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.



Wineries:

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.



Conclusion:

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mid-Life Crisis and Alternate Universes

One of my favorite Onion jokes of all time is "Alternate-Universe James Hetfield Named Taco Bell Employee of the Month". This genius post encapsulates the randomness of the world we live in, since the likelihood of James Hetfield being a guy who does odd jobs, plays guitar in a basement, and loves metal is so much infinitely higher than the odds are that he becomes a rich superstar as the singer of Metallica.

This philosophical view is somewhat similar to Taleb's theories in "The Black Swan" and his other books where, if you did your life over and over, you would get vastly different results and individuals attribute too much of their luck and good fortune to their specific actions and experience. We are all dealing with the "Survivor's paradox", where those who did well get to tell their tale and those who didn't fare so well are essentially erased from the common consciousness.

I saw this car down in my garage in Portland and thought to myself "This is the alternate universe for Carl" which is to just keep my prior job and old way of life and buy a shiny new expensive car (this is a Bentley, I would have bought a new BWM 7 Series, but who's counting) as a distraction. That would have been a fine life, a life I understood, and the car purchase would have been a modest but visible change and distraction from what was otherwise a quite predictable path.



Instead, however, I changed everything, by moving jobs and careers and physically relocating away from my entire ecosystem of family and friends to the Pacific Northwest. This was a vast change, much larger than cosmetically purchasing a new conspicuous automobile. Starting a new job forced me to change everything, from the way I listened and studied, to the way I interacted with the environment around me. I went from walking to work to commuting by car (like 90% of the world) which is a primary negative, although at least I have been listening to podcasts which turn that driving time which was initially pure frustration into at least a positive learning experience.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Windows 10

Recently I updated to Windows 10 on my work computer. I have worked with windows products for decades now, starting with the early DOS based versions and remembering the "Big Bang" of Windows 95 with "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones in the background. What I really thought was cool back in the days of Windows 95 was seeing the Weezer video for "Buddy Holly" through the windows media player since it was installed with the operating system. It was a first glance at actually useful video integrated with the device (or downloaded) rather than played through a CD or ultimately DVD.

I was dreading this Windows 10 upgrade because many of my co-workers were having various problems with it on their devices. These weren't problems with Windows 10 per se, they were tied with the way applications run as we move to more of an online mode. For example, if you are saving data on BOX in the cloud or using Office 365 (run from the cloud), your machine performance is more variable, tied with all the hand offs and routing up and down and depending on your network connection at the time. Many co-workers use tablets and a variety of machine types so there wasn't a lot of common threads in some of the issues. Also, Microsoft now includes the "Edge" browser as default as they try to get rid of Internet Explorer (the worst browser) and many folks seemed confused because the links and bookmarks didn't automatically port over to Edge.

My experience was quite different - I downloaded Windows 10 onto my machine and it worked great, right away. My machine is newer (less than a year old) and perhaps that makes a difference. While you can't buy a personal machine without Windows 10 installed (and couldn't for a while), corporations can buy PC's with older operating systems installed because they want to keep a homogeneous environment and upgrade all the machines in some sort of consistent method.

Gone was the interminable boot-up wait of Windows 7 - my windows machine is almost as fast as booting up my 2011 Macbook Pro. After my outlook email and calendar migrated over (aided by the fact that I haven't been in my job that long; at my prior company my outlook was gigantic) I was able to work without a hitch. As companies migrate more and more systems to the cloud, there is less data per se residing on your machine and you have fewer programs installed locally. It moved over all my internet connections and saved bookmarks and passwords so I was able to continue working right away and they seemingly thought of most everything.

Microsoft tries to integrate some mobile phone / Apple type concepts into the experience, such as embedded news and weather and the like. This is kind of nice and I have a stock ticker and a few things but due to the way the standard internet has been infested with pop ups and the like it is hard to even click on news articles. I'm sure if I spent some time and installed pop up blockers and the like I could figure it out but it is annoying from the get-go. One area in which the Apple system is far superior is the fact that my messages and photos are synced from my phone to my ipad to my Macbook and I can access them from each device. Since Windows doesn't really have any phone integration (I'm sure I could figure it out if I really tried) it pretty much is a work machine for me.

