Things you learn working in a call centre

Since June 2016, I have been working at one of Eishtec’s call centres, doing outsourced customer service work for EE, a UK telecommunications provider formed from the merger of Orange and T-Mobile. As of today, I am free of that job, and as my understanding is that I am thus no longer bound by the NDA not to talk about my work there. Here are the things I learned about life and phones while working in a call centre.

England is populated entirely by disabled people with autistic children who depend on benefits.

OK, that’s obviously not actually true; rather, it’s a running joke among Eishtec workers, and I’m guessing it exists in other call centres as well. A few times a day, someone would call up due to their Internet being cut off due to non-payment, and on being told they would have to pay several months worth of service to get things reactivated, would protest that they were disabled or they had an autistic child, and absolutely needed the Internet to keep on living. This did become less frequent in the time I was there, but never went away entirely.

Also, I absolutely do not wish to impugn the skills and choices of parents of autistic children; Lord knows I’m not qualified to raise a neurotypical child, let alone one with special needs. Still, a huge number of people who claim they depend on the Internet to keep their autistic children calm, which strikes me as pretty poor parenting.

Edit: Arsetasticblog points out in the comments that YouTube really is necessary for autistic children due to an abundance of free speech, language, and sensory videos. I wish to apologise to the parents of autistic children for making such an offensive statement.

Young children need the Internet to do their homework

By most definitions, I’m one of the first millennials, but things have apparently changed drastically in even my 31 years on Earth. After “I’m disabled” and “My child is autistic”, the third most common reason people gave for me to use my magic wand to reconnect their Internet faster than the laws of physics allow was that their child needs it to do their homework. When I was little, using any source other than one’s school books was rare; a couple of people (myself included) had a copy of Grolier or Encarta (remember those?), maybe someone had a paper encyclopedia, and once in a while there was somebody rich whose dad worked with computer who had access to the Internet, but that was it. The Internet in those days was dialup; you had to manually connect each time, 56Kbps was fast, you couldn’t use the phone and the Internet at the same time, and you were charged for every minute you were connected.

In those days, the web was interesting but of little use. There were plenty of sites around, but they didn’t have anything like the amount of information available today, and there were no search engines, so you had to know where to look. Wikipedia didn’t even start until I was in secondary school and even it took a few years to dominate search engine results; moreover, we were still in the “Anybody can write anything on the Internet, so don’t trust it, and for God’s sake don’t post your real information on it!” phase.

Seems like nowadays, with the ubiquity of broadband, even children in primary school are expected to do independent research since information is so readily available. This is certainly a worthwhile skill to have, but it’s strange to think of 10-year-olds having to find their own sources. I wonder what they’re told to do with Wikipedia.

The word phone now refers to mobiles and not to landlines.

You may have noticed that up there I said that in the days of dialup Internet, you couldn’t use the phone and the Internet at the same time. Any iGeneration readers, and probably lots of others, were confused by that, since most people didn’t even have phones in those days, right?

Let’s back up a bit. For approximately the first half of my life, the only people who owned mobile phones were major stock traders and the CEOs of giant multinational corporations. As such, the phone referred to the thing plugged into the wall; something you could hold in your hand and carry around with you was a mobile phone, or just mobile (referred to as a cellphone in America). Even when mobiles became widespread in 2002 due to Nokia, they were widely seen as secondary; mobiles were referred to as phones without adjectives by teenagers who didn’t have landlines of their own, and the term landline itself was only used when disambiguation was necessary; in most everyday contexts, phone without qualifiers meant a landline.

But along the line something changed. More and more people came to use their mobiles exclusively, and foresook landlines altogether. More and more, phone on its own referred to mobiles, not landlines. This was brought home to me on one of my early days when I was talking to an increasingly frustrated man who was closer to 50 than he was to 40, and who had a problem with his phone. After some questions on my part failed to elicit a comprehensible response, something clicked in him and he exlaimed “I’m talking about my phone, not my landline!” and I had to transfer him to the mobile department. There were a few other people who did call up to ask about their landlines, and when I’d answered all their questions, asked to be put through to discuss their “phones”. That’s a change in language that passed me right by.

People have no idea what wifi is

On more occasions than I can count, someone called up to ask what their wifi bill was. Yeah. People who think that wifi means the Internet quickly became one of my pet peeves. Still, at least I wasn’t working in tech support; then I would have had to figure out if “slow wifi” actually meant slow wifi or if the entire Internet was slow.

People also have no idea how direct debits work

To be completely fair, this is something I didn’t know until I started working in billing. It’s quite possible you don’t know either, so here it is.

A direct debit is produced on a particular day of each calendar month. It comes out of the bank 10 working days later (though in the case of EE broadband services, it would leave the bank an unspecified number of days after that). This is something I wasn’t aware of before I started, an that absolutely none of my callers knew about; more than once, when someone asked for their bill to be changed, I would narrate my ticket as I typed it, and they would object that “I want it to come out on the 1st, not the 18th!” and I would have to explain that to make the money come out on the 1st, the bill had to be produced on the 18th.

Seriously, this needs to be taught in business studies. It’s simple and basic, but nobody knows about it.

Check your bill every month

While I worked for Eishtec, EE would randomly add engineer charges of £51.95 or £114 to customers’ bills due to BT doing stuff on the line. These charges absolutely never stood and would inevitably result in a refund, but the customer was still out of pocket by a significant wedge for the couple of weeks the refund takes to process. EE finally got rid of this after realising that it was driving a good portion of calls.

That said, if people knew how direct debits work, they could have checked their bills online well before they came out and called to query those extra charges. That way we could have applied the credit before the money came out of the bank, so they would only pay the correct amount and not incur bank charges for being overdrawn. This would also save people the trouble of calling up when their first bill had one-off setup fees or subsequent bills had call charges.

People don’t listen

Related to the above, you know that 10 working days normally equates to 14 solar days, right? Not always – if there’s a bank holiday, it’s 15 solar days, and can be up to 17 during the transition from one year to the next. Even though we would always say “This will happen in n working days”, the callers would inevitably calculate the deadline by adding n to the current date. I quickly learned to say “n working days, which is n + k solar days”, but even then people still only heard “n days”.

Also, my opening spiel always included the phrase “EE’s home broadband department”. Several times per day we would get a call from someone wanting to discuss their mobile service. 10% of the time, they would catch that I said “home” and ask to be connected to mobile. The other 90% of the time, they would describe their issue in detail, and it would be up to me to pick up that it was a mobile issue and transfer them to the right department.

One other weird thing is that while my name is Chris, quite a few people heard it as Craig. That’s not too bad, but more than one person insisted on calling me Fred. How do you get Fred from Chris? It’s not like I have an Irish name or anything.

Lots of people are bad with money

This one pains me. There are a whole lot of people living payslip to payslip, and for whom any unexpected expense is going to cause problems. They form a subset of those who simply spend all their money until there’s nothing left in the bank, and those who don’t fall into that subset are just the worst.

One example immediately comes to mind. EE’s older customer management system was weird with credits. Upgrading from copper to fibre normally costs £50, but lots of people qualify for a free upgrade. This older system implemented that by applying a £50 pound credit to one bill, and then placing the full £50 charge on the next one. The net result is that customers still had to pay £50 for fibre upgrade, but they had an extra £50 in their bank to cover it. This was annoying to explain, but people generally understood it after a while.

Not so this one lady. She had her unexpectedly high bill, and I gave my normal explanation of that she had an extra £50 in her bank from the month before. Well she went on a rant about how she had spent everything in her bank and now had nothing left to cover the overdraft fees from when EE slapped her with an unexpectedly high bill which she couldn’t afford because she had spent the money to cover it on other things.

Yeah. I don’t want to talk down to people who genuinely have money problems, but some people just need to learn to live within their means.

The Data Protection Act causes annoyance

While we were given some latitude in resolving complaints, the one thing we absolutely could not bend on is the Data Protection Act 1998. This is a UK statute which requires workers to verify the identity of a caller before discussing private financial details. When somebody failed to give the right answers to the security questions, they would 40% of the time accept our suggestion to go into a retail store with proof of ID, and 60% of the time fly into a rage and insist we give out the information even though doing so is completely illegal. These were fun ones; because we had the law on our side instead of just company policy, and so would laugh at the caller’s increasingly desperate attempts to make us circumvent the law just this once.

Making phone numbers transferable screwed things up in all sorts of ways

There I go again, using phone to refer to landlines and not mobiles. Hey, this is my blog and I’ll write the way I was raised to speak.

