uber and under

Hubert Horan, writing on the Naked Capitalism blog, has offered consistently skeptical analysis of Uber's claims of profitability and inevitability. His coverage of the lousy IPO (which should have surprised no one) is here. A couple of choice bits:

Few, if any of Uber’s narrative claims were objectively true. Hype about powerful, cutting edge technological innovations that could overwhelm incumbents in any market worldwide helped hide the fact that Uber was actually higher cost and less efficient than the operators it had driven out of business. Stories about customers freely choosing its superior products in competitive markets helped hide Uber’s use of massive subsidies to subvert market price signals and mislead investors about its growth economics. Misleading accounts about driver pay and working conditions helped hide the fact that most margin improvement was due to driving driver take-home pay down to minimum wage levels


Outside the mainstream one could find numerous articles critical of Uber/Lyft claims and their lack of business fundamentals. These included observers who thought that there was a huge, dangerous “tech bubble”, or who thought that years of private control had eliminated most future appreciation potential, or who thought Silicon Valley venture capital had become totally unhinged from reality, or who thought that years of artificially low interest rates had destroyed the market’s ability to evaluate business risk, or who had actually discovered how vacuous Uber and Lyft’s S-1 claims were. These minority views were available to investors doing very diligent research, but these observers were never quoted in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, much less CNN or CNBC.

Am always bummed out to discover a friend or family member using these services.

personal cyber-milestones

1. My last tweet was one year ago today. I'm keeping the account as a backup way to be "notified" of stuff.

2. Last week I upgraded Linux Mint from 17.2 (end of life Apr 2019) to 19.1. Compared to a Microsoft upgrade, where all your proprietary programs are lost after a clean install and have to be laboriously re-added (with passwords, licenses, dongles, etc), Linux was a snap. The backup tool creates a list of all the software you have on the system, and after your drive is wiped, it goes to the package repositories and finds all those programs and reinstalls them.
Many Linux users still have to hold their noses and use Windows occasionally for certain proprietary programs. In this post, political commenter The Saker asks if his blog followers will donate a Windows 10 laptop to him because he doesn't want to buy from Microsoft. That's hardcore. In the comments, users nevertheless remind him of the horrors of the new, post-privacy Windows environment.

discogs hall proctor watch

As mentioned previously (see links below), Discogs' owners have employed a "Tom Sawyer gets his friends to paint a fence" strategy of labor, where most of the work is done by enthusiastic volunteers.

Unfortunately a clique* has emerged within this family of happy chumps, which has the power to downvote dissenters and banish them to CIP. What is CIP? The Contributor Improvement Program, a limbo that prevents talented and insightful collectors from making changes to the database until they get enough upvotes. And who gives the upvotes? People with voting power. Who hands out voting power? Algorithms, supposedly -- "the ability to vote is automatically assigned based on your interaction with the site." (And no, I am not in CIP -- yet; I made a handful of submissions and then started feeling used so I stopped contributing, thus lessening my chances of getting a vote but also of being exiled.)
Discogs is both a database and a market. So changes to the database affect the value of collectibles. But the clique likes to claim that database considerations trump marketing considerations. But do they really? Should they?
Discogs makes its money by charging fees to record sellers, who may or may not have voting power and a chance to guide the database. A seller may have to watch helplessly when one of the clique members changes the date of an item for sale and declares it a "reissue" or "repress," making it less valuable. If the seller has voting power, a moral outrage contest with the offending cliquester may result. Staff rarely intervenes in these disputes (too busy counting all the fee money?).
Let's take a specific example. Snakefinger's Manual of Errors (1982) has been in the database for years. Almost 700 people say they own it; 37 copies of it are for sale; values range from 14-36 dollars depending on condition.
User "valparaiso" (who has a Residents eyeball for his screen icon) realized that the first person to enter the disc in the database years ago made a mistake thinking it was the 1982 original, when an etched number in the runout indicates a later, 1985, repress. Photos and physical description of the '82 and '85 discs are largely identical. Before this week there was no other "1982" submission in Discogs. Instead of creating a new submission for the 1985 release, valparaiso changed the date of the database entry from '82 to '85, citing some rule about the first runout entered being the controlling data item.
Thus potentially hundreds of users with 1982 copies (including sellers) now have to switch "their" copy to a 1982 release newly created by valparaiso, with no records of ownership or sales. All the sales history remains with the 1985 release, which is patently inaccurate.
It is neither reasonable or fair to make people do this, so user Musikland steps in "reverts" the date. Valparaiso punishes him with an EI (Entirely Incorrect) downvote and delivers a smug lecture about how personal preferences should not be considered in making changes to the database.

