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Comment Value to you, not undervalued. (Score 3, Informative) 464

You don't want an 'undervalued' city - you want a city whose value is in line with your willingness to pay it. Raleigh and Ann Arbor are not inexpensive cities, for instance, even though they're cheap compared to the Bay Area. Austin (where I live) is heinously expensive compared to many parts of Texas, but even with the tremendous growth and increase in cost of living, it doesn't begin to approach the Bay Area. The brand new 3000sq ft house we just bought fairly close to downtown Austin would have cost north of of 2 million in San Francisco. is a great place to start for cost of living comparisons and questions about specific towns. Ask this question on the Raleigh board, the Omaha board, or the Austin board. is also an interesting exercise though not necessarily conclusive.

Comment Not an achievement. Compare the numbers. (Score 0) 346

To sum up:

Sweden has spent ($UNKNOWN_QUANTITY) to achieve commendable broadband speeds for 57% of its households - probably that's more than 57% of its population since they presumably began in the denser areas, but let's say it's around 7 million of their 9.6 million people.

This is like wiring several major cities in Texas, or, as the article points out, 2/3 of North Carolina. Sweden's population density is less, true, but the sheer amount of labor required to lay fiber for 174,000 square miles (Sweden) versus the 3,794,000 square miles of the United States seems like it might be relevant.

We can all applaud the result, but having no idea what it cost them, I am not sure how we can even begin to make an Apples-to-Apples comparison. What conclusion are we meant to draw? That municipal broadband is a good idea? So many localities and states have tried their hand at it and lost so much money that 22 states now have laws on the books forbidding it. But there are two separate conversations going on here.

Conversation #1 is: 'How do we grow the availability of broadband in the United States in a rapid and efficient manner?'

Conversation #2 is: 'How do we provide the human right of broadband Internet to everybody?'

Here in Austin, we've now got AT&T and Google offering a gigabit for under $100/mo and Time Warner just upped their max speed from 50 to 300 megabits without raising prices. How did this happen? Is Austin special and magical and is it easier to lay fiber here?

Nope: anybody who has ever tried to dig a hole 'round these parts knows the sound of a shovel hitting limestone. Rather, Google got the government to agree to get out of the way. Within a period of a year, AT&T and Time Warner went from a duopoly offering fairly decent service (compared to previous experiences in cities where you had only one choice) to very high levels of service at the same price point.

I don't know anybody who loves AT&T or their cable company and we can decry 'profit motive' all we want, but it seems to me that the trouble with comparisons to places like Sweden is that, in Sweden, they accepted up front that any price is just fine for the infrastructure, so long as the final product has a monthly cost that is palatable -- never mind that the actual cost is surely hidden somewhere inside of Sweden's income tax rates of 31-56% or its VAT of 25%.

All perfectly fine for Swedes if that's what they decided, but it seems that lots of folks are just looking at the final sticker price of $40 and declaring government-run broadband the way to go. It is of course an attractive suggestion that gross executive compensation at AT&T or Comcast is responsible for your $90 or $100 Internet service in the US and that only government intervention will stop these Internet robber-barons from keeping us all down. But it might not kill you to talk to some engineers at these companies to learn about how their company spends money -- and also why Google placed such a premium on finding local governments that were cooperative. There's a reason California and New York won't be seeing Google Fiber anytime soon.

It seems to me that Google has the right idea here: the more people you can induce to pay for your top tier service, the more you can give away your bottom-tier (but still quite useful) service.

Comment This is not just about workaholics. (Score 1) 477

This is a Real Life Scenario:

About half of our company's revenue comes from helping volunteer organizations manage their operations. Specifically, volunteer-driven youth sports leagues.

This is great in several respects for us:

- Most everyone we work with is super nice. 'High stakes' here versus, say, finance or law ... the boiling point is not often reached.
- The primary beneficiary of what we do is children.
- We get to help organizations run by people in their spare time grow.

