Tagrecession hacking

Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library



From Web Urbanist:

There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library.

Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle transformed an abandoned Walmart in McAllen, Texas, into a 124,500-square-foot public library, the largest single-floor public library in the United States.

Full Story: Web Urbanist: Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library

I think this might be the Walmart that my family shopped at when I was a kid.

(via Ales Kot)

Second Life Founder Launches New Alternative Currency

CoffeeandPower utilizes a virtual currency. Users who sign up and give their cellphone numbers so they can receive SMS updates are automatically seeded with C$20 to get started. C$ is exchanged when goods are bought and sold. More can be purchased (at an exchange rate of US$0.75 for C$1) and users will be able to “cash out” as well. As many of the transactions on the site might be quite small, the virtual currency will help minimize transaction fees for every exchange. In other words, you can earn from C$ and then buy things on from other users without any fees.

Second, CoffeeandPower really emphasizes the community around this marketplace. That’s not a surprise when you think of Philip Rosedale’s work in creating the virtual world Second Life and its online community and economy. Users will be able to chat with each other, both in a public timeline and in private messaging and video chat.

ReadWriteWeb: Second Life Co-founder’s New Project CoffeeandPower: Exchange Virtual Currency for Real-World Tasks

Is the Green-Collar Dream Dead?

Green collar jobs

Evergreen Solar announced last week that it was closing its plant in Devens, Mass., laying off 800 workers, and moving production to China.

Evergreen’s factory had received more than $40 million in subsidies, which led many to see the plant closing as lesson in the futility of green energy and industrial policy. But what does Evergreen’s story really teach us about solar energy, public subsidies and the future of American manufacturing? […]

America has had many high-tech breakthroughs over the last half-century, but those innovations rarely provided abundant employment for the less educated workers who need jobs most. The Devens closing reminds us that even when ideas are “made in America,” production is almost always cheaper in China.

Failed public investments, like the money spent in Devens, reflect the fact that public officials are rarely skilled venture capitalists and that governments pursue many objectives that lead them away from solid investments. It’s easy to see why any governor would be excited about a green-energy manufacturing plant in a less prosperous area of his or her state. But the same forces that made Devens political catnip meant that it was unlikely to be a long-term success.

Economix: Why Green Energy Can’t Power a Job Engine

My quick take: Governments should invest in infrastructure and people (education, health care, etc.), not in companies.

Also, green collar jobs, if they are to come from anywhere, will largely come from infrastructural investment: installing solar panels, renovating buildings, etc. Not from subsidizing corporations.

Douglas Coupland’s Pessimistic Guide to the Next 10 Years

Douglas Coupland - the future is now

1) It’s going to get worse
2) The future isn’t going to feel futuristic
3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now
4)Move to Vancouver, San Diego, Shannon or Liverpool
5) You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state
6) The middle class is over. It’s not coming back
7) Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores
8) Try to live near a subway entrance
9) The suburbs are doomed, especially thoseE.T. , California-style suburbs
10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness
11) Old people won’t be quite so clueless
12) Expect less
13) Enjoy lettuce while you still can
14) Something smarter than us is going to emerge
15) Make sure you’ve got someone to change your diaper

Globe and Mail: A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years

That’s just the first 15 – there are 45 total, most with some elaboration.

If that’s too pessimistic for you, check out A Happy Mutants Guide to the Near Future.

Infrastructure Still Crumbling – So What Do We Do About It?

crumbling bridge

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has released its 2009 Report Card for American Infrastructure, and the results are grim. The association gave the most powerful nation in the world an overall grade of D, and stated that it would take a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion to bring the U.S. up to par with the rest of its class—the world’s major postindustrial nations.

The Architect’s Newspaper: State of Disrepair

(via Brainsturbator)

What exactly can be done about it, other than spending massive amounts of public funds and ratcheting up an already astronomical deficit?

