Une Petite Consolation

The Notre Dame represents a heart of Paris, and a beacon of civilisation. Cynics would call it a tourist trap. Even they could not ignore its sublime aesthetic and rich representation of human history.

In our wanderings of Paris, we might pass it without thinking. After visiting the cathedral once, it fades into the background, contributing to the delectable palette of the French capital’s core.

The loss of her great and aged timber is profoundly upsetting. Yet there is cause for confidence, for Parisians and all those who celebrate great artefacts everywhere.

In Japan, one regularly stumbles across buildings of immense historical value. Some are as old or older than the Notre Dame. Exploring them delivers a sense of profound wonder, the same sense of looking through time as one experiences in Paris.

Physically rebuilt, the wonder remains

Yet look closely, and deeper truth is revealed. Many Japanese buildings, even the most celebrated, such as Osaka Castle, bear plaques that read along the lines of:

“Constructed 1237, destroyed by fire 1642, rebuilt 1899”

It is the nature of life for things to be lost. No matter how careful a civilisation, it will always lose relics over time. What matters is not the physical form of the relic, but what it represents, how we handle loss, and whether we rebuild stronger than before.

Electric thoughts for my conservative loved ones

Australia’s political debate was recently given a high-voltage shock. The Morrison Liberal-National government was preparing to call an election. Bill Shorten was diligently keeping his mouth shut, knowing that Labor was on autopilot to a likely victory.

Then, in his budget reply speech, Bill mentioned electric cars. Of all the topics he raised, that one seems to spark the most discourse.

On that day, as I read the speech, I was sitting in an electric car, or “EV”, doing 120km/h on a Florida freeway. Like Bill, the car was quite literally on autopilot, driving itself entirely. My partner Jessica sat in the drivers seat, monitoring the car’s performance as it watched for humans doing crazy human things.

This particular freeway connects Trump Country and… the rest. Florida is a purple state, with gun-toting, gas-guzzling gated communities a short drive away from  urbane, medium density developments whose residents commute by train.

Out here, I have experienced first-hand the pain of families and friends being torn apart by the hysterical partisanship Trump cultivates. Healing these rifts is tough. Dinner conversations are delicate affairs, where third rails (immigration, healthcare, trade, and more) must be carefully avoided.

The EV debate in Australia has surprised me, because the tone feels like that which I’ve found in Trumpland. Rather than engaging with the science and economics of EVs, the debate appears to be morphing into a cultural one. Internal combustion engines (ICE) represent some sort of honourable status quo. EVs represent a fad, an “other”, at worst a conspiracy designed to screw the unwary out of their excellent ICEs.

At left, the Model 3 giving a graphical representation of its situational awareness. At right, the simultaneous view out the windshield

As the keeper of a V8 BMW, which I adore, and as someone who has lived with EVs on the East & West coasts of the United States, I can assure you that the conspiracy is operating in reverse.

EVs are, pound for pound, faster, safer, less complicated, more comfortable, cheaper to run, capable of carrying more cargo, and handle more nimbly than ICE cars. Anyone that tells you otherwise has not spent any significant time in a Tesla Model 3. Even the best German ICE engineering cannot overcome the fundamental design advantages of removing a huge, heavy lump of finely-tuned moving parts from the vehicle.

Regardless of whether they are good for the environment, EVs are simply better cars. Yet even when fed with electricity generated by the dirtiest coal power stations, they are vastly less carbon-intensive per unit of distance travelled.

Their only drawback, their sole weakness, is the price of their lithium ion batteries. Yet the price of these batteries is steadily falling, and the point at which they become cheaper than relatively immensely complicated ICE’s is inevitable.

Charging infrastructure is ubiquitous – Even a standard 110v plug in the US can comfortably deliver 7km/h of range at 10 amps, more than enough to cover a light ICE duty cycle. Installation of relatively inexpensive three phase wall chargers can deliver ~35km/h at home. The Tesla Supercharger network delivers an astonishing 800km/h and up, and they are everywhere, even in Australia. No matter where you charge, the price per km travel of electricity is far below that of petroleum.

Ubiquitous superchargers can deliver 800km/h in range

I am fortunate to be a digital nomad, criss-crossing the world and observing a new city almost every week. Compared to what I see on my travels, the dialogue in Australia around energy is like something out of the Stone Age.  Out here, in the rest of the world, the pace of change is astonishing. There is not a single petrol powered motorcycle left on Beijing’s streets. EVs are now the most popular premium vehicle in the United States and European Union. Car parks are full of chargers, while freeways are peppered with EVs driving themselves.

Meanwhile in Australia, smug News Corp pundits are making idiotic quips about EVs shortfalls from… the 90s.