In ye olden dayes, a phone number was assigned to an address; if you moved, you got a new number. At some point, this was changed (in the UK at least) and numbers were now transferable. This resulted in various fires we had to put out at both ends.

For one, this means that a block of numbers is assigned to each exchange and then divided up among telephone providers. These numbers are theoretically transferable (unless one of the parties is Virgin, since they have their own separate infrastructure), but once in a while when someone changes provider their old provider refuses to give up the number; TalkTalk is notorious for this. This means the call centre gets a complaint about how “You changed my number”, and then we have to request it back.

At the other end of the spectrum, people assume numbers are completely transferable, and complain vociferously when they get a new number upon moving home. The thing is, phone numbers aren’t arbitrarily assigned; the first six digits of a UK number specify which exchange (roughly, but not entirely, corresponding to postcode) is. If the new address is connected to a different exchange, the number can’t transfer, end of story.

Oh, and speaking of phone numbers…

The phone system will be the biggest challenge in reuniting Ireland

Northern Ireland uses the UK phone system, which is incompatible with the Irish phone system.

For one thing, Irish landline numbers are nine digits long, whereas UK numbers have 11 digits. We could probably harmonise them by adding a couple of 0s to Irish area codes, but even they they aren’t compatible. In Ireland, 01 numbers are in Dublin, while in the UK that is used for all private non-London. 02 is used for all London numbers in the UK, but in Ireland it’s county Cork (officially ‘the South’, but I checked Wikipedia and the 02 region is contained entirely in Cork). 07 is the area code for Ireland’s northwest, but in the UK it’s used for mobiles; by contrast Irish mobiles start with 08, which in the UK is used for service numbers. Finally, 09 is used for premium rate numbers in the UK 9 (fortune tellers, sex chat and such), while in Ireland it’s just the Western region.

This could potentially be resolved by assigning the unused 03 code to all numbers in Northern Ireland; this would give everybody a new number and would screw with all the companies in Northern Ireland who use 03 as an alternative to 08 which is charged at a local rate, but that still won’t fix the mobile conflict.

There is a consistent alternative phonetic alphabet out there

You’re probably aware of the phonetic alphabet. It’s a system that uses distinct words to represent letters, originally introduced in the military to compensate for less-than-perfect phone lines and radio signals, which was later adopted by civilians for the same purpose.

The standard military and civilian phonetic alphabets differ slightly – I and U are India and uncle in the military alphabet, but indigo and uniform in the civilian. Parallel to that, muggles commonly come up with different word to represent letters, but what is interesting is how consistent the substitutions are. Absolutely everybody uses sugar instead of sierra, which… is actually pretty sensible, and indeed many agents used that as well. Similarly, Z is zebra rather than Zulu, F is always Freddie instead of Foxtrot, R is Robert rather than Romeo, M is mother instead of Michael, D tends to be dog instead of delta, H is Harry instead of hotel, P is inevitably Peter instead of papa, and Q is queen instead of Quebec.

This can occasionally cause problems. I once spoke to a person who knew the actual phonetic alphabet, but he pronounced Quebec as /kju:bɛk/ instead of the canonical /kwɛbɛk/, which due to his accent sounded to me like he was saying Cuba; getting that postcode was tricky.

Call centres are obsessed with statistics

If you work in a call centre, your performance will be measured. AHT, average handle time, is a measure of the average time you spend on each call. FCR, first call resolution, measures what portion of callers call back to the same service within the week; TFCR, for True FCR, is the portion who call the company again within a week, regardless of what the issue might be. NPS, for net promoter score, the the portion of people who fill in the randomly-requested survey after the call and say they would be willing to reccomend the company to a friend; EE is especially obsessed with this one. CSAT apparently does not stand for customer satisfaction, even though that’s what it measures; it’s a measure of how well the agent was rated in the same survey. ACW, for after call work, is a state you can go into after a call to finish writing up a ticket or do any followup; you will be measured on this as well.

Such things are common in call centres, and agents universally tell you that they negatively affect performance by stressing people out and encouraging them to game the system; this leads to tales of practices from America such as people hanging up a few seconds into a call at the end of the month to bring down the AHT.

EE operates on calendar months, and it sucks

You might not be aware of this, but most people get paid at regular intervals. Weekly is standard, but at Eishtec we were paid fortnightly due to sometimes working six days one week and four the next.

EE and many other companies, for some reason, issue bills once per calendar month despite the calendar months being of variable length and corresponding in no way to the weekly basis on which people are paid salary. This results in people who live payslip to payslip refusing to set up direct debits because they might not have the money in the bank on payment day, which wouldn’t happen if EE charged weekly or every four weeks.

This problem isn’t limited to EE. Virgin also does it, as does VHI, and those are just the direct debits I myself pay. I wish they’d stop it and actually charge at regular intervals.

Also, at some point EE started paying us commission for every person who we persuaded to upgrade from copper to fibre Internet. As part of this sticking to calendar months, we would get a dump of extra money in our payslips once per calendar month, which if we were doing well and bringing them extra money would bump us into a higher tax bracket for that fortnight, meaning nearly half the extra money would be eaten up in tax. We all would have liked to commission to by synchronised to our pay schedule so we could have a consistently higher payslip and not lose so much to tax, but alas calendar months take precedence over all.

EE store agents have no idea what they’re doing.

This was a big bugbear for all of us. A common refrain in the call centre is that people who work in retail stores should have to spend two months in a call centre beforehand.

In my early days, people were commonly told that they would have one bill which would cover their Internet and mobiles. This is completely untrue and impractical, but we still had people who thought the bill was being paid when it wasn’t (because they saw money going out of their bank marked EE), who then complained loudly about how disgusting it was that nobody ever mentioned how they weren’t paying in a manner which EE doesn’t offer. Fortunately, after everyone in every call centre complained about this, EE did clamp down and actually told people in the shops how their product works.

The other thing they did was to order a new line when someone went to renew their broadband contract, which resulted in the customer getting a whole new bill instead of the discount they wanted. Since a new line has a new phone number and a new account, they extra payments won’t show on the account screen, so you have to be savvy as to what could be causing additional payments and know to check postcodes.

EE is a mobile phone company, barely aware they also provide home broadband

In our ongoing training and briefing sessions, we would regularly be told about new mobile offers which were of absolutely no concern to us. In contrast, on more than one occasion we heard about a new special offer on home Internet for the first time when a customer called in to ask why they hadn’t received it yet.

Promotional materials and announcements were always about new mobile deals, and never concerned home broadband.

That commission I mentioned earlier? The one given out for persuading someone to switch their ADSL connection to a fibre connection which in no way involves mobile phone? EE weren’t able to track which upgrade calls were transferred, so instead of implementing a working system, they grafted something on to their mobile customer management system where we could log upgrades. Yes, in order to get commission for changing a home broadband connection, we had to record it on the customer’s mobile account – assuming they had one. And assuming the mobile account let us select the home broadband upgrade option, which more often than not it didn’t.

And overall EE never supported the home broadband department, and there was a constant suggestion that we transfer to mobile. The broadband department constantly shrank after I had been there a few months, and by the time I left it was less than half the size it was at its peak. Meanwhile, the mobile department was always growing.

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And that’s all that comes to mind at the moment. Next time, my most memorable calls.

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What is canon?

Since I’m a nerd, I tend to have opinions about continuity in the media I enjoy. At some point, the notion of canon was introduced – the basic idea seems to be that a canon instalment counts as part of the continuity, whereas a non-canon part does not. Seems simple enough, but people keep tossing the term around and arguing over whether things are canon or not. The biggest case of this was last year’s announcement by Disney that the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, rechristened Star Wars Legends, was no longer canon – yeah, only a small (but prominent) amount of total continuity was actually in continuity. I understand why they did it, since they wanted to be able to make new movies that didn’t have to maintain consistency with a bunch of books, comics, and games that hardly anybody played, and from what I heard, most the Expanded Universe was terrible. Still, up to that point, standard practice was to declare one or two instalments non-canon while leaving the majority intact; Disney, in contrast, removed the majority of continuity from canon.

This move was troubling to me, particularly when everybody on /r/AskScienceFiction started whining that absolutely nothing in Legends was admissible when answering questions about Star Wars even though, again, it made up the majority of the franchise. Sure, declaring a troublesome instalment to be outside continuity can help smooth out the overall shape of the story, but 90% of the story? That’s just not right, is it?

I think we need to consider how the word canon has been used to get a proper understanding.

