Showing posts from 2012

Disingenuous and Misleading Op-Ed in NYTimes About Prospects for Lawyers

This op-ed, by the Dean of Case Western Law School, which is ranked somewhere in the mid 60s, putting it in the lower half of Tier 1 schools, is grossly disingenuous and self-serving.

First off, let me get right into it by attacking his school directly: Of the 2011 graduates of Case Western Law, only 67% are in positions that require a law degree, and a full 15% are unemployed. This is nearlytwice the October 2012 national average of 7.9%.

Additionally, examination of the statistics on Case Western Law's employment page reveals that the vast majority of employed graduates are in small firms, business or government. These are the precise jobs that Mr. Mitchell points out pay $60-80,000 a year. If you graduate with $125,000 in debt, a full $18,000 a year comes out of your post-tax income, and such payments are non-deductible. Now we are talking about the reality that for the lucky ones who do have jobs, they are making from $42-62,000 a year. That just doesn't seem worth it, es…

Some Suggestions For the Times

If it seems like I am critical of the NYtimes, please note that this is because I bear deep affection for that organization, and hope for the best. I know that the entire newspaper industry is in crisis, and I'd rather see venerated and important organizations like the NYTimes make the transition to the digital world (largely) intact, rather than watching them collapse and hoping someone else fills the void.

That having been said, I am very much of the opinion that a simple paywall is not going to get them the money they need to continue to operate, and I'm also of the opinion that online ad revenue will not fill this gap. So, as a result, they need to start selling services that actually represent value above and beyond the basic delivery of news. Additionally, as seen below in other posts, I think that their slow creep towards interest pieces and magazine style focus pieces is really detrimental to their mission. However, that is neither here nor there. Fundamentally, here i…

Uncritical Reporting of Thiel Fellowships in NYTimes

Update: This post was put on Techdirt as of 9.20.12.

Yesterday, the New York Times had a headline article about Thiel Fellowships.
The program is very interesting, and I was hoping to garner some insight into its success.

However, I was left severely disappointed at the lack of any critical examination of the program, which is still quite controversial. The whole piece read like a PR blast. For instance:

1. The program encourages high achieving indidivuals to skip college in exchange for $100,000 over two years of fellowship grant, plus access to Thiel's network. While many projects discussed in the article were interesting, there was virtually no information about the sustainability of any of these projects or whether or the fellows had achieved any academic success - such as publications - or business success.

2. The article entirely omitted any examination of the fact that Thiel himself has an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a law degree from the same -- this was relegated…

The Trademarkability of Red Soles

A recent decision came down, wherein Louboutin was allowed to keep its trademark on red soled shoes. I think this is a very poor decision, and misunderstands the basic point of trademark law.

Copyright law and patent law (whether or not you agree with their efficacy, overall) are at least explicitly designed to protect creators and their business interests. However, trademark law differs in that its primary purpose is consumer protection: trademark exists to allow for product marking so that consumers can be confident about the origins of products and all their attendant considerations, ranging from quality of product to the reputability of the company supplying said product. For instance, you want to know that the batteries in your remote control won't explode, and if you see the label "duracell" or "energizer" on the battery, you can be reasonably sure that there is a responsible company behind their manufacture. 
However, the consumer is actively harmed by t…

Fair Use, Gotye and Star Wars

FYI, this is a repost of a post I wrote on my company blog.
Back in August of 2011, my girlfriend sent me a link to a charming music video that had just dropped. 

Within the next year, this video received several hundred million views, and propelled two young artists -- Gotye and Kimbra -- to international fame. Clearly, this was a huge win for them, and I'm sure this video generated tons of additional ticket, album and t-shirt sales, despite the fact that they probably made peanuts from the video itself. This video was a loss leader, driving traffic to paid services, while itself representing a largely sunk cost.

The video became a cultural phenomenon. And, as the saying goes, the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. Not surprisingly, some extremely well done remakes were created, which also received millions of views on YouTube. For instance, here is the talented band "Walk off the Earth" performing the song on a single guitar being played by five people. 

It’s pre…

Groupon is Not A Tech Company

Tl;dr A tech company is a company who's business model centrally relies on addressing a problem with a unique or novel technological solutions. Groupon's use of technology is incidental to its business model. 

I was reading this article today in Wired about how Groupon's stock fall-off is sharper than other "tech giants." While that is interesting, I think it is incorrect to call Groupon a tech company, and, accordingly, I don't know that it is quite fair to compare Groupon to tech companies. This is in no way a judgment on the quality of Groupons services, the dedication or talent of their team, etc. They executed well and have many very satisfied customers; that alone is praiseworthy. However, Groupon simply is not in the tech business: They sell coupons, en masse. That's it. Doing so did not require any technological innovations, either in software or hardware, and that is why their model is infinitely replicable. This, in fact, it its primary weakness…

Tim Wu: Computers Don't Inherit Their Programmers' Free Speech Rights. But Why Shouldn't They?

