try to determine what the cost of getting their good(s) are at a point in time – and likewise what the price of that good is which they can obtain. i.e. the oft cited “it costs $40 to extract a barrel of oil from a given field so until the price of oil is higher than that…” However arriving at these costs (and the prices) is actually very complex (and at various time horizons hard to measure.

– i.e. long term costs such as environmental cleanups, long term commitments to employees such as pensions & health care, replacement costs/present value of equipment, political costs such as fees, taxes etc which can and will change as political parties change in the relevant countries etc.

And whether a “profit” is being shown at point in time relies on how you account for things – but fundamentally what it is also showing is that lots of other parties (people, governments, corporations etc) may (or may not) be willing to part with resources for the resource being exploited (say Gold or Oil).

But a company who does that should look at what role they play in these systems. I, for one, am very encouraged by the shift from “Oil Companies” to “Energy Companies” it allows, at least for the consideration, of other ways to meet demands for energy – with Oil being just one (albeit a major one) option. (Though it should also be noted that many of these companies also generate vast amount of resources from non-energy uses of Oil – plastics & lubricants for example being just two major ones.

An activist of any sort – “bright”, “green”, social etc should think about how they might look at the systems around them and at how alternatives which are aligned philosophically with their beliefs might serve valued roles in those systems – while likely also helping reinvent and reshape those systems.

i.e. the “slow food” movement has helped in a very real way drive the larger organic movement which in turn has repercussions  in many areas. Changing demand for pesticides and fertalizers, greater realization of the costs of shipment (even resulting in firms such as Walmart looking to source more produce locally), and in a very real way a reshaping of how food is perceived (i.e. “organic and natural” might be better than “bright and shiny” when it comes to apples). Reinforced in this specific case by usually also great taste (and a greater variety of them).

I am not disheartened when I see people making money selling “organic” – when I see what had been small businesses grow to be big ones, or when I see huge businesses (Walmart, Safeway etc) selling organic products and looking at sourcing them locally. I’m encouraged – yes, they may also save money by doing so – and perhaps be able to sell goods at higher prices while also lowering their costs (i.e. make profits).

But aren’t we also benefiting?

Anyway these are complicated topics – but go, make Capitalism your Bitch and explore them!

Posted in economics, Entrepreneurship, networks, personal, politics, San Francisco | 4 Comments »

Outlook 2007 – more bugs and Junk Mail filter failure

Posted by shannonclark on May 14, 2007

Tonight (well technically this morning) I downloaded a bunch of mail to my installation of Outlook 2007, a bit surprised that in doing so I was told it was catching junk mail (since I am pulling down from gmail where there are already pretty good junk/spam mail filters). In the past I have been reasonably impressed with Microsoft Outlook’s Junk Mail filters.

Not so anymore.

In looking at my junk mail folder – which at the time I looked had nearly 4000 messages (not as surprising as it may sound, I get nearly 400-500 emails every day) so this was from not much more than a month or two of mail – at first glance over 90% of the messages in the “Junk Mail” folder for Outlook 2007 were NOT junk mail.

These messages included mail I had sent myself (from my gmail account). Personal messages to me from my mother. A wide range of direct and indirect messages – many from mailing lists for which I have rules set up.

But 90% of the messages not actually being Junk Mail is totally and completely unacceptable.

Further, there is not way, at least not that I can determine, to once you have marked one instance of a message (say to a mailing list) as not being junk mail to automatically go through the junk mail folder and correct the processing of all of the messages of that type (indeed if you select more than one message from the junk mail folder you no longer have the option of marking them as not junk). Yes, when you mark a message as “not junk” you then get asked whether you want to add the sender to your list of “safe senders” and the recipient to your “safe recipients”  list. But doing so does not let you get a chance to do so for all such messages in the folder.

Thus if, like me, you have 4000 messages in the folder there is no way for you to go through the messages and clean them up other than pretty much go through them one message at a time marking the false positives as “not junk” (and dealing in each case with the automatically generated pop-up window asking you to add that sender – even when that sender is already on your safe senders list!)

Unbelievably bad. And this was at the “LOW” setting.

I can only imagine that should I have set the “junk mail” filter any higher, I would have had 10,000+ messages in my junk mail folder.

And woe befall you if you have set your junk mail to be automatically deleted!

No wonder email is growing less reliable – the newest version of Outlook  seems to feel that people should not get their messages at all.

And a performance set of issues.

I gave up on setting the rules (I’m  also going to just turn off junk mail filters) and decided to just move all the messages to my inbox.

Then I tried to open up my inbox.

And I waited. And waited. And waited. Apparently about 8000 messages is too many for Outlook to handle gracefully, it has to calculate all types of things (I guess) and so I waited to open up my own inbox for a number of minutes.

My experience with Outlook 2007 so far has not be a positive one. Indeed I am so unimpressed I find myself rarely trying to use it, though I would like it to be workable. Indeed I hoped it would be workable.

I fear it is not.

