LA County Proposes Tax Cut With a Tax Hike

What can I say… business as usual in California.

Supervisors voted unanimously last week to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, reducing the tax individuals and businesses pay on phones, natural gas and electricity from 5 percent to 41/2 percent in unincorporated areas, affecting more than 1 million people.

But the measure also would expand the types of communications that could be taxed, including text messaging on cell phones, paging, conference calls and other new technologies.

[From Cut may turn into tax hike – LA Daily News]

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Sunday morning links
Round-Up: 26 Jul 2008 - weekend edition
Read more on Los Andes Copper LTD, Taxes at Wikinvest

Why Newspapers Shouldn’t Allow Comments

I read the comments on and for the most part they are insipid, obtuse, and alternating between insane and incomprehensible. Despite some well meaning efforts by the editors to remove comments that rise to the level of being patently offensive, the bulk of the user generated comments are worthless and only serve to reveal frightening insights into the fringe elements of our society.

As Mike rightly points out, the problem also lies with the fact that newspapers don’t provide incentives for posting good comments, or promote social signals to improve the quality of discourse. I’d take it a step further and suggest that simply because nobody calls out people for posting nonsensical and offensive comments, there is no disincentive to wasting bits on stupid shit.

I get enough “community” elsewhere online, I’d prefer that newspapers just ditch comment systems altogether at this point.

Comments are thought to be an added value to a newspaper’s site—providing another reason to read. You come for the article, and stay for the interesting discussion. The only problem is, there is no interesting discussion. Almost never. Not even from the mythical supersmart New York Times readers.

[From Newspapers: Why Newspapers Shouldn’t Allow Comments]

Zigbee and Smart Appliances

I hadn’t written about Zigbee is so long I had to go back to my old blog to search for it. I remain pretty bullish on this category of technology but am pragmatic about medium term results for several reasons.

Commercial power users have a lot of incentives to retrofit facilities with energy saving technology and smart monitoring solutions, while residential users have less directly connected incentives and tend not to behave according to market conditions because electricity markets are price regulated and respond less dramatically than, for example, gasoline. It takes 4-6 months for electricity rates to rise in response to global commodity markets, and for whatever reason that seems to condition homeowners to price increases.

More on point, home retrofitting for technology like this is expensive and that why the vast majority of the market won’t do it. Even with tax subsidies, which btw remain a terrible strategy that does nothing but encourage higher prices to consumers, the payback period for technology like this exceeds the threshold most homeowners will absorb. Exhibit A is solar retrofitting, which despite significant improvements in the technology and large tax subsidies is but a niche market.

Until these technology make it into new construction we won’t see significant movement in the market. With new home construction all but at a standstill for at least the next 18 months, this is obviously not a winning strategy for these companies.

In the final analysis though, it is these incremental savings that will likely “fuel” our next generation power marketplace along with renewables, clean coal technology, transmission technology improvements, and better battery technology.

ZigBee is on the verge of becoming the Wi-Fi of home power management, thanks to its inclusion in smart electric meters. But multiple wireless control technologies may coexist, as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth do. For both consumers and utilities, it’s like “going from an odometer to a speedometer,” says Paul De Martini, vice president of Edison SmartConnect, Southern California Edison’s next-generation metering project. It intends to introduce smart meters to its 5.3 million customers by 2012. This project is expected to help reduce peak power demand by 5 percent – about the output of an 1,100-megawatt power plant – and overall demand by 1 percent. That would cut carbon dioxide emissions as much as taking 79,000 cars off the road, De Martini says.

[From New meters find power hogs and limit how much they use / Technology on verge of a boom, some analysts say]

Why I’m Cool to Cuil

A company couldn’t ask for much more mainstream coverage than Cuil received today. It was featured on local news broadcasts this morning and none other than Drudge himself linked to it above his headline. Here’s why it won’t matter.

You don’t beat Google just by being marginally better than Google. I tried the service and came away unimpressed by the results, yeah it was largely accurate but no more so that Google is. On many searches it didn’t return anything at all so despite their claim of indexing more content than Google they missed some of the time, and on a rather obvious terms, so my immediate concern is reliability.

Their strategy to promote privacy policies with regard to user data is smart but it won’t make the difference because you don’t hear a hue and cry about user data privacy on Google (or Yahoo or MSN) today. The average user just doesn’t care, and even though I argued in favor of this strategy about a year ago the reality is that it is not a competitive differentiator that rises the level of influencing search users.

Lastly, their presentation of search results may be more appealing than Google but that doesn’t translate into more effective. If anything, my seat of the pants feel is that they have degraded effectiveness through the use of the magazine page format simply because it forces the eye to unnaturally scan results. If they persist in believing this is better, what they should do to test that is run A/B comparisons against a traditional search results page and see what leads to both the fastest action time and lowest bounce rate.

The end result is Cuil, pronounced “cool.” Backed by $33 million in venture capital, the search engine plans to begin processing requests for the first time Monday.

[From My Way News – Ex-Google engineers debut ‘Cuil’ way to search]

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