It's also not great in a few respects:

- Not a ton of money in it (fine with us)
- Our support burden varies dramatically because our users are all over the map, literally and figuratively.
- Most of the volunteers who are our clients work on our stuff when they aren't at their day jobs.

This last item means that, from time to time, we'll have something come up at 7:00 PM (or later, since some of our customers are two or three time zones behind us) and it really does need to be dealt with right then. This is pretty rare due to how awesome we are, and even more rare that it takes more than a couple minutes to solve - but it does happen and no matter how good of a job we do during business hours, our customers have come to expect that we are at least paying attention while they are working with our stuff. It's actually a pretty small sacrifice and we don't spend our nights and weekends hooked to our smartphones: but we do have to glance at them to make a quick judgment call on whether whatever has caught on fire can wait until the morning.

This sort of government fiat idiocy is absolutely typical: the people who are most able to comply with it will be large businesses that have enough people and resources to just schedule people according to when they need coverage so that 'business hours' are not being violated. It is usually big business that can absorb the costs of rules like these. We have a handful of people who work for us and they have lives. They enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the job and they (like me) feel that having to be mildly attentive after hours for the once a month that you do have to put in a little extra work is a small price to pay.

None of which is to say that it's not possible to pressure your salaried employees to do things after hours that they don't want to do; but there is some responsibility on the employee side to be up front about what the commitment expected of them is. The best antidote to companies that do take advantage of their employees in this manner is competition: the knowledge that they could go to work for us (or anybody) who won't do that to them. Shame that rules like this mean there will be a lot fewer of us when they do go looking.

Comment Re:This is not about "wealth inequality" (Score 1) 653

I would suggest to you that they are the same people, just 15 years later. The real "working class" is at work. These are college grads in their late 20s and early 30s who are underemployed.

If they get a good enough job, they transform from sign-waving liberal to NIMBY liberal (not, mind you, that conservatives are immune from NIMBY; they just seem to prefer the 'omg crime and drugs will overrun our community' route rather than the 'oh isn't the neighborhood character precious' route).

If they don't, they go elsewhere, rinse, and repeat.

I'm sure the protesters are very careful to get a couple genuine, working class people in their midst, but this is political theatre organized by labor unions. I know a couple of the folks who staged the 'Google Employee rants at the crowd' altercation a couple weeks ago. It doesn't bother them that the whole thing was trumped up: they're trying to promote class warfare.

It's a free country so they can promote whatever they want, but you have to be pretty dumb to believe that the price of real estate in San Francisco is because of some central authority distributing wealth unequally. Desirability + Zoning laws divided by square mileage = cost per square foot of property.

Comment Re:This is not about "wealth inequality" (Score 1) 653

SF is almost completely covered in buildings outside of parks

It is covered in buildings. Not all buildings are created equal. It is covered in small buildings. Have a look at the zoning map:

This is not a case of "oh we tried our best and we ran out of land." It's a case of "we want cute little houses everywhere."

And yes, it is completely plausible that San Francisco costs so much more than Austin due to desirability and land limited by natural borders

So your argument here is that SF's price per square foot is entirely because it is 3-4x more desirable than elsewhere, and that the city's restrictive land use and permitting process have nothing to do with property values?

In other words, the city doing everything it can to make construction (whether new or renovation) as difficult and expense as possible...doesn't have any impact on the cost of real estate? That the city of San Francisco exists in a magical bubble that is immune to problems of supply and demand?

Even if we accept that magical thinking, what then do we conclude? If the city has done everything it can to keep values down and there is nowhere for anyone who isn't rich to live, what is the answer? What does protesting Google solve?

I lived in NYC for six years and Manhattan's issues are similar, but San Francisco eclipses them in two ways: It is more expensive (though not by much) but it is also 46.9 square miles versus Manhattan's 22.4 square miles. Manhattan isn't afraid of tall buildings.

