Friday, January 31, 2014

Travel day

I'm off to suburban NY for some family issues from today through Tuesday. If you're in the area and would like to meet, let's see if we can schedule something.

Back to the books

It's time to brush off my web writing skills as I'm likely to be setting up my own rough prototypes for some basic structures for Citizen Intelligence. I have a nutshell book in my bookcase kindle on the subject of Drupal and I've decided to promote it to the top of my reading pile. We're getting to the point where it's time to take a good long, hard look at my coding skills and see how much I can bang together before I hire the rest of it out. I simply don't have the cash for a conventional development push.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My son learns about the downside of international trade

This morning my son got the bad news, further delays on shipping his printer, this time because it's run into the logistical craziness that is Chinese new year, a fifteen day celebration that this year starts on January 31st and runs 15 days. He won't get his printer until March though the vendors are holding out hope that it'll be late February.

This sort of thing is just one of the many fun problems you run into dealing with international trade. The China price looks really good on paper but actually dealing with them teaches you that the price on paper isn't the only China price you're going to pay. I suspect that he won't be doing business with these people again and will be looking warily at any foreign trade until he's got a great deal more in reserves to fix things if they are delayed.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Now officially on the market for a new car

It worked fine starting up this morning but the battery's drained when I went out just now to pick up my kids. An electrical system slow drain is just the cherry on top of the whole motor oil leaking, break fluid leaking, body rusting away catalog of woes for this thing. 

A good trickle charger is more of an essential tool than I thought when I originally got the thing all those years ago. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MEFO request

I got a request to comment on Nazi MEFO bills, which I've done elsewhere in the past and it's a story that needs to be retold and hammered in to public consciousness as some people actually still buy the fiction that Nazi economics works.

Starting in the Weimar period the German Society for Public Works, AG (in german Deutsche Gesellschaft für öffentliche Arbeiten AG) was founded in 1930. It was a sham corporation, a shell with insufficient capital that nonetheless was permitted to issue OEFFA bonds. In fact, that was its whole point of being. The bonds were rediscounted by the German Reichsbank, which meant that the state issued cash in exchange for worthless paper, creating money at a time when Germany still had a gold peg. The scheme was not detected at the time and formed the basis for a number of parallel schemes for other purposes.

The most sinister of the lot was the MEFO bill which was used to secretly finance rearmament in violation of the Versailles treaty. The amount of MEFO bills in circulation and their value was a state secret but at peak was about 12 billion Reichsmarks of the things floating about at a time when the published figures for official German debt was only 19 billion Reichsmarks. The bills carried a 4% rate if held to maturity so in the generally deflationary times, many receivers of MEFO bills held on to them instead of immediately presenting them to a German bank for payment.

By issuing bonds for which there was no underlying asset, Germany could formally keep its gold peg while floating what were in essence parallel currencies in the form of these bills which could be, but often were not converted back to Reichsmarks because of the interest rates that they carried. This only works for so long though. Eventually, the chickens started coming home to roost sufficiently to alarm the Reichsbank president, Hjalmar Schacht, the major author of the plan. He demanded that the plan be wound down. Instead, Hitler dismissed Schacht from the presidency of the Reichsbank in January 1939 and 8 months later invaded Poland while instituted a policy of looting to finance the war. Thus was born the term "Nazi gold", which is a shorthand term that meant looted gold from Nazi victims of all types.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ugly labor force participation trends

You can hide a lot in plain sight in a simple graph. Here's one that has volumes hidden in plain sight.

By original estimates we were supposed to peak out in 2012 on labor force participation. Instead we're almost 4% under that figure and looking to fall further. That's a huge difference in how the US works, akin to the 1960s jump in participation but with the direction reversed. It points to a United States less able to pay its debts, less able to innovate, lead, and less able to support its military position which has historically been supported by the country's economic power. In essence it's a country that is rather short of hope for the future.

We're moving to a society with similar to 1940s labor participation rates but with a much more confused set of social expectations, something that is inevitably leading to less happiness in general. There are no convincing narratives out there why this very large secular trend should reverse. It might happen but nobody seems to have a good tale as to why. This year will see another 10 year labor force projection release. So far it is looking like the 2014 10 year estimate will be another "surprise" where the curves drop even further, even faster. December's rate was 62.8% after all. We weren't supposed to hit that until much later in the decade.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

97 Days

My write once a day streak has busted again, for the third time. This time, the streak lasted 97 days, a record. Still the same refrain though.


Time to start over.

One post a day.

At least.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Income inequality from a free market perspective

Income inequality is bad from a free market perspective. However, this is generally not examined. From a free market perspective labor is just another commodity. Normalized for job difficulty and rarity of skills, all incomes over the long haul should roughly equalize as incentives draw more into fields in shortage and drive others out of fields with surplus.

