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  • Hober Short 11:19 am on 8 May 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Tycho’s news post commenting on the new Microsoft program to sell game consoles like cell phones nails it:

    Subsidizing hardware with a service charge is how you sell expensive things to people who can’t afford them, or can’t afford it all at once.  It’s about context, though: the gaming console has historically been sold to people who place a premium on its ownership.  Eventually the top part of the funnel gets wider, certainly, and prices drop.  But seeing this model here, where I live, is like finding a bear in your driveway.  What happens when you launch a console in this way?

    You can look at Amazon or whatever and see that the hardware goes for $276 and up.  Obviously, you and I probably aren’t interested in such a device for our personal use: four gigs isn’t enough to copy a single disc to the local drive, reaping the benefits thereby.  The Kinect is deeply, profoundly optional as a peripheral.  It doesn’t matter, though: “we” already own the thing.  “We” have probably owned several, statistically speaking.  This box is for another type of person, and that person exists in far greater numbers than the stalwart faithful which huddle in our cloister.

    • Robert Berry 10:39 am on 9 May 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Not being a hardcore gamer, I’ve never felt qualified to comment on the gaming market. But I’m beginning to realize that the hardcore gamers are becoming less and less important — or at least, the manufacturers are hoping that they will. Nintendo led the way with their focus on casual gamers, but more recently, mobile gaming (which is pretty much exclusively casual gaming) seems to be the most significant trend.

      I’m not sure what any of this means (see my first sentence above), but I do wonder whether it’s a mistake to focus too much on this idea of continual expansion of the market. Nintendo has had great success by recruiting casual gamers, but what happens when that market is saturated? I don’t think those people will be lining up to buy each new console when it comes out. Hardcore gamers may be a small market, but I’d think they’re a reliable one.

      But Microsoft’s approach is interesting; if they take the up-front cost of the console out of the equation (at least partially), maybe they *will* convince casual gamers to stay current. Will we someday end up with a subscription model for gaming?

  • Hober Short 11:58 am on 7 May 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    I’ve harped before on how the system of reporting revenues for movies is broken since it’s done in nominal dollars. Between inflation and increasing real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) ticket prices, the system is rigged to favor the latest hotness and perennially produce record-breaking blockbusters. This is another instance of Naylor’s Law, “If you argue correctly, you are never wrong.”

    So I was glad to see the AP get analytical in their predictable article about the block-busting success of The Avengers:

    As admission prices rise, Hollywood’s record-breakers often take in more money but sell fewer tickets than previous blockbusters. But “The Avengers” took in so much money that it’s the undisputed champ among debuts.

    Based on average admission prices the years they were released, “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 3” had led with about 22 million tickets sold each over opening weekend. Today’s average prices put “The Avengers” tally at around 25.6 million tickets sold.

    Now that’s significant.

  • Hober Short 2:26 pm on 3 May 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Corner cases in US Firearms Law: it is a “ten years in federal prison” felony to attach this rifle vertical handgrip to the rail on the front of this pistol:

    Pistols are only allowed one grip, and adding a second, however temporarily, is extremely illegal.

    Of course, I’d never want to actually do that because it wouldn’t help you shoot the gun and would make carrying and drawing it a total pain. And I’d defy the ATF to find one case where such an “illegally modified” weapon was used in a violent crime. But those are just details.

    (via reddit)

  • Hober Short 1:01 am on 23 April 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Interesting data point: in this week’s Downrange Radio Michael Bane, who’s probably the gun journalist most connected with the industry, is saying that gun companies aren’t coming out with many new products because they can’t keep their current products in stock. For reasons no one really knows, Americans are buying guns at a steadily increasing pace and have been for about two years.

    Around the time Barack Obama was elected and took office, sales of guns and ammo skyrocketed, causing prices on most things but particularly AR-15 pattern rifles to shoot through the roof. Interesting side note: although prices rose as supply did for guns themselves, ammo shortages were pervasive despite price increases. Given that this happened over a 3-6 month time frame, I’ve never understood why stores didn’t raise prices until they could guarantee they’d at least have some in stock. It’d make a good topic of an economics paper.

    Mid-to-late 2009, though, the bubble popped and ARs came back down in price by ten or twenty percent (this history and these numbers are all from memory, so I’d be glad to see some solid stats on this stuff) and gun and ammo sales basically bottomed out before beginning the slow and steady rise they’ve been on since then. For the most part, prices have stayed fairly constant because the increased demand has been steady and predictable (remember, a healthy economy requires accurate prediction) and supply has been steadily ramping up. For example, Smith and Wesson recently added a third shift to their factory, a sign of economic recovery that’s pretty few and far between these days.