Tl;dr In an earlier post, I argued that it is important to recognize that search results should be treated more like editorial content than as mere assertions of fact. Titan of Internet Law, Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia Law, frames the argument differently, and though I think we fundamentally agree, it is worth clarifying why I find his characterization somewhat troublesome. Summary: It is more important to subject automated speech to First Amendment analysis, even if weakened as the result of considerations due to its commercial and automated nature, than to categorically exempt it from procedural constitutional protection. 

Edit/Update:Techdirt has weighed in, and it is gratifying to see that a lot of the same arguments I made below are made by Mr. Masnick and the scholars he references.

Well, I'm stepping right into the line of fire on this one. Prof. Wu is pretty brilliant, I often agree with him, I find him deeply insightful, and, basically, for me to disagree with him is kind of …

What do Spoilers Spoil? The Fun.

Tl;dr Stanley Fish, consistent with his character, has a rant castigating the phenomenon of 'spoiler alerts' - it is simultaneously condescending, clueless and socially inept. Spoiler alerts are not about messing up the experience of seeing a movie or reading a book, they are about social grace and communal experience.
To summarize his argument, Stanley Fish has simultaneously asserted that:
1. Actually alerting readers/viewers to spoilers is beneath his dignity;
2. People who get upset at a lack of spoiler alerts are actually incorrect, whether they know it or not, because some spurious 'science' that he cites says that they actually like having plots spoiled;
3. Any work that can be 'spoiled' is trash.
I disagree.

I harbor a rather strong dislike for Stanley Fish's NYTimes column. First off, he is a professor of law who did not go to law school, and, usually, when I read his columns about law, I find that this fact shows. Additionally, I find his opinions…

The .gif is 25 Years Old, So Let's All Make Sure to Pronounce it Right: JIF

Tl;dr It's pronounced 'jif' not 'gif' -- end of story. So the gif is 25 years old as of June 15th, 2012.

Let's all take a moment to recognize the correct way to pronounce 'gif', right from the horse's mouth: It's pronounced like "jif". Period. The end. That's final. End of story.

You disagree? Hey, I'm just quoting the inventors of the format. Here's the evidence:

CompuServe used to distribute a graphics display program called CompuShow. In the documentation for version 8.33 in the FAQ section, it states:

The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.

There, straight from the inventors of the format.

Convinced yet? Also, on a personal note: gif, I love you.


Enjoy, and, .gif, happy birthday.

Is It Just Me, or is the iTunes Store Throttling its Bandwidth?

Tl;dr I may be entirely wrong, but it appears iTunes store may be throttling bandwidth. Anyone know the full story on this?

Here are two images demonstrating my current concern:

To summarize: despite having decent bandwidth, a 47.4 megabyte mp3 takes 15 minutes to download. However, my math indicates that, with that bandwidth, it should take me just under two minutes to download a file of that size.

That is one minute forty two seconds. Accordingly, it seems that iTunes is operating at about 11.5% efficiency, or throttling to the tune of nearly 90%.

How's my math?

WSJ Very Sincerely Doesn't Understand Bandwidth Or Monitor Resolution

Tl;dr The WSJ performs some truly sloppy reporting when it states that the new MacBook Pro, with Retina display, will bring corporate networks to a halt, as they require more bandwidth.

The Wall Street Journal, today, had this to say: CIOs with loose bring-your-own-device policies might find their corporate networks clogged should employees bring the just-announced Macbook Pro computers to work. Introduced at Apple’s developer conference Monday, the new Macbook Pro is fitted with a Retina display, whose resolution of 2880-by-1800 pixels packed into a 15.4-inch screen is the crispest screen for a computer yet, clearer than Apple’s newest iPad.

But it may also wreak havoc on CIOs’ networks and connectivity budgets — better quality displays require more network bandwidth, which allows users to increase data consumption. Consider that experts told CIO Journal earlier this year that the new iPad, which includes a Retina display of 2048-by-1536 resolution with 3.1 million pixels, would s…

Passwords in Wallets? Maybe Not So Much...

Bruce Schneier wrote, a few years back, that a good idea for password safety is to write down your passwords and put them in your wallet. I brought this up at work and a coworker immediately pointed out that this would be disastrous if you ever lost your wallet: every form of identification, giving away, among other things, where your bank accounts are, are now in the same location with passwords to those same accounts.

So I have to say, after thinking this through, I don't agree with Mr. Schneier on this one. I wonder if he has also changed his opinion on the matter?

KPCB Internet Trends: Ad Dollars Shifting from Print to Online

Tl;dr Ad dollars aren't evaporating, they are just following eyeballs from off-line to on-line.

