2/27/2011

fun on the big screen

For a little pre-Oscars partying I've hooked up my laptop to Julie's TV. Pretty sweet.

So what's a guy to do with a screen 3x his laptop but play around some with Excel's pie chart creator? I mean, after using Office XP/03/04 for so long, 2010/2011 is practically fun to use.

I had been reading up a little bit about oil and budgeting and how speculation and sudden price changes impact personal finances, and there's nothing quite like seeing pie charts as big as your head. While I used to keep a detailed budget when first developing my own financial habits, after a few years now I'm comfortable in the gray(er) area of approximations and estimates. So in rough terms, I thought I'd try and match approximately what my budget looks like compared to the average household put together by John Lohman.

First, here's a snippet of the chart specifically on household expenditures:



I matched his categories and came up with this:



But that left me dissatisfied for a couple of reasons. First, 'other' is way too big a category. Second, this approach doesn't really help sort out what's variable and what's fixed. In other words, what could be changed easily, and what would require a radical departure from present living arrangements?

So a little more playing around in Excel led me to this:



It still has the Big One - housing - and it still has a few small categories of 2 or 3 percent. The improvement is there are now half a dozen categories of in between size that show how my personal expenditures might be changed were a sudden shock to occur. Changing the thermostat is a different degree of change than changing the address. Not traveling to Florida or Washington is a different degree of change than not having a car to drive to the grocery store and not ever going out to see a movie.

I would also use it as a reminder that things like oil shocks and peak oil aren't as big a problem as they are often hyped to be. We possess a variety of simple adaptations which would rapidly become widespread substitutes were there to be serious limitation on our access to cheap oil. Some of these are so mundane, like carpooling, telecommuting, four day workweeks, and bicycling, that we don't even think about them when contemplating high-tech solutions for the 21st century. Others involve a repricing of resources - like increasing the value of abandoned urban property relative to far flung suburban developments - while still others require more centralized, long-term planning, but they're well established technologies, like rail travel. It wasn't cheap oil that helped the Noth in the Civil War or enabled the original ecotourism of the National Parks. It was cheap transportation, and amidst all the fearmongering about the future, don't forget those are two different concepts.

Cheap oil won't last forever, no. But we have plenty of alternatives. Some of them are even improvements on how development has occurred over the past half century.

But of course, we're nowhere near that stage. Oil isn't getting more expensive for companies like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. They're simply making larger profits. Funny what happens when you follow the money.

Or for one last chart, here's the war budget (just Overseas Contingency Operations, not the 'regular' security spending, which is 4x larger) next to the Amtrak budget:

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2/15/2011

sony to stop charging fees

So I watch the Grammy's Sunday night and have fun with Valentine's Day yesterday, and I find out tonight that the world is up in arms about Sony and friends charging licensing fees to use Blu-Ray technology.

I mean, like, demanding money in exchange for nothing. The greed! The arrogance!

Oh, wait, sorry.

It's Sony and friends complaining that Apple wants to charge Sony and friends money in exchange for providing back office support and access to one of the most lucrative store fronts ever created.

It's flabbergasting how hugely massively enormous Apple's victory has been. If I started Nate's Emporium of Digital Magazines, Time Inc wouldn't go around whining that I was charging them 50% for placement in my store; they wouldn't care, because my store doesn't add any value to them.

Why is it that publishers care about the App Store? Aren't we all supposed to be doing everything 'in the cloud'? Aren't there mega transnational corporations that offer an alternative to Apple's ancient 20th century idea of having actual consumers pay actual money for actual content?

Hello?

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2/13/2011

google's next step

I'm increasingly curious to see where the new old management wants to take Google. Google's core business, Search, is now over a decade old. The concept that supposedly was behind Google's efforts to grow beyond search is the notion of doing everything on the web, 'in the cloud', so to speak. Instead of purchasing specific pieces of software to run on specific pieces of hardware, our data would be accessible everywhere for whatever we wanted to do with it. Users of Google products would provide their personal information for currency rather than paying money for products. After all, Google's core innovation is that they're not a tech company per se, but are rather an advertising company.