A friend who has worked in the record business off and on and knows the collector mentality scoffed when I told him that Discogs had a monk-like caste who lived only for the Database and shunned wordly concerns. "I know these people," he said. "If they have the ability to change the database you can bet they will use it to reap personal, financial advantage."

How might this work in practice? Valparaiso says he owns the (actual) 1982 edition of Manual of Errors and he has made it the basis for his newly-created 1982 database entry. This entry is new to Discogs and has no sales history. The database shows a 1985 repress selling for $14-36. Let's say (purely hypothetically!) that in the timelag before users start migrating their personal collection data from the '85 to '82 version, someone offers a copy of this "rare" 1982 version for sale for $75 and a buyer, not knowing any of this history, snaps it up. The disc now has a $75 market value. Valparaiso (purely hypothetically!) immediately puts his copy up for sale and scores. Do this enough times, invoking, of course, the sanctity of the database and the need not to be influenced by personal preferences, and you could have some real money! Of course, valparaiso would never do anything this crass.

My friend has been selling his voluminous collection on eBay. Someone told him he really needed to look into Discogs. When I told him that collectors were in charge of the database he said "Thanks for the info -- that's very helpful -- I'll stick to eBay."

Why does any of this trivial crap matter? (i) Aesthetics. As with the art market, sales have a subtle or not-so-subtle effect on aesthetic judgments. I'd like to know how the mechanisms work. (ii) This is a brave new world of digital business and digital archiving. Nothing like Discogs existed 20 years ago. I'd like to understand the ethics of this corporate-owned cyber-commons.

Previous hall proctor reports: 1 / 2

*This group isn't small or particularly well orchestrated; it mostly consists of people who seem to have obtained voting power by "interacting" with the site thousands of times. People with "no lives," but also who share a vision of the Database as a place wholly in conformity with the Discogs Guidelines, no matter how out of date or inapplicable these rules are. Each clique member assumes an air of absolute authority regarding guideline interpretation, and allows no meta-discussion regarding the ethics of the Guidelines or Discogs as a whole. A stock comment is "if you have a problem with this rule, take it to the forums." Of course, the forums are dominated by their fellow cliquesters.

"no webp" logo

Eric Schmidt's company bought a little company that makes a crappy "new" image file format that is apparently no better than jpg or png.
Using its monopoly power, Eric Schmidt's company is persuading more and more websites to use it, instead of jpg and png.
Most image programs need an additional plugin to convert this new format to jpg or png.
Who needs that hassle? Who needs a monopolist telling you what to do?


speak for yoursel(ves)

Netherlands-based net theorist Geert Lovink has a new book coming out called Sad By Design. The thesis outlined in the lead essay seems to be "smartphones and social media make us sad." Lovink's employment of the first person plural throughout the essay is a turnoff, e.g.,

By browsing through updates, we’re catching up with machine time – at least until we collapse under the weight of participation fatigue.


After yet another app session in which we failed to make a date, purchased a ticket and did a quick round of videos, the post-dopamine mood hits us hard.

As noted previously, this use of "us" and "we" irritates. If Lovink said "I" did these things or had these feelings he'd sound like a pitiful stooge.
The present blog is certainly guilty of using "we" or "you" instead of "I" but it's mostly a writerly habit of trying not to sound too pompous.
When I write I don't assume that you never joined Facebook or owned a smartphone. Or stopped tweeting in 2018.
I'm not sad about having a blog with with no like buttons or page view counters and I don't expect you are sad about whatever you do online or in life. Use Facebook and phones if it makes you happy, if it doesn't don't use them.