Mary Meeker's 2012 "Internet Trends" presentation also serves as the basis for this post -- there may be a few more to come. It really is a great presentation, and worth going through. Anyhoo...

I've talked in some recent posts comparing the value of eyeballs on traditional media to new media.

Below are a few screenshots from Ms. Meeker's presentation, that I think further support my overall point (or, maybe, I actually support hers? Kind of hard for the completely obscure anonymous netizen to claim support from a titan of online industry...)

I think these graphs pretty strongly show that the money is not disappearing, it is just being redistributed. Money is moving from off-line to on-line, and a lot of organizations (read: newspapers, television, radio, movies) are worried that they will not be able to make enough money, or any money, online. I simply do not…

KPCB "Internet Trends" Presentation Shows Netizens Happy with Search; EU Commission Still Threating Google with Antitrust Violations Over Its Search Methodology

Tl;dr Netizens appear to be satisfied with the quality and usefulness of search results, yet the EU Commission still insists that Google may need to change search results out of anticompetitive fears. This likely means businesses that are upset about their poor rankings, but this is a morally poor basis (though, perhaps, a legally valid one, time shall tell) for an antitrust action.

Over at Techdirt, Masnick has made several good points about the poor arguments put forth by EU Commission in their current antitrust investigations into Google. There's been plenty of buzz about the EU Commission basically admitting that it's going to go after Google on antitrust grounds if Google doesn't change certain practices. However, as we've seen with past claims of antitrust issues with Google, when you begin to unpack the complaints, they don't seem to hold up to much scrutiny. There is no argument that Google is a big player, and could be abusive -- but there is little, if …

Enough Facebook, Anyone Remember AOL?

Tl;dr AOL is operating at near FB levels of P/E, on tiny earnings, and this is probably unsustainble.

Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, did a talk at Techcrunch Disrupt. In it, Mr. Armstrong said, inter alia, that AOL was “becoming a house of strong brands” as it transitions to be more of a content company:

He admitted that despite having some dissident shareholders that “don’t believe”, in the content strategy, most of AOL’s shareholders do believe in it. I'm not particularly interested in Mr. Armstrong's claims about what AOL is doing. However, I would like to examine the financials of AOL, especially now that we are all in stock-markety-valuation-y moods given FB's bump. Here's AOL's chart, as of close today, 5/22/12:
Just to reiterate, that is a Mkt Cap of 2.54B and PE of 85.38 which translates to earnings of $29.75M. That is very sincerely not a whole lot of money. Again, assuming a 'healthy' PE is somewhere around 13, AOL needs to post earnings of around $19…

From Techcrunch: How the Media is Wrong About Facebook's IPO -- But I'm Still Bearish

Tl;dr Though the FB IPO may have gone of a lot more smoothly than many critics are saying, FB needs to post consistent, high growth in order to justify its valuation, which looks unlikely.

Techcrunch contributor and VC member Dan Scholnick has makes three very astute points about the Facebook IPO, worth reiterating:

1. The best IPOs maximize capital raised by the company while minimizing dilution for existing shareholders and employees.
2. The best IPOs minimize the fees paid and value transferred to third parties.
3. The best investments are determined over months and years, not hours and days.

In general, I agree. And by these metrics, FB's IPO was pretty good. Additionally, now that NASDAQ:FB has closed at precisely 31, as of 5/22/12, I think one could argue that the underlying value of FB is actually pretty well within the range predicted by bankers. That is, it seems counterintuitive to me that one would price a stock as lower than its value when planning an IPO, especia…

Password Security: When the Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair

Tl;dr When a third party asks for information that allows them to reset your passwords for other services, you should be very wary.

Technology Review has an interesting story about a potential security hole in gmail. Basically, it works like this:

1. Hacker site offers a user a discount/teaser/whatever and asks them to enter their gmail address.
2. Hacker site sends request to gmail to have an account verification code to the cellphone of the user.
3. Hacker site requests user to enter the verification code sent by gmail into their site.
4. Hacker uses verification code to hijack gmail account.

As the comments in that article point out, this is not actually a technical loophole. It is a prime example of PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. Specifically, one would hope that your average user would be smart enough not to give a password reset verification code to a third party that they had only just encountered.

Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to protect gullib…

Gmail, Why Do You Choose to Spite Me So?

I used to do a lot of front end development, so I find bad user controls to be particularly vexing. I doubt this makes me special, as it probably annoys most other humans, too. However, some things just pop off the page at me. The below is one of them.

Gmail, despite the fact that it is my lifeblood, is a frequent perpetrator of bad UI. This is often exacerbated by the fact that Gmail loves to push interface changes on its users without warning, explanation, and frequently without the ability to undo. I understand the necessity of this, but sometimes they get something infuriatingly wrong. Like this: This is an image from my Gmail user pane (yes, everything of mine is space themed -- wanna fight about it?) where there used to be a button that allowed me to scroll to the second page of my Inbox. It looked rather like this: In fact, I can get to those controls by clicking on the words "1-25 of many", which transports me to another Inbox view. However, from my default Inb…

Free Does Not Mean Valueless

Tl;dr People are unwilling to pay for baseline content; make your baseline content free and use it as a loss-leader to sell naturally scarce premium services crafted to engage your target audience.

