Universal basic income-ing?

I’ve been following guaranteed income or universal income programs for the past year or two now, and with the recent news about both Corey Booker and Bernie Sanders coming out with job guarantee programs, I thought it was a good topic to revisit.

Universal basic income is the idea that the State should provide all citizens with an income guarantee. There are variations on the idea, but the general crux is that residents receive regular payments to make sure that everyone has housing, food to eat — basic needs. I’m not sure when I first heard about the idea, but my interest in it was no doubt spurred by the question of automation the modern era. Many futurists, Silicon Valley types and research groups are convinced that advancements in artificial intelligence will lead to the elimination of millions of jobs in existence today. The easiest extrapolation is the rise of the self-driving car, and its impact on transportation industry and support jobs. There will be further ramifications for municipalities that depend on income from parking and moving violation fees, but we’ll set that aside for now.

Jobs that are repetitive by nature are the most likely to be eliminated by automation, but there are signs that knowledge worker jobs are just a vulnerable to these systems as well. We will see a revolution in labor and the types of jobs available in the coming decades, the debate today is over what kind of jobs will follow. Past technological revolutions have eventually given way to new types of jobs for subsequent generations of workers, but there is a growing consensus that the number of new jobs created by robotics and automation will not be anywhere near the order of magnitude of those that are lost.

Things look even bleaker when one considers the growing income inequality and concentration of wealth that has been ongoing for the past four decades. Companies like Amazon continue to gobble up more and more businesses, forcing competitors to come on board their e-commerce platform or be driven into the dust. Meanwhile retail workers at Macy’s, KMart, JCPenny’s and so on get laid off, while Amazon workers get forced into slave-labor conditions, pissing in bottles on the warehouse floor instead of taking bathroom breaks in order to keep up metric. And Jeff Bezos becomes the world’s richest man.

Proponents of basic income such as myself feel that such programs are necessary to provide a new social safety net in the 21st century. As Virginia Senator Mark Warner noted at an event for the Center for Strategic & International Studies last week, the social contract of the last 70 years is dead. The idea that a worker today will finish a 40 year career at a company with a pension and a gold watch is as antiquated as the manual typewriter. Today it’s not even apparent that workers will receive a living wage, or health care, let alone retirement savings. Businesses continue to offload labor to their customers, as evidenced by the conversion to self-checkout line in most grocery stores today.

There are a number of Libertarians or right-leaning individuals that like the idea of UBI, but their approval stems from the simplicity and cost-savings of administering such programs, as opposed to the bureaucracy necessary to support the so-called welfare state, but it is not a universally accepted conclusion that UBI programs would negate the need for all other social safety net programs.

After I started writing this post, I found that Finland, which had started a UBI pilot a year ago, has decided to terminate the program, mainly, it seems, because of negative public opinion to the prospect of handing out money without any work requirements. It’s important to note at this point that the actual data from the experiment hasn’t been released, so it remains to be seen what effect a UBI has on recipients’ behavior. Opponents of UBI argue that doing so will encourage more ‘taker’ behavior and lead to more millennials playing video games, proponents such as myself believe that income programs will allow people to pursue new businesses or education opportunities, or enrich themselves in other ways.

As long as we have an economic system that requires low-income earners to spend more and more of their labor for a declining wages, while allowing the wealthy to take a larger and larger piece of the pie by virtue of their existing wealth, the need for redistribution programs such as UBI will become more and more necessary.

Virginia evictions and housing justice.

This NYT piece on eviction records follows some startling research by author and Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, who’s book “Evicted” showcased how the loss of housing makes the poor poorer. Desmond and his team did analysis of eviction records across the nation in 2016, and came up with rankings of cities across the United States. I was shocked when I saw this screenshot of the top 10 large cities:

4 large cities from Hampton Roads make the top 10; Richmond is #2. 

Virginia Beach is on there as well, down at #15. Portsmouth comes in at #5 on mid-sized cities, Suffolk down at 28. Now, to be fair, the data that the Princeton team collected is missing data from over a third of the states in the U.S.

This reminded me of an effort by the Democratic Socialists of America’s DC and NOVA chapters called Stomp Out Slumlords, which aims to slow down the evictions by sabotaging the courts system. The court system has turned into an eviction machine, and landlords and lawyers plan on tenants not showing up. I examined the docket in Newport News one day in mid-January of this year and found dozens upon dozens of cases listed. They are usually processed in batches, with summary judgements against the tenants. The DSA program provides tenant rights information, and encourages renters to show up to court.

