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2009 (old posts, page 8)

Lighthouses and regulation

A while back I came across the guide to the Foreign Service Office Selection Program. The sample questions are fun to try at home and one in particular caught my eye:

All of the following are examples of United States products that would typically fail to be produced to optimal output without government intervention EXCEPT:

A. national defense products B. light provided by lighthouses C. new automobiles D. new highways

The correct answer is C, which makes sense when you look at the competition in that marketplace. (How this question applies to GM/Chrysler is perhaps a slightly different matter these days...)

The interesting part for me was the lighthouses. Who knew.

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Regulation and construction quality

It's interesting to look at the impact of regulation and supply and demand on the construction industry. (As with most posts on these topics, this is mostly speculation which would need to be researched/measured to be confirmed but the conjectures are testable.)

As a simple example, one can observe that houses built more than a hundred years ago are still standing strong while those built as recently as the 90s are being torn down and replaced with higher quality construction. Of course this is a generalization and there are clearly exceptions at both ends, but what if we take a look at the factors in the marketplace?

Houses built a hundred years ago in the US were constructed in a time of zero regulation and yet many are still standing. Perhaps the quality of materials played a role here; you got more wood in your 2x4s back then (see 1920s construction for an example). Or maybe it was the manual effort involved; hand-cut blocks and studs, plaster walls and so on. Of course it's hard to count those that have already fallen down or been razed  so there is a bit of survivorship bias at work here.

The sudden surge in demand for houses after World War II (think G. I. Bill) presumably led to a general decrease in construction quality as it was much easier to make money slapping together cheap houses. Government regulation presumably followed which brought some balance back into the market, likely right around the time that the supply and demand were beginning to balance themselves once again.

What about the individual contractor, carpenter or plasterer? Could the introduction of powertools have a more significant impact than any of these other factors? There's no doubt that such modernization has dramatically increased the efficiency of construction. However, given the differences between hours to evenly plaster a wall or ceiling compared to the minutes needed with some sheetrock and a portable screwdriver, what would we expect to see happy to fit and finish quality?

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Oakleys China-bound

Starting in mid January of next year, Amy and I are planning to be in Beijing, China for about five months. To make that happen there is much to be done in the next six weeks: from visas to travel plans and accommodation, also planning work projects and picking the right clothes, all while figuring out what to do with cars and other commitments here and how to spend our time while we're there.

Exciting times ahead!

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Day after Thanksgiving in Seattle

Although the Macy's day-after-Thanksgiving parade was a little early for my tastes this particular Friday morning, the weather was so fine that I had to make to trip into Seattle for some photos, to catch the tree lighting and star illumination and for dinner and a movie.

I didn't really have a particular theme in mind when I got off the bus so I just starting taking some shots with my 30mm prime. The black and white was an afterthought in post-processing.

Seattle Greyhound bus station

Seattle United States Courthouse

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The evening sun over Elliot Bay really made this one stand out.

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Full set on Flickr

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Thankful

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite time of year. It's an opportunity to slow down for a moment, reflect on how good things really are, and look forward to the times ahead.

Since I seem to think in bulleted lists these days, here are some of the things I'm grateful for:

  • A loving, caring, kind and thoughtful wife. I expect to be thankful for this one for a very long time to come.
  • Supportive family. With so many having made special trips this year to join us in Port Townsend, I'm reminded how important this is. Particularly also for my parents who also hosted a lovely reception for us in England. And of course the new set of people who I now also get to call family and their welcoming.
  • Friends. Life is much more fun with company and I'm reminded of the hospitality extended over the years to a young foreigner in a new city, especially over the holidays.
  • Employment. It may not always be easy but I enjoy what I do and know that it's not been an easy year employment-wise for many.
Today itself has been been rather great as well, including many of my favorite things.
  • Nespresso. Coffee continues to be a vital enabler.
  • Whole Foods. Holding the title of Mayor on Foursquare for the local store may be taking it a bit far but they just have so many tasty things.
  • Turkey, football and one of those entirely overwhelming, immensely satisfying nap after a delicious meal.
  • Feel good, family movies on TV.
Life is good.
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Junk mail and phone books

What if your customers tell you they are liking what you do but give you no insight into whether they actually like what you're trying to accomplish.

For example, I assume there is some non-zero part of the population that derives real value from 'junk mail' (the paper kind) and phone books that are still delivered to houses across the nation by transforming them into great fire starters and fuel for indoor fires.

On surveying that audience, you'd likely hear glowing praise for the practice and encouragement for more. Survey everyone else and they'll likely toss your form of neatly arranged 'on a scale of one to five' questions into the nearest recycle bin.

A more sensible approach (which I'm sure is common practice) would be to measure conversions and really see how effective direct mail campaigns are. I question how easy that would be to do with a phonebook however, so perhaps the annual yellow pages still has a few years of opportunity left yet.