Category Archives: Brain Salad

09 Sep

So about that Amazon 99 cent phone…

According to Amazon’s press releases about how lower prices *always* mean more success for books, because they’re just widgets and the cheaper they are the more units they sell, and the more I, the author, profits, this means that Amazon just had THE BIGGEST SUCCESSFUL PHONE LAUNCH EVER!

Right?

“Amazon has given up on trying to get you to pay $199 for the Fire Phone with a contract. Now the retail giant has brought the price down — way down.

The Fire Phone, Amazon’s first and only mobile phone, will now be available for just 99 cents with a two-year contract, the company announced on Monday. Available exclusively through AT&T, the deal also comes with a one-year membership to Amazon Prime and unlimited cloud storage for photos.”

(Via Amazon Just Slashed The Price Of Its Phone To 99 Cents.)

I’m looking forward to paying hundreds for my next iPhone. Because I actually want that, and I will pay for it. Maybe Amazon has opinions on what Apple should minimally price it at?

Meanwhile, others will pay other various prices for Android and Windows phones.

And it’s all good. A variety of prices (including diamond bedazzled smartphones for crazy money) is how markets work.

09 Sep

How do economists change what they say based on money

HBR has this great article about the impact of money on economists and what they have to say about economics:

“To be an economist, you kind of have to believe that people respond to economic incentives. But when anyone suggests that an economist’s views might be shaped by the economic incentives he or she faces, that economist tends to get bent out of shape. This happened perhaps most famously in the documentary Inside Job, in which filmmaker Charles Ferguson posed his questions to the likes of Glenn Hubbard and Rick Mishkin as tendentiously as possible in order to spark just such reaction. But it’s actually pretty common to hear economists saying things like — this is from the usually no-nonsense John Cochrane of the University of Chicago — ‘the idea that any of us do what we do because we’re paid off by fancy Wall Street salaries or cushy sabbaticals at Hoover is just ridiculous.’

It is perhaps ridiculous to suggest that economists do what they do only because of the prospect of consulting gigs or think-tank stints. Economists are human beings, with diverse motivations. But it is definitely ridiculous to suggest that such rewards have no impact at all. Economists are human beings, and human beings respond to incentives. Right, economists?”

(Via Have Economists Been Captured by Business Interests? – Justin Fox – Harvard Business Review.)

This is fantastic.

08 Sep

Solar in Texas is hitting parity, an interesting inflection point

Link via Robert J. Bennet on twitter. Solar is hitting parity. Some people’s heads are going to explode

“But the Barilla project is unique in Texas because its developers – confident that their electricity can compete on the open market – have forged ahead without signing a power purchase agreement, which would guarantee a buyer for their energy. 

Texas, because of its size and intense radiation, leads the nation in solar energy potential. Much of that resource is in the state’s western half, according to the State Energy Conservation Office. The industry has long struggled to get a foothold in the state, as policymakers have provided fewer incentives than other states, and solar energy currently makes up a tiny fraction of Texas’ energy portfolio.

But improving technology has driven down the price of solar power, making it more competitive with other resources­ – even without incentives, developers say. “

(Via West Texas Solar Plant Comes Online | The Texas Tribune.)

13 Jul

Miami is slowly flooding, and will eventually be our newest Venice

I basically assume Miami is the newest Venice at the start of Hurricane Fever due to this:

“What makes Miami exceptionally vulnerable to climate change is its unique geology. The city – and its satellite towns and resorts – is built on a dome of porous limestone which is soaking up the rising seawater, slowly filling up the city’s foundations and then bubbling up through drains and pipes. Sewage is being forced upwards and fresh water polluted. Miami’s low topography only adds to these problems. There is little land out here that rises more than six feet above sea level. Many condos and apartment blocks open straight on the edge of the sea. Of the total of 4.2 million US citizens who live at an elevation of four feet or less, 2.4 million of them live in south Florida.”

(Via Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away | World news | The Observer.)

06 Jul

Putting a price on carbon does not, actually, bring an economy to a screeching halt

The oft-repeated tenet that a carbon tax will cripple the economy is bullshit:

“The B.C. carbon tax is built on a simple tenet of human behavior: When the price of something goes up, people will consume less of it. It actually applies to not just gasoline, but to all sources of atmospheric carbon, including natural gas and propane, and is based on how much carbon they emit. For example, since natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline, it is taxed at a lower rate. This ensures emissions are priced in proportion to their impact on the climate.

As a result, British Columbia’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are now nearly 20 percent below the rest of Canada’s. This put the province ‘within spitting distance’ of its goal to reduce emissions 6 percent below 2007 levels by 2012 a year ahead of schedule, says Mary Polak, B.C.’s minister of the environment.”

(Via B.C. put a price on carbon. What happened next will surprise you | Grist.)

02 Jul

NRG CEO says solar will be competitive with local electricity in half the states in the US starting next year!

Some utility companies are starting to realize what’s happened abruptly over the last couple years:

“David Crane, who runs NRG Energy, says that in fully half the states of the union, electricity from residential solar panels will be cost-competitive with that delivered by local electric utilities by next year.

