Quotulatiousness

February 25, 2017

James May does his Clarkson impression! EXTRAS – James May Q&A (Ep 20)- Head Squeeze

Filed under: Business, Humour, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 May 2013

James rambles about barcodes and supermarkets before unleashing his perfect Jeremy Clarkson impression!

February 24, 2017

Well it is the twenty-first century after all…

Filed under: Business, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Hey guys! I just bought marijuana for the very first time!

A thousand shares of a legal marijuana grower called Aphria, Inc. I am so conflicted — I don’t know whether I should feel counter-cultural or conformist…

I sold my last remaining Blackberry shares to cover most of the cost of the purchase, which (given Blackberry’s shrinking technological niche) was a bit of a relief.

Legal notice: Nothing in the above post should be considered in any way to be professional financial investment advice.

February 18, 2017

Twitter turns on the free speech filters

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Forbes, Kalev Leetaru reports on Friday’s introduction of “hate speech” filtering on Twitter:

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

It was just a year ago that I wrote on these very pages about Twitter’s evolution from bastion of free speech to global censor as it stepped back from its utopian dreams as they collided with the realities of running a commercial company. Yet, even after changing its official written policy on acceptable speech and touting that it would do more to fight abuse, little has changed over the past year. Indeed, from its inception a decade ago, Twitter has done little to address the problem of hateful and abusive speech on its platform.

[…] the concern here is that Twitter has thus far refused to provide further detail into at least the broad contours of the indicators it is using, especially when it comes to the particular linguistic cues it is concerned with. While offering too much detail might give the upper hand to those who would try to work around the new system, it is important for the broader community to have at least some understanding of the kinds of language flagged by Twitter’s new tool so that they can offer more informed feedback to help it shape that tool given that both algorithms and people are far from infallible. Simply rolling out a new tool that begins suspending users without warning or recourse and without any visibility into how those decisions are being made is a textbook example of how not to roll such a feature out to a user community in that the tool instantly becomes confrontational rather than educational.

Moreover, it is unclear why Twitter chose not to permit users to contest what they believe to be a wrongful suspension. The company did not respond to a request for comment on why suspended users are not provided a button to appeal a suspension they believe is due to algorithmic or human error or lack of contextual understanding. Given that the feature is brand new and bound to encounter plenty of unforeseen contexts where it could yield a wrong result, it is surprising that Twitter chose not to provide a recovery mechanism where it could catch these before they become news.

H/T to Peter Grant for the link.

February 17, 2017

Industrial policy example – Kingston, Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Railways — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren remembers when the government tampered with the free market to “save an industry” in Kingston:

Once upon a time, many years ago, I scrapped into one of these “no-brainer” political deals. The remains of the locomotive manufacturing business in Kingston, Ontario — whose century-old products I had glimpsed, still on the rails in India — were now on the block. A monster German corporation was offering to buy them, for the very purpose of competing, in Canada, with a (hugely subsidized, monopolist) Canadian corporation. The government stepped in, to “save” a Canadian industry, retroactively change the ground rules, and kick in more subsidies so that the Canadian monopolists, based in Montreal, could take over instead. This was accompanied by nationalist rhetoric, and Kingston was thrilled. Critics like me were unofficially deflected with bigoted anti-German blather held over from the last World War.

But I knew exactly what was going to happen. The local works, which would have been expanded by the foreign owner, were soon closed by the new Canadian owner, after studies had been commissioned to “prove” it was uneconomic. The latter’s last possible domestic competitor was thus snuffed out. The locals, whose lives had been for generations part of a proud Kingston enterprise, had been suckered. The politicians had told them it was little Canada versus big Germany. In reality, it was pretty little Kingston versus big ugly Montreal.

That is how the world works, with politics, so that whenever I hear of a big new national no-brainer scheme, my first thought is, which innocents are getting mooshed today?

February 16, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Customer is Always Taxed

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 15 Feb 2017

We’re really excited to present the first episode of what will be an on-going video podcast featuring Dr. Antony Davies, Professor of Economics of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and Dr. James R. Harrigan, Senior Research Fellow at Strata, in Logan, Utah.

