Friday, October 27, 2017

Wisconsin Badgers Weak Football Schedule

The Wisconsin football team is as of this writing 7-0 and ranked fifth in the nation.  Odds are that they will be 8-0 in another 24 hours or so as they visit my haplesss beloved Illini and are a heavy 26.5 point favorite (take Wisconsin to clear if you are a betting person).

But what have they done this year?  Not much.  Here is the list of teams that the Badgers have beaten this year:

Utah State
Florida Atlantic

Not exactly murderers row.  Of course, this type of schedule is the exact thing that gets mocked by fans of the SEC - Wisconsin has not played one top 25 team so far this year and there is a very good chance that they may not play one ALL YEAR as their remaining schedule looks like this:


None of those teams are currently in the top 25.

The combined record as of now for all teams on Wisconsin's schedule is 40-46, or an atrocious .465 winning percentage. But to make matters worse, lets take a look at something else.  Here are the 40 teams that Wisconsin's current scheduled teams have beaten this year so far:

Oregon State
Iowa State
North Texas (twice)
Air Force
Minnesota (twice)
Georgia Southern
Charleston Southern
Ball State
Western Kentucky
Idaho State
San Jose State
Brigham Young
Bethune Cookman
Middle Tennessee State (twice)
Old Dominion
Portland State
Bowling Green
Arkansas State
Illinois (three times)
Ohio (NOT Ohio State)

Of all of these teams, only Iowa State is in the top 25, ranked 25 this week (and they will probably drop out eventually).  Many of these teams aren't even in Division One.  The combined record of these teams is an abysmal 113-176 - a .391 winning percentage.  This will get worse as the Big Ten teams keep cannibalizing themselves.  The only top 25 victory for this list of teams was Iowa State's upset of Oklahoma earlier this year.  And I would bet that if those two teams played again today that Oklahoma would beat the Cyclones like a red headed step child.

So not only are the teams that Wisconsin has played terrible, so are the few teams that THOSE teams managed to beat.  It is pretty amazing if you think about it.

The odds are that the Badgers will likely not play a top 25 team this year until the Big Ten Championship game and if they manage to win it, they will be undefeated and will go to the playoff.  So I guess the old strategy of lining up the patsies in your pre-conference schedule continues to be rewarded.  The Badgers can't really do a lot about their Big Ten schedule, but it is clear that after so many years of awful play in the Big Ten West, there needs to be a re-alignment some time soon.  I am obviously not the first person to mention this as the fans of the teams in the Big Ten East have been screaming about the scheduling issues for some time.

Look, I am not saying the Badgers are bad.  In fact they are very good.  But if they manage to make it to the playoff when a team from the SEC (Georgia or Alabama) might not make it with one loss, there will be screaming.  And in my opinion, rightly - if they have played a tough schedule.  Unlike Wisconsin.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Localization Technology - Beer

In the spring I wrote about disruption in the liquor industry here in Oregon. One of the items listed is called a "crowler" which is a 32 oz can of beer that is created while you wait at the bar from a keg on tap of your favorite beer, carbonized, and sealed.

Recently they took it to the "next level" by even offering a professional label on the can - from the time I requested it, to filling it, sealing it, and applying the label was about 1 minute. The beer comes out ice cold from the tap so you can take it out of the bar and drink it right away (say if you are a guest at a dinner party) or take it upstairs and put it in your refrigerator and drinking it later.

The beer is a bit foamy if you drink it right away - as if you got it out of a keg - which isn't that much of a problem just something to remember if you open it up in the middle of a friends' living room, for instance. You don't want to find out about that the hard way.

It is interesting to think of how much the savings would be in terms of shipping costs, avoided waste / slippage along the way, and also in over-purchasing beer in large quantities (6, 12 or 24 packs) when you could just buy 1-2 32 oz cans for a mild evening. You could also buy just what you felt like drinking right then rather than guessing in advance.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Apple Pay for Better Security

Over the last year I've had several opportunities to drive to remote parts of Oregon. Often we stop by a local grocery / convenience store to pick up groceries or a snack. These stores are small and often with a single check out lane and a very quaint atmosphere of old-time store goods.

A bit of fun for me is to walk up to the credit card reader which usually has the icon for near field connectivity (NFC) and I surreptitiously use my Apple Watch with Apple Pay enabled to quickly pay for groceries without taking out my credit card. The cashier gets flummoxed and wonders what happened, and I show them my Apple Watch with my card image and they laugh.

What is sad is that Apple Pay works "out of the box" at most of these remote grocery stores but it doesn't work at many of the large retailers in the city. Instead of encouraging Apple Pay or similar google technologies, the retailers want to control the experience and the data and so they turn off this feature. You have the unfortunate alternative of putting your credit card in the chip reader and waiting for 5-10 seconds which slows the line for the whole process. Worse than the inconvenience is the fact that Apple Pay is much more secure than any card reader - Apple Pay doesn't provide your "real" credit card to the store, instead it uses a "token" for the transaction.

