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Comment: Re:Good Business or Empire Building? (Score 1) 111

by swb (#49545821) Attached to: Comcast Officially Gives Up On TWC Merger

I don't disagree that blocking was the right choice. What I question was whether Comcast's current monopoly practices in the face of pressure across all business sectors (some more than others) are enough to make this merger make sense as a strategic business decision.

2-3 years ago where I live, you had a "choice" of high speed Internet -- DSL from CenturyLink, permanently stuck in the sub-2 Mbit/sec range or Comcast at 10+. A local Internet provider has been wiring part of the city for fiber -- it's a pretty small area now, but they just announced an expansion and are even offer 10 gig. CenturyLink has been running fiber in residential neighborhoods over the past month.

So by the end of the year, it's possible that there will be far better choices than Comcast for high speed Internet. Obviously this isn't enough, only one place, limited availability, etc, but it shows that other providers "get it" and see that Comcast is ripe for the picking.

I think the pressures on Comcast's cable TV service are even greater from Netflix, Amazon, HBO's new streaming option, selective download services like iTunes, Roku "channels" and so on. You can get most content now without cable.

I'd be most worried if I was Comcast about the original content. Most of what underpins cable is having content, and it may not be unlikely that in the near future the content people want isn't even available on Comcast or any other cable service at all.

Comment: Re:Good Business or Empire Building? (Score 2) 111

by swb (#49544749) Attached to: Comcast Officially Gives Up On TWC Merger

My sense is that it maybe wasn't good business.

The sectors represented by Comcast (content, cable, internet) all face a ton of pressure from various competition. Amazon and Netflix are actively creating content and building alliances with production companies. Cable is being decimated by streaming and downloadable content (accelerated by excessive cable pricing and poor customer service). Even Internet is showing signs of competition from municipal broadband and other providers -- CenturyLink, who is just about as awful as Comcast from a customer service perspective, just ran fiber optic cable down the poles behind my residential address. The utility guy I quizzed said it was for residential high speed internet.

The only way this deal made any sense was as a holding action -- give Comcast a bigger local monopoly slice and hope that they can milk the customer base and Netflix, et al, for enough cash that they can keep the wheel turning. Regulatory pressure, net neutrality, etc may even have limited that strategy, at least on the milk-the-content-providers department.

Mergers are expensive, from the deal costs to the business integration side and I really question whether at the speed their markets are changing that they can maintain customers and margins long enough to profit from the merger.

It also makes the business a lot bigger, which makes it slower to adapt and innovate, especially when it represents a sector that has traditionally relied on monopoly power and not innovation. Being a bigger dinosaur didn't help the dinosaurs.

Comment: Re:Being a less than ideal social fit... (Score 1) 330

by swb (#49544153) Attached to: Median Age At Google Is 29, Says Age Discrimination Lawsuit

I think your reasoning makes sense from a team productivity perspective, but I agree with the other poster that such practices when they involve cultural behavior and can be (even remotely) attributed to race, age, etc would be considered illegal and discriminatory. And you might even argue if your team is so easily disrupted by "differences" like this that they may not be the greatest overall employees (naive, narrow-minded, unworldly, inexperienced...), either.

The funny thing is I have heard many complaints from people I know about business not caring at all about the productivity friction caused by hires -- not just "hey, learn to get along with someone different" but actively ignoring/denying that the conflicts even exist.

I had a friend who worked at a local hospital system's IT department. About 3/4 of the workforce was native born Americans of various ages and genders and about 1/4 were south Asians. More than a few of the south asians had simply awful personal hygiene -- they smelled like bathing was only an occasional afterthought.

Numerous employees complained to line management and then HR. Line management ignored it because the employees were OK producers and apparently inexpensive. HR tried to gloss it over until one of the employees brought in some kind of note from a doctor who said that she was extra sensitive to odors. HR finally came up with a list of the worst offenders hygiene wise and told them there had been complaints and that "as a hospital system, we have a vested interest in cleanliness and hygiene and expect employees to respect the standards of cleanliness."

