April 25, 2013

∴ The Pew Study, and What it Also Means

The Pew Research Center came out with a new study this past week. It finds that in the period 2009-2011 only 7% of Americans saw their net worth increase. The other 93% saw theirs fall. The study goes on:

These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat.

Affluent households typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home.

The study period began in January, 2009, shortly before the stock market’s bottom, yet a couple of years before the housing market finished its decline. What it ultimately measured, then, is what proportion of Americans hold enough invested assets to offset the continuing decline in their home equity.

The study, and commentators, go on to say that this points to an ever-widening divide between wealthier and less-wealthy Americans, as measured by the size of their investment portfolio. And that’s a popular political point to make. What the study doesn’t say, and what commentators fail to question, is why 93% of Americans hold most of their wealth in home equity with relatively little in the way of offsetting invested assets.

Most American’s investments are held in retirement accounts. 401(k)s and IRAs will provide much of their needed retirement income, rather than traditional defined benefit (aka pension) plans. Retirement planning, then, is increasingly a matter of personal responsibility, as fewer employers provide pensions. The burden of creating post-career income falls ever more squarely on the employee’s shoulders.

Setting aside for the moment those who, because of flat real incomes and greater financial burdens, literally cannot afford to build wealth toward retirement, what the Pew study has turned up is that a significant portion of Americans are uninterested or unwilling to make that effort. For an aging population heavily weighted toward Baby Boomers nearing retirement age, and away from younger workers who can be expected to have less income tucked into investments, the study is a bright red flag warning of diminished expectations and postponed retirements.

That’s the glaring (to me) import of the Pew study.

April 24, 2013

Confessions of a Latter Day Spy

About what I've come to expect the life of a covert operator to be. Worth the short read.

Ridiculous: The Best Laptop to Run Windows On Is a Mac

Cult of Mac:

"How crappy are Windows PCs these days? The most reliable, best performing, highly rated laptop for running Windows on is a frickin’ Mac: specifically, a mid-2012 MacBook Pro 13.

As ZDNet’s Ed Bott points out, the laptops that were determined to be most reliable were the ones that ran clean installs of Windows, instead of bloatware-infected OEM installs. And surprise, every Mac running Boot Camp must use a clean install of Windows, making it the king.

Click through for a graphic ranking the top ten.

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have long been the culprit behind unreliable Windows installations. While customers may or may not make use of trial software appearing on new, out-of-the-box machine desktops, OEMs make money just installing it. Trouble is, that software clutters up not only users' workspace, but the Windows registry as well. Add a year or so of use and your Windows machine slows to a crawl.

And that's just the problems stemming from software.

April 19, 2013

USA Today Founder Al Neuharth Dies in Florida


“The only thing we can assume is that consumers of news and information will continue to want more as the world continues to become one global village,’ he said. ‘The question is how much will be distributed in print, online and on the air. I don’t know how much will be delivered on newsprint. Some will be delivered by means we can’t even think of yet.”

Bono Gets It

Bono, writing about Apple industrial designer Jony Ive for the Time 100:

What the competitors don’t seem to understand is you cannot get people this smart to work this hard just for money. Jony is Obi-Wan. His team are Jedi whose nobility depends on the pursuit of greatness over profit, believing the latter will always follow the former, stubbornly passing up near-term good opportunities to pursue great ones in the distance.

Explains a lot, really.

April 18, 2013

Fine Observation

ISS commander Chris Hadfield:

The Earth is ancient and yet new every orbit, every dawn, every season. Sets a good example.

April 17, 2013

What Interests You? Gruber: Pricing and Profit Consistency and the Halo Effect

John Gruber:

“The ‘halo effect’ — the theory that Apple can get a new customer to buy one Apple product, that customer, if happy with their purchase, is likely to start buying other Apple products — strikes me as only likely to be effective if all those products are consistently priced and marketed. Industry observers break out PCs, tablets, smartphones, and media players into discrete product categories, but Apple, from a consumer branding perspective, does not. Macs, iPads, iPhones, and iPods are all just Apple products, and they’re all priced and designed the same way: seldom the cheapest, but usually the best.

