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Comment Rational? (Score 4, Insightful) 61

Can we stop saying that maximizing profits at all costs is the only rational approach to business?

It's a rather new idea that's been pushed by the financial and legal worlds for the last 40 years (because, surprise surprise, it lets them maximize profits on their advisory services), but is by no means the only valid metric for measuring business success. Focusing solely on profits oversimplifies the role of business in complex markets. This single minded focus ultimately leads to monopolies providing expensive, crappy products (which is exactly what Santa Monica is trying to avoid here).

Comment Re:What exactly are they doing with it? (Score 3, Informative) 62

IBM is using blockchain as a distributed, digital ledger service. The basic idea is to create new blockchains for different domains (think of Bitcoin as a blockchain for digital currency) and the use those within a community as ledgers to track transactions (for example, all real estate transactions could be added to the real estate blockchain). They're developing ways to also include rules for transactions to only allow updates to the chain if certain conditions are met.

Source: I sat through many presentations on this at IBM Edge last week.

I'd type more, but I'm on my phone... Google IBM and blockchain to see more. It's actually pretty interesting.

Comment Texas Did It First! (Score 4, Informative) 161

I know that's an odd subject for this thread, but Texas beat them to this by almost 10 years.

CPRIT (Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas) was founded in 2007 and chartered with spending $3B over 10 years to develop new approaches to cancer prevention and treatment. If you're in the cancer research space, you know about CPRIT. It's the single largest research fund for cancer outside the NIH.

To get an idea of what $3B can do, check out the CPRIT site

If you don't want to do that, basically you can fund a few companies and a number of research projects, but it's nowhere near enough to make a dent in the problem.

There's also the problem of fairly allocating the funds. CPRIT ran into this problem early on when it was found that many of the early, large grants were awarded without proper review to friends of the board. This prompted the entire scientific board to resign and CPRIT to essentially reset. It's moving along OK now, but it's still an open question as to how many of the investments will yield actionable results.

Given Facebook's proclivity to reward friends with purchases at outrageous valuations, I won't be surprised if this fund runs into the same nepotism issues CPRIT did.

There are many other lessons that they can learn from CPRIT, but the most important probably is that $3T is probably a more realistic number.( See also all the comments about the tech industry's hubris when it comes to these types problems - curing cancer/disease is not the same as slapping together some APIs to create a "world changing" app. )


Comment Motion Sickness (Score 4, Insightful) 233

I get motion sick if I try to read anything (book, map, phone, computer) in a moving car or train. I'll get zero productivity gain from a self driving car. Not sure what percentage of the population has the same issue, but I doubt it's insignificant.

More importantly, what's with the continued obsession with maximizing productivity? How about pitch it as a way for people to have more time to relax and recharge? Self driving car, some good music, a comfy chair, and some good scotch for the win.


Comment Re:Robots (Score 1) 156

The main costs for a transportation company (ignoring lobbying, which is Uber's actual largest cost) are drivers, vehicles, and fuel. Uber's found a clever way to avoid the last two entirely and seriously underpay the first. All autonomous cars will do is bring vehicles and fuel back onto Uber's balance sheet. Given that those costs aren't covered Uber right now (their drivers tend to quit once they do the math and realize that they're not going to come out ahead on car/fuel costs), Uber's expenses will go way up with driverless cars.


Comment Re:Worked for Amazon. (Score 1) 156

Sure, from a technical perspective you could probably run Uber off a small server farm*. But, you forgot about all the lawyers, lobbyists, and canvassers needed to sway local populations and politicians to change the laws to make Uber legal. And the subsidies to drivers so they can undercut their competition's prices.

*Though I doubt the Uber developers architected for performance (when you have money, you hardware looks cheap) and it's probably running on a few thousand nodes on some cloud service somewhere. For comparison, in the early days of the internet, the mapping company I worked for (the one everyone used from 1995 until Google pretended they invented web-based mapping/trip routing) ran the whole thing off five servers. Serving hundreds of thousands of directions and millions of maps each day and running an ad serving business on the side. And that was on mid-90s hardware.

Comment Re:I would invest (Score 5, Insightful) 156

Webvan was great. So was So is Uber.

Unfortunately, none of those companies had/have a chance without investor money to subsidize their services. Once forced to actually pay their costs, they will have no choice but to raise their rates or go out of business. With Webvan and, customers left when the rates went up. Same will happen with Uber.

That said, I'm happy to spend investor's money to save a buck. Use it while it's there!


