PA School Webcam Lawsuit

The Pennsylvania case shows how even well-intentioned plans can go awry if officials fail to understand the technology and its potential consequences, privacy experts said. Compromising images from inside a student’s bedroom could fall into the hands of rogue school staff or otherwise be spread across the Internet, they said.

[From Pa. school official defended in webcam spy case – San Jose Mercury News]

It also demonstrates how well-intentioned plans can go awry when officials fail to exercise any, you know, common sense.

I also found this revelation rather amusing…

No one had complained before Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, filed their lawsuit Tuesday, he said.

No one complained because it’s appears that no one outside of the officials who authorized this system and the IT people, who should have been the first to object, knew about the remote capability. It is incomprehensible to suggest that if parents were made aware of this remote capability that they would have permitted it in their homes. It was only the overreach of school officials that revealed the existence of the remote webcam that is at the center of this lawsuit.  

People Putting an Extra 50k Miles Or More On Their Cars

Read this an it immediately resonated with me.

According to a study by Auto MD, which is owned by the US Auto Parts Network, Inc. (i.e. people who have a vested interest in making parts for used cars) 77% of people are, on average, planning on driving their current cars at least 50,000 miles more than their previous cars.

[From People Putting an Extra 50,000 Miles Or More On Their Cars : Gas 2.0]

There are some obvious reasons for this phenomena, namely the uncertainty of the economy causes consumers to put off large durable goods purchases, of which a car is certainly second only to houses for most people. Credit is also a problem with lenders tightening standards even for consumers with good credit, and Americans are saving more and paying down debt… so drive your car 4 years longer (averaging out miles driven per year).

There is another factor, one that I have written about many times here, sales tax and registration fees are putting an enormous burden on car sales. Here in California you can expect sales tax, registration, and licensing to add over 10% to the cost of a new car. Here’s an example of the fees for a new car purchased for $50,000 (just a representative number for easy math).

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California and other states need to revisit the Laffer Curve and apply it to consumer purchases… taxation (whether direct taxes like sales tax or fees) is exacerbating an already difficult consumer marketplace.

Links

- UK newspapers lash out against the BBC iPhone app, saying it undermines the commercial sector. I totally agree, when will people accept that a taxpayer financed entity providing a service that competes with the private sector is unfair? It’s be like the U.S. government, which owns GM, launching a series of safety investigations against Toyota… oh never mind.

- Stanford finds a rise is cheating is especially prevalent among computer science students… does the tech industry have an ethics problem? Maybe when you consider the many examples of things like options backdating and intellectual property theft. Just sayin…

- iPad hype drives away potential customers… maybe also the fact that Apple has already come out and said that price cuts are in the wings.

- Google Calendar to get a face lift.

- Spray on liquid glass promises to revolutionize “everything”.

- Fizziolo.gy is a service that measures the intensity and sentiment of online opinion on Twitter and Facebook for the entertainment industry. Amplicate is another one but I think all of these services suffer from a human behavior reality, which is that most people are prone to broadcasting a negative opinion rather than a positive one. There is also a herd mentality that causes many people to buy into negative group sentiment (e.g. walmart sucks) as a social statement about themselves, which distorts the overall sentiment.

- Here’s an interesting perspective on class warfare and populism.

- The White House is making a claim that images on it’s Flickr site can only be used by news organizations… on what basis that they are making that claim is beyond me because this is in direct conflict with government policy and the fact that these images are produced with taxpayer money.

- Jeremiah Owyang’s piece on the evolution on branded support communities is really good.

- Professor Lessig is focusing his attention on remaking Congress (good luck with that) but underlying his persuasive argument is the idea that controlling political speech is a necessary step. The Cato Institute argues, and I agree with them, that reducing the role of government in the People’s everyday life is a better way to reduce the influence of money in politics… a government that has less influence is less likely to be influenced.

Wind Power Does Not Equal Job Power

“Most of the jobs are going overseas,” said Russ Choma at the Investigative Reporting Workshop. He analyzed which foreign firms had accepted the most stimulus money. “According to our estimates, about 6,000 jobs have been created overseas, and maybe a couple hundred have been created in the U.S.”

[From Wind Power Does Not Equal Job Power – ABC News]

It is estimated that about 85,000 people work in the wind power industry in the United States… that’s 85k when you add up direct investment and related supply chain employment. (will find the link reference but it’s from the American Wind Energy Association).

Even if we quadruple the size of wind power in the U.S. it will not result in meaningful employment, or even treading water for that matter. A dramatic expansion of the wind power industry would also come at the expense of existing power segments so the employment effect would be further muted.

I am not singling out wind power for the purpose of criticizing wind power but rather to point out that when people who responsible for doling out billions of your dollars start lecturing you on how green energy will reinvigorate the U.S. economy you should simply call bullshit on them.

Irrational Populism

I’ve been reading about some of the troubles that the Las Vegas hospitality industry is going through (as well as getting a lot of promo email for $40 a night suites at Mandalay Bay) and it again reminds me that populist uproar is neither rational nor constructive.

Luxury hotels have also suffered from the backlash from the so-called “AIG effect,” referring to the uproar caused by American International Group’s decision to fly top brokers and executives to a resort shortly after receiving a bailout check from the U.S. government.

“The whole demonization of luxury meetings and companies’ pulling back on having their high-end meetings in luxury hotels — this has had a tremendous impact on Las Vegas,” Deuschl said. “I can’t think of another destination that has had to defend itself more against comments from politicians.”

[From Ritz-Carlton to close 5-diamond Las Vegas hotel in May]

Companies are pulling back on travel expenses in a significant way, there is nothing populist about that, but it’s equally obvious that few companies want to be seen throwing large events in Vegas despite the fact that if you are holding a large event Las Vegas is probably one of the most cost effective places to do it.

It is a city built for large influxes of non-residents which means hotel rooms are plentiful and when purchased in blocks they are cheap, transportation is efficient because the airport is relatively close to the Strip, taxi service is abundant, and walking is an option, and lastly, the primary entertainment (gambling) can’t be expensed.

Orlando features similar cost dynamics but the problem with Orlando is getting there if you are not already on the east coast and that drives up air fare significantly.

I can guarantee you this, try hosting 250 guests and support staff in New York, Washington D.C., or San Francisco and then compare the fully loaded cost to Las Vegas, the result will be eye popping. So I ask you are we really being served by demonizing companies for daring to hold their events in Las Vegas or is it a cheap and convenient ploy by politicians to “feel our pain”?

Buyers Remorse

In 2008 the sight of a Toyota Prius sporting an Obama hopey changey bumper sticker rose to the level of being a cliche and the Prius itself became a social statement, outselling other hybrids based on existing gasoline powered models. Well the former hasn’t exactly turned out like everyone thought and now Toyota is launching yet another recall, this time for 270,000 Prius cars with faulty brakes. There’s some poetic irony in there somewhere, but in each case there is little humor to be found as the consequences are quite dire.