    What’s causing it? I tend to agree with Bane that the zeitgeist isn’t yet that of stocking up before the election. What’s been driving people to guns, and in particular defensive shooting and competition over the past two years? I’m really not sure. But I’m glad it’s happening.

  • Hober Short 2:52 pm on 16 April 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Ken over at Popehat (an excellent blog that occasionally intersects the law) uses his professional experience as a trial lawyer to absolutely skewer the indictment of George Zimmerman:

    An affidavit shows proper attribution when it explains how the affiant knows each piece of information in the affidavit. That doesn’t mean that a proper affidavit can’t be based on second-hand or even third-hand or fourth-hand information — it can. But a proper affidavit must explain how each link in the chain gained the information — how everyone knew what they knew — so that the judge can make an intelligent assessment of the sufficiency of the evidence.

    For example, a properly attributed affidavit might say “On April 13, 2012, I spoke with Officer Smith, one of the other officers on the case. Officer Smith told me the following: a few hours before he spoke with me, he interviewed witness Jane Doe. Ms. Doe told Officer Smith that she was walking down Main Street when she saw a man she recognized from the neighborhood as Dastardly Dan running out of the bank.”

    By contrast, a bad affidavit would say “Witnesses indicated that Dastardly Dan was seen running out of the bank.” An even worse one says “Dastardly Dan ran out of the bank,” and offers nothing to indicate the basis for knowledge.

    And then gives examples on exactly how bad the Zimmerman indictment is. I have no particular interest in the Martin/Zimmerman case, but I always find it fascinating to get a glimpse in to the inner workings of something like our legal system.

  • Hober Short 1:55 pm on 12 April 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    I find it hard to wrap my head around using a constitution (state or federal) to restrict individual liberty, but it bears remembering that the people of North Carolina voted in a landslide to do just that in 2010: the constitutional amendment to prevent felons from serving as sheriff passed with 85% of the vote.

    • Robert Berry 10:13 am on 13 April 2012 Permalink | Reply

      One of the most dangerous political misconceptions around is the notion that a constitution is just a kind of “super-law.” This kind of thinking leads to constant campaigns for amendments intended to address issues that would be better handled through statute, or through the ballot box. Instead of being a blueprint for government and an enumeration of governmental powers, the constitution becomes diluted and is just another part of the legal code. The worst part is that when bad “laws” get added to a constitution, it’s that much harder to undo the damage (see: Prohibition).

      I voted against the amendment you mention because, if sheriffs are to be elected, I see no reason why voters shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether they want an ex-con in that job. If there are good arguments to be made against the idea, they should be made during the election campaign.

  • Hober Short 6:31 pm on 9 April 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    I’m conflicted on this.

    UNC journalism bails/bales on historic/historical spelling test

    For almost 40 years, journalism students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have had to pass a spelling and grammar test in order to get a degree. Now, in the age of spell check, the university is changing the test, which some say will make it even more difficult to pass.

    . . .

    “The content of the test came up last fall when several faculty members were talking about the introductory News Writing course, which is where many students first take the exam,” Bechtel wrote. “In those conversations, I suggested that memorizing a spelling list wasn’t the best measure of competence in our craft. Why not use a set of questions about word choice instead? Other faculty members agreed to the idea.”

    Beginning this fall, spelling will no longer be included on the exam. Instead, students will be tested on grammar, punctuation and word usage in a sentence, such as ordinance/ordnance, wither/whither, allude/elude and eminent/imminent.

    On the surface this might look like UNC softening the test by removing spelling portion, but the way Bechtel is quoted talking about “memorizing a spelling list”, it makes me think they actually dropped a pretty shoddy test of critical writing and editing.

    After all, as the students in the article point out, spell check is incredibly common these days. The errors that slip out are more commonly word choice problems, like “your” versus “you’re” or “loath” versus “loathe”.

  • Hober Short 10:29 am on 23 March 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    WRAL has an article about North Carolina’s tax program to incentivize/bribe movie companies to film in NC that fleshes out the details of the program, and it’s pretty bad. In short, movie companies get a refundable tax credit equal to 25% of all “qualified” spending in North Carolina. What “qualifies”? Well, the article lists that only the first million of salary per actor or director counts as North Carolina spending, despite it not really being clear how those salaries boost the local economy.

    And did you see the business about how the tax credit is refundable? The article has full details, but in the past three years we have numbers for, more than half of the tax “credits” ended up being refunded.

    Looking at the numbers, this is a relatively accurate scenario: a movie spends $100mil in NC, of which $70mil is “qualifying”. They would pay ~10% tax on their expenditures (no idea what taxes and for what), so they owe $10mil in taxes. But NC gives them a refundable tax credit for $70mil * .25, or $17.5mil. So instead of NC collecting $10mil in taxes, they write the movie company a check for $7.5 million taxpayer dollars.

    That’s a heck of an expensive jobs program.

    • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 11:47 am on 26 March 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I was kinda wondering about this the other day. When I heard that “The Hunger Games” was raking in mountains of money, my first thought was “wouldn’t it be nice if that translated to some kind of economic benefit for North Carolina?” But then I realized that it might well be a net expense.

      Except for the local businesses that get to sell coffee and lunch to the film crews, I’m not sure having these movies shot in our state is worth anything except bragging rights.

  • Hober Short 10:50 am on 7 March 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    I just finished reading Too Big To Fail, which is basically a fly-on-the-wall chronicle of the entire process during 2008 of the five largest investment banks scrambling to survive and the flurry of activity in the government to prop them up. It’s a long book, but probably one of the more important reads of my life, but I have a few points I disagree with.

    • The book makes the ubiquitous point that the US taxpayers got paid back with interest on some of these bailouts. Of course, since we were borrowing the money, I wonder whether the interest from the banks is enough to offset the interest we had to pay on our loans. And the Hayekian argument: it’s impossible to know what could have been done with the money tied up in the banks, especially at a time of a “credit crunch” where small businesses couldn’t get loans and people couldn’t get mortgages.

      In other words, if the government hadn’t taken those loanable funds to give to the American banks, those people and businesses may have been able to get the loans they needed to expand and refinance, instead of stagnating.

    • Virtually the entire book, the Feds (Fed Chairman Bernanke, TreasurySec Paulson, et al.) are running around trying to “save” banks and the financial system from collapse. Except for the last fifty pages when the book delves in to the sausage factory that was the creation of TARP, they are doing this by taking these banks that are too large to be allowed to fail and bribing larger banks to buy them, creating even bigger banks.
    • It was galling to watch Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner (now Paulson’s replacement as TreasurySec) conspire to force strong banks to take the TARP bailout even if they didn’t need it, so that accepting TARP funds wouldn’t be perceived by the market as weakness. I’m amazed that people can call for more regulation when the regulators willfully hatch a plot to lie the market and the American people in order to conceal which banks are financially unstable. Speechless.
  • Hober Short 1:33 pm on 6 March 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    This week’s Econtalk is an excellent layman’s discussion of the concrete mechanics that contributed to the credit crunch and financial crisis of 2008. One of the amazing parts comes about 50 minutes in when they discuss how FDIC insurance (“Deposits guaranteed up to $100,000”) disincentivizes depositors to keep an eye on the health of their bank, because one way or another they’ll get their money.

    This, they say, means that where in times past, highly leveraged (i.e. fragile) banks would have to pay people more to loan them money (i.e. deposit in their bank) because their high leverage made people suspicious that the bank would fail. But with FDIC insurance, people don’t care, and banks can jack their leverage ratios (all these terms are explained in the podcast) sky high. That works fine until they discover that they don’t have enough money to cover their debts, because their margin for error wasn’t big enough to absorb the plummet in value of mortgage-backed securities.

    Seriously, listen to it. You’ll learn something.

    • Pat 2:10 am on 8 March 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I added Econtalk to my Podcaster feed and started listening to the episode you’re talking about. And a very strange thing happened. The subject matter is very dry and abstract, full of technical terms that only finance experts would use (although, as you say, they’re all explained). This sort of thing always makes my eyes glaze over. I should be bored silly. But, inexplicably, that hasn’t happened. I’m about 70% of the way through the episode and it’s still holding my interest. I’m understanding a lot of it, and you’re right, I’m learning quite a bit. I have no explanation for this.

      • Hober Short 11:52 am on 8 March 2012 Permalink | Reply

        The episodes aren’t always this good… Sometimes they are arcane and impenetrable, or just boring. But then other times the guest being interviewed is interesting and articulate and you get good stuff like this.

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