April 26, 2015

fyooturgigs: knife sharpener, garbage-sorter, computational sommelier

Filed under: Uncategorized — @ 12:00 a.m.
fyooturgigs: knife sharpener, garbage-sorter, computational sommelier

Over not just the course of the 3rd Bitcoin Conference but the days before and after it as well, asciilifeform and I burned many an hour reviewing in excruciating detail the challenges of finding work in orcish lands. The root of the challenge lies in cultivation of the meat-wot (the informal Web of Trust made up of your meatspace lovers, friends, (ex-)colleagues, family and miscellaneous acquaintances)1, as "work" is not distributed in Orclandia in the ways my Western readers are familiar with (going to college, attending career fairs, applying for jobs…) nearly so much as they are distributed through the family networks (China and the UAE are excellent examples of these sorts of Orcish countries - the jury on Argentina, however, is entirely out at this point).

Jobs we (to some degree of seriousness or another) entertained the notion of picking up in order to flee the wrath of our fiat overlords included: sharpening knives on a bastardized bicycle, operating cranes, welding, sorting garbage in the streets of Buenos Aires for a meager living, and carefully selecting ancient computer componentry for a distinguished clientele.

The knife-sharpening gig sounds like a rather good one, if you've been stuck in the ALGOL shitpit your entire life, yearning for the lost swordsmithing arts of your fathers: your tool is a simple bicycle, modified to spin a sharpening stone. The entirety of its operation fits in your head, you can become very good at its operation, and you can haul it around the city sharpening knives for more or less anyone. There's a large market for the work, but also next to no barriers to entry, which'd put the remuneration pretty low. It's also not a lemon market like web development or used car sales, so there may be some economic benefit to doing ones work well, rather than just quickly.

Operating cranes, welding, and that whole family of work also sound good, but the higher end building trades are entirely unionized (based on what little contact I have with tradesfolk these days), and entering the other skilled trades like underwater welding would entail fighting a bevy of sixteen-year-olds who are all more agile, learn more quickly, have less on the line in terms of obligations, and are more than happy to charge next-to-nothing for their services. Picking garbage only starts to make sense after a week in Buenos Aires, when the batteries start to run down, and the desire to stay is very strong. "Perhaps I'll take on that line of work, rather than return to the mines of Mordor once again…" sort of attitude2.

While we did bandy these potential "jobs" and dire jokes about how miserable it is to live in the plasticized world of America, fully cognizant that real life exists just a brief plane trip away, and actual handmade icecream can be had simply by paying for it3, A proposed gig that neither of us could figure out how to worm into at this time is that of the computational sommelier.

As time continues to advance, and the mindless mass-production profit-hunting machine of America continues to grind all things of quality into dust under its relentless boots, I expect "computers" as they are sold to grow ever more shitty on average, and ever more expensive at the high end (obviously in relative terms, but more importantly also in absolute terms of inflation-adjusted dollars between tsub0 and tsub1). To substantiate the point, consider the following: in mid-2012 you could purchase a Macbook Air i5 with a 1.8 GHz processor in it. Today, the i5 in the Macbook Air only pushes 1.6 GHz. You could cram up to 8 gigs of RAM into the 2012 model, and the 2015 model comes with 4 total that cannot be upgraded. So - not only are you paying for less material in the actual machines, they're materially slower, and the Macintosh operating system demands even more of the poor video card for its endless "improvements" in gaussian blurs on user-interface elements. That, friends, is crapflation in action. The relentless cheapening of all good things in the name of squeezing an additional penny out per unit4.

Since that's an assumption about life that Stan and I share with many others in La Serenissima, we also expect an (eventual) brisk trade in high-grade computer parts. Motherboards needing only a CPU, EEC RAM and the controllers therefor, capacitors that have some years of life left in them, Trinitron monitors and the higher-quality knockoffs, the list goes on and on nearly ad infinitum. Not only are there good manufacturers and bad manufacturers, but good fabs have bad years, and vice versa.

The gig (on the table, available for any who'd take it on and stick with the miserable hobby for a decade or three) is simple: build an exhaustive knowledge of every company that has ever made computer parts and an exhaustive understanding of which parts were made well and not at which point in time. In building this, you'll also learn to identify fakes (for as the value of this ancient technology increases you can bet your ass that the prices will march similarly and inevitably upwards). You'll work endlessly to source great big bags of spare parts, and rummage through them for the ten out of five hundred that still actually work. Eventually, you'll be sitting on a tidy little dragon's hoard of top-grade computronium, will be able to evaluate other freshly-mined nuggets for quality, and have the skills to both build "new" computers from old parts, and repair that which to most of us derping around on computers today would be considered broken beyond the point of repair, even if it's just a single fried component.

Then you'll have an entirely different problem: in a sea of frauds, who'd have any reason to trust you? People in this line of work cannot simply hang out a shingle and have custom trickle in. This kind of job caters to people with shitloads of money and esoteric taste in things. The market (today) for these services is vastly smaller even than the market for sommelier services, and most people consider the sourcing of wine for stores and rich fuckers an impossibly difficult business to get into. The computronium curation profession doesn't even have it's own web of trust yet.



Our personal attitudes towards the problem of leaving the gravity well of our personal fiat hells and migrating to the peripheries is very telling. I'd not expect it to be anything I couldn't handle with adequate reserves and grit, whereas dear Stan would rather do nearly anything else than either work or tend to his meat-wot. Not that work or tending to the meat-wot are either good or bad things, but merely things that one either chooses to do or chooses to not do, with predictable results.


The desire's stronger for the poor fellow than it is for me, for he doth live in the very heart of darkness, practicing arts that themselves only make sense in the context of the wrong our fair government has visited on the computing world. Unlike in my fair city, they don't even have real ice cream! The Forbidden City (while well-painted and a lovely place for the governors at the top) puts the peasants who drive its gears into the darkest of holes and feeds them high-fructose-corn-syrup "food products". Imagine having grown up in the Old World, and being forcibly pushed through the great sausage-making equalizer that is the East Coast of America.

I came to the conclusion over the course of this trip that we actually live in different countries, despite our passports apparent similarity.


That this was a big deal for the man really opened my eyes to the dire nature of existence in That America. They don't even have real ice cream!

I also learned recently that most mainstream American beers are fortified with HFCS. GOD BLESS CASCADIA, AND MAY SHE SURVIVE HER OCCUPIERS.


"But this is what caaapitalism doooooes and why it's eeeeevil!" the socialists cry, all unaware that it's because a million idiots want to use a point-and-touch computer that the market is squeezing nearly all computation devices into the moronic touchscreen format. Consider that the unsubsudized cost of an iPhone is about 749 USD today, and the low-end Macbook Air starts at 899 USD. If Macintosh laptops (long held up as the gold standard of quality in personal computing) cost the same as a mobile phone, we can expect one of two things to happen in our lifetimes: either the cost of actual computers that one can open up and derp upon oneself will go up 10x (as is only fitting for the relationship between tools intended for use by professionals) or the price of mobile phones must collapse by 10x.

In this context, it's pretty obvious that the Watch is a desperate play by Apple to put a price floor in under both their portable and mobile device markets. At the very least, it'll do a good job of burying any sort of price signal for the family of devices…

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