Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do they have basic programming on the Wonderlic?

Note to your new combine results website is awful.  A basic case of putting style over substance.  Check it out for yourself, and you'll quickly know what the problem is. 

In years past the results for each event and position were listed simply and cleanly.  Apparently that format was a little too good at fulfilling its basic purpose of transmitting numerical information in a convenient format.  This year, we get a much bulkier interface which will only list 5-6 players at a time.  Instead of neat tables which transmit a few dozen scores per screen, we get over sized, unnecessary bar graphs comparing scores.  And the bars aren't even proportional or helpful.  Quick tip: graphics are most helpful when they make complex information easy to read and compare.  In this case, I know that 15<25<35.  No bulky bar graphs are needed.

What's worse than this is the interface for sorting through drills and positions.  There is a button for each drill, and as you might imagine you click the button to see the results.  There are also buttons for each position grouping.  However, when you click on a group button is blocks out that group, leaving all the other un-clicked groups for comparison.   So on the same console we have one system where pushing a button brings up data and another where pushing a button in the same way hides data.  Finally, instead of simply sorting as the buttons are clicked, the user must click an "update" button to see the desired groupings (after figuring out the backassward button system).  This is a pointless step.  We aren't comparing mutual funds here, it should be able to update after being clicked. 

For example, in order to see the bench press results for offensive lineman only, you click the bench press button, then you must click every other position group in order to hide them.  After that, you must scroll up and down, making it harder to see and compare the whole group.  So instead of pushing 2 buttons and seeing one chart, you press 10 buttons and get to see only a fraction of the group. Whoever approved this system ought to be reprimanded.  

Fix your system,  In the future, when in doubt, keep things simple. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Showing our work

We are a full service blog, and as such we strive to please our audience.  Someone asked for elaboration on my last post, which dealt with a Kaiser poll of perceptions about the health care law which was passed last year.  I took to task several supposed explanations from people who said the law had already negatively effected them, but didn't pay any attention to the claims of those who say that the law has had a positive effect on their lives.   So now I'll go through those explanations provided and examine which explanations can be tied to the implementation of the law and which might simply be wishful or partisan in nature.

1) “I’m not worried about being bumped off [down] the road because of some major illness…And as I get older toward qualifying for Medicare, I am more comfortable because the prescription drugs will be less.”

In this case, its possible that these are anticipated benefits, not actual benefits from the implementation of the law.  Several of the protections about pre-existing conditions and high risk pools have been rolled out, but not all.  Certainly the part of about anticipated Medicare costs don't yet apply, given that this person is apparently not yet on Medicare.  However, as of September 2010 the law prohibits insurers from dropping people when they get sick (a common practice before the law), so in a sense this is at least partially correct: the insured need not worry about "bumped off" due to illness.  Overall you might give this one partial credit.

2) “My son, 23, works two jobs that do not have health insurance, and he can stay under my health insurance.”

This is directly tied to the implementation of the law.  As of September 2010, adult dependents up to age 26 can remain on their parents health insurance if they so desire.

3) “My husband fell into the doughnut hole and received $250.”

Again, directly related to the implementation of the law.  The "donut hole" refers to a coverage gap which misses certain individuals who participate in Medicare Part D.  As a result of the health care law, these individuals all received a check to help them cover the costs of prescription drugs.

4) “If we need to purchase new health care coverage, nobody can turn us down.”

Difficult to classify this one.  Some of the provisions against denial for preexisting conditions have gone into effect, but not all of them.  The quote could imply that these people might not have coverage at all.  So its hard to say that this law has directly effected them yet or if these are anticipated benefits.

5) “We have children with disabilities. The new reform law has really helped us. Since we have children with preexisting conditions, we get coverage."

This is true.  As of September 2010, the law requires that insurers provide coverage for children up to 19 whether or not they have preexisting conditions.   There are also temporary high risk pools which have been started, so its possible that insurance for sick individuals could be purchased through these pools.

6) “I got health coverage when I needed it.”

Hard to classify without more details.  Certainly its possible that this person made use of the high risk pools or falls under one of the other covered categories, but its also possible that the implementation of the law had no effect in this case.  

7) “It has allowed my husband to have all his medical treatments for his illness.”

