Monday, May 31, 2010

Did Jonathan Swift face this kind of idiocy? (Not that I am comparing myself to him)

This morning I did a Memorial Day post wondering whether the environmentalists caused the BP spill.  Of course they did not.  But some reader in the blogosphere, evidently off his meds for a while, came unglued.    I do not normally publish anonymous comments.  I find them chicken hearted.   If you have an opinion - then use a name.  I also usually don't bother to publish illiterate comments with lots of misspellings and lousy grammar.  Finally, I do not often publish profanity.  Most people can understand that profanity in public comment is the stuff of small minds.

But for those who did not get the joke - let me explain.  I was making a joke.  Of course the environmentalists did not cause the spill.  BP did.  But part of the reason they were out so far in the Gulf was because of environmental regulations.    For my anonymous commentator let me offer another comment.  Katrina was a natural disaster, at the start.  But as a result of the incompetence of FEMA officials and equally appalling incompetence by the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana a natural disaster of large proportions became an immense disaster for the residents of New Orleans.  One need only look at the effects of Katrina on the neighboring state of Mississippi - where the Governor had some competence - to understand that even in a natural disaster the government role can be handled to reduce human suffering rather than to expand it.

One final comment.  From my perspective, the Obama Administration has shown about as much competence in handling this problem as the Bush Administration did with Katrina.  They have been slow footed.  At the same time they've tried to assume expertise and competencies they simply don't have.  As I noted earlier in the week, the President's rather expansive statement was a bit of a reach - but if he gets back from his current stance and begins to bring some sanity in drilling policy (which would probably expand offshore drilling in the future) than he might well learn something from this (man-made) disaster. It seems unlikely that Anonymous will ever learn anything from this disaster.

Did the Environmentalists cause the BP spill?

The Administration's handling of the Gulf oil spill has been worse than the Bush administration's handling of Katrina in Louisiana.   But in the President's speech the other day I was struck by one notion he may not have intended.  Part of the problem in the BP spill has been the depth at which BP is drilling.  Drilling in very deep water is very complex.   But is that far off shore drilling a result of where the oil is or a natural result of the environmentalist harping about how evil any offshore drilling is?   Did their yammering encourage the oil companies to simply relocate in areas where they would be out of sight?   Wouldn't you think that there might be plenty of oil closer in to shore where there are actually fewer risks and less complexity?

One more use for the iPad

My daughter is a new mother of the most wonderful grand-daughter in my memory.  When I went to the 3G iPad she inherited my WIFI model.  As a new mom she likes the iPad because she can use it to stay connected even when Sloane is sleeping in her lap.  How is that for functionality.  Bet the people at Apple never thought of that use!

By the way, since launch day on April 3 - iPads have sold  2,000,000 units

Aps for the iPad (FUN)

I have collected three aps for the iPad which I think are nifty.  The first is Art Authority - 40,000 high quality images from 1000 artists organized by category and artist.  Well worth the $9.99 price.   The images can be downloaded into your photo files incase you want to improve on an old master.   Star Walk - Allows you you see the heavens based on your position and time of day.  It has a night and day view and points of the compass so you can really locate everything in the sky.   We've spent a couple of hours in our back yard locating constellations.  (Note it is even better in a non light pollution sky)  The final one is Art Studio - Which is a simple sketching ap - I am not much of an artist but this one is fun - with a lot of tools.

Aps for the iPad (Photo)

I am an avid photographer so photo aps are something I would be interested in.  So far I have used three.  Camera - which allows you to link your iPhone and iPad - using the iPhone as a camera.  It is a fun trick but not very useful (although well worth the price of 99¢).   PhotoPad - which has a series of editing tools for you photos (including cropping, brushes, rotating, scaling and a series of filters) - plus it has a way to communicate with the developers to request features.  This is well done and simple!   Filterstorm - Is also a first class editor which includes a demonstration video.  I might well use the iPad for a lot of my photo editing with these two aps.  

Aps for the iPad (Productivity)

I keep finding that the iPad is becoming more and more useful.  Here are some Aps that I have tried so far. Like the iPhone the utility of the device depends on how you can use it.  That depends on applications.   Some critics have commented that without Adobe Flash the device is not up to par.   For me that is a silly notion made by a group of people who have not actually used the iPad.

Productivity - Bluetooth Keyboard - While the virtual keyboard is useful, when you are doing any kind of long document, the Bluetooth Keyboard is an important addition.  That is not really an ap but I find the light addition assures I can draft longer documents on the road.

