Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Public and private transportation. Anything but EZ.

We need a flash of genius that shows us how to bring the flexibility, convenience, and economics of our system of personal cars and public roads/streets to sustainable and public transit. Until that world-changing "flash," perhaps we are best off pursuing the gradual market-led move to smaller and more eco-friendly personal transportation devices, such as BMW’s new concept vehicles as presented in their sponsorship of the article Urban Planning 101 (Yeung, 2011). "Solutions" that are not supportive of people's schedules and transportation needs and/or are not economically sustainable will most likely NOT have a lasting positive impact. In the meantime, we need to begin shaping our living and working spaces into more pedestrian, local, and human-scale directions. I can tell you that I am happier living 1 1/2 miles from work and shopping than I was before at 15 miles out. But here's a puzzler: In a city (San Antonio, Texas) that is, at least verbally, pushing public transportation, and has a huge active and retired military population, with Ft. Sam being one of our cities largest employers, and DoD supportive of mass transit solutions, why is it that our public transportation does not really support Ft. Sam nor the newly-named San Antonio Military Medical Center campuses? I think our city is all sound and no fury when it comes to public transportation, and that most projects are designed more for the profit or ego of a few insiders than for the benefit of our citizens. Millions of dollars on a trolley system that will basically serve downtown tourists or require locals to drive in from other parts of even the inner city and pay to park so they can ride across the city center? With bus routes that don't even conveniently serve the trolley terminals? Please...who looks at these things? The truth is that successful public transit around the world understands and leverages multi-modal systems and ties them together. Nearly every city in Europe has train links from their airport to downtown. Their trains link to bus terminals. The bus terminals link to the subway/metro systems. The metro systems serve neighborhoods with bike racks and other conveniences, and, farther out, park-and-ride systems for personal cars. All of the major terminals are designed to facilitate taxis and fares are reasonable. When have you ever heard anyone in San Antonio’s mobility mavens even mention tying the various modes into one usable system? Does no one understand that the linkages and convenient terminals of the various modes is what makes it all work? Why was our airport completely redone with a new terminal and no provision for a rail link to downtown and our two major medical centers? Meanwhile, London, UK, after an initial peak in public transit use, is dying as a result of their stick and no carrot approach to private cars in the heart of the city. Rather than incentivize ridership and making it more usable and attractive, their approach was to simply discourage private vehicle use through fee-based taxes. It has done that, and without making their public transit more attractive, there are now fewer British people using the city center daily. Small businesses are closing and jobs are lost, and soon London will be Detroit without the good music. Let us not forget in our march for sustainable cities and transportation that these things exist solely to serve our needs, and when the systems fail to serve us and improve our daily lives, we are doing it wrong. As wrong as a new 12-lane freeway to nowhere.

Yeung, B. (2011). Urban Planning 101. Retrieved November 16, 2011, from, Sustainable Mobility, Digital Editioin 2011:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hate crimes, legislation, and speech.

Actions and motivations may certainly be motivated by hate. People generally hate what they fear. Fear can be overcome by knowledge and understanding. Finger-pointing and name-calling do not further knowledge and understanding. Ad-hominem attacks always make things worse and are generally the response of the ignorant to things they fear. It is wrong to *assume* that a person's disapproval of any action or belief is hate-driven. A person can be opposed to hunting on moral grounds without hating hunters. Their belief and the opposition to the action of hunting does not make them a hater. Their ad-hominem attacks on hunters make them a hater. Now we have to ask: who uses name-calling and ad-hominem attacks in their rhetoric? When you see that, you are seeing a hate-driven action. You see it from both sides, but the attacks from the left toward the right seem to be much more personal and vitriolic, a simple example is the oft-heard: You only disagree with our current president because you are a hateful racist. B.S. You only favor Right-to-Work over union domination because you are an unreformed slave owner. B.S. You only go to Tea Party rallies because you are a White Supremacist. B.S. I can disagree with the administration's policies and actions based on my beliefs and understandings regarding those policies and actions regardless of the race/color/creed/orientation of anyone in that administration. The left does not seem to be able to differentiate between support/opposition to policies and support/opposition of persons. The left is not rational in that respect. A person may have a family member or friend whose actions are distasteful and, to some, morally wrong. It does not mean they hate that person if they try to rationally influence the behavior. Sometimes, as they come to knowledge and understanding their feelings and beliefs moderate or change. But calling them haters or other names does nothing to further change. Sadly, there are extremists on both ends of the political spectrum. Each person deserves thoughtful respect of their beliefs and thoughts. Why can't the we get that simple human courtesy from each other?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Even watching movies is not EZ. More on NetFlix

