November 2, 2012

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:52

The post-Halloween edition of my Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. With so many posts being tied to the various phases of the Halloween special event, the weekly summary is much shorter than usual (but there’s still more than 80 blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction items).

Modern inventory control and Hurricane Sandy

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:53

Unlike major disasters of the past, storm-hit New Jersey and New York City won’t have to face the crippling shortages of food and other essentials in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The just-in-time food supply chain is proving its versatility yet again:

The day Hurricane Sandy made landfall, the Jersey City, New Jersey, warehouse for food distribution giant Sysco Corp. (SYY) sent out 30,000 cases of food and drinks. Most of the shipments were headed across the Hudson to New York City. On Tuesday, the day after the storm ravaged the city, the warehouse sent out none.

Yet while news of flooding, power outages, downed trees, and other storm-inflicted wreckage abounds, you won’t hear stories of mass starvation in the streets. Food may not be moving in or out of the city, but the data-driven supply chains perfected by some of the world’s biggest companies in the pursuit of profits have become so resilient that even a cataclysm like Sandy registers as little more than a logistical hiccup. While the subways have stopped indefinitely, few in the storm’s path will have to deal with empty shelves for long, if at all.

[. . .]

Wilson says the key adjustment Sysco made ahead of Sandy was to shift shipments to mainly non-perishable goods to ensure customers would have food to last through power outages. The company also prioritized getting orders to institutions that would have to keep large numbers of people fed through the storm, such as hospitals, hotels, airports, shelters, jails, and college campuses. Restaurants will stay near the bottom of the list as the recovery proceeds. But Wilson says the process of getting back to normal won’t drag out. “It’ll be a week or so of business-not-as-usual. But we’ll get back to business-as-usual eventually.”

Large companies like Sysco with nationwide reach and a long history of managing supply chains can adapt quickly to natural disasters because they’ve been there before, and they have the data to show for it. Over the years, as real-time inventory tracking and analysis has become the norm, companies know what people buy before and after disasters. They know how demand has varied between a Gulf Coast hurricane and a New England blizzard. By cross-referencing that granular data with the latest weather predictions, companies can forecast changes in their supply chain needs in parallel with coming storms.

H/T to Charles Stross for the link.

The rise of celebrity endorsements is a sign of political immaturity

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:44

In sp!ked, Patrick West points out that celebrities who push political agendas or social issues are actually a sign of the failure of the political class:

This paradoxical egotism — protesting against ‘selfish’ right-wing people in order to make you appear morally superior — was mercilessly parodied in the 2004 film Team America: World Police. In it, marionettes representing the likes of Susan Sarandon, George Clooney and Matt Damon are shown as self-important dupes of Kim Jong-Il, parroting liberal-left vacuities. ‘As actors’, says Janeane Garofolo’s puppet, ‘it is our reponsibility to read the newspapers, and then say what we read on television like it’s our own opinion’. Like all good parodies, it helped to change the way people think. Sean Penn’s intervention on the matter of the Falkland Islands earlier this year generated unflattering comparisons to the movie, and I imagine Matt Damon still fears to speak on humanitarian issues, lest he be met with a collective cry of ‘Matt Day-Mon’.

Still, this hasn’t deterred the likes of Clooney and Whoopi Goldberg continuing to make known their support for the Democrats — who are liberal-left, and therefore Good People — in opposition to the Republicans, who are right-wing and by extension Bad People. Now from the pop world they have been joined by Katy Perry, who last week performed at a Las Vegas fundraiser for President Obama in the forthcoming presidential election, and by Madonna, who on Saturday declared at a concert in New Orleans: ‘I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote for Obama.’ Having been met with jeers and booing, the Material Girl backtracked. ‘Seriously, I don’t care who you vote for as long as you take responsibility for the future of your country’, she recanted. ‘Do not take this privilege for granted. Go vote.’ Other Democrat supporters include Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Will.i.am and Jay-Z.

[. . .]

In terms of hollow egotism, popstars are not far removed from actors. The latter are fantasists and (literally) professional liars, pretending to be someone they aren’t, displaying emotions they don’t have. Popstars are often likewise insecure, craving attention and praise, to be told what good people they are — and consequently ensure that the world knows it.

They have been up to this sort of thing for years. Consider the self-important proclamations of John Lennon, imagining no possessions but having lots of them, Sting’s crusade to save the Brazilian rainforest and its noble savages and, of course, Bono, the humanitarian tax-avoider. The latter two featured in Band Aid, an ostentatiously big-hearted scheme that raised funds for governments in desperate need of more Mercedes-Benzes and Kalashnikovs. This is what happens when you combine paradoxical egotism and a Something Must Be Done mentality. Today, it’s the same toxic compound — intensified — that’s behind the grandstanding and aggressive ‘caring’ censoriousness you see on Twitter.

California tax collectors discover exciting new technique: double billing

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:04

Let’s say you’re an honest, upstanding citizen who pays your taxes on time and in full. Let us also say you happen to live in California. What would you do when you got a bill from a different agency of the state government, saying you still owed an amount of money that you paid in your state taxes (and have the documentation to prove it)? David Friedman ponders whether this new approach to state fund-raising is fraud or mere incompetence:

I recently received a bill from the California Board of Equalization (BOE) demanding that I pay them about three hundred dollars in use tax. That puzzled me, since I had already paid the use tax with my California state income tax return—my reporting it on that return is the only reason the BOE knew that I owed it. Just to be sure, I went online and checked my account with the Franchise Tax Board, the body that collects California income tax—it showed me owing nothing.

So I called the number for the BOE. The woman I spoke with told me that they had not received the money from the FTB and that if I did not want them to bill me for it I should call the FTB and have them take care of the matter. I called the number she gave me, got an FTB phone tree with no option of talking to a human being and no reference to use tax.

[. . .]

It is possible, of course, that I am misinterpreting incompetence as dishonesty—that at some stage in the process someone made a mistake, which will now be corrected. One reason I doubt that is that what the letter I received said was:

    “According to information provided to us by the Franchise Tax Board (FTB), you reported a use tax liability on your state income tax return. However, FTB advised the funds were not available to be transferred to the State Board of Equalization (BOE), which is ultimately responsible for the collection of use tax.”

    “If the use tax was remitted with your FTB return, the use tax was either redirected to a FTB liability or refunded by FTB. Accordingly, the BOE is sending this letter to inform you that the use tax remains due (see enclosed billing notice)”

They do not say that I did not pay the money to the FTB, merely that the FTB did not pay it to them. And the final bit, which I missed in the initial draft of this post and have just added, makes it clear that if I paid the money but the FTB didn’t pass it on, they want me to pay it again.

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