Friday, March 28, 2014

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Nothing to see here, move along! Move along! (part I)

2) Nothing to see here, move along! Move along! (part II)

3) I don’t know about you, but I long for the day we can finally tell these backward yahoos to take a hike.

4) These are not the drones you’re looking for.

5) I’m a long suffering New York sports fan, in that the teams I follow – the Mets, the Rangers, sometimes the Jets and rarely the Knicks – all have histories of enormously long periods of really awful teams. On the whole, however, I’m glad I’m not in Philadelphia.

6) I’m not sure whether to rejoice that we may finally have cured death, or panic because we’ll all be dead soon.

7) I think this study puts paid to the whole “vaccinations cause autism” myth. A Rockefeller University study has shown that fetuses begin to exhibit signs of autism spectrum disorders and that children as young as six months, long before they’ve received vaccinations, can have full blown symptoms of autism. But even better evidence that it’s a tempest in a sippy cup is the morons that support the “theory”.

8) Suicide rates for New York City school children average one a week. Think about that.

9) Totally going to withdraw from this ATM.

10) Y’know, I totally want to party with the Bidens.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Fundamental Change to a Business Model?

If a buddy of yours borrowed a few hundred bucks from you because he had a can’t miss product he was developing, would you give it to him? What would you ask for in return? Nothing?

That’s essentially what Kickstarter uses for a business model: people from around the globe can bid for your attention to raise funds for any number of worthy – and not-so worthy – projects. They’re supposed to promise something in return if they reach a goal, but oftentimes that something is dependent on some other development apart from raising the money.

Case in point: Oculus Rift.

The big winners of Facebook’s $2 billion deal to buy Oculus VR, a virtual reality headset maker, include a roster of elite venture capitalists who invested in the company early on.

But many who supported Oculus in its early days will walk away empty-handed.

Those would be its backers on Kickstarter, the fund-raising platform that Oculus used to raise $2.4 million in September 2012. That money helped the company develop its Oculus Rift headset for video games.

Small donors got a thank you note. Larger donors were promised a prototype headset. Based on the value assigned by Facebook, if you gave $1,000, your investment is worth $1,000,000.

To Oculus, but not to you.

Does that seem fair?

Oculus leveraged the initial $2.4 million into venture capital of $16 million within a year. Within another 6 months, another $75 million was raised.

THOSE investors are getting a return on their investment of a lot more than a pair of cheap sunglasses.

I like the idea of crowdsourcing the fund raising based on how attractive an idea is, how qualified the recipient is, and how well the entire shebang is marketed to the crowd. You ought to be able to put together some sort of business plan if you’re going to borrow or solicit money anyway.

And yes, I get the whole caveat emptor aspect of this: it’s not like Oculus promised anything more than what they promised and they still raised the money they needed, and then some.

But we’re not talking about someone who decides to expand their cookie business from their kitchen to a store in town. We’re talking about a firm who clearly had designs on tackling a larger market, and who underpromised to their donors.

Enough of these – the Pebble watch springs to mind as another troublesome thorn in Kickstarter’s side – and people are going to start shying away from the site.

Yes, I know: the Veronica Mars Movie was a Kickstarter project, but there was a scenario where people did it more for the love of the character and the show than expecting a product to be wildly successful. And besides, movies don’t get sold to some idiot willing to overpay for a product.

If I was the head of Kickstarter, I’d be taking a good long look in the bottom of my next glass of wine.

Uh Oh!

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Taxes. Am I right? Those things are the worst. The dern gubbmint reaches into your pay check every damn week (or bi-weekly I don't know how or if you get paid) and removes a percentage of your income. And for what? FEMA camps? Actually yes because after a major tornado or hurricane people need temporary shelter. But that's a bad example. What about the Military? Another yes. And a BIG one too! The US spent $718 billion on defense and international security assistance in 2011, which is more than it spent on Medicare.

Taxes are also spent on roads, bridges, schools, police, gas lines. Oh, wait, apparently taxes don't pay for that last one because according to the FDNY and forensic inspectors, the Harlem building collapse was the fault of a "127-year-old, cast-iron gas line."

It seems that NYC is falling apart at the seams and I don't just mean the gentleman's trousers next to you on the subway. According to Time, the average age of the 6,300-plus miles of gas mains in NYC is 56 years old. In human years that's the new 30 but in gas main years that's KABLOOIE. And the gas lines aren't the only problem. From TIME:
Throughout the city, 1,000 miles of water mains, 170 school buildings and 165 bridges were constructed over a century ago. The city’s public hospital buildings are 57 years old, on average, and 531 public housing towers were built prior to 1950.
Obviously, the type of tragedy seen in Harlem is thankfully rare but to have them happen is inexcusable. Especially when we all know how cool and special and economically important NYC is. Take that, Boise.

