Monday, March 16, 2015

A Walk Among the Ruins

I found myself wandering through the watery ruins of a crumbling town, buildings now no more than bricks and even those not complete.

Ruins by Cica Ghost 001

Rickety walkways connect some of the structures, evidence of a recent presence.

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The views are desolate, but beautiful.

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Still, the only things that prosper here are the wildflowers, adding a pop of color into the gray landscape. Life, as a famous philosopher once said, will find a way.

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Ruins, by Cica Ghost, runs through March.

(Via Ziki Questi.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Snow and Tell

What a difference a few miles make! On Thursday, around eight inches of snow fell. On Friday, I finished shoveling.

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The view of the (late) winter wonderland from Chez Jameson

On Saturday, I drove to Richmond. The city got almost no snow.

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The United Daughters of the Confederacy building

That’s quite enough winter weather, thank you. Now to see if my car is still black under the layers of salt and brine...

Friday, February 27, 2015

In Which I Visit Goatwood Village

The other day I took the train to a charming village called Goatwood. Oddly, as I disembarked from the train, I saw nary a person or even a stray cat. Not letting that bother me, I took a stroll around the village, starting at the train station...

Goatswood 2 24 2015 001

… and through the central street.

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I passed many a quaint building, including a pub and an inn.

Goatswood 2 24 2015 003

The purpose of other buildings was more obscure.

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I even encountered a gypsy caravan.

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The strangest thing about this quaint village was that it was entirely deserted - not a soul in it! Perhaps some form of witchcraft spirited away everyone. If so, one can only hope that the residents are returned shortly.

Goatwood is described as a “residential RP” sim, which I take to mean that people not only RP there but have residences as well. Visitors are welcome, but only with an “Explorer” tag, which is free at the TP point (the train station) and provides three days of access to the village. The station also has a wealth of information about the types of characters and ongoing story lines.
From the introductory notecard:
Everyone who wishes to role play in Goatswood should first explore the place.
You should try to find out as much about the Village and the people who live here as you think you need, before  settling down to serious play.
In an attempt to make this exploration more of a fun and productive experience, I have placed the note cards which explain the history and back story of the Village around the sim in the appropriate places.
In outside areas reference material can be found in Red Mushrooms.
If you see a red mushroom, pick it (left click ) and you will be given a note containing an RP intro to the  location.
Inside locations reference material can be found in small green books.
For instance: there is a book on the counter of each Inn.
Some notes will indicate where you might find more information.
The extensive notecard, elaborate backstories, and gaming HUD all point to a serious, involved style of RP.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mr. Biggins in Love

While I’m on the subject of New Babbage, I saw that episode 261 of Designing Worlds returned to New Babbage with a little intrigue (as usual) and the timely subject of love - Mr. Jebediah Biggins, in particular, as the love-lorn but ingenious fellow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Babbage's Quarry Hill

At some point, when I wasn’t looking, the town of New Babbage extended its borders once again, this time to an area called Quarry Hill. I strolled around the place one winter’s day.

Quarry Hill  New Babbage 001
McLachlan estate

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Carpe Diem Coffee House and Tea Room

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Carpe Diem interior

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Baron Insurance Agency and Catacomb

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New Cocoa Java Cafe

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Addendum on the minimum wage

Just after I posted yesterday’s piece on the minimum wage, I saw this column by Larry Elder, noting the views of two prominent - even infamous - economists on the Left.

MIT economist and Obamacare architect Jon Gruber, in 2011: Let's say the government rolled in and set a minimum wage. ... Workers want to supply more hours than firms want to hire. ... You end up with excess supply. And we call that excess supply ‘unemployment.’” And: "We have a downward sloping demand curve, and why is it downward sloping? Because the higher the wage, the fewer workers the firm wants to hire. It would rather use machines instead."

Here’s Elder quoting Princeton economics professor (and New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman:
In 1998, Krugman reviewed a book that supported the living wage, titled "The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy." But Krugman slammed the idea: "The living wage movement is simply a move to raise minimum wages through local action. So what are the effects of increasing minimum wages? Any Econ 101 student can tell you the answer: The higher wage reduces the quantity of labor demanded, and hence leads to unemployment." 
Krugman even dismissed Card-Krueger, the widely cited minimum-wage study that purports to show its positive effect. Krugman pretty much dismissed it. "Indeed," he wrote, "much-cited studies by two well-regarded labor economists, David Card and Alan Krueger, find that where there have been more or less controlled experiments, for example when New Jersey raised minimum wages but Pennsylvania did not, the effects of the increase on employment have been negligible or even positive. Exactly what to make of this result is a source of great dispute. Card and Krueger offered some complex theoretical rationales, but most of their colleagues are unconvinced; the centrist view is probably that minimum wages 'do,' in fact, reduce employment, but that the effects are small and swamped by other forces. ... 
"In short, what the living wage is really about is not living standards, or even economics, but morality. Its advocates are basically opposed to the idea that wages are a market price -? determined by supply and demand, the same as the price of apples or coal. And it is for that reason, rather than the practical details, that the broader political movement of which the demand for a living wage is the leading edge is ultimately doomed to failure: For the amorality of the market economy is part of its essence, and cannot be legislated away."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Minimum Wage - A Perpetual Motion Machine?

I recently tweeted a link to a story about a bookstore in San Francisco that announced it would be closing because the owner couldn’t afford to pay his employees the new, higher minimum wage ($15 an hour after being full phased in over a few years). The irony in the story is that the owner, a devout liberal, thinks the minimum wage hike is a good idea even though it killed his business. (At least he has the courage of his convictions, so kudos to the guy for consistency.)

That link precipitated a brief back-and-forth with a twitter friend regarding the effectiveness of minimum wages and the effect of such laws on employment. Because a limit of 140 characters isn’t really a help in parsing complicated subjects, I thought I’d expand on those points here.

First, a great deal of research has gone into understanding the relationship between increases in the minimum wage and changes in employment. It’s a tough problem for a number of reasons:
  • The vast majority of workers earn more than the minimum wage, so small increases in the minimum don’t directly affect those workers
  • Changes in employment because of national events (e.g., a recession or recovery) or local events (e.g., jobs flowing to Silicon Valley or away from the Rust Belt) often swamp small changes in the minimum wage
  • To the extent that changes in the minimum wage lag changes in actual wages, and thus the law isn’t a binding constraint on employers (that is, they’re already paying more than the minimum), as has often been the case, one wouldn’t expect much, if any, change in employment.

Most studies have concluded either that small changes in the minimum wage have no statistically significant effect on employment or that such an effect, while negative, is small. Few studies show that employment actually increases, a result that would be sharply at odds with basic economic theory. Almost invariably, making something cost more reduces the demand for it. The question is not whether higher (binding) minimum wages reduce employment, but how much such laws reduce employment. And my emphasis on small changes in the minimum wage is important: I presume that everyone accepts that sufficiently large increases will have a substantial impact on employment; otherwise, we’d just impose a $100/hour wage and everyone would be rich.

Another thing to keep in mind is the composition of which workers earn the minimum. In general, they are young, often still in school and in their first jobs, and often working part time. Full-time workers generally move quickly from a minimum-wage position to something paying above the minimum. This has important implications for public policy, as I’ll discuss below.

The logical argument in favor of increasing the minimum wage is that the small decrease in employment is more than offset by the greater purchasing power of the vast majority who keep their jobs, and that the social welfare net will backstop any job losses. To put it in economists’ terms, demand for (unskilled) labor is sufficiently inelastic that making such labor cost more doesn’t change the quantity demanded much.

Does this make sense? Keep in mind who earns the minimum wage: high school kids and adults with few marketable skills. Businesses don’t hire those people because they bring a lot to the business; businesses hire them because they’re cheap. What happens when they’re not as cheap? Businesses cut back. The summer hire who cleans out the stockroom might not be affordable any longer. When thinking about the value the business gets from having a cleaner stockroom, the owner may decide it’s not a good deal any more. The young woman who handles the cash register may no longer be affordable; customers will just have to wait in slightly longer lines. Business owners may increase their own hours instead of hiring now-more-expensive labor. Bigger businesses may decide to increase their amount of automation, such as having customers order food from an iPad rather than from a waitress.

And here’s the thing that few people keep in mind: most businesses aren’t going to fire an employee if the minimum wage increases. Instead, they just won’t hire the next employee. That job will simply never exist. But how can anyone keep track of that? It’s easy to keep track of existing jobs that are lost, such as those six employees of the San Francisco independent bookstore, but it’s impossible to collect anecdotes of jobs that would have been profitable to create under the old wage but are no longer profitable under the new wage.

I often hear a “fairness” argument in favor of higher minimum wages. It costs a lot to live in the city, and it’s not “fair” to employ someone at, say, $7.25 an hour. I have to reactions to that. First, if people are willing to offer their labor for $7.25 an hour, they clearly view the compensation as enough to take the job. Although people get emotional about labor, this decision is no different than saying a Mercedes is overpriced because at a lower price more people would drive one. I don’t have much patience for fairness arguments, because what’s fair to you might not be fair to me. If the government wants to insert itself into any market, including the labor market, it should have a sound basis for doing so. (Other government actions, such as how progressive the income tax schedule should be, or how much food stamps should be worth, are clearly and unavoidably subjective.) Second, while the people who remain employed are clearly better off, the people who fail to get jobs are not only worse off today, but may well remain worse off forever. The high school graduate who can’t get her first job can’t use that as a stepping stone to a better job. Thus the long-term implications of lower employment, which are even harder to measure than the immediate effect, may be much larger than the immediate implications.

One last thought: it’s one thing for the voters in, say, Seattle or San Francisco to vote for higher minimum wages in those cities, but it’s an entirely different thing to impose higher minimum wages everywhere, i.e., in a national law. In Seattle, for example, a high cost-of-living city, it may be the case that almost everyone already earns at least $15 an hour, so the law is not terribly binding, so the effect of the law is minimal. However, employers in low cost-of-living areas, where the prevailing minimum wage is, say, $7.50 an hour, would face a doubling of labor costs, so workers in those areas would be disproportionately hit by the law.

If increasing the minimum wage made almost everyone better off, it would be the economic version of a perpetual motion machine. Back in the real world, though, it’s just another price control, and works just as well as other efforts to monkey with market forces.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More Tales from New Babbage

The third volume in the Tales of New Babbage series is out (and can be ordered through the link, hint, hint). Almost two years has passed since the previous volume, and at times I wondered if this one would ever see the light of day. (People have busy lives, I know, and this is a labor of love.) Seventeen new stories about the grimy, crazy, and wonderful Steampunk city. Stories of urchins and airships, carnivals and kraken, inventors and evil geniuses, monocles and megalomaniacs, raving lunatics and revenge. I don’t know who all was involved in assembling and editing the book, but Mr. A. E. Cleanslate, Miss Bookworm Hienrichs, and Miss Junie Ginsburg, and Mr. Mosseveno Tenk all played important roles, and all deserve a big round of applause. My apologies to anyone I have missed.

I won’t try to summarize all the pieces in the book, but here is a flavor of what one might expect:

The title of Tepic Harlequin’s “Hunt Reversed” is apt, as the story is one in which the hunters become the hunted. “Test Flight,” by Joseph Gatch, is a humorous piece about the trials of inventors - and their hapless assistants. “Elements of Revenge: A Trio of Travelers Tale,” by Travis I. Sivart, is a straight-ahead adventure story - except that nothing in New Babbage is straightforward. Emerson Lighthouse has two pieces in the book, and the longer of the two, “The Great Race,” is a wonderfully comic story of racing, danger, and one-upmanship. A.E. Cleanslate gives us “The Expedition,” which explores the mysteries of the air kraken (and which I hope is merely the first installment of a much longer work, as I was left by the end wanting to know more). Other stories are no less worthy of the reader’s attention. I’ll confess to having a story in there as well, inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus.

If New Babbage is indeed a “consensual hallucination of a Victorian-era steampunk city in a time that never was,” as the back cover proclaims, then it’s a mighty satisfying one. And if, one day, that consensual hallucination disappears forever, I will be glad to have these memoirs of that time that never was.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Not to Say...

…during a job interview. What follows is complete hearsay, but I don’t doubt a word of it.

In my profession, most hires of those with newly-minted Ph.Ds occur during the annual meetings of the American Economic Association, which take place over several days in early January. Because that’s where so much of the labor market clears, even people out of school several years often find it useful to seek job interviews at the meetings.

At my agency, the hiring process involves several steps: the job-seeker sends in an application package, the recruiting team eliminates the weakest candidates and sets up interviews with the remainder at the annual meetings, then flies the top candidates to Washington for a seminar and meetings with managers, after which the agency starts making job offers. The seminar usually revolves around the candidate’s job market paper, which is usually a chapter out of his or her dissertation.

This year, one of the candidates was a guy several years out of graduate school, working for a consulting firm. During the initial interview, when he gets a chance to ask questions, he asks, “So… when am I getting a job offer?” Talk about chutzpah! The interviewer describes the process as in the prior paragraph. When the interviewer gets to the part about making a presentation in DC, the candidate exclaims, “A seminar? Don’t you know I’ve been in consulting since I left school - I don’t have a paper to present!”

A cooler head might have taken in the information at the interview and said nothing in response. If called for a seminar, that might be an opportunity to remind the recruiting coordinator that one’s most recent research was done in graduate school, and inquire politely whether presenting that work would be allowed. A smarter head might have understood that the interviewer knew full well where the candidate has been working, as the interviewer clearly has the candidate’s vita. (A well-prepared candidate would have known all this already, and never asked the question in the first place.)

All of which goes to show that there are many, many ways to blow a job interview.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Pirates of Pensans?

I heard a rumor the other day that Caledon Penzance was no more. Indeed, that venerable sim has been replaced by a homestead sim now called Pensans (with what I assume is the same pronunciation) and owned by Wrath Constantine and Aevalle Galicia-Constantine. Although the area is still under construction, I took a few shots of its current icy state:

Caledon Pensans 1 6 15 001

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And here are a few pictures of Penzance from 2009 and 2010:

Penzance Airfield 003
The RCAF airfield on fire as I fly past (January 2010)

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 A pirate ship? (April 2009)

Penzance Birthday 006
The Gaiety Theatre (November 2008)

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An emporium (January 2011)

Penzance  Guvnahs Head Public House 003
An odd police box (June 2011)