Friday, February 28, 2014

Bitcoin Hyperventilation

I think that somebody needs to stage an intervention because Gary North reads like he's about to stroke out over Bitcoin. The first warning is that a libertarian is approvingly mentioning Pete Seeger. That's never a good sign. But it gets worse:
Here is the #1 fact about bitcoins: there are no bitcoins independent of unknown, underfunded "exchanges." 
This is just false. There are no bitcoins independent of mining operations. They are the only source of bitcoins. Unless an exchange is also using its computers to mine, they can't make bitcoins. They can only buy them just like everybody else. You can trade for your bitcoins or you can mine them. Usually libertarians care about facts more than this. For somebody who advertises himself as Ron Paul's first staff economist this is just embarrassing.

But wait, there's more.
Then there is this: for as long as its defenders do capitalize it, it is not currency. We do not capitalize dollar, yen, or euro, because they are money.
We don't capitalize bitcoins either. We mine them. Seignorage is controlled by the number of people solving the math problems that make bitcoins.

Any and all good points that he's making are drowned by these elementary errors of fact. If you don't know how these coins are created how can you be trusted on the issue at all.

The title and theme of North's screed is trying to associate Bitcoin the currency with its biggest failure, the bankruptcy of Mt. Gox. But we don't associate the dollar with Ponzi, Corzine, or Madoff and they ruined more and stole more. So why Bitcoin?

Rogue EPA

John Beale was a rogue EPA agent who illegally collected money he wasn't due from the Treasury while taking time off he wasn't entitled to with the excuse that he also worked for the CIA. He didn't work for the CIA. He's currently serving 32 months which is as it should be for costing the taxpayer almost a million dollars. The investigation into how big a problem rogue bureaucrats are at EPA is turning up disturbing information. Inappropriate behavior by EPA bureaucrats including obstruction of investigators, threats, and inappropriate non-disclosure agreements to stop employees at EPA from speaking with the EPA Inspector General are making it look like there might be a wider problem.

EPA established its Office of Homeland Security two weeks after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which was supposed to concentrate all of that sort of work under one umbrella. Apparently they do not agree that the Inspector General has authority to investigate that office in matters of national security which leaves a very convenient hole in the normal oversight process.

Humpty Dumpty China

China absolutely cannot afford declining real estate prices. So much of people's savings are tied up into second or third apartments that they are effectively a form of currency. Nobody lives in these buildings and entire cities are depositories created by quirks in chinese law. The financiers have spotted these quirks long ago and established a carry trade which had as one of its effects the massive real estate boom in China which has absorbed so much of the people's wealth there. That carry trade has seemed a sure bet, until now. The carry trade is reversing, the virtuous circle that created that trade is coming undone, mostly at present by government action. Real estate might survive this but only up to a certain limit.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) is engineering the move at present. The risk is if they overshoot. Not enough action will not accomplish their needed correction to brush back the carry traders. Too much and the trend becomes self sustaining and China's economic Humpty Dumpty comes off the wall. Morgan Stanley's Kendrick posted this note:
The potential for US$4.8 billion in losses for every 0.1 above the average EKI could have significant implications for corporate China in its own right, as could the need to post collateral on positions even if the EKI level is not breached.
However, the real concern for corporate China is linked to broader credit issues. On that, it’s worth reiterating that the corporate sector in China is the most leveraged in the world. Further loss due to structured products would add further stress to corporates and potentially some of those might get funding from the shadow banking sector. Investment loss would weaken their balance sheets further and increase repayment risk of their debt.

In this regard, it would potentially cause investors to become more concerned about trust products if any of these corporates get involved in borrowing through trust products. In this regard, this would raise concerns among investors, given that there is already significant risk of credit defaults to happen in 2014.
The relevant danger level in the EKI is 6.2 and the chart looks like this.

Given current trends we're only a month away from approaching the danger zone. On trivial charts and numbers the future retirements of hundreds of millions of people rest.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Immunity negotiations in a fake scandal?

For people who have been around a few serious DC political scandals, the dance is depressingly familiar and entirely bipartisan. The committee seeking testimony, the  reluctant witness angling for full immunity. The committee lawyers saying no way but tell us what you've got and you'll get immunity if it leads to higher ups... it's a very old DC song and dance.

