A Californian Chardonnay branded by Trader Joe’s as Two-Buck Chuck wins wine competition.

Richard Peterson, veteran winemaker and a State Fair judge for 20 years, said in the release, “We have the most open judging I know. There is nothing to bias judging. We get numbered glasses. We don’t know the region, brand or price. We evaluate the judges frequently to make sure they’re tops in the field. Charles Shaw won because it is a fresh, fruity, well-balanced Chardonnay that people and wine judges —- though maybe not wine critics —- will like.”

Mandatory Auto Insurance

June 30, 2007

Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex is full of pro free market examples but the information on why automobile insurance in Philadelphia is so expensive makes Landsburg squirm.

For ideological free-marketeers (like myself), theories like Smith and Wright’s can be intellectually jarring. We are accustomed to defending free markets as the guarantors of both liberty and prosperity, but here’s a case where liberty and prosperity are at odds: By forcing people to act against their own self-interest in the short run, governments can make everybody more prosperous in the long run. (Though some diehard libertarians will object that the prosperity is an illusion, because governments that have been empowered to make us more prosperous will inevitably abuse that power to our detriment.)

So what is this jar-a-libertarian theory of Smith and Wright?

CLAIM: the number of uninsured automobiles on the road drives up the cost of insurance which in turn drives up the number of uninsured automobiles.

It is a positive feedback loop that results in pockets like Philadelphia with very high insurance rates and a very high number of uninsured automobiles compared to other areas that are equivalent socio-economically.

I made the claim, in part I, that the iPhone will be a new core form factor for mobile phones (the “earphone” and “QWERTY” phone being the other two).

Some of the limitations of the iPhone form factor have been pointed out on this blog as well as numerous other sites. The core issues being:

  • too wide to put to your ear (problem with all QWERTY and other PDA type devices as well)
  • screen input is a pain
  • 8 GB flash is too small for videos and large music collections (Nano size storage)
  • EDGE data network speed too slow for fancy pants browser
  • 320 x 480 screen not enough resolution for fancy pants browser
  • cost is very high for a youth oriented device

Over the last few years we have seen all kinds of new smartphone form factors (just think HTC and Nokia) that did not develop widespread appeal. So why do I think the iPhone is different?

Because it has a fun and usable user interface, iPod music capability with iTunes sync, and WiFi. Think of a young urbanite that uses public transportation and shares an apartment with room mates…. lets call her Y. Urbanite. Y. Urbanite has her white iPhone earbuds (with new fancy pants clicky mic) in her ears for a large part of her day. She listens to music when she is working out at the gym, music/podcasts for her commute to work on the subway, and she listens to music while browsing the net over the WiFi connection she shares with her roomates at home. For Y. Urbanite the iPhone is the perfect device.

From what I’ve seen, the multi-touch interface works well with HTML pages as long as you are connected over WiFi. The cost of the device is high but presumably Y. Urbanite already has a Mac/PC for syncing with iTunes to begin with so I’m sure she will figure out how to pay for it. iTunes is used for syncing. Life is good.

There will be alot of techno-geeks buying an iPhone at first but ultimately I think Y. Urbanite will be replacing her current “earphone” and iPod for an iPhone. The iPhone is not a tool like the Blackberry, it is a cool way to fill spare time.

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This is not the iPhone, it is an LG-325 that runs on Bell Mobility’s CDMA network in Canada. Bell Mobility is the quintessential “walled garden” service provider where the carrier has complete control over what software runs on the phone. What I lose in flexibility I gain in cost because I subscribe to a Bell Mobility unlimited browsing plan for $7 (CDN) per month. If you can live with the OpenWave browser on a tiny screen at slow speed, it is a great option. The “killer feature” which makes it unlikely that I will trade in this aging bit of technology is AMPS, that is, analog service. Digital service is spotty enough in some of the areas that I spend time in or drive through that I believe it is a safety feature that I do not want to give up.

So why am I talking about my goofy little phone on the day the iPhone is available to the public (at least for our friends south of the border)? It is a comparison exercise. I think this phone represents an important form factor for mobile phones and I now believe the iPhone is a new form factor. Read the rest of this entry »

Wage and Tall Teenagers

June 28, 2007

Another topic in Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex comes from the research on how teen height predicts adult earnings. Previous research shows that tall people earn more, however, the kicker is that your teenage height is all that matters.

Two adults of the same age and height who were different heights at age 16 are treated differently in the labor market—the person who was taller as a teen earns more. Being relatively short through the teen years—as opposed to adulthood or early childhood—essentially determines the (wage) returns to height.

The researchers say this is due to increased involvement in sports and other social extracurricular activities. Maybe. Perhaps it is due to a “nurture assumption” effect where teenagers sort themselves among their peers based on height. I also wonder if the numbers are not skewed by early vs. late bloomer affects which is the only way (in my mind) that individuals change their height relative to their peers between teenage and adult years.

Interesting stuff.

Shopping Carts

June 27, 2007

I am reading Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex. There is a section on the growth of the shopping cart. You can read the original Slate magazine article online.

For the past three decades, only one economic variable has exhibited strong steady growth year in and year out. I refer, of course, to the size of shopping carts. According to the grocery store managers I just spoke to, today’s average cart is almost three times as large as its 1975 counterpart. That’s remarkable because by 1975 the growth spurt had already been underway and apparent to economists for several years.

Although I can’t conjure a citation from NEXIS or the Web, Ralph Nader is said to be one of the first to notice the growing-shopping-cart phenomenon. He is said to have offered it as a prime example of how consumers are manipulated by unscrupulous capitalists: Bigger carts were designed to shame consumers into bigger purchases.

I hate to disagree with “grocery store managers” but three times as large as 1975? Come on. Landsburg goes on to describe possible solutions to this puzzle. Here is my solution… shopping carts did not grow much if at all. Here is a picture from the Unarco Cart History page.

The year of the photo is not labeled but I think it is earlier than 1975. Three times the size? I’d say that is highly unlikely.  Here is a history of the shopping cart if you are interested.

Who gave Ralph Nader the Red Pill option to discover the truth about The Matrix anyway? You are THE ONE Nader.

Daisies After the Rain

June 26, 2007

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