From a WSJ article titled "Is Apple Pay Riskier or Safer than a Credit Card",
Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay are far more secure than traditional credit cards because they rely on virtual account numbers and create unique security codes, or tokens, for each transaction, payment experts say. Those encrypted tokens are verified by card issuers such as Visa or Mastercard before a transaction is approved.
Add to that the fact that Apple and Samsung Pay require fingerprint verification, and you have a system that is “very secure, and much more secure than the cards we’ve been carrying around in our pockets,” said James Wester, a research director at IDC Financial Insights.
It is very frustrating that a technology that works "out of the box" at a remote grocery store is not utilized by a major retailer who has suffered a highly public consumer security breach like Target. I hope that more people try to use this sort of payment technology, whether it is via Apple or Android, and complain to retailers when they put up barriers to implementation.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Apple Photos Integration

I've gone all in on Apple through a series of semi-random decisions.  I bought a MacBook Pro back in 2011 and, thanks to my friend Brian who upgraded the memory and hard drive to an SSD, that machine still works great in late 2017 and I was able to upgrade to the latest Mac OS High Sierra without a challenge.  I have had several iPhones over the years and am on an iPhone 7 now.  My current iPad is an iPad Air 2 which also seems to have several years of life left in it.  Finally, I bought an Apple Watch and recently upgraded it to Watch OS 4.

I've also been moving everything to the cloud slowly.  I looked at my MacBook and it said I hadn't done a backup in over 1000 days.  I don't really care because I put the (relatively few) documents that I care about in iCloud (and can access them across any Apple device), my contacts are in the Apple Cloud, while my photos (the core of most of this post) are already in the Apple cloud and I gave up on physical music and moved almost solely over to Apple Music.  My email is in the cloud with various providers, as well.  So what's on the device that I really care about, anyways?  Cloud storage is also pretty cheap... I think I spend about a dollar a month on it for Apple (plus $9.99 for Apple music).  The only high space items I have (in terms of MB or GB) are photos, since I've given up on music.

It is a hard decision to put all your photos in the Apple cloud.  You need to make the move to put your photos up in the cloud and have that be the primary location, not the ones on your hard drive or your phone  While someone with more technical expertise might tell you that is not an irrevocable decision, from my perspective it seems like it would be exceedingly difficult to "go back". 

I came to this decision because I love the features that Apple Photos provides.  Specifically:

  • Once you tag faces to names, any new photos that you take are automatically linked to those same individuals.  The accuracy of this service has been increasing over time, both in terms of 1) matching different angles to people and also in 2) picking faces out of the crowd in the first place so that you can link them to people
  • Apple photos now synchs across devices so that if you link photos to faces on your iPhone it carries those same links over to the photos on your MacBook and on your iPad.  Incredibly, until the latest OS upgrade (on the iPhone / iPad as well as Mac OS) you had to do these independently (3 times).  I am also starting to play with synching to my Apple Watch with Watch OS 4 but this is in progress (and would be partial in any case)
  • Apple photos now has built in photo features that were present on typical photo editing software years ago, like auto-feature touch up (magic wand) and more tweaks.  I'm sure to a photo expert these features are minimalistic but to the vast, vast majority of photo users they are likely enough.  These features just came through with the latest upgrades
  • Apple photos makes it easier to synch faces to contacts and also appears to act more reliably across devices.  For instance, if I take a photo on my iPhone it won't appear on my iPad or Mac until I connect that phone up to wifi somewhere and put it in a charger.  But then they all appear right away (in a reduced quality image, when you tap on one it "fills in" the remaining elements to a high quality image.  This used to be spotty, at best, and unreliable (I would have to start and restart my devices sometimes for it to work)
  • Now that synchronizing works reliably across devices, I can use my Mac for more heavy duty tasks like editing and changing the date on old photos (for example I take iPhone pictures of old photos from my physical photo albums and then I edit them and change their date on the Mac so that they are in the proper sequence and don't show up at the top of your photo queue by date)
  • If you load older photos into iCloud it takes a while (probably faster now) because it attempts to add in all the AI (faces, locations, etc...) so be a bit patient.  I was an early adopter of this and somehow I had lots of duplicates that I am in the process of deleting but it probably is easier now
  • I tried making a physical photo book from Apple (to give to parents and in laws) and it worked great.  Now it is much easier to bring photos into the physical book or however you want to print them, and you have a huge variety of photos (edited, even) to choose from
What are the big benefits of going "all in" on Apple photos?  Some of the coolest advantages are "memories" that Apple makes for you of various trips that you've taken or by individual across the years.  Those are very cool and it is easy to just click and send them by iMessage or as an email to others.  