So what's this immunity dance doing, happening with Lois Lerner? The mainstream media assured us that it's a nothing scandal, that there are no higher ups, that the whole thing was cooked up by some poorly thought through ideas bubbling up in Cincinnati. Yet here we are again looking at another witness trying to get the best deal possible and avoid jail time.

You can price shop for medical care

I'm tired of listening and reading people who think that medical pricing inhabits a strange universe all by itself. It doesn't.

Medical pricing involves two distinct scenarios, emergency and non-emergency care. Those who think that market pricing matters tend to concentrate on non-emergency care. The markets have time to work there and the results are good. Elective procedures where insurance doesn't cover the cost tend to have price trends going down as cost saving techniques are invented. If enough procedures have this pricing trend, the cost curve for the totality of medicine will also tend to go in the same direction.

Then there's the time-sensitive sector of emergency care. Emergency medicine is very expensive, will likely remain very expensive, and is only indirectly influenced by pricing pressures. Seconds count and the give and take of price bargaining is almost entirely absent.  Whenever market pricing opponents talk about medicine, this is the sort of medicine they think about and so far as it goes, they have a point.

But even in emergency medicine, there are ways to reduce cost. A large number of the codes they bill on are used both in emergency and non-emergency settings. By forcing down the prices in the non-emergency settings, the emergency charges necessarily are reduced. Also, there's a big opportunity in reducing the inappropriate use of the emergency room for non-emergency care. Stick a 24 hour urgent care facility next door to the emergency room and give them a common entrance with a gatekeeper and a great deal of waste goes away. Keep a bulletin board of primary care doctors accepting new patients on the urgent care side and even more money will be saved.

Some of these measures are already happening in dribs and drabs but more could be done if we didn't have a large part of the country convinced that you can't price shop.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Free School - Bitcoin Edition

BTC haters are providing an education for us all on the folly of predicting a currency demise on the strength of the crash and burn of an individual participant. What's going on is an argument over how much of the recent price spike past $1000 was "real".

Take a look at the year chart for Bitcoin. Look beyond the huge price spike to the growth trend that just preceded it.

There are two dips around July and October. Drawing a rough trend line out to doaty off those dips gives me a trend value of about $200. Bitcoin is going to be in trouble if it drops below that longer term support level. There is some level of the recent price spike that is likely legitimate. So how much is it? Nobody knows. That's what the argument is about. What behavior is going to emerge out of people who are potentially willing to invest in bitcoin in the face of real improvements in terms of software, maturity of governance, and changes in ecosystem size?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Poor Taste in Movies

Just for fun, I clicked on this worst 9 movies link (at 4 in the morning my insomnia isn't allowing for serious work). To my surprise, I recall most of them and to my shame, remember that I wanted to watch 6 of the 9 when they were in theaters. A cultural aesthete, I am not.

Economic Exclusion

I personally use Mark Shea as a way to make sure I don't slip into a cognitive bubble. I'm sure he'd be delighted to know that he's often an intellectually uncomfortable read. Even stuff I already know about, like the continuity between Benedict and Francis on economics can lead to new sources and new challenges that keep me from going intellectually stale. Today's burr under my saddle is Ethika Politika where I find ‘Where is Unfettered Capitalism?’ and Other Questions on Evangelii Gaudium

The problem is paragraph 53 of Evangelii Gaudium which talks about the excluded as different from the marginalized or disenfranchised. It's a paragraph that I scanned while hurrying to read the whole thing and figure out what the fuss is all about and, frankly, didn't give sufficient attention to at the time. It's not a concept that makes much sense from a free market perspective. 

The category of excluded would imply excluders (who must be distinguishable from marginalizers). Who are they? Who is taking time to entirely exclude people from society? Who is devoting resources to the task? What are they doing? Is what they are doing properly characterized as market action or something else? 

I've tried to chase this rabbit to the back of the warren before. I've never come up with an actual instance where excluders were not either:
1. inchoate, not really existing boogeymen
2. people taking non-market actions that were wrongly defined as market actions. 

Ultimately, without real world exclusion actually happening, what the pope is talking about is theoretical nonsense. finding those real world examples would be very helpful in getting a pretty big segment of American conservatism on side with the Pope. I don't see much activity along those lines. 