Probably the best analysis I've seen to date, found at:

"The company isn't giving old subscribers preferential treatment. If you do nothing, NFLX is automatically increasing your price to $15.98 from $9.99. This might be why an informal internet poll reported yesterday that 40% of surveyed Netflix customers plan to cancel their subscription.

Reading the tea leaves here, this was a highly calculated move and we see three motives:

  1. The change captures a quick buck from the "slow and stupid" subs who don't track credit cards for a while and don't notice the 60% increase in price. Should yield a nice boost in cash flow to fund content deals.
  2. By breaking apart streaming and physical delivery plans, Netflix is able to increase price on streaming as content costs rise. The move shelters DVD-only customers from these price increases. The new structure is cleaner and paves the way to future price increases and tiering (more on that later).
  3. NFLX was obviously blindsided by the Sony (SNE) / Starz issue which was triggered by crossing 20m streaming subs. By breaking the two apart, it will fall below the 20m subscriber mark and temporarily regain the Sony content and thus increase its negotiating leverage with Sony.

Obviously, the huge risk for NFLX is that a meaningful block of streaming subs may cancel the streaming service (in favor of physical-only or cancel altogether). Given the fixed cost nature of the streaming content deals, this would be disastrous. "

Still: Every analysis that I've seen to date talks about "heavy" users of the streaming service and or "heavy" users of the DVD services and tries to divine what they may do. The analysts are ALL missing the "light" user of both -- the hybrid bundle subscriber that watches 2 or 3 DVDs and 2 or 3 streams per month (me, for instance.) The service and it's convenience were a great value to me at the prior price, but clearly NOT worth $15.98 per month. The analysis above even points out that providing to me the level of service I was paying for essentially cost NF nothing for which they had a sure revenue stream, yet they have chosen to give that up. I don't see how that can be good for business.

I'm sorry, NetFlix, but I won't be one of your "slow and stupid" subscribers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dear NetFlix: Thanks for the customers. Signed, RedBox

NetFlix announced on their (free) Google Blogger weblog their new pricing plans. Prior to their announcement they had over 23 million subscribers. I wonder: How many they will have by the end of September? Their new plan nearly doubles the monthly cost for the same service I've been getting (1 dvd at a time and unlimited streaming.) If I watched a LOT of NetFlix (or any other video) $15.98 for that service may seem like a great deal. The reality is that we have a life outside video and generally only watch about 1 DVD per month and perhaps 1 streamed movie (VERY LIMITED CATALOG on NetFlix) and 1 or 2 NetFlix TV streams--maybe six hours of content total. That is NOT worth $15.98 per month. At that rate, Dish Network would cost me up to $1,917.60 per month vs. the $44.00 that I pay them for unlimited viewing. If your landlord raised your rent 60% with no increase in benefit -- or if gas went overnight to $5.60 a gallon would you still see it as a good deal? Everything is worth what people are willing to pay for it. I'm not willing to pay NetFlix $2.66 per hour for their service. I didn't even wait until the end of August (new pricing applies 1 September). I cancelled immediately. I can get what I want from HuLu or Apple TV.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sleep should be EZ...