If Bill Shorten wants to shave a few percentage points off my disposable income while he articulates a semi-coherent vision for jolting Australia out of its coal-induced stupor then yes, I’m ok with that. The rest of the world is moving on, at EV speed. Meanwhile, the Liberal-National coalition is running Facebook scare-campaigns promoting the primacy of the ICE.

We are fortunate in Australia to have two broadly competent major parties, who both have a history of “not screwing it up too badly” over the past 40 years. When one of them is running such an appalling backward looking campaign, it is time to give the other one a chance.

Time for Australia to plug in

Game Developer Unions are a Daft Idea

Some game developers would like to unionise. This is not an inherently bad idea. Unionisation is an effective way for people to improve their working conditions when there is a chronic imbalance in bargaining power between workers and management across an industry.

Such an imbalance might occur because regulation makes it hard to start or destroy companies. Or because workers cannot easily move between industries, perhaps because re-training is hard, or because a social security system ties benefits to an individual career . Or for many other real world reasons that affect many people.

Game development does not suffer from such an imbalance. Quite the opposite:

  • Companies making games generally struggle to find and retain skilled workers
  • Strong competition between companies makes capable development teams their only competitive advantage

For workers to enjoy the best working conditions, poorly performing companies must be destroyed as quickly as possible. Yes, that includes studios that we might fondly remember for being very good in the past, but are now falling behind more innovative competitors.

Fortunately, it is very easy to start and destroy game development studios. Capital costs are low, regulation is light, markets are near fully globalised, and geography is largely irrelevant. Under such circumstances, it is relatively easy for a hungry entrepreneur to pull together a motivated team and beat established players.

The best thing that game developers can do is to maintain an atmosphere of ruthless innovation: Bad companies get destroyed, good ones keep popping up. That way, talented game developers can choose from a wide array of companies, allowing demand for their talent to force competition for the acquisition of their labour.

Of course, there is an elephant in the room. If competition in games is so intense, why is pay generally low? Game development attracts lots of people who perceive it as more enjoyable work than say, finance or accounting. At the macroeconomic level, the game development labour market is heavily supplied.

If you are working in game development, someone with equal or lesser talents than you is working in a fin-tech startup earning twice as much as you while working half the hours. If you don’t like that, you need to go work in a fin-tech.

If you try to force higher pay by controlling supply of labour through a union, then the company you work for is going to go bankrupt. Someone hungrier than you is going to supply their labour elsewhere, the company they work for is going to produce an equal product at lower cost,  and customers are going to end your fantasy with their wallets.

It’s Time To Change Section 44

Ludlam, Waters, Canavan, Roberts, Joyce – The Section 44 pain train is rolling through an ever growing list of representatives and senators. It is time for this absurdity to stop. Section 44, specifically subsection (i), reflects an outmoded, irrelevant view of what it means to be an Australian citizen. It is actively harmful to our ability to grow and prosper as a nation.

Any person who –

Is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power

[…]

shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

The members embroiled in the dual-citizenship fiasco hail from across the political spectrum. Regardless of our persuasions, we can surely agree that all these members are patriots, acting for the best interests of the Australian people, even if they disagree about how those interests are best served.

Australia is a diverse nation of immigrants. This is our great strength, the secret sauce that has propelled us to great wealth, peace, and prosperity. We should want our parliament to reflect our diversity, to contain bridges to the world’s peoples. Such bridges, manifesting in dual-citizenships, are tools to allow our parliament  to better act in our collective interest.

If senator Canavan’s mother signed him up to be an Italian citizen without his knowledge, if senator Waters immigrated here from Canada as an infant, we should savour and welcome and support their links to these foreign lands. We should welcome senators Canavan, Waters, and others dual-citizens as a strength, a representation in the legislature of our collection diverse, immigrant selves.

The alternative, the status quo, is to admit a great insecurity about our way of life. We suggest that a dual-citizenship, however tenuous, is sufficient corruption to be likely to sway a member to act against Australia. Forget foreign spies, bribery, infiltration, inducements. No: It is enough that an infant was born in a Canadian hospital, that infant is likely to be a traitor!

We grow stronger by embracing the ties that bind us to our fellow creatures around this Earth. We have grown wealthy, safe, strong, and prosperous through such embraces, while more insular, inward looking nations struggle with the limitations such insulation imposes.

Trade, treaties, the movement of people, the flow of finance, the exchange of ideas: An Australia more tightly bound to Canada, to Italy, or to any other nation is a stronger Australia. Members of parliament with ties to these and other lands are a source of strength, not weakness. It’s time to amend the constitution, re-write section 44(i), and embrace our own strength.