One area in which I miss out with my Mac ecosystem is gaming - I would like to buy some of the newer wargames like "Strategic Command" but they aren't really available on the Mac and I obviously wouldn't install them on my work PC. But this is just as well because they are an immense time suck and I have a lot to learn having started a new job less than a year ago. Some of the games are starting to come to the iPad and I'm sure at some point there will be a more robust ecosystem of quite sophisticated and powerful games on that platform of the strategy type.

All in, I thought I would dread my Windows 10 upgrade, but it was fine. It definitely improves my workday and I really like the fast boot time.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast" is 35 Years Old

I was listening to "Boneyard" the XM Radio station whose one-time motto was "the station of road-trippin' and binge drinking" and they said that "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden was turning 35 years old. In that moment, I felt old, too.

"The Number of the Beast" is the first album by Iron Maiden featuring singer Bruce Dickinson with his soaring vocals. The prior singer, Paul Di'Anno, had a much lower, punk sort of voice range that was a bit less commercially successful. This was also the album that made them giant in the United States, with their videos such as "Run to the Hills" being played incessantly on MTV.



I took a snapshot of the album cover from Apple Music on my iPhone - I'm sure that somewhere there is a cassette, album, and CD of this disc somewhere that I've purchased and lost over the years. This is one of their best covers, with the mascot "Eddie" pulling the strings on the devil (who has his own little Eddie on a string).

After hearing that it was 35 years old, I put the album on the playlist and listened through it again. The album is full of classic songs, particularly "The Number of the Beast", "Run to the Hills", "Hallowed Be Thy Name", and "Children of the Damned", although I can pretty much sit through the whole album front to back. These songs are also the cornerstone of Iron Maiden's setlist, being played even today at giant concerts featuring tens or hundreds of thousands of new, younger fans.



This album is routinely cited as one of the top metal and hard rock albums of all time. I was enthralled by the difficult time signatures and prominent bass of songs like "The Number of the Beast", which starts out in 5/4 time and definitely has a different feel to it than most songs I was hearing in that era.

The album also used various voice-overs, such as the beginning of "The Prisoner" and of course the classic intro to "The Number of the Beast". I think I carved that intro into a desk somewhere during an interminable study hall break during high school.

Iron Maiden is one of those bands that you would not think would remain so utterly popular across generations of fans, and yet they continue to fill stadiums and win over new metalheads every day with their live shows and vast collection of albums. At the time when this album came out there were protests over the imagery but nowadays this sort of stuff is tame by any standard.

Put on their classic album and hoist a beer for Iron Maiden! We're old...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, March 11, 2017

US Infrastructure Will Be Broken Forever

Recently I visited Cathedral Park in Portland, which lies beneath the St. Johns Bridge.  The St. Johns Bridge is a magnificent structure, built in 1931, during the height of the depression.



Portland is a city of bridges.  These bridges were mostly built long ago, when construction projects were feasible in terms of costs and delivery time frames were measured in years, not decades (when approvals, funding, environmental contingencies, etc... are factored in).

Today the Portland metropolitan area, which includes large Washington communities north of the city, faces severe constraints on traffic and there is widespread local agreement that commute times are growing longer and in some instances intolerable.  I know individuals in Chicago, LA or NYC that would laugh at commute times that aren't 2+ hours but that is little consolation to the locals who previously had been able to drive around the metro area with relative ease.

Many of these bridges need to be replaced for multiple reasons - the Pacific Northwest is an earthquake zone and most of these bridges are not built to survive a quake, traffic on the bridges is soaring and causing delays throughout the system because they function as bottlenecks, and frankly bridges cannot last forever without collapsing.

And yet... it will never happen.  I am confident that we won't be able to raise the billions that it will take to build these bridges and lawsuits and environmentalists would create innumerable roadblocks (with accompanying cost increases and delays) so that even difficult projects will become impossible. There is an utter breakdown in funding, public will, solid execution, and all the fundamental components that make infrastructure possible.  While China has built giant, soaring cities, we can't even replace bridges and roads built 100 years ago.

I would be willing to bet large sums of money that none of these bridges will be replaced over the next decade with actual drivers using the roads and seeing the benefits of the billions that would need to be invested.  There will be a lot of talk and likely hundreds of millions spent on studies and much political posturing and probably some desperate repairs on some of the bridges that will soon be in dire condition.  But it is easy money to bet that nothing new and substantially better will rise through this cacophony and come to fruition.