But the next bit made me happy to be someone who uses mass transit regularly:
47 of [the 167 bridges across the city] were deemed “fracture critical,” an engineering term for bridges that have little structural redundancy, making them prone to failure and collapse.
That's not just an engineering term. That's a crap your pants on the GW term.

But it isn't all fun in the subway either. Nearly 40 percent of the signals are past their 50-year useful life which slow trains and commuters, and shortens everyone's patience, which like budget for restoring this place, is in short supply or nonexistent.

I initially heard about the explosion from my father, a retired NYC firefighter with 30 years on the job. Just as the news broke he sent me a text message that said: "Explosion in Harlem. 100 bucks it's a gas main." He knew immediately because the majority of the lines were old before he retired 10 years ago.

And that's the problem. Everyone knows things need fixin' -- roads, bridges, gas lines, subways systems -- but no one wants to pay up. But why worry? After they herd us into FEMA camps to cultivate sweet, legal marijuana for Uncle Sam to tax and line his pockets with we'll be living on easy street.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

And Teabagger Heads Explode in 3....2....

The UN has issued yet another firm and fact-filled statement with respect to global warming:

Extreme weather events in 2013 can largely be traced to global warming caused by human actions, stated in the newest Status of the Climate Report from the United Nations. 

Michael Jarraud is secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. His group just released a new annual report on global climatic conditions. Extreme weather events were experienced in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Pacific last year. 

According to the new assessment, 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. The 13 complete years since 2000 have made up all but one of the 14 hottest on record, according to the U.N. report. Australia recorded a new average high temperature, as did parts of Africa central Asia. 

It will be interesting in the run up to and the wake of the release of the ultimate climate disaster movie…not sure where to put the emphasis there, “climate” or “disaster” since I suspect it will be both…how much a stink wingnuts will want to make about this study.

After all, tens of millions of Christians will be watching a movie about a sudden, violent flood that wipes out all life on earth. It doesn’t really matter if God directs it or not, does it? It’s going to scare people.

(side note: I wonder if this is why avant garde director Darren Aronofsky agreed to do this movie. It’s a pretty subversive message against the prevailing paradigm of the right)

See, it’s OK if you believe in God or not to believe that mucking up our home is going to have a backlash. God might step in, if that’s your belief system, but then he’s shown in the past He might not if He’s angry enough at us.

And if you don’t believe in God but in science…well, the science is absolutely crystal clear, and will happen whether you agree with it or not. Humility should be the watchword of the day.

And the telling phrase in the report is this:

A study of higher temperatures in Australia used nine separate computer models to determine if the phenomenon was due to man-made causes, or was a natural occurrence. Models revealed the record-high temperatures last year would have been nearly impossible without trapped greenhouse gases. 

QED, biatches.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Imagine This Frightening Scenario

President Barack Obama wakes up on the morning of November 5, 2014 with a headache:

When FiveThirtyEight last issued a U.S. Senate forecast — way back in July — we concluded the race for Senate control was a toss-up. That was a little ahead of the conventional wisdom at the time, which characterized the Democrats as vulnerable but more likely than not to retain the chamber.

Our new forecast goes a half-step further: We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber. The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions.

As always, we encourage you to read this analysis with some caution. Republicans have great opportunities in a number of states, but only in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Arkansas do we rate the races as clearly leaning their way. Republicans will also have to win at least two toss-up races, perhaps in Alaska, North Carolina or Michigan, or to convert states such as New Hampshire into that category. And they’ll have to avoid taking losses of their own in Georgia and Kentucky, where the fundamentals favor them but recent polls show extremely competitive races.

Short answer: The GOP has a 60% chance of wresting control of the Senate from the Democrats.

Mind you, this is not a fair assessment of the political will of the nation. Recent polls seem to indicate a general distrust of Republicans (can’t find the link right now, but I’ll keep searching) but you have to counterbalance that with the consistent view that the nation has that the government ought to be divided amongst parties.

It comes down to this: Democrats turn out for national elections. They do not turn out for midterm and local elections. Republicans can count on a continual, if dying, base of rock-ribbed voters who will vote no matter how small the election.

Ignorance has its virtues, you see. Bamboozle enough people into believing that you are good for them, and they’ll faithfully follow you like a puppy dog, despite the fact that you kick them every chance you get.

The survival strategy for Democrats is to get out the vote (GOTV). There are precious few things in Silver’s analysis that can be influenced by an effort. You can’t change the demographics of a state or county, most of which tend to be a deep purple, you can’t change the bias of a local or state government that can throw its weight behind the candidate of its party, and you can’t cross your fingers and hope for a wide-spread sex scandal to impact precisely the candidates you want to defeat.

But you can motivate people. One can only hope that President Obama has such a strategy in mind.

After all, Silver was 100% correct in 2008 and 98% correct in 2012. And while his methodology suffers slightly from the same troubles any pollster has in off-year elections (bad data is abundant), to expect Siver to be off by ten percent is asking a lot.

So get up off your butts and get your friends to the polls. Make a difference, because this year, you can.