Marginalization is a failure of imagination, mostly of figuring out how to include a person with unconventional and perhaps limited possibilities but also of empathy that some accident or disease may put us in the place of those who cannot earn their daily bread. Exclusion is the positive expense of effort and resources to place a barrier keeping others out. Who actually does that as a market action? The market may tolerate it as one more irrational non-market impulse but it does tend to punish such things. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Climate Change Public Policy

Climate change as policy is a chain of claims that depends on all of them to be true to justify the public policies that warmists like Al Gore have been advocating. If the chain breaks down along the way, there is no justification for proceeding along that policy course. People seem to forget that so here's a list of all the things that must be true for the green policies being advocated to make any sense whatsoever.

Climate Science:

1. Anthropogenic (man released) CO2 is a major component of climate warming
2. CO2 sensitivity must be high enough
3. CO2 effects must not dampen out too fast (i.e. logarithmic instead of exponential curve for CO2 effect)
4. The net of atmospheric feedback effects must be durably overcome by CO2


5. Anthropogenic warming effects must be more expensive to adjust to than to prevent. 
6. The discount rate for time preferences between now and 2100 must not exceed a certain value
7. Investment now in economic growth will not yield so much value that it's a superior use of funds over reallocating the resources to global warming prevention. 
8. Technology will not change enough in the next 90 years to sufficiently change the costs to make waiting and managing the effects the more prudent course. 
9. Purposeful planning on large scales and over decades will not suffer the sort of deviations en route that made a pathetic mockery of Soviet 5 year plans. 

This list is not exhaustive. I'm omitting, for example, the issue of focusing adjustments exactly in the areas where purchasing power parity (PPP) indicates the money is least effective. 

Every single one of these nine points has challengers. The amount of work proving points 8 and 9 are so minimal as to be laughable. It's just assumed to be justifiable as if we haven't had a century of data saying that the problems of long term state planning and government economic distortion are large and largely unsolvable, to a great extent because technology surprises require faster shifts than governments are capable of. 

Every time I hear "the science is settled", it's invariably about points earlier up in the chain which establish that there's some sort of problem but do nothing regarding picking out a policy choice. But the policy choices among the warmists are settled at least as much as they view the climate science as settled. 

All those policy choices were made without going through the actual trouble of establishing any of the basic economic groundwork. We're all supposed to acquire historical amnesia about economics. This magical rehabilitation of state solutions justifies permanently moving 1% of global economic product into the service of handling climate change for the next nine decades (the Stern Report's recommendation). It is a fantastic sum to be thrown at a problem using a methodology that is known bad. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sick NY Times Icicle Cartoon

So the NY Times got Ed Driscoll going with this image

It's standard othering, let's kill our political enemies with a preprepared can't you take a joke fallback. Stuff like this has been on the left-wing propaganda menu for a long time in progressively more mainstream and influential outlets. It's almost a yawner that libs are being desensitized to political violence. 

It was another section that puzzled me how it got past the PC police at the NY Times, playing nasty tricks on your pet for your personal amusement. 

Why is this funny? What did the dog do to deserve being mocked by its owner? What was PETA's reaction? 

Update: It got weird and meta in Driscoll's comments suggesting that it was a clueless Commerce Department that was being mocked for attacking low priority tasks rather than concentrating on the economy. So we've got that going for us. The libs aren't going to come stab us until keynesianism works to create a roaring economy. We're safe. 
My younger daughter is branching into film criticism

"If Miss Piggy is in it, it has to be good."

"Chickens are the gateway to the soul"

Calibrating Revenge

So my wife got ripped off by a Dunkin Donuts in Schererville, IN for a croissant sandwich. They directed her off to the side and said wait for it and then never delivered.

Her time and annoyance at being made to sit there for no reason and then be treated like an attempted thief when she went in looking for her sandwich far exceeds the money lost on the sandwich. So what's the right amount of umbrage to take when you're pretty good at doing internet searches and have the resources to blow this far out of proportion? Is a small bit of impotent protest enough?

Proportionate strikes for the value of the sandwich or even adding in the time value, humiliation, and the time I personally had to invest to let her blow off steam is simply not enough to realistically induce a change in behavior.

So what is socially appropriate? What's the right thing to do?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pot Causes Munchies

Just about everybody knows that pot makes you want to eat, except for the Attorney General of the United States. To keep marijuana illegal, he has to official believe that it doesn't. You see if he admits that it does then marijuana has a medical use and does not belong on schedule I, right up there with heroin.

