Friday, November 23, 2012

Replacing a 21 year old stadium

The NFL commissioner says that HDTV is hurting live attendance. Maybe it is, but I have an alternate candidate for the biggest problem: excessive ticket prices. Make it cheaper to attend live games, more people will attend, including me. How to make it cheaper? So many ways, but let's start by not throwing away perfectly good, multi-100-million dollar investments that are barely two decades old.

Flood Insurance: Case Study for Real Conservatism

In this era of Tea Party "conservatism", social-issues "conservatism" and generally fact-averse "conservatism", my kids have trouble understanding that it wasn't always this way on the political right. Conservatives used to pride themselves on being tough-minded, evidence-based and dispassionate. Flood Insurance and federal flood policy in general, as this article outlines, provide a nice case study.

Why does federal flood insurance exist in the first place? Isn't insurance usually the province of private enterprise? Well apparently the national flood insurance program had to be created to respond to a "failure of the market". I.e., insurers wouldn't (couldn't) provide flood insurance at an affordable price.

Now for anyone with even vaguely conservative leanings, the above statement should ring a loud alarm. Companies don't make money by not selling a product. The reasonable conclusion would be that there is something about the market that is preventing them from offering a product for sale. It could be that there is no demand, at an actually sustainable cost. Or maybe there is a regulatory problem. Whatever the reason, it sure sounds like a case where foolish regulators should not rush in, where commercial businesses fear to tread.

So a traditional conservative would oppose national flood insurance for mutually reinforcing reasons of both pragmatism, principle and ethics.  
  • The program is objectionable on pragmatic grounds, for the very strong fear that the program will amount to an expensive subsidy for those who choose to live (or choose to rebuild and continue living) in flood-prone areas.  
  • It is objectionable as a matter a principle, because there is no reason the government should be stepping into an arena that political economists expect should be appropriately and adequately served by private industry.
  • It is un-ethical, because misguided government incentives actively encourage people to undertake a course of action that may well be dangerous.
So when I tell my kids I used to consider myself a conservative, they are flummoxed,
because they can't reconcile the beliefs and attitudes of this person they know very well, with the beliefs and attitudes they see widely advertised by the overwhelming majority of prominent "movement" conservatives.

Other examples I hope to explore in the future: farm aid, and special economic zones.

Alarm Clock Plus Feature Suggestions

Text of an email I sent to the makers of Alarm Clock Plus:
Hi. I use the no-ad version of Alarm Clock Plus. I've tried a number of Android alarm clock apps, this is my favorite. I do have some feature suggestions, though. Thanks for listening, thanks for a good app, and best of luck.

Allow setting an alarm for an arbitrary date. If I make a critical early-morning appointment on Dec 1, for Dec 16, I want to be able to set the early morning alarm right then and there, for that date 16 days in the future.

Suppress all pop-ups. I'm not completely sure if this is technically do-able, but I my SMS app has the pop-up notification option. This causes the nice, dim display to get all bright, to the point it occasionally wakes me up.

Speaking of dim display--I would like to make it dimmer. Again, not sure, maybe this is beyond your control. With my Vibrant, it was super-dim when using hardware dimming. With my Galaxy S3, it is only moderately dim.

In addition to "skip next" have a "skip until" option. Use case: I have a weekday alarm. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I want to skip it both Thursday and Friday. Same principle would apply on vacation.

I think it would be more useful for the landing screen to be the alarms screen, not the desk clock screen. Most often this is where you want to go. (I know there is a widget for this, and that's what I use. But it took me a while to discover that--it would be better, IMO, for that to be the default behavior.)

"I don't want the government telling me what kind of light bulbs to use!"

While stringing up Christmas lights, I had a brief conversation with my neighbor. She explained to me that they weren't going to use LED lights for the same reason they don't use CFLs in their house: they don't want the government telling them what kind of lightbulbs to use.

I saved my breath at the time, but I can only shake my head. What's the operative theory at work here? It feels like a vague sense of conspiracy, without an actual theory behind it. I.e., the government must have some sinister reason for advocating energy-efficient CFLs, so even if neighbor can't get as far as formulating an actual theory of why that is, they will, on first principles, resist.

It's crazy, people. Get educated, get facts, use your brain. CFLs use 75% less energy. They replace wildly inefficient incandescents, which are a 100-year-old technology. That is one heck of a savings. I first heard of CFLs 23 years ago, back when they cost $15 per, and utilities were pushing them with rebates. I have been using them, in increasing quantities, ever since.

(P.S. I know some people don't like the color cast of CFLs. That is a completely different argument. Maybe not such a compelling one--given the huge savings, and have you tried high-quality CFLs lately?--but a very different and at least legitimate one.)