It’s their consistency in that regard across all products that drives the halo effect, turning someone who never bought an Apple product in their life into someone with an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”

That described me to a tee. I was a Windows guy for twenty-plus years, building my machines from parts, before getting my first Apple product. It was an iPod Shuffle, for running, a gift from Kelly. It was arguably the least Apply of their product line with no user interface to speak of, but it had Apple's minimalist design going for it. And I could drop it, sweat on it and otherwise abuse it to no end without ill effect. It worked well, and I liked it for that as much as its simplicity.

The Shuffle was eventually followed by an iPod Classic for Kelly. I bought it on Apple's web site, opted for free engraving on the back and 48-hours later it was in her hand. Customized. From China. I was intrigued. Opening the packaging was like opening a jewel box, a special gift. Apple's deft touch didn't end with a shapely music player or its simple clickwheel interface, it extended to the first glimpse the customer had of their effort: the box.

A MacBook Pro for Kelly followed a while later, then iPhone 3GSs for both of us. I liked her laptop so much I cut short the three-year replacement cycle on my Lenovo Thinkpad laptop and bought a MacBook Pro for myself. An iPad for me from Kelly followed, then an iPad for her. A Mac mini replaced an old Windows server for our movie library. iPhone 5s replaced our two-year old 3GSs as their batteries waned. Sprinkled in there were Apple TVs and an Airport Extreme router.

Re-equipping our home took a handful of years, but Apple products slowly spread everywhere.

What's so special about these gadgets? What prods a new customer to his second purchase, third, and onward? They're mainly composed of off-the-shelf, commodity parts, after all, the same components found in many Dell, HP and Lenovo machines.

Their uniqueness is two-fold. First, the software that bridges hardware to user is designed with the general populace in mind, not the geek fringe. It provides a refined, simplified means of operating the equipment. It's comfortable for newbie and power user alike.

Switching from Windows to OS X was easy. Figuring out how to operate an iPhone was fun. Replacing paper books and magazines with an iPad was a one-way trip. I've never looked back.

Second, the industrial hardware design pays attention to the smallest detail. Hinges don't loosen with use leaving the owner with a wiggly laptop display. Keyboards retain consistent key bounce over time. Phones are of a single physical design per product cycle, and each has the feel of a cut gem. The product line's appearance is elegant and consistent.

As a bonus, product packaging is like a Christmas gift in white.

Yes, they generally cost more. And they're worth every last cent.

Gun Control Bill is Dead

Kevin Drum for Mother Jones:

”How did this happen even though, as liberals remind us endlessly, 90 percent of the American public supports background checks? Because about 80 percent of those Americans think it sounds like a reasonable idea but don’t really care much. I doubt that one single senator will suffer at the polls in 2014 for voting against Manchin-Toomey.

Gun control proposals poll decently all the time. But the plain truth is that there are only a small number of people who feel really strongly about it, and they mostly live in urban blue districts already. Outside of that, pro-gun control opinion is about an inch deep. This is a classic case where poll literalism leads you completely astray. Without measuring intensity of feeling, that 90 percent number is meaningless.“

That's why Democrats stopped campaigning on the gun control issue last decade: it wasn't winning them anything. In fact, the issue was hurting their chances of election in more conservative districts by repeatedly painting candidates as whiny liberals.

Good idea or not, NRA lobbying or not, I think Kevin put his finger right on the problem for gun control legislation: insufficient numbers care about it enough to contact legislators, elect those candidates who agree, and send home those who don't.

April 16, 2013

What Interests You? Economics-fueled Politics, and Getting the Facts Straight

Deficit hawks have been touting a 2010 study by Harvard economists Rogoff and Reinhart as evidence that higher levels of US debt spell certain doom for our economic output, based on historical cases. Now a new study has uncovered possible errors in their methodology. The resulting difference may be as stark as night and day.

Rogoff and Reinhart haven’t yet responded, though no doubt they will. This one will be very interesting to watch.

April 15, 2013

Who Interests You? This Guy


Bill Iffrig is the older guy you saw knocked to the ground near the finish line at today’s Boston Marathon. He was just a dozen feet from the first blast. I thought we’d hear his story at some point.

He’s 78, and today was his third Boston Marathon. After a pause on the deck he got up and walked across the finish line. His chip time was 4:03:47, delayed somewhat by bomb. Wow.