So why do mediocre CEOs who create results that are just as mediocre get paid so well and why do these pay disparity results persist? Why do we not see the creation of CEO bootcamps to flood the market for CEOs and drive down compensation? Why don't we have significant international arbitrage, pulling CEOs from other countries until pay differences internationally simply disappear?

Something's not quite right there. It appears to be a market failure and if you're a betting man, it's a pretty safe bet that there's a government intervention that prevents this market from functioning normally. But the generally free market commentariat doesn't seem to be hunting too hard to find it.

I don't yet have a solution for this but CEO bootcamp would seem to be a great startup business to offer CEOs to boards who are currently overpaying for their CEO talent. The truth of the matter would emerge over time as you execute. And CEObootcamp has both .com and .net occupied, though funny enough .org is just parked. Neither of the two are pursuing this angle of the business. They're both about improving the skills of existing market participants, not increasing the supply in an organized way.

So, social justice lefties, here's a roadmap to a sweet way to make some cash and reduce the pay disparity that you're always talking about. It's a free business idea that sustainably solves the problem of pay disparity and you don't have to get in bed with slimy politicians to do it.

Any takers?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Missing the point on Bridgegate

Nobody asked the most basic question when bridgegate became a story. What is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and what is it for? It turns out that the Port Authority is designed to take politics out of NY Metro transportation issues, to isolate and insulate such decisions from political passions. 

That an underling of the Governor of New Jersey could pick up a phone and get the traffic configuration coming off the George Washington bridge changed is supposed to not be possible by design. 

Obviously the design failed. Obviously the Port Authority will not fundamentally change because its basic reason for being has been exposed as a fiction. That would make too much sense. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hunter Douglas

We got Hunter Douglas shades with the house. This morning 3 of the four brackets snapped when the big shade was pulled up to let light into the kitchen. It turns out that Hunter Douglas will send out new brackets for free. They just want you to send the broken ones back so the engineers can see them to do failure analysis. They come in 7-10 days normally.

Talking to the customer service rep, I suggested that the company publish the files needed for those of us that have 3d printers to print them. That way I'd be able to put up the shade today. It's not like Hunter Douglas is making any money off the parts orders so there is no real reason not to do it. People would be just as willing to send the broken bits back postage paid as they are today.

She thanked me for the suggestion and changed my shipping to 3 days, without me asking.

Hunter Douglas is likely to get my future business.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Morning repartee

One of my kids was feeling lazy and asked not to go to school today. Inspiration struck my coffee starved brain and before I really had time to think "Why? Are you feeling especially pro-ignorance today?" came out of my mouth. Those sorts of things usually occur to me after the opportunity is gone.

Today's going to be a good day.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Absolutely, positively don't do this

It's like the XKCD reached deep into my collection of technical nightmares and fished out the big one. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My budding salesman

My son just sold his first listing on e-bay and now is hunting for shipping material and making sure he can get his little figurines out on Monday. He's very excited.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Corruption of Blood

We have a concept in the US Constitution that doesn't get much discussion, corruption of blood. This came up last year when a GOP member suggested it as a punishment for sanctions busting. That was daft and after a bit of discussion, the idea was shelved. There is a part of US law that does work corruption of blood, that is abortion law, or at least abortion debate. The plain facts are that a majority of the country don't like either principled position that what the Catholic Church calls induced abortion (the medical definition is a bit different) shall be entirely illegal or that abortion shall be fully available in all circumstances on demand. The "hard cases" of rape and incest are the sticking point.

But if you look objectively, you can't get to abortion of a human being without working a corruption of blood. The unborn child (because those who don't like abortion on demand admit to the humanity of the unborn) has committed no crime but certainly the father has. That the child is punished for the sins of the father is the very definition of attainder (the legal term for corruption of blood) and those who want exceptions for rape and incest are never called to explain why attainder is ok in just this one instance. It seems to be a consistent missed opportunity for the pro-life side. Maybe it just doesn't poll well.

Daily practice setup

In my attempt to create a more disciplined life, I'm adding to my daily practice of writing. Every day I owe 1 post to both this blog and my business blog Citizen Intelligence. Yesterday I blew my first deadline, this was on the business blog. I've decided to create a buffer to avoid that in future and will be publishing a buffer count for both blogs and any additional buffers I add to the pile daily at this location.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Got my replacement lifeproof case

It's not as fun as getting a new phone but once again having a waterproof case is a star on my day. I've got Lifeproof's Fre model and due to events which shall remain unchronicled if I know what's good for me, the audio cable screw port got damaged. Lifeproof took an honest description of what happened and just sent out a new one. They didn't ask for a return or any real proofs. It was just the easiest return experience I've had in quite awhile. I am very pleased by this company.