Each Wednesday we’ll be sharing a new short video featuring Antony and James talking about the economics and political science of current events. We hope you enjoy the show and look forward to your input on what topics Antony and James should cover in the future.

Today’s episode is about everybody’s favorite subject: Taxes!

February 15, 2017

QotD: Authoritarian politicians and “the little Hitlers of the corporation”

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Conventional politicians and commentators are stranded because they were wholly unprepared for the new breed of leader who lies as a matter of policy as well as a matter of course. They are flailing around, and inventing phrases like “fake news” and “post-truth politics” to capture a state of affairs they think is entirely novel. Instead of saying that we are seeing something new, it is better to accept that something old and malignant has returned like foul water bubbling up from a drain.

Comparisons with 20th-century totalitarianism are not wholly exaggerated. With Trump, the lies are a dictatorial assertion of his will to power. “I am in control,” he says, in effect, as he conjures imaginary crowds at his inauguration or invents millions of illegal voters so he can pretend he won the popular vote. “You may know I am lying. But if you contradict me, I will make you pay.”

No one in the west has seen Trump’s kind of triumph in politics since the age of the dictators. But look around your workplace and perhaps you won’t be so surprised by their victories. If you are unlucky, you will see an authoritarian standing over you. The radical economist Chris Dillow once wrote that, while the fall of communism discredited the centrally planned economy, the centrally planned corporation, with the autocratic leader who tolerated no dissent, not only survived 1989, but blossomed.

Dillow is not alone in worrying about the harm the little Hitlers of the corporation might bring. Since the crash, economists have looked as a matter of urgency at how hierarchies encourage petty tyrants to brag their way to the top. They exhibit all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder: a desire to dominate, overconfidence, a sense of entitlement, an inability to listen to others or allow others to speak and a passion for glory. […]

Narcissists in business are more likely to seek macho takeovers and less likely to engage in the hard work of innovating and creating profitable firms, the researchers found. They are more likely to cook the books to feed their cults of the personality and make, if not America, then themselves look great again. Academics from the University of California have asked the obvious question: why would rational companies let the fascism of the firm survive? Surely they ought to be protecting their businesses, as free market theory dictates, rather than allow dangerous and grasping men and women to risk their destruction.

Nick Cohen, “Trump’s lies are not the problem. It’s the millions who swallow them who really matter”, The Guardian, 2017-02-04.

February 14, 2017

Fanfic – from grubby, subversive literary backwater to big bucks and recognition

Filed under: Books, Business, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Forbes, Hayley C. Cuccinello traces the early beginnings of the fan fiction community from Kirk-slash-Spock to Fifty Shades and beyond:

For the uninitiated, fanfiction is fiction written by a fan that features characters from a particular mythical universe such as a TV show or book. Its cousin, real person fiction (RPF), portrays actual individuals — typically celebrities — such as Harry Styles from One Direction.

Though the Fifty Shades itself has been dismissed by many as “mommy porn” and “the Great Idiot American Novel,” James is the most commercially successful fanfiction author of all time. After removing references to Twilight from Master of the Universe, a practice known as “filing off the serial numbers,” E.L. James published the renamed Fifty Shades of Grey with Writer’s Coffee Shop, an independent Australian publisher that was created by fans to commercially publish their work.

The results were astonishing. To date, James has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including print, e-books and audiobooks. In 2013, Forbes named E.L. James the highest-paid author in the world, with $95 million in earnings, thanks to her massive book sales and a seven-figure paycheck for the first movie adaptation. In 2016, E.L. James was the eighth highest-paid author in the world, earning $14 million in 12 months, which brings her four-year total earnings to a whopping $131 million. With Fifty Shades Darker now showing in U.S. theaters – and hitting the international box office on Valentine’s Day – James’ fortunes will only continue to grow.