You also can see all of your photos in one place and start to go through them systematically.  It really allows you to kind of go through your life, including the older photos that you upload into the iCloud which you can tag by individual which go far earlier than those that you might have in your current phone.

Apple AI also gets stronger every day... you can do things like look for 'mountains' or 'lakes' or 'bridges' and it finds them across all of your photos.  Behind the scenes Apple is scouring your photos for various elements and then automatically creating categories that you can search.  If you just type a letter like R you can see all the search options that open up, for instance (like rucksack, river, and so many other ones).

Here is some advice for anyone considering going down this path:
  • Ruthlessly pare down your photos immediately after taking them.  Typically I take 2-3 photos of each scene and every so often at home I just pick the best one and delete the others.  If you don't do this your photo stream is just cluttered with photos and you can't really see the forest for the trees.
  • Go back through historical photos that you've taken and delete the duplicates that you have.  I've uploaded photos to the cloud and for various reasons there are duplicates and every so often I sit down for an hour or so and delete them.  Apple is smart and doesn't immediately delete them permanently (they sit in a queue for like 30 days) so if you over delete you always can go back and find them
  • Spend some time tagging faces and cleaning them up and linking to contacts.  The software will start to provide cool memories and the like and you also can link the photos to contacts.  Amazingly, until OS 11 / Mac OS / etc... the contact faces didn't synch up.  Now I am putting a "best" photo in contacts and in faces and it is starting to align across my devices
  • Use the right Apple device for the right job.  I usually delete duplicates off my iPhone, I like to organize and view meta items on my iPad, and for more heavy duty tasks like changing dates on photos and editing the best ones, I do that on my Mac
  • Look up how to do things online (don't sit there and struggle).  There is no manual for any of this and it constantly changes.  For instance, I could not figure out how to fix the "main" picture on faces.  I looked it up and there is a non-intuitive way to do this but now I know how it is done.  Make sure you are looking up a recent query (not something from 2015) because Apple has changed almost everything it seems over the last couple updates
Here are some likely "cons" that I will hear... as always, make your own decisions, and assess the "pros" and "cons" yourself.
  • You are a slave to the Apple ecosystem.  Yes, that is true.  Apple is the company with the world's largest market capitalization and is not going away anytime soon.  So at least I am going in with a giant
  • Don't you worry about being hacked?  Yes I do.  You need to keep your password updated.  But Apple is continuously updating all their OS on every device and you just stay up with patches.  It is what it is and has to be relatively compared to the risks of other devices and services.  This is much bigger than this post.  
  • There aren't enough features for professionals.  This is probably true.  But I'm not a professional and Apple seems to be putting some effort behind this area
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Rolling Stone Reviews the Top 100 Metal Albums

I love lists and taking apart the ideas and concepts behind each list, particularly with music. Here I looked at the Top 100 Guitarists, the Top 100 guitar songs, and the Top 100 Indie Rock albums. When Rolling Stone reviewed the Top 100 Metal Albums, I was excited to take it all apart and give my 2 cents to the Internet.

Key BandAlbums
Black Sabbath6
Iron Maiden3
Judas Priest3
Ozzy Osbourne2

I started by looking at the list and seeing the "key bands" that they were framing the list around.  They chose Black Sabbath / Ozzy, Dio / Rainbow, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Metallica, Pantera and Slayer.   Not only did they make up 29 of the 100 spots, they represented 16 of the top 20 album slots and almost all of the top ones.  Plus... they cheated by putting a "compilation album" for Motorhead "No Remorse" near the top rather than 2-3 Motorhead albums so probably they are a "key band" with an asterix.

This seems like a pretty reasonable list.  One of the key assumptions in this list is the question
What is heavy metal... and is Band "X" heavy metal or not?
Immediately there are a few bands that I would think of as "heavy metal" (or the equivalent of the "Turing Test" for heavy metal - would your parents at the time view it as heavy metal)  that aren't on the list.  Here are the key ones:

