With Unfolded Vision

When we moved to Colorado Springs, the greatest part of choosing our location in town was that there were three bookstores within walking distance.  Practically the only way to insure I get exercise.

Now those three bookstores are gone.  There are a lot of bars and restaurants, but well… we are mini-galting (we need a logo for this) and therefore not eating out much, and bars… If I drank as much as I do NOT at home (or friends’ homes) but pay-per-drink, I’d be even more broke than I am.

The reasons we chose to live where we live are all gone – in less than ten years.

Then there’s my household arrangements.  We have so many books that I started culling into bins for eventual garage sale, about two years ago.  But I never finished the culling, and then act-of-kids intervened, and we bought more books, which means yesterday when I went in search of a book to check on a reference, I found instead that my bookshelves have got completely scrambled.  There’s all sorts of stuff in every bookshelf, nothing is in order, and the bookshelf on the way to the attic has become a convenient place for the guys to unload and/or store stuff they don’t want in their area.  The end result is that nothing is “findable” and everything is a total mess.

Which brings me to – I started reshelving.  And realized about half the mysteries taking up space on my shelves aren’t the sort I keep.  Heck, some of them might never have been read.

You see, every month or so, I’d take a trip to the local used bookstore and get a load of mysteries, read them, put the ones I didn’t care for back in for trade, and keep the ones I was likely to read more than once.  Then, once every six months we went to the BIG mystery bookstore in Denver (first day of a weekend away) and I’d fill three, sometimes four large bags with used paperbacks, read them during that weekend and the month after, then cull.

But sometime – four? – years ago, we got me a kindle, and then the trip to the bookstore wasn’t needed, and I think I forgot to read some of the books from the last one, as well as whatever books I’d got that month.

What do I mean by all this?  I mean that technology is changing the rhythms of how we do things, in ways that aren’t even obvious until we look back.

I did not know that last time we went by the used bookstore at the beginning of a weekend in Denver that it would be the last time.  I still bought the usual books.  I just ended up reading some stuff I had on the kindle, instead.  And when the next vacation came around, I had the kindle, and buying a bunch of used books seemed stupid.  I don’t think I’ve stepped into that bookstore since.

The rhythms change.

When we moved here, I walked downtown a lot, to buy books, or – more often – to browse books.  I used to take a laptop and sit by the fireplace in my favorite bookstore and write, while people watching.

The store is gone.  Downtown’s character has changed too.  There are fewer stores people shop at, so well, during the day it’s office workers and vagrants.  In the less populated area, it’s now a little iffy, if not dangerous (yet.)

We do the things that benefit us (in my case ordering more from Amazon) and other people do the things that benefit them.  And the entire landscape changes.

I’m not arguing otherwise.  I’m convinced things like “Save the indies” for keeping bookstores alive are in the end doomed and in the short term counterproductive.  They’ll either find a value-add to give people, or they will ultimately fail.  (I’d pay for a sort of in-person book café, with knowledgeable owners who can recommend books I might like, and who have space for writers’ and readers’ groups to meet, but I don’t know how practical it is, unless in a very large city.)

I’m just saying no one can see the future, even as it’s barreling down towards us.  Which is why any centralized planning tends to fail and any push-down (as opposed to pull down at will) business model tends to fail, and the bigger and more impersonal it is, the faster it fails.  And why the government subsidizing innovation usually means subsidizing things that real life ebbs and flows around.

I read, I don’t remember where, that the reason our government (to an extent both parties) is pushing for a welfare state that controls everything is that they believe in a future where humans really have nothing to do – where robots do it all.  They all – apparently – read “With Folded Hands” and thought it was inevitable.

But even we, science fiction authors, infallible though we are (of course) get things wrong.  Heinlein never saw computers barreling down the pipe.  Well, not in the form they came.  Which means my kids get to chuckle at slide rules in spaceships.

And the thing about robots doing everything for humans, and therefore there being no work for people, and therefore the government must step in and give people a raison d’etre and, if possible thin down the population.

This would be like someone in the nineteenth century seeing our civilization and going “We must create a vast welfare state for all the scullery maids put out of work by dishwashers and all the drivers put out of work by the horseless carriages.  And that’s not talking about the people who shoe horses and the crossing sweepers.  Doom, gloom, most of humanity will be useless and only the state can save us.”

It’s a serious under-rating of humanity.  We are clever monkeys.  We’ll find new things to do when the old drudgery is lifted.

Yes, some people will end up doing nothing – but I think that has more to do with learned helplessness and does not need to be subsidized.

I’m laying you a bet that a hundred years from now there will be jobs we don’t even imagine, and they’ll be all across the IQ and aptitude spectrum.  (We don’t need drivers, or maids, but I pay money for people to haul stuff to the dump.  And we still need gardeners and sidewalk sweepers.)  I’m also betting you that the jobs will in general be less onerous/filled with drudgery and far more interesting.

Am I sure – well, no.  And I’m unlikely (though it’s not impossible) to be alive 100 years from now (unless there’s really reincarnation) to pay or collect.

But I’ve seen where we’ve come from, and I know the trend.  I know the way to bet.

I don’t think robots will stop us inventing new work to do, or new ways of making a living.

The government, on the other hand, might – by killing incentive and curiosity and draining away the capital (human and financial) that could go towards innovation.

Refuse to live with folded hands.  Trust humanity.  Embrace the future.

Note – It being Wednesday, there’s a different post by yours truly — The promised one on writing with children around — at Mad Genius Club. 

161 responses to “With Unfolded Vision

  1. I love books myself. Had shelves of them over the years. But I have moved. and moved and moved. This will be the second time moving in 3 months for me. I only have a few books now.. as in would fit in a small bag books. I miss them but they are no longer practical for me. I want a room lined with shelves with books but it is not practical so… I have my tablet.

  2. This got me thinking. I was standing at the sink this morning washing up from last night, pondering how much I hate housework, and if there would ever be a time when it could all be automated. I was picturing in my head some of the 50’s and 60’s Pop Sci magazines with their projections of the future housewife who only needed to press a few buttons. It won’t happen in my lifetime, and it may never. I can’t invent the necessary things, I don’t have the skills, training, or honestly, the inclination. Last night i had to go through the self check-out line at the market and was annoyed, because the things and I have a mutual hate relationship. And I was thinking “these things only exist to put people out of work.” Then I brought myself up short with “who really wants to be a cashier, anyway?” I did that job as a teen, it’s not a great job. If the people aren’t doing that, they are freed up to be other things. Coming back to books (or around to them, anyway) I buy my disposable paperbacks at the thrift shops for about .25 cents each. The ones I want to keep I buy through Amazon, there is one decent used bookstore local to me, and online is the only way to find what I want. I was given a Kindle for my birthday, but I have been reading ebooks for over a decade now. With a cross-country move in my near future, I will be unloading most if not all of my books, and limiting myself to only essential reference in paper. And I suspect I won’t miss most of them (except the Heyer. Is she available on Kindle, yet?).

    • Yup, Heyer’s available on Kindle, including most of the mysteries and obscure books (there’s about 6 Amazon pages of her, though unfortunately that includes some results not from her). You missed some good sales on her stuff last summer, too. But The Unknown Ajax and False Colours are cheap right now (ie, what I think of as paperback prices, ie, what we paid in the 80’s and early 90’s). I think her reprint electronic publishers run different deals every month or so.

      The Black Moth is practically free, but of course that’s because it’s PD and you can get it for really free on Gutenberg.

    • Then I brought myself up short with “who really wants to be a cashier, anyway?” I did that job as a teen, it’s not a great job.

      Well duh. I recall reading a short piece by a girl whose first job was tasseling corn, jobs that will take on unskilled labor tend to be onerous in one way or another. The Spouse and I have a theory that ‘beginner’s jobs’ have a built in design element to help you think a bit harder about what you can do to better your odds at not having to work at them forever.

      One of my first jobs was as counter help at a McDonalds. Not pleasant, particularly as in those day we had issued uniforms made of some kind of material that did not breath and picked up and held odors. Still, that job taught me a number invaluable working skills. It also paid my portion of the rent and served a stepping stone to a better job.

