Friday, February 8, 2013

Quote of the Week (Outsourcing edition)

My efforts to slowly work down my backlog of drafts in the queue continues with your Quote of the Week. Yes, this article is a few weeks old, but that doesn't make it any more awesome. Kudos to this guy, slow claps all around.


"A security audit of a US critical infrastructure company last year revealed that its star developer had outsourced his own job to a Chinese subcontractor and was spending all his work time playing around on the internet. The firm's telecommunications supplier Verizon was called in after the company set up a basic VPN system with two-factor authentication so staff could work at home. The VPN traffic logs showed a regular series of logins to the company's main server from Shenyang, China, using the credentials of the firm's top programmer, 'Bob'... 

After getting permission to study Bob's computer habits, Verizon investigators found that he had hired a software consultancy in Shenyang to do his programming work for him, and had FedExed them his two-factor authentication token so they could log into his account. He was paying them a fifth of his six-figure salary to do the work and spent the rest of his time on other activities."
                                                          - Iain Thompson, The Register

That is awesome. I can't exactly blame the company for letting Bob go, especially since he exposed the fact that he was apparently being overpaid by a factor of five. But if a company can outsource a job to China, why can't the employee do it himself? That's the kind of creativity this country needs! Bravo, Bob.

 [The Register]

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The new music world

If you're sensing a bit of a theme here today, there's a reason for that—the majority of my backlog of posts consisted of updates to previous topics that I hadn't revisited in a while. In this post, I'm going to write an update on the ever-changing music industry, to discuss some recent developments. From the New York Times,
A decade after Apple revolutionized the music world with its iTunes store, the music industry is undergoing another, even more radical, digital transformation as listeners begin to move from CDs and downloads to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. 
As purveyors of legally licensed music, they have been largely welcomed by an industry still buffeted by piracy. But as the companies behind these digital services swell into multibillion-dollar enterprises, the relative trickle of money that has made its way to artists is causing anxiety at every level of the business. 
Late last year, Zoe Keating, an independent musician from Northern California, provided an unusually detailed case in point. In voluminous spreadsheets posted to her Tumblr blog, she revealed the royalties she gets from various services, down to the ten-thousandth of a cent. 
Even for an under-the-radar artist like Ms. Keating, who describes her style as “avant cello,” the numbers painted a stark picture of what it is like to be a working musician these days. After her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play.
In general, it's a little bit hard to know whether to consider this a good thing or a bad thing, for the artists or the consumers. What's certainly clear is that we're moving toward a model where recorded music is little more than an advertisement for the artists, who will make the majority (if not all) of their money from live performances and touring.

Realistically, this is how the music industry has always effectively worked, with a select few exceptions. Recall this graphic, from my previous blog post about the Dave Matthews Band, which has likely set the model for the future of the music industry:

I certainly sympathize with those artists who are unable to make enough from live performances to support themselves, but I also find it unlikely that those artists would realistically be able to sell enough physical music to support themselves, either, under any economic arrangement or business model.

I generally assume that consumers of music have only a set amount of disposable income available to spend on their music, and that performers should generally want them to spend as much of that money as possible on the thing that nets them the greatest share of the money—that thing, always, has been live performances, and therefore the less money spent by consumers on physical music, the better. Maybe that's the wrong assumption to make, and consumers really will destroy the music industry with their choices, but I have serious trouble decrying the decline of the record label model. It was never a good deal for the artists, regardless of what some of them may think.

[New York Times]
(h/t Marginal Revolution)

FIFA and Qatar update

Here's another update on a topic that I haven't discussed here in a while—FIFA embarrassing itself. If it seemed a little weird to anybody that Qatar was announced as the host nation for the 2022 World Cup, then... oh, let's be serious here, we all knew what was going on already, didn't we?
FIFA vice-president Michel Platini has defended his decision to vote for Qatar as 2022 World Cup host after a magazine in his native France alleged collusion among state and football leaders. 
"I reserve the right to sue anyone who questions my integrity in this vote," Platini, who is president of European governing body UEFA, said in a statement on Tuesday. 
Platini responded after France Football magazine published a 15-page cover story article titled Le Qatargate examining the Qatar World Cup project. 
The magazine detailed a November 2010 dinner in Paris at then-president Nicolas Sarkozy's official residence, attended by Platini and Qatar's crown prince, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. 
There, Sarkozy allegedly pressured Platini for political reasons to switch allegiance from the United States bid to Qatar in the FIFA vote nine days later, France Football suggested.
Platini is steadfast in his denials, but of course he is. Sarkozy, for his part, is currently under investigation in France for various violations (including illegal campaign financing), so it's clear that this whole situation is just one giant mess. Good times, go USA.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

Cheers to a marathon legend

A while back, I wrote about marathon runner Fauja Singh, who set a world record in 2011 by becoming the oldest man (and first centenarian) to complete a marathon. Now, it seems that the miles have taken their toll on our old friend, and he's finally hanging them up.
Say goodbye to our very old friend Fauja Singh, the 101-year-old marathon man dubbed the “Turbaned Tornado” who gave us 12 years of incredibly slow but consistent inspiration. He’s finally admitted that age has caught up to him and he will retire from competitive running after the Hong Kong Marathon on February 24th. 
This doesn’t mean he’s going to stop running, though. Oh no. Far from it. Says Singh: “Running is my life. I will keep running to inspire the masses. I will keep running for at least four hours daily after that.”
Man, good for him. As I said when I first wrote about Singh, I'll be happy to make it to age 101, let alone be running marathons at that age. Here's one last shout out to a distance running legend.

[NBC Sports]

Colleges suing students?

Wow, alright, I am drowning in a pile of unfinished blog drafts over here. I have a total of 14 unfinished posts  in my queue just from the last week, so I'm just gonna go ahead and post a few of them, rapid-fire style, just to get some of this stuff out there. You might get a little less of my ranting and raving in these posts than you'd usually expect, but maybe that's a good thing. And hey, it's better than another link dump, right?

First up, I'll consider this post to be an update on the burgeoning student loan crisis about which I've written numerous times. Per Bloomberg,
Needy U.S. borrowers are defaulting on almost $1 billion in federal student loans earmarked for the poor, leaving schools such as Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania with little choice except to sue their graduates. 
The record defaults on federal Perkins loans may jeopardize the prospects of current students since they are part of a revolving fund that colleges give to students who show extraordinary financial hardship. 
Yale, Penn and George Washington University have all sued former students over nonpayment, court records show. While no one tracks the number of lawsuits, students defaulted on $964 million in Perkins loans in the year ended June 2011, 20 percent more than five years earlier, government data show. Unlike most student loans -- distributed and collected by the federal government -- Perkins loans are administered by colleges, which use repayment money to lend to other poor students. 
The increase in the amount of defaulted loans among poor students comes as President Barack Obama says he wants to expand access to college for working-class families and increase funding for the Perkins program. Under his proposal, the pot for Perkins loans would increase to $8.5 billion from about $1 billion. The Education Department would service the loans instead of colleges.
Oh, this is gonna be fun... leave it to Yale, right? As is mentioned later in the article, student loan debt has soared in the last several years (total debt outstanding now exceeds $1 trillion, more than our nation's aggregate credit card debt), as tuition costs have gone nowhere but up in a world flush with government-guaranteed debt.

As Karl Denninger writes (okay, rants),
Let's cut the crap -- colleges market themselves to young men and women on the premise that their educational services will provide you a means to get a better job than you would otherwise obtain.  That's the entire purpose of a career-focused education and the only justification for the outrageous tuition charges they assess. 
Well, as it turns out if you fail to benefit from the alleged "education" that these people sold you, and in the process you borrowed money using Perkins loans, the college is very likely to come after you, including in court! 
Oh, and lest you think they'll just sue to the principal and accrued interest, nope. 
As I've pointed out to a number of High Schoolers contemplating going to college and taking out loans, there are statutory penalties that apply if you default.  In the case of Perkins loans these amount to an additional 30% of the principal, increasing to 40% on a second collection attempt and another 40% on top of that if they sue. 
That basically doubles the amount you owe. 
Of course colleges don't talk about this before you matriculate.  After all, "education" as offered in these edifices is only partial, and the representations, both expressed and implied are many -- but the warranties few.
Yikes. The implications of the student loan crisis could well be far-reaching, and it's a dynamic that we'll need to keep our eye on over the next few years, because a lot of these institutions are proving to be ruthless when it comes time to collect payment.

In the meantime, I'm hoping we see some guts from the students who are being sued—let's see a countersuit from the unemployed (or underemployed) college graduates against their colleges and universities, alleging fraudulent marketing and failure to deliver on the promises made. The suits may have little merit, but I think it's the lender's (and not the borrower's) responsibility to determine the creditworthiness of the borrower. If they made bad loans to bad students, they should be forced to pay the price. That's how loans are supposed to work, period.

[Market Ticker]

Friday, February 1, 2013

The definitive NFL fan base map (LOLJets)

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, there's no shortage of football-related stories bouncing around. Most of them are utter nonsense, but thanks to Deadspin and the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, we've actually got one pretty fun study to dive into. Yes, this is more sports nerdness, so jump on board.