Origins: Religious scripture

As you may or may not be aware, the Bible is not a book. It’s actually several dozen books, which in the modern age are usually collected together in one volume, though different churches disagree as to which books should be included.

In the early days, before Christianity was schismed, there were a whole lot of holy texts floating around purporting to describe the life of Jesus and the Apostles, and of the ancient prophets. Different bishops declared different books to be truly holy, with others said to be merely the work of humans. The official list of Christian holy scripture was officially settled by Saint Athanasius in 367, who referred to it as the canon, from the Greek word for a measuring stick. Thus, in the beginning, canon referred to a collection of separate texts with some basis for exclusion of others – in this original case, the fact that non-canon texts were not inspired by God.

While the word was used by Christian Church Fathers, the concept is older. Jewish rabbis during the Babylonian captivity assembled an official list of which texts were sacred Hebrew scripture around the second or third century BC, and the Pali canon of Buddhism was compiled around the fourth century BC.

Also, different Christian churches do define different canons. Catholics, for example, do not include Esdras or 3 and 4 Maccabees, while the Ethiopians include Jubilees and Enoch. Protestants, meanwhile, tend to leave out Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Maccabees, and Baruch altogether (and sometimes Revelation).

Sherlock Holmes

After the death of Arthur Conan Doyle, other writers began producing stories starring Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, James Moriarty, Inspector Lestrade, and others. Ronald Knox, an Anglican-turned-Catholic priest and Doyle superfan, started using the term canon to refer to those novels and stories written by Doyle himself, in a deliberate and playful extension of the word’s established meaning of the official contents of Biblical scripture into a meaning familiar to modern geeks, that of the official and ‘real’ instalments of a franchise of fiction. Here, again, the meaning was pretty clear – Doyle’s stories were canon (and, by inference, part of a single continuity), while those by other writers were not.

Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon is the one who really made the idea of canon crazy.

In 1993, he worked on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, but formally dissociated himself from it due to excessive studio interference resulting in a movie that is not what he wanted. When he revived the property as a TV show in 1996, the story continued on from the original script of the movie, ignoring the film that was actually released. The official description of this state of affairs if that the movie wasn’t canon. Whedon also declared the novels and tie-in comics to be non-canon (with the exception of Fray, which he wrote).

Things got more confusing. The Dark Horse-published continuation comics Buffy Season 8, Buffy Season 9, Buffy Season 10, and Angel and Faith are all considered canon because Whedon wrote or co-wrote them, or at the very least co-plotted them. IDW’s Angel: After the Fall is also considered canon since Whedon co-wrote it, but then things get ambiguous. The IDW Angel series continued for another 27 issues not written by Whedon, and there were also 16 issues of a Spike comic that tied in heavily to Angel but Whedon was not involved with. Christos Gage, the writer of Angel and Faith, stated that he will not be referencing the IDW Angel issues that Whedon was not involved with, but will also be taking care not to contradict them so that those fans who enjoy them can consider them to still be in continuity.

At first glance, the situation with the Buffyverse seems similar to that of Sherlock Holmes – works written or officially blessed by the original author are canon, those that are not are non-canon. However, there is a significant difference. Doyle never approved anyone else’s Sherlock Holmes stories; the post-Doyle stories came out after his death, and are simple fanfiction. In conrast, all the ‘non-canon’ Buffyverse works (except the movie) were officially approved by Whedon and published with his knowledge under the Buffy/Angel brand, even if he never considered them part of continuity. Thus, there was a shift in the meaning of the term canon from ‘every member of a set’ to ‘every member of a subset’ since, after all, officially canon Buffyverse material is a subset of the entire Buffyverse (albeit one that includes the majority of the material).

Now, at this point, someone will surely argue that the Bible, original source of the term canon, does include multiple subsets. That’s true, but the Old and New Testaments, as well as the various sections into which they are divided, are all canon in their entirety. Likewise, Sherlock Holmes canon includes both novels and short stories, but they are all part of a single set. In contrast, the Buffyverse set is stated to include both canon and non-canon members.

Before we think about a solution, let’s consider the clusterfornicate that is Star Wars

Star Wars

Since the Star Wars Expanded Universe is so huge and maintaining consistency, a really weird system arose to define what is and isn’t canon, an issue that arose as soon as the first movie was released and wasn’t quite consistent with the novelisation. Lucasfilm eventually defined four levels of canonicity:

  • G-canon, for Geoge Lucas. This level refers to the movies and the Clone Wars cartoon in which Lucas was directly involved. If something contradicted G-canon, it was wrong, end of story.
  • C-canon, for continuity. This level referred to the books and comics officially declared to be canon, whose content and continuity was taken to be accurate except when it contradicted G-canon.
  • S-canon, for semi-canon. Writers are free to use an ignore aspects of S-canon material as they see fit, the idea being that something like it was part of the story but not necessarily the events as presented. It was originally applied to comics published before there was an official policy on canon, but was primarily used for video games to account for player choice in shaping the narrative.
  • N-canon, for non-canon. This is for the obviously silly stuff like Tag and Blink, Darth Vader and Son, and Vader’s Little Princess.

Then Disney came along and screwed that all up, saying “Nope, the entire Expanded Unviverse is equally non-canon and everything going forward is just as canon as the movies!”

Yeah, this is just silly. Star Wars gets even worse than the Buffyverse, because at least nominal canon stayed the same in the works of Joss Whedon. Lucasfilm and Disney reassigned canon statuses on a whim. To be honest, I think this was a marketing ploy. Rather than announce a new continuity, or even a reboot (a concept which people were starting to dislike, at least partially because of the poor reception of the Amazing Spider-Man movies), they declared that only their material and the movies people knew about would be a part of the actual story, thus giving the new movies and cartoons a veneer of authoriticity, elevating them to a level above the existing tie-in stories.

So here’s what I think

We should decouple the concept of canon from that of continuity. This is already the case in Transformers fandom, where all material approved by Hasbro and Tomy is canon, and the existence of multiple continuities is acknowledged. This would bring it back to its original meaning, of a set of texts that are part of a single franchise.

In terms of the Buffyverse, it’s canon if Joss Whedon approves of its publication. IDW’s Angel series? All canon. The books? Totally canon. Note that this says nothing about whether they are in continuity with what Whedon is writing, merely that they are canon.

And absolutely everything Star Wars is canon. The original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, Rebels, the Expanded Universe/Legends, Marvel’s Star Wars, Tag and Blink, Holiday Special, Darth Vader and Son, Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars Transformers… all of it is canon. It’s not all one big continuity by any means, but if the label is on it and Lucasfilm/Disney approves its release, then it is indeed canon.

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Work Hard And Get Rewarded – a parable

“Hi Alice, can I talk to you for a moment?”

“What do you want, Bob?”

“Well, I’ve been here a year, and the business structure doesn’t make any sense.”

“Jesus Christ, it’s a pretty standard company. We make doohickeys and sell them for a profit, which pays our wages. What’s not to understand?”

“The numbers don’t seem to add up.”

“Have you been reading the accounting documents? Because those are confiential, you know.”

“Oh, no, it’s just from what I know of where the money goes, it looks like there’s quite a bit of money missing.”

“Eh?”

“There’s money gone that I can’t see where it is.”

“All right, what are you stammering about?”

“Well, a single doohickey sells for €16…”

“That’s the retail price. We sell them for €12 each and the shops add a 25% markup.”

“Oh, right. OK, so you could say a doohickey is worth €12.”

“You could, yes.”

“Now, the raw materials needed to make one doohickey cost €8, right?”

“At the moment, yes.”

“So logically, the labour required to make one doohickey is worth €4.”

“What are you getting at?”

“If €4 is the difference in price between a doohickey and the materials needed to make a doohickey, the time and work that goes into making one doohickey must be worth €4, right?

“Whaaaat? I don’t follow you at all. Try speaking English.”

“We spend €8 to make a single doohickey and sell that doohickey for €12, correct?”

“Right.”

“So where does that extra €4 come from.”

“That’s just the cost of the effort to make it.”

“Yeah. That’s just what I said.”

“No it isn’t. I don’t know what you were trying to say.”

“I was saying exactly that.”

“Bloody hell. Just… try to speak normally, OK? Can you do that? Do you want to take an English class?”

“… I’ll try. So anyway, now that we’ve established that the labour required to make a doohickey costs €4, I know that a doohickey normally takes six minutes to make. That’s ten doohickeys every hour, which means that by multiplying doohickeys made in an hour by the cost of making one doohickey, a line worker produces €40 worth of labour every hour.”