      • This raises the question as well of where do kids learn that most valuable skill: a work ethic?

        Minimum wage laws (or even worse, “living” wage laws) push the abandonment of jobs whose productivity no longer justifies the expense. Elevator Operator once carried a certain amount of prestige; I shudder to imagine what today’s regulatory hyperlitigious state would require such a person’s training to entail, and what effect that would have on rents.

        • Yes! I remember some California town wanted to boost the minimum wage for hotel porters to $10 an hour, which at the time, could get you a college grad. Which meant that the people who were currently hotel porters would be out of a job, and there would be a lot fewer hotel porters, if any.

          Minimum wage means we’ve lost all the training jobs for kids, all the entry level first-job jobs – those jobs are either being filled by more skilled adults, or going to illegal labor (also more skilled, and more adult). It’s especially bad for the kids not having those jobs – those jobs teach a lot.

          • There once was a time when youth learned the importance of industriousness through provision of such services as baby-sitting and yard work. Without those important entry level work opportunities what will happen to writers of letters to Penthouse?

            • I baby-sat a lot – great way to earn pocket money, but that does seem to have died out. At first, it looked like it was because it didn’t pay enough, kids all got “real” part-time jobs at minimum wage. But I also think people would rather hire a full-time lawn service than the kid down the street, and I did know parents my age who just didn’t want to entrust their child to a kid.

              • Now you’ve gone and done it. I want to watch Jack Jack Attack. And, of course, that means I will want to watch the movie as well…

                • Unfortunately, having introduced the Shifter element to Goldport, I keep thinking that E transmutes into something unspeakable.

                  • I still think that he would somehow remain adorable.

                    • Possibly. My kids have both managed, though they’re taller than I (and Dan) by a bit, and have both experimented with growing (very black) beards this year. I think– she says thoughtfully — that might be because I’m prejudiced, being their mother. Also, I have a soft spot for silliness, and they’re both silly.

          • It also means illegal labor for those jobs that MUST be done, but can’t be done at that price. I mean, look, they keep saying it’s the jobs Americans won’t do, but it’s actually the jobs employers can’t pay (and make deductions) for Americans to do. The ignorant belief that the economy is sort of magic powder, and that the only reason everyone doesn’t make $200 an hour is that employers are greedy is driving a lot of this nonsense. And a lot of our government. It is akin to the belief you can knock down walls and the house will remain standing.

            It is my belief if you eliminate minimum wage and a lot of the labor regulations for entry level work, you get rid of illegal immigration. And before you say “but then people will be stuck in no hope jobs.” NONSENSE. That is what happens now,because the illegals can’t move upward through our economy. it is also what necessitated unionizing (to an extent) in immigrant-rich low skilled jobs at the turn of the century.

            But given a native work force and no law of indentured labor? people will move up. Or some of them will. The ones who won’t and can’t might possibly need assistance — that’s a thought for another day. Right now we have the facto imported indentured workers with no hope of moving up, simultaneously drinking our welfare system dry and causing all sorts of other disturbances, as an unassimilated minority will. PFUI. The worst of all possible worlds. What do we have to lose by changing it?

      • My dad always said it’s important for every kid to work an unskilled labor job, if only so the kid will make sure to never have to do that in the future. But it also teaches respect for a lot of those people working unskilled jobs, and that’s just as important.

      • I worked on a cousin’s farm for a summer. THE MOST BACKBREAKING WORK I’VE EVER DONE, in or out of the military. Taught me that I wanted an “easy” job. Learned the hard way there are no such things as “easy” jobs, they’re just difficult in different ways. Did learn that as long as you’re doing something you love, you can put up with some mighty powerful “nasties” associated with the job. I’m not knocking that summer — I learned a lot. It doesn’t take a LOT of brains to pitch hay bales, but if you screw it up, you pay for it. It DOES take a lot of brains, and no small amount of skill, to hitch up a mule and plow a field. Picking cotton is killing work — only had to do that for a couple of days, to help out a neighbor whose combine had broken down and had about 1/4 of a field of cotton that needed picking yesterday. That was another great lesson – to help one another out. That kind of knowledge just isn’t available any more for most people.

        • I would not trade the memories of my summer as a mother’s helper in rural east Tennessee for anything. As a mother’s helper, my time was spent helping in the house and garden and watching the two boys and a dalmatian, not doing field work. Still, I doubt I could be up to it now, even if I worked seriously with a trainer for a year to prepare.

        • “It doesn’t take a LOT of brains to pitch hay bales, but if you screw it up, you pay for it”

          AMEN! I don’t care if I ever pick up another hay bale, but I made good money putting in hay several summers in high school, and I would have to say that kids that earn their money, as opposed to getting an allowance from their parents, value it and things it can buy a lot more.

    • Unfortunately, one thing they are freed up to be is welfare bums.

      After all, What is Poverty? And with all our new found wealth, it’s easy to avoid reality.

      “He who does not work shall not eat” is apparently the only thing that will inspire some people to keep working.

    • The automated check-out allows the grocery to stay open 24/7 which is a boon to those old enough to remember late-night emergency searches to the only 24-hour store carrying the product needed.

      Just like Obama’s plaint about ATMs putting bank tellers out of work, I bless them because I spent a decade on the night shift and know the inconvenience of “banker’s hours.”

      When I started driving a body could adjust a carburetor by ear with a screwdriver … and cars got 10 miles per gallon. Nowadays they require computer diagnostics.

      I have mentioned before an early Gene Wilder movie, Quakser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx. The film centers on how changing technology — Dublin’s milk deliveries switch from horse-drawn carts to trucks — eliminates Quakser’s job — he sweeps up the droppings and sells the results to Dublin’s gardeners. Technology has been eliminating jobs since the first spear.

      • cedar sanderson

        Exactly, which is why my initial grumble turned into a musing on what the future might bring. There will always be training wheel jobs for kids. My local Walmart doesnt provide those, the only people I see there are my age or older, but our local grocery does.

    • She is, Cedar. For her birthday (now I wish I remembered when it is!) they take all her books down to 2.99 — or at least they’ve done it for two years now. Which means I have almost the complete collection.

      Also, I WISH someone would create the companies from the Door Into Summer. Technologically we could, but most people have just given up on housework and live in filth, instead. I wish I didn’t have my mom in my back brain. I HATE it too.

      • As it appears no one else looked it up for you:
        Georgette Heyer was born on August 16, 1902.

        • cedar sanderson

          Thanks, i had been busy enough today not to stop and look it up yet. And now it’s time to walk into my gig!

  3. Ori Pomerantz

    Politicians tend to have a dim view of human intelligence. To be charitable, they have some facts to support that. They get elected. But they tend to forget that people are a lot better at managing their own affairs than at voting.

  4. Re: bookstores, I haven’t bought physical books in years, which means Baen has been getting pretty much all my reading money recently. (Of course, now that I’ve heard about them, I’m going to start looking into Naked Reader Press and other small indie publishers who publish DRM-free stuff… but right now all my spare cash is going into repaying the debt I built up in The Lean Years, which for me was 2007-2011).

    … I haven’t bought physical books in years, EXCEPT for the period just before my move to SE Asia. Since I knew from a previous trip that the English-language libraries around here (most of them privately run; the government libraries would be in a language other than English) were severely lacking in the kinds of books I wanted to check out (mostly fantasy and science fiction), I took it upon myself to remedy that lack. I spent a couple weeks last July driving to just about every thrift store in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and winnowing through their inventory of $1 hardbacks and $.50 paperbacks. If it was SF/F or a few other categories (mostly classics that no library should be without multiple copies of — Tom Sawyer, Little House on the Prairie, that sort of thing), I bought it. Then I sorted it out by author, packed it into cardboard boxes and onto a shipping pallet, and sent it via surface freight to the city I’m now living in. It’s finally arrived, is currently sitting at a warehouse in a major port nearby, and I just have to go there next week to clear the shipment through customs and get it onto a truck heading to my city. At which point the fun will begin: unboxing the books, sorting them by series and # of duplicates and deciding what to do with each. Two complete sets of Harry Potter? Keep one for my own collection, give one to the largest library here. Three complete sets of Little House on the Prairie plus a fourth almost-complete one? Give away the three complete sets, keep the almost-complete and ask friends back in the States to fill in the two missing books for me. I’m looking forward to making a few librarians’ collective days!

