28 July 2005

How To Cancel AOL

Posted by Jameson Penn
Tips from the experts.
Call 800 827-6364. Say: “Cancellation.” You’ll need answer to your security question. Voice recognition not bad.

Then a live attendant. They ask why you’re cancelling the service. Just repeat: I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. Don’t be any more specific, or they’ll go off into a tree.

Then they’ll ask, are you planning to go on highspeed? Do you want high-speed?

No. No. No. No thank you. No thank you. Just repeat. You’ll have to do this about five times. Amazing. Like talking to an automated attendant who can’t understand what you’re saying.

Don’t explain anything, or it just takes longer.

Justifying Irrational Exuberance

Posted by Jameson Penn
As though consumers needed another excuse to go further in debt--! A morgtage lender in Florida, Texas and Arizona is offering a free Tivo to anyone who signs up for a line of home equity before November.
Chris Ward, Compass' senior VP of consumer and home equity lending, says Compass was looking for ways to tap into the latest tech toys. "Everybody is trying to find the new toaster, so to speak," he says. Focus groups indicated a high-premium gift could influence where consumers choose to do business so long as fees, rates and closing costs were competitive, Ward says.

Luddite of the Day: George Martin

Posted by Jameson Penn

George Martin, producer of some great Beatles albums (Revolver, Sgt Peppers Longely Hearts Club Band, et al), is uncomfortable with idea of amateur music:

"With iPods, mini-recorders and all the new technology, people can lie in their bath and make a rock record."


18 July 2005

In Ralph's Words

Posted by Jameson Penn

Few people on this earth have more directly influenced my thinking and motivations than Christina's father, Ralph A. Rohweder. He was a delight to engage (or be engaged by, as the case may be), an inspiration to many, and a provoker of thought to even more. What better way to memorialize the second anniversary of his passing than by focusing on his ideas we have gained rather than the loss that we have experienced.

Indeed, Ralph's words and thoughts will live forever, so long as there exists unharnessed individualism and the desire to affect change among us. To preach of individuality and truth is one thing; to live it is another.

To Ralph and all whom embrace his genius:

Expectations and Fulfillment
The quality of life is determined in attitudes associated with two words -- optimism and cynicism. If, in your early life, you find it possible to achieve things that make you proud of yourself, you will become an enthusiastic leader of beneficial endeavors. If, on the other hand, your early experiences are discouraging, it is likely that you will come to see your world as hostile and embittering.

One of the most brilliant intellectual talents of my acquaintance is also a damned fool. His cynical motto for life is: "You’ve got to get them before they get you." Of course, he has built a private world of dangerous enemies. His cynicism is now realistic. He cannot trust anyone. He is under constant stress. His power to accomplish anything is severely limited.

It takes optimistic hope to make anyone want to do useful things. Optimists are the almost only achievers in life.


Economics: The Core Science of Civilization

Human behavior is not all that different from the behavior of plants and the animals we designate as inferior. Life at all levels involves choices of what to do next. A tree orients its leaves to collect maximum solar energy. It sends its roots where water and minerals are sufficient. Animals, with a wider perimeter for action, have more options for action.

Human beings, being able to be aware of possible later consequences, have more complicated choices to make. Nevertheless, most human action is selected in the light of immediate consequences.

People with superior ability to think choose their action paths with intelligent speculations about consequences affecting more people. They also try to anticipate consequences in future times.

Ability to look beyond one’s own instant needs and desires and beyond the next minutes or hours or days results in the superior performance of some families, ethnic groups organizations and nations. At the same time individuals and groups with the intellectual power to be motivated by broader concerns can be victimized by primitives who concentrate on what can be gained right now.

It is a fact that stealing can result in gains with less effort than producing. It is a fact that deception and force give power to the primitives of the world. And primitives have controlled and made miserable the lives of nearly all of the persons who have lived on this Earth.

Civilization is escape from control by primitives. It is fulfillment of the human potential for life above the savagery of the lower animal world.


The Underside of Idealism

Most of the killing in the world is done by “good” people.

Can you think of a form of murder more horrible than burning alive at the stake apostate Christians by church leaders? Perhaps the stoning to death of deviant Muslims is as cruel.

All of the large-scale killers in history have been champions of some sort of “righteousness.” Communism promised almost heaven on Earth with government strong enough to force correct behavior. Communism is, after all, total government; and government is an apparatus for compelling conformity. In the Soviet Union at least 24,000,000 were killed to enforce orthodoxy. In Communist China somewhere between 30 and 60 million were slaughtered.

The National Socialist (Nazi) regime in Germany exterminated about 6,000,000 Jews, Gypsies and gentile political opponents. The purpose was to revive a nation reduced to the poverty of a third world country by adversaries. Eliminating opposing groups was deemed necessary for rebuilding a successful nation. Adolph Hitler appeared to many Germans to be an inspiring champion of pride, teamwork and accomplishment.

