11-28-15 Weekend Reading

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Shutting down coal power will make electricity more expensive and threaten human health, while the impact on mercury exposure would be so small that it will have no observable effect." -- Alex Epstein, in "The Truth About Coal and Mercury" at Forbes

"If somebody is not open to reason or discussion on a certain subject, then accept this fact and move on." -- Michael Hurd, in "Love an Actual Person, Not a Potential Person" at The Delaware Wave

"[T]he reality is that restricting fossil fuels, which provide 82 percent of Texas’ electricity, means abandoning the energy source that helped make the 21st century the best time in human history to be alive -- not just in America but around the world." -- Alex Epstein, in "As Conference on Climate Change Convenes in Paris, Think Twice Before Condemning Fossil Fuels " at The Waco Tribune

-- CAV

More Fascist Money-Grubbing Ahead

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Editor's Note: I'm taking tomorrow and Friday off for the holiday. Circumstances may dictate a longer break or sporadic posting until next Thursday. Things will be back to normal by then, at the latest. Happy Thanksgiving!

Were "More Central Planning!" not regarded by practically every politician as the solution for every problem, I would be more inclined to regard ObamaCare's impending collapse as good news:

The nation's largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, said last week that it's losing too much -- $425 million -- from policies sold on the health exchanges, and may have to pull out by 2017.

The company admits it's "a potentially huge blow" to the new system: "If a major publicly traded insurer bows out, others may follow and destabilize the entire individual market."

Game over for ObamaCare?

UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley seems to imply just that: "We can't really subsidize a marketplace that doesn't appear at the moment to be sustaining itself."
I seem to recall other headlines pointing to a huge "bailout" related to ObamaCare. Will the GOP seize the opportunity this represents, or will it chicken out and reward this company -- which supported the ACA and already receives subsidies -- for its extortion attempt?

I'm not holding my breath.

-- CAV

Christensen Disrupted?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Writing in the Washington Post, Vivek Wadhwa considers the theories of Clayton Christensen, the man who gave us the term, "disruptive innovation," and concludes that they are "outdated:"

... The competition no longer comes from the lower end of a market; it comes from other, completely different, industries. For the taxi industry, Uber came out of nowhere. At first Uber tried competing with high-end limousines. Then it launched UberX to offer cheap taxi service. Now it wants it all. Through UberFresh, it is piloting same-day grocery delivery; through UberEats, it promises lunch in 10 minutes. Uber is challenging supermarkets, Amazon.com, and the catering industry -- all at the same time. With UberHealth, it is planning to bring flu shots to people in need. When Uber finishes writing the software for its self-driving cars, it will create a genuine tsunami of disruption in every industry that depends upon transportation.
Wadhwa also notes that Tesla, unlike other famous examples of disruptive innovation, started out on the high end of its market, rather than the low end. Those are great points, but is anyone really being disproven here or found to be out-of-date? Perhaps ignoring the lower end of the market (many past "victims" of disruptive innovation), leaning on improper government (taxi companies), or failing to spot opportunities in other industries (many automakers) have some conceptual denominator in common, like complacence. In an age where what were once thought of as completely different industries are much more obviously related, there is less and less room for sclerotic companies run by hidebound clock-punchers. The phenomenon of technological advances in one industry leading to improvements in others is not new. (The space program was infamous for this.) What's different is that technological advances are happening much more rapidly. If fortune favors the brave, bravery will arise from thinking very creatively about where the next advance can lead.

Regarding Christensen's theories in this light I would guess that they are (a) not so much wrong as being misapplied or (b) wrong in the sense of being insufficiently general, or (c) some combination of both. I can't really tell because I am not familiar enough with his work.

-- CAV

Rent-Seeking vs. Freedom of Speech

Monday, November 23, 2015

A case of occupational licensing laws interfering with freedom of speech -- a problem I have noted here before -- may make it to the Supreme Court. George Will notes that the high court will decide on Tuesday whether to hear the case, which concerns a retired veterinarian who gives advice over the Internet:

Dr. Ron Hines, 72, of Brownsville, is a licensed veterinarian with a PhD in microbiology. He is physically disabled but eager to continue dispensing his healing wisdom worldwide, which he does using the Internet and telephone. He estimates that about 5 percent of those he speaks to are in Texas. He neither dispenses nor prescribes medications. But in 2005, the Texas legislature, with time on its hands and nothing better to do to perfect the state, criminalized such electronic veterinary advice.

Students of contemporary government will instantly understand that this was not done to protect pets, none of whom has complained about, or been reported injured by, people like Hines. Rather, the legislature acted to protect those veterinarians who were vocally peeved because potential customers were getting online advice that, even when not free, is acquired at less expense and more conveniently than that gained from visits to a veterinarian's office.

This is rent-seeking, the use of public power to confer private benefits on one economic interest by handicapping another interest... [links in original]
I hasten to add that, even if such a law really were intended to protect pets, it would be improper, because it violates the individual rights of human beings. Will notes that Hines has the Institute for Justice in his corner, and likens the Institute to the Rangers of Texas lore. I thank the Good Guys and wish them luck.

-- CAV

11-21-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Arguments by and for Second-Handers

The following observation is spot-on:

Have you noticed ... that for just-like-Holocausters everything is as bad as the Holocaust except for the Holocaust? They have no sympathy for Jews but every sympathy for just-like-Jews.
When one considers further that many of these are also in the business of resolutely ignoring the religious excuses given for near-daily atrocities by members of a certain unreformed religion, one should stop examining the folly, but ask what it accomplishes. A better, mutually beneficial grasp of reality by two parties to a conversation isn't it.