    • You have a lovely charitable impulse, but you really really want to ask around before giving libraries books. Seriously, seriously, you want to ask.

      1. Many libraries are constantly deaccessioning — ie, getting rid of books — to make room for current books. You probably don’t want to give stuff away just to see it show up on the library sales table. Some library systems have depositories for the older books they really want to keep, but are under pressure to get rid of these.

      2. Some library systems have had it decided for them that books are less useful than DVDs, computers, etc.

      3. That whole lead thing with children’s books from before 1980(?) makes it very ticklish to donate children’s books to libraries or schools. School libraries in some cases are practically bare of books — elementary ones of recent vintage, particularly — and may be very eager to get books.

      However, if you can find good homes/libraries for these books, that would be awesome. And I can’t fault your acquisition plan in the least.

      • Your concerns are well-founded in the United States. Fortunately for me, in the country I’m now living in, none of these concerns apply.

        1. (and 2.) The libraries I’m thinking of are quite small and really want to have more books, but have a hard time getting English-language books in this country.

        3. This country hasn’t passed that idiotic law that the US did. (Concerns about lead were not idiotic, but the details of the law were beyond idiotic.) So there should be no problem with this one either.

        Besides, if I can’t find enough libraries to take them, I’ve already had two of my co-workers (both computer programmers) say, “You’re bringing in how many books that you plan to give away? Can I have some?” You know, “computer programmer” seems to correlate pretty often with “geek”. (Which is, of course, a totally original discovery that will astonish everyone who hears it… </sarc> :-P)

    • Robin, I don’t know what country you are in, but I spent a big chunk of my formative years in Bangkok, Thailand, which had a place called the DK Bookstore. It was fabulous. I went back over twenty years ago, and the place was still there.

      The DK was where I found Enid Blyton, the Silver Brumby, Georgette Heyer, and Heinlein and Burroughs with very, very racy British covers. I wish like anything I’d kept those Enid Blytons, but I still have the others to moon over.

      When we moved north to Chiang Mai, there were a couple of Americans who did what you are doing, creating private libraries. Chiang Mai was very out of the way back then. One of the moms of a friend even had a lending card system to keep track of her books. I attended a missionary school in the north, and kept those very, very racy covers face down.

  5. I have purchased more used books from Indies through Amazon than I ever did before the smiling box started coming to my door. As long as printed books exist, there will be a niche for the Indie remoras to attach themselves to the Amazon shark. Who knows, you might even be able to walk inside one.

    The Kindle is a bigger problem for them, as is on-demand publishing. The Kindle will probably eat the fiction, and on-demand printing will take over nonfiction. That’s my view, at least.

  6. Your comments on “the robots” bring to mind similar conversations I have had over the years. It seems to me that there is a fundamnetal misunderstanding among people of what tools do for them. That’s the best way I can think of to summarise it.

    This is tangential to the topic – part of the general set of ideas surrounding this view of the future though:

    I was talking with someone the other day who believed that human drivers were just too dangerous, and soon it would be held to be criminally irresponsible to manually drive a car. Computers would control all cars and take us where we needed to go.

    My reply (along with another example of the same thinking was as follows):

    • If so, it will be a short lived experiment with a lot of carnage and cascades of cars all going off the same closed overpass.

      I’m somewhat optimistic about computation, but you have to realize that a computer is a simple device that sees the world through N<100 pins (usually 32 or so, in the case of embedded stuff) and is less complicated than an insect's brain. It would take several thousand current processors and terabytes of ram to hold and process equivalent state to the human brain in realtime. What the human brain does is no trivial trick – it is still vastly more powerful and finely tuned than our attempts at mimicking it.

      That's not my fundamental issue with this though. Suppose we did have computers that could more effectively make these decisions. I had this argument with an acquantance the other night. He's one of the ones that thinks that computers need to control aircraft and lock pilots from doing certain things at certain times (I think the one he was talking about was raising flaps when under a certain altitude limit).

      My argument was this: You aren't the pilot – what if you needed to raise your flaps?

      PersonB: You don't. There's no situation where that is necessary, and it endangers the aircraft.

      Me: But you aren't the pilot in that situation. What if there is some unforseen circumstance where that is necessary to avoid some accident, conserve fuel when you are almost out for example, something of that sort.

      PersonB: Well, there isn't anything that shouldn't be perfectly avoidable by operating properly.

      Me: But if there is?

      PersonB: Even if there is, that decision needs to be handled in a situation where cool heads can analyze it properly. Leave it to the programmers. Pilots pulling random switches are dangerous.

      Me: But isn't the plane supposed to be a tool to do what the pilot needs it to do?

      PersonB: No! The plane is supposed to get people from point A to point B safely. It isn't supposed to do anything dangerous, even if the pilot wants it to. The pilot can go play Russian roulette on his own time.

      Me: But at least there should be an override – the pilot might know something you don't.

      PersonB: Unlikely – he's more likely to be completely overreacting to a stressful circumstance.

      My fundamental problem is that automation of tools is intended to make them more useful *to the users of the tools*. (In the case of a commercial airliner, the user might more properly be thought of as the airline, but the pilot is their officer, and he is the representative of the owner's will)

      There is a big difference between a tool and an uncooperative informant/overlord. A tool does what the user wants/occasionally desperately needs it to do. Automation of that tool allows the user to attend to other things while it performs a process – it doesn't serve as a substitute for the user's will!

      I can already envision several scenarios where it might be necessary – you’re

      low on fuel and are trying to make it to a runway – you’re altimeter is

      malfunctioning, your pitot probe is clogged – one flap is damaged and you need to maintain roll – et alia.

      • Mad Rocket, send this person over to the hangar where I hang out on occasion. I can show them why you need to raise the flaps at low altitude, why you need to abort landings, and why you MUST be able to override the computer. Of course, they may never look at a certain make of European-made airliner again without shuddering . . .

        Perfect computers do not deal well with the surrounding imperfect environment. In fact, Sarah’s closest airport has provided at least two sterling examples of that situation.

        • Of course, they may never look at a certain make of European-made airliner again without shuddering . . .

          TXRed, I’m sure you’ve heard the story Bill Whittle mentions in the video below. But for Mad Rocket’s friend, it may be especially instructive. Mad Rocket, see if you can persuade your friend to watch this one:

          • Yes, and then there’s the first time that philosophy got people’s attention. I’m told that there is nothing as gut wrenching as being the pilot of an airliner, in the middle of severe turbulence over the North Atlantic, while the computer that sits between you and the controls is rebooting. Why is it rebooting? Because the plane encountered turbulence greater than the computer was programmed to cope with.

            I’ll also add that automation is of the least help during the most stressful parts of flight: any automation, in any aircraft.

        • An example of what happens when Computers Have Absolute Authority:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAnaTYxfUGs .

          (That said: It was built and programmed by European Socialists, so….)

      • I think you’re rather pessimistic here. I don’t doubt that there will be times when you should override the computer, or that the computer will sometimes do something suicidal. Just that these instances will be rarer than similar instances caused by human error.

        And that will doom automated transport as well.

        Because as soon as someone dies from a tragic accident, or gets injured, it’s time to find someone to sue. And who better than the person who programed the vehicle that drove you into a tree?

        It doesn’t matter that the vehicle is, statistically, 100 times less likely to drive you into a tree than you are. It doesn’t matter that there’s only a tiny fraction of tree-related deaths per year in comparison to before the introduction of automation. The car is at fault, so the company who build it is going to pay.

        And that is why we won’t see self-driving cars. Not because of technological limitations. Those can be overcome. Lawyers, however, are relentless.

        • Well, perhaps so.

          Part of my objection is to the limitations of current technology. That’s a particular aspect of what we have to work with now though. It’s a limitation that probably will be overcome in the future (eventually).