Passionate environmentalists have brought about the deaths of more than 12 million - - mostly children - - in Africa. Banning production and use of the insecticide DDT has allowed Malaria and other insect-carried disease organisms, such as the West Nile Virus, to flourish. DDT is harmless to higher animals when used correctly.

Radical environmentalists find other ways to hurt people. Some put metal spikes in trees so that loggers are likely to be killed or injured when their chain saws fling the spikes out of the wood. Environmental extremists promote deadly forest fires by preventing removal of overgrowth. They also block construction of access roads so that firefighters cannot function efficiently.

Genetically improved food crops are demonized by health faddists posing as guardians of health. They doom millions to malnutrition and many to starvation.

Much of the world’s food supply is eaten by insects and germs. Less destructive for sterilization than chemicals, boiling or baking is ionizing radiation. Fanatics have prevented widespread use of this most advanced food preservation technology.

Fewer murders, rapes and other violent crimes occur when there is widespread ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens and when there is firm enforcement of the more than 20,000 existing gun laws against criminals.

Criminals prefer helpless victims. Anti-gun crusaders work to give criminals the upper hand. This is why the highest serious crime rates are in the cities that disarm law abiding citizens. New York City and Washington, D.C. are shameful examples.

08 July 2005

Gmail Users Developing Ad Blindness; How to Resolve

Posted by Jameson Penn
Google has a big problem on its hands: Gmail users are developing ad blindness. Ad blindness results when people get accustomed to ads and stop noticing them. Ad blindness is not a problem for search engines, as people are searching for information and very often text ads constitute relevant information. Gmail ads can be relevant as well, but they have a much lesser probability of being so. Consequently, people have a lot less incentive to read them, and eventually learn to ignore them without conscious effort.
Google can offer all sorts of additional Gmail account enhancements in exchange for Google Points. For instance, Google could offer Bayesian spam filtering for 150 Google Points. Bayesian filtering is somewhat expensive to implement as it requires the storage of account specific filter data. Google will be offering the feature to its best customers so the additional expense will be acceptable. Google could have done something similar with POP access, and probably still can as Gmail is still in Beta. The idea of distributing Google Points in addition to quota chunks seems redundant. Why not simply distribute Google Points, and let people purchase quotas if they so choose? The problem here is that Google Points will need to be accumulated before they can be exchanged for account enhancements. Consequently, there will not be any instant gratification associated with them. The instant gratification of immediately available additional storage is essential to keeping users interested in any such scheme.

02 July 2005

Lateral Thinking

Posted by Jameson Penn
Mark Up and Up and Up
Which commonly consumed commodity has the greatest mark-up in price from the cost of raw material to the price paid by the consumer? WHAT is it?

HINT 1: It is not gasoline, cocaine, CDs, truffles, or pearls.
HINT 2: It is a food; it is cooked; and it is a popular snack.

Money Maker
A man walked into a store and bought some candy. He and the clerk did not know each other. He paid with a $20 bill and received $21 in change. WHY?

HINT 1: There was no wrong-doing or criminal activity.
HINT 2: The clerk gave the correct change.
HINT 3: The man was on vacation.

Mark Up and Up and Up: Popcorn. There is a 5,000% mark-up in the cinema.
Money Maker:
An American on vacation in Canada paid with US$20 and given CA$21 in change.

Freakier Than Steven Levitt

Posted by Jameson Penn
The regular wsj series, Econoblog, has it's most recent edition available. This blog-formatted discussion tends to be an economic debate between two opposing bloggers. However, this week's offering is a dialogue between two GMU econ profs, Bryan Caplan and Alex Tabarrok concerning just how freaky they are, a la Freakonomics.

While their discussion hits upon plenty of interesting areas just begging for extended analysis, here is one that struck me as the most unique:

Rental Cars Pricing
While rental car companies advertise low rates, the actual cost is always much higher, once taxes and hidden fees such as added insurance and gas fill-ups are taken into account. Entrepreneurial thinking would have you believe this is a ripe opportunity for a competitor to break out of the mold and run with a marketing approach similar to: "We Have No Hidden Fees, Unlike Our Competitors!" So why doesn't this occur?

A paper written by Xavier Gabaix and David Laibson suggests that there are generally two types of consumers: the smart and the naive. Profit margins are made by luring naive consumers to the party and having them eat as many added costs as possible. Sophisticated consumers don't want to buy at cost, and they don't need to so long as their naive counterparts are there to subsidize them.

Consider the opposing sales strategy applied by CarMax, a large used/new car dealer. CarMax advertises haggle-free prices fixed at or marginally lower than MSRP. This is not an attractive deal for sophisticated car buyers who do not see an even trade in the haggle-free approach, which is essentially surrendering your buyer's right to negotiate for an arbitrary price, that you are expected to believe is a deal. Don't get me wrong: haggle-free has its place, it just happens to not be an across-the-board deal as such vendors would have you believe.