(Blog only) en Photos from Europe and Israel, and new travel blog I just got back from an awesome 17-day trip through Europe and Israel with Steph. We posted photos from the trip on a new travel blog, <a href="">Steph and Ben's Travels</a>, which we'll use from Argentina. You can subscribe to the new blog by email (in the right column) to get future updates, and in the meantime, check out our <a href="">Europe photos!</a> photography travel Tue, 21 Jun 2011 03:12:23 +0000 ben 7139 at Adventure 2012: Buenos Aires <img src="/files/ba-map.png" style="float:right" /><p>This coming September, my girlfriend <a href="">Steph</a> and I will be moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We're planning to stay there for a year. She'll be working as a <a href="">freelance journalist</a> there, writing a Latin America blog for GlobalPost, reporting on the elections in Argentina and other news from the region. I'll be continuing my <a href="">web development consulting</a> with stateside clients and hopefully participating in the Buenos Aires Drupal community as well. We'll also be writing a travel blog of our own, from Buenos Aires and the region.</p> <p>We've been very busy planning logistics for the year. I've been taking a Spanish 1 class, so I'll have some foundation to build on when I get there. Steph lived in Chile for a few months during college so <em>su español es bueno</em>. Buenos Aires is nicknamed the "Paris of Latin America," very cosmopolitan, with a lower cost of living than Boston (especially after the crash in the early 2000s), but high inflation (not officially acknowledged). The name means "fair winds" in Spanish, and its inhabitants are called porteños, "people of the port," so I imagine among other things, I'll be able to enjoy some sailing there as well. It's in the southern hemisphere, which means (after a brutal winter just passed in New England), we'll be entering spring and summer there as we leave spring and summer here.</p> <p>In the meantime, we're going to Europe for vacation in a few weeks, five countries in sixteen days.</p> <p>All together, between work, sailing frequently at <a href="">Community Boating</a>, and logistical planning, life has been good and busy and well balanced lately, and the next year will be as exciting as ever.</p> Life Mon, 16 May 2011 03:28:55 +0000 ben 7114 at A GitHub dev on the importance of side projects <p>GitHub developer Zach Holman wrote a great post a month ago, <a href=""><em>Why GitHub Hacks on Side Projects</em></a> (discovered via <a href=""><em>Signal vs Noise</em></a>). It's about having a culture that encourages quirky side projects, "automated inefficiencies," to give the mind breathing time between big challenges, to promote camaraderie, and to make people smile. I recommend anyone who does creative or technical work read it. Snippet:</p> <blockquote><p>You should build out a side project culture. A Campfire bot is natural for us, since we spend so much time in Campfire, but there’s plenty of other areas. Hack on your continuous integration server. An app that picks where you’re having lunch that day. A miniapp that collects and stores employee-created animated gifs. A continuous integration animated lunch machine. It doesn’t matter what it is; if it improves the lives of your coworkers or makes them laugh, it helps build a stronger company culture. And that’s cool.</p></blockquote> side-projects Wed, 11 May 2011 16:51:02 +0000 ben 7104 at "How to get a real education" by [Dilbert creator] Scott Adams <p>Scott Adams wrote a great <a href="">blog post</a> recently about the skills people really need to learn to get by in life. It's a great article, and having written about <a href="">everything I learned</a> in my overpriced college experience, and being an entrepreneur myself, I completely agree with him.</p> <blockquote> <p>“Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach them something useful instead?” ...</p> <p>By the time I graduated, I had mastered the strange art of transforming nothing into something. Every good thing that has happened to me as an adult can be traced back to that training. ...</p> <p>Combine Skills. The first thing you should learn in a course on entrepreneurship is how to make yourself valuable. It’s unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it’s easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. [...] The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.</p> <p>Fail Forward. If you’re taking risks, and you probably should, you can find yourself failing 90% of the time. The trick is to get paid while you’re doing the failing and to use the experience to gain skills that will be useful later. [...] Students should be taught that failure is a process, not an obstacle.</p> <p>Find the Action. [...] Move to where the action is. Distance is your enemy.</p> <p>Attract Luck. You can’t manage luck directly, but you can manage your career in a way that makes it easier for luck to find you. To succeed, first you must do something. And if that doesn’t work, which can be 90% of the time, do something else. Luck finds the doers. Readers of the Journal will find this point obvious. It’s not obvious to a teenager.</p> <p>Conquer Fear. [...] Once you become relaxed in front of people, technique comes automatically. Over the years, I’ve given speeches to hundreds of audiences and enjoyed every minute on stage. But this isn’t a plug for Dale Carnegie. The point is that people can be trained to replace fear and shyness with enthusiasm. Every entrepreneur can use that skill.</p> <p>Write Simply. I took a two-day class in business writing that taught me how to write direct sentences and to avoid extra words. Simplicity makes ideas powerful. Want examples? Read anything by Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett.</p> <p>Learn Persuasion. Students of entrepreneurship should learn the art of persuasion in all its forms, including psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics and even design. Usually those skills are sprinkled across several disciplines. For entrepreneurs, it makes sense to teach them as a package.</p> <p>That’s my starter list for the sort of classes that would serve B students well. The list is not meant to be complete. Obviously an entrepreneur would benefit from classes in finance, management and more.</p> <p>Remember, children are our future, and the majority of them are B students. If that doesn’t scare you, it probably should.</p> </blockquote> <p>Read the <a href="">whole piece</a>.</p> Mon, 18 Apr 2011 19:31:48 +0000 ben 7036 at Photos <p><a href=";id=908908&amp;l=f78eaa0c06">Photos from camping this weekend</a></p> <p><a href=";id=908908&amp;l=d6f7f00a4b">Skiing a few weeks ago</a></p> photos Sun, 10 Apr 2011 21:51:16 +0000 ben 7002 at Quick thought on NPR funding <p>House Republicans just voted to <a href="">"de-fund" NPR</a>, specifically the grand total of $5 million it receives annually from the federal government.<br /> For some perspective, US Federal tax revenue for FY2010 was <a href="">2.6 trillion dollars</a>. $5 million is <a href="*1000000000000%29">0.0000002%</a> of revenue.</p> <p>Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-CO, seems to represent the GOP consensus when he says, "as a country we no longer have this luxury." 5 million dollars is a "luxury" for the whole of American society, the whole of the US Federal government? We could raise taxes a fraction of a percent on the 10 richest people in a small town and cover that cost. To pretend this move has anything to do with the deficit is insulting to our intelligence.</p> <p>I donate monthly to <a href="">WBUR</a>, the local affiliate station (which has excellent, balanced programming), and I'm sure NPR and its major urban affiliates will easily close the funding gap. (Rural stations might not be so lucky.) It's not the federal funding that's the issue at all. It's that for Congress to spend even two seconds of its time debating such an insignificant expenditure is a waste of all our time. This is the saddest kind of pandering, appealing to a fringe base (that probably never listens to NPR anyway, to its own detriment), pretending it's about serious matters when it's about the basest kind of politics. The notion that we can't afford $5 million for news and culture is an insult to the concept of the United States as a wealthy nation. It's a good thing there's no merit to the arguments, because if there were - if we really couldn't afford to throw some Federal pennies at NPR - our economic outlook would have to be hopeless.</p> Fri, 18 Mar 2011 01:19:21 +0000 ben 6939 at Timeless Inspiration <p>My <a href="">2006 motorcycle blog</a> continues to attract a sizable audience, and every so often I get letters or questions from bikers looking to ride their own adventure. I got this one today:</p> <blockquote><p>Cool motorcycle trip. Ive lost just about everything i have and im very ill, im going to take a trip through the USA and head to the southwest to explore. Any particular advice, having traveled around on the bike? Im on a ninja 650r, and ill be taking minimal equipment, maybe a tank bag and small tail bag with me.</p></blockquote> <p>What can I say to that...?</p> motorcycle Sat, 05 Feb 2011 01:53:38 +0000 ben 6823 at 2010 <p>2010 was a pivotal year and the most productive year of my life so far. It began without a lot of direction: I was about to turn 25, which seemed like a milestone, and I wasn't "going anywhere." It ends with the opposite feeling: I'm exactly where I want to be, doing things I want to do, and it's only the beginning.</p> <p>Most of my activity this year involved work. I started my business, <a href="">New Leaf Digital</a> in April, quitting a decent but uninspiring job to become the entrepreneur I imagined myself being. I named the business for the new leaf I was turning in my life and the move was one of the best decisions I ever made.</p> <p>There were a few months of nearly non-stop work, and a few months living at a more relaxed pace. The year ends at a pretty busy pace again, but far from the kind of grind that burns people out, I'm finding it invigorating.</p> <p>I started working at <a href="">WorkBar</a> this year, a co-working space downtown that has been a wonderful environment to find my footing.</p> <p>In 2010 I learned about making your own luck. I was just starting New Leaf Digital and networking with the Drupal and web communities when I met Sean, now my business partner on <a href="">Antiques Near Me</a>. Luck swims by and we have to cast a net to catch it.</p> <p>Towards the end of the summer and into early fall, I started sailing on a friend's racing crew on weekends. That redeemed what otherwise might have seemed (due to a heavy work load) to be a lost summer. It also kindled a dream of sailing around the world that brightens the long-term horizon.</p> <p>In September I turned a new leaf in my personal life, ending a four-year relationship that was not furthering my happiness, and moved into my own place in Cambridge. That was another decision I am proud of this year. I celebrated the state of life (mine and my friends') at a wonderful party in November that I will remember for a long time.</p> <p>I also went to the <a href="">Maker Faire</a> in September and found a tremendous amount of inspiration.</p> <p>The Rally to Restore Sanity in October comprised the bulk of my [quasi]-political activity this year. That was a lot of fun and the rest of the year I was fine being a mere observer.</p> <p>In 2010 I expanded my comfort zone and became less afraid. I expanded my skills. I strengthened my friendships. I joined a gym and got back in shape.</p> <p>I'm finding genuine, meaningful productivity to be very helpful for mental focus. I'm on Twitter a lot less now, and on Facebook (communicating with real friends) a lot more. (As a token of this, for the new year, I've taken tweets off my blog.)</p> <p>I quickly scanned my blog for the last year and found this gem which I want to re-post, by <a href="">Merlin Mann</a>, that speaks to my experiences of the last year:</p> <blockquote><p>Be the curious one who soaks in all that “irrelevant” stuff. And, even as you stay heads-down on the “now” projects that keep the lights on, remember that the guy who invented those lights made hundreds of “failed” lightbulbs before fundamentally upending the way we think about time, family, industry, and the role of technology in how we live and work. But, yes, first he “failed” a lot a lot at something which more than a few of his contemporaries thought was pointless in the first place. [...]</p> <p>If we embrace the fact that no one can or should ever care about the health of our passions as much as we do, the practical decisions that help ensure Our Good Thing stays alive can become as “simple” as a handful of proven patterns—work hard, stay awake, fail well, hang with smart people, shed bullshit, say “maybe,” focus on action, and always, <em>always</em> commit yourself to a bracing daily mixture of all the courage, honesty, and information you need to do something awesome—discover whatever it’ll take to keep your nose on the side of the ocean where the fresh air lives.</p></blockquote> <p>In 2011 I want to devote more time to travel. And I want to allow for more time to reflect. Productivity allows for a living-in-the-moment that I love, but sometimes it's nice to sit down for a few hours and lets thoughts flow in undirected.</p> <p>I want to end this post by thanking my true friends, without whom life would not be half as full. Thank you, and I hope 2011 is even more fulfilling for all of us than 2010.</p> Life Sat, 01 Jan 2011 01:05:58 +0000 ben 6782 at Restructuring <p>I'm changing the structure of this site a little for the new year: tweets are now off the blog, on a new <a href="">Tweets</a> page (or on <a href="">Twitter</a>). My blog will be just a blog again.</p> Sat, 01 Jan 2011 00:21:04 +0000 ben 6781 at Debating Corporate Taxes <p>I had a fascinating debate with a friend of a friend on Facebook about corporate taxes. It was prompted by my friend posting this article, <a href="">US Companies Have $1 Trillion, But Won’t Spend It, At Least Not On Jobs</a>. It was mostly "X" and me, with someone else ("X2") chiming in at one point:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>X:</strong> Want them to hire people? Cut corporate taxes. Want them to hire lots of people? Eliminate corporate taxes. Doing this would even make the tax code more progressive.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> That's crap, sorry. 3 reasons:<br /> 1) There is no evidence whatsoever that more cash in businesses' accounts will make them hire more people. Case in point is this article on $1tn in cash sitting around.</p> <p>2) By that logic, to maximize economic growth, corporate taxes should be reduced to 0. Same would apply for income tax for the same reason, and really any tax. So government services would cease entirely. I doubt you'll find a single credible businessperson who says the economy would be better off with no government at all.</p> <p>3) The federal deficit contributes to businesses' lack of confidence in the US economy. Cutting taxes without cutting spending would increase the deficit. Economists of any stripe recognize that cutting government spending reduces aggregate demand and GDP. If you're going to argue for lower taxes, you need to make the case either that specific spending cuts will benefit the economy, or that the deficit doesn't matter. More importantly, the tax argument ignores the fundamental problem of low aggregate demand. Businesses aren't hiring because they don't need more people to produce enough to meet demand. Lowering taxes doesn't address that at all.