Comment Re:This is not about "wealth inequality" (Score 2) 653

I don't normally respond to anonymous cowards, but since the point of the original comment was to combat populist ignorance, I'll bite.

I am well aware of the geographic limitations San Francisco has, and you're right that it does exacerbate the problem. But that puts all the more pressure on the levers that the citizens of SF do control. It is not "blanketed in buildings" because the city has made it impossible to either expand or renovate existing housing for anyone except the most determined developers, and the cost of navigating that process raises the likelihood that they are going to cater to the high end rather than the middle, since your margins on building 1,000 middle class condos are smaller than they are on building 1,000 luxury condos.

Between June 2012 and June 2013, San Francisco added about 25,000 new jobs, making it the second strongest labor market in the country - but it added only 2,548 new housing units. There are instances where new construction can increase property values, but all else being equal, if you improve demand by 25,000 units and supply by 2,548 units, the inevitable result is an increase in cost as more people compete for fewer resources.

This isn't some nefarious plot, either. The very moment anybody DOES pay to buy a place in San Francisco, their very next move is to join the chorus of NIMBY that prevents exactly the type of expansion in supply that the area needs to reduce housing costs. And that's the issue: the things that need to happen if you want to bring down housing costs are by and large unpleasant things if you are already an owner, because they are turning into a commodity something that was heretofore a precious resource. You see this in Austin, too. Everyone in Austin knows that the infrastructure sucks. But any 'nice' neighborhood fights tooth and nail to keep TxDot from expanding highways and roads because they're terrified their property values will suffer. They feel like they bought their piece of the hill country ten years ago or twenty years ago and now tens of thousands of people want in. I get that, but you can't have it both ways.

Austin certainly does benefit from not being on a peninsula, but that has not stopped the environmental movement from trying to restrict land use in some of the same ways that they have in San Francisco. A large part of South Austin is an aquafier and parts of it are federally protected. The battle in Austin's case resulted in a series of compromises, but had the environmentalists had their way entirely, there would be tens of thousands of fewer housing units in Austin and real estate would be closer to San Francisco.

I'm sure SF is more 'desirable' in one sense - it has a cool factor and arguably better weather that Austin probably doesn't, but that's just punting the issue. "Desirability" does not make SF's median home price five times Austin's. There is a very real and concerted effort among the residents of San Francisco to keep the housing market small. The only unique thing about them is that they have been more successful there because the politics of the place are more receptive to certain NIMBY arguments and anything that threatens the 'character' of their beloved city. So it's natural that they'd anoint Google and Facebook as the villains, because if you aren't willing to do anything about supply, you don't have much choice except to blame the engines of demand - as if the trouble here is not the 2,548 housing units, but the 25,000 jobs. How dare those companies expand and hire people!

This is all basic economics. If you want more of something, make it cheaper. If you want something to be cheaper, you add incentives or eliminate barriers. San Francisco has fewer incentives and more barriers than almost any city in the country. Some of them (as the article below indicates) make sense: there is certainly a point at which a building's historical value outweighs an increase in housing supply, and there are definitely parts of town where building skyscrapers would be an awful idea. But SF's position on this continuum is extreme.

Some more information:

Finally, please understand that I am not advocating that San Francisco change its ways. I am only observing that its housing prices are a direct and inevitable result of the decisions of its citizens and elected representatives, and it requires a level of willful ignorance to blame tech companies as the cause of this problem. Other cities would kill to have Google and Facebook in their backyard. San Francisco is a really awesome and special place - but not awesome and special enough for me to pay five times as much to live there. The only thing that bothers me about all this is that everyone is somehow surprised that this is the result of extreme NIMBY, just like everyone in Austin is surprised that they didn't build roads for two decades - they thought 'if we don't build it, people won't come.' They were wrong in San Francisco and they were wrong in Austin.

Comment This is not about "wealth inequality" (Score 4, Insightful) 653

It's a lot more mundane than that: supply and demand.