Again, hard to classify.  Its possible that the implementation of the law had no relation to this case, or its possible that treatment was received as a result of the provisions.  As of September 2010, there is no longer a lifetime cost cap on essential health care, so its possible that this individual received more care than they would have under the old system.  Its also possible that this person was able to keep their insurance instead of being bumped off when they got sick, which would be a direct result of the law.  Without more details, its hard to say if this case was related to the law or not.

8) “It makes our health insurance more inexpensive.”

This could be anticipated benefits down the road, as most of the subsidies for purchasing health insurance have not yet kicked in.  It could also be wishful thinking about the effects of the law on health care costs overall.

So in the cases of the 14% who say the law has personally benefited them, we get some examples which can be shown as being a direct result of the law's implementation and some examples which are harder to classify.  In these latter cases its possible that people are merely expressing a partisan or uninformed viewpoint in support of the law without actually feeling its effects, but without more details its impossible to classify their claims "true" or "false" as related to the law in question.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Health and the Body Politic

There is an interesting and, in my opinion, well done poll out from the Kaiser group on current perceptions about the Health Care Reform law.  The big headline has been that only 52% of respondents knew that the law was still "the law of the land", while 22% said that the law had already been repealed for good and the other 24% were unsure about the answer.

Its very tempting to write off that 48% as ignorant of the facts, but I think in fairness we must admit that there is a potential source of confusion: the current court challenges which have ruled against the law.  While its true that more cases have been decided in favor of the law than against it, the fact is that in at least 2 cases the law has been "struck down" by judges.  Even though these cases are not final and implementation of the law has not been stopped, I could see where some respondents could legitimately be confused about the status of the law, especially given the overwhelming news coverage of the successful challenges compared to the meager coverage of the unsuccessful challenges.  If I had to guess, I would say that few of these respondents are confused about the issue as a result of the legal challenges, but we must allow the for that possibility. 

There are some other interesting, though not necessarily new or surprising, findings in the study.  A majority want the law either upheld or expanded, and almost all the provisions of the law, with the exception of the individual mandate, are popular across all groups, even among those who want the law repealed.

What was new and interesting to me in this poll was a question about whether or not the respondent had been personally helped or hurt by the law.  In both cases the percentage saying the law had affected them was small.  A mere 14% of respondents said the law had effected them in a positive way, while 17% reported negative effects.  This seems about right, given that so few of the major provisions of the law have been implemented.  What was interesting, however, was the reasons people gave for saying the law had negatively effected them or their families.  There is both a statistical breakdown and open ended answers provided, and after looking at them my conclusion is that most who reported in the negative are either unaware of the provisions of the law or merely answered in the negative because they don't like the law in general, not because it has actually affected them.  Some examples from the negative column, with off the cuff analysis:

1a) “My health insurance doubled since the health care law, and I pay for my own because I run my own business.”
1b) “My personal health insurance went up, and I am sure it will continue. I am afraid it is going to break the country economically.”
1c) “My mother had to pay more money for medication.” 

This was by far the biggest complaint.  Among the 17% who reported personally feeling negative effects from the law, 48% complained of rising costs.  To me, this seems like a basic case of post hoc, ergo prompter hoc.  The law was passed, costs went up, therefore the law caused costs to go up.  Given that most of the law hasn't yet been implemented I have trouble believing that any costs increases in the last year are soley, or even mostly, a result of the law.  In fact, health care costs were already rising far faster than inflation before the law, and I see no reason to believe that this pattern didn't hold true for the last year.  Indeed, if we could jump in a time machine and stop the law from being passed, I wager that there would still have been large cost increases over the past year.

2)“Financially the middle class will not be able to afford the insurance.” 

I find this odd for 2 reasons.  First, the law provides fairly generous subsidies for middle income families who need to purchase open market insurance.  And second, this sounds like a theoretical response, not one which points out how they personally have been negatively effected.  Perhaps they personally have seen their costs rise, in which case refer to example 1.  But otherwise this response is out of place.

3)“It is going to cost the taxpayers more money. It was passed…and people didn’t get a chance to read it.” 

Again, unrelated to personal negative effects already felt from the law.  This is teabagger whining.

4) “Because of our income, we are being strangled with paying for everyone else. Middle America will not exist under these conditions."

More pissing and moaning from teabaggers.  I wonder if these people understand the concept of insurance, or the fact that everyone already pays for those who can't afford, don't qualify, or simply chose not to purchase insurance.  The emergency room ain't free, its a hidden cost we all pay for.  And again, this doesn't show how the law has personally affected you, since the tax provisions in the law have not yet been implemented.