“Where did you get that from?”

“(10 doohickeys/hour) × (€4/doohickey) = €4/hour”

“No, no, no, that’s totally wrong. You make doohickeys, and we pay you a salary for that. We sell them, which is how we make our money, which is where your salary comes from. Understand?”

“I understand the principle, but my salary is only equivalent to €9.50 per hour. Where is the other €32 gone?”

“Blimey, you’re demanding, aren’t you? Right, you think you should be making €40 an hour do you?”

“No, I’m sure there is a reason I’m making less, I just don’t know why?”

“Right. How much do you think Carol’s time is worth?”

“I’m not sure what quality control gets paid…”

“Does she produce anything?”

“No, she…”

“She stops the crap from going out. Before we hired her, we were getting shipments back every week, and having to pay our customers for the inconvenience. Since she started, I reckon she’s saved us €600 a week.”

“Oh, so she earns €600 a week by preventing bad stuff?”

“No, she gets €450 a week.”

“Huh, OK… So since there are 10 production lines, Carol is paid about one hour and seven minutes of everybody else’s labour.”

“What about David? Do you think we could last long without regular maintenance?”

“Well, clearly not.”

“You say your time is worth €40, but if the machine goes down and you can’t work, so the company is just wasting that €40 an hour…”

“€9.50 an hour. That’s what you’re losing if I can’t work.”

“Don’t interrupt me, especially when you’re wrong. The company loses €40 for every hour the machines aren’t running. David prevents that. All his work saves us that loss.”

“So how many hours of lost production does he save us?”

“I don’t know. But he’s worth another €400 a week. What about transport?”

“No idea.”

“We make three deliveries a week, and pay €100 for each one.”

“Right, so that’s €300 a week.”

“Oh, so you can do maths! Why don’t you show this kind of intelligence in your daily work?”

“There’s also Eve in reception. She takes home another €300 a week.”

“OK.”

“Now, this building and all the machines we use. How much do you think those cost us?”

“Don’t know.”

“You ain’t got a clue, have you? We spend €5,000 a week just on renting them.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. €5,000 a week just for the privilege of using them. What do you think we spend on electricity, heating, fuel, and so on? Any ideas? No? That’s another €3,000.”

“That’s a lot.”

“You’re telling me! Then there’s certification. How much do you think that costs?

“€500 a year?”

“Close. It’s actually €650 per annum. What about office supplies?”

“Couple of hundred?”

“We spent €250 last year on just office supplies. There ain’t much left after that, and what we do have is reinvested into the business.”

“Right, it’s just that I was chatting to Carol, and she said that we reinvested €1,000 last year. Is that right?”

“Yes, that sounds right.”

“That leaves €850 a week unaccounted for.”

“We also pay €200 in corporate tax every week, plus €50 a week for IT security.”

“Right, so there’s still another €600 left that I can’t account for.”

“That’s my salary.”

“That’s what you get paid to order everybody else around.”

“Don’t insult me, Alice. You’re on thin ice as it is. Do you not think we need somebody to coordinate things, somebody to respond to our customers when they scream at us down the line about how we’ve fucked up?”

“OK, but you’re not actually producing anything, or avoiding loss of production, or even really using your labour for the business. Why do you earn so much more than anyone? And for that matter, why do we pay €5,000 a week in rent? Our renters aren’t making anything, so why do they get such a huge portion of the money from our labour?”

“Right, I’ll answer your second question first. They own those things, and it’s too expensive for us to buy them. Hence, we have to rent.”

“But why do they get to set the price? They own the machines, so why don’t they operate them? Maybe they could hire us and cut out the issue with renting altogether. Or maybe we could make them an offer for the use of their machines, which they can accept or reject. It just doesn’t make sense that they extract money from us for work they don’t even do. We use these machines, so why can’t we decide the terms.”

“Because we’re not the owners, it’s as simple as that. As to your first question, I started at the bottom, just like you. I worked hard, and I got rewarded for it. If you can keep your head down, not be a little shit, you might get rewarded as well.”

“Yeah, about that. For the last three months, I’ve cut my time down to five minutes per doohickey, which means I’m making an extra €8 per hour, but I’m still getting the same as when I was just making ten an hour. Isn’t that the kind of hard work I should be rewarded for.”

“Yes, but you need to work on your attitude. If you can keep up that kind of output, and fix your personality, I’ll consider giving you more of the money you make for this company.”

“But if I’m going to make the same money regardless of productivity, where’s the incentive to work any harder? Also, what if everybody works harder so we’re all working equally hard? Will we all get rewarded somehow?”

“No, only the best people will get rewarded. The incentive is to get a raise or a promotion from me based on how much good you do for the company. Now your break must be over soon, so get back to work.”

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Film review – Captain America: Civil War

Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to see Captain America: Civil War. I enjoyed it, with reservations.

Let’s start with the thing people are interested in. Yes, Spider-Man is in it, and not just in a post-credits scene. And he’s great. Doug Walker makes a point that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield each managed to get half of Spider-Man right; where Tobey aces the shy, awkward nerd that is Peter Parker, where Andrew is spot-on as the cocky smart-alec superhero, but neither manages to properly portray the other side of his personality. Well, Tom Holland actually pulls off both. Sure, he clearly draws more from Tobey, but when he gets into the fighting, he acts confident and self-assured, even making jokes, like Andrew did. In fact, he goes beyond either, as he actually manages to portray his smart mouth as being a cover for his own insecurities, like in the comics.

And what a fight scene it is. The centrepiece of this movie is a huge throwdown at an aeroport in Berlin, where Captain America’s team, which also comprises Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man, face off aginst Iron Man’s team, which also includes War Machine, Vision, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Spider-Man. It’s absolutely epic, with planes being smashed, buildings collapsing, Ant-Man becoming giant, and in fact every superhero at some point taking on each member of the other team. Spider-Man completely steals the scene, which may have been deliberate, since due to issues about contracts and filming, he only appears in the big central fight scene, a preceding scene where Iron Man recruits him (and hangs several lampshades on the fact that Aunt May is much younger than in other incarnations), and the after-credits scene; thus, since this is Spidey’s big MCU debut, he needs to make an impact. The only problem I have is that Spider-Man and Ant-Man make numerous quips throughout the fight, Ant-Man getting the absolute best line of the movie, there’s never a line about spiders eating ants.

Spider-Man does overshadow everyone in that scene, including Black Panther, who is also making not only his MCU debut, but his film debut period. However, Black Panther still makes a major impact, appearing in several important action scenes before and after, as well as being a driving force behind the main plot, and even going through a character arc. Chadwish Boseman delivers a strong performance of a man simultaneously trying to satisfy his rage and live up to his father’s humanitarian ideals, as he attempts to reconcile these opposing views of justice.

So, with all these superheroes, it’s clearly actually an Avengers movie, right? Eh, not so much. Bob Chipman and Chris Sims both opine that it’s really a continuation of the plot threads started in Captain America: Winter Soldier, and this is really the story of Captain America and Winter Soldier, with the other heroes along for the ride. Since almost all the other heroes are removed from action following the epic central fight, this mostly makes sense. Mostly. See, Iron Man gets as much screen time and character building as Captain America; indeed, this is as much an Iron Man movie as it is a Captain America one, with Iron Man’s character progressing along the same arc it has been following in his own movies. So no, it’s not really an Avengers movie, but it shold probably be viewed as a Captain America/Iron Man crossover.

This, however, gets into a problem that is building through the Marvel movies – in short, they are becoming less and less self-contained, and more and more like the comics. While Spider-Man and Black Panther are given proper introductions, the viewer is expected to already be familiar with all the other superheroes. Even if, as I advocate, you view the Avengers and Captain America movies as a single sequence of films, Ant-Man appears more or less out of nowhere with the expectation that we already know his story from his own movie. Sure, his schtick is pretty basic – size-changing guy with bad experiences with the law – but the references to his backstory are so vague that he really makes no sense if you haven’t seen Ant-Man already.

Likewise, while the filmmakers wisely open with a botched operation in Lagos to establish why people are iffy about the Avengers before showing scenes from the Avengers movies and Winter Soldier, which is done as the kind of infodumping one would see in a self-contained movie, the buildup to the Sokovian Accords does have much more impact if you’ve already seen those previous movies. This, then, is used to explain why the Avengers, heretofore a private group funded by Iron Man, are facing the prospect of UN oversight. Iron Man, having gone through several movies in which his actions leads to widespread destruction and death of innocent people, thinks that putting superpowered individuals under the control of the people of the world is a reasonable idea. Captain America objects on the grounds that bureaucracy could prevent them doing what needs to be done, or force them to perform unethical acts.

