Friday, June 28, 2013 and traffic post the end of Google Reader

Inspired by this Rumproarious post on the effects of the Google Reader shutdown announcement of mid-March 2013 (data excludes custom domains hosted by blogger or wordpress).



That's ... impressive. I'm still puzzled that WordPress didn't have a stronger response to the Google Reader shutdown. My best guess is that they'd already decided to abandon the business.

It will be interesting to return to this topic in six months. I'm amazed how many good alternatives have already emerged to Google Reader. I didn't think we'd have so many choices.

See also:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Microcomputer redux

Once upon a time, in the 1970s, these were microcomputers:

""Microcomputer 1970

We called them micro-computers because we used the term mini-computers for things that were the size of refrigerators. So something the size of a microwave was, inevitably, "micro".

The term fell out of favor though. In a world where the personal supercomputer is 10" tall, micro seems redundant.

More recently, however, things have gotten smaller. A lot smaller. The KL02 "microcontroller" is shown here next to a Mac's letter L. (Does anyone else make computers other than Apple? No, I didn't think so.)


I suppose it will be paired with a sand-grain sized 3D printed battery.

It's time to dust off an old word. Welcome back microcomputer.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Cash purchases driving a new real estate bubble - too much wealth, too few investments

Cash-only real estate speculation in LA, Boston, Miami, San Francisco and so on (emphases mine) ...

... These days, the only way for would-be buyers to secure a home, it often seems, is to offer all cash and be ready to do so within hours, not days.

...first-time home buyers are competing with investors to get into single-family homes with prices approaching $1 million.

... large investors purchasing thousands of properties

... a third of all homes purchased in Los Angeles during the first quarter of this year went for all cash, compared with just 7 percent in 2007. In Miami, 65 percent of homes sold were for cash deals, compared with 16 percent six years ago.

... In Los Angeles, the median price on an all-cash home this year is about $351,000, compared with $230,000 in 2009. Over the same period, the median price over all increased to $410,000, up $85,000. In fact, last month, home prices in Southern California hit their highest level in the last five years.

... Buyers in Boston are offering $100,000 more than the asking price or placing offers on homes they have spent only minutes in.

... He also waived the inspection clause, an increasingly common practice... offers today are more likely to include escalation clauses, saying buyers will pay an additional amount over the highest bid.

... cash purchases fueled in part by international investors and retirees awash in cash after selling their homes elsewhere....

This fits reports a few months back of large numbers of purchased but unoccupied condominiums in luxury markets.

Where is all the cash coming from? The article doesn't say, but there's vast wealth in China now and few safe places to park it. Real estate is a classic Chinese investment. There's also a large amount of boomer wealth in play as my generation (noisily, because we are nothing if not loud) shuffles off the stage.

What happens next? I assume we're in for another one of our worldwide boom-bust cycles...

Gordon's Notes: Stock prices - resorting to another dumb hydraulic analogy


Why are having these worldwide boom bust cycles? 

Ahh, if only we knew. Since I'm not an economist, and thus I have neither credibility to protect nor Krugman to fear, I'm free to speculate. I think the world's productive capacity has grown faster than the ability of our financial systems to manage it. There's too much wealth and potential wealth (in a fundamental sense, regardless of central bank actions) for our system to productively absorb. We're filling a 100 ml vial from a 10 liter bucket. Or, in Bernd Jendrissek's words: "The gain is too high for the phase shift for this feedback loop to be stable."

If there's anything to this idea then we little people may want to remember the advice of Victor Niederhoffer, a wealthy man who has lost vast amounts of money in the post RCIIIT economy:

... Whenever disaster strikes, the very sagacious wealthy people take their canes, and they hobble down from their stately mansions on Fifth Avenue, and they buy stocks to the extent of their bank balances, and then a week or two later, the market rises, they deposit the overplus in their accounts, invest it in blue-chip real estate, and retire back to their stately mansions. That's probably the best way of making money, to be a specialist in panics. Whenever there's panic hanging in the air, that's a great time to invest...