Annotate PDF - Portable Document Format has become an must have cross platform function.   Personally, I do not like some of the limitations of Adobe's Acrobat (I prefer Preview) but you still need it.  This Application allows you to read and mark up PDFs.  It has a well defined palate of functions and even a very good help function.

Office HD - Office HD allows you to create and edit Microsoft documents like Word and Excel.  It is simple to use and while I am content with Pages and Numbers and believe Keynote is superior, the cross program functionality is great.  Again, the program has a useful help function.   There is one minor problem with the Ap - when you use Justified format, it does not correctly recognize line returns so text in the last line is spread out.  That needs to be fixed.

GoDocs - GoDocs is designed to allow sharing of documents using your Google Docs account.  Unfortunately, the Ap has two major problems.  It is does not work consistently and it offers no documentation.   You offer up your Google Doc account information and it is supposed to fetch the list of documents on your docs list.  Then you are supposed to be able to use any of those documents locally.  Unfortunately for me, it has not worked.   I keep getting an error - WARNING Failed to fetch docs list - without any help function I cannot figure out how to correct the problem.   The Aps says I am correctly addressing my docs list - I just cannot get any of the documents.   That is frustrating and annoying.   In addition, for some documents that are on my Google Docs list I get an error that the document is not in the right format. (File Format INVALID).   I can read the document on the net and also on any other machine.

Air Sharing - This allows you to share documents using servers you can connect to (in essence, a Go to My PC for the iPad).  Yes, it works.  And yes it has good documentation.

Navigation Aids - CoPilot HD - I love this AP!  It gives turn by turn directions for the iPad with a voice that is understandable and helpful.  The maps are large and easy to read and the directions work very well.   One suggestion, I would get a car charger for this application - GPS uses a lot of battery power.  It is well worth the price of $29.95.

GPS HD - This is a $2.99 AP which is more of a traditional GPS.   This is a simple to use GPS, with a whole bunch of functions.   It allows setting of waypoints and downloading maps.   What I cannot understand is how they can pack so much functionality into this package.  It is awesome.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rivercat Milestones

Last night's game in Reno was significant for a couple of reasons.  First, it pulled the Cats ahead in their won-lost road record 13-12.  Second, it became a three game streak.   Thursday night's win against the Nashville Sounds culminated the first home game winning series for the season.   While we are still 9-15 at home - the Nashville series showed some promise.  There is still a long way to go in this season.   The team needs to reduce the number of errors (we lead the league) and un-earned runs (where we are offering up almost one and a half per game).  But the last week has shown some promise.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gradients of Public Policy Hypocrisy

In the last week we've seen to examples of public policy hypocrisy - but from my perspective one is more forgivable than the other.

#1 - The Arizona Law on Immigration -  I expressly do not take a position on the Arizona statute.  There are indeed similar laws in other states that are not being enforced.  But what bothers me is the "moral" outrage of some politicians.  Many of them have admitted that they have not read the actual bill.  Yet, those same politicians are asking to boycott Arizona.  After the Mayor of LA suggested that the Arizona law was something akin to the holocaust and pressed for the city to boycott the state, one Arizona politician suggested that the state's power authorities quit wheeling power to California.

#2 - Suspending Offshore Drilling - The Obama Administration's response to the drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has been something less than spectacular.  While the President commented today that it focuses his every waking hour, between the fund raisers and other activities, his comment was hardly credible.   But as part of the response the Administration has offered they have a) blamed the prior administration (and fired the director of the federal office in charge of such matters), b) claimed they were in charge, and c) suspended new permits for offshore drilling.  Before this mess, the Obama Administration seemed to have a pretty sensible policy on drilling (it is not an ideal situation for one concerned with environmental issues but necessary while we look to new energy sources).  But with the spreading goo they chose to do the suspension.  Ideally, what they would also do is begin a thoughtful process to achieve the balance on a reasonable definition of economic and environmental stewardship.   But from my perspective, the suspension is probably justified based on the outcry.  One would hope that they would get back to the serious policy stuff after doing the rituals to respond to the yelps.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Comparing the costs and benefits of public policy

As a result of environmental writing in the 1960s and 1970s we decided to end the use of DDT.  In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote a book called the Silent Spring whose science was questionable at best but which quickly became a set of ideas in good currency.  The attached map includes areas where dengue fever has been prevalent in 1970 and now.  Before the elimination of DDT we had reduced the geography of the disease but since the elimination, the infestation (caused by mosquitos) has increased dramatically.     The disease causes high fever (104°) and can disable a person for a week or more.  The disease is rarely fatal but with significant infection can obviously cause reductions in productivity and can be even more dangerous for at risk populations (children, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly).  So was it the right decision?