Now, here’s the thing. In the comics, the writers went ahead and made Iron Man an outright fascist who employed teams of supervillains to arrest and imprison superheroes who failed to register, and the act in question gave the US government the power to forcefully conscript superpowered individuals. Here? Iron Man is completely, 100% right. The heroes have a choice between obeying the will of the UN and retiring. Captain America thinks this is such an intolerable burder that he defies police forces, performs jailbreaks, causes multiple serious injuries and millions of euros in property damage to save Winter Soldier, who is wanted for terrorism. And I kind of get the impression we’re supposed to side with him. The movie looks to be making a comment about the War on Terror… and asking us to agree with the American Republican Party. Captain America spends the entire movie acting unilaterally, wrecking everybody’s shit as he goes, all in the name of his own personal morals. Iron Man just wants to have some accountability – as Spider-Man is famous for saying, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Indeed, Spider-Man explains his own motivations in a way that acts as a microcosm of both Iron Man and Captain America’s views on superpowers.

One thing I like is that the Accords aren’t the result of the villain manipulating everything. While the villain and the Accords both grow out of the events of Age of Ultron, they are entirely separate events, the Accords only influencing how the heroes react to the villain’s actions. This is fantastic, as it avoids the issue articulated by Lindsay Ellis about Winter Soldier, wherein you have a decent moral dilemma until wait, no, one side is the work of secret Nazis. Here, the issue comes from the will of the people, and the conflict at the heart of the movie is genuinely driven by different ideas as to the moral course of action.

Unfortunately, the villain’s scheme is one of those that is seriously overthought and rickety once you actually ponder it. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say he could not reasonable have anticipated events happening the precise way they did, and after he finds what he’s looking for, he could just as easily have sent an email or posted something on the Internet.

But, those flaws aside, Captain America: Civil War is still an enjoyable movie. The action setpieces are epic and brillaintly chroeographed, and it is honestly worth seeing for the middle fight scene alone.

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Election 2016: Breakdown by sex

The results are in (mostly – as of this posting, counting is still underway in Longford-Westmeath). For the first time, we’ve had a general election in which parties were mandated to field at least 30% women and 30% men. (That last part, understandably, tends to be omitted from political reporting since it won’t change anything). The idea is that by having more female candidates, more women will be elected and thus the Dáil will be more inclusive. Has this worked? Sort of.

(Note: there will be minor rounding errors. Final figures will fall short of 100% due to the Longford-Westmeath count taking so long.)

A total of 550 people ran for a total of 158 seats. Of these, 390 belonged to political parties and their selection was thus influenced by the quotas. 393 men altogether ran for election, of whom 264 were members of political parties. 158 women ran, including 124 party members. There were also 140 independent candidates, comprising 129 men and 34 women. Thus, women made up 26.3% of independent candidates. That’s nearly the quota placed on parties, which is interesting to note given that opponents of the quota system argued that the relative dearth of independent female candidates was evidence the issues keeping women out of government were more systemic and thus a quota would not work.

The thing is, those people aren’t entirely wrong.

71.5% of candidates in total were male; non-independent men made up 48.0% of the total, and non-independent women made up 22.5% of total candidates. Looking solely at party candidates, men made up 67.7%, and women 31.8%.

31.0% of total male candidates were elected, compared with 20.9% of women. When independents are ignored, 39.8% of male candidates and 23.4% of female candidates were elected.

A total of 122 men (105 party, 17 independent) and 33 women (29 party, 4 independent) were elected. Women thus make up 20.9% of the 32nd Dáil, and men 77.2%. 78.4% of party TDs are men, compared with 21.6% who are women. Though this is less than the portion of women that actually ran, it is significantly higher than the proportion of women in the last Dáil, which was 15.2%. This suggests to me that the people of Ireland in general do not have a problem voting for women, and also that those women who did get elected did so on their own merits and not because of quotas. Still, quotas do help to give women a chance to persuade people to vote for them.

Even so, the issues keeping women out of politics are clearly systemic. What can we do to improve representation? Heck if I know.

A couple of other interesting titbits:

  • Kildare South was the only constituency with more women than men running, at 5 vs 4. Despite this, two men and one woman were elected.
  • Conversely, despite fewer women running, more women than men were elected in Dublin Central, Rathdown, Dublin South Central, Meath East, and Offaly.

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Who I plan on voting for

With an election on Friday, this seems as good a place as any to work out my own ideas as to how I should vote. Normally I vote Independent on principle, but the policies of some of the smaller parties do appeal to me. Does the pragmatism of voting for an amorphous group whose values align with mine outweigh the greater goal of eliminating political parties altogether? Possibly.

One advantage of political parties is that I can eliminate a whole swathe of candidates in one fell swoop. So let’s do that. How do the parties stack up?

Parties

Fianna Fáil

No.

Renua

Hell no.

Sinn Féin

Fuck no.

Anti-Austerity Alliance

AAA seems to be mostly interested in agitation and has no real suggestions as to how to fix the economy. Keep them out of government so they can keep on doing what they do best – speaking truth to power.

Fine Gael

Unlike a lot of Ireland, I don’t hate Fine Gael more than is warranted for the mere existence of a political party. They inherited an economy that Fianna Fáil had royally fucked up and was was heading toward total collapse while the Troika demanded blood oaths in exchange for protection. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea with little time to make a choice, Fine Gael went with what seemed to be the lesser of two evils. On social issues, I approve of the party’s whole-hearted embrace of marriage equality, and they appear to at least be thinking carefully about the Eighth Amendment instead of just demanding abortion on demand no questions asked. Their handling of the health system has been pretty terrible, but that was also the case under Fianna Fáil, and overall I honestly think Fine Gael did the best they could given the circumstances. Will I vote for them? Probably not.

Labour

Ruairí Quinn was right when he recently pointed out that people hold Labour to a higher standard than they do other parties. With 19% of the seats, people expected them to perform like a majority party. They were able to push marriage equality through because Fine Gael agreed with their position, but their economic reforms and attemps to bring in abortion failed due to opposition from the majority party.

Looking over Labor’s manifesto, there’s a lot of buzzwords and, where not hopelessly vague, ideas that are incredibly aspirational but implausible to implement, particularly in their ambitions regarding climate change. I don’t agree with Labour’s desire to remove contitutional protection for the unborns’ right to life, so overall I’m reluctant to vote Labour.

Green Party

The Greens are even more eager than Labour to repeal the Eight Amendment, which is a shame because the rest of their manifesto is pretty good. Goals are plausible and sensible, and reducing CO2 emissions will save many lives. They might just get one of my votes.

Social Democrats

The newest party, founded just last year by three Independents, so small their website doesn’t even show up at the top of the DuckDuckGo rankings. Manifesto looks good; they’re in favour of UK-style universal health care, community banking system, concrete steps to make things easier for small businesses, opposing the TTIP, and… oh, they also want to repeal the Eight Amendment, but they’re at least going to go about it the right way, by bringing in a Citizen’s Convention to figure out exactly how this should be implemented.

Candidates

This list is just for candidates in my area, since I have neither the time nor the inclination to cover everybody running for office in Ireland. So here’s my choices for Limerick City. Obviously, Fianna Fáil, Renua, Sinn Féin, and AAA are excluded, and I’m not voting for Fine Gael either.

Jan O’Sullivan (Labour)

I’m willing to cut Labour some slack due to being the minority party, but O’Sullivan is Minister for Education. Under her ministry, Ireland’s school system has decayed, taxpayers are still subsidising fee-paying schools, and she directly, consciously encourages the use of Apple products in her digital skills approach. I guess it’s too much to ask that our children use only free software (although Ubuntu tablets will be here soon), but you’d think she could at least have sided with Android, which is slightly less bad than iThings. My ranking: 0.

Sarah Jane Hennelly (Social Democrats)

Pretty bland, not much to say. She’s new to the game and hasn’t had a chance yet to make a difference… which might be just what we need. Overall, she seems like just one tentacle of the Social Democrats.

James Gaffney (Green Party)

Standard Green Party policies. Seems reasonable if you’re a Green supporter.

Des Hayes (Independent)

His website is somewhat vague as to policy, though he does intend to demand that at least 80% of local property tax must be spent in the community. I like him. Yeah, he’s going to get one of my votes.