DON’T MISS: Will Solar Panels Destroy Electric Utilities’ Business Model? Yes, They Say

Crane was quoted two weeks ago in a blog post by Navigant Research, which focused on his company’s aggressive efforts to migrate to solar power for a growing portion of its portfolio.”

(Via Residential Solar Competitive With Electricity In 25 States Next Year: NRG CEO.)

I guess he’s just a hippy green type.

Interestingly, a few energy companies are spinning off all their alternative energy portfolios into brand new companies called YieldCos. Sort of like rats deserting a sinking ship.

Not only that, but they’re doing it in a clever way. The parent company gives them to right to acquire their alternative energy assets that they build in the future, thus taking up the mantle of up front capital that the newer, smaller company can’t sustain. The smaller company then sets up to funnel profits back to shareholders and parent company (sort of a quick and dirty master limited partnership).

While MLPs structures have a long history, if you assume dirty fossil fuel will collapse in the long run, it’s also a great way to shelter assets so that the green division’s ability to generate profit and income isn’t taken out in a collapse. Hedge your bets by granting stock in the new yieldco.

I’ve found the sudden interest in yeildcos on Wall Street interesting. Because, you always follow the money. And when the money wakes up to the basic facts on dirty electricity generation, it gets fairly fascinating.

Speaking of which, Barclays just downgraded the entire electric utility sector.

Guess why?

Electric utilities… are seen by many investors as a sturdy and defensive subset of the investment grade universe. Over the next few years, however, we believe that a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo. Based on our analysis, the cost of solar + storage for residential consumers of electricity is already competitive with the price of utility grid power in Hawaii. Of the other major markets, California could follow in 2017, New York and Arizona in 2018, and many other states soon after.

In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power. We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade. We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar + storage adoption curve and long-term risks from a comprehensive re-imagining of the role utilities play in providing electric power.

The question isn’t whether we’ll be transitioning. It’s how fast, and who gets rich off the change?

24 Jun

Another kid lies dying at the hands of SWAT teams looking for drugs via no-knock warrant

This is heart breaking, and a huge problem. There was a no-knock raid down in Lima where SWAT walked over toys and ended up killing a kid.

It’s far too common.

If a kid dies every single person on that SWAT team should have to go to the funeral and apologize, and help, and be court-ordered to do public service.

Because this is bullshit.

“After the SWAT team broke down the door, they threw a flashbang grenade inside. It landed in my son’s crib.

Flashbang grenades were created for soldiers to use during battle. When they explode, the noise is so loud and the flash is so bright that anyone close by is temporarily blinded and deafened. It’s been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he’s still covered in burns.

There’s still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs. At least that’s what I’ve been told; I’m afraid to look.

My husband’s nephew, the one they were looking for, wasn’t there. He doesn’t even live in that house. After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war. They searched for drugs and never found any.

I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.”

(Via A SWAT team blew a hole in my 2-year-old son – Salon.com.)

21 Jun

The new electric Harley

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Even Harley-Davidson is starting to sense where the future is headed:

“Code-named Project LiveWire, the hand-built prototype – which will officially be revealed in New York on June 23 – is styled like no other Harley on the road, looking more like a sleek and low-slung racer than the big highway cruisers typically associated with the brand.”

(Via Hell Freezes Over: Harley-Davidson Unveils New Electric Motorcycle.)

21 Jun

Texas hopes to copy Japanese rail success

Another article about Texas rail:

“Richard Lawless, who as a C.I.A. officer posted in Tokyo in the 1980s was a frequent Shinkansen passenger, has long found America’s failure to embrace high-speed rail ‘mind-boggling.’ But today the former Bush administration official is in a position to change things, as chairman and CEO of Texas Central Railway, a private company that plans to link Dallas and Houston with a 200-mile-per-hour bullet train as soon as 2021. The venture just might be high-speed rail’s best hope in the United States.

‘The project has been progressing below the radar, very quietly, very deliberately, over the last four years plus,’ says Lawless. It’s now undergoing an environmental impact study that will take between two and three years, but Texas Central, whose backers include Japan’s JR Central railway, has already conducted its own extensive research. The company, originally called U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail, looked at 97 possible routes nationwide before concluding that Texas was the ideal place for a high-speed line — and that healthy profits could be made in long-distance passenger rail, a travel mode that for the past 40 years has existed only with the help of massive government subsidies.”

(Via The Big Texas Plan to Copy Japan’s High-Speed Rail Success – CityLab.)

People keep saying that last line (US rail only survives via massive subsidies). But it ignores the fact that the Acela (and even the slower North East Corridor) is profitable. It’s just that Amtrak was mandated to take on all long distance lines whether it made sense to or not, so in order to keep all lines going it has to be subsidized.

I’ve talked about how to kill off unprofitable lines to make a profitable Amtrak before:

Acela makes $220,200,000 a year.
Northeast Regional makes $146,500,000 a year
Northeast Corridor ‘special trains’ make $3,600,000 a year.
According to the chart you need to deduct $1,300,000 for labor on the NEC corridor.

You’re left with the North East Corridor routes making $369,000,000 in profit a year.

The Government Accountability Office and Subsidy Scope claim that Amtrak’s depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs are $24.29 a customer.

That gives you $265,000,000 (roughly) in overhead. That means the North East Corridor lines mentioned above make $104 million dollars in profit a year.