Sunday, November 27, 2016

Love to read that "Minneapolis math teachers trade calculators for smartphone app". I've been appalled and disgusted[1] at the ability of Texas Instruments to leverage switching costs and the fact that decision makers don't bear the costs, in order to keep selling a fabulously overpriced $100+ graphing calculator, that is all-but-mandatory for the last couple of years of high school math classes. I believe it is a moral imperative for educators and educational institutions to do everything possible to hold down costs.[2] This is a very easy target, delighted to see it happening.

[1] Just to be clear, I wouldn't call for this practice to be regulated out of existence. I don't really blame TI for their "rent-seeking" behavior--corporations are amoral. But that doesn't change the fact that I deplore the practice, and I expect and hope to see educators, institutions, and parents to rise up and overthrow an economically wasteful situation. And, ideally, for this kind of rent-seeking behavior to be recognized and called-out, so that in the future, it has a high enough reputation cost that companies shy away from it. I know, that's dreaming. :(

[2] College textbooks are another appalling example. Shout-out to UWRF for renting textbooks to students, for a reasonable cost.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump's Lieutenants

Trump is bad enough the worst, but one small mitigating factor is that he has no ideology or fixed beliefs. He is quite willing to completely reverse prior positions if it suits him. That works well enough for him when all that is at stake is words. 

But he despises backing down in a fight. However ill-considered the fight may be. So here is the problem. If his various lieutenants, perhaps pursuing their own agendas--I'm looking at you, Jeff Sessions--get out in front of Trump, and commit the Trump administration to a given course of action, that will take Trump past the point of no return. It won't be a matter of backing down from words, it would be reversing policies and facts on the ground. He hates that.

So my point is, to the extent that Trump has been not quite worst-case since the election--not prosecuting Hillary, for example--that willingness to back away from the brink of madness may disappear, once the administration is actually in power and doing things.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hedge Fund Skepticism

I'm a major skeptic of hedge funds. Actually that is an understatement. I'm highly skeptical they could beat the market before fees. Taking their outsize fees into account, I'm certain they are a losing proposition. Glad Calpers is waking up to this.

Standardized XML Recipe Format

I think it is pretty much time to give up on XML formats or microformats taking hold, for anything like standard consumer use. If we can't get our act together for resumes, we'll never apply it to recipes.

Too bad, though, I think it would be nice to have recipes more standardized. There could be various optional sections, such as Prep in Advance. I would like to be able to search by that--when I'm in a hurry, I don't want recipes that require marinading for 4 hours.

Millenials Who Stay on Their Parents' Cell Phone Plans

It's a kind of meme to criticize millenials' lack of independence, by citing as an example that they stay on their parents' cell phone plan years after entering the workforce. For the most part, the analysis behind this is wanting. There are 3 basic scenarios to consider, and the slacker label only applies to one of them.

First, if the adult child is paying nothing, then yes, that may be slacking. But the fact is, a family plan is a much better deal, on a per-person basis, than a single-subscriber plan. T-Mobile, for instance, has plans that give you decent data, unlimited minutes and text for $10 per additional line beyond 2. Imagine that a family of 4 has a $100 bill, where the first 2 lines cost $80, and the next 2 cost $10 each. If the child pays $10, then they aren't really free-riding. Their folks are break-even, and the child is getting a good discount--because a stand-alone plan would cost at least $30 for a single subscriber.

The third approach is where the child pays more than their incremental cost--they pay their apportioned cost. In the above example, that would be one-fourth of $100, or $25. Not as good a deal as $10, but still a savings. Of course there are shades of gray, where the child pays more than their incremental cost, but less than their apportioned cost--e.g., $20/month.

Sunday, November 06, 2016


Decades ago, I remember some commentator, pretty far to the left, decrying use of the term "tribal" to refer to politics in some less developed countries. They noted that it carried an implicitly pejorative connotation of primitivism, and was never used for the developed west, where we used terms like "partisanship" or "factionalism". At the time it felt like political correctness in search of a target. I am happy to report that feeling has been validated. It is now entirely appropriate to refer to politics in many western countries as often having "tribal" characteristics. (the U.S. where I live, but I listen to enough NPR to know it is prevalent in many other places, too--note Brexit).