When a place becomes desirable over a long period of time, lots of people want to move there. How cities manage this relatively good problem to have is very telling about the character of their politics.

San Francisco decided a long time ago that it didn't want very much new construction. Their land-use restrictions are among the most restrictive in the country, and even if you can get past them, the amount of red tape to either build something or renovate something (particularly if anybody thinks it has historical character, which is not a high bar in SF) combined with the frequency and ease of anti-development lawsuits means that the city has been encouraging people to come to town while adamantly refusing to find anywhere to put them.

This is the inevitable result of a certain kind of liberal mindset: the same people who are in the streets and protesting the lack of affordable housing are the ones who will file lawsuits and protest development that provides housing. It may not be the housing they like, but the thing about the housing market is that you have to have somewhere to put everybody. SF is like New York in this respect: the high end is fine, even if it costs a lot more to be rich in SF than most anywhere else in the United States. The low end, while hardly fine, is served through affordable housing: if you are willing to survive the Waiting Lists of Housing Limbo, you can qualify for a place to live, so long as you never make too much money. Politicians love this stuff because it lets them point at families that could never live in a place like that and take credit for solving the problem that they are making a lot worse, because there is no longer a middle to the housing market.

This problem isn't inherent to government-subsidized housing - you could figure out how to build and/or subsidize low-cost housing without completely distorting the market. But combine it with land-use restrictions and your average San Francsican's general unwillingness to tolerate tract homes and voila, nobody can afford to live there. Blaming Google and Facebook for this is not only ignorant, it's the worst kind of envy: you have what we want, so you must be responsible for the fact that we haven't got it.

Austin has experienced a similar boom to SF and some of the same problems, but even though we've failed on the infrastructure side, we didn't limit development to anywhere near the extent that SF has. Consequently, Austin is still the most expensive place to live in Texas, but the average cost per square foot is between 1/3 and 1/4 of what it is in San Francisco.

TL;DR: If you want everyone to have a place to live, you have to be OK with the fact that they won't all live in charming bungalows or 19th century restoration hardware displays. Anyone who thinks that getting rid of the tech sector in San Francisco is a solution should go visit Detroit to see what a city looks like when business leaves. Just don't call the cops or the fire department unless you have an hour to kill.

Comment Re:Not sure which is news... (Score 2, Interesting) 122

While the parent here is certainly right about government projects, it's hard not to imagine that the Australian government didn't know this was coming from day one.

Ten minutes' study of Australia's geography and population can tell you that this would have been one of the lowest bang-for-the-buck national projects imaginable. Australia is the opposite of South Korea in this respect - it's a massive place with low population density. If running fiber all over it were easy, it would've been done by now.

It is telling that they didn't just say 'sorry, this will take a little longer' but rather 'this will take longer, cost more, and we're not even going to try to deliver what we promised.'

I am a free-market guy in general, but this is really tough. The free market can only 'sort it out' if the cost/benefit works out. I don't think it's even close here. The free market solution for a problem like Australia's is not 'let a bunch of companies bid on a hugely expensive monopoly project' but reward them with an innovative solution - come up with something that doesn't require them to dig up a whole continent to plug in towns of 1,000 people.

Comment Re:Very little to do with the GOP - look at German (Score 1) 1030

This statement would carry a lot more weight if you cited anything resembling a study, statistic or fact

You mean like 'I live near a nuclear plant that I don't like, so nuclear is bad?'

Ryan Carlyle has all the relevant facts regarding solar and nuclear in the post I linked - such as the cost per kilowatt-hour people are paying in Germany, the (somewhat better) cost per kilowatt hour you could get for solar power elsewhere, and the fact that people are being driven from their homes in Germany because of energiwende. You might also check out Daniel Yergin's book, 'The Quest,' as it is a good summary of the energy sector's history and the potential for growth in each component.