America would be much better off if we faced the facts that what we could do in 1931 we simply cannot do today.  Then we could ask deeper questions about what happened and how we can truly solve these sorts of difficult questions.  We would need reform in contracting, new productivity enhancements, certainty in our regulations, local industry that was capable and cutting edge, and goodwill with the public to put up with disruptions and compromises that inevitably accompany this sort of work.

Like the failed nuclear power renaissance, which I've chronicled many times, the fact that I know that these efforts will fail doesn't make me a naysayer, just a realist.  Avoiding facts and having beliefs unsupported by tangible evidence and relying on recent events for predictive power is foolish.  We can't tackle our problems unless we address them out loud and accept that we are failing and our processes and systems are completely broken.  Else we are living in a dream world.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Goodbye Deadspin

For our couple of loyal readers - we include updates from some of the blogs we follow on the right side of the screen (if you are in the web version, not the mobile version).  For a long time Dan and I have been fans of the website Deadspin, which covered sports in an irreverent and mocking tone, and broke stories about crazy topics that the old-school sports journalists wouldn't touch.

However, Deadspin recently started including more and more politics in their posts, which is polarizing and stupid because I think most sports fans want to see sports-related content when they go to the site, not the usual "shouting into the toilet" of politics that you find everywhere else.

They also focus a lot of time on soccer, too, which is probably fine for some people but absolutely dead boring to me.

Bye-bye Deadspin.  If you ever go back to covering sports, I will give you a try again someday.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Portland Rainbow

It seems like it has been raining for the past 30 days straight here in Portland but a couple of days ago we saw a beautiful rainbow from our balcony.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Apple Photos

I moved my life over to Apple products over the last few years. I used to use Picasa by Google and Shutterfly for photo books and canvas wraps but over time I've leveraged Apple photos to a greater degree and this post describes my experiences and some tips and tricks.

Apple photos is complicated. For most people, Apple photos is your camera application on your iPhone. With recent iOS upgrades, however, there is a new photos application that is cross platform (I can see my photo stream on my Mac, my iPad, or my iPhone). However, there is a catch. You need to use iCloud and back up your photos to the cloud, rather than just leaving them on your phone.

It took a while to synch up photos across all my Apple devices and I had to google technical support questions a few times and turn on and off iCloud. However, I eventually got them synched up and it has worked great ever since.

There are some great features. One feature is facial recognition. You can select a person and then link them to your contacts and Apple automatically selects all the photos of that individual. For photos where Apple is not sure, they ask you "is this so-and-so" and you can say yes or no, and then it organizes all the photos by individual.

A super-annoying part of this photo recognition, however, is that you have to do it separately for each device. Even though I matched my photos to contacts (individual names) on my iPhone, I still have to do that again for my iPad and my Mac. They should save this meta-data across devices (this is a frequent request in the Apple support section). While this seems like a big pain in the rear, it really isn't a giant deal, it just takes probably a half hour or so on each device depending on how many photos you have loaded in iCloud.

A friend of mine in Portland has an exact twin sister and the facial recognition keeps mixing her photos with those of her sister.  That just shows how powerful the software is!

Not only are the photos organized by person, Apple also uses some sort of machine learning to find objects in your photos.  This post describes some of the items Apple sorts by, from ATM's to ponds to alcoholic beverages (beer, which has 87 possible matches in my photo stream).  Go to albums and type in a letter and you can see all the various options, it is quite humorous and interesting.

Finally, I used to create photo books using Shutterfly but their software became more and more annoying to use until I finally gave up.  This is sad because over the years I've probably made a dozen photo books using their service.

I tried making my first photo book using Apple photos, and it turned out great.  Unlike Shutterfly, which always seemed to offer deals and coupons, Apple did not seem to have specials readily available.  However, the software was easy to use, and they had a lot of great templates to use for photos and you could choose how many on a page, the orientation (portrait and landscape), and whether or not to use captions.  I really like how the book turned out and I would recommend it, even if it costs a bit more than the competition.

