Wednesday, 16 December 2015

In Sickness and In Health

This week’s Time Magazine focuses all about its Person of the Year choices. At 6th place (if I remember correctly) stands Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and CEO.
I don’t know much about Kalanick as a person, but I do know that I sure have a quarrel with his professional enterprise. Specifically, I have a quarrel with a company that enjoys the benefit of employing north of 100,000 people yet wouldn’t recognise them as employees, with everything that goes with that, such as annual leave and sick allowances. [In another post I might discuss the quarrel I have with the Uber app ravaging its users’ privacy.]
Those worker rights things, like the right to go on paid leave or the security of knowing that one is cared for even when one is sick (often due to work related activities) are important things. They are rights our not so distant ancestors paid for with blood, their blood, and now we are asked to forget all about them so that this young entrepreneur can make an extra buck as he bends the legacy industries to his will. You know, the industries that do offer their workers social rights, if only because they follow the law.
The fact Uber is waging its war against a monopoly industry that has been screwing us (and its drivers) for around a century should not matter much. Indeed, it is a tragedy to see Uber getting away with murder on account of its main rival being an industry everyone likes to hate. But again, this should not matter; workers’ rights are a much more important matter than Uber. It is something that is likely to affect you, and it is something that will almost certainly affect your children. Do not let them grow into a world depriving them of stuff that we have been taking for granted.

Uber taxi ad

As for yours truly, I very much doubt there is a future career for me with Uber. What I do know, however, is that I will almost certainly have a future career in short term contract employment. It’s not Uber, but it is still employment that deprives the employee from basic social rights such as annual leave or sick pay.
I know many people who are perfectly happy with their contracting career. Me, I cannot say I’m looking forward to this market driven necessity. Being a person, I do need to take leave. Being a human being, I do get sick from time to time. And when I do get sick, I do not wish to have to worry about money in addition to having to worry about getting healthier.
This whole Uber thinking, the thinking that manifests itself with the contracting employment, is something that can only work for the young and healthy that don’t have any children. In the rest of the cases, the vast majority of cases, such employment conditions screw lives up.
Let us not get there. Me, I’d rather put Travis Kalanick endeavours in the trash compactor of society rather than glorify it, Time style.

Image by Alper Çuğun, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Old Debts

Given so much of my social life revolves around coffee, it is hard not to nitpick at some of the related rituals. Like that of paying: when going for coffee as a group, it is usually the case that one member of the group will pay for everybody. And not only because the café won’t split bills.
One person paying for everybody else will, obviously, create debts. It is therefore interesting to note the different attitudes that different people hold towards debt. Some will repay it quickly in cash; others will await their turn to repay in the currency of coffee; and others are rather casual about it all. As a member of the second camp, I find the accounting challenge is often bigger than one would think. Given the composition of the coffee pact varies, paying one’s debt is not a simple matter of taking turns. On one hand I may owe a person several cuppas, while on the other there may be multiple people owing me several rounds each while I do my best to repay an old debt.
My insistence on debt repayment in coffee currency while aspiring for optimal fairness brings along some sort of a reputation. A reputation that made me wonder: why am I so bothered by this matter? Because clearly I am more bothered than others.
Contemplating my personal answer brought me back to my childhood days. Back then I hardly ever had much money on me, probably the direct result of my parents not having much of it either. My friends didn’t seem as affected, and as a result I would often owe them money for rather lengthy durations. [At this point I will mention that I am talking about children here. What passes for a lot of money or a lengthy duration to a child is many parsecs away from what adults refer to using the same terminology.] I would repay my friends, sure, but I think it is safe to assume that over time some debts were forgotten. Hence my contemporary behaviour: I’m pedantic about my current coffee debts because I feel I have wronged my friends in the past over similar matters.

The 1 euro Coffee

Now, all of the above discussion related to petty amounts of money. Consider, if you will, what people who do not have money for the really important things in life – food, shelter – have to go through. Imagine what it can do to their relationships. Clearly, life can be far from easy.
Spare a thought for those not as lucky as you.

Image by Pierre-Olivier Carles, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence

Monday, 7 December 2015

Gadget Longevity

Apple II

Over the years I have been known to criticise Apple a lot but also to be the obedient slave that buys too many of its overpriced products. Today I’d like to point out a not as often talked about aspect of Apple product ownership.
Let the numbers talk:
  • My iPhone 3GS is now more than 6 years old. I haven’t been using it as my main phone for 3 years now, but it is still serving as a music player and my main GPS for driving.
  • My MacBook Air is more than 4 year old now. Not unheard of for a laptop, I admit; what is exceptional, though, is that despite me having much stronger [Windows] hardware at my disposal, this Mac is still my go to PC for everything other than World of Tanks.
  • My first iPad is now coming close to its 4th birthday, still alive and kicking and getting daily heavy workouts by the child in our family.
  • Our Airport Express and Apple TV (third generation) have been with us for almost 4 years. Other than wifi interference issues that were solved with AC wifi deployment, we’ve been getting daily output from these.
  • My iPhone 5 is now 3 year old. On a regular day I need to charge it twice, but then again so do too many smartphones. Other than that I see no reason why it should not cruise along till my iPhone 7 joins the party, say, October 2016.
I severely doubt any other manufacturer can boast such longevity figures. Indeed, no Apple gadget ever died on me, even though – statistically speaking – they should have every right to do so.

I think the question to be asked is whether it is better to buy an expensive Apple gadget and hold it for a long while or whether to buy from the cheaper [Android] competition more often and enjoy the benefits of using the latest hardware for longer periods. The greeny in me would opt for the former.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A Year of Smartwatching

Apple Watch Sport

The main problem affecting smartwatches is that lack of a killer app, a reason to make people say to themselves “I want a smartwatch so I can X”. Recently published research confirms the notion: most of the time, the bulk of Apple Watch users use it for telling the time + receiving notifications. Given Apple Watches start at $500 (at least in Australia), that seems like a lot of money with which to replace one’s own perfectly working watch with a short lived one from Apple just for the sake of receiving notifications!
That said, receiving notifications to the watch is a big deal, I can tell you that! It never occurred to me how important it is till PAX. I visited PAX with friends, and during the course of the day we often split up and later regroup. Throughout the day we communicated with one another over Signal messages. I never heard my phone ring nor feel it vibrate that day; but I did not miss a message and always knew exactly what my friends were up to. That was achieved with the aid of my never-miss-a-notification Pebble watch.
The beauty of it was us taking all of the above for granted. Only later did we realise we were totally dependent on our Pebbles. Or, in other words: we reached the stage where life without a smartwatch would feel like some sort of a Stone Age experience.
Now I will admit to having a love/hate relationship with my Pebble. It costs a fraction of an Apple Watch, its battery usually lasts me four days [insert standard deviation and note the Pebble Round model last “up to two days”], and it is very water proof [with the notable exception of the new Pebble Round being only splash proof]. But the Pebble is also clearly made using lowest bidder grade cheap components: over the past year, two had died on me (both had screen problems, one also had Bluetooth issues) and another is suffering from inconsistent battery performance that reeks with that “soon to make a warranty call” stench.
However: at per their current prices, one can buy a Pebble once a year, as per the duration of their manufacturer’s warranty, and still come out spending much less than one would on Apple Watches.

What could change this equation?
The appearance of a new killer app. If the current killer app for the smartwatch is notifications, I predict the next one would have something to do with health. As I said here before, I will gladly pay for an Apple Watch if it could warn me to rush to a hospital due to an imminent heart attack. It would be even better if the watch gave me that defibrillation hit that kept me running all the way to that hospital.
Apple, my glove is at your feet.

Image by LWYang, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence