The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

And the hits just keep on coming

Posted By on March 4, 2015

So, the day after I post about crazy NY, the governor ups the ante and starts a program to raise the minimum wage. There’s even and handy fact sheet.

Now, because economics isn’t taught in US schools (I had to learn it from reading and podcasts in the last 5 years or so), let me explain some fundamentals that seem to be lost on our dear governor. I’ll do it as a story.

Alice and Bob work for BigBoxCorp, and they make the minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. Now, Alice is a rockstar, and generates $15 in value for the business, resulting in $6.25 in surplus. Bob is kind of average, and generates $10 in value, resulting in $1.25 in surplus. The minimum wage is raised to $10.50, which means that Alice’s surplus is now $4.50 in surplus, but Bob is now generating -$.50 in surplus. So, what happens? Bob gets laid off, and is replaced by either a better worker or a robot. So much for helping to raise folks out of poverty.

Meanwhile, the surplus Alice generates is reduced, which means that the company has less extra capital to use. One could naively assume this means “less profit”, but that would fail to realize that profit is what is left over *after* other expenses, such as (to name a couple of choice ones) research and expansion.

If a business has extra money they can expand into new markets, open up new branches, expand operations or otherwise get bigger, hiring more people and generating more jobs. Slow down their surplus, you slow down their growth.

Similarly, if they have extra money they can do more research, which means development of new products. Stuff like our computers, iPhones, etc. don’t come out of thin air, they come from research and development which is either funded by outside investment (which is surplus generated by one company which an investor takes and puts into another company) or by internal investment (surplus generated by a company’s existing products which are used to finance research in new products).

Now, if you assume that a company will not compromise their surplus (often called a “margin”), then they’ll have no choice to raise prices, which means that the extra $1.75 that Alice is now making suddenly doesn’t go as far because all of the things she’s going to by suddenly cost more!

The above is also true of people looking for jobs – if Carla and Dave are looking for jobs, and Carla is, say, a high school dropout and Dave is a high school graduate, and you have to pay them both the same, who are you going to hire? Based on the data given, most folks would pick Dave, due to his greater education. On the other hand, if Dave wants $10.50, but Carla will work for $9, then you may hire Carla, because you can pay her less and that compensates for her lesser education. Carla takes the job, goes to night school, gets her GED, and improves her lot in life. However, the minimum wage prices Carla out of the market, so now she’s unemployed and can’t improve her lot as she would have been able to do if she had the freedom to negotiate.

Going a bit big picture for a moment – prices and their cohort, wages, are a way for the market to signal what is of value – what is needed, where resources should be spent, etc. all wrapped up in this one thing. People command a low wage because their skills are generally either common (not specialized) or simply not in demand. You can be the world’s greatest performer of cartwheels, but if that is not a skill in demand, then it will not command a high wage. Similarly, you can be a great bagger of groceries, but so many people have that skill that you will also not command a high wage. Forcing companies to pay more than the market rate for these skills does not change this underlying reality, and eventually this will cause companies to investigate other options, such as automating those skills or eliminating them all together. Witness the proliferation of self checkout systems in grocery stores. Even though customers generally don’t like them, they’re still becoming more common, because grocery stores can’t afford to keep prices where they are while increasing their operating costs by $35/hour (assuming a $1.75 increase for a 10 lane supermarket with a checkout person and bagger on each lane) unless they have a corresponding increase in volume (which there’s nothing to suggest that they would). If you can eliminate 4 lanes by having them be a self checkout, with only 1 person watching over them, then you go from $70/hour ($8.75, the old minimum wage * 8 people (4 lanes, 2 people per lane)) to $10.50 an hour (the new minimum wage, for the attendant) + the additional overhead of the machines. As soon as that “additional overhead” is less than $59.25/hour, you get yourself some automated checkout machines and lay off 7 of your people.

The NY twilight zone

Posted By on February 27, 2015

So, not to be outdone by California, the Governor Cuomo has announced a SUNY policy to combat sexual assault, which includes “a statewide definition of affirmative consent”. So, colleges are apparently different than all the rest of the state – not that this is a surprise, really. I mean, colleges have different gun and free speech laws, why not coital consent?

Then, I get this one about New York’s failing schools. Now, there are some schools that are doing poorly; I have no problem addressing this. However, this is how they’re going to address it: “To address this problem, we’re proposing a model that worked in Massachusetts, where when a school fails for 3 years, a nonprofit, another school district, or a turnaround expert must take over the school.” So, yeah, a private option isn’t even on the table. Allowing a private school option, or a for-profit school option, isn’t an option.

And, finally, there was this story. Now, if we assume this isn’t just a cover-up, there are a variety of things wrong with it.

  1. Why the HELL did the state outsource email to MS’s cloud? I mean, I can see not really worrying about data confidentiality, as it’s all public anyway, but do you really want your email held for ransom on MS’s servers?
  2. 90 day email deletion policy? Really? Are you really that space constrained? I mean, I’ve got my personal emails going back 15 years, and it only uses 6.1G. With a 3TB hard drive being $80, that means 6.1G costs a whopping.. 16 cents. Heck, it looks like NY state has about 300,000 employees. So, the average busy person gets about 140 emails per day, and if we assume these are hugely quoted threads heavily HTML-ed and all that, we’ll say they’re maybe 100KB per, this means that the average person is getting 12MB per day, which is about 4GB per year, which, for all the employees, is 1171TB of storage per year (across all servers), which is 390 3TB hard drives @ $80 each, which gives us $31,226 in email storage per year. MY SOFTWARE ENGINEERING GROUP PAID MORE THAN THAT IN TAXES and I think it’s fair to suggest that we’d feel that keeping these emails basically forever is a very effective use of that money.

But, you know, then we might learn something about the festering cesspool of corruption that is Albany. I mean, I’m not surprised, I just wish they wouldn’t insult everyone’s intelligence by being so blatant about it.

And why the HELL are there 300,000 state employees? That’s about as many as GE, and it doesn’t include our local Sheriff (that’s county) or county highway, etc.,

From the back of the miniatures shelves….

Posted By on February 26, 2015

So, back in college and immediately after, I used to play Warhammer 40k (3rd Edition). I had Marines and Tau armies. Then I stopped, because I moved, and the minis sat, and sat, and sat. My mother also played, running a Sisters of Battle army. She stopped shortly after 4th edition came out because her gaming group got burned out on 40k and started playing Flames of War.

I’d been looking for some rules to run 40k, and not finding any, and had started writing my own, but the going was, of course, slow. Then I came across [https://onepagerules.wordpress.com/ One Page Rules], which has rules for 40K and Fantasy in both battle and skirmish scales, as well as fantasy football and full contact racing cars. The rules are tight, simple to understand, supported by the heroic efforts of an author who simply goes by OnePage Anon, with lots of helpful folks on [http://onepagerules.proboards.com/ their forums].

It took me about half an hour to read and grok the rules. In another hour or so, I’d done up a basic Tau list. My mom visited and it took us about 2 hours to do up a list for her (mainly because she was being a super power gamer who had to obsessively tweak her list to optimized for exactly 1500 points).

I had planned to take pictures as the turns progressed, but totally forgot, so this is a picture of the end of Turn 2 from different angles. Those, and a play-by-play, are below the more…

Now, readers will know that Liz will play Warmachine, but Warhammer was just too boring for her. We’ll see how she likes these rules, but she didn’t recoil in horror watching Mom and I play…

(more…)

Updated pics again…

Posted By on February 26, 2015

Only added about half a dozen, but they are now up to date through mid February and include some pictures of them playing in the snow.

Gallery link.

A connection I never made…

Posted By on December 31, 2014

So, I’m reading [http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/12/10/fisking-the-guardian-again-this-time-for-hp-lovecraft/ Larry Correia’s fisking of social justice warriors (again)], and he says the following:

Yes, Lovecraft was a racist. He was a 1930s Democrat. It is actually kind of hard to find 1930s democrats who weren’t racists. Eugenics then was the “scientific” equivalent to Global Warming today. The “science was settled”. Proper good thinking folks didn’t question it and the world’s governments used Eugenics as an excuse for all sorts of programs that seem insane to us today.

Hoooooly poop. Mind blown. It’s like exactly the same thing. Dubious but well-accepted science used as a smokescreen for all manner of government overreach and intrusion.

Mr. Correia, I salute you, sir.

Updated pics again…

Posted By on December 31, 2014

They are now up to date through Christmas.

Gallery link.

Posted more pictures of the boys

Posted By on November 6, 2014

I’ve updated the gallery of the boys, including first Halloween pics. There are two sets of costumes, because we went to two parties. So, this is all up to the beginning of November.

Player preconceptions

Posted By on October 8, 2014

These are a couple of stories (or, maybe, the same story twice) both involving Lois and her preconceived notions about RPGs and gamemasters.

It likely is worth mentioning that David and Lois are a couple, because that figures lightly into the story.

So, we’re playing Shadowrun, I’m GM-ing, and David, Lois, Lisa and Steve are playing. This is after David and Lois left the game and refused to play with Ross. However, Ross had left the game, so David and Lois came back.

In the first story, the crew was doing a run against a Renraku facility. Now, they were armed, but no one had drawn guns yet or really done anything other than jump the wall and get chased by some guards. I don’t remember the exact details, but they get split up, and the crew gets away except for Lois’s character. She gets chased by half a dozen Red Samurai armed with automatic weapons. They chase her to a dead end, and tell her to put her hands on her head, face the wall, and get on her knees.

She draws her pistol.

I tell her that there’s no way she’ll win against 6 guys with automatic rifles.

She says she’ll risk it.

In all fairness, she got a shot off before she took half a dozen 3 round bursts center of mass.

So, yeah, her character’s bullet riddled corpse falls back against the wall, and slides to the ground in a bloody smear.

She starts to cry.

I’m like “we can do that over if you want, but what did you think was going to happen?”

Her: “I thought you’d let me fight my way out.”

Me: “No, you get captured, and then the team has to come and break you out in a brilliant escape sequence.”

Her: “But when your character gets captured, the GM kills you.”

Me: “Not in my game.”

In the end, she (the player) couldn’t recover and left my game again, taking David with her.

Okay, so, the second story.

David and Lois are back. the rest of the crew is basically the same, and they’re having to get some hard-copy blackmail paydata out of a safe at some guy’s house in a gated burbclave. What’s the best way to get into a burbclave? Have a big brown and gold delivery truck. Now, in this game, Lois is playing a “hot mage”, essentially the face of the group, a siren seductress type. So, she hits the unsuspecting delivery driver with a come hither stare, and one of the other guys cold-cocks him and leaves him stripped to his boxers and tied up where someone will find him the next day. Meanwhile, they take the truck and get into the burbclave, except that the guys at the guard shack don’t have a corresponding delivery order from the brown parcel service’s computers (remember, it’s the future, all the systems talk to each other). Now, they could have retconned it, and that would have been cool, but instead she charms her way past the young guard standing out in the drive – which works, except the old guard in the shack is older and wiser so, as they’re driving away, he starts yelling at the young guard for letting the truck through.

It’s likely worth mentioning at this point that the only folks in the van are Lisa and David’s characters – the rest of the crew (a hacker and a gun bunny, IIRC) are in reserve just in case things go south.

Lisa and David get to the house, no one is home, they go in, pop the safe, get the data, and head out.. right into the waiting Lone Star crew. Now, the way I play it, magical units are like K-9 units – specialist, uncommon, but can be called in. So, they leave and there’s like half a dozen squad cars, including a couple of wage-mages and summoned spirits.

David’s character polymorphed into a mouse and ran into a gutter, leaving Lois holding the bag.

All the police tell Lois to surrender, and this time, she does. They pack her into a squad car and have a bound spirit watch her. (I figured that’s the best way to handle arresting magically active characters). She tries to cast something and the spirit whacks her with a stun spell knocking her out.