I had an unusual sleep experience last Tuesday night. Or was it Wednesday morning? Matters not. I was staying in a hotel, alone, away from home on a short business trip. I sometimes have trouble getting to sleep when away from home alone, but that had not been the case the evening before, although it was a bit late, 11 PM-ish, before I turned out the lights. Once the lights were out, I drifted off quite quickly, as I often do. The hotel provided a pretty good bed--not too firm, not too soft, it neither sagged nor poked me. After an indeterminate time, I awakened from a deep sleep with no sense of how long I had been asleep. As there were no noticeable sounds and no light leaking in past the curtains, I figured it to not yet be morning. I felt no need to get up, so I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and continued to lie in the bed. I was lying on my back, arms to my side and legs slightly apart. Under my head was a single soft but firm pillow. Over my torso a sheet and very light blanket. And here is the strange part: I continued to lie there without motion, only breathing, but very much awake. For a long time. And I didn't care that if was awake or asleep. Now, normally during sleep time, if I don't go back to sleep after awakening I get impatient. I count backward from 1000, I try deep breathing, I try to consciously clear my mind, desperate to get back into sleep, I wind up twitching and itching, tossing and turning, moving the pillow(s) here then there, pulling up then tossing off the covers. But this time none of that. I was totally relaxed, almost unaware that my body existed and not the least disturbed that I was lying there awake. Was this a zen-like trance? I wouldn't know, but it surely was pleasant. I didn't sleep; I didn't dream. Yet this seemed better. I could feel myself getting rested--almost transcendental as if I could SEE myself getting rested. My limbs didn't protest, neither my nose nor my ears itched, I was only barely aware of my breathing. The only other time I've experienced anything even close to this feeling was once, years ago, when I paid for a 20-minute session inside a floatation tank. These devices are designed to provide stress relief through short-term sensory deprivation. Just bigger than a coffin, they are half-filled with 98.6 degree salt water. One climbs in, naked, and floats. The machine has imperceptible currents, equal in the water from from all four sides, so that you remain floating without touching the chamber walls. Soft ambient lighting and music fade away until it is dark inside, and quiet. In this way you lose track of nearly everything but your breathing, and, after a while, your heart beat. At the end of the session, the light slowly fades up and music becomes noticeable, very faint at first, until you are "back" in your conscious state. I can't speak to the long-term health or emotional benefits of a session in one of these tanks, but I can say that I felt pretty good after the session. My sleep experience this past week was even better, as there was no vestige of claustrophobic feelings in my bed. I did eventually go back to sleep, as my alarm awakened me at 5:30 AM. I have no idea how long I stayed in my zen-like state. I think I may have been able to stay there forever if not acted upon by some outside force. It was truly blissful. When I got up I felt as rested as I can recall feeling. Don't know how I got there, there were no drugs involved, but I'd volunteer to go back any time if I knew how! For once, something nice really was EZ!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Even a simple drive may not be EZ.

Today I drove from Washington, DC to Dayton, Ohio. I had to "ferry" a company-owned vehicle from a closed-out jobsite in DC to a current jobsite at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Not a bad drive, about 550 miles, took a bit less than 11 hours what with stops and all. I got to drive through some truly beautiful scenery. The little truck ran good and no real incidents to complain of. There was one 18-wheeler off the road which held up traffic for about 20 minutes, but no one was hurt. The truck was off the road because of the snow. That's right, four inches of fresh unplowed snow on the road in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia on the 2nd of April, 2011. The road only climbs to 3,295 feet above sea level there, which represents the Eastern Continental Divide in the Appalachian Mountains, between Strasberg, VA and Elkins, WV, still, the snow came down with a vengeance. The roads there climb, drop, and wind, and are mostly narrow two-lane roads, so there was a stretch of about 50 miles that I probably only averaged about 20 MPH driving on very slippery snow. One of the most interesting sites: Wardenville, WV. I approached the town from the Virginia side on a wide, smooth, two-lane road. Once through the town, the road, for a short distance, is a wonderful four-lane divided expressway. But in the town itself? Main Street, an integral part of the highway, is unpaved, rough, muddy, and narrow. Single story frame buildings with covered front porches are scattered along a board-walk-like sidewalk, and many people were out and about, visiting, or just watching the (very little) traffic. I felt like I'd stepped back into the 19th century. Main Street was only about four blocks long, then through the time warp and back to today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Public Sector Unions

