Work is Over, If You Want it

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, Tor Books

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, Tor Books

Advance review of Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

As more and more people lose their jobs to robots and computers, and more wealth gets collected among fewer people, the day may come when people just exit the system. This is the near future that Cory Doctorow envisions in Walkaway.

If you can use a 3D printer to print any small plastic object you like and have been able to do so for more than a decade, how long will it be until looms can 3D print you any shirt you like, or a food printer will be able to string together proteins to make you whatever you’d like to eat? If you can print whatever you need, whenever you want it, why would you worry about a job or money?

100 years ago, advances took workers off of farms because more efficient practices made them unnecessary, today factories close in droves, not just to because jobs move abroad to cheaper labor markets, but also because they’re replaced by machines better suited to dangerous, our simply grindingly boring work. Today, as self-service kiosks have already begun to replace waiters and machines often do a better job of diagnosing diseases than doctors do, the future of little-to-no human work as William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

So what does a world of walkaways look like? People who want to live off the grid today are associated with tents and outhouses, but Doctorow looks a little further in the future and sees scavengers living more richly than any “normies” who are still buying copyright-protected goods and trying to participate in the larger society.

Walkaway, makes you wrestle with the ideas in it. The society Doctorow imagines sometimes exhilarates and, other times, horrifies. The book pulls you through like a thriller and but it also offers all the best qualities of a book of future philosophy arguments in the tradition of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Star Trek.

Doctrow’s world is too close to the real world to be a fantasy, instead, it’s a compelling world–I want to live in now. Doctorow starts the book with the aphorism “Live like it’s the first days of a better world,” I suppose its good advice, for those who wish to be the creators of a more just society, but I’d just rather live somewhere nearer the middle days of a better world.

Everyone at the Gym is in Better Shape than You

imgresPeople are inherently good at comparisons. If you look at a pile of eight bottle caps you will not know how many are there unless you count them, but if there is a stack five bottle caps next to it you will immediately know which pile is bigger.

Relative size is very important to us and it makes sense when you think about how important decision making is for survival. If you’re trying to pick a place to sleep between two options it’s more important that you pick the safer of the two places than that you quantify the exact difference.

But, thinking comparatively has downsides.

The reason the people at the gym are in better shape than you is because they are the people who spend the most time at the gym. If the people around you are in better shape than you are the chances are there is at least a correlative effect between where you are and your physical health. By the same token if your friends are all smarter or richer than you, you may be putting yourself on the road to becoming smarter or richer, or you’re a waiter at a fancy restaurant.

Writing Around the Web

I’ve done a lot of work around the web lately, but very little of it is on this blog.


You can find my work at Planetizen where I wrote:

Who Moves And What it Means For Growing Cities

Lessons in City Planning from the Mexican Corner Store

When Will the Trucking Industry Electrify?

You can also find my podcast Work Friends here or on iTunes.


I’d Rather Play for Free

Free MusicMusic is infinite and freely available. So if you’re a small band it’s hard to get someone to take a look.

If you an admission fee for a small band’s concert, you will win that band no new fans. Who is the consumer that pays for live music from a band they’ve never heard of? That person is a chump.

That’s why it’s my solemn goal to play as many free shows as I possibly can with my band The Push Push.

I do not hate money. On the contrary, I love money. I’d be happy to pass the hat at any show. But charging even a nominal fee for a concert is really counterproductive, because it keeps people from coming into the show in the first place. The artist can’t control many of the most important aspects of a concert. How much you enjoy a band has a lot to do with the audience: how familiar are they with material, how do they react to the venue, do they jump up and dance and, importantly, how many other people are attending? Read more

Starting Your First 401K

Office WorkersA couple of friends asked me for advice on this topic, so I collected my thoughts and turned them into a blog post. This input is general by design. I want to make it helpful to the largest possible group.

What this article is not: deeply detailed, time-sensitive advice or stock tips. I am personally wary of that type of opinion, but there’s plenty of it out there if you want it.

What this article provides are basic principles that a novice can understand, but that anyone can apply. I believe in keeping investments simple, so you don’t get in your own way or lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish. This advice is meant to help people grow their money throughout their careers, not to get rich quick.

Why Should You Contribute to your 401k?

Read more

New Podcast – Work Friends

Untitled drawing

I’ve started a new podcast with TJ Bartczak. We look at typical water cooler conversations, funny stories and hopefully give you some interesting topics to talk to that one person in the office that you seem to have nothing in common with.

Please check it out if that sounds interesting.

Trade Waiter – Silver Surfer (New Dawn Vol. 1)

Silver Surfer v1Michael Allred’s art is completely distinct from that of the rest of the comic world. Though it would seem impossible, somehow Allred’s art both closely resembles the classic comic art of the 60s while looking completely original and unlike anything else in comics. The work of colorist, Laura Allred, contributes a big part of what makes the art in this book so great. The husband and wife team have long standing partnership and that continuity means their work supports each others styles and never clashes.

For readers who might be unfamiliar with what a colorist does, the nature of work is contained right there in the name. The colorist takes outlines from the penciller and inker and fills in the colors of the art. If this sounds like a mechanical or simple job, it absolutely isn’t. For evidence, compare the work of this book with that of the classic Vertigo comics of the early 2000s. It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong, it’s that the choices of the colorist completely change the tone and feel of the book. A muted pallet can suggest ambiguity or uncertainty; a brighter higher-contrast pallet makes a book feel more exuberant. Beyond style, there’s a simple issue of skill. Colorists can obscure the detail of the original pencils if they don’t work carefully, golden age comics often suffer from this. Read more

Trade Waiter – Trades I’m Looking Forward To

blackmagickBlack Magick

This is one of two Rucka books on this list. Haven’t heard a lot about this book, but since I finished Queen and Country, I pretty much try to check out everything he writes. How good is Queen and Country? You will not find a book that is better researched. It is a workplace drama that gets the details of the work dynamics perfectly.

What’s this book about? Magick maybe? African Americans? I’m not sure. I’m going in cold.


Every trade so far has been fantastic. There’s no reason to think that quality will stop with Volume 6. Read more

Paper Girls – Trade Waiter

PaperGirlsIn some ways, Paper Girls is a classic Brian K. Vaughn comic. It tells a strange, unpredictable, fantasy adventure story. Paper Girls intrigues and maybe even confuses its reader by moving fast and saying little. The first issues of a long series usually have a lot of explaining to do, especially when they can’t lean on established worlds and characters. Paper Girls, however, doesn’t stop and chat. There are a number of wordless pages. There’s more showing than telling, and it’s not just a series of fights, there’s a lot to look at in the way characters dress and interact and there are images in the background that help guide the audience through the unusual world.

Comic books are a distinctive medium in that there is such a small group of fans that read them that the authors really end up speaking to a certain kind of fan. In the worst circumstances, small audiences lead derivative comics, but in the best circumstances, it means authors don’t have to hold their readers’ hands. The self-selecting group that reads comics knows to pick up the traces in the background, they can infer what happened between panels. Paper Girls rewards attention. Read more

Planetizen Blog


I’ve been invited to blog for Planetizen. You can find my first post here. Much of my city planning writing will likely live there for the coming months, though this blog will live on for comic-related content, among other things. Thanks for checking in.

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