A coworker forwarded me this article today, entitled "The Emperor has no Content."

It is a short read, and worth reading. Let me say that I am taking this opportunity, as prompted by Mr. Rutledge, to in fact, comment on my own site.

I disagree pretty emphatically with the conclusion that Rutledge seems to make, which is this:
If the content is valuable people should pay to read it. This is a very common misconception. First off, it utterly conflates 'value' with 'money.' Many things that have value have non-monetary value. Second, it assumes that if something does not have a pricetag, it is worthless. This is also obviously incorrect.

More importantly, however, it misses the point: while I fully agree that advertisers probably do not have the interests of cont…

Three Digit PE! / How much bigger can Facebook get?

Apparently, Facebook's IPO will put it in the fabled faery lands of companies with three digit P/E ratios. Specifically, it looks like Facebook may well have a P/E of 100 when it goes public. For reference, Apple's P/E is currently 13.6 and Google's is 18.55. If Apple's P/E was 100, it's market cap would roughly be 3.8 TRILLION dollars, and similarly, Google would be valued at 1.07T. Granted, P/Es that high are not unheard of, but, typically, they are very big when a company is still very early in its growth curve, or, on the way down, when earnings are particularly low but there is still fundamental underlying value to the company. For instance, EA currently has a P/E of ~66. This honestly is probably not great for EA, and, in fact, earnings are way, way down for the gaming industry as a whole right now, apparently to the tune of 25% March 2011 v. March 2012, and 32% April 2011 to April 2012.

So, no matter how you look at it, Facebook's valuation is really, r…

Better Math on Online v. TV / Forgive Me, for I am Mortal

In an earlier post, I did a very rough comparison of the economics of television v. online users. I committed a pretty big mathematical blunder, and, also, found some better data. So let me correct myself.

Apparently, Pinterest users spend about 15 hours a year using the service, which would give a per-hour valuation of ~$1. This would value Mad Men at $42M, using the same math I did in the previous post. However, if you just calculated that Mad Men viewers have the same value as Pinterest users, instead of doing my elaborate (and probably useless) per-user-hour-valuation, that number is $57.5M

It is important to note that these are really from-the-hip estimates. In fact, the mistake I made in the previous post actually demonstrates quite well the problem with doing this sort of comparison: in order to get the value of 37¢ an hour, I just divided user value (16.50) by 50% of the hours spent on Facebook per year (48)†. The fallacy here is assuming that the value is unrelated to the a…

Orwell's Armchair

A former Professor of Mine, Derek Bambauer, has recently written a very interesting article on on-line censorship. You can read it here. Abstract reproduced below: America has begun to censor the Internet. Defying conventional scholarly wisdom that Supreme Court precedent bars Internet censorship, federal and state governments are increasingly using indirect methods to engage in “soft” blocking of on-line material. This Article assesses these methods and makes a controversial claim: hard censorship, such as the PROTECT IP Act, is normatively preferable to indirect restrictions. It introduces a taxonomy of five censorship strategies: direct control, deputizing intermediaries, payment, pretext, and persuasion. It next makes three core claims. First, only one strategy - deputizing intermediaries - is limited significantly by current law. Government retains considerable freedom of action to employ the other methods, and has begun to do so. Second, the Article employs a process-based meth…

Last One on Apple Passwords... For Now

In previous posts, I have complained, at length, about Apple's new password policy.

This weekend, the first time I wanted to use my new Apple password, after nine attempts, I discovered I could not remember it. Then I went back to my security questions, and, once again, on my first attempt, I got one wrong.

I sincerely wonder if the Steve would have allowed a password policy that is such an infuriatingly poor user experience to have been pushed to production.

"Cyber" Attacks on America's Pipelines

Disclaimer: I am not a security expert. However, this guy is, and he posted that story just about a week before this one hit the net-waves.

Summary: DHS has issued a statement saying that what they suspect was a single entity made a bunch of so-called 'spear-phishing' attacks at companies that control oil pipelines. It is being played up by all the standard press, including that media outlet, as a reason we should pump more money into 'cybersecurity.' This is false. Here's why.

1. This was not a "cyber" attack: it may have been perpetrated with email, but it is essentially fraud. It relies on weaknesses in the humans at these organizations, in an effort to get their passwords, thus giving the antagonists access to the corporate networks. 'Phishing' -- the type of attack employed -- is explained aptly by Wikipedia. Please note the distinction between trying to get humans to trip up and give you their passwords vs. engineering your way into the…