Stephen Greenhouse is the erudite reporter and best-selling author of the current well-reviewed book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, a very pro-union tome. The Washington Monthly says, “An excellent book . . . Greenhouse exhibits outrage and moral indignation and an idealism one doesn’t necessarily expect from a hard-bitten New York Times reporter.”

Today I listened to an interview of Mr. Greenhouse on NPR, a distribution media often thought to be somewhat left-leaning. In that interview, Mr. Greenhouse stated that the approriate role of a union is the protection and preservation of all that is in the best interests of the worker. This often puts the union in the position of advocating positions that are clearly not in the best interest of the employer. I find no fault in his analysis.

He went on to point out that this "appropriate" union role has a very interesting impact when the union represents public employees, to wit: Unions are paid by mandatory deductions from the salaries of the public employees. Those salaries are paid by the taxpayers. Thus, the taxpayers are the employers. Thus, unions are paid by the taxpayers to advocate positions that are clearly not in the best interests of the taxpayers. Therefore, every public employee who pays taxes is a member of "management" and thus not eligible for union membership. There you have it. From a pro-union voice.

Let me end this by pointing out that I am NOT anti-union. I am anti-mandatory union membership. I strongly believe that private-sector workers MUST have the right to free association, to organize and authorize unions to enter into collective bargaining in their name. I strongly believe that neither employers nor unions may be allowed to use harassment, violence, or unfair practices dealing with labor issues. I am also vehemently opposed to the union-supported "card-check" union elections (which steal from the worker the essential and elementary right to a secret ballot.) People who push the hardest for mandatory unions and card-check union elections are the very same people who cry that it's a discriminatory hardship to require U.S. citizens to show a photo ID to vote in our government's elections. Talk about inconsistent!

I believe that management needs labor -- otherwise, bargaining, collective or otherwise, would be impossible. I believe that our economy (thus, labor) needs management--entrepenuers and financiers. Without them, labor would be worth much less: only the value of basic subsistence. If management needs labor, and if labor needs management, then we have a common starting point from which negotiations may begin. If such is not the case, there is no common ground, and no way to reach mutually beneficial agreement. Close the plant and go home. There is no reason to be here: no salary, no benefits, no profit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Business is not EZ

As a part-owner of a business, I find it distressing that so many people think that business owners are greedy and "rich." We employ people in several states, Ohio included. Of each and every dollar of company revenue, 42.4 cents go to direct salaries, 16 cents to employee benefits, our overhead (taxes and cost of doing business) averages about 37.9 cents on every dollar (higher in Ohio, lower in Texas.) On average, that leaves about 3.7 cents of every dollar in "profit." From that 3.7 cents we have to maintain and reinvest to grow and meet any contingencies. We are barely able to be price competitive now, despite making all the economies we can find. Any increase in taxes or costs MUST be passed along to our customers or we must close and eliminate the jobs we have slaved to create. If the increases cause us to become non-competitive, we may have the choice of moving to a lower cost environment. Here's a secret for you to share: No business has ever paid a penny in taxes. Businesses simply collect the taxes from their customers and pass them along to the government. Businesses aren't taxed -- people are taxed. George Soros is rich. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are rich. Very few businessmen ever reach those pinnacles -- and if they do, it is because they have offered something of value to millions of working people. I personally don't agree with George Soros' politics, but I love his Progressive Insurance Company because they offer good service and value for the cost. That's good business, and good business is good for the economy and good for the Republic.

Food for thought

I wish I could never again see or hear of violence in public discourse. The posting at the link, below, is certainly interesting.