The obvious libertarian answer I can think of is: sell off all private infrastructure and issue tax refunds for it. Let the private companies who purchase it deal with it. At this point it doesn’t seem like that’s any worse an option than letting it all rot. Certainly there’d be a lot of questions regarding access to essential infrastructure. And if, say, the entire interstate highway system were privatized I’m sure that would open things up to all sorts of highly entertaining anti-competitive actions on the part of its owners.

But I have to admit I sort of relish the idea of seeing how tea partiers feel about paying road tolls (and seeing how self-righteous non-motorists, the type who think it’s unfair that they’re taxed for roads they supposedly don’t use, react to increased food costs). And hell, it might actually cause megacorporations that currently avoid paying much in taxes actually have to shell out something for the roads they use.

But even if there was the political will, could that even happen? Are there companies out there that would be willing to buy up all our roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure? Would it be profitable to maintain?

And what about existing private infrastructure? According to The Architect’s Newspaper, over 85% of levees are privately owned and they still got a D from the ASCE. How much of the infrastructure ASCE evaluated is privately owned to start with?

What other other options are on the table? A government-backed scrip for infrastructure work? Even if we’re at 20-25% real unemployment, I’m not sure that’s bad enough to get modern Americans to work on infrastructure projects for scrip and for small businesses to honor it. But I could be wrong.

What about revolution? It’s always a possibility, but it also seems far from happening. I have been thinking though that if there were to be a revolution in the the States, it would have to start with seizing infrastructure, which is our real “means of production.”

What else can be done?

Flickr search for “crumbling infrastructure”

Photo by Michelle Soulier / CC

With Asian Industry Astir, More Job-Seekers Go East

Hong Kong Central

In Hong Kong, the recruiting firm Ambition estimates that the number of résumés arriving from the United States and Europe has risen 20 to 30 percent since 2008. These now make up about two-thirds of the more than 600 résumés its Hong Kong office gets every month, said Matthew Hill, Ambition’s managing director for the city. Similarly, at eFinancialCareers, an online job site, applications for positions based in Singapore and Hong Kong have jumped nearly 50 percent in the last year, its Asia-Pacific chief, George McFerran, said.

Landing a position in Asia, though, is not just a matter of being willing to make a new life halfway around the world. Many employers prefer candidates who have track records in the region and who bring language skills and local contacts to the job.

Mike Game, chief executive in Asia for Hudson, an international recruitment agency, said the number of Westerners actually making the move was still fairly small. Many employers, he said, are more demanding than they were during the economic peak of 2007 and are “setting the bar very high in terms of what they want.”

New York Times: With Asian Industry Astir, More Job-Seekers Go East

(via Chris 23)

Photo by Jacksoncam (CC)

Can’t Find a Job in the States? Move to India


I couldn’t find a job, but neither could anyone I knew. Now, more than a year after graduation, most of my college friends still live at home, and many of those who have moved out are borrowing money from their parents to eat and pay rent. A few have internships, but most of those are unpaid, and few are likely to lead to jobs. Two friends who studied psychology for four years now work off the books at a sandwich shop. Another, who got her master’s in development studies from Cambridge, became a barista at Starbucks.

Some are applying to grad school just to have something to do, but the prospect of racking up thousands more dollars in student debt is crushing. The rest are still looking, sending out résumés, going to career fairs, volunteering for experience, and networking. Some have given up. We are a whole generation graduating into a job market that has no room for us.

So I moved to India.

Two years earlier, I had spent a semester abroad in the Nepali-speaking regions of northeastern India, learning the language and culture through a fantastic study-abroad program at Pitzer College. In India, I met Pema Wangchuk, editor and publisher of Sikkim NOW, the most popular local English-language daily newspaper in the state of Sikkim. A couple months into my job hunt, I sent Pema an e-mail asking if he knew anyone who might be interested in hiring a young, enthusiastic American college graduate. “We’d be quite keen to have you here,” he wrote back.