Using data culled from Facebook, those good folks were able to put together (and then study) a map showing which NFL teams were the most popular (or most "liked") in each county throughout the nation. That enabled us to see, once and for all, what each team's "fan base" really looked like, geographically speaking. Courtesy of Deadspin, here is that map:

While there aren't too many big surprises there (although Alaska is downright bizarre, including a strange patch of Bills fans in the middle of the state), one thing did jump out at me pretty immediately—where the hell are the Jets fans? Oh, there they are... no, not that big green blob that includes southern New Jersey and Delaware—that's Eagles territory. No, it's that little sliver right on the western end of Long Island, comprising basically one county.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the Jets don't have any fans—it just means there isn't any one area in which they're the dominant team, since they're overwhelmed by Giants fans throughout the New York metropolitan area. In fact, the Jets still check in with the 14th-largest fan base according to the study, despite having no real sphere of dominance. Thanks to the HCSAC people, we have the full breakdown for you as well:

Looking closer at this list, it's pretty clear that winning matters, which shouldn't surprise us. The top 3 teams in terms of fan base also happen to be the top 3 teams in terms of historical Super Bowl appearances—the Cowboys and Steelers have 8, the Patriots have 7. And of the top 12 teams on that list, 9 of them have won multiple Super Bowl titles (only the Saints, Bears, and Eagles have not).

Finally, as the HCSAC folks point out, each team that has won a Super Bowl in the last 9 years currently has more than 1.5 million fans, placing them in the top quarter of the league—since both the 49ers and Ravens currently sit on the outside of that top quartile, it'll be interesting to see what kind of fan base jump they may get by winning this weekend.

All in all, the fan base map jives pretty well with our intuitions—the "New England" Patriots moniker is apt, since all of New England minus a small corner of Connecticut leans toward the Pats (they're also big in Canada, and in the U.K.); the Cowboys dominate a huge portion of the country; and Los Angeles, lacking a team, still seems largely to pull for the Raiders, perhaps pining for the olden days. And despite a brief period of dominance at the turn of the century, the Rams can't seem to secure a fan base, nor can the ever-stumbling Jacksonville Jaguars.

Also, the league's fan base continues to skew toward the northern and eastern parts of the country—I ran the numbers to figure out the total numbers of fans by division, and came up with the following:

The East and North divisions make up the top four, combining for more than 65% of the total Facebook fans. Granted, that's aided in large part by the geographical oddity of the Cowboys being in the "East" division, but even if you were to swap the Cowboys with, say, the Rams, you'd still be looking at a 56.2% edge in favor of the North and East versus the South and West. I think it's interesting that the breakdown is in many ways the opposite of what you might expect to see in college football, where the SEC dominates everything—it's possible, if not likely, that the NCAA is pulling share away from the NFL (and the poor Jaguars) in that region.

As one final note, there are some teams who are simply dominant (in terms of fan support) within their divisions—the Steelers boast 64.8% of the total AFC North fans, followed by the Saints with 60.7% of the NFC South, the Colts with 56.8% of the AFC South, and the Patriots with 52.9% of the AFC East. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Bills (6.9% of AFC East), Jaguars (9.0% of AFC South), Bengals (9.4% of AFC North), and Redskins (10% of NFC East).

But getting back to this weekend, in case you were wondering what the "fan base" breakdown looks like if you consider only the Super Bowl participants, we've got that for you, too. Once again from Deadspin:

Clearly, the nation is leaning heavily toward the 49ers, which is unsurprising given that they've got almost 30% more total Facebook fans than do the Ravens. I apparently should have split allegiances, given that my hometown of Boston is red and my current home state of Virginia is painted purple. Good prediction, in fact—I literally do not care who wins this weekend. Good talk. Enjoy the game.

[Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective]

Clip of the Week

I've got 4 or 5 posts that I'm hoping to publish today, but realistically I'll be happy with 2 or 3. We'll start with your Clip of the Week, because that's always good times.

There were a couple of oldie-but-goodie clips that popped back onto my radar this week, and they definitely gave the new clips a run for their money. There was this compilation of the top 10 luckiest golf shots (stick around for #1, it's a doozy), and also this strange collection of Japanese ballplayers doing the bat-flip after home runs, which is apparently a thing over there. Oddly mesmerizing.

But I'm still going to go with the new stuff this week. We had this awesome save by the Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen (yes, hockey is back, but I'm sure you already knew that), and also Jimmy Fallon and Brian Williams slow-jamming the debt ceiling (which was excellent).

But none of these clips held a candle to the awesomest little puppy in the world, a pitbull named Bandit. Little guy just wants to get in some treadmill work, help a brother out, right? I'm sure we can all relate to this pup's uphill battle. Keep up the good work, Bandit, you're this week's Clip of the Week.