          But, as I stated, my fundamental objection to the obligatory robotic car thing is *who owns the car*? Whose tool is it? Whose objectives is it supposed to be serving? If the car is supposed to be your tool, then there should be an override to whatever automation it has. It should be under your control, fundamentally, at any level that you decide it needs to be based on your situation. (And if you drive most of the time with the autopilot on, fine. As long as it’s *your* autopilot.)

          • Autopiloted cars have a problem in that, unlike autopiloted planes, they are going to be in close proximity to other autopiloted cars as a matter of course. The will also likely be traveling well above 100 mph within a couple feet of one another to combat congestion. This is what’s being tested and used as a selling point. Have one of those cars suddenly switch to manual, and you could have a catastrophe on your hands.

            So, once you get onto the highway, there might not be a choice in the matter. You will have to hand over control to the computer for the system to work, and the system won’t let you on otherwise. You exchange control, freedom, and the ability to be the master of your own fate, for speed, convenience, and statistical safety.

            Note: I’m making no assertion as to the attractiveness of this system. Just this is how I see it playing out.

            We are already threatened with legislation that wants to remove our control over vehicles. Environmentalists want to regulate how quickly a car can accelerate in order to cut down on greenhouse emissions. These, obviously, are people that have never driven in Pennsylvania and had to merge with trucks bearing down at 90 mph on top of them.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              I don’t know about highways being like that. The larger ones might get autodrive lanes, but I don’t think they would be able to require every vehicle to be on auto just to be on a highway, unlike cities, where they could conceivably make it an issue of public safety.

              As far as when the computer goes out – there should be a backup, which would be able to get the car out of the lane and to the emergency lane so a human has time to reorient and take over.

              • City driving isn’t going to produce the speeds that will make it technically necessary to have control over an entire group of packed cars. Additionally, local driving (which is what city driving is) isn’t something government wants to control as much as long-distance driving. The same impulse that drives Choo-Choo Biden to push for rail will cause others to push for mandatory autopilot on the highway.

                Assuming, of course, the ambulance chasers don’t save us from this whole business in the first place.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  Control of city driving allows for more gridlock reduction than you might think. Besides, I’m not talking about government control of the cars, I’m talking about policies for “public safety”. Speeds are not the major issue in most cases; decision time is. With some very simplified communication between the vehicles, intersections that would normally have traffic lights to control access will have cars taking turns automatically with proximity tolerances that no human could take, and thus be many times more efficient. They would also be better at avoiding pedestrians, though this could become problematic: as people learn this, you might get a new type of thrillseeker who darts through traffic because the cars will all have to stop so they don’t hit him.

                  I don’t think government is as interested in controlling your highway driving as it is in merely monitoring it. But as for highway speeds, I don’t think your scenario is likely. There isn’t likely going to be any way to convince governments to allow those kinds of speeds anywhere near populous areas, which are the only areas where the congestion would matter, and most of that is created at entrance and exit ramps, where traffic is slowing down.

                  • intersections that would normally have traffic lights to control access will have cars taking turns automatically with proximity tolerances that no human could take

                    I see a story in the making, criminals/terrorists set to take down the traffic control system in a major metropolitan city … where is Jack Bauer when you need him?

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I don’t understand – what traffic control system? This would be cooperation between individual vehicles.

                      On the other hand, destroying the traffic light controls today would cause havoc…

                    • Having lived in cities that have suffered power outages I can tell you that it is surprising how well everyone cooperates when driving. Mind you this will only last so long. After the power has been out for a while everything which is entailed will take a toll on the people (throwing out everything in your fridge, no heat, etc.) that aggravation sets in. Then it starts showing up in the driving.

                    • Oops. And I take it that by this time they will have developed car batteries that won’t fail? Alternator belts won’t break? Etc…

                    • You assume they won’t centralize it “for safety”. You know self-organizing systems are more scalable. I know self-organizing systems are more scalable.

                      But what politicians know is that central systems are more susceptible to graft.

                    • Add in the effect on insurance rates. Radar activated brakes might reduce your collision insurance by 50% — cities with automated controls might entitle commuters to significantly lower insurance … especially if the government subsidizes that discount directly or indirectly/

                    • In the bag. Eventually either Naked Reader or I will publish it.

                    • Thank you. Except for that image of poor Kiefer Sutherland stuffed in my father’s Korea era musty old duffel…

                    • Let me insert two cents in here on a subject I know a bit about. All automated traffic systems will require some type of telemetry device. We can average them all into one word we all know and “understand” — RADAR. Folks, Radar is fallible. It’s fallible in jet aircraft, it’s fallible in instrument landing systems, and it’s going to be fallible in automobiles, especially in a crowded environment. It’s going to be significantly fallible in the latter to cause some massive traffic collisions and death.

                      Radar is simply sending out a signal and getting a return. The signal is converted into some kind of activity by having the signal that’s sent tagged with a marker to show when it was sent, so the device can calculate how long it takes to get back. THAT MARKER IS ESSENTIAL. Without it, the signal sent is worthless. The problem is, if everyone on the highway is using radar, there are going to be a few vehicles where the marker circuit is beginning to fail (but before it does), and it’s going to report erroneous information. We see this all the time in high-speed military jets: pilots are trained to identify the problem and report it, so the circuits can be re-calibrated.

                      How are you going to train 200 million people to NOTICE such a problem, and get it fixed, especially if it costs several hundred dollars? How many people drive around now without getting an oil change, without checking their oil, without doing ANY service to their cars? Do you think that’s going to change?

                      Something else most people don’t know about radar: it’s really, really susceptible to what we call “spoofing”. We’re not talking about the active spoofing done by opposing military, but just by the limitations of radar itself. I’ve seen this repeatedly during my 20 years of interpreting radar imagery. You send out a signal designed to be returned within x milliseconds, and to travel x miles each way. Your system is designed to ignore other signals. Yet you get a signal back that’s been bounced around, and comes back later than you expect, but it’s a valid signal. What happens when that takes place with radar imagery is you get a spurious report — it may show a building sitting in the middle of a lake, or two aircraft when there should only be one. Building better radar imaging systems cuts down on the spurious signals, but can’t eliminate them. It takes a human, trained to understand this takes place, to determine what’s going on.

                      There’s not a system yet built that could fit inside an automobile that could determine which were spurious signals and which were real.

                      There’s another problem: bandwidth. There is only a small segment of the electronic spectrum that could be utilized for automated cars. What happens when that spectrum reaches 20% utilization, and the signal from another car matches the one you’re driving? Can you say disaster? It’s just not currently feasible. It may not be feasible in the rest of my lifetime, or even in the rest of my youngest child’s lifetime. What’s really scary is that our lawmakers don’t even have a CLUE what kind of a disaster they could unleash if they pushed this to its ultimate conclusion.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I seriously doubt any system would use electromagnetic reflective imagery. It would be sonic, but in such a system it would only be for immediate collision avoidance, in case something got past the visual processing.

                      Now, as far as lawmakers go, even though I’ve been disagreeing with people here on specifics, I’ll wholeheartedly agree on the fact that whatever they try to do will probably be scary, at the least, and possibly disastrous, at the worst.

                      If I have misunderstood the whole concept (and I will admit I haven’t looked up the specifics, just read some articles here and there over the past 25 years, and they all seem to be pointing the same way), and any autodriving system is NOT based on image processing vision, possibly augmented with sound pickups and sonar (not radar), then you can take everything I have said on the subject and throw it away, because if they try to control cars by either a centralized traffic control system or by radar systems, it will be a disaster.

                    • What’s really scary is that our lawmakers don’t even have a CLUE what kind of a disaster they could unleash if they pushed this to its ultimate conclusion.

                      Do mean to imply that our politicians might someday pass legislation without fully looking into the feasibility or repercussions? It’s not like they have ever done this before. NOT!

                      The more we find out about the Affordable Care Act the more I realized that Speaker Pelosi wasn’t kidding when she said we had to pass it to find out what was in it. So much of it is actually: We hereby authorize committees to be formed to put in place these promises we are making because we want them to be possible (so they must be possible) and somehow make it all work without it coming back and biting us while we still hold office.