Posted in geeks, microsoft, working | 36 Comments »

$4.09 gasoline and other walking tales

Posted by shannonclark on May 14, 2007

So a few evenings ago on my way to my frequent late night working cafe, Ritual Roasters, I walked past a Chevron station. A station without the huge dominating signs, just a lone small sign on the ground showing their prices. I took a photo, the premium gasoline is priced at $4.099/gallon here in San Francisco as of May 11th 2007.

I do not own a car having sold my last car in 2004 after only driving it for just over 13,000 miles in the 4 years I had owned it. When I need a car (very rarely these days) I do use CityCarShare to get an occasional car, though I may shift over to ZipCar as they seem to have more cars and might work better for my primary needs (for a car alternative to the train to get down the Penisula for meetings & events). In any case, I haven’t paid personally for gas in many many months.

On the other hand, this higher price, combined with the recent highway collapse due to fire in the East Bay, seems to have had some impact on the number of cars in San Francisco – at least some of the time it appears that there are more parking spaces available. Now whether $4+ gas will inspire greater public transit ridership remains to be seen, I hope that it does to a significent enough level that they start to rebuild resources.

But there are still so many basic steps which the Muni and other public transit agencies in the bay area need to do. Starting with the most basic – there are about 100 too many such agencies (perhaps I’m exagerating a bit but there are nearly a dozen different public transit agencies with service just into or within San Francisco, not to mention countless other smaller agencies in surrounding towns and counties.

But a few other major, yet simple, steps which should (I think) be taken.

1. Public transit has a public mission. As part of this, buses and trains (in particular the BART across the bay) should continue service every evening until at least 1 hour after the bars and nightclubs close. If on the weekend this implies possibly 24hr service, so be it. The public interest in having easy ways for people who have been drinking to get home is very high. Not to mention that by making it easier to get out of the city you encourage more people (including lots of college students) to spend literally spend money as well as time in the city. When I lived in Berkelely I did not stay out late in the city as if I missed the last Bart (at about 12:20pm) I would have been stuck taking a very slow, hard to find where to catch bus which ran only a few times each hour.

2. Service in the late nights should be much more frequent and easy to use. Especially between 10pm and 2-3am along any routes with significant nightlife. At present buses (and trains) seem to essentially stop just before midnight not to resume until just before 1am in most cases. And anytime after 11pm using buses or trains to get around the city is dicey at best – often taking 4-5x as long as the same travels would take during more “regular” hours. Again this is a public interest matter – make it easier for people to reach nightlife without driving and you encourage more late night business (i.e. more spending on local bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and nightclubs).

3. Reward bus drivers who make it EASIER for people to use public transit. A few nights ago a bus driver gunned his bus and raced past the stop I was just about to reach. The next bus would not be stopping for nearly 40 minutes (I walked a while then waited, arriving home some 40 minutes later than I had hoped). Bus drivers have a really hard job – and more often than not a really thankless one but seemingly they have incentives not to make it easier for people to use their services.

4. MAKE IT EASIER TO SPEND MONEY. The Muni does not sell “fast passes” in many places at all throughout the city. In fact last month I went to nearly a dozen places which were all sold out of the fast passes – and dozens of other stores which did not even sell them. They do not sell them from any of the many machines which otherwise vend passes (well the muni does not have machines – the BART does – yet another example of why too many agencies is beyond silly but also counterproductive).

Fast passes should be hard not to buy – they should be sold at every station, possibly by every bus driver, residents should easily sign up and get fast passes in the mail every month. Every little corner market should be equipped to sell them (and yes, they should make some money on selling them).

Further the various transit agencies should make it easier to do routine, regular tasks which anyone using the public transit might want to do. For example, getting to either of the major San Francisco area airports (and why San Jose’s airport is nearly unreachable via public transit at least from San Francisco is a reasonable question). As it stands today, SFO is relatively easily reached – however the BART to there is technically “outside” of San Francisco, so anyone with a Fast Pass (MUNI) cannot use it to get to the airport, instead you have to purchase a separate fare – for about $5.00 each way. To get to Oakland you have to also pay a separate fare, but then even worse you have to pay a yet additional fare for the ‘air bart” and endure a 20 minute bus ride from the BART station to the airport (quite why it is so long is not at all clear – but it is about 15 minutes too long – really the train should get you no more than 5-10 minutes from the gates in a more ideal world).

Furthermore if you should need to get to the airport early in the morning, or if you arrive late at night, there are NO public transit options left to you. Personally I think that like not closing until an hour or so after the last bars close, neither should the public transit routes from the airports stop until after the last plane of the night has landed (and the passengers have cleared customs and gotten their checked luggage). And there should be public transit options which get anyone in the bay area to either airport in time for even 6 AM flights. i.e. transit options which get you to the airport by 5AM or even earlier (so you have time to get from the train to the departure gates, clear the security lines, and get to your gates with ease).

Posted in digital bedouin, economics, personal, San Francisco | 1 Comment »