Isotopes Stadium

On Monday night I was in Albuquerque and had a chance to see the Isotopes (a Dodger affiliate) play the Reno Aces.

As I have written often, I like AAA baseball. So this was an opportunity to see another team in the league play on its home turf.   I've now been to several of the Pacific Coast League stadiums including the ones in Fresno and New Orleans.  Each has a distinctive feeling - although the Grizzlies and the Isotopes stadium has a lot of the same features.  Here are my impressions:

  • The stadium is about the same size as Raley field although it has two sets of skyboxes.   
  • The crowd was slightly smaller than an average weekday crowd at Raley Field - about 4000.
  • The ambience of this stadium has some features that Raley Field does not - for example, in the kid's play area there is a merry go round.
  • The food choices at Isotopes park are superior to Raley Field.  For example, they had a stand that offered Bananas Foster - which was actually quite tasty.  The variety was also a bit wider.
  • Prices for food were a bit lower than Raley Field and the portions were a bit more generous.
  • The crowd seemed less engaged in the game than the ones at Raley Field.
  • Ticket prices were reasonable - although I was unable to explain clearly to the ticket lady that I wanted to be on the first base side.   For a ticket half way down third base (I had specifically asked for the other side of the field) about 9 rows up - I spent $14.  Parking was $5.
  • The batting averages of the Isotopes were well north of the Cats - one batter - who had been with the team since the start of the season was hitting .438.
In the end the Isotopes went out early with a huge lead, blew it and then recovered to win the contest 9-8.

The Death of American Virtue

The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. StarrI realize that Keen Gormley's book on the Clinton scandals may be a bit more than some people want to read about Whitewater and the rest of the work of the Independent Counsels who spent millions of dollars investigating the President.  But I thought this very well researched book was fascinating.  It is a long book.  To complete his task Gormley did hundreds of interviews.   From my perspective, as one who believed Clinton was guilty of a number of offenses, I could not discover any significant bias in Gormley's explanation of what happened.   The book is an excellent attempt to explain the events by doing a good profile of all of the key players in the events.  He points out the similarities of Ken Starr and Clinton.  He also does great descriptions of the McDougals, the lawyers on both sides of the issue, the members of the Lewinsky family and Bill Ginsberg.  These individual portraits form an interesting tapestry.
Here are some of the conclusions I drew from this book.   Starr was ill-suited to be an independent counsel.  I think he was sincere in his belief of trying to discover the facts but he had little experience in prosecutions and it showed.  Bill Ginsberg had little experience in these kinds of matters and was hired because he knew Monica Lewinsky's father.  Surprisingly he was able to keep Monica out of jail. He acted like a jerk but his grandstanding confused the prosecutors. The entire Lewinsky family come off as immature self-absorbed morons.  The McDougals come off as small time hustlers.   Eric Holder comes off (surprise) as a not very ethical, political lawyer.   Janet Reno seems to be out of it on much of the events.   David Kendall who did a spirited defense of Clinton that was ultimately successful comes off as a very talented lawyer.  I think he represented his client very well - based on the presumption of innocence - but I believe some of the key events and facts were obfuscated to the detriment of history.  That may be the problem with issues like this against a sitting president.  Ultimately the inescapable conclusions of the book are two - a) the allegations against the Clintons had some merit but were probably small time scandals that were blown out of proportion.  b) The Clinton sex scandals undoubtedly had a lot of merit, but the ultimate conclusion (of impeachment but not conviction) may have been the right decision in the end.  The book is well worth the time for getting the details of this period of history right but also for an excellent opportunity to reflect on the effect of our hyper confrontational news cycle and its effect on our institutions.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wow I could have had one of those

During the past week I was in Campeche working on a project with some members of the Governor's cabinet. We spent most of Wednesday speaking with cabinet secretaries. in the last meeting of the day, the secretary asked us whether we wanted refreshments. I responded but my colleague said he might prefer a "Vayocho" - during the day I had been introduced to a couple of new words and some foods which I had not tried before; but I had never heard of such a drink. When our refreshments were brought out my friend received a Vayocho - you might know it as a V-8. The commercial came to mind.
At the end of a long day I am often tired and Spanish comes harder for me.  But thinking creatively about the sounds could have made this translation easy.

Campeche is a part of the Yucatan peninsula.  Its original meaning was the place of snakes and ticks.  Like the rest of the peninsula, it can be very humid.  I was fortunate to be there when there was some rain - so it was pleasant.  It is a smaller state with about 750,000 people and a focus on petroleum and agriculture.   Like many other parts of Mexico it has two main cities and more than 50% of the people live in those two cities.