                    • One of the more — bizarre? interesting? — classes I had in college was a team project where we didn’t really have to produce anything of substance, just a few presentations. Mostly we were graded on how well we worked together. For a group of engineers — even ones who had been classmates for four+ years — that was nerve-wracking. Even more nerve-wracking was the method of grading — the department chair would just sit there, right outside the group, watching and listening, with the most enigmatic smile on his face…

                      My group had to “design” a self-piloting car. It’s amazing how many of the same issues still come up today…

                    • On the image of that group engineering project — ugh!

                      It occured once I signed off this afternoon that no one has seemed to take in account that there is pedestrian traffic in cities who will need to be able to cross streets.

                  • The most basic controls will involve a radar range-finder to automatically hit the brakes if you are too quickly closing with the car ahead. Elimination of fender benders would probably reduce congestion a significant amount.

                    One of the prospects I have seen most discussed is transponders allowing cars to communicate with one another, which probably would reduce traffic friction. A fully automated system would probably allow elimination of traffic lights, stop signs and the like. Vehicles would check for oncoming traffic, refer to priority rules and automatically defer in merging according to right of way rules.

                    Of course, vehicles such as ambulances, fire and police would automatically take top priority … as would presidential limos, mayoral cars, VIPs and people willing to buy “premium” access to the roads. Priority might even be determined by number of occupants in a vehicle “Get there faster – give a ride.”

                    And the Occupant crowd would enjoy one more inequity to protest about.

                    • With those transponders, I give you 24 hours tops before someone learns to spoof the identification and “cut in line”. Unfortunately, that might derail the whole system right there – sometimes emergency services have to get through. A car with flashing lights pretending to be a cop is easy to identify. A car with a transponder hacked to ‘sound’ like a squad car is going to be hard to catch, and utterly invalidate the whole thing.

                    • There are tools which let emergency services turn lights green for them. The problem is, as you say, spoofers. Also, if the emergency services come to a light that’s red when they have that, they have to stop because they “know” there’s another emergency vehicle going the other way.

                    • Actually I have seen a police officer misuse it. We were in the middle of the road, waiting for our turn to turn left– and the police officer used his lights and the transponder– He almost hit us… Ugh.. also the lights went off after the intersection… and he was speeding. (I suspect to the doughnut shop)

            • And this is when coming down the ramp from South Street to I-76 East towards the airport. 😉 I recall that the first time I attempted this (shortly after I got my licence) that my passenger was screaming like, “No, don’t slow down we’ll never make the merge.” Outside of the city the trucks may well be going faster.

              (I gather that they have rebuilt the South Street bridge over the Schuylkill River and re-engineered it a bit since I last visited… doubt it is much better.)

          • Wayne Blackburn

            Oh, yes – in my replies above, I always assume that it’s *your* property, and none of this obligatory nonsense. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that cities will put up zones where no car not on auto will be allowed into.

      • To person B:

        One name answer: Captain Sullenberger.

        Elaboration: Why did Captain Sullenberger have to land his plane on a river, something that had never been successfully done before and was only considered theoretically possible? Geese. There are things that are not and cannot be perfectly under our control. Afterwards it was said that Captain Sullenberger was only able to do this because of his years of experience, a very cool mind and a large number of factors all turning in his favor.

        Any further argument from person B? Then person B is a goose.

        • The other answer is that I am a computer programmer and am well familiar with the fact that the people who actually use the system lie in the requirements gathering phase. No matter how often you say, “Does X ever happen — no really, does it never ever ever happen — would it happen once between the Big Bang and the heat death of the universe?” only to have them come back and say “What do we do when X happens?” — well, I’m not certain I could retrieve on the proceeds if I got a dollar for every incident, but the sum would be nice.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Flying is a far more complex and demanding process than driving, even driving in adverse weather conditions. Automatic driving is nearly there. I expect it to be fully competent within 10 years. The major drawback I have is that there will almost certainly be a requirement that all computer driving systems maintain contact with traffic control/monitoring systems, which I see as a gross invasion of personal rights.

        I’m frankly very afraid of both the taking over of all normal functions by flexible-function machines and more traditional single-function machines, and by your later statement:

        If we *don’t* somehow reach a nirvana where all the work can be done by something else, then the people who actually have to figure out how to do the work will be crushed under the weight of all the people on the dole.

        Oh, not in less than 20-30 years, but that’s not so far away. At some point, there is not going to be a market for unskilled labor of any sort, and few skilled labor positions. Creative jobs will still be there, but let’s face it, not everyone is creative. Maybe people will find niches for themselves, but I see tons of people losing hope that they will ever make anything of themselves, and just allowing the Government to take care of them. More than there are now, that is.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Oh, while I said that autodriving cars will be fully competent within 10 years, I fully expect it to take another 10 before they will be cheap enough to include in every new vehicle.

          • Look, we have a GPS. I love the thing. But if we followed it to the letter, we’d have driven off the highway and onto someone’s roof. Okay, that’s a thing that can be corrected. BUT the time it glitched and wanted us to do doughnuts in the middle of the busiest intersection in town “do a uturn, then do a uturn, then do a uturn” was an inexplicable glitch happened only once and we still STILL don’t get it.

            I wouldn’t let a robot drive me and I HATE driving. You have no idea how much I HATE driving.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              You’re misunderstanding the way a proper autodriving car would work. GPS would be for the general directions, but it has to have a binocular vision system (and should also have audio) in order to do the actual controlling of the vehicle. In such case, it would ignore dangerous directions from the GPS as unsafe. The only possible time there would be an issue is the extremely rare case where doing something dangerous was necessary to avoid something even MORE dangerous. And with the right software, that could even be set up, to some extent, as long as it had good heuristics on evaluating levels of danger.

              It would also have both voice override of specific directions, and manual override of control, in case the computer became unreliable (with at least 2 failsafe backups to the computer, too).

              • First adaptation will be auto-drive taxicabs. The cost of implementing the system is offset by eliminating drivers (or downgrading their pay) and passengers, having no ownership interest in the cabs probably won’t complain. Or even notice.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  Good point. Downgrading the pay would probably be the first step, since, especially early on, there would be a desire to keep a human override in place. But you’re right, that would definitely pay for the system. And urban driving is tons easier than rural, calling for a less expensive system.

                  The one that I’m afraid of is convoys of automated semis, all following a single primary driver, like a giant road train.

                  • AWK– in Nevada we have semis that pull four or five of those things (not allowed in CA and other states). It can get scary– plus that would be the next step (convoys of automated semis). Of course, why not use the trains? They still run– here anyway for big equipment and other stuff.

          • Some aspects of driving can be readily automated — parallel parking, backing out of spaces in the parking lot — but others are more problematic. For example, anybody relying on the accuracy of GPS coordinates, especially in the vicinity of military bases, is in for some surprises.

            But let’s think this through.

            Twenty-five years from now automated driving systems are sufficiently well accepted that people dial-in their destination and check-out, opening their Kindle or Tablet Gameboy or whatever. They don’t actually know where they are going, nor by what route, nor what the system is programmed to carefully avoid letting them see. What then, eh? You could be living nearly next door to a top secret base or toxic waste dump hidden in plain sight.

              • Um… be my guest.

                I don’t do stories. I got that muse drunk and took the -itch out into the woods years ago. They’ll never find the body. (Having seen the way many authors relate to their muses, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of y’all attempted that.)

                • I’m not there yet, although I have suggested to my muse that her sense of timing is almost cat-like. I NEED to get N2:TS worked through. Instead I’ve been hit with a, well, the Hapsburgs meet Darkover minus the laran and the Free Renunciates is the best I can come up with. At any moment I expect Muse to hork up a hairball in the form of a short story. (Although the book reviews may have the same effect. Hmmmm . . .)

                • SEVERAL times, my dear RES. I think mine is a vampire.

        • Flying is a far more complex and demanding process than driving, even driving in adverse weather conditions. Automatic driving is nearly there.

          I would have thought the reverse. My understanding of air traffic rules is that there are altitude based corridors for heading, and maneuvers are taken when aircraft are on course to approach each other within thousands of feet. The 2D world of ground navigation has tons more hair to it.

          All an aircraft autopilot has to do is take an altitude, speed, and heading signal and close a loop with the engines and control surfaces to maintain it.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            I guess I didn’t specify: I didn’t mean the mundane altitude/course/speed navigation, which are already automated. I was talking about when the normal conditions change drastically and a large number of factors have to be taken into account to determine how to keep from getting everyone killed.