  1. AC/DC - AC/DC is certainly Rock N' Roll but "Back in Black" is possibly one of the most metal albums ever and certainly impacted music immeasurably in this genre.  If you like Bon Scott era metal, then you could pick "Highway to Hell".   Either way, I think AC/DC should have made then list but then you probably need to put 2-3 albums in there and then either "thin out" a few of the key bands or drop a lot of the "one off" bands
  2. Rush - Rush is progressive rock but when you think of "2112" that is a giant metal album with shrieking guitars and screaming and monstrous riffs.  You also have the "Working Man" era Rush as well.  Like AC/DC, the problem with adding Rush is that likely you'd have a few albums in there and it would bump the list a lot
  3. Guns N' Roses - "Appetite for Destruction" is absolutely metal.  It has screaming, heavy guitars, and lots of drugs and sex.  Plus, it would be easy to include because you'd just add one album and forget the rest, unlike AC/DC and Rush which would set off a lot of "how can you just take one" questions.  This one is just a plain-and-simple miss
  4. Bon Jovi - I hate to even bring them up (Bon Jovi opened for the Scorpions in the first metal show I ever saw) but if you have Motley Crue and Def Leppard and Van Halen on here... then you need to throw in Bon Jovi.  Their albums were simply everywhere and swamped the airwaves.  I don't want them either, but your list is inconsistent and that bothers me...
  5. Nine Inch Nails - NIN can be classified a few ways but absolutely dominated the radio for a whole era and are a personal favorite of mine.  "The Downward Spiral" and "With Teeth" are absolutely metal and I am not even getting to the classic "Head Like a Hole".  If I write the list then NIN are there with three albums don't care what you say (Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral, and With Teeth).  We can figure out the rest later
  6. Led Zeppelin - yeah I can hear you groan but someone once said "Led Zeppelin Four invented modern metal" and went through all the genres that came out of single songs from the metal ballad to doom metal to everything.  And I haven't even thrown Immigrant Song and Kashmir in there.  I know that this totally screws up the list and maybe you need 110 albums now but really more or less Plant / Page dominated this genre in a meta sense

Once you decide what is "metal" or "not metal" (and above I note my challenges with their categorization), then you fill in the rest of the list.  There are 70 other bands on there with an album (and Motley Crue has two, but I just can't bring myself to categorize them as essential.  Sorry).

If you go to a web site like "Loudwire" they have lists and they categorize all the albums by a particular artist.  They take these rankings VERY seriously.  When they need to make choices like "which of Dio's albums are the best" they start to say "hey, these are all great albums, but we need to rank them for a list" and almost pre-apologize for their rankings.  It seems like mostly Rolling Stone would pick the "consensus #1 album" from sites like this.  For example - Korn - they picked their debut album while I would have picked "Follow the Leader" but hey, that's the same one on Loudwire.  So it is probably more me than them.

While I expected Rolling Stone to be "all about the 70's", in fact they did include some more recent albums on the list which let them add bands like Mastodon, Baroness, and Deafhaven.  I think they missed some (Clutch, Pallbearer and possibly Royal Blood) but any list has fuzzy boundaries.

Here is the entire list...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Electric Six at Dante's In Portland

Last night I went to see one of my favorite bands, Electric Six, at Dante's in Portland on Burnside Avenue. They played a fun show and the band sounded great (my ears are still ringing). Here is their iconic singer "Dick Valentine" on stage. The band delivers hilarious onstage banter and are highly recommended. The crowd at Dante's was also great and everyone seemed to be in good spirits.

Dan and I went to see Electric Six in Wisconsin with the Chicago band Local H opening up for them back in October 2008 (I was able to correlate the dates when both bands were at the same venue). Those were the days before Uber so we had to keep it together since we were driving. It was a great show, too, and I remember that we met someone who knew Electric Six and asked if we wanted to go backstage and party and we were like "Nope". That was likely a wise decision. After Local H finished their main singer / guitarist was having beers at the bar while Electric Six was up on stage. I also saw Electric Six back in the Double Door in Chicago at a New Years' show and I was wearing a crazy disco ball shirt and Dick Valentine gave me a "nice shirt" comment. So that's my brush with fame.

PBR is an iconic beer here in Portland (Portland led the resurgence of Pabst) and they have their own festival and the best place for advertising is right on the can.

Before the show I was at the Driftwood Inn in Portland getting ready and had a flight of mini-Manhattans. It was excellent. They had to choose which mini glass got the cherry. Four cherries is apparently too many.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book review - "Blitzed"

"Blitzed" is a book by Norman Ohler about drugs and Germany during WW2. The book also appears to comprehensively demonstrate how these drugs impacted military tactics and operations for the German troops and also how it altered strategy at the highest levels.

From a tactical and operational perspective, I can see how the narrative of the use of drugs to push troops to move faster and work at night aligns with my understanding of the early years of WW2. The Germans did cover ground rapidly during the early years of the Blitzkrieg and absolutely outfought the Allies (overall) at night. They also managed more sorties for their air force per plane and were more effective at leveraging their military assets (also through battlefield recovery at night of damaged equipment). Compared to WW1, especially, the distances that the German troops covered during the Blitzkrieg phases of 1939-41 were amazing and their combat power remained strong.

From a strategic perspective, the book attempts to align the delusional attack known as "the Battle of the Bulge" in late 1944 to the use of drugs by the supreme commander, which would account for his thoughts that this shock attack could break the will of the Allies to fight. This is an interesting line of thought and if we had perfect information we would attempt to match the various drugs he was prescribed on top of the decisions that were made during different battles and campaigns during WW2.