Story by The Herald of Everett, Washington

April 14, 2013

Who Interests You? Neil deGrasse Tyson


Golfers want silence when hitting stationary balls at their feet. Baseball batters, in screaming crowds, hit 90 mph fastballs

Neil is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. Follow him at @neiltyson. Because physics isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.


My co-worker ran a marathon today. Not a ten-miler. Not a Half. Twenty-six-point-two. Five hours, fifty-five minutes of running, of which everything after the first thirty or so minutes was just tolerating the pain. And she finished.

I’d love to feel the elation of running that last mile, crossing the timing mats and stopping.

Some say that by the time you reach the start line the race is half-done. That’s because the training is half the struggle. It becomes a part-time job, adding miles above your comfort zone every other day until you top out at twenty miles. And then you add a ten-K to that on race day.

So hats-off to her. Her sore body will heal in a few days. Then she can say, “I did that.

Sometimes the Haters ...

Thomas Vonn. Lindsey's ex-. Yes, he went there. AND I LIKE IT.

'cuz maybe Tiger needs a kick in the ass just to keep things in balance. Remember back when he didn't get those kicks? See what happened?

What Interests You? Automating

Dr. Drang has been reading my thoughts, or watching me at work, or something. He writes a concise explanation of why I do what I do “off job description” at my day job.

There’s working hard and there’s working smart. I prefer the latter. Sometimes it looks like I’m just doing whatever the hell I please and getting away with it, until my efforts save the observer a week of annoying, drudgery-filled, repetitive work. And then it’s ok. And I always get away with it (with a thank-you, to boot!)

I wrote a straightforward database application a while back that, when executed at our Memphis facility, saved nearly 100,000 individual, manual database edits.

Sometimes an app takes longer to create and test than it would to do the work manually, but then there’s Dr. Drang’s reason number 5. I keep that in mind, along with reason number 2, when I’m trying to descend into code-land.

It’s a short trip. I know I’ve arrived when I can see the logic flow in my head. Absolute silence helps get me there, which is why I often work from home when I code.

It’s nice, now and then, to come across a piece that perfectly captures a cherished mindset. Drang wrote one, today.

What Interests You? A Look Back From Space

For months now, Commander Chris Hadfield has tweeted his daily routine and engrossing photographs from low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. Follow him at @Cmdr_Hadfield or search his name on Youtube and enjoy the views, as he returns from commanding the current mission in about a month.

What Interests You? DMB: Bartender

Dave Matthews Band “Bartender” Live from Las Vegas, perhaps my favorite of his white-boy blues.

April 12, 2013

Why Lenovo Has Weathered the Great PC Collapse So Far

Brad Reed, writing for Boy Genius Report:

“there are a couple of reasons for this: First, Lenovo has been targeting its sales toward emerging markets such as Brazil and its native China, where demand for new PCs is higher than in the United States, Europe, Japan and Korea. Businessweek also says that Lenovo ‘makes almost one-third of its products in house, which helps it innovate and get those innovations to the market more quickly’”

One reason overlooked here: Lenovo is known for their iconic Thinkpad line of laptops, machines known for build quality and durability. They bought the Thinkpad line from IBM in 2005 and the product's quality has never slipped. When companies and consumers want a top-quality Windows laptop this is what they buy. Take a look around airport departures lounges, what are the business travelers carrying? The majority hold Thinkpads.

Quality isn't flashy, but it leads to success.

April 9, 2013

The Mantis Shrimp is Awesome

What animal can see sixteen primary colors AND possesses speed that, in a human, could throw a baseball into orbit?

Another great comic by The Oatmeal.

April 8, 2013

Johnson Out at JC Penney

John Moltz, about Ron Johnson's ouster as CEO of JC Penney today:

“You don’t turn around a crappy aircraft carrier full of chinos, Christmas sweaters and cheap curtains in two years. I liked what he was trying. It made me consider going into a JC Penney again.”

Me, too, though Kelly, not so much. Johnson used the Apple retail store motif he created years ago as a model for recreating Penney.

Some like the clean, austere look; some don't. Apparently Penney shoppers don't give a rat's ass about design as much as they do weekly specials and SALE-SALE-SALE.

Unfortunately for Penney, Walmart and Target have that retail segment sewn up. Good luck to them.

I hear Apple is still looking for a Senior VP of Retail, after unloading the guy they hired after Johnson left for Penney. Hmm.