          • Here is my problem, I cannot think of ground travel as 2D.

            I have been over the forest service route between Robbinsville and Andrews, NC, parts of which were originally cut in the 1830s for the Cherokee removal. When I came across the road it was traveled two ways, but sections were only one lane wide … The Family will tell you that I love the mountains, and love driving there. This is one road, in spite of the spectacular view from the top of the spur road up to the fire tower, that I hope never to drive again.

        • It’s the transition that will be painful. Once we’ve settled down to the “new tech plateau” we’ll have roles in that society. I shudder to think that “Gamer Boy” might be one role, but if it pays the bills . . .

    • Anyway, another aspect of the “robots will do all our work for us”: you can almost sort of hear the desperation in the desire.

      If we *don’t* somehow reach a nirvana where all the work can be done by something else, then the people who actually have to figure out how to do the work will be crushed under the weight of all the people on the dole. If the relationship between human attention/creativity and production isn’t somehow completely and fundamentally broken, then the exponentially expanding burden of taxation and theft might actually have some moral weight to it.

      Anyway, my attitude always was that tools don’t do things for you, you do things with tools. You could have a wonderfully capable do-anything tool, but *you* still have to know what you want to do with it. (And how to do it, though some levels of the “how” could conceivably be outsourced – to *someone*, not *something*.)

      • New and better tools usually raise expectations. When fabric was hand woven and every stitch had to sewn by hand how many changes of clothes did most people possess? When it was a labor and time intense to do so how clean did we keep our clothes?

        • But it’s the person owning those tools who makes all the money. And eventually will have to pay all the taxes.

          That robotic nirvana is hel to the people who used to do the job. Eventually they’ll figure out new jobs for themselves–if, as Sarah pointed out–the government doesn’t kill incentive and curiosity and drain away the capital (human and financial) that could go towards innovation. The transition is underway. Ask your secretary. Occupy Wherever is just the start of protests.

          • No. I don’t think so. The Occutards are rather the spoiled children of the current society who are afraid of not having the status of being in the “in” crowd.

          • “But it’s the person owning those tools who makes all the money.”

            I dunno. The open source software movement has changed things. For many people today, particularly those in technology, the tools are just that — tools. They’ll build something to help them do a job, and if they hear someone else needs the same tool or a similar one, they’ll share the tool they built.

            (Occupy, BTW, wasn’t made up of displaced workers. It was made up of red-diaper trust-fund babies who had been organized to agitate for the same causes their parents agitated for.)

            • Occupy, BTW, wasn’t made up of displaced workers. It was made up of red-diaper trust-fund babies who had been organized to agitate for the same causes their parents agitated for.)

              Actually it could be better put:

              1) Into which their parents saw that they were indoctrinated.
              2) Into which their schools saw that they were indoctrinated.
              3) Into which they fell of their own accord because neither their parents or schools taught them any better.

              Believe me, hot all red or pink diaper babies have dutifully joined their parents cause. Some were so well indoctrinated into the idea of ‘thinking for themselves’ that they actually did so and ultimately rejected the movement.

              • No. Most red diaper babies who stick to the cause are the ones who would be “company men” in a different (saner?) society. My brother (though not following my parents, he followed what schools and intellectuals preached) is a lefty because he’s the good boy.

                I was the h*ll born brat. My dad and I have mused more than once that if I’d come of age at a time communism was (still) illegal, I’d probably have become a communist, just because. Mind you, I probably would have outgrown it, but… I’m glad I wasn’t tempted.

          • Dorothy Grant

            No, it’s not, because economics isn’t a zero-sum game, where somebody getting richer means other people have to get poorer.

            The people who own the tools make more money. The people they employ to create more tools and products, and better iterations, make more money. The people who use the products of those tools to free more time and effort elsewhere make more money, with a higher standard of living.

            Look at life between the mid-1800’s and now. The invention of automobiles, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioning, penecillin, amoxycillin, refrigeration, heat pumps, water heaters, and electric sewing machines has not created a dirt-floor poor scraping to get by in the midst of a 1% living off luxuries. Instead, it’s created a country where many a tribal African would cheerfully massacre as many people as necessary if only he and his family could live in such unimaginable luxury as our gang-ridden welfare estates. (Compton is Not A Nice Place. Compton is Nirvana compared to the Jo’berg slums.)

            Why do we have such a large illegal immigrant problem? Part of it has to do with a long history of messy political interference in immigration, but part of it has to do with the way we are so rich that a man from the Dominican Republic, even after paying off the smuggler, can still make so much money working the fields or cleaning hotel rooms that his sons and daughters will not only avoid starvation, they can afford the fees to go to school and have a shot at a better life than him, his parents, their parents, and every generation before.

            • actually Dot, though the numbers are hard to obtain — and this is shudder worthy — it seems like immigration from Mexico has gone negative.

              Think about it. People are choosing drug-war Mexico over the US. They feel the tsunami.

              • The fact that large numbers of illegal immigrants “self deported” during the recent economic downturn puts paid to the claim that we “can’t” get them out of the country and simply “have” to accept them.

              • I have seen reports at places such as Via Media (IIRC) that Mexico is cleaning up its act in a number of places and ways, enjoying an increasingly stable and expanding economy. MSM reporting on that nation is about as reliable as their reporting on the USA. Imagine what the news would be like if all our news coverage focused on Chicago, South Central LA and Washington DC.

                Frankly, I doubt the Mexicans would view Illinois as an example to emulate. And because those with the get up and go to come here have the mother wit to read the weather forecasts a lot of them are leaving while the leaving is good.

              • I do think about it. I also note that the reporting sources love to trumpet how either enforcement must have worked (hah!) or the economy here is so utterly grim that they’re unable to find jobs… depending on what stance they were already spinning about The Evils Of Illegal Immigration.

                And now for the rest of the story: we’ve been pouring billions into Mexico over the last several decades, in the best possible way: wages earned wired south to families who choose how to spend it, without any government interference. Vicente Fox, for all his shortcomings as El Presidente, did create and enforce a program that certified all high school graduates as ready and capable to be primary teachers. This radically expanded accessibility to education, about a decade ago. We hear about the drug war, but that’s about as complete a picture of life in Mexico across all its states as the impact of Katrina was to the USA as a whole – there are a lot of places where life is getting better, and the middle class is growing quickly.

                Note: few of these immigrants (aside from tearfully-reported deportations) are going to leave a job and go back for poverty. They’re going back because they think they can get a better life there, now. This doesn’t say awesome things about our country and economy, certainly, but it also says much better things than we’re willing to hear about Mexico’s economy.

                • There was a story last weekend (in the Wall Street Journal, IIRC) about several Mexican mountain villages forming their own vigilante forces, telling both the drug cartels and the corrupt national police to stay the eff out.

                  Ayup – a quick [SEARCHENGINE] on “mexico vigilantes” reveals several recent stories, including one from the WSJ: Mexico’s Masked Vigilantes Defy Drug Gangs—And the Law.

            • Exactly to your last paragraph.

              There are places in this world that Chicago is stable and peaceful in comparison. And poverty? Uganda, with GDP per capita (2011) of $1,317 — 37 percent of the country living on less than $1.25 a day — only made the list as the 20th poorest country in the world.

      • The real problem is that even with the robots, living on the dole is a soul-crushing experience.

    • Yes, I’ve talked to people on the car thing. They’re nuts…

  7. I’d guess I split my book buying 50% internet or electronic and 50% brick and mortar, when I can afford to do so. I try very hard to buy locally, new or used, for the same reason that I support our regional library system. It’s the only source of books for, oh, I’d say 40% of our population, especially kids. Their folks do not have internet for various reasons and the school libraries are shrinking, so the public libraries and book stores are the only place these families can get books. Will this change? I’m sure it will, but probably not in the next ten years, even if the broadband fairy were to wave its wand and connect every shack, trailer, hovel, or manse in the region.