Chronicle of Higher Education: What I Did When I Couldn’t Find a Job

The writer, Andrew Dana Hudson, asks “Why don’t more recent graduates move to the developing world to wait out the recession?” But he sort of ends up answering his own question: you can’t pay off your student loans while living abroad living cheaply (but as he points out, it’s still better than languishing in the States racking up credit card debt) and most people don’t have the sort of connections abroad that he had. I’d also point out that that the cost of getting somewhere, even if it’s really cheap once you’re there, is an obstacle.

The problem with finding somewhere to work/volunteer isn’t unsurmountable- but the “voluntourism” industry makes it difficult to find opportunities. Google “volunteer abroad” and you’re likely to find heaps of volunteer opportunities that cost a pretty penny.

Anyone have any experience or advice for doing something like this?

(via Bruce Sterling

Earn 45% of Credits Towards a Bachelor’s Degree by Working at Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart University

I’m all for awarding college credit for real world experiences, but this seems a little ridiculous:

Under a program announced Thursday, employees of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will be able to receive college credit for performing their jobs, including such tasks as loading trucks and ringing up purchases. Workers could earn as much as 45 percent of the credits needed for an associate or bachelor’s degree while on the job.

The credits are earned through the Internet-based American Public University, with headquarters in Charles Town, W.Va., and administrative offices in Manassas. […]

American Public University is one of a growing number of so-called career colleges that operate on a for-profit model, rather than as state institutions or private foundations. APU’s parent company is publicly traded and its reported revenue jumped 43 percent to $47.3 million during the most recent quarter, while profit rose 46 percent to $7.6 million.

Washington Post: Wal-Mart partners with online school to offer college credit to workers

(Thanks Trevor)

Will any employer other than Wal-Mart have any respect for American Public University degrees? Will Wal-Mart actually have any respect for the degrees themselves?

It’s hard to blame Wal-Mart employees for taking APU up on this offer, though, with the economy in the toilet and with universities across the country raising tuition faster than inflation (recent examples: Oregon, Illinois, Virginia)

But I’m worried this will only lead to increased academic inflation. This will be especially problematic for Wal-Mart employees/students who get low-value degrees like B.A.s communications and political science, like the person the WaPo quoted for the story. Students who focus on sciences and professional degrees will obviously have more success, but they will probably be either less prepared by an APU degree degree or be able to earn far less of their degree by working at Wal-Mart (or both). (Maybe accounting would work.)

Sadly, it sounds like this program is mostly designed to grift Wal-Mart employees for the private gain of APU.

Panara Bread Co. opens “pay what you can” store in St. Louis

Panera Bread Co. has reopened a downtown Clayton location as a nonprofit where customers can pay what they can afford. […]

The café, which reopened Sunday as a nonprofit, has cashiers who provide receipts with suggested prices and direct customers to the store’s five donation boxes. The menu is the same, except for the day-old baked goods brought in from sister stores in the area.

The first day was a success, and they’re planning on opening similar locations elsewhere in the country, but won’t say where yet.

St. Louis Business Journal: Panera: Pay what you can afford

(Thanks Josh!)

See also: What the Bagel Man Saw – an article on the economics of the “honor system.”

The rise of backyard farming

Backyard gardening

Lininger calls himself a farmer, though he doesn’t ride a John Deere and never sees a sun set over the fields. Instead, he tends a succession of peewee suburban plots as if they were the sprawling ranches of the Central Valley.

“The sign of success used to be who had the best lawn,” said Lininger, 41, as he pinched the dead leaves off the plot’s lone beet. “Now, it’s all about how much food you can grow.”

Homeowners who want fresh cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes but don’t have time to grow their own hire Lininger’s company, Farmscape, to do the work for them. But don’t call him a gardener: It’s more like farming by the foot. And the 6-foot-4 ex-Marine, skinny as a snap bean, says he can barely keep up with demand.

There’s a mini-boom in such mini farms. Scores of businesses like Farmscape are sprouting up nationwide, from My Backyard Farm in San Clemente to Your Backyard Farmer in Portland, Ore., and Freelance Farmers in New Haven, Conn.

LA Times: For backyard-farmer companies, business is bountiful

See also: sharecropping.

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