There are a lot of aging, crappy nuclear plants because politicians chicken out the minute people like you embrace FUD. Except for France, where by some minor miracle in the 1980s they did not; and now France is one of the top exporters of electricity in the world and electricity is one of France's top exports in any category. France and Denmark's nuke plants are where Germany goes to buy its electricity at night.

I appreciate that pretending to be interested in statistics and studies is very fashionable. I don't own any stock in oil companies and where I live, solar is not a bad idea - for rich folks. But the math on this one isn't even close. The portion of residential electric bills that the German government subsidies is greater than the entire wholesale cost of electricity produced from other sources. It isn't just some temporary growing pains: the German energy sector is a disaster, and it is a disaster because politicians figured out how to embrace and encourage pseudo-scientific minds that think reading the title of a study counts as research. There is not a single country in the world that successfully and economically relies on solar power as a major source of power, and there will not be within our lifetimes. The sun just ain't hot enough for long enough.

Comment Very little to do with the GOP - look at Germany. (Score 5, Insightful) 1030

There is certainly a lot of political agenda polemic when it comes to energy, and this article is no different.

As Slashdot is theoretically geared toward engineers, having a hard look at the numbers involved is not an optional consideration. See here for Germany's story:

Solar is great for micro/local-level offsets in particularly sunny places, and it's good if you want to build a compound for the zombie apocalypse. As a key component of energy policy for the United States, it is not and has never been practical compared to wind or nuclear power.

Politicians in every party love being able to pick winners and losers. It's one of the perks of the jobs. People imagine solar as warm, fuzzy, and mother Earth friendly. If that were the case, Germany wouldn't have a bigger carbon footprint now than it did before it had the world's largest nameplate capacity of solar power production.

If you're concerned about global warming from burning fossil fuels, the only choice at the moment that satisfies all the requirements of most first world country's energy policy is nuclear. Nothing else comes close.

Comment Rich person protectionism. (Score 2) 264

I've heard similar suggestions made in New York to San Francisco to here in Austin, which AFIAK has the US's largest remaining independent bookstore.

Let's be honest, though. This isn't about buying books and it certainly isn't about literacy or encouraging reading. It is about the experience of having a culturally 'cool' place to go and drink coffee and browse and hang out.

This is one of the hypocrisies of the left: they want affordable housing for everyone right up until affordable housing means building tract homes in places that might damage the 'character' of their neighborhoods. This may well be the case, but I'm not aware of how to elevate thousands of people to middle class homeownership without having a place to put them, and if you are claiming to be an ally of the working class, you are putting them at arm's length through measures like these that preserve admittedly cool perks for the wealthy urban elite while making it more difficult for your average Jean to buy books because he's not only subsidizing the rich coffee shop yuppie, his discretionary income now only permits him X-n books.

I have a really hard time thinking poorly of Amazon for making books available to everyone at a really low cost. I do feel for the mom-and-pop bookstores, but from a socieital perspective that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. I run a business and if my business became obsolete because of something that had tremendous benefits for everybody, I'd adapt and find a new business. Ain't no guarantees in this world and statism is the tired old answer that always ends the same way.

Comment Re:facebook is an american company (Score 1) 559

The decision making of Congress was driven by the faulty and/or fabricated evidence coming from the Bush administration, however.

I am happy to indict the decision as a bad decision. Likening it to Nuremberg is facetious and unseroius. If you reduce the criteria for a 'war crime' to 'act of aggression' then you had better have a team of superheroes handy and you'd better start in places like Somalia or North Korea if you're going to include Bush in your list.

Wars of aggression are typically wars of conquest, but the international treaties defining crime of agression do not make annexation a necessary condition.

They require armed invasion for the purpose of assuming direct control over a sovereign state. Even that is then qualified with 'in a manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter,' and while plenty of people called the war 'illegal' because the United Nations didn't explicitly authorize it, the resolutions that the UN did pass were much more anti-Hussein than anti-US. You can of course say 'well the UN is toothless' but then one wonders why the UN is being held up as the arbiter for good and justice to begin with.