Observed, minor uptick in russian BTC interest

My ongoing pay-to-click experiment is yielding a bit of odd metadata. I'm starting to see a number of cyrillic lettered ads. Chrome helpfully will translate them so there actually is some utility in their being shown me. It's odd to see and shows a different advertising aesthetic. At least one campaign is visually based on the idea of lending money to the mob.

It's probably nothing but gets tossed in the big mental pile of oddities that lurk around the back of my head.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

All your health information belongs to us

Federal law requires that when a private corporation is hacked and customer information is stolen, it must notify the victims of the theft. This is a reasonable requirement that lets people rush out and buy identity theft protection and/or keep a close eye out for funny charges showing up on their bills. 

In the case of the federal healthcare exchange, there is no legal requirement to report such breaches. Individuals on the federal exchange are without such protection though most states do have reporting requirements. The issue came up during regulatory comments and HHS apparently declined to support any sort of mandatory reporting rule. They'll let us know when they feel like it. 

To add salt to the wound, HIPAA privacy protections do cover insurance companies and health providers accessing federal government systems but the federal government itself is not obligated to honor those protections. Fancy that. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Off the charts pollution in Beijing

Literally, the city of Beijing's air was so bad last night that it went off the chart. The US embassy has a sensor measuring PM 2.5 in Beijing. That's particulate matter of 2.5 micron size or less. Here's the screen shot of how bad things are over there.

All the grey bars are off the scale and the red ones are merely "hazardous" and you should stay indoors. Grey means stay indoors in a room with filtered air, and try to breathe as little as possible.

HT: Zerohedge

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Call from school

It isn't often that you get a call from school and it's good news. Usually somebody's sick, unruly, or bleeding. But not today. My son's been tutoring two kids for a few months and apparently they just tested their progress. One of them raised their scores a full year. The other raised them a full two years. I'm so proud I could pop.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Something in the news today

It's mostly depressing reading the news today though on the bright side, the idea of chucking the text of the Constitution in favor of historical practice apparently only has 2 votes on the Supreme Court. These days, the apparently limited size of the Supreme Court minority ok with chucking the idea of Constitutional government entirely counts as good news.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Etiquette question

What is the appropriate conversational response at a party to "the suicide bomber almost got me"?


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bitcoin comeback

The gloom and doom bitcoin crowd seems to have quieted down now that BTC has resumed its upward trends from its recent lows in the $600 range. At writing Preev is listing BTC at $909, still well off its all time highs but about twice what my eyeball tells me its long term price trend is. That's a bit fluffy but not scarily so.

My microtransaction fueled program of acquiring bitcoins continues apace, currently totalling 0.04876797BTC or a bit more than $40 at present prices, territory of a decent burger joint night out with the wife with drinks added in. Minor tragedy has struck though as The Charley Horse has gone out of business and I was using their burger and drink menu for pricing benchmarks. I have to find a new restaurant now.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Once in awhile it's nice to be read to

My daughter insists that she knows when I am writing about her so I'll keep this short. After an interesting bout exploring Adobe Illustrator, she decided she wants to read to me from her current book, Fablehaven. It's not a bad book and much better for her reading it instead of me.

Some treasures are utterly ordinary. Some are extraordinary. This is both.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The White Ghetto

Pope Francis' indictment of welfare applies to the US. For me the takeaway line from Kevin D Williamson's The White Ghetto is “The government gives people checks, but nobody teaches them how to live” and a sad takeaway indeed.

There is no cure for the sort of hopelessness this article shows that does not start with love and caring for individuals and creating a plan to get them out of the welfare and cultural trap that they are in.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

VMX kickstarter

I'm quite interested in a kickstarter from VMX which is advertised as computer vision for everyone. Having a simple way for computers to identify objects in video streams is a huge game changer in a lot of fields.

Personally, I could probably use an alarm that reminds me that it's time to take out the garbage cans and only runs if nobody's done it by 8pm the night before they pick it up at 6am in the morning. I've said hello to the garbage guys a bit too often as I haul out the cans as they turn the corner. I mean they're nice guys and all but I'm just not very social at that hour of the day.

I'm going to cover my business interest in this technology tomorrow over at the citizen intelligence blog, God willing and I can stave off writer's block.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Kids are home

Being without your kids is supposed to be a relief. that might be true the first 12 hours. The relief when they come back home is a great deal better.

scheduled posting in wordpress works nicely.

I experimented for the first time posting ahead on my business blog today and it went off without a hitch. It's actually interesting splitting up my writing to two different blogs and I think it was a wise move to choose two different platforms. It makes it more difficult for inappropriate subjects to bleed over, as nonsensical as that may sound. Having a different set of tools puts my mind in a different mood.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mitt Romney's grandchild

I just put this up in comments over at Instapundit.