Denis Riordan (Independent)

Couldn’t find any information on his policies or recent activity. No vote.

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A formula for maximum wage

(Note: This post has been edited to correct a mathematical error.) 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of a maximum wage recently. It seem daft at first, but Google and DuckDuckGo tell me that the idea has been gaining some currency (pun not intended, but welcome) among liberals. It’s also not a new idea – Franklin Roosevelt proposed essentially limiting income to $25,000 a year for a single person, with any excess going to fund the war effort. This tax-based income limit ultimately did not pass, and really, trying to implement it today would be a disaster, as companies would likely just relocate somewhere that doesn’t limit executive salaries, leaving us with less jobs than before. 

Still, in a time of soaring inequality when 1% of people have 50% of the wealth (see page 18), surely something should be done to bring some of that money to the 99% so we can actually buy their products. You know, create the kind of rising tide that libertarians are fond of saying lifts all boats. I, and others on the liberal Internet, think the best way to go about this is to set a maximum wage within each company, proportional to some measure of how the company treats its lowest-paid employees.Before we begin, it must be stressed that performance-related pay would have to be subject to any maximum wage law, otherwise companies will simply use it as a loophole to pay the CEO whatever they want.

Idea 1: Maximum wage is proportional to the wage of the lowest-paid worker in the company

Seems simple enough. Mathematically expressed:

M = aw

where

M is the maximum wage for the company

w is the wage or salary of the lowest-paid employee

a is a constant; a ≥ 1

Unfortunately, this is easily gameable, in the worst way. Let’s consider a small company with 10 employees, and set a to 10.

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
David €19,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €190,000.00

OK, so earnings at this company are capped at €190,000. Not too bad, and in fact Alice, the highest-earning person, here gets considerably less than the max. But what if we remove David? Suppose he’s reclassified as an independent contractor, or his job is outsourced. 

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €210,000.00

With the minimum wage guy gone, the maximum wage jumps to €210,000. Sure, nobody in this company is earning that much, but it does illustrate that in a company with lots of minimum wage employees where top executives do take home more money than they can spend, there will be an incentive to take the lowest earners off the official payroll in order to allow for higher executive salaries.What else is there?

Idea 2: Maximum wage is proportional to total number of employees

Once again, this is expressed mathematically as:

M = ap

where p is the total number of workers in the company. Thus, the more people the company employes, the more money the top executives are allowed to get paid. This gives the company a vested interest in reducing unemployment, as high employment means more money for them. If a is set to 10,000:

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
David €19,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €100,000.00

 So yeah, a needs to be set pretty darn high here in order for top executives to take home anything. Handily, if David is removed from official payroll somehow, the maximum wage actually drops:

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €90,000.00

The problem with this scenario is that there is no incentive to pay above minimum wage:

Person Salary
Alice €19,000.00
Bob €19,000.00
Carol €19,000.00
David €19,000.00
Eve €19,000.00
Frank €19,000.00
Greta €19,000.00
Henry €19,000.00
Irene €19,000.00
John €19,000.00
Highest €100,000.00

While it is possible average wages would increase over time as companies big against each other to hire more workers, this is unlikely, as companies usually hire workers when they need more work done, not simply because they have extra money or because executives want to get a higher payslip.What if we combine the two?

Idea 3: Maximum wage is proportional to both total number of employees and wage of the lowest earner in the company

Mathematically:

M = apw

with the same meanings as above. This would combine incentives to increase everybody’s wages with an incentive to increase employment. This time, let’s set a to 1:

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
David €19,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €190,000.00

Same as when M is just proportional to w, but that’s due to the value at which a was set.What happens if David’s job is outsourced?

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €189,000.00

In this case, the maximum wage actually goes down as a result of outsourcing and layoffs. On the other hand, if David gets a pay raise:

Person Salary
Alice €42,000.00
Bob €36,000.00
Carol €29,000.00
David €20,000.00
Eve €23,000.00
Frank €32,000.00
Greta €22,000.00
Henry €21,000.00
Irene €30,000.00
John €26,000.00
Highest €200,000.00

Maximum wage goes up!So this seems like a reasonable proposition, but there are still a few loopholes. For example, what happens if the company calculates maximum wage on an hourly rather than annual basis, then halves everybody’s hours and brings in more part-time staff to make up the labour? In that case, the lower-paid workers are taking less home, while the top executives double their income by doubling the number of workers.To counter this, we can refine the formula

M = {a {hw \over 2,080}}

Where h is the total number of hours contracted to be worked in a year by employees. {h \over 2,080} thus represents the number of full-time employees required to do all the work in a year, and in any case, {h \over 2,080} \le p . Full-time is here defined as 40 hours per week, and salaried employees without set hours are considered to work 40 hours a week for the purpose of this formula. This neatly removes the incentive to hire part-time instead of full-time employees, because 2n half-time employees are worth no more to the top salaries than are n full-timers (and the same is true for all other fractions), and a smaller number of employees requires less training and simpler logistics. Also, since this only counts contracted hours, overtime is excluded from the calculation, thus preserving the disincentive toward overworking employees which overtime provides (and also avoiding a potential loophole in which top execs simply mandate a lot of overtime in order to artificially increase their own salaries). Furthermore, it encourages employee retention – if someone is let go and their duties passed on to other workers, everybody keeps working the same number of hours, and so h goes down by up to 40, leaving M that much lower. As well, it makes zero-hour contracts a liability, since every employee on such a contract does not increase h at all.But what about companies with high turnover, like fast food joints? Maximum wage can’t be calculated on an annual basis, since h is constantly in flux due to people starting and leaving, thus constantly increasing or decreasing the number of hours contracted to be worked. In this case, a further refinement to the formula yields:

M = {a {tw \over 8}}

t = \frac{d_{1}s_{1} + d_{2}s_{2} + ... + d_{p}s_{p}}{5} = \frac{1}{5} \sum\limits_{i=1}^p d_{i}s_{i}

where

t is the total number of hours which all employees are contracted to work over the time period for which M is being calculated,

p is the total number of employees

si is the mean length of shifts employee i works in a calendar week

di is the total number of solar days on which employee i works each calendar week.

Using this formula, a company can calculate the maximum wage over any period desired, and adjust it on the fly to keep the salary of the highest earner in proportion to that of the lowest.In the case of performance-related and commission-based pay, the value of w is whatever is paid to the lowest-earning person not on performance-related pay. If everybody’s pay is performance-related, w is set as either minimum wagethe base rate of pay (ie how much salespeople are paid even if they don’t bring in a single euro, or in the case of waiters in America, how much they earn before tips), whichever is higher. If there is no base pay, w is minimum wage.Sole traders can earn as much as they want by adjusting their own personal w on the fly, so as to allow themselves to keep whatever they earn less taxes. For a sole trader, M = w , as long as a = 1 ) because t \over {8} simplifies to 1 (as workers without set hours are taken as working an 8-hour shift for the purpose of calculating M). Alternatively, we may simply rule that registered sole traders are exempt from maximum wage law, which has the same effect and is probably easier to implement. 

So there’s that, there’s still the issue of bonuses. Banning bonuses altogether is a bad idea – while we only ever hear about corrupt bankers receiving a bonus the size of a small country’s GNP, most bonuses are relatively modest extras given to all employees at Christmas, and others are genuine, reasonable rewards for improving the company’s efficiency or profitability. So what needs to be done here is to make bonuses sensible without obliterating them.In the cases of bonuses for improving the business, one solution would simply be to require that the bonus be some fraction of the money the company has which it would not have had if the improvement hadn’t happened. The problem here is that technically any successful deal a banker pulls off can be considered an improvement, and so they pursue increasingly risky and complicated financial instruments in the hope of more profits and thus higher bonuses, which is precisely what led to the current financial crisis. Thus, the sensible solution to the problem of bonuses is to make a bonus proportional to the salary of the top earner in the company. Mathematically expressed,

B = {T \over c}

where

B is the maximum allowable bonus

T is the highest wage or salary the company pays, which may be defined as a weekly or annual payment as appropriate; TM. In the case of a company where everybody is on performance-related pay, T would be the highest of everybody’s average pay over a set time period.

c is a constant.

Thus are bonuses reined in, but there’s still the issue of paying people with stock. Since stock isn’t actually money, it could be used in place of money to get around maximum wage legislation.In the case of a publicly-traded company, this is easy to fix – consider a share to be an amount of money equal to its current market price, and include stock payments when calculating an employee’s real salary or bonus. 