[…]

“Kirk and Spock are the granddaddies of slash fanfic, which goes all the way back to when fans were writing it out and handing it to each other at conventions,” says Andi VanderKolk, co-host of the Women At Warp podcast. Some authors collected their works into fanzines that were typically sold at cost.

Many fanzine authors would later find professional careers. Lois McMaster Bujold, writer of sci-fi series the Vorkosian Saga, contributed to numerous Star Trek fanzines in the late 1960s. Sci-fi and fantasy author Diane Duane, who has authored over 10 Star Trek novels, previously wrote fanfiction.

There are many other examples outside the Star Trek universe. Darkover author Marion Zimmer Bradley not only allowed fanworks but published a few of them in official Darkover anthologies. Television writer and producer Stephen Moffat, a former Doctor Who showrunner and current showrunner for Sherlock, previously wrote fanfiction. “I refuse to mock [fanfiction], because I’m a man who writes Sherlock Holmes fanfiction for a living,” Moffat told Entertainment Weekly last year.

February 9, 2017

“Natural” wine

Filed under: Business, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Brendan McKenna linked to this Hugh Johnson article in Decanter discussing so-called “Natural” wine:

‘Natural’ doesn’t come into it; these are works of craftsmanship; even, occasionally, art. Does a winemaker, then, have the right to sell me something that ignores, or flouts, the winemaking conventions that I rely on?

Is ‘natural’ a self-justifying word to cover any sort of accident? Or is ‘alternative’ a more accurate description?

Of course, the producer may have a lab and state-of-the art chemistry and simply choose not to intervene. There are highly reputed (and very expensive) ‘orange’ wines.

But I’ve also tasted ‘natural’ wines that remind me of Italy 50 years ago. Tipping grapes in the tub on the ox cart, breaking them up with a cudgel on the way back to the farm and leaving the rest to nature rarely had good results.

The sales pitch for ‘natural’ wines usually tells you that conventional wines contain a lot of non-grape juice gunk. Fish guts: horror. Egg whites: poison. Sulphites: allergens. Colouring: dishonest. Sugar: cheating.

There seems to be a high ground – is it moral, ethical, fashionable, hygienic? – shared by ‘naturalists’ and vegans. Then again, if you read the list of preservatives and allergens on any supermarket packet, you may want to give up eating altogether.

I’ve long since given up reading any of the wine magazines, so I wasn’t aware that on top of the oh-so-precious-and-superior “organic” and “biodynamic” categories (where quite ordinary wines get a few extra dollars on the price tag) we now also have a bunch of even-more-precious-and-ecologically-correct “natural” wines. I don’t object to winemakers persuading a few gullible punters to pay more for otherwise indifferent plonk, but I object to the quasi-religious preaching that always seems to accompany it.

February 5, 2017

What a finely crafted Super Bowl ad can convey to different audiences

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ESR linked to this Audi ad analysis saying, “The author may not have intended it this way, but this brilliant analysis could be part of the continuing “Why Trump won” series. Because eventually people get fed up with the contempt, and they push back.”

The Internet is in the proverbial tizzy about Audi’s “feminist” Super Bowl advertisement, in which the automaker comes out in favor of equal pay for women.

At first blush, the spot seems to be nothing but the usual corporate slacktivism, a feel-good fluff-vertorial making a “brave stand” in support of an issue that was decided long ago. I’m reminded of Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator, arriving in full armor as soon as he can do so without any risk. “Father, have I missed the battle?” Well, Audi, you’ve missed the war; if there’s a place in the United States where women are actually paid significantly less for doing the same job as men, it’s not evident from what I’m reading.

After watching the one-minute advertisement carefully, however, I understood feminism, or equal pay, is the last thing Audi wants you to take away from it. The message is far subtler, and more powerful, than the dull recitation of the pseudo-progressive catechism droning on in the background. This spot is visual — and as you’ll see below, you can’t understand it until you watch it and see what it’s really telling you.

Let me tell you up front: chances are you won’t like what Audi has to say.

