Tuesday, 13 September 2011

08:02 – I’m really thinking about abandoning Firefox for Google Chrome. The only reason I haven’t already done so is that I deeply mistrust Google, whom I rank right up there with Apple and Microsoft among corporations I consider to have abhorrent business practices and lack of respect for people’s privacy. I really don’t want Google keeping track of every web page I visit and every link I click, and then storing that information forever. Who knows what they do with it, and, more importantly, what they’ll eventually do with it. I’m convinced that Google never discards any data, even data that any reasonable person would consider ephemeral (and private). I don’t trust Google not to spy on me, but there’s no other alternative to Firefox that I’d consider using. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I trust Firefox. It’s too close to Google.

Here’s another Kindle book you might want to grab. It’s normally $50, on sale for $0.00. Genes, Chromosomes, and Disease: From Simple Traits, to Complex Traits, to Personalized Medicine. I grabbed a copy last night and read 20 or 30 pages from several chapters. So far, it look interesting. It’s written at a non-specialist level. That is, you don’t have to be a biologist to understand most of what the author talks about, but it’s helpful to have at least a basic grounding in science. If you’re interested, grab it immediately, because free offers like this tend to go away quickly.

Things continue to get worse for the US Postal Service. Much has been made of the decline in first-class mail and correspondingly smaller revenues, but the real problem is personnel costs. It wasn’t always that way. My senior year in high school, 1970, marked the transition from the government Post Office to the semi-private US Postal Service. At that time, the starting wage for USPS workers was, IIRC, about $2.80 per hour. The highest wage, which required more than 20 years to achieve, was something like $4.20 per hour. There were no lavish benefits, either. At the time, the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour, so entry-level USPS workers made about 175% of minimum wage and those who’d been there 20+ years made just over 250% of minimum wage. Minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, which means entry-level USPS workers should now be making about $26,000 per year and those with 20+ years should be making about $38,000 per year. Instead, ordinary letter carriers are paid about $45,000 to start, and top out at about $58,000. That excludes overtime, of course, but more importantly it ignores the gigantic increase in benefits costs. In 1970, retirement and medical benefits were a tiny percentage of compensation costs. Now, they’re a huge part of it.

If the USPS is to survive, they have no option but to cut personnel costs dramatically, including chopping pensions and benefits for current retirees. As things stand, the USPS will default this month, unable to make a required $5.5 billion deposit to fund retirement and health care benefits. That’s the least of the problem, though. At the current rate, the USPS will be literally bankrupt by next summer, unable to pay its operating costs. At that point, post offices close and the mail will no longer be delivered.