Facebook, a closed social network with similar monetization challenges as an advertiser, and Apple, a closed hardware vendor left for dead, have both grown faster than Google over the past few years.The classic knock on Microsoft is that they haven't developed growth strategies beyond Windows and Office. But the thing is, that's at least two products, with the Xbox business looking increasingly relevant, too.

Google's second big thing, their Office suite to the core Windows portfolio of Search, is Android and Chromium; at least, that's what Google has invested heavily in advancing. They've talked incessantly about the superiority of the cloud, of not making dedicated software for dedicated hardware. But now that these operating systems are out in the wild, actually being used by actual customers and developers, Google confronts a strategic landscape looking an awful lot more similar to the one Apple has spent the past few years hammering into consumer heads, not to mention other vendors making their own software, like RIM, HP/Web OS, and Microsoft/Nokia.

Far from being open, Google has been making explicit decisions to exclude support for certain standards in Chromium. And far from dismissing apps as being irrelevant to the web-based life, Android is being pushed for phones and tablets precisely via vehicles that emphasize specialized software separate from the browser. Or to say it differently, what's the point of Android Market in a world where computing happens in the browser, not independent applications!?!

'There's an App for that' has worked so effectively for Apple that even people in disputes with Apple over the future development of the business model use Apple's framework for computing. Specifically, Time announced they were releasing a special Android app for their Sports Illustrated subscribers. Now, the marketing folks may love that, because superficially, it's a public spat. Look, we have apps Apple doesn't.

But here's the scary question for Google strategy folks. Is that the message you want people to hear? That apps, not the browser, is the future? That Android is valuable because of the software developers provide outside the web, not because of its integration with the web?

I never dreamed Apple's digital hub strategy would have been this successful at redefining the computing landscape. It continues to surprise me how deeply the iPhone and now iPad are burrowing into our collective awareness; virtually every smartphone and tablet now looks and feels like Apple's products. I'm beginning to wonder if Google really has an alternative strategy in mind at all, or if they do, why they're having such difficulty communicating it to their partners.

Does this video still describe corporate strategy at Google in the post Eric Schmidt era? It will be an interesting year.

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ayn rand movie embraces big government

So I learned about a film adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged this weekend.

I'm sure the Randians out there will have a field day with how the film's producers, The Strike Productions, embrace Big Government.

Don't take my word for it. This is on the front page of the official movie site:



They're copyrighting this? Asserting reservation of all 'rights'?

Wait, explain to me again, what right exactly does the government have to restrict the actions of individual people? I'm so confused! Isn't the whole point that there are superior methods of freedom and liberty and justice and unicorns and nutritious donut holes than collective action through government?

We'll know it's a real movie about an Ayn Rand novel when the producers offer something better than intellectual property claims enforceable in US and other courts. Until then, suckers, you've been pwned! These oppressive big government commies even want you to do their own marketing for them so they can spend all their time killing babies and making our country weak and whatever else the sellouts to the BG do.

[note, for the googlers who stumble across this searching something about the movie or ayn rand, this tone is in jest. IP law in the US is a mess. The problem is, anarchy is worse...what is needed across a whole range of issues isn't knee-jerk reactions to government but serious proposals that actually address the problems they purport to solve.]

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2/10/2011

covey edition

In the back of my mind, I keep a list of somewhat humorous variations on 'there are two types of people in the world...'

You know, things like, there are two types of people in the world, those that wear boxers or briefs and those that don't; or, there are two types of people in the world, those who like chocolate and those who love it, etc.

Well, thanks to Olin I have added another one.

There are two types of people in the world:

Those who are familiar with Stephen Covey and those who aren't.

I would wager a small fortune the two worlds hardly even know the other exists

:)

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2/03/2011

thank you car

for surviving the winter storms.

I'm like the Ayn Rand of the automobile, that famous libertarian who railed against government programs even though she used them.