I also ordered a canvas wrap of a Portland rainbow and I will let you know how that turns out, as well.  The last couple canvas wraps I ordered from Shutterfly turned out badly so I finally just abandoned the service, along with their photo books, above.  Surprised to see they still have over $1B/ year in revenue.  I still use them for holiday cards but maybe next year I will try Apple or someone cheaper.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sculpture or Alien Invasion?



You decide? A view looking up at the Newmark Theater in Portland.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ethan Russell and Iconic Rock Photos

Growing up I was a big fan of The Who. Since I didn't always have a lot of money for records I tried to "stretch" my budget often times by buying "greatest hits" albums. Initially I thought that "Who's Next" by The Who with the iconic photo of them pissing on some sort of concrete slab WAS a "best of" album simply because almost every track had been played to death on the radio with the exception of "My Wife" by Entwistle (which was a song I liked a lot) and "Love Ain't for Keeping".



Recently I saw a presentation by the photographer Ethan Russell who took that classic cover photo along with an amazing amount of other images you'd recognize instantly, from the pictures of the Beatles on the "Let It Be" album to some great Rolling Stones' photos from their classic late 1960's - early 1970's era. If he comes to your town I would highly recommend that you go out and hear him talk.



I bought a signed print of that Who's Next cover and sent it on to a friend of mine who also was a big fan of The Who growing up. I'm sure he'll like it.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Portland Metal

Recently I went out to lunch at a great restaurant called "Doug Fir" in the Hotel Jupiter on Burnside Avenue on the East Side of Portland (across the river).  At the restaurant was a more than usual Portland-esque mix of folks - tables of 4-6 people that looked like a band with an occasional groupie mixed in, having breakfast / lunch around noon with drinks.  Many of them had shirts and hats or jackets with various band logos and I thought of the "Unreadable Band Logo of the Week" post series over at MetalSucks.net. I was even able to kind of guess which type of band they might be by how they were dressed - doom metal, death metal, or more punkish metal, etc...



Lo and behold - while walking down the street I saw this flyer and indeed - there was some sort of metal band fest in town at the Bossanova Ballroom which was on Burnside right near the hotel. Thus my instincts turned out to be right.

According to one of the local weekly papers (that you typically grab for free out of a paper box on the street, or check online if you aren't old like me), the Portland Mercury, Portland is the most metal city in the country. They adjusted another poll that had Cleveland as the most metal city by noting that Cleveland's metal scene was mostly in the 1990's and those bands were defunct so when adjusted for "live" bands, Portland was #1.

I will have to check out some shows here and let you know.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Where's The Lane?

I recently traded in my old Acura MDX for a new one.  What a long, long way we have come in the 7 years since I purchased a new vehicle.  I now have an air conditioned seat, something I am looking forward to using this Spring and Summer.  I also have a heated steering wheel now, which is great during Winter.  Quite the creature comfort.

It also has a feature called Auto-Idle Stop that you can enable and disable that shuts the car off at a stop to save gas.  The Acura dealer says that is will save a mile a gallon.  At first I didn't like it, but now I am used to it.  I remembered it from when I was in a Prius cab once.  When you take your foot off the brake, the car fires up and off you go.  While you are stopped, all of the climate control and audio/whatever else you have on is still functional.  It automatically turns back on after around a minute sitting there if you haven't moved.  I have no clue how this actually saves you gas but if they say it does, I guess they can't really lie about it.

Outside of all of the comfort things, the new vehicle is a technological powerhouse.  I have had it for almost a month now and am still figuring out all of the features and tech stuff.  It has 16 gig of memory to store music onboard.  I don't use that much since I love my XM, but there it is if you want it.

Of the greatest interest to me are the next steps auto manufacturers have made to get everyone used to the idea of the inevitable autonomous vehicle.  Three things work in concert on my vehicle.  They are Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW).  At first I turned all of this stuff off, but decided to one day read the manual (I know) to understand how it all works.  It is interesting to say the least.

ACC is basically "smart" cruise control.  You set your cruise and it will keep the speed, but will also compensate for cars in front of you.  You can set the distance that you prefer between your car and the car in front of you (there are four distances to choose from).  In the city, I choose the closest distance so as not to clog traffic.  The car will actually go all the way down to zero, braking at a light, and will start moving again when the car in front moves forward.  There is a bit of a delay when you re-start, so you may look like you have no idea what you are doing, but to heck with everyone else, you don't have to accelerate or brake and they do.  Oh yes, the Auto-Idle Stop feature works with this as well, but you have to hit the accelerator to resume again if you are Auto-Idle Stopped with the ACC in charge.