I have seen a number of reviews of this book and most of them seem to think that there is a strong basis of fact. However, there are often bitterly contested reviews, especially with regards to the more sweeping generalizations that were translated as "everyone was on drugs". Those discussions, to me, are more of a "corner case" of the key findings related to 1) the impact of drugs on the combat power of early war German formations 2) the impact of drugs on decision making at the highest levels of command. I would love to hear from other authors interested in this topic to see how it aligns with their opinions.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, June 10, 2017

USS Jackson at Portland Fleet Week... and Disruption Hits the Navy

Portland, Oregon hosts "fleet week" where navy ships (including from Canada) dock alongside the river right next to downtown and offer tours and set up booths and the like. This year I was excited because USS Jackson, an Independence Class Littoral combat ship was arriving and I would get to see what an advanced combat craft looks like up close. I also found out a key link to "disruption" which has been a theme of my recent analysis and posts.

The first thing you notice is the unique hull (compared to traditional warship designs). This design is supposed to let it operate in shallow waters near coastlines and also deliver very high speed - up to 50 knots - although the top speed is classified. The navy had a chain link fence up and armed guards with M16 weapons and a sign saying "use of deadly force authorized" so they were not kidding around.

That same day I received my copy of "Modern War", a magazine published by Strategy and Tactics Press (and I highly recommend that you subscribe to their publications, they are a solid and interesting publishing house) which just happened to profile the Independence Class ships on p68-70 of their July - August issue. Some highlights:
They are controversial because of their limited basic armament and expensive construction costs. Senior naval leaders argue the mission flexibility and extensive automation provide a vast array of capabilities with fewer personnel and platforms than traditional designs. Construction and operating costs dominate budget discussions and headlines because they come 'up front'. Today, however, personnel costs constitute 62% of the annual Department of Defense Budget.
While I am a military history enthusiast I am not an expert in systems design and cannot add a lot of value to the controversy of whether or not the Independence Class is an effective combat ship for the money (for actual analysis see the points by Trent Telenko over at Chicago Boyz his insights are first rate and amazing). However, I have years of experience with the secondary point of this article, which is the long term benefits of automation and disruption on areas of the economy which have traditionally been (primarily) served through manual of semi-automated methods.

When you are a large entity like the US Navy, you are making some high level calculations on a strategic level. In general:
1) you need to understand your mission
2) you need to understand how your funds are spent to achieve your mission
3) you need to recognize that change is relentless and you are anticipating the NEXT war, not the last war (i.e. a "future state")

The Navy faces the same challenges of disruption as the rest of the economy. The key themes of disruption drive AUTOMATION and SOFTWARE OVER HARDWARE and REAL TIME RESPONSE. In the future there won't be hours of notice and long battles - there will be attacks from automated systems that will demand a response in milliseconds. The traditional "call to action stations" where sailors jump up from their bunks and man the weaponry cannot respond in time to these sorts of attacks. It is impossible.

The future of automation is inevitable. And yet, the military overall is spending 62% of their funding on personnel to effectively do manual tasks or be a man / machine interface. The military has to work quickly to phase out manual effort whenever possible and move to an automated solution that can 1) respond to real time threats 2) more importantly, be upgraded continuously via software and take advantage of ever-increasing powers of computational hardware.

I can already hear the "corner case" objections of specific jobs that will require "boots on the ground". Absolutely soldiers will be needed to take and hold ground and deal with civilians and other missions - but many of the duties already done by soldiers from sentry duty to manning weapons can already be done more effectively by machines, especially when those machines are funded from tech savvy groups like the NSA rather than what you or I could buy off the shelf (like a Tesla). The "optimal" funding level, over time, probably is 70% machines / automation / real time and 30% staffing. The entire model has to be re-done in order to win on the types of real-time combat and missions that our military will face in the future.

Another giant but rarely thought of element is that weapon systems with less (or ideally zero) humans can be reconfigured into much more cost-effective and resilient systems. Much of the space on ships is for people and when people are killed or wounded the ship becomes ineffective. And yet the elimination or massive reduction in staff lets you create a much smaller footprint per square foot of killing power or weaponry and it can be designed with autonomous systems so that it can fight until it is utterly destroyed. Unlike TV or in the movies, ships and tanks and teams do not typically fight to the last man but systems do; and ships and teams that can't move fast or have significant amount of wounded or killed team members can be forced to surrender.

The US navy is attempting to take on these challenges with this class of ships. Whether or not it is ultimately successful in creating cost-effective, automated and resilient weapons systems within the limits of available funding will determine whether or not they win or lose in future wars. it is as simple as that. Adding sailors to non-automated functions doesn't achieve these future goals and will consume available funding in an endless make-work project.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yngwie F'ing Malmsteen

When I was in high school Yngwie Malmsteen hit the metal scene like a hurricane. That was back in the day when you would have long and furious arguments about who was the "best" guitarist (remember, we didn't have the internet and had to fill our time with something other than social media). When Yngwie emerged the term "shredding" became the norm and Yngwie was the apex of that style of guitar playing - almost the photo that you would put adjacent to that term in the dictionary.