T-Mobile Marketing vs Verizon

6 years ago, both Tmo and Verizon had big corporate-image ad campaigns. Those are the kind of ads that don't sell a specific product as much as they sell the company. Verizon had their memorable "Verizon network" ads, that trumpeted the reliability of the nationwide Verizon network, and showed an army of technicians prepared to stand behind it. T-Mobile had somewhat goofy commercials explaining their "Faves" feature, which was unique at the time.

6 years later, Verizon is still reaping the rewards of those memorable, well-targeted ads. Of course, it does help that they really do have superior network coverage, if not necessarily superior reliability.

And what of Tmo? Not 2 years later, they abruptly discontinued the Faves program. They still have no consistent corporate them, other than, maybe a vague sense that they are cheaper. The coulda been the Android carrier.


I heard one industry analyst speculate that the future of retailing may be in a deliberate form of "showrooming"-- have brick and mortar to allow people to see the product if they wish, but expect most people to buy online. 

I'm not completely sure how that works, for many products. If I can go see it in person, and I like it, why not just buy it then and there? But there is one product this makes perfect sense for: the automobile. I have been advocating this approach for years. It's just so much leaner.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Idea: New Twist on the Mystery

Mysteries are fun, but they can get rather stale, due to being so formulaic. Here are a couple of ideas that might freshen up the genre:

  • One: the case is solved, but still have the perpetrator go free. NOT as Act 1 of a to be continued, but as the end-state.
  • Two: Let the audience see the solution to the case, but the detective never is able to solve it.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Pocket vs Instapaper (on Android)

I've been a long-time Pocket fan. I think I downloaded the paid version (back when it was named Read It Later, and before it went free) within the first week of it being released on Android. I've heard a lot about Instapaper over the years, but since it was iOS only, had no first-hand experience. That changed recently, one, because they finally released an Android version. I still hadn't tried it--no reason to, really since I loved Pocket so much, and it was not free--until a few weeks ago. Then, an update to Pocket had major problems on Asus tablets. So I decided that was my cue to try Instapaper. Here are all the things I missed:

If you have a URL copied to your clipboard, and activate Pocket, Pocket will sense this immediately and offer you a one-click option of saving for alter. Very nice, especially since Android Chrome browser doesn't support long-click to Share.

The swipe to scroll feature is very nice on phones (Kindle tap margin is still better).

Pocket has better interaction for standard usages. I hate how Instapaper starts by showing you the folders, whereas Pocket starts where you want to be--your reading list. I also really dislike the fact that it is two clicks to archive in Instapaper.

Pocket's download best view seems to result in a higher success rate than Instapaper.

Pocket's built in, floating rotation lock control is a very nice touch.

Pocket has the TTL Listen option built in. Surprisingly tolerable form of roll-your-own audio magazine.

Pocket implements long-press in list view, to let you mark or share an article. Minor, but a very elegant touch. As is the batch actions option.

Pocket's list view is single column, much cleaner than Instapaper's dual column.

How is Instapaper better?

I really can't find much in Instapaper that I find superior. That being said, it is still an excellent app, which I could be perfectly happy with. It's just that Pocket is even better.
  • It might be a smidge snappier.
  • It has the labels option--I don't use it, but some people seem to like it.
  • Oh here is one--I am clear on Instapaper's business model. I have no idea what Pocket's is, and that does worry me.
P.S. Although the Asus bug was inconvenient, it was apparently Asus-only, so probably not a black mark against Pocket. And, happily, Pocket's active development cycle delivered a fix a few days ago, so I will be back to Pocket full-time, once I have drained my Instapaper queue.

First Japan now China

I was in my mid-20s when the "Japan is conquering us economically" fever peaked. Shortly to be followed by Japan's "Lost Decade" and subsequent stagnation. I claim no deep expertise, but the conventional wisdom in regard to China feels eerily similar. Of course the growth China has achieved is a stunning national achievement--as was Japan's meteoric rise from the ashes of World War II. But China has many problems: endemic corruption chief among them, a fragile authoritarian regime with no alternative organizing forces, the crazy gender imbalance due to female infanticide, fear but no love from its neighbors...I am going on record that I bet we are within 5 years of China's high-water mark in terms of being considered an emerging superpower.

How Many Computers Does a House Need?

When my kids were just starting to use a computer (circa 4th grade) with some regularity, I wondered how long it would take till we got to the point of having one computer per member of the house. Well, we are there, and then some. Current inventory:
  • 3 regular laptops
  • 1 netbook
  • 1 old desktop that works but never gets used
  • 1.5 tablets (Kindle Fire counts as 1/2)
  • 5 Android phones
It has surprised me how little interest our teens have in the tablet. None of them are into gaming, so I guess that is part of it. They are happy to haul the laptop onto their lap and flop on the couch with it.