LDW is, from what I have figured out, just a warning system.  It wiggles the steering wheel and shows a display when it feels you are out of the lane.

LKAS is where the rubber really hits the road.  When you enable this along with the ACC, the car literally drives itself.  LKAS keeps you centered in the lane at whatever speed you are going.  I have taken my hands off the wheel, but there are apparently sensors in the wheel because after a few seconds, the car says "you have to drive" and shuts down the auto systems.  So just a light pressure on the wheel is all you need and you can let the car do the work.  Sometimes the delay takes a bit and it would seem to the car behind you that you are drunk driving since you are weaving back and forth a bit in the lane.  This typically happens when you are on a curved road.  It isn't perfect, but when the road is straight, it works very well.

But.

The cameras for all of this are only as good as the ROAD MARKINGS.  We had a snow storm recently and my car was caked with snow and ice and the car just said on the display "cameras blocked" and you are on your own.  In addition, I live in rural Wisconsin, just outside of Madison.  In the city, there are much better lane markings.  In the country, the roads have NONE.  No smart driving for you in the country, although the ACC always works wherever you are as long as the camera isn't blocked by snow.  Even in the city, the lane markings deviate and/or are in bad shape in areas, and the car will beep and tell you that "tough stuff, you have to drive", we can't see the lane.  This means that you have to pay attention because at times, you can see the lane markings, but the cameras can't.  There is a part of the display that lets you know if the camera can see the lane markings.  I haven't been on the interstate with it yet, but will soon and look forward to seeing what the car can do in that venue.  I assume it will work great.

All in all, when I figure out everything, this new vehicle will make my hour plus a day in the car a much more pleasant experience.  Without proper lane markings, however, or unless and until we have lightening speeds with GPS, I don't see fully autonomous vehicles coming for a bit.  Which gets me to thinking I should probably look into investing in companies that manufacture lane marking equipment and paint, but that is certainly grist for another post.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The End of Accounting Book Review - Part One

Recently I read an excellent book called "The End of Accounting and the Path Forward for Investors and Managers" by Baruch Lev and Feng Gu. I highly recommend this book for investors, analysts, accountants, and those with a general interest in business. The book is very well written and researched in that it:

1. Describes the current situation in depth
2. Aligns the situation across an historical context and with relevant research
3. Makes specific recommendations about how to improve the situation

If you'd like to read more about this topic on your own (will help to frame out these posts), here is an excellent Wall Street Journal article titled "The End of Accounting" (if the link doesn't work because you don't have a subscription you can probably find it elsewhere on the internet). Here is a link from Accounting Today and an interview with the author from CFO magazine.

The first post in this series is going to be my personal insights and journey in the area of accounting information, financial and investor relations analysts. This context is relevant because I, too, have seen the problems that the authors outline in the series and come up with my own "hacks" to attempt to gain better information and insights.

I started out my career as an accountant, and I used to help create the footnotes that you see at the end of the financial reports. This wasn't creative work per se - you would start with last years' footnote as a template and insert new numbers, unless it was a new requirement, in which case it was a lot of work and we would turn to specialists. At that time (20+ years ago) there were only a few footnotes and the financial statements themselves weren't that long; you would be able to read from the Chairman and CEO's letter all the way through to the last footnote in a couple of hours.

This was also before the internet; we would go into the company library and look at microfiche sometimes to do research or you'd pull up the hard (printed) copy from the files. At that point an annual report was also somewhat of a marketing document; companies put a lot of thought into the cover, for instance.

At various points in the history of accounting there has been a focus on the balance sheet (assets and liabilities), the income statement (earnings per share and price / earnings ratio) and on cash flows (cash generated from the business). Each of these views are important and have their merits and their drawbacks. The statements were generally the "GAAP" view which focused on financial statement presentation and used taxes at official rates (many companies pay almost nothing in taxes in actuality by deferring them indefinitely) and held assets at historical costs. Both of these assumptions made the financial statements less useful for certain types of companies and industries.