It is not a good thing for the country to have the nation's top law enforcement officer have to officially hold obvious lies and form major policy around those lies but that's where we are with the drug war.

HT: James Taranto

Friday, February 21, 2014

Obama's Iranian Option

Obama's hand in negotiating Ukraine's future is stronger than it looks, if Obama is willing to throw his liberal base under the bus. A major, modern pipeline or five from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf would open up geopolitical options for all the central asian oil powers and it's within Obama's power to make that happen. Losing control of those oil resources transport routes to market would be a major blow to Russia. The Russian response would likely include outing every drug addict, homosexual, and woman fooling around to hardline Iranian jurists in a bid to disgust the US into torpedoing the deal because of the inevitable mass death penalties that would be assessed in accordance to Iran's theocratic laws. But Obama manifestly has a pass from the left on just about everything so perhaps this time a surge in executions in Iran wouldn't have a policy effect.

D'Souza Selective Prosecution?

Dinesh D'Souza got indicted for allegedly compensating family members for donating to a political campaign. Supposedly, this was uncovered in a routine check.

The GOP is actually handling something intelligently for once, writing a letter to the FBI, asking for details about how the check was handled and whether this was a selective prosecution. The idea that routine checks are regularly deployed but only managed to nail the creator of the biggest conservative political documentary ever created is challenging. The FBI should be challenged on this.

D'Souza is a fierce critic of President Obama and has a new movie coming out on July 4 this year titled America. They just released the first trailer.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The feds are overregulating poop

Clostridium dificile bacteria is a minor normal component of your gut flora but when antibiotics kill the rest of your normal balanced population, out of control C diff is nasty problem to have. You can even die of it. It kills about 14,000 people in the US and 110,000 globally every year and the trend is going up.

Medically we've found a way to cure the problem and for once, it's a relatively cheap, if disgusting to contemplate, fix. It's called a fecal matter transplant (FMT) and it is exactly what it sounds like. You get a stool sample from a volunteer, make sure that their sample isn't going to make you sicker because they have a disease, parasite, or infection (CPT 44705 costing $500-$1500) and then get a GI guy to insert the sample from either end depending on where the problematic infection is. A colonoscopy is covered by multiple codes and can run from $740 to $8,500. That's an absurdly large variation but it's pretty clear that cash patients will not be going to the more expensive doctors. Whether a colonoscopy is even necessary or a simple enema is sufficient is under investigation.

Compared to surgery that yanks out sections of your colon, the major alternative when things go really bad with this sort of infection, this is getting off light. And even at the beginning phase, the transplant option outperforms vancomycin 94% to 27%. A study comparing the two options was terminated early because it was considered unethical to keep half the study population on the antibiotic.

The cash price for the "low dose" variant of 125mg vancomycin 4 times a day for 10 days is approximately $1000 to $1700 and for the "high dose" variant of 500mg 4/10 is $3900-$4300 so the cost of transplants is competitive.

Unfortunately, the FDA has decided to regulate poop as medicine instead of as a transplant. More specifically, everybody was going to have to go through a month long process of getting each FMT individually approved through the Investigational New Drug (IND) process but the benefits of FMT were so obvious over alternative therapies in the case of c-diff that for that purpose and only that purpose, the process is virtually unregulated. For everything else, the IND process rules and people are actually going the DIY route with poop slurry enemas because of a lack of doctors willing to go through the hassle and expense to go through the IND paperwork hoops.

This is politicizing medicine which is a lot more disgusting that poop transplants. The IND process shouldn't be used for something that isn't a drug. People are suffering and even dying because this area of medicine is being held up by paperwork. 

The Federal Government has a Manual

Did you know that the federal government comes with a manual? I dimly remember hearing of such a thing back when I lived in DC in the first Bush administration but I haven't seen it in literally decades. They've put it online.

You can download it for free here. The associated stylesheet is here.

Suspending the Debt Ceiling Matters

The act of maxing out a card and responding to that by opening up a new card is a warning sign that you're going deep into credit trouble. It's a warning sign that helps some people back away from the cliff of personal bankruptcy and turn things around. That's the sort of safeguard the US has had with its debt ceiling limits running in parallel to the appropriations process. Until March 15, 2015 that debt limit safeguard is gone.