If a company is not publicly traded but has sold some stock to investors, a share is considered equivalent to an amount of money equal to the average price for which a single share was sold in the most recent round of selling. 

For a non-traded company, things are trickier. Market valuation is complex, subjective, and open to abuse. Shares can’t be defined in terms of the value of the company’s assets, because companies can employ byzantine accounting practices to make liabilities look like assets (again, see the credit crunch). Requiring that they be valued by an impartial external appraiser is also dicey due to the possibility of bribery. Thus, if no stocks have yet been sold to outside investors, a single stock should be taken to be worth an amount of money equal to k \over z , where k is the total amount of money the company holds at the time of issue and z is the total number of shares in existence. 

Then there’s franchises. How would a maximum wage affect, for example, McDonald’s? Legally, each McDonald’s outlet is an independent business that pays a regular fee and agrees to follow certain rules in order to keep using the name and certain trademarks. If one franchise operator decides they don’t want to keep paying, they are entitled to keep on doing the same business as long as they drop the trademarked aspects, as happened when Brian Dunne changed the names of the Eddie Rocket’s restaurants he runs to Rockin’ Joe’s.In the case of a franchise, each instance would be counted as a separate company, with maximum wage calculated for each individually. Thus, if Katie and Liam both own a McDonald’s each, Katie can earn a higher maximum wage than Liam as long as she employs more people or pays them better. 

Finally, there is the problem of multiple incomes. Should income from stock dividends count towards what someone earns at their day job? What about if somebody works as a janitor and keeps bees as a hobby makes a bit on the side selling their own honey? Someone who works two part-time jobs? How about someone who owns four McDonald’s?First up, income from stocks and dividends, and capital gains, would not count towards earnings when calculating maximum wage. This means the incentive for venture capitalists to invest in startups is still there, and those who live entirely on stock payouts get to keep their incomes.If somebody, let’s call them Mary, owns multiple instances of a franchise (for example, four McDonald’s), that’s all counted as a single metacompany. As such everybody who works at any of Mary’s McDonald’s is considered an employee of Mary, and her maximum wage is based on every single person she employs and how much each of them earns.Otherwise, each source of income is evaluated separately. The janitor who sells his own honey can make as much from the honey as he wants without it affecting the maximum wage at his day job. The person with two part-time jobs has two separate maximum wages, though is unlikely to hit either.

The End

Wow, that as quite a post, eh? There are probably all sorts of problems and ideas I didn’t even consider. If you think you can improve this, or just want to point out a flaw, please do comment.

Spiders that weren’t in Spider-Verse

So Spider-Verse ended a couple of months ago. Marvel promised that every Spider-Person ever would appear in it, and while a whole lot were present, if only for a single panel or a mention in dialogue, there were a few omissions. Since I’m that kind of nerd, I’m going to catalogue them here.

Venoms

OK, the lack of any version of Venom is acceptable. Dan Slott said there were so many Spiders it would be nearly impossible to have every single one, so it was decided before the series even began that no version of Venom  or any either symbiote would appear. So, you know, fine.

Dead Spiders

Several Spiders were dead at the time of the crossover. Even if death was permanent in any Marvel universe, time travel was used to bring in Superior Spider-Man, so there’s no reason these people couldn’t also have appeared.

Ben Reilly, Scarlet Spider I

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Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, is one of Peter Parker’s various clones, and one of the few that more or less worked as intended. He even took over as Spider-Man for a while when it seemed like he was in fact the original and Peter the clone (they weren’t) as part of an aborted plan to have an unmarried Spider-Man again which wouldn’t require Peter and Mary-Jane to get a divorce or literally sell their marriage to the actual devil.

Yes, a Ben Reilly did appear in Spider-Verse, and even played a major role in the Scarlet Spiders tie-in, but he was Spider-Man from a universe where Peter lost his spider powers. I really think the original Ben is a sufficiently significant and prominent part of the Spider-Man mythos as to warrant and appearance in the biggest-scale Spider-Story of all time.

Cassandra Webb, Madame Web I

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A blind psyker who is strongly connected to the Web of Life and Destiny, which is central to the events of Spider-Verse. She uses her psychic abilities to help Spider-Man in a number of cases, and was killed by Sasha Kravinoff during the “Grim Hunt” storyline. Before she died, she passed on her abilities to Julia Carpenter, the second Spider-Woman.

Mattie Franklin, Spider-Woman III

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Jessica Drew played a huge role in Spider-Verse, and Julia Carpenter appeared in a hospital bed to make ominous predictions, but there was no sign of the third Spider-Woman. Mattie Franklin was the niece of J Jonah Jameson, and a fan of Spider-Man. She gained spider limbs in a magic ritual, and since Peter Parker had quit being Spider-Man as he occasionally does, Mattie put on a costume and started fighting crime as Spider-Woman, mentored by the then-youthful Madame Web. She was also killed during “Grim Hunt”.

Spidercide

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One of Spider-Man’s clones (well, technically he’s a clone of Ben Reilly, which is the same thing), this one is evil. He somehow also had the ability to shapeshift like the symbiotes, and was killed during “Maximum Clonage” by being thrown off the roof of the Daily Bugle. A pretty lame end, but he seems like a lame character. Still, he’s a spider, and so is worthy of appearing in Spider-Verse.

Black Tarantula

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Black Tarantula is actually a hereditary title, passed down from father to son for 700 years. Each inherits magic powers originally obtained by the first Black Tarantula, who drank a mystic potion after becoming a full-fledged evil ninja. The current Black Tarantula has dealt with both Spider-Man and Daredevil, and is still alive and still ninjaing. His son has also encountered Spider-Girl.

Anton Miguel Rodriguez, Tarantula II

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The first Tarantula, Clay Riley, was a Zorro-like western hero who used a whip and fought Ghost Rider; he had absolutely nothing to do with spiders beyond the name, hence his exclusion (same deal for Black Widow). Anton Miguel Rodriguez, however, was definitely a spider totem, and one who had an actually pretty cool costume.

Rodriguez is an assassing from the fictional South American country of Delvadia, where he made enemies of both the terrorists who trained him and the fascist government who gave him his secret identity in order to have their very own counterpart to Captain America. He was a very fit athlete and fighter, with stingers on his hands that injected a highly toxic poison. He was later infused with spider DNA by the evil Brand Corporation, but the process was disrupted by the supervillain Will o’ the Wisp, with the result that Rodriguez mutated into a monstrous Man-Spider. After one last encounter with Spider-Man, he committed suicide.

Luis Alvarez, Tarantula III

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Luis Alvarez was the Delvadian government’s second attempt to create Tarantula as an answer to Captain America. Like Anton Rodriguez, Alvarez had artificially-enhanced speed, strength, and reflexes, as well as poison stingers. He was defeated by Spider-Man on his first mission and thereafter broke away from Delvadia to become a mercenary, even working with the Punisher on one occasion. He was later killed by the Jury, a group antiheroes in powered armour. While he may not have had specifically spider-themed abilities, he does have the look. Besides, Lady Spider’s spider abilities were entirely mechanical as well and she was some sort of spider totem, so I figure Alvarez also qualified.

Jacinda Rodriguez, Tarantula IV

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Anton Rodriguez’ daughter, Jacinda, took up her father’s identity for a single issue of Agent X, which ended with her being filled with bullets. Still, a spider is a spider.

Ultimate Spider-Man

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Spider-Man is one of the few superheroes in the Ultimate Universe who isn’t a giant jerk. Ultimate Peter Parker was dramatically killed in action and made a martyr by the people of New York, to be succeeded by Miles Morales, a younger kid who impressed skeptics in both the comic and the real world to become a popular and admired hero in his own right. It would have been interesting to see how Ultimate Peter got along with Miles.

Ultimate Tarantula

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As sure as night follows day, Spider-Man will have clones, and the Ultimate Universe is no exception. Ultimate Tarantula is a clone of Ultimate Peter Parker with six arms who wears a black costume. He was killed by Doctor Octopus, though his corpse is held in containment by SHIELD for study, so there’s every possibility he could have resurrected.

Ultimate Kaine

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A degenerate, mentally unstable clone of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Kaine is obviously the counterpart to Kaine Prime, Scarlet Spider II. Ultimate Kaine believed he was the original Peter Parker and so kidnapped Mary-Jane and turned her into a werewolf. He was stopped by Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Woman (who is also a clone of Peter in this universe), and shot to death by SHIELD.

“Richard” Parker

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Yet another clone of Ultimate Peter Parker, this one was artificially aged into his 40s an given false memories of being Peter’s father. He later succumbed to rapid aging and died.

Spider-Carnage

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OK, yes, this one’s a symbiote, but he’s also Peter Parker. Specifically, he’s a version of Peter Parker who appeared in the 90s cartoon, and bonded with the Carnage symbiote. Carnage’s insanity coupled with his own mental instability over losing Aunt May and the possibility that his Scarlet Spider (who did appear in one panel of the crossover) might have been the original Peter all along led him to team up with Kingpin, Hobgoblin, and Green Goblin to try and destroy the Multiverse. Yes, the Multiverse. And he was only stopped by a cross-dimensional alliance of Spider-Men, all of whom made small cameos in the crossover with the exception of their leader, who was the star of the show. He was last seen falling into the space between universes, so might actually still be alive.

Zombie Spider-Man

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Spider-Man from the zombie universe, where all the superheroes became flesh-hungry superpowered intelligent zombies. They later ate Galactus, gained the Power Cosmic, and ate everybody in the universe. After that, they started invading other universes, including both the ultimate and primary universes and the ape universe. Zombie Spider-Man ultimately turned against the other zombies when he was able to overcome his hunger and helped the Avengers of Earth-Z deploy the zombie antidote that had been developed by Tony Stark, losing his own unlife in the process. Oh, and he used his blood vessels in place of webbing.

It would have been really fun to see Karn try to eat this one; presumably, his spear would have had no effect, at which point Spidey could have said “My turn…” and tried to eat Karn.

Spider-Man of Earth-Z

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The Spider-Man of Earth-Z, a universe invaded by the Marvel Zombies which, due to time travel shenanigans, ended up being the source of the zombie plague. This Spider-Man was killed by Sandman after Zombie Spider-Man ate the rest of the Sinister Six. Not much else to say about him.

Spider-X

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Spider-X is a kid named Brian who is a fan of Spider-Man. When his mother got mugged and the criminal was never caught (starting to see a pattern here…), he wished to be a superhero. Long story short, he was given superpowers by a demon, which turned him into a vicious, deadly man-spider. He was eventually killed by a monster named Zzzax in a battle involving Ghost Rider and the Midnight Sons.

The Forgotten Spiders

Those guys at least had the excuse of being dead. These spiders aren’t symbiotes, they just never appeared in Spider-Verse despite notability.

Claire Voyant, Black Widow I

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The most well-known Black Widow, Soviet defector Natasha Romanov of the Avengers, has no spider theme; her superhero name is just a gendered descriptor intended to make her sound lethal. However, before her, there was Claire Voyant, a Golden Age superheroine with bare legs and a definite spider motif. A femme fatale antihero, this lady was a psychic fortune teller who was given demonic powers by the devil in exchange for sending him evil souls before they repented (… kind of like Ghost Rider and Spawn, come to think of it). Later retcons had her fight the Nazis as a member of the Invaders, a superhero team led by Captain America. Along with 11 other WWII-era superheroes, she was captured by Nazi scientists and cryogenically frozen until 2008, when a construction project in Berlin uncovered the bunker where they had been stored and the Twelve, as they were known, were brought into the custody of the US government.

This Black Widow has a really cool design and superpowers. I’m sure the spider motif is enough to qualify her as a totem, and she would be a welcome anti-hero to the Spider-Army.

Tarantula V

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An anonymous Tarantula who encountered the Runaways, and is still active.

Maria Vasquez, Tarantula VI

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OK, I’m reaching a little here, but the sixth Tarantula has a little bit of a spider theme. Like the last four Tarantulas, Maria Vasquez knows martial arts and uses venom stingers. She likes to hurt people, and if ordered not to kill a target, she will torture them as consolation. She also likes to lick her blades and once killed an entire army of ninjas single-handed.

Miguel Santiago, Tarantula of the newspaper comic

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A version of Tarantula also appeared in the Spider-Man newspaper comic. He seems to be basically Anton Rodriguez.

Ultimate Madame Web

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The Ultimate version of Madame Web, obviously. She’s a blind quadriplegic telepath who was supposed to help give Ultimate Spider-Woman false memories. (Since Ultimate Spider-Woman is a clone of Ultimate Spider-Man, she has all of Peter Parker’s memories. Comics, everybody!)

Felicity Hardy, Scarlet Spider III

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The future daughter of Black Cat, Felicity is a good friend of Mayday Parker and, when Mayday became Spider-Girl, Felicity donned a suit to revive the Scarlet Spider identity. She doesn’t have any spider powers, but again, neither does Lady Spider; I figure the costume is probably enough. And even if it isn’t, maybe she could have stopped by to help her friend who was under attack from the giant vampire?

Spider Hero

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This one eventually turned out to be Blade in a knockoff costume, trying to keep his identity secret because he was being pursued by human-animal crossbreeds in order to be sacrificed in a nefarious ritual. Not remotely a spider totem, but two things: 1, Blade is awesome, 3, the Inheritors are vampires of some sort, which is what Blade fights, and 3, just imagine someone wearing that costume among all the real spiders.

70s TV Spider-Man

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CBS made a live-action Spider-Man series in 1977. It’s pretty obvious why this version didn’t make it in – Stan Lee hated that show, calling it juvenile. Also, just the next year, Japan made a live-action Spider-Man series that was much better because it had a giant robot in it (and that one did appear in Spider-Verse).

And speaking of the 70s…

70s cartoon Spider-Woman

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A 16-episode Spider-Woman cartoon came out in 1979, apparently set in the same universe as the 60s Spider-Man cartoon, starring a version of Jessica Drew revised to be more like Peter Parker. It was silly, but this is still a spider who didn’t get a look in and really should have. And she’s not the only one; the Spider-Army had a noticeable lack of Spider-Women, including…

90s cartoon Spider-Woman

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Julia Carpenter appeared in the 90s Iron Man cartoon as a member of Force Works and also as Tony’s red-haired secretary/girlfriend, replacing Pepper Potts. Out of love, she stayed with Tony when the rest of the team left at the start of season 2, though rarely got up to superheroing due to that season retooling the series to focus more on Iron Man himself. Also from the 90s, and in fact from that same universe…

90s cartoon Spider-Man

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While popular at the time and fondly remembered today, the 90s Spider-Man cartoon tends to be overlooked when talking about comics adaptations despite being surprisngly influential. Its adaptation of the Venom Saga is considered to be the definitive version, leaving its mark on both the Ultimate universe and the movies. It was the first incarnation to add genetic engineering to Peter’s origin story; in this version, the radiation that zapped the spider was of a type specifically designed to cause mutation, and was also central to the origins of the Lizard, the Scorpion, the Vulture, and Morbius the Living Vampire. Heck, it even ended with a story where a group of Spider-Men from across the multiverse have to get together to save all existence! (Specifically, from Spider-Carnage, above). It’s a noticeable overisght that this Spidey wasn’t included, but all his comrades from the aforementioned multiversal teamup were, which is more than can be said for…

Spectacular Spider-Man

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Star of 2003’s Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, written and overseen by Greg Weismann of Gargoyles and WITCH fame. I haven’t watched this one, but everyone says it’s sort of like the 90s cartoon without all the negative aspects. And if freaking Spider-Man Unlimited, which nobody cares about, can get a look in, I figure Spectacular Spider-Man deserves at least a cameo.

90s cartoon Madame Web

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Madame Web appeared in the 90s cartoon as a powerful mystic being working for the Beyonder. Throughout season 3, she would periodically summon Spider-Man, give him some cryptic advice, and then vanish. She was really annoying, and seeing Peter read her the riot act at the end of the season was glorious. Feelings aside, such a powerful mystic would have been a definite boon for the Spider-Army, and with the Multiverse in peril from the Inheritors, the least she could have done was send Peter and Julia to lend a hand.

Charlotte Witter, Spider-Woman IV

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Granddaughter of Madame Web, Charlotte Witter was given spider powers by Doctor Octopus and deployed against the Spider-Heroes. She managed to drain the powers of Jessica Drew, Julia Carpenter, and Mattie Franklin, and defeated but did not kill Spider-Man. Madame Web assembled the depowered Spider-Women to defeat Charlotte, whose stolen abilities were drained by Mattie (and parts of them subsequently returned to Jessica and Julia). Charlotte survived and is apparently still at large, and still in possession of the abilities Doc Ock originally gave her. Totally a spider totem, totally omitted.