</p> <p><strong>X2:</strong> SInce we are living in fantasyland now I'm going to say we should just give everyone a bunch of money and then we'll all be happy.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> I'm not sure how that argues against my 3 points. Are you arguing for no government at all? What's the proper tax rate and how do you compensate for the precipitous drop in aggregate demand if you suddenly cut taxes (and spending) to that rate?</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> For some factual context, from <a href=",,id=172265,00.html">here</a>, corporate tax revenue in 2009 was $225bn. Are you proposing raising the deficit another $225bn or cutting $225bn in spending, and if the latter, how do you compensate for that drop in aggregate demand? It's one thing to make a <a href="">Laffer Curve</a> argument about lowering the tax rate, quite another to eliminate it altogether.</p> <p><strong>X:</strong> Ben, I think you may have incorrectly guessed the premises for my conclusion. I'll respond to you in order. 1) What you said is wrong, but misses the point. What is important here are incentives. When businesses decide to start (or not start) a project they look at a reasonable expectation of profit. Right now they will lose 40 cents for ever dollar they earn, plus the cost of compliance (which is large). With no corporate tax, every single project they look at becomes more profitable, and they are able to turn a profit at a substantially lower unit cost. Another way of saying this: at any given price, businesses would be willing to produce more. It is also worth noting that $1 trillion is less than 7% of GDP. That number isn't as large as it sounds in this context.</p> <p>2) Yes, corporate taxes should not exist. But that does not mean the optimal tax rate for all taxes is zero. That is just poor reasoning. Corporations do not pay taxes; human beings pay taxes. If you take a look at the incidence of corporate taxes, you would note that they fall disproportionately on wage (as opposed to salaried) workers and consumers. They are, in effect a tax on the poor. They also encourage jobs to be shipped to lower-tax jurisdictions (which is pretty much everywhere else, the USA has nearly the highest corporate tax rate on Earth). Having no corporate taxes would encourage companies from around the world to do business in the United States, while the additional revenue going to workers, executives and stockholders would still be taxed. The difference is that the money would be taxed progressively, not regressively. This would create a net revenue increase for the federal government.</p> <p>3) No one is getting a tax break here. Once again, corporations do not pay taxes. Human beings do. Money would just be allocated more efficiently and individuals would have more money, and in turn pay higher taxes. The side-effects of increasing business activity would also increase federal tax receipts. Also, lowering taxes does increase aggregate demand. I'm not sure what school of economic thought you are advocating here, but Keynes would say you are wrong. So would Christina Romer. I suggest you read her departing comments she made in her last speech as a part of the Obama administration.</p> <p>This isn't a left/right issue. It's just a matter of efficiency. This position isn't very controversial among professional economists.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> ‎1a) I think you're mixing up revenue and profit. Corporate tax is on profits. "Reasonable expectation of profit" (as a binary profitable/not-profitable) is not affected by taxation at all. They are simply <em>less</em> profitable. 1b) The tax rate was basically the same through the boom years. Why did businesses produce and hire then? The answer is, there was demand for their products which doesn't exist now. 1c) It follows that, even if they made more net profit per sale, with the same number of sales (a function of aggregate demand), they would have no reason to produce or hire more. 2) I'm not sure where your data about waged/salaried taxes comes from, but a flat corporate tax rate of 35% would affect huge tech corporations hiring salaried PhDs as much as the mom &amp; pop cleaning company C-Corp paying minimum wage. The taxes affect the company across the board, leaving some X amount of money for payroll. Reducing the tax burden might increase payrolls somewhat (though $225bn divided by the workforce is not much of a raise), but it wouldn't help one class of workers more than another. 3) Lowering taxes increases aggregate demand, but lowering <em>spending</em> decreases it. I guess you're arguing that if taxes were lowered but government spending kept the same (increasing the deficit in the short term), the economy would rebound faster, bringing in revenue from other taxes that would offset the deficit faster? I'll read Romer's speech.</p> <p>I would entertain a policy proposal for progressive income taxation of capital gains, so hedge fund managers making $10bn/year pay in their proper tax bracket, offset by a sharp reduction in corporate tax to be more globally competitive. I wonder how the total revenue numbers would match up with that idea.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> I also find it interesting, and wonder what you think the reason is, that nearly every country in the world has a corporate tax, albeit at rates mostly lower than the US. If corporate taxation is recognized by "all professional economists" as being inefficient, you'd think somewhere they would have put that policy into practice.</p> <p>I learned something from this discussion: $225bn total revenue isn't much with the numbers thrown around these days. That's probably a few F-22's, a few nuclear submarines, a few tactical nukes. Oh the strange tradeoffs we choose to make.</p> <p><strong>X:</strong> ‎1a) Federal corporate taxes are levied on income, not profits. While there are deductions that can be made for price of goods sold, depreciation, losses and other things, this is not a tax on profits. Keep in mind, most of the US economy is in services and have no physical goods to offer.</p> <p>Ps, you say that corporate taxes can make a project less profitable, but not unprofitable? How does that work? Aside from the math problems inherent in your claim, do you think firms do not look at the alternative revenues they could earn from investing in federal bonds, etc?</p> <p>1b) This response is pretty childish. Decisions are marginal. E.g., "Will it be profitable to invest an <em>additional</em> amount of money?" If you don't understand this distinction you probably shouldn't be discussing tax policy.</p> <p>1c) You're suggesting a vertical supply curve. Once again, I'm really interested in hearing which school of economics these ideas are coming from. You've just ruled out Classical, Austrian, Keynesian and Marxian economics. But even with a vertical supply curve this response doesn't make any sense. You can say that corporations should pay taxes because it's fair, but pretending there are no costs for doing so isn't a serious position.</p> <p>2) You're not paying attention. Income taxes are not levied at a single, flat rate. Neither are corporate taxes, but that is beside the point. The incidence of corporate taxes is regressive, because businesses pass the cost of the tax onto workers and consumers. Eliminating the corporate tax would lower the price level, increase wages and the remaining money would be distributed to stockholders. This money would then be taxed through the income and capital gains tax structures, which are progressive. This would benefit low-income workers. You are also forgetting about the side-effects of increasing the competitiveness of American companies and increased investment.</p> <p>3) Who is talking about spending? I'm not of the opinion that deficits increase AD (not a Keynesian), but that is immaterial. This is about incentives, efficiency and tax competition. I also made the claim that eliminating corporate taxes would <em>increase</em> total federal receipts, making this point moot, again.</p> <p>Also, capital gains tax brackets are already progressive. Wikipedia has a nice chart.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> I just read Romer's speech, she said, "The only surefire ways for policymakers to substantially increase aggregate demand in the short run are for the government to spend more and tax less." That's sort of common sense, and she describes some examples further on, but nowhere does she suggest eliminating the corporate income tax. Just to set that straight. If it was such an obviously good idea, maybe she would have actually said it. (No one in the Obama administration - which includes many economists - has suggested it either. Please correct me if I'm wrong on this.)</p> <p>My understanding of corporate income tax was that (in a simplistic scenario) if the company paid its employees $1 million and made $1 million in gross revenue, its tax burden would be $0. Thus "income" is pre-tax profits, or what I simply call profits, the tax being a tax on profits. I run a small business myself, an LLC (so it's personal income tax not corporate tax), but this is certainly how our tax calculations work. I'm not sure if we're disagreeing on semantics or on substance with this point.</p> <p>I think you miss my point in 1b. The tax rate in the boom years was as globally uncompetitive as it is now. The harmful incentives were still there. Yet there was demand and output and jobs etc. The marginal argument is also problematic - if you eliminate the tax, at the next recession, what tax policy options are left for the government to use to deal with that recession? This isn't academic: I think the Bush tax cuts were a horrible mistake precisely because they were done in boom years, leaving no good (non-deficit-spending) options for the downturn.</p> <p>1c. I'm not saying there are no costs. I'm saying eliminating that cost will not create jobs like you claim. (Again, if that causal link was so obvious, and so clearly outweighed the negative tradeoffs, why is no one in the administration proposing it?) All else being equal, if you cut the corporate tax rate, so post-tax profit is higher, but aggregate demand is the same, production would stay the same, cash hoarding would go up, and there would be no reason to hire anyone new. Your argument is different, it's that aggregate demand will go up because people will be paid more, because more money will be available -- which is kind of circular -- but doesn't that argument apply to any kind of taxation, why not just eliminate the personal income tax, aggregate demand will go up, people will be hired, etc? In other words: if you're arguing that eliminating the corp tax is the best way to increase aggregate demand, it's an interesting idea, but I doubt the most effective. And if it doesn't increase aggregate demand, simply reducing the corp tax won't incentivize hiring, as I've already explained.</p> <p>"Eliminating the corporate tax would lower the price level" -- I wonder if there's a deflation component to this that's missing from this discussion (and apparent to the administration's economists).</p> <p>I want to make sure I understand your theory: are you saying, if you reduce corporate taxes, wages will go up the same amount that was saved - so a business saves $100k in taxes and 100 employees make $1k more -- then their income tax burdens go up proportionate to that additional $1k (let's say $350 more), so they have $650 more in purchasing power, and spend it -- then that $650 for each increases demand for the same company's products, so it hires more people, those people pay more income tax, so the government ends up with the same revenue. Is that basically right? It makes sense but sound too good to be real; I think there are some variables missing there. These wage increases have the same net effect as a personal income tax, but the CBO said the tax cuts in the stimulus bill had very little impact on aggregate GDP. What's missing here? Why is cutting corporate taxes more effective at increasing aggregate GDP than cutting any other kind of tax, when like you said, it's all <em>people</em> being taxed?</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> One correction: last paragraph, "These wage increases have the same net effect as a personal income tax" -> meant to write, "as a personal income tax <em>cut</em>."</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> Also if you could explain for me: with that hypothetical business, the government is making $1000 in corp tax per employee. With the corp tax gone, and the money going to wages, they make $350 (in the highest bracket). Those workers' (or other workers') wages have to rise another 200% over the initial raise (so ~$3000 from their initial wage) to make the same tax revenue. The initial raise makes sense but the triple part sounds like hocus pocus.</p> <p><strong>X:</strong> Ben, Christina Romer and Larry Summers both have done prominent research about how corporate taxes are bad, eliminating them is good for the economy and increases revenues (under certain situations, this is the complicated part). I don’t think either called for an outright ban in their academic work. My point wasn’t that she supported my proposal, but she noted, and has for quite some time, that cutting taxes stimulates AD. I was making an appeal to Keynesians.</p> <p>Your understanding of corporate taxation is still incorrect. It is income (revenue minus cost of goods minus deductions), not profit. They aren’t the same, or close to being the same. For places like Home Depot, which have huge expenses for goods, the tax is smaller. For companies like Microsoft, it is much larger.</p> <p>1b) You’re still missing the point. The fact that economy functioned while corporate taxes existed has no bearing on the marginal benefit of cutting corporate taxes. It is not just wrong economically, but is fallacious argument. The structure of it doesn’t work even if all of your premises are correct. A side note, it doesn’t matter if congress has no policy tool to abate a recession once corporate taxes are zero. Aside from that not being congress’ job, it isn't in a position to respond quickly enough to help, and there is still monetary policy (the Fed). The lags from changes in tax policy are pretty long. Recessions end with no help from government. They usually end faster and don’t go as deep as the one we had with the massive government intervention.</p> <p>1c) If you don’t think eliminating costs would create jobs/increase output then you are stating that you don’t think economics as a science has any merit, or you are proposing that the economy is static. Neither one is serious position. And once again, you are incorrectly assuming what my position is. I am not suggesting that we try to boost AD. I am suggesting that we remove large disincentives from businesses expanding. Reading up on Say’s Law might help you understand my position. The fact the Obama administration doesn’t suggest such a policy doesn’t support your position.</p> <p>Your summary of my proposal wasn’t very accurate, so I’ll try to summarize my position more clearly.</p> <p>Eliminating the corporate tax would change the structure of prices, wages and the allocation of capital within each firm. As things currently stand now, corporations do not pay any tax. It is worth noting here that corporations are works of legal fiction. It makes no more sense to say that a corporation pays a tax than to say that a corporation has a cool haircut, likes the color green, or wakes up early in the morning. Those are all things human beings do, as is paying a tax. The government does receive a check with a corporation’s name on it, but the money is extracted from shareholders, employees and consumers in the form of higher prices. There is also a deadweight loss associated with this tax, meaning that production that would have otherwise taken place does not. This tax is regressive, because corporations pay their employees (people with relatively low incomes) less, and it hits consumers (also relatively low income). Removing the tax would mean that corporations no longer write a check to the government, and no longer have to spend money complying with tax laws. The money that would have otherwise have gone to the government now gets dispersed to shareholders, workers and consumers. It doesn’t matter which way, and that mix will be determined by market conditions. It will also vary from firm to firm. So far we are still in Econ 101, none of this is controversial. Now, once there is no tax, and the deadweight loss associated with it is removed, there will be an increase in business. Firms will produce more. If you like the Keynesian model, the aggregate supply curve will shift to the right. It will also be more profitable to run a business in the United States, and corporations from other countries will come here. This will also increase investment here in the United States, as all investments will have higher returns. All of the money that would have been paid in corporate tax will still be in the economy, and will go through transactions that are taxed. Whether the money goes to shareholders, workers, or leads to lower prices, it will be taxed. The people benefiting from these changes will all pay income and capital gains taxes, which are progressive. Due to the fact that the deadweight loss from corporate taxation is fairly large, and due to the increase in investment, it is extremely likely that the change to federal revenues will be positive. Even if it were not, it would be preferable to make up the difference with an increase income taxes instead of having the corporate tax.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> I'm trying to separate your good arguments about taxes and costs from statements like, "recessions usually end faster and don’t go as deep as the one we had with the massive government intervention," implying that TARP and the stimulus caused exacerbated this recession, which I think is absurd. So let's stick to the non-partisan, non-controversial (you claim) economic issue.</p> <p>"If you don’t think eliminating costs would create jobs/increase output then you are stating that you don’t think economics as a science has any merit, or you are proposing that the economy is static. Neither one is serious position." You're grossly over-simplifying. Taxes are one of many costs, their absence induces certain benefits but their existence induces others. If a company is taxed less so it can hire one more person, that's a job; if the company is taxed more and the government hires another teacher, that's a job too; and economics is awful at (or incapable of) comparing them properly. You're dodging the spending side of the equation but I called your initial claim "crap" because it sounds like the standard GOP line that cutting everyone's taxes is always good, as a talking point, and your argument is much better than theirs but you still need to take into account the spending/public-goods side of the whole tax calculus. I suspect that's why no one in the administration has proposed what you're proposing.</p> <p>I also disagree with your notion that "corporations do not pay any tax... corporations are works of legal fiction." By the same logic, marriages are a legal fiction, the government is a legal fiction, the name on my birth certificate is a legal fiction. Corporations are real entities fundamental to our economy -- "people" in fact according to the Supreme Court (absurdly) -- and there is a case to be made that it's better to tax corporations than individuals, because corporations are a <em>means</em> to an end (economic output) while individual income (as a direct cause of individual well-being) is more of an end in itself. This is more philosophical than economic but in a perfect world, I'd rather have corporate profits taxed very high and personal income very low, than the other way around.</p> <p>Anyway, I think most people on any side of the political spectrum would agree that the the tax system is filled with perverse incentives, unnecessary waste, etc. So I look forward to the intelligent national debate on this issue where your proposal is brought to the table.</p> <p><strong>X:</strong> Ben, you are trying to link unrelated things. All other things held constant, reducing the marginal costs of production for a firm will mean expanded production. This is an issue of math. If you disagree with this then you are implying that economics has no scientific merit, and isn't really worth talking about. It is very basic. The issue of government spending is unrelated. You seem like you're suggesting there is a multiplier effect from public spending (in your example, hiring a teacher). You say that economics can't compare the your example with mine, but I don't buy that. It is one of the most researched topics in economics. Prominent economists reach different conclusions, but your claim is pretty weak.</p> <p>And marriages <em>are</em> a work of legal fiction. Are you really suggesting that a marriage is corporeal? That seems pretty childish. We pretend that corporations are real entities under law to facilitate investment and the utilization of dispersed knowledge. Our legal charade does not bestow actual corporeal existence on corporations. I honestly feel pretty silly even discussing this topic.</p> <p>Anyway, I can understand how someone with a social justice mission would hope for it to be the case that taxing corporations were possible, but it isn't. Your preference is for the aesthetic at the expense of sound policy. Corporate taxes are regressive, distortionary policy tools that neither bring in additional revenue nor serve any social justice mission. And this is an issue of math, not ideology.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> If economic policy were simply a matter of math, and economics were truly a science, we would have consensus among all economists and we would have figured out how to prevent or substantially dilute crashes decades ago. Some of your tax arguments are sound, others are based on an apparent free market fundamentalism I don't agree with, but this was a very interesting discussion, so thank you.</p> <p><strong>X:</strong> Ben, I enjoyed the discussion too. But I'll make one final point first. There are substantive differences in opinion and methodology in economics. Experts do disagree. But there are some basic, iron clad laws that <em>are</em> simply a matter of math. Price is inversely related to demand, while the opposite is true of supply. Taxes have deadweight losses. I would also note that knowing how the economy works does not mean we would know how to prevent crashes, either.</p> <p><strong>Me:</strong> I suggest you read the work of Dan Ariely. He shows that price and demand are not inversely related when the price drops to zero, for instance. There are psychological factors to money that textbook economics (the "math" side) doesn't take into account. Textbook econ also says progressive taxation discourages making more money at the margins of the tax brackets, but in reality social forces counteract the "rational" forces. Taxes have deadweight losses to their immediate actors, but the services which taxes pay for have social benefits that textbook economics doesn't handle either. (It's simply "externalities," which are guessed but never perfectly quantified; in my opinion externalities are the most significant factor in public policy.)</p> <p>So it's not just math. The philosophical argument I raise can't simply be refuted on mathematical grounds. And if it were math -- true math being both descriptive of the past and predictive of the future -- we would see crashes before they happened and be able to migitate their damage. The reality is, economics explain everything with 20/20 hindsight but few really saw the crash of '08 before it happened (because it's not just math).</p> <p>All the best,<br /> Ben</p> </blockquote> taxes Sun, 31 Oct 2010 20:29:34 +0000 ben 6592 at Geeks for Sanity <p>From the <a href="">100 best Rally for Sanity signs</a>:<br /> <img src="/files/rallyforsanity-sign-geek.jpg" /></p> Sun, 31 Oct 2010 04:49:40 +0000 ben 6590 at Blog recommendation <p>I generally don't follow a lot of blogs, because I don't have time for Google Reader anymore, but I'm going to start following this one: <a href=""></a> is a great blog, on "programming, writing &amp; automotive repair," lately all on programming and brilliantly written.</p> Mon, 25 Oct 2010 20:56:50 +0000 ben 6561 at Fox News summed up in one image <p>Via <a href="">Jonathan Chait</a>:<br /> <blockquote><img src="" /></p> <p>I love the straightforward conclusion that addressing income disparities = socialism, which conservatives usually imply without saying quite so nakedly. But the whole image captures Fox News so well.</p> <p>By the way, it was taken during the "straight news" portion of Fox News, not the opinion portion. Just so you can keep it straight.</p></blockquote> Wed, 20 Oct 2010 21:32:29 +0000 ben 6549 at HPDO 2nd Day, Much Better <p>Today was the second day of the HPDO, and it was much better than <a href="">yesterday</a>. The weather was beautiful, and we sailed well (coming in in the top 5-10 a few times, out of 37 Vipers, with some Olympic medalists in the fleet). I was point on the spinnaker, and I've gotten much better at handling its sheets on jibes, and hoisting and dousing (the latter still mostly a matter of brute force). I've gotten decent at flying the spinnaker downwind, too, but we still go faster when the skipper takes it.</p> <p>I'm back home now (one of the last nights in this apartment). The tip of my finger is still numb, hopefully that's just normal healing and not nerve damage. I'm pretty much sore all over, a little sunburned, and very tired.</p> <p>Tomorrow I'll go to Verizon to replace my phone. I told a sailor on another boat that I had my phone on me when I went overboard (I brought it to take pictures) and he explained why I had it all wrong: when you're sailing, he said, you leave the world back at the dock - "your troubles, your girlfriend, your fucking neighbors... don't bring your phone with you." Lesson learned.</p> sailing Mon, 11 Oct 2010 03:32:11 +0000 ben 6516 at Rough Day Sailing at the HPDO <p>I'm in Rye, NY for the weekend with my good friends Kay and Karen, crewing on Kay's <a href="">Viper 640</a> in the <a href="">High Performance Dinghy Open</a> sailing race on Long Island Sound. Today was the first day and it didn't go very well for me. We went on our side after a bad maneuver at one point (I'm not really sure what happened), and as I was trying to stay on the upward side, trying to lean back to get the boat back to a flat position, with the skipper also on the side but the third crew member on the bottom side, I fell overboard. The boat was still moving very fast, and with the boat at that angle, I couldn't get a handle on the rescue lines under the top edge. I stood on the keel but couldn't grab anything, so I swam to the back, but couldn't reach the lines there either. The fleece under my life jacket made it hard to swim, not that there was anywhere to go. Fortunately it wasn't that cold (or from the adrenaline of the preceding minutes/hour, my core temperature was hot enough to counteract it). A little motorized dinghy was nearby and pulled me out of the water, and I got back on the Viper. My phone, though, was (stupidly) in the pocket of my life jacket, and it's ruined. (I have Verizon insurance on it but half expect them to say it doesn't cover saltwater damage.)</p> <p>While on the dingy, I realized my finger had sliced open (I probably hit a metal pin as I fell over). So I had a nice little gash 1/8" x 1/4" on my left middle finger... I asked Karen to use Kay's knife to cut a piece from the long cotton underwear I was wearing under my splash pants, and that plus electrical tape provided a bandage as we sailed back in (no longer in [or interested in] the race). That was replaced with a bandaid and some ointment at the yacht club. Currently my finger is rather numb, even though the bandaid is very loose, so that's a little troubling. It'll probably hurt tomorrow; if it's still numb I'll have to get it checked out.</p> <p>Tomorrow we race again, hopefully with better luck. I bought a pair of gloves as well (after the race) which should help. (Even before cutting my finger, both hands were raw from pulling the lines. The <a href="">spinnaker</a> lines in particular are a bitch to handle, the spinnaker halyard being extremely difficult to pull in good conditions and the whole thing generally seeming prone to trouble.</p> <p>Like bicycling with the BU road team in college, where I loved the riding more than the racing (and the latter was mostly an opportunity to do the former), the racing part of sailing doesn't interest me much in itself. I'm thrilled at the opportunity to sail whenever I can, though (considering I don't have my own boat and didn't join a sailing club early enough in the season to make it worth it), so an invitation to crew in a race is an invitation to sail (with great sailors) that I'm not going to turn down.</p> <p>My dream now (for the last few months) is to buy a cruising sailboat, as early as next spring if I can find the money, and live on it for most of the year. I need to improve my fundamental sailing skills to do that. I'm decent at single-sail, but even there I have a ton to learn. I started a two-sail course a few summers ago, but had to stop midway due to an [unrelated] injury, so I don't know much about jib sailing either. And spinnakers are way out of my comfort zone now (though I've gotten decent at handling the spinnaker sheet, trimming and easing back and forth to get the right "curl"). I plan to skip the spinnaker for a while on my dream boat.</p> <p>As the crews were socializing after the race, I slipped out to the rocks over the harbor and watched the sun setting over the moored cruising boats, wondering what it would be like to be below deck on one of them, cooking dinner and reading a good book. That's where I want to be next year. To solo-sail my own boat, though, I'd need to be solid on all the fundamentals, and be able to handle all kinds of adverse conditions. Some of it I could learn "on the job" but the more I know beforehand, the better. I'm thinking of joining a winter sailing ("frostbiting") club, though honestly the frost part of that doesn't sound very appealing.</p> <p>Anyway, I'm very tired, and I need to get up at 5:45am tomorrow, so good night.</p> sailing Sun, 10 Oct 2010 02:00:02 +0000 ben 6515 at Realtors from hell <p>I've been looking for an apartment in Cambridge and not had good luck with realtors. The first one came 20 minutes late without calling, second one didn't remember the apartment number he was supposed to show me, someone today stood me up completely. The worst, though, was a guy yesterday (whose name I will share on request should you wish to avoid him or his company).</p> <p>I thought his employer should be aware of what happened, so I wrote to the info@ address for the company (which employs dozens of agents). This was my report (name removed):</p> <blockquote><p>I had an extremely troubling experience with one of your agents, X, in the last 48 hours, that I would like to bring to your attention. </p> <p>I responded to an ad he posted on Craigslist for an apartment in East Cambridge. He showed me the apartment yesterday, 9/28/10. His demeanor then was more pushy than I would have liked but not out of the ordinary for realtors. I mentioned that given the large size of the apartment, I would consider subletting one of the rooms should I rent it. He called me in the evening (also 9/28) and left a message, 1:35 long, in which he pitched his friend to rent the apartment with me and told me how I reminded him of his friend. (I am happy to share this message with you in full if you would like it.) I found the whole message and manner in which he did this extremely inappropriate, given that he was representing me as a potential renter, in a professional arrangement, not his friend. He called me today, 9/29, to ask if I got his message, and I told him frankly that I considered his message inappropriate. The following text message correspondence ensued:</p> <blockquote><p>9/29/10 4:24 PM<br /> <strong>Realtor:</strong> I apologize for making you feel pressured or that I was peddling my buddy, when I was only trying to assist you? It was the furthest thing from my actual intent. Anyways, I just checked in and found the unit is still available, so if you want it, email me the completed applic. and I will then research the price and submit it and secure it for you asap? Tx. 3:54 PM<br /> <strong>Me:</strong> I'm going to wait til 10/1 for other aps to come on the market closer to my budget, if I'm still interested then ill let you know. 3:55 PM<br /> <strong>Realtor:</strong> Ok - your on your own for roomates moving forward!! lol. I will keep my eye out for other units for you too. If you want to revisit the Cambridge St. unit, let me know? If I learn you try to circumvent the process on the Cambridge St. apt, I will take approp. action, so you know. If not, no worries. 4:06 PM<br /> <strong>Me:</strong> a) don't threaten your clients, b) I didn't sign any exclusivity agreement, c) I don't want to work with you and therefore don't want the place, d) don't contact me again. 4:13 PM<br /> <strong>Realtor:</strong> Just telling you - the intent of the email was quite clear and we can let a judge decide shall you go that route. As jaded and skeptical as you are, only tips off your liklihood to act in the same sneaky, jaded, unethical, scummy manner, you see and accuse others of and view the world through!! Its mutual, I dislike you and am glad not to help you further!! But, for services already rendered, shall you go for that unit, you will be liable and will be held accountable, you lowlife!!! 4:24 PM</p></blockquote> <p>I have not responded and hope to never communicate with Mr. X again. However, I would be very surprised if this is the kind of behavior you expect from your agents, and hope you take whatever action you deem appropriate to prevent it in the future.</p></blockquote> <p>Anyone know a good realtor in Cambridge?</p> Thu, 30 Sep 2010 02:54:56 +0000 ben 6479 at Obama on Dylan In a great <em>Rolling Stone</em> <a href="">interview</a> with President Obama, a gem on Bob Dylan: <blockquote><em>You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?</em><br/> Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.</blockquote> Tue, 28 Sep 2010 20:13:28 +0000 ben 6461 at Report from Maker Faire NYC, the Woodstock of the DIY movement <p>I went to <a href="">Maker Faire NYC</a> today at the New York Hall of Science, and had an amazing time. These were some of the sights:</p> <p>I neglected to check when it opened (10am), so I got there early, around 9:30, and watched them set up. My first observation standing in line: people in cars parked a mile away and took shuttle buses to the fair; bicycles had their own parking inside.</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>These are MakerBots, one of several lines of 3D printers being demo'd (and sold). Unlike most (all?) of the other 3D printers, the MakerBot itself is an open-source project: <img src="" alt="MakerBots" /></p> <p>This was a little science exhibit demonstrating chaos and the conservation of energy with electromagnets: <img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>There were robots!</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>These little "BeetleRobots" from <a href="">Solarbotics</a> came in a kit and chased light: <img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>LEDs were everywhere:</p> <p><img src="" alt="LEDs" /></p> <p>This was a $150 dollar kit for a plastic RC airplane:</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>Hybrid electric guitar / bicycle:</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>Lifesize <em>Mousetrap</em>:</p> <p><img src="" alt="Mousetrap" /></p> <p>This was one of my favorites, a demo of a <a href="">WindowFarm</a>, a "vertical, hydroponic, modular, low-energy, high-yield edible window garden built using low-impact or recycled local materials". They were selling a $150 kit (minus the bottles), I'm going to build one of these in my next apartment:</p> <p><img src="" alt="WindowFarm" /></p> <p>This was a "bio bus" from Bus Roots, a concept imagining a city bus as a quasi biological organism: it runs on burnt vegetable oil, its roof is covered in grass, in the front is a wind turbine (that runs only when not driving so as not to kill birds). Its purpose is to "bring life to neglected surface and provide an opportunity for people to stop and remember that living around nature can help lead a healthier life":</p> <p><img src="" alt="BioBus" /> <img src="" alt="BioBus wind turbine" /></p> <p>This was a fascinating science demo: extracting DNA from strawberries. You take a few strawberries, mush it in a cup with some water, meat tenderizer, salt, and dish soap - that's all supposed to break down the cells - then it's filtered through a coffee filter, alcohol is poured on top, and a white goo (apparently the DNA molecules) float around, and can be picked up with a stick like cotton candy and stored in a little tube:</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>There was a <a href="">Voltaic Systems</a> booth selling solar chargers for batteries and cellphones. They have a new line of solar laptop chargers coming out soon, and their <a href="">site</a> shows a line of solar backpacks, which I got the impression were also not yet on the market (but will soon be). I think a panel the size of my laptop would be a great thing to keep with the laptop in my bag, to put down on a sunny day and work outside all day. (Though it's not clear it it gives enough juice to <em>run</em> off of; it's meant more for charging, at around 1hr of charge for 30m of running. Still very cool though, and will probably improve.)</p> <p>This was an art/electronics booth called <a href=""><em>Lumenhattio</em></a>, of LED artwork on bicycle helmets. They didn't do this exactly there, but it made me think how cool it would be to have blinker lights on helmets, made of many LEDs in arrow shapes, turned on with a wireless or similarly convenient switch.</p> <p>These were beautifully intricate sculptures made of "steel and bronze composite using 3D printing technology," by an artist/maker named Vladimir, who "built a computer model to represent the mathematical idea in 3D":</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>I went to a talk by <em>Wired</em> editor Chris Anderson (author of <em>The Long Tail</em> and <em>Free: The Future of a Radical Price</em>) on <em>The Second Industrial Revolution</em> that we're going through, in which anyone can design a product on their laptop and send it to a manufacturer in China with sites like <a href="">Alibaba</a>. He contrasted it with the movie <a href=""><em>Flash of Genius</em></a>, which depicts the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper, and the prohibitive costs of production that prevented the inventor from manufacturing the product (and led to the established industrial giants stealing the invention).</p> <p><img src="" alt="Chris Anderson" /></p> <p>One of his examples was <a href="">Local Motors</a>' Rally Fighter car. It's an community-driven, open-source design, and to buy one you have to co-build it yourself over 2 weekends in a Build Shop. (That makes it a "kit" rather than a production vehicle which is a critical regulatory loophole allowing all this DIYing. I asked if he's concerned that the loopholes will be closed when all this goes mainstream, he said he's concerned but generally thinks regulation lags technology so it'll be ok.)</p> <p><img src="" alt="Rally Fighter" /></p> <p>Anderson himself is the co-owner of <a href="">DIY Drones</a>, ![DIY Drones], which sells an open-source aerial drone kit. His motto in all this is, <em>give away the bits, sell the atoms</em>, or <em>atoms are the new bits</em> - with a hybrid of open, community-driven development, top-down community management, collective sharing of intellectual property, and [plenty of] private profit.</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="Atoms are the new bits" /></p> <p>Back in the 3D cutting demos, they were showing and selling a progammable wood cutting machine. It looked like a big table with a 1/2" thick particle board placed on top, and it cut the wood into layers that could be shaped into pretty much anything, including chairs or this crane:</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>This alien/robot/monster fellow was wearing a <a href="">UtiliKilt</a>:</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>This little robot was a <a href="">Netduino</a> demo (Netduino being an <a href="">Arduino</a> derivative for the .NET framework), driving around on 2 wheels with a gyro (Segway-style):</p> <p><img src="" alt="" /></p> <p>To top it all off, there was great food, including a Greek food truck with a huge line (well worth waiting in) where I got a delicious shishkabob gyro.</p> <p>Altogether it was an awesome experience, really inspiring and thought-provoking. I have a big bag of swag to sift through one of these days (after I sift through the swag from the Newport Boat Show...) A few major takeaways for me:</p> <ol> <li>I need to stop futzing around and start building things with my Arduino and electronics.</li> <li>I'm going to build a <a href="">Window Farm</a>.</li> <li>Solar energy is going to be a huge part of our daily lives - as part of our clothing and backpacks and laptops - in a few years, and that's wonderful.</li> <li>I should design something 3D in Sketchup and send it to one of the many 3D printing shops to see how that works.</li> <li>Per Chris Anderson's recommendation, I'm going to read Cory Doctorow's novel <a href=""><em>Makers</em></a>.</li> <li>As Anderson said, this maker/hacker/open-source movement is the future, and Maker Faire is its Woodstock. I'm thrilled to have gone.</li> </ol> <div style="font-size:.8em;">(All the photos here and some others are also on <a href="">Picasa</a>.)</div> DIY makerfaire Sun, 26 Sep 2010 04:18:35 +0000 ben 6452 at Israel Photos <p>We got back yesterday from an amazing week in Israel, for my sister's wedding and visiting family and friends. It'll take a few days to get over jetlag and back into the swing of things.</p> <p><embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" src="" width="600" height="400" flashvars=";captions=1&amp;noautoplay=1&amp;hl=en_US&amp;feat=flashalbum&amp;RGB=0x000000&amp;" pluginspage=""></embed></p> <p>Album <a href=";feat=directlink">here</a></p> israel photography Tue, 07 Sep 2010 14:43:27 +0000 ben 6393 at Israel, part 1 <p>We arrived in Israel yesterday, rented a car, and drove up to the Kineret (Sea of Galilee). We stayed at a <em>tzimer</em> (a little guest house) in a village overlooking the lake. This was the view this morning, with Tveriah (Tiberias) hidden behind the fog on the right side of the lake. I took this 360&deg; panorama (scroll across):</p> <div class="photo-panorama" style="width: 100%; height: 357px; overflow: auto;"> <img src="/files/Kineret-360-small.jpg" width="3954" height="317" /> </div> <p><br/><br /> We drove into Tveriah and got a delicious breakfast at Cafe Aroma. Then we visited the Yigal Alon Center, where they have a 2000 year old boat, excavated in 1986 and strengthened with a 10-year-long chemical bath. (I'll post photos later, my internet connection is spotty right now.) We went rafting in an inflatable kayak-shaped raft on the Jordan river, then drove down to Jerusalem, where we'll be for the rest of the trip (until Sunday).</p> israel photography Mon, 30 Aug 2010 22:15:20 +0000 ben 6391 at Robert Kennedy on GNP <p>Via this great post of <a href="">"20 Must-See Business TED Talks,"</a> I found a <a href="">quote from Robert Kennedy</a> on the Gross National Product, which desperately needs to be repeated these days:</p> <blockquote><p>"Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.</p> <p>"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."</p></blockquote> <p>I'm very pessimistic about this country these days. Every economist or anti-economist (like <a href="">Nassim Taleb</a> on <em>Planet Money</em> last week) who seems credible is predicting doom and gloom. The fragility of our economy is frightening. We don't produce enough genuine value in the economy to justify a recovery to anything like what was (artificially) before. Without an economic recovery (the assumption and achievement of which underlies all deficit-spending advocacy), the US federal debt becomes a global crisis. From there it's only a deeper spiral downwards. With Congress divided along dangerous fault lines, and an opposition party lacking any positive agenda and playing to the populace's worst instincts (of which there are already no shortage), I also don't have much faith in government doing what needs to be done.</p> <p>So maybe it's time we stop thinking about restoring GDP as a vacuum and start thinking more about our GNH, our <a href="">Gross National Happiness,</a> the measure devised by the King of Bhutan and presaged by Robert Kennedy. By any measure the US GNH right now is extremely depressed. I think - despite the economists in his administration who stick to failed models - that President Obama has a basically GNH-oriented mindset, and it's why I still support him. But maybe he should start channelling Robert Kennedy for the next few months and help change the tone.</p> GNH Sat, 28 Aug 2010 00:03:51 +0000 ben 6389 at The "Ground Zero Mosque" Fury, my response <p>I had a discussion with a friend today about the proposed Muslim community center (including a mosque) to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, that has caused so much national furor. This issue illuminates the fault lines in our culture. It brings out the best in people - including the best in our leaders, like Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg, who deserve tremendous credit for taking the right stance against public opinion - and the worst in people, like (no surprise) Sarah Palin, who should be publicly shamed for bigotry. The opponents of the mosque, in my opinion, are playing on people's ignorance and fears in a vile way.</p> <p>These are the arguments I've heard against building the mosque, and my response:</p> <h4>"They shouldn't be allowed to build it."</h4> <p>They own the property and have a legal right to build it. The only way the government could stop them (as far as I know, and I'm not a lawyer) is by seizing the land with eminent domain. There is no legal basis to do so. So this is a dead-end argument, and <em>anyone who is opposing the mosque, should asked if they support such a seizure</em>.</p> <h4>"Ground Zero is hallowed ground."</h4> <p>9/11 was a <em>national</em> catastrophe, not a <em>religious</em> one. It was a tragedy to Muslims in America or abroad who care about freedom as much as to people of other religious persuasions. Ground Zero should therefore be no more alien to a mosque than a church or synagogue, but turning the area into a religion-free zone is not what's on the table - instead this singles out a Muslim house of worship, on grounds unrelated to religion.</p> <h4>"Muslims caused 9/11, so there shouldn't be a Mosque near the site."</h4> <p>I consider this argument equivalent to, "the Ku Klux Klan committed a massacre here, so we shouldn't build a church." It's based on the ignorant premise that Islam is a monolithic religion of hatred and violence. It's ignorant and bigoted and writes off the human decency of a seventh of the world's population.</p> <h4>"They're hurting their own cause by causing so much furor."</h4> <p>This is something the mosque organizers need to figure out for themselves. If they decide their mission is best served by moving the planned building a few blocks away, then that's fine. If I were one of those organizers, though, I'd absolutely not back down from this.</p> <h4>"Public opinion is opposed to building it."</h4> <p>We have basic rights to religion and expression and private property in this country because <em>public opinion shouldn't dictate what people do with their own selves and property.</em> We don't put every construction project up for a community vote. We sure as hell don't put the legitimacy of individual's religious views up for a vote. Why should public opinion have any say here?</p> <h4>"The imam leading this mosque is a radical."</h4> <p>I'm not an expert on the man. He's apparently on a State Department tour now promoting the U.S. abroad, so they don't think he's so bad. What I've read suggests he's a pretty moderate fellow. But I also understand that what is moderate in a mosque (or any religion) can easily sound radical to atheists like myself or people of other persuasions, because we don't understand the context.</p> <p>This situation is similar to the Jeremiah Wright controversy during the Obama campaign. His statements came from a history and a religious culture alien to most Americans, as Obama explained cogently at the time. It's too easy to take a sentence out of context and make someone look radical.</p> <p>The whole purpose of this community center, by every legitimate account I've read, is to foster interfaith (and maybe also intra-faith) dialogue and community engagement. It's like a YMCA or a JCC for Muslims. This isn't an Al Qaida training base - if it were, there would be other legal means to shut it down.</p> <p>This is also a red herring: if the mosque is going to be preaching radical jihadism, then it needs to be examined in the context of general policies toward radical jihadism, not a particular building proposed in lower Manhattan.</p> <h4>"The furor over the mosque is causing violence like the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in NYC."</h4> <p>There are crazy people whose bigotry and anger at life causes them to commit violence. The 9/11 hijackers were such people. The killer yesterday was such a person. The national response to jihadist violence was, <em>we need to stand taller, prouder, freer</em> - why should the Muslim community back down when they're the victims?</p> <h4>"We need to be sensitive"</h4> <p>I might be more inclined to hear this idea if the opponents of the mosque seemed bothered for legitimate reasons. (Religious bigotry is not one of those reasons.) I don't see that here. I don't see any reason why building the community center or mosque hurts the memories of 9/11 victims, or diminishes the value of the site, <em>in any way</em>. None. So it's not about sensitivity, it's about caving in to crazies. We don't have to be sensitive to radicals, we need to <em>deligitimize</em> them - we need to delegitimize Sarah Palin's demagoguery just as we demand that Muslims delegitimize the jihadist radicals in their communities.</p> <p>Also: what's the correct radius around Ground Zero at which it's no longer too sensitive? 3 blocks? 10? 100? The next state? Is there any rational reason for such an arbitrary "sensitivity barrier" (if it were legitimate in the first place)?</p> <h4>"The furor will only get worse if they build it."</h4> <p>I don't know about that. I think it's just as likely they'll break ground, the midterm elections will pass, and we'll never hear about it again. But maybe there will be protests outside the center forever. There are protests outside Planned Parenthood offices every day. Let them protest. That's the 1st Amendment too! Let the mosque organizers prove they're not radical with their actions and community involvement.</p> <p>This country has a sad history of racism and ignorant bigotry, and in the long run we've done a decent job of overcoming it on the macro level. Every so often it rears its ugly head again and we need to think about it in the same context. The critics need to be interrogated: are they speaking from genuine sensitivity or do they gain from playing to people's ignorance and fear? Assuming fear of the "other" is innate in human nature to some degree, how much legitimacy do we need to give it? I take a strongly libertarian view: we don't need to give it any legitimacy at all, and it's at times like these that basic rights becomes so vital.</p> Fri, 27 Aug 2010 05:42:05 +0000 ben 6385 at Groundhog Day for Iranian Nukes <p>I'm mostly disconnected from the daily news these days, the political blogosphere in particular, but I've been listening to a lot of <a href="">On Point Radio</a> and other NPR programs and caught the episode with <a href="">Jeffrey Goldberg</a> about his recent <a href="">Atlantic piece</a> on Israel's plans to bomb Iran.</p> <p>One element of the story that I find so interesting, which they didn't really talk about at all, is how it hasn't changed in years. The administration and pundits were having the same conversation when President Bush was in office. There were neocons who wanted to bomb Iran in 2006 just as there are today. I wrote a <a href="">column</a> about Iran in March 2006 that reflects a debate (and apparent facts) little changed today. The choices and tradeoffs are almost exactly the same (the one exception I can think of being the vulnerability of US combat troops in Iraq).</p> <p>The <a href="">National Intelligence Estimate</a> of December 2007 claimed that Iran had stopped or stalled its nuclear weapons program. Neocons (and the Israeli right) criticized the report for being conveniently "political". It seems pretty clear now, unless everything is still all wrong, that the NIE was in fact correct.</p> <p>So apparently they're back on track now. And now, according to Goldberg, there's a one year horizon to figure it out. July 2011 is the magic moment of decision. (Don't make any international travel plans for August 2011...) Let's assume for the moment - <em>still</em>, a worst-case scenario - that this time it's for real. War against Iran certainly wasn't an urgent national security priority in 2006 or 2007. <em>Thinking</em> about Iran's nuclear program and trying to stop it were important, but none of that required the kind of large-scale military strikes talked about then. And by extension, talking about those kinds of strikes as if they were urgent in 2007 was absurd in retrospect.</p> <p>The lesson I take from this is to always question the <em>urgency</em> of alleged crises. Iraq, we have known for years, wasn't an urgent national security threat in 2003 when we invaded. Iran may or may not be an urgent crisis a year from now, but before then it's a <em>diplomatic</em> issue to be thought about and resolved rationally. Urgency just breeds fear (which is why, rightly or not, Goldberg is getting so much heat for the story). Fear short-circuits intelligent policy debate. Always good to keep in mind.</p> iran israel Mon, 23 Aug 2010 19:36:28 +0000 ben 6376 at Experiment in Outsourcing (part 2) <p>Following up to my post the other day, <a href=""><em>Experiment in Outsourcing, part 1</em></a>, here's an update:</p> <p>The insurance-research lady did a nice job, sending me a report of 5 providers (excluding Liberty Mutual, which I'm trying to leave), a breakdown of each estimate by coverage item, who she spoke to, and other details. I'm not sure how close the coverage she got estimates for were to the policy summary I sent her, though. I'll call the cheapest two (Geico and Progressive) to follow up, taking the first one that matches the quoted price for the coverage I'm looking for; the rest (Traveler's, AllState, MetLife) I won't waste my time with.</p> <p>The guy that was interested in the plant research never got back to me with an estimate, though, so I declined his bid, and asked the first lady if she wants that task, too.</p> <p>Apart from this experiment, a client of mine is outsourcing the data entry for a site I'm building for him to a woman in the Philippines. He found her through <a href=""></a>, she charges $2/hour, and has put in thousands of records in a few days. There was a funny economics-of-outsourcing moment the other day, though, when I realized she was putting many of the titles in all CAPS. It didn't look good. So there were two options: I could work for 20 minutes to write a script that fixed all existing and future all-caps titles (excluding single-word acronyms); or she could spend a day fixing them by hand. The latter option was a little cheaper. But my client reasoned that manual fixing could cause typos, and it was worth having some all-caps prevention for the future (since the content will be primarily user-generated after launch). So "skilled" won over "unskilled" for a brief moment. I wonder for how much of the economy the calculus works out that way.</p> outsourcing Sat, 31 Jul 2010 22:10:35 +0000 ben 6299 at Experiment in Outsourcing (part 1) <p>I've been reading Tim Ferriss's book <a href="">"The 4 Hour Work Week"</a>, about a "New Rich" system for cutting out the 80% of your time that produces 20% of the value (in a nutshell). It's sort of a practical counterpart to the inspiring-but-useless book <a href="">"Rich Dad, Poor Dad"</a>.</p> <p>One of the chapters is about "Outsourcing your life." He talks about outsourcing ordinary tasks to "virtual personal assistants" in India, outsourcing production of specialized products, outsourcing pretty much anything. (On the macro scale, I'm fairly convinced that in a global economy where labor races to the cheapest providers, American workers are fucked, but I'll leave the politics of this issue to other posts.)</p> <p>Anyway, I read the chapter and thought about how I might be able to apply the concepts myself. Most of the actual <a href="">work</a> I do is highly specialized, and I subcontract parts of it (so far) only to people I already know and trust to do great work. But I did have a list of other stuff I needed done that I haven't had time to do, such as:</p> <ol> <li>Research car insurance policies. (I've been burned several times by Liberty Mutual and need a new provider.)</li> <li>Research some growth affecting our tomato and spinach plants.</li> <li>Researching and/or scheduling various appointments. </li> </ol> <p>Coincidentally, while thinking about this, I was reading fellow Drupaler Chris Shattuck's <a href="">blog</a>, and he had posted a list of <a href="">"Stuff I own and like a lot,"</a> including <em>4 Hour Work Week</em>. So I <a href="">asked</a> him about the outsourcing chapter. That prompted him to try an ongoing experiment in <a href="">outsourcing</a> <a href="">his</a> <a href="">own</a> <a href="">life</a>.</p> <p>I've been reading his posts with interest, and trying the same on my own. I posted a job on <a href="">eLance</a> (a global freelancing/outsourcing connector) for a "Virtual Personal Assistant." In the job description I specifically mentioned the car insurance and plant research.</p> <p>I got half a dozen responses, with hourly bids ranging from $5 (in India) to $10 somewhere in the US. I rejected the $10 bid as too high, and rejected the $5 bid because it was filled with generic gibberish and typos. I narrowed the rest down to 2, a woman at $7/hr that seemed good for the insurance research, and a student in MA on summer break with a bio background for $8.50/hr that seemed good for the plants.</p> <p>I asked the $7 person for an estimate of how long it would take to get 5 competing policies and got a quick response (1-1.5 hours). So I hired ("selected") her for the insurance research: I took the crib sheet for my insurance policy, blacked out personal details (last names, ID numbers, address) - leaving just the car info, ages, and coverage amounts - and asked for all the details she could get and a summary of pros/cons, with some guidance like "if you're on hold more than 5 minutes, hang up, I don't want to work with companies that have bad customer service."</p> <p>I'll select the other guy for the plant research in a little while and send him photos I took of the plants. If it takes him 1.5 hours as well, all this will cost:</p> <ul> <li>$15 for the premium job listing</li> <li>$10.5 for 5 insurance policy bids</li> <li>$12.75 for a prognosis of my plants' affliction</li> </ul> <p>(Total $38.25)</p> <p>Plus the time involved, a few hours probably to sign up on eLance, post the job, read the bids, send back details, and read the final reports... 4 hours maybe. (The biggest cost if I consider this lost work time.) Much of that is one-time only, though: if these people are good, for instance, it'll be easy to go back to them for later research. And while the concept of outsourcing is to save money, this exercise isn't so much for that as for the experiment. If I do get great results, it'll be worth the $38.25 and I'll write off the cost as learning time.</p> <p>Of course a true "4 Hour Work Week" system means outsourcing pretty much everything, which this does not come close to doing. But with my line of work, for the foreseeable future, outsourcing/hiring out my work means I'll be spending most of my time managing other people, which is not necessarily less time-consuming, and <em>isn't what I want to be doing</em> right now. In the long run, since time isn't scalable, I'd like to switch to a product model, but that's a whole different ballgame.</p> <p>I'll post updates here when I get some concrete results from the experiment. Stay tuned. (Also keep an eye on <a href="">Chris Shattuck's blog</a> for the results of his similar experiment.)</p> outsourcing Wed, 28 Jul 2010 15:58:18 +0000 ben 6287 at Everything I Learned in College (...fits in a blog post) <p><em>The outline of this post came to me last week late at night when I couldn’t sleep. I jotted the bullet points in my phone and promptly fell asleep. Otherwise, since I graduated two years ago, this is apropos of nothing.</em></p> <p>I majored in philosophy, which was mostly useless for practical wisdom (particularly Ethics). One thing that stuck was a metaphor a professor used for Aristotle’s virtue of Magnanimity: <em>“Don’t run to catch a bus.”</em> (Nassim Taleb makes the same point regarding trains (paraphrased from first person): <em>“Snub your destiny... be in control of your time, your schedule, and your life.”</em>) College itself is in many ways an expensive bus we all run after.</p> <p><strong>Economics</strong> was one of the most beneficial departments for my thinking. I was no good with the graphs, but some concepts stuck:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Opportunity cost</strong>: the cost of doing some activity including the lost potential gain of the alternatives. Essentially a measure of <strong>tradeoffs</strong> (which, also learned in Econ 101, everything is).</li> <li><strong>Externalities</strong>: all the things we do that have costs or benefits not “internal” to our own balance sheet. This is the premise behind most good public policy, and is key to understanding policies for the environment, education, and health care.</li> <li><strong>Sunk costs</strong>: What’s already spent is gone, and therefore irrelevant to future planning. If doubling down on a bad bet won’t bring positive returns, move on.</li> <li><strong>Diminishing returns</strong>: illustrated by a college degree, which might have immediate value (first job salary) but then matters less and less as past work experience becomes more important.</li> </ul> <p>One other lesson I particularly remember from political philosophy was John Stuart Mill’s argument for women’s equality. Writing around the 1860s against the common wisdom that women were inferior (and therefore could not work or participate in politics), he made an out-of-the-box, almost counter-intuitive argument that no one could refute: even if women, on average, were worse than men at some activity, there was no way the <em>best</em> women were worse than the <em>worst</em> men, and the latter were not excluded. <em>Ka-pow</em>. (I liked the classes where my brain “clicked” often.)</p> <p><strong>Grad school reading is a sham</strong>. Every grad student I spoke to said they were given hundreds of books to read in a semester, and by necessity could only skim them. They had mastered techniques to figure out what an author said without reading the words. This fed the textbook industry, itself a scam, with thick tracts written by academics for academics that were re-released every year with the page numbers shuffled just enough to require new copies. The whole scenario smells of fraud, and anyway, no one can retain so much information when it’s consumed that way.</p> <p><strong>History was a string of accidents</strong>. The United States conquered the Philippines in 1898 - a turning point in American imperialism - because the message saying the war was over took too long to reach the fleet. (This fascinated me so much that I wrote a <a href="">paper</a> studying the history of naval communication.)</p> <p><strong>Calculus</strong> is rarely, if ever, taught well.</p> <p>There is more truth in <strong>great fiction</strong> - which requires hypothetical thought experiments - than most nonfiction. The best class I took consisted of reading science fiction novels about utopia and dystopia, which generated far more deep thinking and insights than the thick treatises in other classes.</p> <p>If you’re paying for college (or will be later with student loan debt), you might as well <strong>get your money’s worth</strong>. That means participate, ask questions, do the work, get good grades, join the clubs, use the free gym. Your grades will hardly matter after you graduate (and won’t matter at all after your first job), and you don’t need to have a 4.0 GPA to get your money’s worth (the cost/benefit is probably not worth it) - but barely graduating with a C average just seems like a <em>waste of time</em> and money. Put differently: if your goal in college is to focus on something else, like starting a business, and the degree is a nice side benefit, then save the money, put 110% into what you really want to do, and you’ll come out far ahead.</p> <p><strong>Skills</strong> matter far more than studies. Millions of students are graduating from college in this recession with liberal arts degrees and no marketable skills and can’t find work. Basic skills like learning how to communicate in an office, how to present a plan, how to network, are <em>learned</em> from experience (and academic classes don’t teach them), and more advanced skills like computer programming can open huge doors. So get a job in college even if you don’t need the money, as interesting as you can find but not necessarily along your imaginary long-term career path. Also, find a niche if you can, but build a <strong>diverse skillset</strong>. Knowing a little about a lot opens more doors later (and doesn’t preclude knowing a lot about a little in addition). Your CV doesn’t need to have a 1-10 proficiency scale next to each skill, it just needs to have more skills than the next person’s.</p> <p>A corollary of the skills point is that you don’t need to know what you want to “<strong>do with your life</strong>.” You just need to be <strong>positioned to find and grab opportunities</strong>. Long-term plans can inhibit you as much as they motivate (if they prevent you from going on tangents that are actually more valuable). Unless you really have your heart set on a particular field or career (and most of the students I knew did not, and still don’t), skills and positioning are more important than planning.</p> <p><strong>Management theory is bullshit</strong>. In a Management 101 class I signed up for one summer, we did a case study involving some problem in a factory. The professor’s (a former factory manager himself) guidelines were to <em>never do the work yourself</em>, but rather instruct other people to do it. To my mind, that mindset is the root of the management-labor struggles of the last two centuries, and fundamentally flawed. (I dropped the class and worked instead.)</p> <p><strong>Take time off</strong>. I took a <a href="">semester off</a> in my junior year (after getting a semester ahead with summer classes) and it was more enlightening than the 3.5 years in class combined. Taking summer classes, incidentally, does not need to diminish the enjoyment of summer (especially if the summer term is divided into two semesters). If you don’t have <strong>good memories</strong> from college after you’re all done, then you wasted your time.</p> <p>Looking back, I doubt my degree from <a href="">BU</a> was worth the <a href="">cost</a>. My <a href="">work now</a> evolved from the work I did to pay room and board in college, not the degree I happened to be getting at the same time. Friends who went to much cheaper state or community colleges seem to have gotten the same long-term value, especially if they are entrepreneurial. And students graduate every year with an expensive piece of paper and do nothing interesting (particularly ironic for business school graduates). Of course, it’s mostly a sunk cost and therefore irrelevant, except that I’ll be paying the price for another twenty years (to SallieMae), so it doesn’t feel sunk.</p> <p>So my two cents of advice if anyone wants it, is take the money (real or imaginary) you’d spend on a private college and save it for something else. If you have $200,000 in a college savings fund, buy real estate, start a business, or put 75% in an IRA and travel the world for a year with the rest - and then be <strong>the most well-rounded student</strong> at a state college. If you don’t have the cash (and would have to take out loans), be cognizant that long-term debt (with no <em>appreciable</em> asset to balance it - a degree has diminishing returns) is a chain around your neck.</p> <p>(Of course if you want to be a doctor or lawyer, then a BA is a prerequisite, though the benefit of one school vs another is still questionable. Your cost calculation is also different then - if your starting salary out of law school is $180,000 a year, you can pay off your debts pretty quickly. So this advice isn’t for you.)</p> <p>Finally, read Seth Godin’s post on “<a href="">the coming meltdown in higher education</a>.” Something has to give eventually (the <a href="">ROI</a> can’t keep dropping forever), but in the meantime, we can be smart and avoid playing an overpriced game.</p> advice college Sat, 17 Jul 2010 17:51:23 +0000 ben 6231 at Keynes vs Hayek, in rap <object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always" width="640" height="385"></embed></object> economics Mon, 28 Jun 2010 04:38:08 +0000 ben 6118 at My brother's new album, "Keep Walking, Kid" <p>My brother, Mordechai ("Mory") Buckman, released a new album of original classical/new-age-y music on the piano, entirely for free on his website: <a href=""><em>Keep Walking, Kid</em></a>. It's really good stuff, if I may say so myself.<br /> If you only have a few minutes, I'd recommend <em>&quot;A Lonely Journey&quot;</em> (track 8), it's one of my favorites.</p> <p>Here's the full track list:</p> <blockquote><h4>Keep Walking, Kid</h4> <p><em>Original music by Mordechai Buckman</em></p> <ol> <li><a href=" - Innocence.mp3">Innocence</a> (3:18)</li> <li><a href=" - The Wanderer.mp3">The Wanderer</a> (3:09)</li> <li><a href=" - Classical Framework.mp3">Classical Framework</a> (1:35)</li> <li><a href=" - Dots &amp; Curves.mp3">Dots &amp; Curves</a> (3:45)</li> <li><a href=" - Standing Up.mp3">Standing Up</a> (3:16)</li> <li><a href=" - Dominance.mp3">Dominance</a> (5:12)</li> <li><a href=" - Daydream.mp3">Daydream</a> (1:51)</li> <li><a href=" - A Lonely Journey.mp3">A Lonely Journey</a> (4:56)</li> <li><a href=" - The Joy of Life.mp3">The Joy of Life</a> (2:23)</li> </ol> </blockquote> <p>If you like it, share it with your friends, it's totally free!</p> music Tue, 22 Jun 2010 03:39:39 +0000 ben 6094 at Random Show episode 11 Another great <em>Random Show</em> with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss: <object width="560" height="340"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="560" height="340"></embed></object> Wed, 16 Jun 2010 01:28:15 +0000 ben 6064 at Trying GoToMeeting Alternatives <p> I occasionally need to have virtual meetings with clients where I share my screen. I&#39;ve used <a href="">GotoMeeting</a>&nbsp;(from Citrix)&nbsp;and <a href="">WebEx</a>&nbsp;(from Cisco) as a participant in meetings and webinars, and WebEx once as a host, but they&#39;re pricey at $50+ per month. I don&#39;t need the service frequently enough for that to be worth the price. (Citrix has day passes for GotoAssist, but not for GotoMeeting, unfortunately.)</p> <p> So I did some research and found two alternatives that seemed good: <a href="">DimDim</a> and <a href="">FuzeMeeting</a>.</p> <p> I tried DimDim first. They offer video conferencing via Flash and screen sharing via a separate plugin/app that runs outside the browser. The option to download that app didn&#39;t exist in Chrome (my default browser), however. It was available in Firefox. I wrote to them (first via Live Chat and then email) to report the Chrome issue. They were very prompt: someone called me within an hour to walk me through it. He tried to help me by insisting it already worked. We did a screen share, he showed me how it worked for him - on Windows XP - and suggested I reboot my computer. Sorry, I&#39;m not using Windows, I shouldn&#39;t have to reboot to get a web service to work.</p> <p> DimDim also doesn&#39;t seem to have HTTPS/SSL login (even though they say the video itself is encrypted). And the screen sharing app (run from Firefox) is buggy: I pressed the Pause button, for instance, and it closed (not what the demo video said it should do). And most importantly for the particular meeting I needed it for, DimDim doesn&#39;t offer a call-in number (it&#39;s all VOIP).</p> <p> So I tried FuzeMeeting instead. They don&#39;t have videoconferencing (&quot;on the roadmap for Q3&quot; I&#39;m told), but their screen sharing is much slicker. The app generally (all in Flash) is a little complicated at first but very feature-rich. For audio they have VOIP, phone (including toll-free, paid by the host obviously), and Skype call-in (which I used). Unlike DimDim, though, its under-$50/month plan doesn&#39;t include meeting recording.</p> <p> Fuze seems a more solid product generally. But it needs videoconferencing and recording in the cheaper plans to be definitely more cost-effective than GotoMeeting and WebEx. And adding recording to their $9.99 day passes (for infrequent users like myself) would be great too.</p> <p> I&#39;m not sure what I&#39;ll use for my next virtual meeting, maybe I&#39;ll keep looking around. Skype is supposed to start offering <a href="">group video</a> soon, too, so I might just use that.</p> Tue, 08 Jun 2010 19:26:02 +0000 ben 6048 at "Future-proofing your passion" by Merlin Mann <p> Merlin Mann offers a fan some&nbsp;<a href="">advice</a> about how to really follow your dreams:</p> <blockquote> <p> By starting adult life with an autistically explicit &ldquo;goal&rdquo; that&rsquo;s never been tested against any kind of real-world experience or reality-in-context, we can paradoxically miss a thousand more useful, lucrative, or organic opportunities that just&hellip;what?&hellip;<em>pop up</em>. Often these are one-time chances to do amazing and even unique things&mdash;opportunities that many of us continue to reject out of hand because it&rsquo;s &ldquo;not what we&nbsp;do.&rdquo; [...]</p> <p> Be the curious one who soaks in all that &ldquo;irrelevant&rdquo; stuff. And, even as you stay heads-down on the &ldquo;now&rdquo; projects that keep the lights on, remember that the guy who&nbsp;<em>invented</em>&nbsp;those lights made hundreds of &ldquo;failed&rdquo; lightbulbs before fundamentally upending the way we think about time, family, industry, and the role of technology in how we live and work. But, yes, first he &ldquo;failed&rdquo; a lot&nbsp;<em>a lot</em>&nbsp;at something which more than a few of his contemporaries thought was pointless in the first&nbsp;place. [...]</p> <p> If we embrace the fact that no one can or should ever care about the health of our passions as much as we do, the practical decisions that help ensure Our Good Thing stays alive can become as &ldquo;simple&rdquo; as a handful of proven patterns&mdash;work hard, stay awake, fail well, hang with smart people, shed bullshit, say &ldquo;maybe,&rdquo; focus on action, and always<em>always</em>&nbsp;commit yourself to a bracing daily mixture of all the courage, honesty, and information you need to do something awesome&mdash;discover whatever it&rsquo;ll take to keep your nose on the side of the ocean where the fresh air lives. This is&nbsp;<em>huge</em>.</p> <p> Anything else? Yeah. Drink lots of water, play with your kid every chance you get, and quit Facebook today. No, really, do&nbsp;it.</p> </blockquote> <p> Read the <a href="">whole post</a>.</p> inspiration Mon, 31 May 2010 13:22:05 +0000 ben 6031 at Reflections, One Month In <p> It&rsquo;s been a month since I turned over a <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGEHcDTyzQTe8sGzLe_NcThMwWNWQ">new leaf in my working life</a>, and I&rsquo;d like to share some thoughts.<br /> <br /> First, I am writing this on my personal blog and not on my <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGEHcDTyzQTe8sGzLe_NcThMwWNWQ">business site</a> because, when I created that site, I knew that every business website nowadays has a blog, and that seemed a good reason to leave one out. That&rsquo;s not a permanent decision: I&rsquo;ll probably start a blog there when I have a unique and coherent point of view, <em>as a business</em>, to share with the world, but that&rsquo;s not quite yet.</p> <br/><h4>Time</h4> <p> It&rsquo;s been a very busy month. I wanted to hit the ground running, so I deliberately took on a larger work load for the immediate term than I probably want to sustain. (I was also a little surprised and very encouraged by the amount of demand there was so soon out of the gate.)<br /> <br /> I&rsquo;ve [re]-learned a few things about time. Halfway into the month, after working most of my waking hours for two weeks, I left my laptop at home and took my Kindle to a coffee shop in Cambridge to read Seth Godin&rsquo;s <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNG7AOWwF1Sm2mUoFVVRxkFTlWuqhA"><em>Linchpin</em></a> for an evening. My work involves constant mental energy by its nature, but I got more <em>thinking</em> done between the lines of the book in an hour there than in the previous week. Being head down in work all the time may be good for productivity but is not conducive to new ideas or reflection. (If hygiene didn&rsquo;t matter, idea-generation alone would be a reason to shower every day.)</p> <br/><h4>Valuing Open Source</h4> <p> I decided early that certain principles should be deal breakers. One in particular that&rsquo;s been challenged several times already is respect for open source. I work primarily with open source software that is valuable because so many developers and organizations released their contributions for free to the community. Learning and adhering to best practices and new techniques (in any context) involves reading what other people have done, and that&rsquo;s only possible because they share it. &ldquo;Giving back&rdquo; skills and code to the ecosystem makes the world richer for everyone. (As a side benefit, it can also be good for marketing.) Most businesses still think in zero-sum terms - open source saves money, but don&rsquo;t let anyone else benefit or add to anything we created - and I think that&rsquo;s short sighted. It&rsquo;s one of the reasons I left my corporate job.<br /> <br /> So it&rsquo;s been interesting, in nearly every client agreement I&rsquo;ve been involved with, to have to defend my right to re-use or release any original code serving a general purpose back to the community. The standard consulting contract still has absurd intellectual property clauses - everything you bring to the project, even if it was yours before, is now solely ours, etc. That&rsquo;s a 20th century mentality and the lawyers need to catch up with the times. On one project I decided to conduct a requested audit/review of a site but not write any original code because the client (or their lawyers) were so adamant about code ownership. (My thought: if a brand-new competitor could beat you simply by using the same general-purpose additions to an open-source framework as you&rsquo;re using, you should rethink your value proposition.)<br /> <br /> (If you&rsquo;re dealing with the same issue, check out CivicActions&rsquo; <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFwYbjgrAn8i-NcqGvhx7fdMGk2Lw">contract template</a>, released under a Creative Commons license, which is a great model for upholding open-source values.)</p> <br/><h4>Failure</h4> <p> I spent a little time today reflecting on a failure of mine at the job I recently left (in the context of <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNG7AOWwF1Sm2mUoFVVRxkFTlWuqhA"><em>Linchpin</em></a>). One of the company&rsquo;s sites that I worked on was an old site on an old server and the code wasn&rsquo;t <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFnzItV8uiumbybpFYb9Hp-afeCHA">version controlled</a>. Deploying new code involved downloading, modifying, and uploading in duplicate to the staging and production servers, hoping no one else was working on the same files. I thought this was backwards and insisted on putting the code in <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEExoQUIIBp_ySFWzq1vSRSUrGYgA">SVN</a> like the rest of the sites, and took it upon myself to do so.<br /> <br /> Only a fraction of the code could actually go into SVN, however; the vast majority of the site&rsquo;s many static files (accumulated over years) were generated by a separate application in a way that would make SVN unusable. Separating and deploying them became a nightmare, the solution to which was more about office politics than systems administration. Editors and designers had to change their workflows so files would be tracked and in the places they belonged. But they were comfortable with the way they&rsquo;d done things for years, and the sysadmin team didn&rsquo;t want another automated process to worry about.<br /> <br /> So I got the technical work done, but the &ldquo;process&rdquo; stuff (the human part) lagged, and deploying code became a full day&rsquo;s work that only I could do. Months went by, we had meeting after meeting to figure out a long-term solution, I proposed a complex solution that was rejected, then simpler ones; the sysadmin proposed a solution no one understood; the editors didn&rsquo;t show up at the meetings. I likened the situation to walking through a swamp - you&rsquo;re better off on the other side but drowning if you stay in the middle. A week before I left, I took the code out of SVN, and left it to the other developers just as it was when I came in.<br /> <br /> I did a lot of good work at that job, but that was one failure worth reflecting on as I develop my business. Being good at the actual work is critical, but it&rsquo;s not the whole game. The &ldquo;art&rdquo; as Godin calls it involves the social/emotional work as much as the technical. I made the conscious decision (in leaving) that corporate politics were not the best investment of my time and energy, and I don&rsquo;t regret not staying around to fight more battles with entrenched cubicle dwellers. But I do need to constantly work on my inter-personal skills, and think about the human side to infrastructural change, and be sure I can follow through on both sides of the coin if I commit to something.</p> <br/><h4>Working at home</h4> <p> I&rsquo;ve been working mostly at home. Pro: the cats like having me around. Con: I don&rsquo;t have an ergonomic setup yet. (I&rsquo;m looking into getting an adjustable sitting-standing desk, preferably before I develop tendinitis or carpel tunnel. The <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEA_3FLROFAIhAIrAynZKIOvQaN3Q">MacBook Pro</a> is a beautiful thing but the sharp front edge tend to pinch the nerves in my arms and make my wrists numb.)<br /> <br /> I really enjoy working at good coffee shops, and being a T ride away from some amazing ones in Cambridge and Davis Square is great. Over the next few months I&rsquo;d like to explore working at least part-time in a <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNH0Ff9RPtRjUgrUPcGRi4CfDvd4Ow">coworking</a> space. I do miss the camaraderie (and Nerf gun fights) in the office, though I don&rsquo;t miss the cubicle.<br /> <br /> Well this is quite a long post. Congratulations if you&rsquo;ve read it all the way through. Thank you, and stay tuned.</p> business newleafdigital Mon, 31 May 2010 03:02:33 +0000 ben 6026 at Humans are Purpose Maximizers Robert Scoble <a href="">posted</a> this video today, an animated presentation by Dan Pink on motivation and purpose. People need to be paid enough to take money off the table, but beyond that, <strong>autonomy</strong>, <strong>mastery</strong>, and <strong>purpose</strong> are much more important. It's a great video:<br/> <object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="640" height="385"></embed></object> inspiration Fri, 28 May 2010 05:10:19 +0000 ben 6024 at Ride yesterday <p>This was the route map of my bike ride yesterday, on which <a href="">this photo</a> was taken. I recorded the route with <a href="">SportyPal</a> on my Droid, but on my way back home, I stopped by the beach for a little and it must have thought I was done, because it stopped recording. A few minutes after that, incidentally, I got a flat tire, so I got to replace my inner tube by the beach too.<br /> This was my first ride in good weather this season, it wasn't very long, but there were some nice climbs, and it was a good start.</p> <p><iframe width="480" height="480" border="0" style="border:none;" src=";ms=0"></iframe></p> bicycling Tue, 18 May 2010 01:04:19 +0000 ben 6009 at Discomfort and Showing Up <p> Craig Harper offers the following <a href="">hypothesis</a>: &quot;There is a positive correlation between how uncomfortable an individual is prepared to get and their likelihood of success &ndash; irrespective of the field of endeavour.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> There&#39;s definitely truth in that.</p> <p> I was listening to an <a href="">interview</a> on&nbsp;<em>Fresh Air </em>the other day with the actor Sean Hayes, and heard this great <a href="">exchange</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p> GROSS: So if singing scares you a little bit, and you&#39;re out on a Broadway stage singing, that&#39;s got to be scary with a capital S.</p> <p> Mr. HAYES: Yeah, that&#39;s what life&#39;s about, though, isn&#39;t it? Isn&#39;t it about getting out of your comfort zone and getting off the couch and challenging yourself and forcing yourself to do things you wouldn&#39;t other do, otherwise what are you living for?</p> <p> GROSS: Comfort.</p> <p> (Soundbite of laughter)</p> <p> Mr. HAYES: Well, actually, I&#39;m realizing that now. Comfort never sounded so great.</p> </blockquote> <p> Friday was my last day at my &quot;day job&quot; with a corporate employer. Monday I officially begin my new era of freelancing. (In practice the era started a few weeks ago, but this is the clean break.)</p> <p> Someone told me today, switching from a job to freelancing means you go from working some time to working all the time. Definitely truth in that too. It&#39;ll be a few months until I get a good work-life balance back, and that&#39;s fine. Maybe I&#39;ll work for 6 months and take a month off. I couldn&#39;t do that before.</p> <p> A colleague asked me the other day how I&#39;ve gotten work so far. I didn&#39;t have any particular secrets to share. Mostly I just showed up. (As Woody Allen said, that&#39;s 90% of life.) I show up at Drupal meetups, share what I&#39;m learning and working on, we get pizza and beers afterwards, and I get work. I saw a proposal for a panel discussion at DrupalCon that I wanted to participate in, I &quot;showed up&quot; and asked if I could join, that led to a gig with <a href="">ImageX Media</a>. I laid down the cash to show up at <a href="">DrupalCon</a>, and it was exhilirating. None of these were calculated, &quot;if I show up here, I&#39;ll get this gig.&quot; It just works out that way. Showing up just seems like a good idea in itself. (What&#39;s the worst that can happen? I&#39;ll decide not to show up next time because it&#39;s a waste of time, lesson learned.)</p> <p> I&#39;ve noticed several people recently who don&#39;t seem to be getting anywhere, because they don&#39;t show up anywhere. Because it&#39;s sometimes uncomfortable to meet a bunch of strangers or write something on a subject in which you don&#39;t have a PhD, or try to get involved with something unknown.</p> <p> One thing I&#39;m worried about for the next year is that I&#39;ll get into a comfortable groove, establish steady habits, feel like I&#39;m doing really well, and stop learning from others. That&#39;ll be one of the biggest challenges over the next year, maintaining that open-mindedness and humility. That, and maintaining a work-life balance. I have to make sure not to ever get [too] comfortable.</p> <p> <em><br /> (Added:&nbsp;I Google&#39;d &quot;90% of life is showing up&quot; to find the source of the quote and stumbled on this great <a href="">blog post</a>&nbsp;by P Morgan Brown.)</em></p> freelancing newleafdigital Sun, 02 May 2010 05:09:54 +0000 ben 5980 at Startup case study: Dropbox <p><a href="">DropBox</a> is one of my favorite apps, and one of the most ubiquitous today among techies I encounter. This is a presentation on their story and some lessons they learned. It's could be a case study out of 37Signals' <a href="">ReWork</a>, with some tweaks: Build something you want for yourself. Forget conventional wisdom. Focus on the fundamentals. Do a core function extremely well, don't overload with feature cruft. Build a community, invite valuable feedback, encourage sharing. They didn't release early, but they "learned early, and learned often." Now they have a must-have product with millions of users.</p> <object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" height="300" width="400" id="clip_embed_player_flash" data="" bgcolor="#000000"><param name="movie" value="" /><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /><param name="allowNetworking" value="all" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><param name="flashvars" value="auto_play=false&start_volume=25&title=Customer Development Case Study: Dropbox&channel=startuplessonslearned&archive_id=262672510" /></object><p><a href=";s=em" class="trk" style="padding:2px 0px 4px; display:block; width:320px; font-weight:normal; font-size:10px; text-decoration:underline; text-align:center;">Watch live video from Startup Lessons Learned on</a></p> business Thu, 29 Apr 2010 04:49:03 +0000 ben 5970 at The New Yorker Explains Resolution Authority <p> Via <a href=";twt=NytimesKrugman">Paul Krugman</a>, the <em>New Yorker</em> explains <a href="">resolution authority</a>:</p> <p> <img alt="" src="" style="width: 474px; height: 515px; " /></p> economics Sun, 18 Apr 2010 01:15:33 +0000 ben 5865 at Profile of the Tea Party <p> A <a href=";twt=nytimes">poll</a>&nbsp;of Tea Party members shows are &quot;wealthier and more educated,&quot; mostly not too upset with their individual tax burden, and overall pretty mainstream. They&#39;re just mad as hell about the government, about too much help to the poor, and about health care reform.</p> <p> The demographic profile suggests that despite their spokespeople (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, etc), these aren&#39;t just rambling idiots, they&#39;re people with good standing in their community, mainstream lifestyles, financial stability. People who can make things happen and sway elections. I&#39;d much rather have the Tea Partiers be a bunch of rambling morons in a tent city. These guys could actually be dangerous.</p> Politics Thu, 15 Apr 2010 01:34:44 +0000 ben 5844 at Launching New Leaf Digital <p> <a href=""><img alt="" src="/files/newleafdigital-logo-225.gif" style="float: right; width: 224px; height: 102px; margin:0 0 10px 10px;" /></a>Last week I <a href="">wrote</a> that I was turning over a new leaf in my life, leaving my corporate job at the end of April to become an independent/freelance web developer. A combination of factors, including turning 25, reminded me that this was something I wanted to do eventually, and there&#39;s no time like the present.</p> <p> So today, I officially launched the website for my new business, <i>New Leaf Digital</i>, at <a href=""></a>.</p> <p> I&#39;ve also joined the development team at <a href="http://imagexmedia">ImageX Media</a> in Vancouver, starting May 3rd. ImageX will be a pillar of my new track, and in the rest of the week I&#39;ll be working for my own <i>New Leaf Digital&nbsp;</i>clients and pursuing other interesting projects.</p> <p> The good news is, I&#39;m already swamped for the next few months. The last few weeks have been exhilarating (and exhausting), as I take on new clients and set up <i>New Leaf Digital</i>, while still working 9-5 an hour from home.</p> <div id="cke_pastebin"> <p> Next weekend I&#39;m headed to San Francisco for&nbsp;<a href="javascript:void(0)/*300*/">DrupalCon</a>.</p> </div> Life newleafdigital Mon, 12 Apr 2010 02:21:17 +0000 ben 5834 at Big News For Me <p> I&#39;ve got some news about a major change I&#39;m making in my career. I&#39;ve been doing web development in various capacities for around a decade now. My last two jobs on this track included a year with a Drupal consulting shop and the last seven months with a large publishing firm.</p> <p> I&#39;ve recently decided to leave my job and go independent.&nbsp;The next few weeks will be very busy, transitioning out of my day job (ending April 30th), attending DrupalCon in San Francisco (April 19-21), speaking to potential clients, and freelancing in the evenings.</p> <p> I&#39;m turning over a new leaf in my life, going in a direction I&#39;ve wanted to pursue for a while. So it makes sense to call my business <i>New Leaf Digital</i>, and I&#39;ll have more details about that soon.</p> <p> I&#39;ve been inspired by so many people and ideas lately. By Jason Calacanis&#39; talk about &quot;<a href="">Samurais and drones</a>,&quot; Andrew Warner&#39;s incredible <a href=""></a> interviews, 37Signals&#39; <i><a href="">ReWork</a>,&nbsp;</i>Seth Godin&#39;s <i><a href="">Linchpin</a>, </i>and so many others. (I&#39;m going to devote part of the soon-to-launch to these inspirations.)</p> <p> I want to thank all those who have encouraged me and given me great advice. I also want to thank everyone who has not encouraged me: those who have my best interests at heart, because they care, and those who don&#39;t, because they brought clarity.</p> <p> This is an incredibly exciting and (in a good way) terrifying move. Really the only thing to fear is failure, and fear of failure is a terrible reason not to do something great. James Cameron said it right at <a href="">TED</a>:</p> <blockquote> <b>Don&#39;t bet against yourself. Take risks. Failure is an option. Fear is not.</b></blockquote> <p> Stay tuned.</p> Life newleafdigital Wed, 07 Apr 2010 04:52:30 +0000 ben 5811 at Is This Your Customer? From Cory Doctorow's piece on why he <a href="">isn't buying an iPad</a>: <blockquote>The model of interaction with the iPad is to be a "consumer," what William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote."</blockquote> ipad Mon, 05 Apr 2010 17:26:03 +0000 ben 5803 at The Old Economy has been dead for 30 years <p> Read Tom Friedman&#39;s <a href="">op-ed from yesterday</a>. First paragraph:</p> <blockquote> Here&rsquo;s my fun fact for the day, provided courtesy of Robert Litan, who directs research at the Kauffman Foundation, which specializes in promoting innovation in America: &ldquo;Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less,&rdquo; said Litan. &ldquo;That is about 40 million jobs. That means the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.&rdquo;</blockquote> <p> When I first read this, I wondered, why has this statistic never been mentioned before? Why is this not the most important observation of the economy&#39;s collapse touted on every evening news program? The article is primarily about immigration reform, but it speaks to so much more.</p> <p> The statistic seems to mean, in aggregate, that the GM&#39;s, GE&#39;s, Microsoft&#39;s, factories, coal mines, farms, fast food chains, TV networks, print publishing companies, Wall Street giants, and every other 20th century corporation&nbsp;contribute nothing to the gainful employment of a growing population, and haven&#39;t for years or decades.</p> <p> It reminds me of an intellectual history course I took in college, in which we studied early 20th century sociologists (whose names I won&#39;t drop because I&#39;m hardly an expert on them) who argued that every institution is inherently obsolete to some degree because it was created in the past. The world changes, yesterday hasn&#39;t caught up with today, so yesterday&#39;s world is wrong for today. It was probably true of most institutions in the early 20th century, and it was most certainly true of the economy at the turn of the 21st century. (It probably helped the status quo that the sector touted as the Next Big Thing for the economy crashed in those same years.)</p> <p> I would also assume that most companies younger than five years are unlikely to be very large (relative to their older competitors). Each one individually is unlikely to have many employees, it would only be in aggregate that they create so many jobs. That means there are no economic giants anymore: what&#39;s good for any individual company is no longer automatically good for America. Politicians who want to tout job growth necessarily can&#39;t get away with a single press conference with one big employer anymore.</p> <p> What does this mean? One of two things, it seems. Either,</p> <p> 1) Old companies tend to stagnate as a matter of principle. They establish a secure business model, reach a peak early on (when they&#39;re still innovating), then they coast with the same work force for years, growing by becoming more efficient (or not growing).</p> <p> Or,<br /> 2) All the big companies in the American economy are operating with obsolete business models, staying alive because the alternatives haven&#39;t matured yet, or from bailouts.</p> <p> Imagine for a moment a counterfactual, in which the barriers to creating new businesses suddenly increased exponentially around 1980 for whatever reason, so the only companies that could thrive were those already established. In such a world, there would have been zero new jobs created for thirty years.</p> <p> So it&#39;s great that didn&#39;t happen. Twenty years of growth and ten years of faux-growth were possible because it was easy for new businesses to rise. But what does it mean going forward? Even without adding jobs, all those big old companies still have millions of employees, so we can&#39;t exactly wish for their collapse. But it would be fair to assume that the next twenty years of recovery and growth won&#39;t be coming from companies built pre-1980. (At best, they&#39;ll hire back most of the people they used to employ, and keep coasting.)</p> <p> What I want to know is: does the rule apply historically as well? Did most of the jobs created throughout the twentieth century come from companies younger than five years? If so, shouldn&#39;t all our economic policies be geared toward new businesses, and minimizing the friction of employee movement between jobs, especially from old businesses to new? (That friction includes, for example: non-portable health insurance plans and 401K vesting.) Shouldn&#39;t the whole notion of [established] corporate interests as national economic interests be turned upside down? What&#39;s good for today&#39;s and tomorrow&#39;s businesses is far more important than what&#39;s good for any existing one!</p> <p> I&#39;m going to spend a bunch of time this week following the conversations around Friedman&#39;s article. The implications of such a simple statistic are incredible.</p> economy Mon, 05 Apr 2010 05:03:08 +0000 ben 5800 at The Random Show ep 9 From two very smart people, Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss, comes episode 9 of <a href="">The Random Show</a>. Lots of good stuff. Wed, 31 Mar 2010 15:00:34 +0000 ben 5791 at Socialize, don't commute <p>David Brooks has a good <a href="">column</a> on happiness research:</p> <blockquote><p>If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year. ...</p> <p>The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.</p> <p>The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.</p></blockquote> happiness Wed, 31 Mar 2010 14:58:22 +0000 ben 5790 at First bicycle ride of the year <p>I took my bike out for the first time this year. The weather was sunny and cold this morning, but started to get very windy and cloudy when I went out. I rode along the ocean a ways in each direction.</p> <p><iframe width="425" height="350" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src=";hl=en&amp;t=h&amp;msa=0&amp;msid=112966126829760704352.000482e5c47c43df06a57&amp;ll=42.282357,-71.004916&amp;spn=0.044451,0.072956&amp;z=13&amp;output=embed"></iframe></p> bicycling Mon, 29 Mar 2010 00:47:05 +0000 ben 5776 at Poem: What Teachers Make <p>From <a href="">Seth Godin</a>:</p> <object width="320" height="265"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="320" height="265"></embed></object> poetry Sun, 28 Mar 2010 14:40:27 +0000 ben 5770 at Design Tweaks <p>First: if you're viewing this site in Internet Explorer and everything looks off, it's because IE sucks, and I'll try to fix it tomorrow.</p> <p>For everyone else... after playing with some ideas for a totally new design for this site, I decided I don't have the time for a redesign and instead went for some tweaks around the margins. Visible changes include moving the post metadata to the right side and tightening up some margins.</p> <p>I also turned tags back on for all posts (where available). I've only been diligent with tagging on my tech posts, so the tags for everything else are probably sparse and inconsistent, but I'll try to improve on that going forward.</p> <p>Later on, I'd like to figure out a way to better separate the tweets from the blog posts, or at least highlight the blog posts. If you have any suggestions, please send them along.</p> <p>(I'll try to fix the IE styling tomorrow. Internet Explorer is the bane of every web designer/developer's existence.)</p> Sun, 28 Mar 2010 05:19:11 +0000 ben 5769 at Broken Bells: Live from SXSW I'm loving this album.<br/><br/><embed src="" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" flashVars="@videoPlayer=72546516001&playerID=10032373001&domain=embed&linkBaseURL=" base="" name="flashObj" width="400" height="356" seamlesstabbing="false" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowFullScreen="true" swLiveConnect="true" allowScriptAccess="always" pluginspage=""> </embed> music Fri, 26 Mar 2010 05:02:03 +0000 ben 5753 at Digital nomads and 19th century business laws <p> I&#39;ve been taking on more freelance work lately, and would like to operate under a business name, <i>New Leaf Digital</i>&nbsp;(website coming soon). I don&#39;t want to become an <a href="">LLC</a> just yet, because it&#39;s not worth the $500 annual fee for part-time, but I do need to file (as far as I can tell) a <a href="">Doing Business As</a> application. LLC&#39;s are filed at the state level, but DBA&#39;s are by city, so I called the city hall where I live, in Quincy, to ask about the details.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="" style="float: right; width: 320px; height: 240px; " />Unfortunately, I learned, they don&#39;t really have a concept of the kind of business I&#39;d be setting up. To register a DBA in Quincy you need a fixed address, not a P.O. Box. So I could use my home address. But then an assessor would come and determine how much of my apartment is for business use, and tax that [for my landlord] as commercial real estate. That&#39;s not gonna fly. And while I do some of my work from home, my home isn&#39;t really my business location. I work wherever I have a laptop and a wifi connection. My office could be a <a href="">coworking</a>&nbsp;space, or a table in Panera Bread, or an airport terminal, or a park bench off the highway. How does the city tax that? They have no idea.</p> <p> Where do digital nomads fit into the legal structures set up centuries ago? (Actually LLC&#39;s are relatively new but DBA&#39;s aren&#39;t.) People in similar situations tell me they&#39;ve sort of fit between the cracks: they file Schedule C&#39;s with the IRS for instance, but don&#39;t bother with the local paperwork. I&#39;ll probably just have to hire someone who specializes in this stuff to sort it out.</p> <p>Update: I posted this question to <a href="">Mahalo</a>.</p> business Fri, 26 Mar 2010 02:27:28 +0000 ben 5752 at Hopping Mad Republicans <p>Timothy Egan writes about the "rage-filled partisans with spittle on their lips" as health care reform passes into law, "powerful and lasting scenes of a democracy gasping for dignity":</p> <blockquote><p>Most of these vignettes are isolated incidents — a few crazies going off in a vein-popping binge. But the Republican Party now has taken some of the worst elements of Tea Party anger and incorporated them into its own identity. They are ticked off, red-faced, frothing — and these are the men in suits. ...</p> <p>“Let’s beat the other side to a pulp!” Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, shouted to the last stand of Tea Partiers on Sunday night. “Let’s chase them down! There’s going to be a reckoning.”</p> <p>Indeed there will. But as the party of the hissy fit, Republicans are playing with fire. ...</p> <p>But it’s always better to be building something than destroying it. John McCain had a positive campaign slogan in 2008 — “Country First.” This week, he vowed “no cooperation for the rest of the year.” This is an adolescent living in the shell of a former statesman.</p> <p>He took his position, he said, using the same justification as the Texan who yelled “baby killer,” because “the American people are very angry.”</p> <p>Having welcomed Tea Party rage into their home, and vowing repeal, the Republicans have made a dangerous bargain. First, they are tying their fate to a fringe, one that includes a small faction of overt racists and unstable people. The Quinnipiac poll this week found only 13 percent of Americans say they are part of the Tea Party movement.</p> <p>But consider the policy positions. Do Republicans really want to campaign in favor of insurance companies’ right to drop people when they get sick? Do they really want to knock the 25-year-old graduate student, living on Top Ramen and hope, off his parents’ health care? Are they going to deny tax credits for small businesses?</p> <p>It was the ancient Greeks who gave us a sense of what Republicans will be living with under this pact with rage. Many people are afraid of the dark, the saying goes. But the real tragedy is those who are afraid of the light.</p></blockquote> <p>November is going to be very, very interesting.</p> Fri, 26 Mar 2010 02:12:36 +0000 ben 5751 at