Comment Re: Some of us... (Score 1) 367

If there is UBI for them then they are not totally worthless.

Giving people free money doesn't give them worth. It gives them money.

And that money can cover expenses so they can pursue things that actually make their lives worthwhile. Art, music, maker tech, volunteering, and all those other things we do that fulfill us when we're not working. You know, those things that help make us human and not just worker bees.


Comment Re:"Sharing" (Score 1) 133

I agree the term "ride sharing" is wrong, but I've giving up pushing that point when discussing Uber. Using the term "Transportation Network Company" (a more accurate term that most cities are adopting when drafting regulations to differentiate them from Taxi companies) just confuses people.

While an employer doesn't prevent a free market, what Uber does is in no way a free market service. The riders and drivers have no say over the rates. There's nothing free about that market. It's a tightly regulated market controlled by Uber.

Saying drivers regulate their price is the same as saying riders regulate what they're willing to pay - you're using the term regulate to mean something different than it usually means in these conversations. From the context of a market, regulation is a set of rules that limit how the market can function, not individual choices by actors participating in the market.

In my first scenario, the free market regulates the driver's rates. That's how a free market works. The driver can set whatever rates he wants and riders are free to accept them or counter them. According to free market theory, in that case the riders and drivers are free to negotiate a price. Given enough riders and drivers the "market" will eventually settle on a price that's agreeable to both parties.


Comment Re:"Sharing" (Score 1) 133

Uber and Lyft are in no way representative of free market principles.

In a free market, I need a ride somewhere, I put out a bid for what I'm willing to pay for that ride. If a driver likes my offer, they can accept it or counter. That's free market ride sharing.

Uber is simply a market for rides regulated by Uber, just as taxi services are markets for rides regulated by governments. You, as the rider, are completely at their mercy for setting your fare. Drivers are also completely at Uber's mercy for setting their rate. That's the opposite of a free market.

Even if you look at it from the service perspective of allowing ride sharing companies to create competing ride markets, Uber fails. Uber is heavily subsidized by its investors and foreign governments (Saudi Arabia's $3.5B investment, for example) and has never had to compete on costs. Again, something antithetical to free market principles.

Of course, just like I had deliver 50lb bags of dog food for free in 1999 and used Instacart until they jacked up their rates, I'm happy to spend investor's money on cheap rides. No point in missing out on the party while it's happening.


Comment Re:What the world needs is non-profit version of U (Score 1) 45

When Uber and Lyft stomped out of Austin like whiney, spoiled brats, the free market stepped in a started creating alternatives. One of them is a non-profit:

I haven't used it yet, but I like the idea of non-profit or B-Corps competing side by side with the for-profit companies.


Comment Re:That's money in the bank baby! (Score 5, Informative) 258

"Earlier this month the site compared this year's drunk driving arrests to last years -- and discovered that in the three weeks since Uber and Lyft left Austin, 7.5% more people have been arrested for drunk driving."

Keep in mind that that was a 6 week sample in absolute terms (not relative to population growth or corrected for any other factors, like more aggressive policing, festivals/events that could have spiked rates, weather, etc - it was just raw year-over-year numbers). It's bad statistics. It's been a bit depressing to watch so many techies (including many of my data science friends who should know better) blindly believe Uber/Lyft's messaging.

I live in Austin and I'm really sick of the Uber/Lyft propaganda machines. All they're doing is spending their VC money on lobbying and lawyers to mold communities in their image rather than trying to develop a service that actually works with the communities they serve (seriously: they spent $9MM trying to influence a local election. What a waste of some investor's money.) Uber is just a grand VC experiment in seeing how they can run illegal businesses and force laws to change for them. They tried it in health (23andMe, Therenos) and found the FDA to be a formidable opponent and instead went after an unpopular industry (taxis) to develop their playbook. Once they work out the playbook with taxis, they'll go after other regulated industries.

Remember, Uber and Lyft were not forced out of Austin. They simply left because they didn't want to play by the rules. They could have stayed. What's exciting is that the market is working and a whole new crop of TNCs are evolving in Austin that are willing to work with the community rather than against it.

And don't get me wrong, I love the idea of TNCs. They're great services, they just need to play by the same rules as everyone else and when those rules don't seem to be right, work with the community to find ones that do (compromise is part of that). Right now, Uber and Lyft are just acting like that spoiled rich kid you knew growing up who was never held accountable for his actions.


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