Weekend Reading

"[W]ill [Nominal GDP] be the only contract where both parties' capital must be locked up for months until the Bureau of Economic Analysis publishes the final number?" -- Keith Weiner, in "Will a GDP Futures Market Be Liquid?" at SNB & CHF

"It's sadly ironic that the language of marriage -- 'commitment' to the 'institution' of marriage -- is the same terminology used to describe mental patients entering an asylum." -- Michael Hurd, in "Is Your Relationship Hard Work?" at The Delaware Wave

"In spite of the psychological pitfalls that may lurk in the shadowy outskirts of reality, the positive benefits of applying our imaginations to our everyday lives far outweigh the negatives." -- Michael Hurd, in "Imagination: Uniquely Human" at The Delaware Coast Press

Bike-Shedding vs. Health?

Amesh Adalja, in the course of discussing an annoying phenomenon, notes:
While I don't dispute that it can be a real issue if a contagious form of conjunctivitis is marauding its way through a day care center, it strikes me as paradoxical when a child with conjunctivitis--a mild benign illness--is exiled from school but those lacking vaccinations against such diseases as measles and chickenpox are welcomed with open arms.

If one were to gauge the severity of an infection only by the degree of fear, preparation, evasive action, and urgency by the general public pink eye, lice, crabs, bed bugs, and scabies would easily outrank measles, influenza, tuberculosis, and everything else.
I think that part of the problem is due to bike-shedding, or people dwelling on what they know (or think they know), but deferring too easily to others on other matters. Anyone can see pink-eye or lice, but how many people really understand how vaccines work, or herd immunity, or even the seriousness of some of the diseases mass vaccination has caused most of us to forget?

-- CAV


11-23-15: Corrected two phrasing errors in final paragraph. 

Friday Four

Friday, November 20, 2015

1. From "Ooh! Look at me!" to "Oops! I blew it!": Microsoft created something much like Google Earth in the 1990's in order to show off just how big a database its software could handle:

The Earth fit inside a 45-foot by 25-foot Compaq computer in an office building in suburban Seattle. As the East Coast woke up Monday mornings, it would roar to life.

"The temperature in the room would go up 5 to 6 degrees, things would start banging around," Tom Barclay, the man tasked by Microsoft with putting the Earth inside a database, remembers. "You'd really marvel at it."
Unfortunately for Microsoft, nobody in the company would listen to Barclay's admonitions that the project offered a huge business opportunity.

2. In the course of some research, I read the Wikipedia entry on "'Conscious' Business" and found a bit of usage in the following passage amusing:
There's a huge trend towards more sustainable business practices. Environmental sustainability, however, has little to do with conscious business. Organizations can be highly sustainable, but still run in an unconscious way. A conscious business, however, will not maintain unsustainable business practices. [bold added]
Dropping context for a moment, it sounds as if leftists think that something as difficult as running a viable business could be done by someone in his sleep. Conversely (and keeping context), it amazes me how "aware" all these semi-capitalists are of all their leftist marching orders, while apparently having no idea that egoism is a theory of morality that merits their attention. Indeed, the whole idea of "conscious" "capitalism" is based on the idea that profit is, at best, not a concern of morality.

3. In a listing of oddball things people have looked to as economic indicators, we learn of the death of the Playboy Playmate Index. As I'd heard before, the magazine recently decided to stop publishing nude photos in light of the abundance of free material on the Internet.

4. Have you a tweet you'd like to memorialize? Really memorialize? Then Dumb Cuneiform has you covered:
We'll convert [your tweet] to a cuneiform tablet and send it to you in the mail.
Twenty smackers will do it.

-- CAV

The Bad Apple of Design?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ah! The hazards of blogging "evergreen" topics in advance. The day before yesterday (as of scheduled publication), a story about Apple "destroying" design caught my eye, and I commented on it briefly:

A rather lengthy piece argues that, since introducing its smart phones and tablets, Apple has been abandoning the design principles that made it great and, in the process, giving the field of design a bad name:

Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalizing the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty. No, not so! Design is a way of thinking, of determining people's true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them. Design combines an understanding of people, technology, society, and business. The production of beautiful objects is only one small component of modern design: Designers today work on such problems as the design of cities, of transportation systems, of health care.

Apple is reinforcing the old, discredited idea that the designer's sole job is to make things beautiful, even at the expense of providing the right functions, aiding understandability, and ensuring ease of use. [bold added]
I have only skimmed through the longer case, but my impression is that this is true, and it bothers me that Google, another tech industry leader, seems to be following Apple's lead.

I always find such decisions puzzling, and usually, I have to fight the urge to dismiss the people who make them as idiots. That said, Apple and Google seem to be getting away with their foolishness for now. It is interesting to consider that their success comes in different ways (1) despite such decisions or (2) because of them (due to passivity being common among many members of the buying public).

But the topic has caught fire enough for me to see that it is being discussed vigorously. This merits more timely posting on my part: I thus yank it from my "rainy day" post pool and note another commentator's qualifying remarks, among them:
Yet Apple's fumbles with the "undo" and "back" features also illustrate a crucial -- and rather obvious -- point that [Bruce] Tognazzini and [Don] Norman scarcely mention: the inevitable constraints of a pocket-sized device. They worked at the company in an era of desktop computers, when keyboards came standard and screen real estate came cheap. Now space is at a premium, posing design challenges they never dreamed of. Drop-down menus and fixed buttons would be nice, sure, but they'd hopelessly clutter a 5-inch screen. Apple has no choice but to hide them. For a designer working in this context, visual simplicity isn't a fetish. It's a prerequisite.
This may be true, but imitators, like Google (linked above) or Microsoft (See Windows 8.) would do well to keep in mind why some of these decisions are made. We don't all use "fondle-slabs" for everything or at all times, and it is an offense against good design to impose such limitations on non-users just because the spare interfaces they require seem more elegant.

-- CAV