The picture is of one of the landmarks in the state - the Cathedral of San Francisco. It looks even better in person! (Taken with a Canon 10-G, no flash)

Thoughts on the River Cats at 42 games

The Rivercats have had a rough start this season.  They are (as of last night) eight games under .500 with the worst record in the league.  They have had the usual changes in roster that any minor league club has.  Their hoped for "bash brothers" of Carter and Taylor have gone through a rough patch both hitting under .240.  But what is remarkable about this year's club is the number of unearned runs given up.  For the first 42 games they have averaged about one and a half unearned runs per game.  In a typical game that means they need to hit and field a bit better to make up for the deficit they begin with.   That is not an insurmountable obstacle but it is certainly one which would slow them down from climbing out of this hole they have dug.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Al Gore at his best

This is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel and while I normally prefer fly fishing and catch and return.  Mr. Gore's graduation speech, which was compiled at Hotair deserves to be responded to.  Gore seems to think that depressing equals serious.  I do not agree.

I do not want to respond to the "substance" - much of it is silly and a repeat of what Gore has been claiming for years.  But I will respond in two ways.  First, watch him speak.   Does he really sound like something that knows what he is talking about?  Or is he a second rate preacher repeating the tired shibboleths he has come to believe in?   If he is so well educated why does he make such silly grammar mistakes? (Coal fired plants puts?)

The second consideration is one of style.  A commencement speaker is an invited guest who is asked to participate in a ceremony commemorating graduates accomplishments and sending them into the world (commencing the rest of their lives if you will).  The best ones are short, have some humor, and are provocative, in the sense of inspiring the graduates on the tasks ahead.   This address certainly provoked me.   But inspiring, not a chance.   Is the world all doom and gloom?

One final consideration, this is certainly better than something that might be said by someone like Paul Ehrlich.  Where is Gore's Julian Simon?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Real Election Reporting

In the last couple of days E.J. Dionne, the author of Why Americans Hate Politics and Gerald Seib, the former DC bureau chief for the WSJ wrote articles about the primaries today.  On May 17 Dionne wrote "In the GOP, the right is on the march, and even relatively conservative incumbents such as the defeated Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah are not safe against more-conservative-than-thou challengers. But in many of the Democratic primaries, incumbents are in trouble not because they are insufficiently liberal but because they are incumbents." I wonder how Blanche Lincoln would respond to that.  Clearly, the ideological division in the democrat party is not as diverse as it might be.  What about Sestak v. Specter?  Sestak has run a smart campaign which paints the incumbent as not a "real" democrat.  Specter has turned so many positions in his recent career that it is hard to characterize whether he is left or right or simply self-serving.

Seib's column today runs through a larger number of races.  And he points out, correctly in my view, that the challenge this year is against Washington.  Indeed, the candidates who knocked out Senator Bennett a couple of weeks ago are more conservative but their message was "he is part of the problem."   Ditto for the Lincoln Hauser race in Arkansas - plus Hauser because of his strong union support has put in a dash of populism.  But his clear message is that Lincoln is part of the DC problem.  Dionne mentioned Allan Mollihan a pork barrel congressman from West Virginia who got beaten in trying to run for his fifteenth term - again - the message was people are grumpy about how he did business in DC - even though he was pretty successful in bringing home the bacon.  It seems the voters have wised up and now understand that the bacon does not come for free.   

Sieb mentions the numerous democrat incumbents (Bart Stupak, Dave Obey, etc.) who chose not to run for re-election.  In Stupak's case it could be because there is a GOP tide but a lot of his UP constituents were not happy about his capitulation on health care.  Obey also is in a district where voters are increasingly not supportive of business as usual in DC.

I guess a partial answer to Dionne from the title of his book (Why Americans Hate Politics) is the more complete response that it is harder and harder to get Washington reporters to do more than a knee jerk analysis.   Fortunately, writers like Seib continue to try to dissect the situation for us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why is Proposition 14 such a good idea?

In politics one is often defined by their enemies.  Opposed to Proposition 14 are all the people who brought you California as it is - the political parties, the the trial lawyers, the labor unions.  With such a good bundle of opponents, it is almost not telling you what the proposition would do.  The measure is simple and an addition to the improvements already made by taking most of redistricting out of the hands of the legislature - in essence not allowing the politicians to choose their constituents.   