She starts to cry again.

Me: “What? You’re under arrest.”

Her: “I thought you were going to let me escape.”

Me: “The rest of the team needs to break you out.”

That’s not good enough, apparently, because she gets up and leaves, taking David with her.

So, yeah… I’m not really sure what I could have done differently as a GM here. I’m not certain where she got the ideas of how things work in games, and I realize that I’d never GM-ed anything before these series of games, but everyone else thought it was reasonable, and (after the fact) stated that a jailbreak would have been fun. Complications make things interesting. If it was always easy all the time, it would be kind of boring, wouldn’t it?

The story where it all goes sideways

Posted By on September 30, 2014

So, after concluding a plot arc, I started a D20 Modern campaign that lasted all of one or two sessions. In some ways, it was my best game ever. It was the one I was into the most, and also the one which they players were into the most – which is likely why it imploded so quickly.

The hook for the game was that it was set 5 years hence, and everyone could play themselves or someone else – their call. It was a bit of an interesting bit of navelgazing, because you could tell the people who were comfortable in their own skin because they just played themselves, except now with jobs instead of in school. The other folks played themselves too – but hotter, thinner, stronger, etc. Still, escapism is fine, right?

The idea was that we all went out for Chinese food and some guys kidnap me – so they need to find out what all that was about, who nabbed me, what I was up to, all that. There are spies, safe houses, the works.

They find one of the guys who nabbed me, extract information from him, then feed him through a wood chipper. Solid.

Then they regroup and have an argument as to how to proceed. This argument turns serious, and before you can say Mexican standoff most of the characters are pointing guns at each other and screaming for everyone else to stop pointing guns at them.

Of course, then Lisa comes out from where she was preparing food and is like “guys, knock it off”. Everyone put their guns away, and the session ended soon after that.

And so did the game.

And so did the group.

The best explanation that I ever got was that it was too real, too dark, and folks weren’t having fun. I think what was latent was that most of the folks didn’t like David and Lois, and since everyone was playing versions of themselves, that really came out.

It’s too bad, because that intensity was amazing.

Player awesomeness

Posted By on September 29, 2014

Finally getting back to my series of posts on gamemastering, I’d like to relate a tale from the other side of the fence – where the player created and played a character so awesome, I brought the character back for a one-shot I ran for the original group something like 10 years later.

This is the story of Catherine (Cat).

I think the thing you have to understand is that this character’s player, Lisa (again, I’ve changed everyone’s names) typically tended to play magical and social characters, so this felt (at least to me) like a change of pace for her. Cat was a Street Samurai mixed with a dash of Face – very professional, well-connected, very tough, and an excellent negotiator.

I don’t want to super-psychoanalyze my friends, but I think the thing about this character that really made her shine is that it let the player explore her hardass side – moreso than comes out in her everyday life. I don’t mean to suggest that she is a wallflower or anything, she just generally relies on argument and persuasion. Cat, on the other hand, would break your neck before you even knew what hit you. I think that this brought a level of intensity to the role that really made her shine.

Ironically, now that I’ve gotten this far, I can’t really remember any real stories about Cat (perhaps Lisa will read this and drop me an email if she remembers any stories)… well, except one.

During the one shot, Lisa was the experienced one of the group, so Cat pretty much took the lead as they were trying to figure out who was running drugs that had gotten some kids killed. Anyway, one of the players was Lisa’s boyfriend – an experience roleplayer, but more of the D&D bent.

So, they’re in pursuit of someone they saw moving drugs, via a water taxi, and the boyfriend’s character was getting too chummy with the taxi driver. Cat grabs him (the boyfriends character, not the taxi driver) and she’s like “Stop compromising operational security. If you pull shit like that again, I’ll shoot you in the face and dump you overboard.”

The boyfriend looked like he had been slapped in the face. He was like “Are you serious?”

I laughed and said “This is why I wanted Cat back. Welcome to Shadowrun.”.