His debut album "Rising Force" was a classic in that genre - mostly instrumental and filled with probably just about the recommended dose of Yngwie for most non die-hard fans. The hand raising his iconic guitar above the fire is the image of Yngwie that jumps into my mind first and foremost.

I saw Yngwie on Friday night at the Star Theater in Portland. Yngwie has settled down a lot - he used to be quite a hell raiser and smashed his car and went into a coma for a week in the 80's - but now he doesn't drink (from interviews I've seen) and although he is a bit bigger than he used to be - he still moves around the stage a lot and does guitar tricks of various types. If you want to pose like a rock star guitarist - go see Yngwie.

The show was fine. The theater was pretty small and it was packed and the crowd was enthusiastic. However, after a while, all the songs blur together and although I am a fan, I didn't recognize a lot of it after a while. He plays REALLY fast and even the songs you know well (from the debut album, for instance) are hard to pick out of the pack.

The best part about the show is that there was originally an opening act and then they dropped the opening act, so it was just Yngwie. It is stupid to have opening bands for anyone as iconic as Yngwie, unless Steve Vai is in town or something (that is a joke). Anyone going to see Yngwie is there to see Yngwie - an opening band literally sells zero incremental tickets and is just wasting everyone's time.

A shout out to Portland for having reasonable drink prices - a king can of PBR was $3 at the show - a price so cheap that you don't even have to pre-drink (although I did have a couple of beers with dinner). That beer is definitely $8 in Chicago at a show if not more.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Planning for Failure

When I worked in the power industry everyone understood that the cost of a power outage was high, but it was impossible to put a precise value on it. There is the reputational damage, the specific costs of payouts to businesses and residences that are impacted (depending on your jurisdiction), the cost of restoring service (typically it is "all hands" in terms of available personnel and equipment), and finally the loss of trust by your all-important regulator when you come back later and ask for an inevitable price increase for your customers.

The other, more subtle, cost of outages is the fact that businesses and residents must plan for unreliable power sources, and invest in backup generation which includes fuel, testing, etc... I would call this "planning for failure". Over time, this also causes businesses to consider exiting the grid entirely in one form or another when they are large and capable enough, causing the remaining fixed costs to be borne by the remaining customers.

Here in Portland right now we are dealing with a major outage, as a fire caused a power outage to over 2000 customers downtown near the Pearl district. This isn't 2000 customers... most of these meters are large businesses and buildings and not individual houses. In practical terms, the downtown Target is probably closed, Powells' bookstore (a major tourist attraction) is closed, and many, many other smaller businesses and restaurants. It would be similar to a power outage taking out most of River North in Chicago where I used to live.

Luckily I live in a building with a backup generator, and they have fuel for 3 days, so we likely will be unaffected. That's what you get when you pay more for a recently built class A apartment rather than an older vintage walkup. But many, many folks are going to be impacted by this (it was over 90 degrees yesterday) and many restaurants are going to have to throw out their food on top of losing a couple of days' worth of customers.

As we re-think electricity and the grid entirely it is important to consider reliability in the equation. I believe that many individuals and businesses just take power for granted until it isn't there anymore. This challenge will likely be exacerbated by renewables and solar power... in this outage it is a distribution system failure, but intermittent generation of power is another variable in the reliability equation.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Monday, May 01, 2017

Total Eclipse and Open Mouth Pelts

Recently we traveled over to sparsely populated Eastern Oregon (actually probably Central Oregon, but it is east of Portland), near the town of Fossil. This town will be in the center of the Total Eclipse of the sun that will occur on August 21, 2017.

Also, don't miss the opportunity to pick up open mouth pelts. Much better than the typical closed mouth variety I'm told.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Review - Shattered

This really isn't a traditional book review. "Shattered" is a book about the last presidential campaign from Hillary's advisors' perspective. I bought it on Amazon and read it and it was just an amazing view into the mechanics of that doomed campaign. Highly recommended.

First of all, I want to commend her camp for getting the basics so right. They reviewed the 2008 campaign which failed for her and took all the tactics of the winning side. They consisted of:
1. Focusing solely on the super delegates. Apparently this is much more technical than you'd expect and if you don't carefully understand each state and district and how everything works you may win a lot of votes but receive few delegates
2. Play the long game and ignore distractions. When Bernie blew her out of a lot of states they just waited to get back to states with large minority populations so she could cover over those losses. This generally ignores the fact that Bernie was competitive in states which were critical to the electoral college and "in play" which made a difference in the general election but not in the primary election
3. No one was going to change their mind about her. Their campaign strategist, a guy named Robby Mooks, didn't spend any money on "persuasion" because those that hated her weren't changing their mind and the more she was in the news tied to the email scandal or her health or the DNC leaks the worse it got. At one point they said they were considering not putting more money into a state (Michigan) right up before the election because they believed that they were just inflaming the other sides' base
4. No matter what happened, she soldiered on. She was unflappable.

