Monthly Archives: February 2012

Computer geek that I am, I thought this commercial was brilliant:

Adweek disagrees:

It’s almost a laugh-out-loud moment—this is what everyone was referring to?! Thank God it was only their files! And that’s the weird thing about this approach—it makes the viewer realize that photos and files and music and videos and the like, while sometimes of great sentimental value, really, in the end, is just stuff. It can’t compare to actually life, which is what the viewer is made to feel is threatened by the whole faux-horror tactic. The spot is nicely produced, but Carbonite is deflating its own importance here, which may not lead to too many new customers. Check out some print work after the jump.

I agree that it is jokey, but to me there is no “only [your] files.” I lose sleep over the possibility of losing my files, which are twice or thrice (for some files) quice backed up (depending on the file and its importance). I don’t use a service like Carbonite. Maybe, for the ones I feel the need to back up more than once, I should. One piece of subtlety I think AdWeek misses is that among the files lost would be those from the wedding itself. Or maybe I feel that way because our wedding photographer did everything digitally and provided no prints. But I suspect I am less than unusual among the sorts of people that would even consider using a service like Carbonite.

On a sidenote, the groom in the ad is Joe Egender, the same guy that played a sniper in the second episode of Alcatraz. When I saw him in Alcatraz, I swore he looked familiar. I hadn’t yet seen this Carbonite ad and going through his IMDB profile, nothing jumped out at me as familiar. I think that he simply reminds me of Kurt, one of my post-college roommates.

Category: Theater

A suggestion of how Phantom Menace should have gone…

I’m not actually an Episode I hater. It had its problems, but is not nearly as bad as a lot of people made it out to be. But this guy’s ideas seem a lot better to me than the movie that was made.

Category: Theater


How RIM lost its foothold on the Smartphone. I have to admit, I really didn’t think they would sink this far, this fast. It’s even more surprising than Nokia.

The Death (and Life) of Marriage in America.

They found a purple squirrel in Pennsylvania. the last one they found was in the UK. They plan on releasing it. I’m not sure what else you would do with it, but when it comes to evading predators, I’d imagine it’s hard for a purple squirrel to blend.

Bakadesuyo: We hear a lot about how much we hate our commute. Interestingly enough, men are fine with it. Women are not.

Combating pills-for-perks. We’re getting stiffed. No vacations for us. On the other hand, we’ll never need to buy another pen as long as we live. We could probably avoid buying more coffee cups, too.

A look at fantasy maps.

How can you call a list of the 20 best comic book superhero movies of all time and fail to list the best Batman movie? Did he mean best live-action? He should have said so.

Bloomberg Businessweek argues that Daimler/Smart lost its way in the high-end micro-car market. I would argue that their mistake was that they didn’t go for that market. Their cars were inexpensive. That should be a plus, in my book. But the micro-car became a symbol of status, and that meant it couldn’t be cheap. Also, I’m pretty sure there were some distribution problems. At least in the US.

Controlling parents are more likely to have delinquent children.

Why conservatives love vigilantes and liberals love anti-heroes. {Comment with care.}

Category: Newsroom

TheNextWeb’s Insider has an article aboutbehavioral pricing that I found interesting. The intro:

What if when you bought a new Macbook, the price was higher because your tweets constantly referenced your love and devotion for Apple? What if Orbitz used the fact that your Facebook Likes include “Party Rocking in Miami” to charge you more for a flight to Miami?

This is called online behavioral pricing. It’s a consumer’s worst nightmare as it uses the traces of your online identity to maximize prices on the products and services you want most. It’s also an ecommerce merchant’s dream.

Behavioral pricing is a form of price discrimination. The goal of price discrimination is to maximize profits by adjusting the price that different customers pay based on data about the consumer. Price discrimination is common offline, such as the Museum of Modern Art charging adults $25 but students only $14.

We’ve already seen online merchants make preliminary attempts at this. When the New York Times unveiled its digital subscriptions, it decided to charge $15 per month to subscribe on your clunky old Blackberry, but $20 per month to subscribe on your iPad. Yet, it doesn’t cost the New York Times more to deliver content to the iPad. Instead the assumption was that you, the owner of a $500 tablet, would be more willing to pay than your average smartphone user. But this rudimentary price discrimination is a mere hint of what’s coming with behavioral pricing…

It’s an interesting idea, but far from inevitable. It contains a huge blindspot: price discrimination is held in check by unidentified buyers. You can charge different amounts to different people based on perceived needs, sure. But you have to post a price. And if you won’t post the price until you know who the buyer is, or they set the default price too high, unidentified buyers will move on. The Applyte in the example can simply log on to a different browser and/or fiddle with cookies and see what an unidentified buyer would pay. That sounds like a hassle, but if you’re worried about behavior pricing, keeping a separate browser with high privacy settings for price-checking becomes quite rational. Or, if the prices are so close together that it’s not rational, then I don’t see it as a huge problem.

What the author seems to be talking about seems, to me, to require people to actually be logged in (to a Facebook account, say, or PayPal). People might stay logged in to Facebook, but I don’t think they’re going to refuse to show you a price if you aren’t logged in to Facebook. And PayPal you won’t be logged in to until you’re ready to pay for it. Cookies are avoidable. IP addresses are problematic. Browser histories can be erased. In other words, they can only do this until the consumer gets wind of it and realizes that they might get a better deal by logging out. So if it happens, it’ll more likely be by way of discounts. You start at a price for the unidentified buyer and then, if you have someone that fits certain things, you knock the price down from there. Rather than upping the price for the Applyte, you might actually be better off lowering it because they are more likely to buy more Apple things in the future. Set the price for the unidentified buyer too high, you’ll likely lose customers.

So I guess I don’t disagree that behavioral pricing is a possibility, but I think its application is actually somewhat limited by the unidentified buyer. Transparent pricing has economic utility.

Tangential, but I got a kick out of this somewhat related article:
How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did

And yeah, that does creep me out a little, but in the end it’s about offering people products that they might specifically need. Websites are pushing things based on my browsing all the time. I’d rather see an ad for Thinkpads than tampons.

Category: Market

How Portland mastered the public toilet.

This story from the New Yorker about Mormons and the history of the presidency reminds me a bit of the opening to the late, lamented Cavemen series, for some reason. Not because I think Mormons are like Cavemen, but it’s hard to explain. Mormons have done a good job of getting into positions of influence, but have (to date) never achieved the presidency. The Cavemen intro shows Cavemen in the history books, but obviously never in the center of our history. So I guess that’s it.

The Spy who was undone by his email.

WPA posters from the 30’s and 40’s. A part of me thinks they’re creepy (maybe because I am presently reading 1984), and a part of me likens them to the ridiculous PSA’s and After School Specials from when I was younger, but a part of me likes the whole notion of promoting common culture. They’re also aesthetically pretty interesting.

A look at the systemic bias against men in King County family courts.

An oldie but goodie: Tech support is there to get you off the phone. Though they are harder to understand, I do find that Indian customer support is often more patient.

A look at the long-term unemployed. In short, they’re older, more educated, more likely to be black or Asian, and just about everywhere but the south.

America’s most over-priced cities.

Greed is good (and so are lust, envy, pride, anger, sloth and gluttony)

Iceland is so worried about inbreeding that they have a database.

The man who tried to stop the Challenger launch.

Photo of questionable appropriateness below the fold. (more…)

Category: Newsroom

Catholic writer Kyle Cupp writes about the difficulties of the anti-contraception argument:

Opponents of contraception face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, not the least of which is their position’s antagonism toward today’s common sense view of sexual morality. Opposition toward contraception is not common; acceptance of it as a personal and social good is. A few voices cry out in the wilderness, but they are just that: a few, and, by today’s standards, uncivilized. {…}

Opponents of contraception cannot easily dismiss its judgments or wave them away as products of a perverse age. The proposition that today’s common sense view of sexual morality is perverse requires careful demonstration. Noting the correlation between widespread use of contraceptives with other social ills does not suffice. Even if one could prove a causal relationship between common acceptance of contraception and, say, the rise of cohabitation, one would still have to show that this growing acceptance of cohabitation is also a sign of corruption.

There is something to be said for not bending with the times. Manytimes, the people telling you how you need to bend with the times… well, don’t have your best interest at heart. They are not interested in your church’s survival so much as that you get out of their way.

Having said that, a church’s perishoners do need clues on how to reconcile their membership in the church with the modern world. And on this, the church has failed. Most have, but few so spectacularly on this particular issue.

Now, most churches have a prohibition on premarital sex. But the reconciliation, such as it is, is to say “Well, we can’t stop you from doing it, but don’t talk about doing it, and say with us that you shouldn’t do it.” The RCC takes it a step further, by essentially saying “We can’t stop you from doing it, but we will double up on the sinfulness of it by not allowing you to take comparatively common-sense measures to protect yourself from adverse consequences.

Most of the time, the result of this is that Catholics are among the most talkative people about their sexual sins than any other group I know. And they use contraception. And they talk about that, too.

What’s missing from all of this is exactly what the Church (and most churches) do want you to do. The focus on don’t makes sense in light of certain things, but it leaves certain logistical questions unanswered. Namely, if people are supposed to wait until marriage, and they’re not marrying until they’re 30, how realistic is this expectation?