    The whole lead in kids books business stinks. I picked up beautiful, nearly new books for a nickle a piece three years ago when the library system had to dump them. Do you know how many books a kid would have to eat a day, for how many years, to get enough lead in their system to cause problems? And the librarians are more likely to get lead poisoning from the plumbing than from the books. Grrrrrrr.

    • I have a wonderful local indie bookstore that I try to support – they started on strictly mystery/detective, but they’ve added a fantasy/sf section and a great children’s and YA section, too (they’re huge Terry Pratchett fans). They seem to be making it *knock on wood* but they’re the kind of place you can go in and say, I like this, and someone will say, Oh, then you might like this, and this, and this. They put out regular newsletters, they have constant author signings, and it’s a fun place to go. I hope this model will work.

      They’ve also connected up with Kobo, and sell Kobo e-books. I don’t know much about that program, but I hope it works for them. I do have a kindle, but I never liked that iron chain to Amazon, anymore than I wanted to be tied to the iStore.

    • I used to buy 100% of my books from “brick and mortar” stores, and almost all of them second-hand stores. Even buying new books from them made me feel better than buying from one of the big chains. Today, few of those still exist. There’s one that is my favorite. My son has discovered another one, and I intend to check it out, as soon as the head congestion clears (probably sometime around June. 2017.). In the meantime, my wife and I still visit the library, and check out what we can find online without spending a fortune. With several $$$ hundred in diagnostic charges coming later this month, discretionary spending will take ANOTHER hit.

      • The ARC on Uintah Gardens, on Saturday, if you pick carefully you can get fifty cent books. There’s also Bargain Book Warehouse. (MIGHT be listed as Trillion books on the phone book.) My friend Charles works there.

  8. I know what you mean about the Kindle replacing the dead-tree book.

    I think it was three years ago a good friend came to town, and we did a sort of a triangle tour through two of the more urban areas in this corner of the Northwest. We hit quite a few used book stores, both of us being avid bibliophiles, and having similar taste in books. I came home with one or two plastic bags full of used books that I really intended to sit down and read.

    The other day I was looking for something, and ran across one of the bags of books, yes, still in the bag, tucked into a forgotten corner. With the Kindle, when I was looking for something to read, I didn’t think paperback, I thought Kindle edition.

    I used to have fond dreams of owning my own bookstore, probably selling a mix of new and used books. Alas, I think one of my favorite gadgets may have doomed that particular dream.

  9. Wayne Blackburn

    But even we, science fiction authors, infallible though we are (of course) get things wrong. Heinlein never saw computers barreling down the pipe. Well, not in the form they came. Which means my kids get to chuckle at slide rules in spaceships.

    The biggest example of this that i have seen, and it’s one that most people wouldn’t even notice, is in Space Cadet. When they are planning for the approach to Venus with low fuel, he talks about how it wasn’t worth “cutting a cam” to control the descent. Good grief! Hand-calculating and then machining a cam to control a spaceship! I shudder to think how that would actually work out.

    • *Shakes cane* “Back in my day, sonny, astrogators were *real* astrogators. 😛

      Though to be fair, the “flight computers” on Apollo might have been half as powerful as my calculator, so depending on how they were programmed, they might not have carried much of the computational load of navigation.

      Also, some of the early Soyuz missions were navigated with a gyroscope and a stopwatch. (Probably mistiming a burn while flying blind was what lead to one of them impacting one of the early Salyut stations).

      • Of course, that brings to mind the obligatory Han Solo quote about the desirability of navigation computers. 😛

        Flying through space, is indeed, nothing like dusting crops. Though your main danger (at least in our present STL situation) is mistiming a burn and missing your tiny tiny little dot of a target, flying off into space never to see another speck of matter again. Or plowing into it at 10 kilometers per second.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Back then, space flights were preplanned months in advance. And still there was hand control of the landing on he Moon.

  10. (I’d pay for a sort of in-person book café, with knowledgeable owners who can recommend books I might like, and who have space for writers’ and readers’ groups to meet, but I don’t know how practical it is, unless in a very large city.)

    You know about Tattered Cover ( or Tattered Socialist as I call it ) in Denver of Colfax obviously. There is a used bookstore / cafe on Hampden a few blocks west of Broadway and its open 24/7 but it looks like a pornstore from the outside – poor choice of neon signage and tinted windows. Sadly, the owners don’t really know books. (There used to be a great used bookstore in that area but it closed and the two nearby crappy ones stayed open)

    — SPQR

  11. Your Person B is a dangerous idiot who should be kept away from sharp objects and any task requiring maths above counting fingers and toes.

    Sheesh! Ten thousand years of concrete demonstrations of the knowledge problem and these fools KEEP thinking they know enough not to drive an airliner into the side of a mountain.


  12. Having a Nook has changed my library habits more than bookstore habits. I used to go get lots of books from the library each week, now I’ve got lots of books on my Nook that I haven’t read yet (Free Fridays and other sources). Lately the B&N Free Fridays have been tending to be Romances, of the Get Married, Have HOT Sex (seriously, it sounds like they should get treated for burns), then Fall in Love variety. I’ve actually been enjoying them, other than that they keep interrupting the intriguing romance with sex.

    Nowadays we tend to use the library to pick up DVDs.

    • Heh. I’m the exact opposite, Jasini. Prior to discovering the public library’s ebook section, I’d only ever used it maybe twice, for research materials. Now, the library site is right after Gutenberg when I start looking for a new book. For instance, if I’d *wince* had to buy the Dresden Files books to read them, I’d a) have a much lighter wallet, as the kindle editions for even the old ones are $10 each for a series now 14 books long and b) probably not even be halfway through the series. Thanks to the library, however, I managed to check out the omnibus editions with a minimum of waiting, and am biding my time until I can actually buy them without breaking the bank. I only check out their kindle editions, but I’m pretty sure the library ebook systems started out with epubs long before they got around to kindle books, so they might have an even bigger collection of those than they do of kindle ones.

  13. Keep in mind the ability of entrenched special interests to impede adoption of technologies. Dock workers unions in CA have fought against electronic record-keeping such as bar-code readers communicating directly with databases; I daresay we could each, with a little thought, contribute many additional examples.

    There is also simple societal inertia to adaptation. Cultures with well-developed telecommunications infrastructure were among the slowest to adapt to wireless phones and found themselves leap-frogged by societies lacking that telephone cable anchor. It is much easier to make room for the new if you do not first have to clear out the old.

    • Your comment immediately reminded me of this bit from Reason a few years ago on modernizing air travel: http://reason.com/blog/2009/11/18/reasontv-your-flight-has-been Unions and other protection rackets are to blame for a lot of resistance to technology. The Luddite attitude is alive and well in organized labor.

    • My dad reached retirement age about the same time the railroad perfected their system of keeping track of railcars electronically, doing away with his job as a yard clerk. He still had to master the new system “in preparation” of implementing it, which meant he actually had to do two jobs at the same time. He was flexible enough to succeed — several of the others he worked with weren’t. Once the system was proven and went online, the railroad cut several thousands of jobs people had held for decades. Those flexible enough were retrained, those not were simply let go. Today rail traffic is tracked electronically from the point of origin to the point of delivery, and at dozens of places in between. Yet the railroads employ as many people today as they did when Dad retired in 1979.

      Automation in one area will probably require more people to work somewhere else to handle the eventual increase in productivity. Even if it didn’t, there will still be and increase in demand somewhere in the system — more miners, more transportation (both of raw material and finished product), more administration, more management, more communications. A change in one area will only create pressure elsewhere in the chain. The secret is determining what changes will produce what kind of new job. Unfortunately my crystal ball is broken, and my Ouija Board says my bill is overdue…

      • The biggest software project I’ve ever been on was, initially, focused on “reducing labor costs”. Then someone twigged to a better way to think of it — they’ve been using the system to find where they can shift labor from menial tasks to ones that focus on customer service. They still pay attention to things that reduce the amount of work that needs to be done, but often the result isn’t someone getting fewer hours — it’s someone spending more time giving a customer a better experience.

      • After my earlier post I realized that the train system is a perfect example of the type of inertia I was speaking: the problems of instituting high speed rail. Existing rail beds are inadequate for efficient HS Rail. They curve wrongly and their rights-of-way transit built-up areas that preclude reconfiguring the rails beds. But running parallel rail systems entails its own problems. [Insert anecdote tracing modern rail bed widths to Roman chariots.]