Proposition 14 would allow the general election to pit the top two finishers in a primary to run against each other rather than pitting the top finishers in each party primary.  What it would do for many districts that are over-whelmingly on one side of the spectrum or the other is to force candidates to be less reflexive.   Most Californians have some deep seated beliefs but many politicians run to the extreme in the primary so voters in districts are forced to vote against Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber.   There is at least the possibility that were 14 in operation that we could get candidates who went after a larger portion of voters than the narrow ideological band they need in a partisan primary.

I am voting YES on 14 - with enthusiasm.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The President's Speech at Hampton

The President's speech at Hampton University yesterday was odd. "With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. … With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not."  Does he not know the difference between gaming platforms and information devices? In essence the President seems to have argued against the marketplace for ideas.  He also said "With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who's telling the truth and who's not. Let's face it -- even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I've had some experience with that myself. Fortunately, you'll be well positioned to navigate this terrain."  I found his comments odd because he is either arguing that a) all the new options are confusing and dangerous or b) that only the elites (because later in the speech he commented that the Hampton grads had been empowered to sift through the chaff) can handle the complexity.  Either interpretation belies an underlying mistrust of the average American to discriminate between the shrill and the substantive.   What would he have us to back to three networks and major daily newspapers?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dallas Braden and the Rivercats

Today Dallas Braden joined a group of only 18 other pitchers in pitching a perfect game.  During my lifetime 14 of the total of 19 have taken place - but it is still a rare event.  He joins pitchers like Cy Young, Catfish Hunter, Sandy Koufax, Don Larsen and Jim Bunning.

Today's Cats game (Braden spent a couple of years with us) was interesting on three levels.  First this is only the second two game streak at home - when they won today and last night.  Second, Chris Carter, who early in the season was being touted as a "bash brother" lived up to the name when he hit two homers for a total of 6 ribbies.  Both of the hits were without question - they simply sailed over the fence. This was another interesting game because we were down 2-0 in the second.  But the most interesting thing in the game came in the eighth.  It looked for a moment that Adrian Cardenas would be caught in a squeeze between third and home.  But the Sky Sox's reliever stepped in front of Cardenas without a ball in his hand - and that was called as interference.  (Which it clearly was)  Cardenas was allowed to go home.  That caused a kerfluffle and both the hitting coach and the catcher were ejected.

We are still three games under .500 - but the last two games have shown some spark.

The Cats Come Back...

As I was driving to the stadium last night, the game looked like it would be a continuation of this slow spring.  Chris Ianetta hit a grand slam after the bases had been loaded.  I had come from my grandson's birthday and then a celebration BBQ with some students, this looked to dour my mood.

But as I got into the stadium, the Cats came alive.  Corey Wimberly led it off and by the end of the inning we had six runs on the board.  Then one in the second, three in the third, two in the fourth, three in the fifth and one in the sixth - for a total of sixteen runs.   The Sky Sox were able to add just one to their total in the third.

We are still last in the Pacific South and four games under .500 but last night was a glimpse of what is possible with this team.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Three Charts from Yahoo

Picture 4
The Yahoo Mobile Blog
 posted some interesting data on iPad usage based on their own search sites.  From my perspective it looks about right.  The first chart suggests that males far outnumber females on usage at this point.   The second argues that the vast adopters of this new platform are 30-54 and that young users of Yahoo seem not to be using the platform at this point.  That group is most likely to be heavy mobile users who would want the light weight.   The third conclusion is that iPad users primarily use the device for personal and business content.  (Flickr, Finance, News and Sports) are all used at a higher rate than other sites.  My suspicion is that the first two charts would follow an early adopters profile.  But the third will change a bit as the platform continues to develop. One final note, the post informs us that more than half of the users also have an iPhone.   What that says is two things.  First, the loyalty to Apple is demonstrated yet again.  But as importantly, this device is probably cutting into other buyers who would consider a PC.  That speculation would be reinforced by the data published a few days ago from the Wired survey.

E. Pluribus Unum

On the Fifth of May a lot of silly things happened.   I've been wondering how to comment.  First, the facts.  Cinco de Mayo - In Mexico the day is celebrated only in one place, Puebla.  It took place because the Mexican President at the time Benito Juarez had stopped making payments on debt owed to its creditors.  France sent troops to enforce payment and a vastly outnumbered army led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Segun beat the French.   Zaragoza is commemorated on the 500 Peso note.  So his victory is important in Mexican history - simply not as important as September 16 - Mexican Independence Day.   The holiday seems to be important in the US and in Puebla.