The only church I have ever seen really tackle this problem is the LDS Church, and they have planted a flag on not waiting until you’re 30. Not just by saying “Don’t wait until you’re 30” but also by actively trying to hook their youngsters up. The basic Mormon timeline, as best as I can tell, is that boys go to K-12, go on a mission for two years, then they’re 20 and the girls graduating high school are 18 and… there you go. It’s not arranged marriages and they want you to find the right person, but the order of the day is “get moving.”

If churches really want less premarital sex, and to get rid of the 20’s sex culture, they they need to work harder to prevent it from happening. Rather than wagging their finger over the fact that it is happening. Don’t tell me that they can’t do this because the Church doesn’t want to mettle.

Rather, I think they don’t want to do it because it’s politically difficult. Even among conservatives in the US, marrying in your early twenties is rather strongly discouraged for logistical reasons. Particularly among the middle class and upper middies whose money they often need and who don’t want the church telling them they need to marry that kid with the ear-ring that their daughter just swears she’s in love with. In an odd way, it’s here they’ve chosen to bend. Not against church doctrine, but against the inevitable results of failing to do so – the results running against church doctrine. Maybe that’s a crucial distinction, but it does come across as a somewhat disingenuous one.

Now, doing so would probably be a losing battle. The Mormons themselves seem to be losing their grip, with fewer boys going on missions and the prescribed timeline being disrupted. But the Mormons have advantages (an insular entertainment culture, 1.3 states they dominate, and so on). But it’s no less crazy than asking kids to wait for sex until they’re 30.

Of course, on the contraception discussion, this only tackles one part. Once married, the Church’s path is clear. Keep having kids. Clear, but ignored. But at least they went down swinging.

Category: Church, Coffeehouse

Megan McArdle looks at retail and the age of the Internet. It’s not a pretty sight.

Fecal transplants?

The World Map of Political Corruption. What’s up with Chile? I’ve certainly read it argued that Pinochet left an unusually good legacy, but… impressive.

Matt Yglesias looks at The Perils of Presidential Democracy. Only the US and Chile have maintained undisturbed constitutional continuity under our system, and Chile’s folded in the 70’s. One of the things that makes the US different is the fact that our parties lacked ideological coherency. But that’s not the case anymore. Are we in trouble? (Comment with care on this one, please. If you think the Republicans, or the Democrats, specifically, are trying to destroy us, all that tells me is that you are more aligned with one side than the other.)

The Last Psychiatrist drubs one of those irritating gender-neutral parents. The point that these people are expressing themselves to the social detriment of their children simply cannot be emphasized enough.

Made in America has real value… in China.

Farhad Manjoo argues that the proliferation of pajama-wearing in public is not a sign of our declining moral fiber. He’s wrong.

Bakadesuyo: Taller people are happier.

The Cult of Amazon Prime. I can’t remember which one of you recommended it to me, but thank you. It’s awesome.

In Kindergarten, the bullies do better than the bored.

Category: Newsroom

New York Times editor went to war against pirates. It turns out, their obedience of copyright law is in question.

Mapping the body with 2,000 years of images.

The Washington Post has a good piece about the primary care physician shortage. Unlike many articles on the subject, this one hits it where it counts: residency shortages. In related news, my wife is likely leaving primary care.

Megan McArdle and others envision post-campus America. I am skeptical that this will really take hold (McArdle has her skepticisms, too), but the what-ifs are interesting and I think on-target. This may get a post of its own.

Predictions about the death of American hegemony may have been greatly exaggerated.

New York has a funny definition for moderate and middle-income housing. People who earn up to 165% of the median income are eligible. It all reminds me of the fundamental question of NYC: What if they built a great city and nobody could afford to actually live there. An economist would say that’s bunk, of course. But it brings up some interesting questions. Subsidized housing in a tight market can just jack prices up even higher.

Matthew Yglesias asks if reduced federal office demand could be good for DC. Is say so! Move the capital to Nebraska! On, absent that, there’s no reason not to move some of the administrative stuff out. I just sent my taxes to Fresno.

Free etextbooks! This could actually make things interesting…

Bakadesuyo: Smoking is a social habit. Loneliness kills.

Nagging is a marriage-killer.

Category: Newsroom

Forbes’s Paul Tassi argues that piracy is, first and foremost, a service problem:

So, what to do? Go the other direction. Realize piracy is a service problem. Right now, from the browser window in which I’m writing this article, it is possible to download and start watching a movie for free in a few swift clicks.

(This is all purely theoretical of course)

1. Move mouse to click on Pirate Bay bookmark

2. Type in “The Hangover 2? (awful movie, but a new release for the sake of the example)

3. Click on result with highest seeds

4. Click download torrent

5. Auto open uTorrent

6. Wait ten minutes to download

7. Play movie, own it forever

He also cites price. I am sympathetic to this argument, but I have become increasingly less so over the years. In large part because it ignores the existence of the music industry.