Until March 15 of next year, there is no process of getting a new credit card. Our present one is declared unlimited. The only constraint is on each individual purchase, and two thirds of our current spending doesn't even go through that process, being major item autopays like Medicare and Social Security that go up and down without act of Congress.

We've given a drunk the keys to a self-stocking bar for a year and expect, what? Sobriety is not a likely result. What are we thinking?

HT: Patterico

Germanic Influence on Anglospheric Thought

This talk from Paul Marks is a bit longer than my usual fare. I suggest you spend the time. The question of how and where all the destructive 20th century statism is quite important to the major task of our generation, cleaning out the rot. If you want a summary, I'll attempt to give one after the video

Germans are impressive. They have an incredible academic tradition that is powerful and rigorous. Frederick the Great's taking on the major powers of Europe and winning led to a great deal of intellectual deference in the political classes of England and the US and Bismarck's unification of Germany only strengthened the trend. Bottom up collectivism on class lines and top down collectivism on racial lines both got their foundational texts and impressive heft from their german adherents and even those who opposed these developments were seduced into supporting their spread in the english speaking world.

HT: Samizdata - worth a visit for the comments which are first rate and include lengthy additions from Paul Marks

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Something New

Platonic solids, Archimedean solids, Kepler solids, we haven't found a new class of solids for 400 years, until now with the naming of Goldberg polyhedra. Conceptually, you take a regular solid and blow it up like a bouncy castle ride, bowing out the planes. Fill in those bulged out planes with polyhedrons and you get what has been called Goldberg polyhedra since about 1937. But apparently while that satisfied graph theorist Goldberg back in the day, the polyhedrons themselves weren't flat and thus weren't satisfying to Stan Schein who figured out how to make the polyhedrons flat. The only unoriginal thing about it is that he wants to give them the same name as the 1930s discovered shapes, Goldberg polyhedra. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

Nobody knows for sure how this will all play out but it's nice to see in a very geeky way.

HT: Instapundit

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Improving Prison Inc.

What if private prison contracts were structured in a way that they would favor bids by organizations that do mental health institutionalization and prisons both? What if we made treating mentally ill people was slightly more profitable than warehousing them in prisons? This would create an incentive to identify and move people into a mental health treatment situation so that they aren't in and out of very expensive prison slots. The prisons themselves would, as a function of the profit motive, seek to move people into mental health treatment and not allow them to fall through the cracks once their sentence ends.

Is anybody already doing this?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chicago's got police car problems

It's the same old shell game. In NYC the Wagner administration started shorting road infrastructure maintenance in the 1940s. 30 years of holding off just a bit too long on painting, rust removal, and parts replacements and the West Side Highway comes down in 1973. An unforeseen accident said all the pols with their hands in the road maintenance budget

Today, we move to Chicago and we find that the police are suffering from unforeseen problems with their car fleet. Stretch out maintenance cycles, reduce parts budgets, purchase even a little bit based on the clout of the contractor and this is what you get. It's as predictable as a highway collapse and just as untraceable by the time the disaster unfolds.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Twitter cleanup update

Funny enough, about 1% of the spam accounts that I was just slammed into following are actually interesting. I'm leaving them on as followed. Amid all that dross, there does turn out to be a little gold. Now back to the task of turning lemons to lemonaid...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Had to Change my Twitter Password

Somebody decided that I would do well to follow about 900 extra people on twitter. I'm sure that there are some tools to ease removing all the extras because doing it one by one is not looking very attractive.

Well, the new password is a bit more secure.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Blacklist Emotions

While I don't know what Anil Dash thinks about my calling his twitter blacklist a blacklist, I'm having a bit of fun today with an overactive defender named Nathan Edwards who has come to the conclusion that I'm condescending to Anil (I don't think I am and certainly didn't intend to). And when I clarified that and gave more detail as to what I was talking about, he switched to the idea that I'm making fun of Anil for running a blacklist (I'm not).

In reality, I made an implicit prediction, that Anil's tribe, like most (but not all) lefty tribes are ok with blacklists in practice so long as they are conducted by ideological allies and not labeled as blacklists. You see, a great deal of the left has swallowed the idea that only the evil guys on the right do blacklists and correct thinking people never do blacklists. It's not true. Before Hollywood got scared into not hiring communists in the McCarthy era, communists were busy beavers working to keep anti-communist art off the silver screen. You don't hear much about that earlier effort. It would ruin the narrative.