The High School in Morgan Hill - A group of students in Morgan Hill, which is a Bay Area suburb, chose to wear clothing with American flags including one kid who wore shorts that portrayed the flag.   The school administration called the boys in (one of whom has Mexican heritage) and said they could wear the clothing on any other day (presumably even September 16) but not on this day.   The boys refused to comply and were sent home.  One school official called the boy's behavior "incendiary."  The School District issued a statement which said "In an attempt to foster a spirit of cultural awareness and maintain a safe and supportive school environment, the Live Oak High School administration took certain actions earlier today. The district does not concur with the Live Oak High School administration's interpretation of either board or district policy related to these actions."   On the seventh a group of Mexican American students marched with Mexican flags protesting the actions of the boys.  Presumably the school administrator did not believe that march was incendiary.   News Stories of the first incident can be found in the Morgan Hill Times.  The story about the later protest can be found here.  One of the most interesting statements in the news coverage of from on Laura Ponce, a student, who said "it's our day, the only day we can show our spirit."  I am willing to bet that Ms. Ponce does not know the history of Cinco de Mayo and may not even know the date that Mexicans celebrate their independence.

The role of E. Pluribus Unum  (Out of Many One) - It became the motto of the United States when a Swiss Immigrant requested it.   In this case the yahoo administrator at Live Oak did not seem to understand that living up to our motto it is a) ok for students of Mexican heritage to celebrate a minor historical event like Cinco de Mayo but b) it should also be acceptable for other students to celebrate their American heritage.

One footnote - evidently the Live Oak administrator who caused this flap subscribes to the Al Gore interpretation of our motto.  In 1994 Gore said "We can build a collective civic space large enough for all our separate identities, that we can be e pluribus unum -- out of one, many."   Ah, duh Al, you got it backwards, like most of what you think.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Survey on Where the iPad Market is Coming From

Morgan Stanley 1

This is from Apple Insider and sounds about right.  A Morgan Stanley study suggests that iPad sales will cut into other devices.  The biggest percentage (44%) going against Notebooks with smaller percentages cutting into a MacBook and PC.  In essence the bigger and smaller brothers of the iPad.   The survey also suggests that some people (about equally weighted between PC and Mac) will not buy a desktop machine.

The survey also suggests that two other things are happening.  First, a lot of iTouch users would switch to the larger iPad - although the good news is that there still seems to be a market for the iTouch.  The Touch is late in its product cycle so this, if the data is right, would make sense as a product transition.  Second, the cuts into single purpose devices (both e-readers and game platforms) may be a bit less - although the numbers are still strong.

This is early data which will ultimately be confirmed by sales data.  I still use a desktop for some purposes and at least for now a laptop (an Air),  That could change as the iPad develops into its own categories.   The ubiquity of the device (coupled with the remarkable battery life) could be a game changer for laptops.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Good Analysis followed by Techno Envy

ipadkeyboardBrian Chen did an interesting post on Wired today about the Keyboard for the iPad.  In it he argued that the Dock for the iPad (picture from the story) is clumsy and expensive.  He did a good job of explaining that this is one of those glitches in a new product that needs some more work.  In all it was a good story.  When I bought my iPad I looked at the Dock with the Keyboard and thought it looked pretty clumsy and so chose instead to buy a wireless key board and the independent dock.  But as his article points out for the dock, the keyboard solution is more expensive than a wired keyboard.   The story is a good one about an issue with a device that will clearly emerge in the next couple of iterations - just as cellular phones did.   There is one other issue that the story did not address.  The Apple case is about 30 bucks.  It is a good way to protect the device in a briefcase.  But it prevents you from being able to use the iPad in a dock without taking the thing out of the case.   In this instance, I like the case better than I feel the need for a dock.  At this point in life I am into light,useful and simple - and that is what the iPad is
What amused me about the post was not the reporting but the responses.  Of the first thirteen response several were snarly.  Someone named "dibsy" growled "Serious work on an iPad, kind of an oxymoron no?"  Someone named Unixpimp said "Overpriced toy. Apple consumers will be at the top of the list of people bailed out by reasonable and rational consumers because the Apple consumers are fools who are easily parted from their money."  Someone named RantingTommy yabbered "Still, another major technical fail from Apple."   I am not sure what makes all these readers so angry.  If they don't like the product or Apple, they don't have to spend their dough.  As noted in an earlier post, I suspect all three of these commenters have never had their hands on an iPad.  Pitty, they might like it.

Now that was funny

Ellen Degeneris did a parody of the iPhone which was very funny.   Apple evidently grumped.  Come on Apple, this was a funny bit.

Note - Two answers to the question "how can you tell if a person has an iPhone?"  a) They tell you.  b) There is an ap for that.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New Uses for the iPad

On the net this morning is a post from a guy who microwaves a 64 gig 3G.  I guess this is an attempt at humor.  He proposes to offer the crisped iPad on Ebay later in the week.  The whole thing is just odd.