QotD: Gaming the LEED certification for fun and profit

Some of my favorites include environmental building requirements tied to government contract approval. The LEED certification is such a joke. There are a ton of “real” categories, like motion detecting lights, solar / thermal filtering windows, CO2 neutral engineering. But if you can’t get enough of that, you can also squeeze in with points for “environmental education”. For instance, a display in the lobby discussing the three solar panels on the roof, or with a pretty diagram of the building’s heat pump system. You can end up getting a platinum LEED certification and still have the highest energy consumption density in the city of Chicago, as it turns out.

The proprietor of the Finem Respice blog, quoted by Warren Meyer, “Diesel Emissions Cheating, Regulation, and the Crony State”, Coyote Blog, 2017-01-14.

February 4, 2017

“Buy American!” is great politics, but terrible economics

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colin McNickle explains why protectionist policies like “Buy American” are good for politicians but bad for producers and consumers:

Lost in all the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-ing of President Trump wanting to use American steel only in the Keystone XL, Dakota Access and other U.S. oil pipelines is this fundamental economic fact:

The price of that steel will be higher. In some cases, markedly so. And we all will be made poorer. Not in effect, but actually.

How so?

As Hoover Institution scholar David R. Henderson once explained it:

“Almost all economists say [‘Buy American’ is] nonsense. And the reason is: We should buy things where they’re the cheapest. That frees up more of our resources to buy other things, and other Americans get jobs producing those things.”

The “problem” of other countries selling goods at or below cost (in other words, making part of the value of the good a gift to the purchaser) is only a problem for uneconomic domestic producers … it’s great for consumers of that good:

… as Tori K. Whiting, a trade and economics scholar at the Heritage Foundation, reminded in September:

“In response to alleged unfair trade practices, domestic steel producers are advocating for broad import restraints and immediate action by the U.S. government to protect the domestic industry. …

“The U.S. manufacturing and construction industries rely on domestic and foreign steel to create finished products. Tariffs on steel imports limit choices and increase costs for these industries. Those costs are ultimately borne by American consumers and act as a tax on everyday goods made from steel,” she reminded.

And as fellow Heritage legal scholar Alden Abbott added, “(A)nti-dumping is in fact a form of special interest cronyism that imposes high costs on Americans and thwarts beneficial competition.”

“Buy American” makes for great political rhetoric. But the reality is that most Americans would find their pocketbooks heavily pinched if the practice became pervasive and America’s overall standard of living would fall.

January 30, 2017

QotD: Everyone has prejudices

Filed under: Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve told before the story of how my husband and I went car shopping and took along our best friends, both taller, blue eyed, and one of them blond. Inevitably, at whichever dealership we landed in (this was a lazy Saturday pursuit. You know what I mean) the salesman gravitated towards our friends who a) weren’t shopping for a car. b) were far less financially solvent than we were.

Racism? Oh, heck no, heuristics. Dan might or might not be as white as advertised, but outwardly he’s all white (nickname Count Dracula due to his inability to tan.) (Well, maybe the eyes give some clue to other genetic origins as in Portugal everyone assumes he’s from Macau and some level of cross breed. Meh.) And I can pass provided I haven’t been outside in a couple of weeks and don’t open my mouth. So, racism was highly unlikely. But we’re both short, overweight, dark haired, and were dressed almost terminally relaxed. Our friends fit the “double income” couple look better than we did, so salesmen gravitated to them.

Privilege? No. We got the chance to poke around at cars while our friends distracted pushy salespeople. BUT prejudice? You bet. Even though the two couples were superficially “white” you bet the sales people had an image of what “affluent” or relatively affluent (it was used dealerships) looked like, and it wasn’t Dan or I.

Sarah Hoyt, “The Privilege Of Not Caring”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-17.

January 25, 2017

Protectionism can save jobs … at the cost of even more jobs than it “saves”

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark Perry provides some context to the claim that protectionist policies can save American jobs:

According to Team Trump’s website, we’re told that “blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base. By fighting for fair but tough trade deals, we can bring jobs back to America’s shores, increase wages, and support U.S. manufacturing.”

Actually, it’s been capital investments in labor-saving technologies like robotics and increasing worker productivity that have led to the large majority of US factory job losses, not trade or outsourcing, as I documented recently here. And there’s been no devastation of America’s manufacturing base; to the contrary, real US manufacturing output has reached all-time high levels in recent quarters.

What’s Trump’s solution to the loss of US manufacturing jobs? America’s “first authentic protectionist to win the White House since the 1920s” has outlined a series of protectionist trade measures including tariffs (30-40-50%), “tougher trade deals” (likely trade deals to protect US manufacturers from foreign competition), “Buy American” policies, and border adjustment taxes, among other strategies to “save American jobs.”

Here’s a relevant question to ask: How have protectionist trade policies in the past worked out for the US economy and how expensive is it to save American jobs with the protectionist trade policies Trump is proposing? We can find some answers to those questions in a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis research article published in 1988 by three economists “Protectionist Trade Policies: A Survey of Theory, Evidence and Rationale,” which presented a summary of the empirical evidence on trade protectionism from the 1986 book published by the Institute for International Economics Trade Protection in the United States: 31 Case Studies. Even though the research and empirical results are from the 1980s, this article and book provide useful empirical evidence on the costs of protectionism to bring some much-needed sanity to the debate on trade policy to counterbalance the favorable treatment being given to protectionism these days.

Click to see full-size table.

The “right to repair” gets a boost in three states

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Cory Doctorow reports on a hopeful sign that we might be able to get rid of one of the more pernicious aspects of the DMCA rules:

Section 1201 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it both a crime and a civil offense to tamper with software locks that control access to copyrighted works — more commonly known as “Digital Rights Management” or DRM. As the number of products with software in them has exploded, the manufacturers of these products have figured out that they can force their customers to use their own property in ways that benefit the company’s shareholders, not the products’ owners — all they have to do is design those products so that using them in other ways requires breaking some DRM.

The conversion of companies’ commercial preferences into legally enforceable rights has been especially devastating to the repair sector, a huge slice of the US economy, as much as 4% of GDP, composed mostly of small mom-n-pop storefront operations that create jobs right in local communities, because repair is a local business. No one wants to send their car, or even their phone, to China or India for servicing.

[…]

Three states are considering “Right to Repair” bills that would override the DMCA’s provisions, making it legal to break DRM to effect repairs, ending the bizarre situation where cat litter boxes are given the same copyright protection as the DVD of Sleeping Beauty. Grassroots campaigns in Nebraska, Minnesota, and New York prompted the introduction of these bills and there’s more on the way. EFF and the Right to Repair coalition are pushing for national legislation too, in the form of the Unlocking Technology Act.

January 24, 2017

QotD: Token ownership to game government mandates

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was researching energy shorts and had a ton of discussions with former regulatory types in the U.S. I was stunned to discover that there was widespread acknowledgement on the regulatory side that many regulations were impossible to comply with and so “compliance trump cards” were built into the system.

For instance, in Illinois you get favorable treatment as a potential government contractor if you “comply” with all sorts of insane progressive policy strictures. “Woman or minority owned business” or “small business owner”, as an example. Even a small advantage in the contracting process for (for example) the State of Illinois puts you over the edge. Competitors without (for instance) the Woman or Minority Owned Business certification would have to underbid a certified applicant by 10-15% (it’s all a complex points system) to just break even. It got so bad so quickly that the regs were revised to permit a de minimis ownership (1%). Of course, several regulatory lawyers quickly made a business out of offering minority or women equity “owners” who would take 1% for a fee (just absorb how backwards it is to be paying a fee to have a 1% equity partner) with very restrictive shareholder agreements. Then it became obvious that you’d get points for the “women” and “minority” categories BOTH if you had a black woman as a proxy 1% “owner.” There was one woman who was a 1% owner of 320 firms.

The proprietor of the Finem Respice blog, quoted by Warren Meyer, “Diesel Emissions Cheating, Regulation, and the Crony State”, Coyote Blog, 2017-01-14.

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