After the 2008 campaign, she made a list of all those that abandoned her and if you rated a "7" as the highest traitor, she and her allies worked to bring the Dems down in the primaries. This was noted by everyone and as a result she had few folks who would tell her the unvarnished truth on the campaign trail because you'd be viewed as disloyal and immediately sent packing (and likely your prospects in the party would be destroyed).

It was also very interesting to me that she didn't write her own speeches or even have much of a hand in them - a complex and changing committee of individuals were continually making edits and major changes right up to the last minute, and she would scold them for their failures and berate them on a speakerphone. She seemed to be a spectral and distant figure to almost all of her campaign staff and leaders, with a couple exceptions. She also told them next to nothing, so her illness on the campaign trail was as big a surprise to them as it was to the nation.

The choice of her VP candidate Tim Kaine, whom the dems said was "as dull as a month old razor", seemed to me to be a dunderhead move. But I guess he was the runner up as a VP candidate in 2008, as well, showing how thin their "bench" was for this sort of choice. Ever political, the campaign thought that they would win and some of the VP candidates came from states where the governor could appoint a republican into the senate seat, and this would make it harder for her to govern post victory.

She was also very distant from the press and from the general public. She was surprised when she went to a VFW event that plainly, those people couldn't stand her. She thought it was because she was a woman, and said this, which probably made it even worse. There was never a point in the book at all where she felt any actual responsibility for the choices that she made which made her campaign stumble, like the Wall Street speeches and the email server and everything else like the foundation along those lines.

At the end when there was a swirl about whether or not she would concede, there was a note that if her team had realized how close it was going to be in key states (within 1% of the vote), they never would have conceded. Apparently Obama called her and pressured her to concede, not wanting his term to end in confusion and chaos.

This book is highly recommended and I was riveted. I probably will read it again, cover to cover.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, April 14, 2017

Disruption - Liquor

"Disruption" is a word usually reserved for hyped sectors of the economy like technology and "Uber" is the ubiquitous example that even a child would recognize. However, there are other components of the economy ripe for disruption, especially those that are heavily regulated, which generally causes significant distortions, monopolistic behavior, regulatory capture, high prices, and a lack of innovation.

The liquor industry is a heavily regulated industry, with layers of distributors and obscure rules which enforce local monopolies, entrench incumbents (often with inferior products), and provide many opportunities for the government to extract tax income and solicit donations from favored groups. Typically liquor uses a "three tier" system, where there is a producer, a distributor, and a retail outlet (a store or a bar). This is a system ripe for disruption.

Alongside this archaic regulated system (which works for the benefits of the government and the local monopolies), there was a multi-decade process of concentration within the liquor industry, as local beer manufacturers were bought up by massive multinationals, culminating in the InBev company which controls a huge chunk (28%) of world-wide beer sales. If it wasn't for the craft beer counter-revolution (see below), the epic consolidation of the liquor industry would have gone on indefinitely, bringing out "innovations" like Bud Light Lime.

Some of the components of the disruption of liquor in Oregon include:
1) Craft breweries or brewpubs which brew their own beer (and cider) and can sell it onsite
2) Distilleries able to make their own spirits and sell themselves out of their facility
3) New technologies such as Growlers or Crowlers which enable customers to fill directly from a keg into a re-usable container and take the beer home to drink
4) This is all in addition to the vast wineries (seemingly everywhere) that can sell directly and even ship to many states

Craft Breweries:

Portland and Oregon have been leaders in the craft beer movement, enabled by laws (passed against the political power of the beer distributors) which allowed for the brewpubs to sell their own alcohol. This article describes how the modern brewery was instituted in Oregon.The "beer culture" is everywhere, with 116 breweries within an hour of Portland, as evidenced by the cover of this recent magazine I picked up. Here is a link to the magazine online.

I live in downtown Portland and there are great brewpubs all around me. Portland is a tourism town for beer drinkers and usually the food at each of these brewpubs is excellent as well (it isn't gourmet but far, far better than what you'd get at a bar in Chicago, for instance).

Hard Liquor and Local Distilleries:

Oregon still has a ridiculous law that allows hard liquor to be sold only at designated liquor stores (this law is particularly out-of-synch with reality since you can essentially buy dope seemingly everywhere, even for recreational purposes). However, there are a lot of cracks in this system. Recently I was out at a farmer's market near Portland State University when I saw a distillery selling this "Townshend Gin" and I picked up a bottle for $24. Local distilleries in Oregon can sell directly to customers, bypassing the rule stating that hard liquor can only be sold at state-designated liquor stores.