Namely, the music industry has something very much like what he’s talking about. Except that it’s a buffet. I have subscribed to Rhapsody since 2005 and with it comes a lifetime’s library of listening. As much as I want, whenever I want. It does require a computer, but if I want to listen to it in my car, I can buy it with less hassle than I can download an illicit copy of it. And now, with Spotify, you can listen to music for free. In short, the music industry has (reluctantly, belatedly) done everything that has been asked of it.

Has piracy abated? I don’t know, but I don’t think it has. If it has, I haven’t heard about it. (Note: I am not saying that piracy is to blame for the industry’s doldrums.) Instead, we’re hearing the same things about the music industry we’ve heard all along. Namely, that they’re just going to have to deal with it.

And you know what? They are. The only way to really crush down on it would be burning the village to save it. Or rather, burning the Internet down to protect their turf. I have my doubts that even SOPA/PIPA would have been sufficient.

Now, to get back to movies, I don’t disagree with Tassi’s plan, in the overall. Not as a way to combat piracy in any meaningful sense, but as a way to make a few extra bucks.

The music industry isn’t actually necessary for music. As music has become easier and cheaper to produce at professional-sounding levels, they can actually outsource and crowdsource their artist selection and focus more on the real service they provide, which is promotion (and, to a lesser extent, distribution). And that’s something of a zero-sum game where everybody can make due with less as long as everybody is spending less (at least I think).

Movies are in a bit of a different predicament, because we need movie-makers and networks in a way that we don’t need the record industry. Good movies, and good TV shows, tend to be pretty expensive. Ultimately, there has to be a way for them to recoup those costs. The good news is that movies have more at their disposal to do so. Initial release. International release. Video release. Commercials on television. Music has other forms of revenue, too (licensing), but it has fewer bases.

So I am not particularly worried about the destruction of Hollywood. And at least tentatively, I am actually inclined to say the same of the movie/TV industry as I do the music industry. A worst case scenario, if it were to come to fruition, though, is far worse for video entertainment than audio. But it doesn’t seem to be affected. While theater movies seem to be getting more and more conservative, (something I might attribute to piracy, if it weren’t for…) secondary movies seem to be proliferating. Look at the average Redbox or Safeway rental stand and you’ll see a lot of movies with recognizable names still getting made. And when these movies to straight to video, that’s a pretty strong suggestion of a strong market for such things, which is precisely where piracy should cut the deepest.

So, who knows what tomorrow brings. I’d still like to see Tassi’s service. Somehow, this is all going to have to get organized. I think it’s unfortunate that the Netflix model has taken the lead on this. Not because I don’t like the Netflix (streaming model). I do! But the all-you-can-watch is problematic and as people get used to it, the notion of paying for individual movies (even at a dollar or two) becomes increasingly foreign. That leaves us in a model where everything is a stable and everything will be spread out between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and so on. And worse, there will be little in the way of content reliability. You can (more or less) count on Rhapsody to have this month what it had last month. You can’t found on Hulu. Which itself may be enough for people to say “Hey, if I download it, it’ll be there as long as I don’t delete it.”

Category: Market, Theater

A look at the Keystone Pipeline and wealth creation. Buy low and sell high is apparently easier when you can buy low.

A judge has ruled that Americans can be forced to decrypt their laptops. I actually had a HypoThursday post around a very similar question. I wasn’t even aware of this story.

For Samson: A gorgeous look at the Montana wilderness in snow.

John Tyler, US President from 1841 to 1845 and the first ever Vice President to ascend to the presidency (creating Constitutional chaos as nobody knew what powers he would have), has grandchildren that are still alive. I had to do a report on a president, drawn from a hat. I picked William Henry Harrison, our 30-day president (and Tyler’s predecessor). I kept getting told how lucky I was. Lucky?! How do you do a 10-minute presentation on a guy who was only in office for 30 days?!

A study finds that there is no obesity link to junk food in schools.

The history of US oil production. Texas’ oil production has surged by 40%, but offshore drilling has gone down 20%. We now drill more in Texas than the entire offshore of the United States. If he were a competent speaker and, well, not Rick Perry, Rick Perry could have made something of this in November.

Allegedly, Democrats are targeting various Republican Secretaries of State (chief election officials). They got the one in Indiana convicted, but something went wrong in Iowa when someone attempted identity theft to implicate the SoS in something untoward.

Between a roller-coaster and a hard place. A theme park gets a lot of bad publicity (and sued) for kicking a girl with no hands off the roller-coaster ride, but we should arguably be blaming litigiousness rather than mean theme park operators.

Air Marshalls gone wild!

Category: Newsroom