I think about half "cleaned up" their act and the rest just got moved to some corner of the office.

I've also seen kind of the reverse, at a college I did some consulting at there was a "clique" of Vietnamese employees there with long tenure but awful skills. They often spoke to each other in Vietnamese and seemed to use their tenure/culture as a way to edge out other employees despite the total lack of skills and abilities. The result was the other employees (mostly white, but one hispanic) ALSO cliqued up and these two groups did not cooperate well at all -- there was often real hostility between the two. When one of the Vietnamese fucked up a wireless config and blackholed half the wireless traffic, one of the non-Vietnamese taunted her verbally about fixing the problem "So are you buying us all lunch if you can't fix this in an hour?" The manager seemed to ignore it all.

Comment: Maybe investors are just wising up (Score 2) 99

by swb (#49541035) Attached to: Bloomberg Report Suggests Comcast & Time Warner Merger Dead

I'm kind of surprised that this deal had investor support. The larger business model is under attack on many fronts, content delivery by streaming video, Internet by municipal-backed and private fiber vendors who are seeing opportunity -- CenturyLink, one of the few companies who compete with Comcast for poor service, just strung fiber optic cabling on the poles behind my house which is supposed to support gigabit residential Internet speeds. And even NBCUniversal's strength in content creation is under assault by Netflix and Amazon original productions.

Even if you assume greater profits from increased monopoly abuse by a combined Comcast/TWC, huge mergers face big costs internally and I'd question whether they will have time enough even as a monopoly to recoup those costs and the investment expenses of the merger deal itself.

Plus, the larger the entity, the less it is able to adapt to the huge changes sweeping the video content and Internet markets. Cable is already a dinosaur, being a bigger dinosaur has never proven helpful.

Comment: Re:Automated sorting of mail and metadata? (Score 2) 64

by swb (#49538407) Attached to: New Privacy Concerns About US Program That Can Track Snail Mail

There are four things government is in a position to do better than anyone else: military defense, law enforcement, public works, and the erosion of liberty.

I don't know, the experience with company towns makes me think big business can do erosion of liberty on par with the government and with greater efficiency.

Comment: Re:Google should just buy Sprint and T-Mo (Score 1) 111

by swb (#49538259) Attached to: Google Launches Project Fi Mobile Phone Service

1.) There's not a lot of "optimizing" to be done since they overlap in most areas already.
2.) Sprint is a mixture of CDMA and LTE. T-Mobile is a mixture of GSM (HSPA) and a smattering of LTE. That's plenty of different technologies to support which means you might not even be able to ditch your overlapping tower leases, which is the main cost savings when consolidating carriers.
3.) Why do you think Sprint and T-Mobile are significantly cheaper than AT&T and Verizon? Because they spend much less on their networks, especially once you get outside the big cities. If Google were to actually improve their networks to the point of being competitive with the "big two," they couldn't afford to offer plans at these prices.

I think of optimizing as:

* Sunset CDMA support. Gone in 18 months. Shift everything to GSM/LTE. T-Mobile's network is there already, Sprint halfway. Too bad so sad for low end consumers hanging onto CDMA devices.
* In areas with maximal overlap, eliminating both CDMA and duplicated services may allow for better coverage in areas where both carriers have weaker coverage. If you can eliminate 40% of your coverage because its duplicated you should be able to expand your coverage by 20% at about the same cost basis. I don't think they would have to immediately become ATT/VZW sized in coverage, even small improvements would help.

4.) The last two times somebody tried to buy T-Mobile, (AT&T in 2011 and Sprint just last year - remember that?) the FCC smacked them down on anti-trust concerns over having only three nationwide carriers. Not likely to change, especially given that Google has its own anti-trust issues from time to time...