The experiment continues.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blacklist like a pro

Anil Dash gives 21st century lessons on how to construct a blacklist and feel morally superior while doing so. For extra credit, he adds gamification for that extra frisson of chic. This guy's good.

Update: Not to do with Anil personally, but I just followed up on the tribal emotions that come out when treating left wing blacklists regardless of whether you condemn them.

Update II: In comments on his gamification blog post, Anil makes an appearance and says he's likely to be more even-handed going forward because "I've just changed my habits overall". That's likely going to be as direct a response as I'm going to get so no, probably not a purposeful blacklist. But he did a great job of it accidentally.

Update III: Anil engages! Apparently I'm looking silly. I'm trying to do a solo entrepreneur deal on the subject of government oversight. Silly is the least of my worries. Our exchange is in the tribal emotions post (link above).

Mt Gox Exchange Collapse

The Mt. Gox exchange is engaged in a slow motion collapse, with accounts not allowed to withdraw in BTC at the present time. There is a $160 arbitrage opportunity as of writing for those brave enough to buy bitcoins at Mt. Gox and to hope that the market doesn't trend down to the Mt. Gox level before the exchange unfreezes and you get them out for sale elsewhere.

The collapse I'm referring to in the title is the collapse of Mt. Gox's credibility. This isn't a load issue, which looked bad but could be passed off as growing pains in a young currency. This is looking at a transaction that failed, not fixing it, and thinking that everything will be alright if whatever was wrong with the code failed infrequently enough. That's never acceptable. It's not the freeze or the technical mistakes that makes Mt. Gox dead to me. It's their poor management attitude that is exposed by the excuses they offer up in their statement justifying events.  Mt. Gox committed suicide by press release and management is too stupid to understand that they've killed themselves.

Is there a Mt. Gox deadpool?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


We have never been more able to actually count things in the history of the world. No need to guess, estimate, or interpolate when you can actually count it all out. But we don't do it, or we don't do it as much as we could. 

Where we can count, we should. Where we can ask, we should. I do not go a day without noting somebody assuming where they could measure, estimating where they could count. It is no longer functional behavior but the less and less functional legacy of the pre-information age. The faster we are rid of the habits of guesswork, the better. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Memoriam

I just got off the phone and my 1st cousin, Adrian Lutas passed away due to illness.

I never knew him as a child. The iron curtain stood in the way. When I did really meet him after the wall came down, he was generous, happy, and helped me in a very stressful time for him. He never asked anything back for that, though I would gladly have returned the favor if I knew how to.

Now he's gone and I never will be able to. All I can do is remember and appreciate.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Should I wear a wig?

My younger daughter has just informed me that I am not allowed to go bald or shave my head. No St. Baldrick for me. She told me that it would be too scarring and that if I ever go bald, I have to wear a wig.

It's the law. She said so.

So, dear readers, what say you?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Diskover me

This could be a real cultural changer. Disk matches artists with venues. Getting past the cultural gatekeepers is something that conservatives desperately need. This could be a tool for that.

A possible competitor for citizen intelligence is a political startup, one of the two that are presenting. I am not worried. It is doing governance from a political angle. That's a 1% solution. It will appeal to political geeks like me.

A startup weekend company just got funded

Time between pitch and funding was about ten minutes. 

It was the only energy company play in the group. 

Perky provides big company perks for small businesses who can't afford dedicated perk programs. 


Link bait name, decent business idea. 

5th pitch

I am experimenting with Runway 

Basecamp is a competitor 

Check it out. 

4th pitch

Http:// curated whole foods recipes from on sale products. 

They are planning to start chicago deliveries tomorrow. Not for me but good people and worth a look. 

3rd pitch

Tech classes for entrepreneurs. If you can't find tech cofounders learn with classes to build a minimum viable project. Http:// 

I'm taking a shot to see if this is practical for my startup. 

1st pitch

Hifit juice

Yes, you can drink hibiscus juice. Everybody liked it. It's a surprise winner in a tech heavy lineup. 

Getting set for Sunday pitches

It is just before the start of final pitches on startup weekend. This is what that looks like. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Working on somebody else's business

Working on somebody else's business, dealing with teammates who are very different, today is a blur of discussion, argument, writing, and unexpected wins and losses. I can see a dozen things I'd have done differently if I were team lead. It's been quite an education. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The start of startup weekend

Made it

They are starting and explaining what the event is. 