I understand Romney. He no doubt wanted to get his grandchild out of the news cycle as soon as possible. This is a normal reaction. I cannot condemn him for acting in the best interests of this newest addition to his clan. This really is something that we ought to take care of without involving innocent hostages like that newly adopted infant. 
Love happens. It is a wonderful thing. Occasionally it crosses all sorts of unusual group lines. Once in awhile you get an interracial love where one of the members is a white conservative and the other is a different racial grouping. Love is no less wonderful because of the conservatism of one of the partners. To attack a case of interracial love based on the political conservatism of one of the loved is hateful, bigoted, and an exercise in dehumanization based on political ideology. That also makes it un-American.  
People who do this are haters and intolerant. 
This is the start and end of what I think about the whole MSNBC mockery of Mitt Romney's family photo complete with his new adopted grandchild. I wish the Romney family the best and hope nobody else is ever as ugly with them again. I'm not holding my breath though. Good luck Romney clan.

It's cold outside

I'm going in and out trying to not lose body parts to the brutal cold in these parts while shoveling out the driveway so my wife can make rounds. Right now I'm warming up but today marks a first. My glasses got fogged and then ice crystals formed on the lenses to the point where it was clear that my body temp wasn't going to resolve the problem anytime soon and I was functionally blind with them on.

I have never seen cold like this before, though I have an image of readers in Alaska, Canada, and the high plains states trying to stifle their laughter upon reading this. Well it's new to me anyway.

Stay warm people.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

snowed in

What a strange day. We're pretty much snowed in. The county's declared a state of emergency for non-incorporated areas my kids flight back from their grandparents got canceled.

Oh, and I caught the matinee showing of Frozen.


Good movie, though very much a grrl power film. It was still good art.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

US politics by quadrants

Sometimes a stranger does you a great favor and enunciates what's been swimming around in your back brain for a very long time but never quite had the chops to make it to the forebrain. "The goal is to learn and once you have enough learning, the product becomes obvious."

It's not just product but political action that has the same dynamic. If you learn that, as a rule, government action is more efficient than private action, you default to doing everything via government. If the opposite, the default is to solve problems via private action. If you find that your rule (government/private) is strong, you won't look too hard for exceptions. If it is weak, you'll be more careful to do exception checking. These two questions underlie a lot of the political back and forth we have in the US. The hard, few exceptions pro-government solutions quadrant is discredited. This is where communism is as well as the no hopers of the Democrat party. The soft, many exceptions to the rule pro-government solutions quadrant is where you find a great deal of the Democrat party and a relatively small number of Republicans. The soft, pro-private action many exceptions quadrant is where you find the GOP establishment and the hard, pro-private action with little exceptions checking is where you find both the libertarians and the TEA party. Independents aren't committed to any particular quadrant but drift between the soft variants of government vs private provision.

Depending on the actual shape of reality, more information will strengthen one quadrant over the others but we haven't actually gathered enough information to be sure which quadrant works better. After the collapse of the USSR, we're only pretty sure that it's not the hard pro-government quadrant.

The actual confidence of adherents to each quadrant will emerge as metadata in fundraising for Citizen Intelligence because the entire purpose of the enterprise is to raise the information available to everybody along the spectrum. Those who are confident that their quadrant will benefit will support and are convinced the project will execute well will tend to support. Those with low confidence will not.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Thug Notes

Cliffs Notes has a new competitor from the hood. I give you thug notes (NSFW). 

A Winter Miracle

We just finished a winter storm early this morning (the lake effect snow advisory expired at 3AM). So I get up at 5 to start digging out and find... nothing. Somebody came by with a snow blower and had done the entire job. It was only my imagination that supplied the chorus of angels.

Thank you neighbor, whoever you are (though I do have my suspicions).

Thursday, January 2, 2014

sad but funny thesis

Picked out from lolmythesis
If you want people to make good decisions about climate change policy, tell them about it when it is really, really hot.
Why yes, you can influence climate perceptions by turning off the air conditioners which James Hansen and Tim Wirth did before testifying before Congress in 1988.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Achieving failure

You can't say it more succinctly than this.
Achieving Failure = successfully executing a bad plan 
The majority case of failure is not one of misfortune destroying something that was fundamentally good (though it can happen) but rather a bad plan coming to fruition and thus catastrophe.

New blog

I'm separating out my business blogging for Citizen Intelligence from my personal and political blogging which will continue on this blog. The first blog post introducing the blog is up. I hope you'll add it to your reading list. It will eventually get integrated into the company site but we're not quite ready for that yet.