Of course this implies one has a relatively tax efficient way of moving money in and out of cash -- and lots of cash to gamble without fear of unemployment. When downturns hit most of us need our cash as a hedge against job loss; only the 0.05% don't need to work. Even so, there may be a lesser version of the long game we can play to at least limit our crash pain. For example, perhaps a 21st century John Bogle will create a derivative that retail investors can purchase on the rise (when we have cash) that pays off on the fall (when we don't).

How long will it be before the world's financial systems catch up with our productive capacity -- especially given the rise of Africa and the unfolding of the post-AI world?

I suspect not in my lifetime [1]. It's whitewater as far as the eye can see.

Update: In surfing lingo a hard breaking wave is a called a "Cruncher". Perhaps "new Cruncher" is a better term than "new bubble".

- fn -

[1] Though if wealth were better distributed we might have the equivalent of filling that 100 ml vial from 10,000 1 ml vials. Much easier to stop before overfilling.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Was AirPort Utility 6 the start of Apple's year of drifting dangerously?

I used Pacifist to install Airport Utility 5.6 when I upgraded to Mountain Lion. So I didn't really notice how many features Apple removed with the Mountain Lion/Airport Utility 6 upgrade. 

Recently though, I wearied of having to restart my (only) 3 yo Time Capsule every 4-6 days to reenable Time Machine backups. I ordered a new TC from Amazon to do a hardware swap test (30 day return) and, for no good reason, I tried using Airport Utility 6.2 to configure things.

It was an abysmal failure. To start with, it failed with a meaningless error message when it tried to join my existing network. For another I couldn't archive my Time Capsule backup -- and I couldn't disconnect guests and backups prior to power down. A Jan 2012 CNET article has the long list of lost features -- not to mention support for older devices.

In retrospect, Airport Utility 6 was a big initial step in a trek that included the iOS and iTunes regressions (though some functionality was restored to iTunes). January 2012 was the start of what has been a long and disappointing 15 months for customers like me.

WWDC 2013 will tell us if Apple is going to change direction.

I hope the rumored Microsoft shakeup is a very big one. I have a bad feeling I'm going to need them.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

What pedestrians and cyclists can do while we wait for the end of human drivers

After 40 years of biking with cars, and almost as long driving with them, I cannot avoid the obvious.

Humans cannot drive cars safely around anything smaller than a Honda Civic.

This is not a matter of rules or training. We could make violation of the three foot passing rule a capital crime and cars would still pass too close to pedestrians and cyclists. Even without benefit of age, smartphones or alcohol human drivers will signal left and go straight, open driver side doors into oncoming bicyclists, and do rolling stops through pedestrians. Human drivers will continue to not see motorcycles, pedestrians, or bikes.

Our evolutionary history didn't prepare us for the job of driving cars. Non-armored road travelers need the Google driverless car; within a few years of its affordable introduction friends won't left friends drive. Shortly thereafter human drivers will become uninsurable. (Shortly after that humans may lose the right to vote, but that's another post :-).

Alas, fully autonomous cars are probably twenty to thirty years away -- changes on this scale take much longer than enthusiasts imagine. Happily, we don't have to wait that long. Both Volvo and Volkswagen are developing pedestrian and bicycle avoidance systems. We need to make these mandatory in cars sold after 2018. In the same time period smartphones can be broadcasting increasingly precise location information to nearby vehicles, augmenting visual detection systems.

We should accelerate the effective Dutch-inspired trend of segregating bicycles from cars. We should continue to study bicycle and pedestrian accidents in detail and apply lessons learned. We should get blinking red lights on the backs of all bicycles, and the unarmored would be wise to wear eye searing colors. Some sting operations or video monitors to enforce Minnesota's largely ignored and often unknown crosswalk laws would not be amiss.

There's a lot we can do while we wait to celebrate the end of the human driver.

See also: