Friday, July 29, 2005

Aging: Economics and Investing

Our only hope: retiring later by Jim Jubak

Jim Jubak is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in investing. This column touches on the economic problem of the aging population.

My solution is based on common sense and my observations of what people actually do in retirement: They work. It's based on a belief that we'd fix the so-called crisis if we could just get more productive work out of older workers, by improving their jobs so they'd voluntarily stay on at work, or by giving them resources and support to start post-retirement careers.

That pretty much has to be part of the solution. While the United States is rich even we are not rich enough to have people work for 40 years and not work for 40 years. Retirement at 65 was set when most people died before or soon after that date. It just is not realistic to think we can live at the standards of living we expect and only work from 25-65.

If people want to cut the standard of living during the 80 years they live that would be one tradeoff they could make. I don't believe his contention that savings is not a reasonable significant part of the solution (if that is what he means by "The whole world is getting old pretty much all at once, so saving more and investing at higher returns won't do the trick."
The issue of how to deal with the economic consequences of aging population is an important issue to consider today. It is something I need to continue to study. But we also need to be taking action now on things like increasing the full retirement age for Social Security, increasing the saving rate, decreasing the current yearly federal deficit (and private pension liabilities), providing ways for those in their 60's and 70's to participate in the economy that work well (probably part time, more flexible work arrangements, etc.).

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mass Affluent and Google Code

Here come the mass affluent: In the 1970's

almost 90 percent of American households made less than $65,000 (inflation adjusted). By 2000, 62 percent made more than $65,000

That hardly seems posible but if it is true is amazing. One point of the article, that there are many people with a great deal of money to spend sure seems true. But still such a large majority making over $65,000 is suprising.

I meant to post this earlier but forgot to do so. Google, summer of code:

This summer, don't let your programming skills lie fallow. Use them for the greater good of open source software and computer science. Google will provide a $4500 award to each student who successfully completes a project by the end of the summer.

Great idea for Google. They seem to be doing so many things right now. Hopefully they can keep it up.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Medicare and Ask Jeeves humor

Bad Practices Net Hospitals More Money

In Medicare's upside-down reimbursement system, hospitals and doctors who order unnecessary tests... often receive higher payments than those who provide efficient, high-quality medicine.
Medicare... now about 15 percent of federal spending and projected to grow to nearly a quarter of the budget in a decade.
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School, who have been studying Medicare's performance for three decades, estimate that as much as $1 of every $3 is wasted on unnecessary or inappropriate care. Other analysts put the figure as high as 40 percent.

Interview with Ask Jeeves (from 2000), very funny.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Outsourcing, Government Debt, Where the Wild Things Are

Offshore Outsource Savings Can Be Elusive, Survey Shows:

the Ventoro survey found that savings averaged slightly less than 10 percent for all the offshore outsourcing projects that Ventoro reviewed.
The survey found that 28 percent of the offshore outsourcing or offshore development project actually increased costs and 25 percent did not generate any significant savings.

The Debt updated daily from the United States Bureau of Public Debt:

Debt as of 07/18/2005
Owed to the public: $4,552,108,672,703.45
Owed to other parts of the GovernmentL $3,301,481,819,120.60
Total Debt: $7,853,590,491,824.05

These numbers might make United States citizens want to support the Concord Coalition.

Listen to a Conversation with Maurice Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are) from NPR.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Flashblock, Outsource Your Job, Privacy Laws

Flashblock is a great plugin for firefox to keep distracting animations from bothering you. If you want to see the flash object you just click on it and you can see it. Well awhile back Firefox started crashing fairly often on my machine.

Finally I decided to see what was going on. It seemed to be related to sites with Flash so I went to look at the Flashblock page and it seems a new version of Firefox has a bug that results in the old version of Flashblock crashing Firefox. I just upgraded Flashblock so hopefully I will now avoid all those crashes. You have to follow the uninstall instructions (default extention upgrade process won't work).

Outsource your job to earn more!
I think this is pretty amusing. I would guess others will get all worked up about it. I wouldn't be amazed if this quote is less than completely true:

Says a programmer on who outsourced his job: "About a year ago I hired a developer in India to do my job. I pay him $12,000 out of the $67,000 I get. He's happy to have the work. I'm happy that I have to work only 90 minutes a day just supervising the code. My employer thinks I'm telecommuting. Now I'm considering getting a second job and doing the same thing."

I have thought about something similar, but I am too chicken to actually do it.

Lawmakers have proposed several bills that seek to better protect personal data

While I hope they pass some effective laws, I am skeptical. Lawmakers now use so much 1984 Orwellian speak you can't trust what they say (yes I realize some may say that was always true but I don't believe they could so boldly be Orwellian previously). The only effective way to know what the claims they make mean is to have trusted entities that will tell you what it really means (or become an expert yourself). Unfortunately the mainstream media has mainly given up any role they traditionally played and now mainly parrot whatever they are told (this is not something new in the last 2 years it has been growing more and more true for 20 years). So for privacy I would look at what the Electronic Privacy Information Center, EFF, Privacy Rights Clearninghouse and other say to know whether the lawmakers are using English the way the rest of us do in talking about these laws or whether they are Orwellian.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Zork, Google Trick, Hospital Data and Google Maps

Zork "wiki" - my first experience with computers was with a game: "Zork" (I don't think it was named that yet). My father was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and he rented a modem from the university over Christmas break. We then used our rotary dial bell telephone to call up and connect the phone handset to the modem which connected us to a University mainframe that was underutilized during the break and we could use it to play "Zork." The modem also had a heat sensitive printer (that used special paper to print on by heating it up using a dot matrix style printhead). There was no screen - all communication was printed on the paper. This was before a personal computer existed. The Zork wiki link is a great way to remember that time, with a sense of humor.

Search for number range:
You can search for the existence of a number within a range:

I knew it happened in Death Valley, but couldn't remember what it was. I found it by searching for death valley 130..140 degrees.

Data Show Scourge of Hospital Infections
by Ceci Connolly, Washington Post

Nearly 12,000 Pennsylvanians contracted infections during a hospital stay in 2004, costing an extra $2 billion in care and at least 1,500 preventable deaths

Google Maps Mania - blog for Google Maps Hacks

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Copyright, Joel on Software

Copyright and the Law from the Economist opinion page:
In America, the length of copyright protection has increased enormously over the past century, from around 28 years to as much as 95 years.
A first, useful step would be a drastic reduction of copyright back to its original terms—14 years, renewable once. This should provide media firms plenty of chance to earn profits, and consumers plenty of opportunity to rip, mix, burn their back catalogues without breaking the law. The Supreme Court has somewhat reluctantly clipped the wings of copyright pirates; it is time for Congress to do the same to the copyright incumbents.

Joel on Software has some great posts. This one is especially funny:

"Click START"


"Start. Click Start. It's in the bottom left."

"I have C - T - R - L in the bottom left."

"The bottom left of your screen."

"Oh. OK, I clicked it."

"OK, now click RUN."


"On the menu that came up. Click RUN."

"It's not there."

"What do you mean it's not there?"

"It's not there. I don't have a RUN."


Driving While Impaired

Drivers on Cells More Likely to Crash, In the past driving while drunk was not seen as a big deal. Eventually the society learned having people kill other people when they chose to put others in danger due to their risky chooses should be something that the government prevents. Eventually we will learn to put those in jail that insist on driving while impaired by talking on cell phones. The data is obvious, it is just a matter of how many deaths and serious injuries it will take before society decides to act.

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, a Washington-based trade group, downplayed the findings, saying the distractions associated with mobile phones are no different from those encountered by drivers who eat or talk with passengers as they drive.

I don't know about you, but this statement leads me to believe the association doesn't care what the consequences for the public is, they just care about their members (why they think it is in the interest of their members to have their product be responsible for so many deaths is beyond me. Some companies seem to understand their products have appropriate and inappropriate uses. Many marketers seem to believe acknowledging any inappropriate uses is bad. This is pretty sad if you ask me, which you didn't, but I get to say what I want here, so I have. Without a public that can understand simple data it is pretty easy for spokespeople to just make unsupported claims and get away with it.

I can understand those who say a company should not be liable (say one that manufactures cell phones or provides cell phone service) if someone using their product kills your child. It isn't the cell phone providers fault that someone drove while talking on their cell phone. But if the cell phone provider gave large sums of money to lobbyists who gave the money to legislators (or the phone company gave it directly to a lawmaker) who decided not to make it illegal to drive while impaired, don't they have some responsibility?

If the cell phone provider said you were not to use their product or service in this dangerous way I wouldn't believe they should be liable. But if they create the product/service and then shape the laws of the society so that it can be used in a dangerous way why are they not responsible for the resulting inevitable deaths caused by their actions? Espeically when on top of shaping the laws they try to make the public believe it is safe basically and just like a whole bunch of other minor distractions... I understand they are not the only responsible party, the person that chose to risk the lives of others for their own selfish reasons should be held accountable for their actions. It just seems the people in the companies making the statements and making the decisions to make the payments to influence laws have moral responsibility. But I guess the legal question will be answered over the next 20 years and the moral implications are for each of us to determine for ourselves.

Yes it is true some cell phone use increase risk only slightly. It is also true someone can have a blood alcohol level that is above the legal limit and they don't endanger people more than another driver who is less capable of driving in general. But we have to set certain limits. If we figure out a way to know when someone's capability to drive at any moment in time drops below the level society wants (due to drug use, lack of sleep, cell phone use, failing physical reflexes...) then we can have a system that more directly ties to what we are trying to legislate which is: drivers do not retain the right to drive if they endanger others too much. I don't see how we can ever do that, but if we can great. Until then, we set laws such as: it is unlawful to drive while intoxicated.

Have you ever noticed that the strategy of delay by asking for more data collection is almost always followed by, boy that data has such and such problem collect more data (actually I think it might be always, not often, it is just that a critical mass of those who no longer accept that delaying tactic final is reached and the request for more delays is finally denied)? I certainly believe data should be collected but you should not let special interests claim some minor issue is not yet 100% clear so allow many more deaths for several more years so we can get data that is a bit more clear on some detail. The delaying strategy is one that can go on for decades if people don't have a basic understanding of the scientific method, statistics and the consequences of inaction as well as action.

You know you are in a pretty weak position when you are not denying the risk but instead claiming but you don't outlaw these other things that endanger people's lives. It is true driving will have risks for the foreseeable future, no matter how many risk we try and reduce. That doesn't mean we hold off banning drunk driving because other risky things have not been banned yet.

Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997 - Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions
Cell Phones Are Found to Pose Riskiest Distractions for Drivers - link to article on Yahoo because NHTSA web site doesn't seem to bother to post their own study that the article is based on.
"Acknowledging that cellphone use in a car can be a potential distraction ... we've been very clear on that," said a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the industry's main trade group. "At the same time, cellphone use is one of what appears to be a number of behaviors in there." He added: "It's certainly not in line with what a number of other studies have found. The fact it is so way out of line would give me some pause."

Cell Phone Use By Drivers -- A Threat To Public Safety?

Monday, July 04, 2005

More on Housing Bubble

Housing may sting more than bust

The IMF study found that while stock market collapses are more frequent, housing busts do a lot more damage.

"The output loss associated with the typical housing price bust (about 8 percent of GDP) was twice as large as that associated with a typical equity price bust," the study said.