New Technologies:

As you drive around the state you can see advertisements for "growlers" everywhere. These are re-fillable jugs that you can have local stores fill with beer out of the keg and you then drink at home. These are another great way to disrupt the system. There is also a "crowler" (a can growler) model where they will make a 32 oz can of any keg beer on tap that you can walk away with - a bar in my building let's me do this and take it upstairs.


There is a wide variety of vineyards and tasting rooms in Oregon, particularly in the Willamette Valley. You can purchase wine by the bottle or the case and they have fun tasting rooms where you can purchase and sample wines (the fees are often waived if you buy bottles / cases during the same trip). It seems obvious but I didn't realize that the vineyards changed colors each fall - below is a beautiful picture that I took last September.


The liquor industry was trending towards an oligopoly of poor products produced in vast quantities with competition limited due to a politically entrenched distribution system, under the guise of protecting citizens from alcohol abuse while actually preserving the "sin taxes" to enrich local government. Competition and new regulations have allowed for better products to emerge and for people to "buy locally" rather than enriching a vast beer titan that ships beer across the country which could be better served by local companies.

Cross Posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Portland Spring

We've had a long, long winter in Portland. Not only did we get a lot of snow storms (it was the worst winter in decades), we received historic amounts of rain in February and March (the rainiest in 120 years!). If you ask a local Portland resident they will tell you that summer begins "the day after the 4th of July". This was traditionally when the nice weather started.

However, last year I arrived in April and we had beautiful weather from April all the way through November. It was fantastic, with sunny days and occasional rain that seemed to clear up right away. They really don't have thunderstorms here in the Pacific Northwest like they do in Chicago; for whatever atmospheric reason, there is little to no lightning (per this article it is because the Pacific ocean is cold and the air is dry). The wine harvest has also been changing; it has been earlier in recent years because the summers' have been much warmer.

Thus based on my one personal data point, the 2016 summer from April to November, the fact that the weather seems to be changing right now is fantastic. I saw this rainbow on the drive home from work and it hopefully is indicating that the great weather starts NOW.

Compared to Chicago, it stays light a lot later in the summer (Portland is north of Minneapolis). Thus it is a lot of fun to come home from work and then go for a long walk throughout the city or a nearby park in the evening. Contrast that with the winter, when it has been either snowy (for a bit) or incredibly dark and rainy. I've had enough of that!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Obama's "Nuclear Renaissance" Hit Again By Bankruptcy

Since it was first announced almost a decade ago I've followed the "nuclear renaissance" that Obama touted and noted that it would likely end in failure due to the poor economics of these projects given our current, failed regulatory climate. The Federal government provided loans to get some of these projects off the ground. Now, with the bankruptcy of Toshiba's Westinghouse unit, the whole process is collapsing and leaving half-built reactors and rate payers (and investors) in many jurisdictions likely to hold the bag for huge investments that aren't going to generate power any time soon.
Toshiba Corp's U.S. nuclear unit Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors on Wednesday, just three months after huge cost overruns were flagged, as the Japanese parent seeks to limit losses that threaten its future. Bankruptcy will allow Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse, once central to Toshiba's diversification push, to renegotiate or even break its construction contracts, though the utilities that own the projects could seek damages. It could even pave the way for a sale of all or part of the business. For Toshiba, the aim is to fence off soaring liabilities and keep the group afloat.
These partially built reactors in Georgia and South Carolina were commissioned because local laws and regulations allowed for the costs of these investments to be passed on to the rate payer (local folks paying electric bills). In other states with different sorts of regulatory models, these sorts of investments would have been uneconomic, which is the primary reason why everyone else in the USA balked at the nuclear renaissance, even when it was partially underwritten by the Federal government with loans.

There are now two problems for rate-payers in Georgia and South Carolina:
1) the companies now have to build these reactors without price guarantee from Toshiba, meaning that the (likely) giant costs of the overruns will be borne by local ratepayers or the companies themselves. If the unit is in bankruptcy and walled off from the funds of the parent corporation (which is the purpose of the bankruptcy, I am assuming), it seems unlikely that anyone else would step up and backstop such a guarantee.
2) this bankruptcy is likely to cause significant delays in construction, meaning that the long, miserable process of getting certified to start up the reactor is going to be pushed out further into the future. This means that it will be that much longer until the unit starts generating power and "earns back" the investment, and all the costs of the reactors will accrue interest and financing charges for that much longer while construction proceeds (rate payers)

Note that there is precedent for taking gigantic write downs and abandoning abandoned reactors. Here is a link to the abandoned reactors in Washington and the famous Shoreham debacle in New York.

None of this seems to be impacting the stock prices of Southern Company (SO) and Scana (SGC) this morning so maybe the market knows something that I don't. Scana is holding a press conference to describe their next steps in the process today and I didn't seen anything yet scheduled on Southern Company's web site.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz