July 31st, 2015

Restaurant Automation and Politics

CNET had a May 2011 dated article about McDonald's hiring a bunch of people in the US, but setting up automated cashiers that only take debit or credit in Europe.


I have blogged about front of the house restaurant automation at Applebee's on numerous occasions -- here's my entry from the first time we actually used Presto:


I'm excited about front of the house restaurant automation for a lot of reasons. I have allergies, and I have this idea that if they automate ordering, maybe they'll include allergen information and allow special requests right in the system. This is delusional -- I get that! In a more realistic vein, I LOVE that it will calculate the tip or let you enter an arbitrary amount and then it will tell you what the percentage is. The worst thing about drinking (at least for me, since I'm way too old to stupidly get throwing up drunk any more) is the math skills deterioration. And I truly, madly, deeply love that I can put my kid's dessert order in, and then pay without having to try to flag a server down (the kitchen will send the order out with someone if the server doesn't notice it, which suggests that what front of the house automation will really do is change the power dynamic between the front and the back. Given how unpleasant front of the house folk can be to back of the house, that might not be the worst thing in the world). We usually eat our meals a little early (11:30 lunch, or no later than about noon; 5 or 5:30 dinner) which means by the end of the meal, the servers are often slammed and it's hard to get their attention long enough to do the round trip with the credit card. Best of all, emailed receipt!

Because until I was 25, I was median household income category or well below, and a JW (as a group, JWs are very poor and while nominally apolitical they are also very conservative), I have a lot of extended family and a few friends who are a lot further to the right than you might think from reading my blog. This showed up on my FB feed:


I _think_ this is the first time I've seen front of the house restaurant automation positioned politically. It will be interesting to see how this story develops. I don't think restaurant automation -- or any other automation -- is inherently political. However, there is a very, very long history of labor organizing around resistance to automation.

The subsequent comments on the FB post were really thoughtful, considering whether automation would reduce jobs, change jobs, net effect on costs to the owner, net effect on wages, etc. The OP was focusing on the importance of education with the goal of a skilled profession, to avoid losing out to the machines (for sure, that is a valid point).

A Review of Steps Since Getting Apple Watch

I started wearing my Watch around May 22. There are probably some formatting problems in this. I am having trouble figuring out how to export data from HealthKit, so I did it The Hard Way (I'll figure out a good way to do this because I'm not prepared to do it The Hard Way twice).

Date Steps Miles Minutes Calories
May 22 12747 6.7 miles 60 1004
23 10117 5.01 21 797
24 11474 5.52 22 853
25 15062 7.87 71 1232
26 16529 8.52 60 918
27 13276 6.88 65 768
28 15750 8.28 72 884
29 13881 7.21 66 738
30 13249 6.61 45 724
31 15389 6.85 32 816

June 1 11090 5.54 33 744
2 14376 6.53 24 695
3 15391 7.19 22 752
4 14482 6.8 19 700
5 16537 7.71 23 789
6 15281 7.04 28 749
7 13267 6.16 24 701
8 16465 7.57 41 785
9 14778 6.9 36 780
10 15775 7.46 33 771
11 17948 8.2 25 824
12 15563 7.29 29 801
13 14200 6.52 10 671
14 15066 7.06 31 757
15 8536 4.15 4 532
16 17002 7.91 40 873
17 18122 8.65 44 964
18 15237 7.23 40 851
19 14999 7.17 32 770
20 15504 7.3 21 801
21 14407 6.6 28 754
22 16423 7.86 28 903
23 16072 7.84 26 950
24 19044 8.88 38 1109
25 15880 7.59 34 938
26 9588 4.51 3 871
27 12875 6.15 17 685
28 17757 8.47 20 926
29 15202 7.15 31 746
30 15989 7.45 30 714

July 1 15398 7.31 40 844
2 11726 5.73 6 725
3 12853 6.13 17 743
4 9983 4.76 3 607
5 13754 6.61 16 828
6 16552 7.82 36 872
7 19359 9.03 38 961
8 18672 8.76 57 854
9 22760 10.49 47 1098
10 15549 7.22 36 778
11 19913 9.14 43 970
12 11309 5.13 18 573
13 20227 9.6 46 999
14 16626 7.94 44 871
15 18995 9.05 42 967
16 17934 8.63 34 911
17 20876 9.86 38 966
18 15866 7.6 48 823
19 15355 7.24 34 801
20 19300 9.32 60 977
21 15723 7.61 45 788
22 19257 9.16 43 924
23 20192 9.74 69 1041
24 17172 8.02 33 841
25 19006 8.96 24 956
26 20073 9.05 40 1011
27 11673 5.59 10 836
28 16152 7.62 31 1020
29 17370 8.54 56 1010
30 18128 8.4 31 975


31 19465 9.02 45 1185]

If you're wondering about the weird behavior of the Exercise calculation, well, so am I. I have not been logging my road mileage anywhere consistently -- I could probably pull it off the graphs if I really put my mind to it but I'm unlikely to do so. Just looking at the numbers day-to-day as I am walking, it's clear there's a real step-homeostasis: if I walk a lot more going on walks, I walk a lot less around the house/just doing what I do during the day. And vice versa. Despite that, there has been an overall upward trend in total steps during the day (all my 20K+ step days were in July) and the minimum has come up as well (fewer <10K step days in July than in June, and the lone <10K step day in July was really close).

I'd keep the Watch even if I went back to FitBit, simply because it is so convenient for monitoring messages, household activity (garage door opening) and upcoming events on my calendar. But it is also an adequate step counter and fitness monitor, in that it provides ongoing accountability and motivation. While it is very sad that I no longer enjoy the FitBit social ecosystem, I don't miss it enough to wear a FitBit along with Watch. Hopefully, the day will eventually come when FitBit and Apple can play well together. If it takes them long enough, I'll poke around at Strava at some point, because it seems like that's all everyone talk about any more anyway.

A Few Remarks About Wage Pressure

I've been thinking, on and off, about posting about wage pressure and a couple things happened today to cause me to do so. (1) There are a _lot_ of misconceptions floating around about the minimum wage increases that have been in the news lately. (2) We got an economic report that was specifically about wage increases.

I'm going to start with the second of those. All year (and, hey, for several years now that we've been sitting at the zero lower bound) there has been rampant speculation about when will the Fed raise interest rates. Let's briefly review why one might raise interest rates: because inflation. Do we have inflation? Not really. In fact, with the price of oil plummeting for some time now, and supply taking a long time to adjust downward, the states in our country which _were_ growing the fastest and had the fastest increases in cost of living are now in actual recession (that would be you, North Dakota, as an example). As the lower cost of oil percolates outward, it reduces the prices of all commodities, because mines and crops and everything else require tons (literally) of oil to do what they do. We really don't like deflation (okay, those of us sitting on piles of money think it's the shit personally, but most of us are smart enough to recognize that outright deflation is a terrible, terrible thing that we never ever want to see again, because The Great Depression led to war and because those months in the Great Recession where we thought we might be headed that way were absolutely terrifying), and policy options are greater when there is slow but steady growth. Intelligent, educated people can disagree legitimately on what slow but steady growth might be (or whether it is even possible) but the Fed has a 2% inflation target and we are below it (the EU has a similar target and they are also chronically below it). We won't raise rates until we believe we are about to rise about that target, and since all our metrics are Rear View Mirrors, the goal is to slowly raise rates as the information rolls in that inflation is about to occur. With commodities dropping like ... things that fall rapidly, about the only possible remaining source of inflation is wage increases.

So, since Everyone (not me, everyone else. Okay, not Krugman, either) is committed to the inflation theory, and since the only possible source of inflation is wage increases, everyone has been waiting for indications that wages are rising. Do you know anyone getting a pay raise? No? Neither do I. And I know people with some pretty high tone jobs. You'd think they'd be the ones with the power to get a pay hike. And they aren't getting ones (okay, that's not totally true, but they are COLA and they are very low and they are the first in years and years).

Here is today's data about US Worker Pay:


"The 0.2 percent advance was the smallest since records began in 1982 and followed a 0.7 percent increase in the first quarter, the Labor Department said Friday. The agency’s employment cost index, which also includes benefits, also rose 0.2 percent in the second quarter from the prior three months."

There is no wage pressure here.

So you might be legitimately wondering, well, what about all those minimum wage increases?

WHAT minimum wage increases? I know, I know. Something about Seattle. Something about New York. Something about California or Minnesota or something or other. Yes, the Mayor of Seattle did sign a thing that the Council passed, but it is going to be phased in over the next 4-7 years. (ETA: Want the gory details? Enjoy! http://murray.seattle.gov/minimumwage/#sthash.LlZ2LfGF.dpbs) Nothing has taken effect yet. (ETA: I got that slightly wrong. Seattle went to $11 this year.) The New York thing was a _governor's commission_ making recommendation. Nothing has passed there. There is no minimum wage increase. So if you're reading a bunch of stuff about how automation is going to lead to a lot of layoffs or if you're reading about how restaurants in Seattle are already closing because they cannot afford the labor, well, IT IS NOT BECAUSE OF MINIMUM WAGE LAWS. (ETA: Don't believe me? Here, I'll let this guy mock you, rather than put any additional effort into this: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/local-facts-no-match-for-national-fiction-on-15-minimum-wage-issue/)

Have some restaurants closed? Restaurants close all the time. I remember with vast sadness when the Scotch bar (I know, right?) on Cap Hill (there was one) called Hopscotch _which was walking distance to where I lived_ shut down. Why did they shut down? Because all their waiters were going to write HTML at various companies and they couldn't hire replacements. Not a minimum wage issue. Similarly now. By the time that Seattle Council passed minimum wage takes effect, everyone will already be making more than that anyway, or the people who wouldn't pay the freight will have closed down.

When the stock market is rising -- a bull market -- insiders call it "climbing the wall of worry". Every possible negative thing is chewed over and swallowed and regurgitated and shared around the community. And the market rises anyway. The crash happens when people _quit_ worrying and become collectively convinced that there is nothing bad that can possibly stop this Avalanche of Awesomeness (probably a direct effect of sharing all those germs with the chewing and the cud and the regurgitation). Part of that process has always played out in speculation about the Fed (where "always" is defined as "as long as the Fed has engaged in active monetary policy", for our purposes, since roughly the end of WW2, and feel free to argue about that. Should be entertaining).

The hurdle of "but wage pressure!" has just been cleared. Wonder what the next one will be?

Solar Power Math

I'm sitting here with a bunch of bill history and trying to figure out what kind of conclusions I can derive from it. I guess I'll just share some of what I've got and let you decide.

On the one hand, if I take the lifetime payments we have made to SolarCity (which includes two months _before_ I got my i3) and add that to payments made to EverSource formerly known as Nstar from the time I got my i3 to today, I get a little under $2K. If I add up the previous year's Nstar bill for the same time frame, I get about $1500. So, you could argue that getting the solar panels was a Bad Deal, because it cost us between 400 and 500 more in energy -- if you took out the extra months in the SolarCity calculation, it's still over $300 more expensive.

On the next hand, if I look at the odometer in my i3 (5165 miles) and divide it by 30 (average mpg in a 2011 automatic Honda Fit, my previous vehicle), I get about 170. Multiply that by AAA's idea of the current national average for gas (which is lower than it was over the last few months), and I get a little under $500. That makes it look sort of like a wash -- I don't know what I actually drove in 2014, but gas was cost more, and I don't think I've been driving _more_ miles, so I probably spent at least $500 on gas last year (during the 8-9 month period under comparison).

But I think a more compelling observation to make involves this past winter.

2015 2014

209.73 149.85
205 146.72

It'll be interesting to see what happens next winter. If it wasn't so cold we would have run the furnace less. If there had been less snow, the panels would have produced more. But even with the panels completely unproductive and very high usage on the furnaces, we still came out about even on the total energy cost calculation. And that's being very conservative, because I probably spent more than $500 on gas during that period in 2014.

Certainly, the solar panels make it Real Easy to justify running the A/C during the summer. We've been running a big credit at EverSource, and I notice that they recently upgraded their "Delivery Charge", possibly to reflect the existence of people like us and the costs we put on the grid.

_Siren's Call_, Jayne Castle

The latest JAK series in her paranormal/futuristic world Harmony series, specifically on Rainshadow Island which is a thinly disguised San Juan Islands ("Thursday Harbor") location. And I do love that so.

JAK has this sprawling shared universe going with historical paranormals written under the name Amanda Quick, contemporary paranormals written under her JAK name and futuristic/sf paranormals set on another planet named Harmony under the name Jayne Castle. Just to make things even more interesting, some of the characters are related to each other (so genealogy becomes part of the investigation process in solving some mysteries). I've been (re)reading just about everything JAK has written that is available in kindle format throughout the year, because I'm engaged in two projects that are sort of exhausting physically (increasing my baseline level of fitness) and mentally (I've got a 63 day streak going on Duolingo Dutch, which I'm trying now to maintain all golden since I've finished it, and started on Babbel Dutch again -- that's on top of the ongoing once a week conversational session with A.). I need some kind of reading and it cannot be very demanding.

I was working on the first Vanza book when _Siren's Call_ landed on my reader (I'd ordered it back in January). Don't let that horrible cover art mislead you. It's not that kind of book at all. In this outing, Ella is a Siren, with the ability to "sing" paranormally in a way that affects people paranormally. And those effects include everything from healing through inducing sleep/coma to death. She's a little freaked out about it, because people don't usually believe in this particular Talent, but the ones who do don't want to spend time near it. She was supposed to go on a coffee date with Rafe after they ran into each other in the Underworld in pursuit of ... stuff, but Rafe never called because he ran into another spot of trouble and took a few months off to try to recover.

It's like a lot of JAK books, thank goddess. A couple of misfits who are capable in their own way have a string of intense luck, both good and bad: they interact with bad guys, she acquires a dustbunny, he discovers a new section of the Underworld, her talent helps him accomplish an important goal for his family's company. Along the way, they banter, help each other make sense of their individual histories and build a new life together. If you like JAK, this is a really good one. If you don't like JAK, or you have no idea what I'm talking about, this may not be the best place to start.

Part of the appeal for me is because I miss my home town sometimes, and whatever the nominal setting JAK uses in her books, past, present or future, Victorian England, Phoenix, coastal Northern California, Seattle, the PacNW, the terrain feels very familiar to me. It's definitely a specific flavor.