  14. I’ve seen this as a boy , when the mall, came in the Main street stores died. Then zoom forward now the electronic s have done for the malls.
    I’m writing this on a tablet, the day after seeing where My family left Plymouth England for Plymouth Ma. Ten minute s after visiting a used book store. Picked clean of my favorite beekeeping books. At least some one is still reading. And keeping bees…don’t tell me if the are e-bees

  15. So this whole thing about what jobs will people do and how minimum wage generates perverse incentives to not employ people etc. reminds me of an idea that I blogged about many many years ago – the Citizen’s Basic Income or CBI.

    I don’t know how well this would work in the US but the basic idea of a CBI is that you get (almost) enough to live on from the governmetn each year for being a citizen of the country/state. There is NO minimum wage and (with the possible exception of some disability payments) no additional state payments or allowances to anyone. i.e. no state backed student grants (loans), child tax credit or state pension/social security or anything else apart from the CBI.

    Frequently this gets proposed in combination with a flat tax and other similar things but it need not be combined.

    The CBI has a bunch of major advantages.
    First it massively decreaese the cost of labor from LEGAL residents (because they get almost enough to live on, a few hours at $1/hour/week is just fine) while massively raising the relative cost of employing illegals (who don’t get the $100-$200/week CBI and thus need to earn it themsleves)
    Second it makes a lot of maginal work affordable. Everything from grad students to gardeners.
    Third it makes it easy for young people to get those entry level jobs
    Fourth it drastically simplifies taxes and social security adminisration (and puts a bunch of bureaucrats out on the street) thus reducing the cost of government

    And there’s more as you think about it: it does for example reshape the relationship between employer and employee becaus ethe latter is a lot less dependent on wages to survive…

    I wrote a UK version at my blog http://www.di2.nu/200611/23.htm and http://www.di2.nu/200611/26.htm . The sums do basicly add up (or did add up). I’d be interested to see how it would add up in the US on either a state or a federal level.

    • If I understand what you’re proposing (I haven’t read the blog post, as it’s late) it’s what Heinlein proposed in For Us The Living. If so, they tried this in (of all places) Denver in the seventies and it was a resounding fiasco. A lot of people decided to live off it and not work.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        A lot of people might miss it, but it was a factor in “Beyond This Horizon”, too. His concept there was that people were just too restless to sit back and coast, so they wound up being too productive and money had to be introduced into the economy (usually in the form of increasing basic income) to equal out the productivity. Of course, his humans in that story had been eugenically enhanced for a few centuries, so they were not quite like we are today.

        • An alternative might be a guaranteed minimum wage: the government provides the difference between what you earn at a job and what it establishes as a minimum wage, phasing out the stipend (at, say, a 2:1 ratio — every additional dollar you earn reduces your stipend by only fifty cents) as your income rises. Nobody who is not employed gets the stipend.

          A few immediate problems occur: employers exploiting this to pay wages lower than the value of the work received, leaving the general fund to, in effect, subsidize their labor costs. Groups such as ACORN would undoubtedly tap this to pay their workers only enough to qualify for the stipend while lobbying the government for a higher “minimum” wage.

          This might also discourage people from going into business for themselves as it is unlikely to be politically feasible for the self-employed to receive the stipend.

          Which all goes to suggest that any government interference in labor markets is probably destructive no matter how superficially beneficial it appears.

          • Dorothy Grant

            There’s a far more profound negative affect than that: many people who work low-level jobs do not, actually, care about excelling at their job, nor place high priority on it. For example, many of my subordinates could care less about getting promoted; they only care about not getting docked, and getting their paycheck – for them, life begins when the time clock ticks over to end of shift.

            By subsidizing the entry-level jobs, you are removing any motivation to ever leave them, or to excel, because every reward (promotion) is met with a corresponding loss (money taken out of the supplemental paycheck). We already see the result that produces with increased taxes for increased earning: lots of people going mini-Galt. You also remove the motivation to learn a better job due to fear of losing a job to outsourcing or changing industry, if every job pays the same.

            It’ll also hurt businesses by increasing turnover radically – when most folks long to tell the boss “take this job and shove it”, and you remove the fear of only being able to find a lower-paying job, momentary irritation will win out over the need to pay for food and rent.

            Meanwhile, they’d be a very large voting block, ripe for any politician who promises them more money – not for earning more, but an increase from the government stipend.

            • The proposal for the inverse income tax stipulates that your stipend would never be reduced by the entire amount that you earned at your job. The more you earn the more you get to take home.

              It requires that people to work to receive it and the base level income does not allow for much in the way ‘extras’. The whole idea is to force people to start working — you will not receive this stipend unless you are working — and hold out a carrot of more money if they get promoted.

              But, as RES pointed out the system, like all other man made governmental solutions, has flaws that can be gamed — and therefore will. We dream of building Utopias, but find that it is at best Erehwon.

        • I am pretty sure Heinlein got it wrong. I noticed that when the wolf is at the door, some people hustle better than if they have a something given to them i.e. trust-fund babies.

    • This is the problem there.

      As the case of drug addicts show, it’s very hard to reduce something to a level that’s almost possible to live on. People can live on very little.

  16. http://www.janspaperbacks.com/ — then there’s this place (near my house, no less; and next door to my Friendly Local Gaming Store), which has decided to ride the wave; note the e-book-related stuff.

    As to “one of these days we’re gonna be automated right out of a job” (a quote from a movie I *know* no one else here has ever seen >:) ): Japan’s declining birth-rate has motivated its techno-weenies to finally get around to creating robots to replace *menial* laborers — note the emphasis. They’re not replacing airplane pilots and other jobs which requires brains and reflexes; they’re getting rid of the entry-level workers, the “common folk”.

    Now, imagine if they do perfect this — suppose those machines could be used to replace, oh, I don’t know, the illegal immigrants picking crops for little money and no benefits; or hotel housekeeping; or any other line of work currently “overrun” with Illegals. How many people do you think are going to so much as bat an eyelash at seeing the Illegal problem wiped out at a stroke (or rather, a series of small strokes)?

    But it doesn’t stop there — once the Illegals are eliminated, who’s next? Wait for the Union to call a strike, then bring in automated scabs, perhaps. There’s a number of possibilities there. (Hell, just the idea of “no more drudge work” would be enough to convert most of the walking dead out there.) Problems in programming will be sorted out the same way they always are: The folks who keep screwing up eventually go out of business, to be replaced by those who don’t — it’s the Capitalist Way. 🙂

    Oh, by the way: Let me clarify one point — the idea is not to cull *all* humans; the idea is to cull “the 99%”, “the grasping lower orders”, call them what you will, so the Top 1% never have to worry about Hoi Polloi Getting Ideas ever again (because we all know what happens when the slaves suddenly become aware they are slaves when they could be masters…). This is where “With Folded Hands” really got it wrong: Those robots won’t exist so *everyone* can have infinite leisure time; they will exist so the Ruling Class (in whatever form) doesn’t have to put up with the Serving Class’s shit anymore.

    I doubt most of you will live to see it — I might, just (depends on whether I kill myself first). But it’s coming. And when it does, it will be a *very* bad day for anyone who identifies as “I am the 99%”.

  17. Used bookstores; there was a very good in town ran by an older lady (she retired and then started the bookstore) who ended up marrying one of her customers. I used to go in there regularly, and spend time not only checking out the books but talking to her and her husband about them, he used to recommend books to me, and had very good if eclectic tastes, good of course because they were similar to mine 😉 Then he died and she sold it to a couple of young guys. While they are nice, and seem knowledgeable about books, I never hit it off with them, so while I still go in there occasionally, I now do most of my used book shopping at the thrift stores (where books are cheaper, and there is always the chance of finding a really great deal, like the book I bought at the Salvation Army a few years ago for $.50 that is valued at $400) and no longer stop by regularly.
    Customer service is an art as well as a skill, and that is what I believe the brick and mortar stores are going to have to nurture if they want to stay in business at this day and age.