The result of microwaving any device like this is predictable - it burns up.  Seems like an odd way to spend $829 plus the activation of the 3G service.  I did not put the URL up (you can find it on CNET) but as mentioned above, it is just odd.

Is Janet Napolitano Really That Dumb?

The Secretary of Homeland Security seems to be well above her pay grade.  Janet Napolitano doesn't seem to have a clue about issues like border security or how to characterize the attempted bombing in New York City.

The better response came from a street vendor who was the first to report the incident.  Aliou Niasse said in an interview for the London Times “I didn’t see the car pull up or notice the driver because I was busy with customers. But when I looked up I saw that smoke appeared to be coming from the car. This would have been around 6.30pm. I thought I should call 911, but my English is not very good and I had no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn’t call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer near by,” said Mr Niasse, who is originally from Senegal and who has been a vendor in Times Square for about eight years.  (Highlights added)

In charity one could say that the Secretary of Homeland Security is the head of an agency that should not be.  And that is probably true, the amalgamation of agencies that was done during the Bush Administration brings together logic only a government agency could understand.  But the current secretary seems even less prepared to do the job than several of Obama's other cabinet picks.  That is not a very high standard, considering his picks at Treasury and Justice, but even there she falls below the norm.

Rivercats Still Not There

In what was a long game last night the Rivercats showed they still have not jelled as a team.   We started out well - 1 in the first, 2 in the second, 4 in the fourth and 1 in the sixth.   Mortensen had a pretty good start pitching 6.2 inning but getting into trouble and being relieved by Marcus McBeth, who gave up a trio of runs in addition to the three he inherited.  Bowers and Ramirez pitched well in relief.  In the end we lost 9-8.

Carter got a home run and charged with an error (Cardenas got charged with a second and costly error which should have been Carter's).  Brown, who has struggled in the first part of the season, finally hit a very convincing home run.  To say that the four batters that McBeth pitched to was a rocky outing is an understatement.

In several previous seasons the Cats have taken a month or two to get into synch.  There were some highlights last night - but the end result was not up to par.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Who bought the other 999,998 iPads

Apple announced Friday that it had sold 1 million iPads.  I bought 2 - so that leaves 999,998 to be accounted for.  My son in law got one from Disney - which brings us down to 999,997.  The initial estimates on the sales of 3G were about 300,000 units.  That means the iPad sold in 28 days what the original iPhone took 74 days to sell.  (Or what the Zune may sell to in the next couple of years - actually the Zune had a bit more than 5 million units sold at three and a half years.)

What surprises me about the numbers is how the device is being purchased.  Traditionally it has been a rule of thumb that when a device like this comes out buyers purchase the largest size.  But in the sales numbers I have seen the vast majority of 3G buyers are getting the 16 gig model.  That means the first buyers see this as a content consuming device (light email, books, movies, web surfing).  My suspicion is that as buyers get a chance to use it - it will evolve into something a lot more.  I have not seen the number of sales on the iWork aps but that might be an indicator of how fast the evolution occurs.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The President's Graduation Speech

The Huffington Post carried the text and video of the President's speech to graduates at the University of Michigan.  I thought it was a pretty good speech.  There were several parts where I disagreed with his premise.  Two quotes from the speech are below in red - my comments follow in black.

What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.  If the President lived by those thoughts he might have tried a bit harder to figure out points of agreement on the health care bill.  

"Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that cause them."  Obama said the country has witnessed the danger of too little government, "like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly leads to the collapse of our entire economy."   I am not sure whether his premise is correct.  Government may or may not be the best arbiter of safety standards in mines.  Based on the tragedy in West Virginia - there are probably better mechanisms.  The mine in question had been reviewed by government regulators several times before the explosion.  I am also pretty sure that a "lack of accountability" on the side of Wall Street was not the cause of the economic decline.  As I have argued before a good part of the crisis came from things like the Community Reinvestment Act, the change in tax treatment of capital gains on housing and the over-leveraging of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Indeed, we need to look at whether our system of financial markets regulation can meet the needs of the US markets in a global world - but it would be wise to also re-look at how we do a lot of government's current interventions in the financial markets.

One more proposition - Misleading NONSENSE

You can say two things about the supporters of tax funded elections in California; they don't listen very well and they will try anything to advance their notion.   In the last two decades, when voters have been presented with a chance to vote on public funding for elections they have consistently said no.  Current state law bans public funding.