Hampton, Newport News, and many other Virginia municipalities are currently days away from a May 1st election for city council and school board seats. I have not heard any candidates address the eviction issue directly yet, but I think it will be a huge issue moving forward.  The Pilot just published an article about it, and local NPR call-in show HearSay with Kathy Lewis interviewed the author on air today, along with organizers from Norfolk Housing Justice Network. 

Telling myself again…

I’ve decided that I’m getting the fuck off Facebook. While I’ve probably told myself that I’m going to start blogging again about a hundred times, I think that the social media behemoth has become to big for it’s own damn good and secondly, that I’ve got to force myself off of it if I’m going to be productive and achieve the level of success that I want to. I’ve already deleted the main app off of my phone, but escaping it completely will be impossible for the near term since managing a social media presence is an essential part of brand-management or whatever marketing term you want to use. I am going to ignore my status notifications for the time being and find ways to move my audiences off of the platform. Messenger and Pages apps are still sitting on my phone — along with Twitter, for now — but I’ve decided that I’m only going to go on FB when I need to post something to one of my client pages or groups, and will start using this blog as much as possible.

The other decision I’m grappling with is this pseudo-anonymous identity that this site is named after. I’m sure that anyone with the time or willingness could figure it out without too much trouble, as I’ve had multiple profiles on various sites linked out across the interwebs under this name that probably has enough personal information scattered within it for someone to make a case for it. I just did a Google search and found one profile that needed a name change, but it looks like things are getting a bit obfuscated now that this reggae dub producer has started using the name.

At some point I’ll need to focus more on what I hope to accomplish with this, but for now I guess I’ll just keep posting.

Electoral duress

So, election night came and went and was pretty disappointing for me from a liberal standpoint. I had already resigned myself to a GOP takeover as 6th year elections seem to go against the party in power, but it was just a bit ridiculous how much it swung red throughout the rest of the country. Sam Brownback re-elected? Seriously? Just, wow, speechless. For a while it seemed that Mark Warner was going to lose, but I stayed up past midnight when northern Virginia started reporting in and things started swinging back his way. Was still too close for me. Perhaps the only consolation during this year’s election is that we still have Obama in the White House, for all his flaws, and Virginia has a Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and two Senators.

There has been a trend for the past decade or so, Democrats turn out to vote during presidential elections, then stay home during mid-terms. Reports from this election attributed GOP wins to an older, whiter, conservative base, so it would appear that 18 percent or so of the country’s eligible voters actually turned out for the Republicans against Obama. So, while I hope that the cycle can continue in 2016 with another Democratic winner in the White House, be it Hillary or whoever, really, I’m not going to sit by the next two years and hope that things get better, when in reality the truth is government is broken and needs to change.

Many good points have been made about how Dems ran from Obama and got their asses handed to them, when instead they should have been touting his accomplishments over the past few years. It’s like people don’t remember 6 or 8 years ago; the economy is stronger than ever, jobs, investments, growth, expansion and inflation, are better than they were six, or even twenty years ago. Rather than tout these and other accomplishments in health care, financial reform, and the environment, Dems shied from Obama and allowed pre-election hysteria about Ebola and ISIS take over the discussion. Even if I don’t love Obama as much as I did in 2008, I’m still damn glad that he’s the President and not McCain or Romney. 8 years of Bush II was enough for me.

Another good point that was brought up by the Daily Beast’s Sally Kohn was that the GOP was able to win by running to the left. Even though voters overwhelmingly supported the candidate with the R next to their name, when it came time to voting on the issues themselves, they overwhelmingly approved liberal ideas such as minimum wage increases, striking down personhood amendments. Republican candidates themselves talked up income inequality and wage stagnation. So while certain idiot family members and Facebook friends still freak out over Obamacare or Faux News’s latest outrage of the day is, I still have hope that the country is moving in the right direction.

 

Exchange Online Bulk Add SMTP Addresses

We are a Microsoft partner and have been standing up a lot of clients on Office 365, the management of which requires a lot of PowerShell use to administer properly. My last boss told me that Microsoft’s move away from the GUI toward PS scripting is what is going to ‘separate the men from the boys’, and I’ve taken this to heart, trying to script out everything as much as possible. Server 2012 has really made improvements over 2008 as far as this goes, and Exchange Online and Office 365 (AKA Microsoft Online Services) are strongly there as well. Sure, there are web interfaces for them, but Microsoft seems to have a habit of changing the navigation and language every few weeks and the GUI has been inconsistent between the business and enterprise plans as well, so the Powershell commands seem be the way to go.

For this most recent job, we had a client who wanted to change domain names, so we stood up the new domain on O365 and configured client workstations for the new accounts. Once that was done we verified the old domain with Microsoft in anticipation of routing the old domain to the new mailboxes. Rather than manually add each additional SMTP address for each user account, I used the following script. Make sure you connect to Exchange Online using remote PowerShell first.


$users = get-user * #Filter your OU appropriately, this was a blanket change for a flat hierarchy.
foreach ($user in $users)
{
$mailbox = get-mailbox $user.identity
$newmailbox = $user.id + "@yourNewDomain.com"
set-mailbox -identity $user.identity -EmailAddresses @{Add=$newmailbox}
}

You can then verify that the changes went correctly with the following:

foreach ($user in $users) {
$mailbox = get-mailbox $user.identity
$mailbox.emailaddresses
write-host  $addresses
}

Game(r) development

So I’ve been playing a whole lotta HearthStone lately. A lot. I’ve been using Icy-Veins for basic decks and card descriptions to up my game, and although I haven’t gotten anywhere near legend ranking, I have been doing pretty well. I started tracking my game history in OneNote, tracking the cards my opponents have played against me to try and some good openers. I’ve been somewhat limited with my success as I refuse to pay for decks and have been spending all of my gold to buy Naxxramas wings, (I’ve just started the Construct quarter,) and I did find an interesting project that will automate that for me. It’s called Hearthstone Deck Tracker, and in addition to showing me which cards of my deck I’ve drawn and which ones remains, it will also record my opponent’s plays and will even allow me to export them into a deck of my own pretty handy. This tracker belongs to a series of programs which have sprung up that utilize Hearthstone’s debug log to pull this information. Another one is a tool created by Elie Bursztein and his wife used data collected from over 100,000 games to predict what card you opponent will play next. They gave a talk at Defcon where they demoed the tool as well as some of their research on valuing Hearthstone cards, but apparently someone from Blizzard was in the audience and convinced them not to release the tool for fear of ruining the game. One of the things that their tool did have was a tracker that shows card, hand and mana advantage between your opponent, and that does look like something that could be integrated into the Hearthstone Tracker, which is written in C. I’ve been delving into the source code to try and and figure out if I can make any contributions to it.

HearthStone was actually created with the Unity3D development platform, and I’ve been playing around with that lately, having finished several of the tutorial projects with it. I don’t really have too much interest in developing a full fledged 3D game, but it has real object-oriented scripting, unlike GameMaker, which doesn’t fully implement OO methods. Unity seems really powerful, and I’m looking forward to delving into it a bit more and seeing if any projects come from it.

I’ve also been inspired to add to my real life collection lately. Reading the blog on the site https://wischweiz.wordpress.com, I was inspired even more. Every time I’d go into Barnes and Nobles I’d drool over the Android:Netrunner and other strategy games, and a few weeks ago they had copies of Summoner Wars on sale for half off, and I had to go back and pick one up. It’s a cool game; I’ve only had a chance to play a few games with a few friends, including a 2v1 match that ran on way to late and ended in a draw. And I also caved in and bought A:NR off of Amazon and have played a few games with it. I’ve probably spent more time teaching it to other people than I have playing it, but I found that there’s a version of it on OCTGN, which is like VASSAL on steroids, and I’ve had a couple good matches on there. The best part is that OCTGN and the modules are open source, so I can look through the Python code to see how the game mechanics were implemented. Fascinating stuff.

Halfway between the polished gem of Hearthstone’s Unity engine and the arcane workings of OCTGN/VASSAL games is HEX, a Magic:The Gathering clone that is currently in beta. The mechanics of the game seem strong, but the graphics and the game flow itself seem rather clunky. I’ve only played two games against AI thus far, but the interface has a ways to go yet. I don’t really recall how M:TG online plays in comparision, but it seems like the amount of clicks passing back and forth between players each turn is way to much. One thing I’ve yet to figure out is whether all the cards in Hex will be available by grinding the game, such as in Hearthstone, or whether certain cards will only be available through real-money decks, as I hear was done with the latest Dual of the Planeswalker version.

 

 

And now for some emotional release

I’ve been pretty stoic this past week with what happened in Connecticut last Friday, however while watching this video the damn broke and I couldn’t stop crying. Ode to Joy is beautiful, and for some reason I find these kind of public performances the antithesis of what happened last week.