Depends on how Google did it. I think if they did it with transparency as a wholly-owned but independent subsidiary that was device and service agnostic (ie, not favoring Android or Google products) and did it with the same kind of "new pricing model" fanfare they might gain some traction. I think people are almost as sick of cell phone gouging as they are of cable gouging and there may be some approval for a combination that was poised to break the model. Just combining Sprint and T-Mobile as yet another cell phone company operating the same way as ever isn't appealing. Creating a real competitor doing this differently is.

Comment: Where are the "good" drugs? (Score 0) 391

by swb (#49525125) Attached to: Using Adderall In the Office To Get Ahead

Is it biology and psychopharmacology that are the limits on our drug development or is it some kind of bullshit puritanism that's opposed to success/wins/gains without the concomitant misery and suffering?

The drugs we have for feeling good, being productive, or increasing our sociability are just OK at best and kind of shitty at worst. The "productive" drugs (amphetamines, anti-narcoleptics, cocaine) tend to be somewhat-to-a-lot addictive and can produce psychosis and/or overdose death at the shitty end of the spectrum. The feel-good drugs (tranquilizers, barbiturates, opiates) also tend to be addictive, potentially deadly or induce depression. Sociability drugs are a mess, too -- alcohol, MDMA, cocaine all have serious drawbacks.

Of all the common drugs, only marijuana seems to escape most of the problems, although it has a habit-forming potential which will keep you stuck in mom's basement being a slug and watching Netflix or playing Xbox.

Why aren't we developing improved drugs that solve these problems -- reduce the risk of dependence, prevent overdose, basically provide as much of the desired effect with as little drawbacks as possible so that we don't have to have a ridiculous control regime, prisons, health problems, etc and people can take them as desired for their benefits without any significant downsides?

Provide a limited marginal utility of amount -- ie, the first N units provide most of the effect, taking more is just a waste because the effect tops out. I think Butalbital sort of does this by including low doses of naloxone, so that if its injected the naloxone inhibits the opioid effect. Couple this with a limited useful frequency -- the longer it has been since you last used the drug, the greater the effect, and the more often you take it decreases the effect.

Why aren't we creating better, safer drugs?

Comment: It's the "Clever Hans" effect (Score 5, Insightful) 398

by swb (#49522463) Attached to: Supreme Court Rules Extending Traffic Stop For Dog Sniff Unconstitutional

I'm too lazy to add anchor tags, but here are some references for you.

The UCDavis study is the best description of this -- when actually tested in scenarios designed to expose false positive results, that's EXACTLY what happened -- the dogs alerted in every place they shouldn't have and where the handler was given cues that the dogs would alert, the dogs were MORE likely to alert.

This is a huge problem with using dogs. It's not that dogs aren't good at sniff detection, its that dogs are so inclined to please their handlers that even when the handlers aren't purposefully lying they are still signaling their dogs that they should find something. So how do you separate out the dog actually sniffing out drugs versus the experienced profiling of the handler who expects their target to have drugs, gets a false alert from the dog and then discovers drugs from a hand search?

I don't think we CAN know if it was a legitimate signal from the dog or just the officer's experience that $Socialtype or $MinorityMember is very likely to have drugs.

It gets much, much worse if you take away the assumption that the cops/handler are 100% honest all the time. Do you really think that there isn't even some deliberate dishonesty with dogs? The worst outcome for the cops has been "well, the dog knows you had something in here but since I didn't find anything I'll let you go". The best outcome for the cops is that they get away with an illegal search that results in an arrest and conviction based on a dog's behavior that is beyond question, because, you know, dogs are so good at sniffing and its "a well established tool in our legal system and for good reason."




Comment: Re:Education is a red herring (Score 1) 284

by swb (#49521199) Attached to: Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers

I've been saying that for a decade now - the middle class as we know it today essentially didn't exist within living memory. (That's changing as the Greatest Generation dies off, but my point stands.) It's a product of the post-WWII explosion in technology and consumer demand. But it's the set of conditions that most living Westerners grew up in, and thus they take it for granted that it's theirs by right.

I would back date the origin to something closer to the late 19th century as urbanization and cities grew. You had increasing agricultural efficiency allowing more people to live away from the land and more and larger business organizations that required "white collar" jobs to manage the organization -- clerks, accountants, record-keepers, etc.

You might make an argument that could possibly stretch this kind of middle-class into the 18th century but the further back you go the fewer large business organizations you have requiring the kind of white collar employee base to make them run.

[...]. not automation (robots, etc... what's usually thought of as automation), but the microprocessor revolution. High skill jobs, formerly requiring college trained professionals (engineers and accountants for example), have vanished at a frightening rate.

I'm kind of using the generic term of automation versus specific technologies that physically automate mechanical tasks, such as robots. The PC is the biggest automater -- I heard a fascinating podcast on the development of the spreadsheet application. They interviewed retired accountants describing the work involved in creating paper spreadsheets for very basic cost modeling, the kind of thing that would be a 1 hour throwaway task in Excel now. IIRC, they even interviewed an accountant who was an early PC spreadsheet adopter that managed to make huge money charging for the time to do it the old fashioned way when he was really doing it on a computer, billing a dozen hours of work for an hour of actual labor with a PC.

That was short lived, but a great example of how PCs in many ways decimated a field as a single accountant could now do the work of many. I think they said that long-term it didn't hurt that much because as the ease of which you could create sophisticated models in PC applications became understood, the same number of accountants were now doing vastly more complex accounting jobs.

Ironically, I think the increasing sophistication of business modeling has had a side effect of making businesses much more efficient and allowed them to cut costs, including a lot of jobs.

Comment: Re:Education is a red herring (Score 4, Interesting) 284

by swb (#49519397) Attached to: Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers

But who's making money off those smartphone games at $1 a pop? All we hear about is how nobody makes money on them.

I've heard more than a few serious economists (ie, real academics who aren't mass-media brand names) sound kind of nervous about automation's role in shrinking the number of jobs. Few of them seem ready to entirely disown the notion that automating one set of tasks frees up labor for new economic expansions where the tasks can't be easily automated.

Where they seem to get nervous is over the fact that the jobs increasingly eliminated by automation are jobs that previously required a lot of education and were high wage, white collar jobs. And they're not being replaced by new jobs of the same type, they're being replaced by low-wage jobs that require hard to automate manual skills -- when they're being replaced at all.

The new high wage white collar jobs being produced often require the kind of extensive training and experience extremely difficult for mid-career professionals to obtain, which is compounded by the rate of jobs being automated.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that the notion of a broad middle class is a kind of historical accident caused by the confluence of growth in technology, wide and cheap resource availability and high labor demand. We may be nearing the end of the middle class as we've known it and mostly like it, and returning to a more historical pattern of broad poverty and narrow wealth.

Comment: Re:Golddiggers of 1933, Out of the Past (Score 1) 214

by swb (#49518027) Attached to: Netflix Is Betting On Exclusive Programming

I'm spoiled because back in my university days, I worked as a projectionist at a revival house for seven years and got the most thorough education in film history one could ever hope for.

Minneapolis had a theater like that, the Uptown. New schedule came out every month, and a good chunk of the month was different movies on different days, sometimes even different movies at different showings. Occasionally there would be a theme (eg, Tommy and Quadrophenia in one evening) and once in a blue moon a movie would span a weekend if it was new/popular. The movies were all manner of genres, from foreign to documentary to arthouse (Jim Jarmusch, etc) to revival showings. Quite often the films shown were unobtainable on VHS. Rocky Horror at midnight on the weekends.

And it was a great theater, interior-wise -- very art deco and with a balcony you could still use (my favorite spot, the railing was a great footrest). The audio was just OK but the projection was good.

The theater is still there, but its kind of the first run theater for an arthouse chain and shows usually one movie for a week or so, usually a bigger release film.

"It's when they say 2 + 2 = 5 that I begin to argue." -- Eric Pepke