The measure would require a new $350 per year fee for lobbyists to fund elections for the Secretary of State.  One supporter, Mark Leno, said "We've got a scheme here really would take all that special interest power out of our election system."   Evidently, Senator Leno never bothered to read the measure - it's ballot summary suggests that the measure will provide some money for candidates for Secretary of State.

Groups as diverse as Jericho (which is a social welfare lobbying group), the State Chamber and the California Fair Political Practices Commission have expressed opposition to the measure.  That should tell you something.  Most of the time Jericho is on the left in political debates - but this group understands something about robbing Peter - and they see this gimmick as just that - limiting their ability to effectively represent the poor.  A $350 annual registration fee for them would diminish their impact in the capitol.

The reason voters have rejected public financing before is that they realize that politicians will use any new scheme (not my word - it is Leno's) to feather their own nests.  I'm not much into feathers (political or other kinds), so I am voting NO.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Two propositions in June

There are two propositions on the June California ballot which are sponsored by a company.  Proposition 16 has received the vast majority of its funding from Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Proposition 17 has received almost all of its funding from Mercury Insurance.   Both have been criticized as power grabs from corporations.

Proposition 16 would require a 2/3 vote for local governments to establish a public power company.  One could argue that the idea came from PG&E to maintain their control of electricity generation in their market areas.  That indeed may be part of the rationale.  But there is another very good rationale.  Units of local government say they are strapped for cash.  It is likely that some would look to taking over the electricity business as something which could help balance their books.  That story never gets brought up in the press coverage.   Ultimately, for something as momentous as creation of a public power company, it seems like good sense to make it harder to have local governments get into this without strong support from the people in the area.  The Oakland Tribune and the Petaluma Press Democrat have editorialized against Proposition 16 - the PPD said "this corporate handout is being billed as a taxpayer protection measure" - what twaddle.  Indeed this is supported mostly by one company and indeed it may be related mostly to a fight that PG&E is having with a local Sacramento Municipal utility that wants to expand west.  But who cares.  The real question is whether voters should have a role when local governments want to set up their own power companies.  I say YES.  Thus, I am voting yes on Proposition 16.

Proposition 17 would allow insurance companies to offer persistency bonuses to their clients.  When Proposition 103 was passed it changed the way insurance companies could rate drivers.  For example, it prohibited territorial rating which allowed companies to charge more for insurance in areas where there are more cars.   It also prohibited companies for giving discounts to buyers who stay with a company.   A good part of the cost of auto insurance is based on the cost of acquiring new insureds.   But supporters of Proposition 103 argued that these kinds of bonuses lack an actuarial basis.   That is silly, having a customer for a long period of time can offer insurance companies more information about how their insureds use insurance.  Do they make a lot of claims?   Are they careful drivers?   It seems to me that is a legitimate differentiation in a company's ratings. Opponents claim that allowing persistence discounts will encourage companies to install huge surcharges for buyers who constantly shop around.  More likely, in a market as competitive as insurance, this change will encourage discounts to those who stay with the same company over time.  Both the San Francisco Comical and the LA (Not So Accurate) Times have written editorials against Proposition 17 - buying the opponents arguments that cost will go up.  But that is just nonsense if you look at how insurance is sold in the state.   Thus I am voting yes on Proposition 17, too.

In both of these ideas, the opponents argue that the proposition itself is bad because of who sponsored it. In both cases, if you look a bit more carefully, in spite of who sponsored the idea, they both make pretty good sense.

Public Pensions

You are going to hear a lot about pensions, the public ones, in the coming months.  A recent Stanford study estimated that the largest three pension systems in California are underfunded by about half a trillion dollars.   Here are some quick conclusions:

  1. Public pensions are too generous.  The vast majority of employees receive defined contribution plans not defined benefits.  Some advocates for the public systems claim that the pensions compensate for lower wages during employment.   Were that ever true it is no longer the case - public employees on average earn a higher level of compensation than private sector employees.
  2. Public pensions often also include health benefits for life.   The value of those benefits is huge.  Most private sector employers do not offer comparable benefits.
  3. The retirement standards for pensions are lax.   A public employee can retire early, by private sector standards, with a pension that approaches their current compensation.  The systems have also devised provisions like catch up which allows some employees to bring themselves under new pension rules, if they are more generous.   In addition, employees can be granted additional credit for years of service on a wide array of rules.
  4. Don't believe the claims about average pensions.  Some public pension advocates have argued that the average pension for a public employee in California is $29,000.  That may, indeed, be an arithmetic average but the number is silly.  The appropriate comparison is between employees in similar positions.   
We need to be fair to public employees but the scales have been tipped too far in favor of overly generous pension systems which the rest of us can no longer afford.