Great quote:
"Live in the future, build what's missing"

Startup weekend: getting there

Fun chicago traffic

Hotel parking was a bit rich for this rightwad so this is just the road to a less exhorbitant lot. 

Why Work Disincentives Matter

The usual partisan catfight has broken out again, this time because of a CBO report saying that Obamacare will destroy 2.3M jobs by 2021. It's disappointing to notice that both sides are ignoring the elephant in the room. There's work to be done.

There's snow to clear off the roads, fires to put out, garbage to be collected, potholes to be filled and all the other myriad things that governments do. A great deal of that is paid for by employment related taxes. Drop a few million jobs and the work is still there for the most part which means that the remaining working population is going to have a heavier load per capita.

The Democrats have an obvious interest in ignoring the basic facts. It destroys their chosen spin that people are liberated by not having to work.

It's much less clear why the GOP isn't mentioning it. They seem to be assuming that everybody understands this without having to explain it. That's a bad bet in today's information environment.

There are two ways to fix our unemployment problem. The first is to increase labor demand by legalizing work, reducing barriers to job creation and making company formation easier. The second is to reduce supply by making people less interested in going out and getting a job, leaving more jobs for the rest of us. The Obama administration seems just fine with the latter approach. That's unfortunate.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Skyping Grandma

One of the great saviors of modern family life, I've found, when everybody is spread out over thousands of miles is Skype. It's relatively easy, flexible, powerful, and the grey brigade is taking too it pretty powerfully. I just recently came back from visiting my parents and relatives that I was sure I would never see working a computer were not only in my parents' address book but were online and available for conversation.

Older generation technology usage is very different than my generation or my kids' generation. They know that they don't know how to use these tools but generally are content to learn recipes by rote just to get communication going. But they pass on these recipes with the same sort of avid interest that they pass around knitting patterns. It's not a very well documented part of the technology world but it's real and it's growing. How that's going to change as my own generation ages and greys out is going to be fascinating, but I think I can wait to see it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bring back the Barbican?

Call it a mud room for the zoning department but after reading one more story about how much of a mockery modern police forces are making "knock and announce" warrant service, I am starting to wonder whether it's time to start bringing back the barbican, that lovely architectural feature that frustrates home invasion by putting more than one single door between you and the outside world.

It doesn't need to delay the police long, maybe 10-15 seconds. That's time enough to slow down the rush and avoid the risk of misidentification and a groggy defender thinking that they're being robbed, instead of being served with a legal warrant. A rudimentary barbican wouldn't even have to be that expensive.

If we're going to have medieval disrespect for our rights, defenses from that era are inevitable.

 HT: Instapundit

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Even the NY Times Gets a Clue

The theory is that the free market imposes discipline and increases the responsiveness of organizations to failure so that corrections happen faster and there's less waste overall in the long run. It's kind of nice seeing that process work out even in a bastion of left wingery as infamous as the New York Times.
Reporters in The New York Times newsroom deeply resent the paper's editorial page, and the dissent has “reached the boiling point,” the New York Observer reports Tuesday.
It's not an ideological dispute, the Observer says, but rather the sense that the paper's editorials and columns are boring, ineffectual, poorly written and poorly read. The story was based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former Times staffers, mostly on condition of anonymity out of fear of editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal.
Read the whole thing.

HT: Instapundit

Travel day

Hello Mr mayor

Newly Assertive Germany

Stratfor has a nice writeup on Germany's newly assertive foreign policy. Short version, Germany has no choice but to lead and however welcome that will be in the short term, it's going to put the usual pressures on Europe's political stage which will increase problems for the long-term.

Pax Americana is receding and there will be consequences to that, many of them unsettling. Have the germans grown up and are now capable of leading without bullying? It's an open question and one that has some really bad outcomes if the answer turns out to be no.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Watching Al Jazeera

My father and I watched Al Jazeera America for the first time today. It was a pretty effective bit of brainwashing whose subject was cartoon journalism but whose purpose was all about promoting emotion over thought, emotion over reason. During a commercial break they advertised an upcoming show on immigration. It offended the both of us but, as is usual in our case, for different reasons.