All of which is really beside the point: 'Bush is a war criminal' is just the neo-liberal epithet for 'I hate Bush and wars are bad because peace is good.' I didn't vote for Bush but statements like that show a tremendous ignorance of history and political thought, particularly circa the 1920s and 1930s. At the very least you could read a book or two and evolve the statement to 'I hate Bush because the Iraq War was just one of several terrible ideas' without adding on 'and people I disagree with should be charged with war crimes and executed' which is pretty much the same sentiment that petty dictators like Hussein live by anyhow.

Comment Re:facebook is an american company (Score 1) 559

On the other hand, I have not heard about a single US prosecutor indicting G. W. Bush for starting a war of aggression. That's way worse than tax evasion, corruption, rape or murder. That's the same crime of Nuremberg

Both houses of the United States Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. The 'war of aggression' charge in the Nuremburg trials had to do with wars of conquest, i.e. territorial annexation. That is quite a stretch, even for a Euro liberal.

Also, in lawsuits, the losing part can be and often is sentenced to pay for the other part's legal costs, so frivolous lawsuits are much less common than in the US.

We have this as well. It is true that our tort law is in need of some serious revision, but there are (and have been for a while) countermeasures for frivolous lawsuits, including counter-suits specifically because the lawsuit was frivolous and the loser being made to pay legal costs for both parties.

Italy is one of my favorite countries in the world, but these are some mightily rose-colored glasses you've got. The Italian labor market is a joke and starting a business there (even for an Italian) is next to impossible. Unemployment at 11.5% with a youth unemployment rate at 38.4% - the inevitable product of constitutionally 'protected' jobs.

But then I'd expect that sort of selective vision from someone whose signature tries to draw a conclusion from comparing the number of victims in a planned mass murder like 9/11 versus deaths by traffic accidents. Clearly we should just shrug our shoulders and do nothing because, well, they didn't kill as many people as auto accidents do. I'm no fan of GW Bush but you don't need to extend your hyperbole to war crimes to criticize him when he has plenty of perfectly ordinary political decisions to oppose.

Comment That's politics 101. (Score 1) 374

Of course they're inaccurate. Do you imagine that anybody in the government or the auto industry believes otherwise?

Politicians want to set minimum MPG so they can win the environmental vote. But actually raising real world MPG is very expensive and puts an artificial constraint on the automotive market: they have to sell cars with more money allocated to MPG and less allocated to whatever it is that the market would otherwise induce them to do. To a certain point most people are comfortable with the government nudging industries in this fashion, as they also do with safety - but the resulting 'standards' are just Emperor's clothes so that all involved can go around patting themselves on the back.

It's a machine that has to be constantly fed, as well. It doesn't matter how many strides the automotive industry made four years ago; every fresh batch of politician needs to bring home fresh victories against Big Corporate America and this is one of them. Of course it's a desirable goal anyway, but by ceding the responsibility for this kind of thing to our elected officials we are telling them that they'll be rewarded for having a dog and pony show about their intentions to one day solve a problem (by which time they will be long gone) and so if we don't care for the resulting disconnect between reality and the pronouncements coming out of where executives are lying in bed with politicians, we have only ourselves to blame.

It's the same thing with health care and online sales taxes. The really big corporations - the ones with large lobbying budgets who can eat added costs - actually want regulatory compliance to be expensive. They've already made huge investments in people whose job it is to satisfy Washington. Small businesses can't do that, so they either go out of business or get bought by bigger business, and the result is that every industry in which the government has a large stake (which is most industries, these days) gets a big barrier to entry and you don't see as many people starting new ventures. That's why start-ups are synonymous with software. Before the ear of 1,000 page regulations passed by a congress that hasn't read it, you had automotive and aviation and energy startups, too. Now these things only happen with lots of money or as second or third ventures for people who have already got that money.

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