I hate cars. My favorite vehicular mode of transportation is a chauffeur. We allocate way too many resources to automobiles and way too little to other forms of transit, especially trains.

However, until other forms of mass transit are actually cheap and easy to use, I'm drivin'.

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2/02/2011

a little time to think

I have felt particularly out of touch with what's going on in the world the last couple weeks. With a little bit of time and energy to catch up, I think I find I'm most surprised that people are surprised about what's going on.

The world is changing, or perhaps more accurately, has already changed. It just takes some time for the 'old regime' to get that; things don't crumble overnight. In the US, despite everything you hear about the aging of the population, the actual median age of the population is under 40. Not only do we not remember the '60s, we weren't even born then. It's even more stark in most of the industrializing world, with many nations' median age under 30.

We just don't possess the same cultural training and socialization for the old explanations to make sense, to mean anything. You either support democracy or you support authoritarianism. Claiming to support democratic processes and acting to support autocratic ones sends a clear message: you don't believe in the benefits of democracy.

Maybe there was some time in the past when 'Democrat' and 'Republican' meant something substantive. But today, the challenges we face are almost entirely nonpartisan. The framework isn't left and right, it's We the People vs. The Special Interests. The key leadership and power centers of both parties advocate policies that consolidate wealth and power and disparage ideas that would create broad prosperity and innovation. Sure, in election season, there are always some interesting differences at the margin, and that was enough for quite some time in the US.

But entering the second generation now of Americans growing up with prospects worse than our parents, we just don't fall for the 'ole divide and conquer wedge issues. We actually believe what our elders taught us, that America should be a beacon of freedom, not a harbinger of oppression. We actually believe that representative democracy is better than autocratic strongmen. We actually believe that the leaders of our government work for the citizenry, not the other way around. We actually believe that we are on an unsustainable path and that in the end, unsustainable things end. We actually believe that a man should be measured by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. We actually believe that women can do whatever men can do.

Maybe there was a time when the traditional media or corporate media or mainstream media or whatever you prefer offered value. Maybe there was a time when they investigated stories and reported news. Many Americans alive today simply can't remember such an occurrence; it hasn't happened in our lifetime.

One of the most important observations from science, I believe, is the one about the process of scientific development itself. New ideas don't convert adherents of old ideas; it's not a frontal confrontation. Rather, a new generation grows up comfortable with a new paradigm and the old adherents simply die off. Look at viewership ratings of the CBS Nightly News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Five years ago, most people over 40 had never heard of Jon Stewart. Today, most people under 40 couldn't name the lead anchors on the nightly news. Sure, a few cable commentators have made names for themselves. But as infotainment celebrities, not the people you go to for answers on why we can't provide healthcare and jobs and housing to our fellow Americans.

Change is happening. Not one interested in petty recriminations, but in a substantive reordering of the world and our place as humanity in it. We can be afraid of it, or we can embrace it. We can dig in to fortify the old ways, or we can help bring about change a little faster and better.

When you encounter somebody trying to stop it, you can be forgiven for taking a moment to laugh.

Remember when we were afraid of the Soviets, or the Japanese (the industrial economic competitor, not the bombing Pearl Harbor competitor)?

I don't.

P.S. Thought I'd add five links with a broad overview on these issues.

First, on US foreign policy, especially the Middle East and supporting dictators.

Second, on the abuses of the surveillance state, especially the USA PATRIOT Act.

Third, on the lawlessness with which we treat prisoners, especially torture.

Fourth, on the lawlessness with which we don't protect property rights when it's rich and powerful people committing the fraud and other illegal acts.

Fifth, on the scale of wealth inequality in the US. Mind you, this is before the people whining about deficits gave trillions of dollars of loan guarantees, backstops, free money, sweetheart deals, and other bailouts, handouts, and payouts to the very failed and fraudulent management teams that wrecked the economy in the first place:



Note that none of these issues can be delineated as 'left' or 'right'.

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