My father saw one more rerun of the nasty propaganda machine he had to suffer under in communist Romania. He knew the truth because he had known witnesses. The witnesses told simple stories that revealed simple truths. The Soviets, for 20 years on the Nistru river would shoot attempted border crossers in the water and the Romanians would collect the bodies and the wounded as they drifted into Romanian territory. Later, they started shooting them before they got to the river as they hardened the border. My father's witnesses were Romanian border guards who, in peacetime, had to pick up the dead and wounded at a pace fit for a small war.

In those days, a Soviet border guard would get a bonus and 20 days vacation for shooting a would be crosser. If they were in need of funds or a break in routine, they would sometimes threaten a local peasant with death if they didn't walk into the no-go zone. The guard would then proceed to shoot them and collect.

It's not a story you hear too often. I knew at least one of those men as a child. He never mentioned this story to me, though he told me others.

Usually I don't pass on the really brutal stories but today I've overloaded on Soviet apologists claiming moral superiority. We do not have the moral filters to weed out these evil degenerates for mass murder as we do for their Nazi cousins. It's a shame that we don't.

The dead weep.

Krony, satire or normalization

Sometimes satires are too clever by half. That's my concern with Kronies, an anti-crony capitalism satire.

There have been periods of history where big business was making these anti-competitive arguments without the irony. Wasteful competition was a real concept. As late as the 1980s, people were still studying whether hospital competition was wasteful. Even today, hospital competition is limited in 35 states by certificate of need regulations, a concept that only emerged in the 1960s and was adopted by the Federal Government in 1972 as a reform to Social Security.

So people laugh at crony capitalism and dislike it, but they also live under it and fully accept it as a valid part of their lives. It wouldn't be surprising to me for the satire to be taken for advocacy in some quarters.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Government scoped in a rational world

In a rational world, we would recognize that the vast majority are neither communists or anarchists. Most people believe that the communist principle that everything must be done by the government is not valid and neither is the anarchist principle that nothing should be done by it. The details may differ but the bedrock is the same, we mostly believe in "it depends" government. This is actually a pragmatic way to approach the world as neither ideological pole is perfect.

Those who are closer to the communist will say that government dependability is important and only certain exceptions for private action should be done where it happens to be more efficient at present. The mirror image happens on the other side where liberty enthusiasts are all for private action with a few minor exceptions where government ends up being a better solution, for now.

I'm pretty clear about where I personally think the sweet spot is, which is a lot closer to no government than all intrusive government and the sweet spot is moving further away from government as the best solution as time goes by and people actually do the hard detail work of privately solving the problems that traditionally have been handled by government. Every time we shift the other direction we seem to trade off long term sustainability and utility for a quick short term jump in utility. That's acceptable in an emergency but only so long as we periodically review and remove these bandaids when the emergency is over. The problem is, we don't. 

We need to build out a capacity and a procedure to periodically review what government does in a sustainable way. We are missing some of the most basic tools to do the job. It's not like it's illegal, hard, or even very expensive to do it. What it is is frustrating and tedious. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Rethink telecommuting

The Indiana State Police have an email notification system set up and lately with all the bad weather around here have been hammering a constant refrain, "rethink your trip", encouraging people not to go out into the snowy, slippery conditions if at all possible and slowing down, increasing distances and driving conservatively.

This is all well and good for those who can afford to skip trips but the number of people out on the road could have been much lower if we had thought ahead and made better arrangements to support telecommuting. Increasing the number of people working from home creates fewer people who have to go out into the snow regardless of the weather. Laying in the infrastructure to increase telecommuting is a long term solution that takes foresight and guts. It involves some fundamental changes in the way we do business, especially in the white collar world, which is the vast majority of telecommuting potential.

New York Governorship

New York, unusually, allows people to run on more than one line and have their vote totals calculated cumulatively. The top two parties are major parties and control half of the state's election bureaucracy and everybody else is an also ran.

In between strictly family business, my mom informs me that the Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, is going to run for Governor and they hope he will win. We'll see. The GOP could do worse than Astorino who won in a suburban NY county with majority Democratic registration. Carl Paladino is making noise that if somebody he does not like gets the GOP nod, he'll run on the Conservative Party line and take line B away from the GOP, a formidable threat to an establishment that has long been patronage obsessed. Astorino fits the profile of somebody that Paladino would support.