5) “I don’t like someone telling me I have to do this.”

Again, wingnut whining which is unrelated to the question at hand.  Whatever your opinion on the Individual Mandate, it hasn't yet been activated.  Therefore, it can't have effected you yet.

6) “Whenever the government controls anything, people get affected negatively. Government should stay out of it and not have control over it.”

Rinse and repeat.  This doesn't show how you have been negatively affected.  This is just short sighted political ranting.

However, this is all relatively minor stuff.  Overall, the results of this poll give me... hope?  I guess we will see.  If nothing else, I applaud the researchers for delving into some interesting questions.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bonds not yet broken

This is somewhat promising.  The parties have agreed to work with a counselor. A bit disappointing that they missed the chance to reconcile over Valentine's Day, but better late than never.

Even more so, they apparently have agreed to take a little trip, just the two of them.  Get away from the kids for a week, just take some time for them. 

Hopefully this partnership can be salvaged.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Double Secret Liquidation

Interesting news from the world of wine economics, one of our niche areas of interest on this blog (actually the intersection of 2 niche areas).  I reported a while ago about a strange trend, how suddenly every organization was contacting me with attempts to sell discounted batches of wine in bulk.  From the Napa Valley Register comes this story about a related movement by high priced wineries towards using "flash" sites to offload their extra product seemingly under the radar (in this case, "flash" refers not to the programming language necessarily but the short term nature of the offered sales).

I'm familiar with one of these sites, Wine Woot, which I check daily but have only ever purchased from on one occasion (ironically not for wine but for a wine related poster).  Apparently there is a stigma in the minds of wine producers against offloading their wares to discount chains like Costco or Trader Joe's.  The fear is that these discount shipments will be spotted by wine club members and others who are used to paying higher prices for these products, and thus drive down their brand value.  So what sites like Wine Woot allow them to do is sneak a bunch of product out a metaphorical back door in order to try and save both face and recoup the fixed costs of production. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Review: All the Devils are Here

I just finished reading All the Devils are Here, by Bethany McClean and Joe Nocera, one of the books which tries to tell the story of the financial collapse of 2008  (don't mind the 3.5 star rating, that's entirely driven by people complaining about the Kindle price.  Idiots).  Its a good book, but ultimately frustrating, because it doesn't really point to any concrete answers.  The authors admit this much, which is both honest and refreshing in a way.  Many books of this nature take on an issue and then try to tack on some proposed solutions at the end, regardless of their feasibility. 

The thing that struck me the most about this book is really how incomprehensible this all is to even an informed or interested reader.  I consider myself a person of decent intelligence with some grasp on finance and economics, but most of the book was still a struggle to follow.  This despite the efforts the authors make to lay things out as simply as possible.  My ego takes some solace in the fact that even the finance professionals who did all this stuff often had no clue about what was going on.  Of course, that feeling is more than offset by the anger that these people had no clue what was going on!

Even if you get past step 1, understanding the various mechanism and financial actions in play, the dollar amounts are simply staggering.  It amazing to think that there is so much money changing hands every single day in the financial markets.  Commercial banks, consumer banks, investment banks, mortgage originators, mortgage backers, hedge funds, trading houses, insurance companies: all moving trillions of dollars in the blink of an eye.

Despite the complexity, the take away from the book is pretty simple: greed and arrogance.  That's what caused and drove the crash.  Greed caused people to chase unrealistic riches, often times in unethical or stupid ways.  Arrogance allowed them to believe that the good times would never end, despite the fact that the good times always end.  I'm not sure what the answer is, and even if I did I'd be very pessimistic that the answer would be implemented and enforced properly.  That's probably the worst thing about this: this history in this book will be repeated.  The details will change but like any lazy sequel the underlying story will be the same.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Leftovers

I take back my melancholy sentiment in my previous post.  I love football and I love the Super Bowl.  Its easy to love a game as entertaining as that one.  

Quick Super Bowl commercial analysis:

Tiny Darth Vader Passat isn't nearly as cute in 30 second format.

Eminem's "This is Detroit" ad was confusing but slick, but what really, really hurt it in my mind was his prior ad where a claymation Eminem was shilling for canned Ice Tea and pretended to be hardcore about it.  Kinda kills the power of the "Detroit" ad.

Groupon's "Tibet" ad was tasteless and offensive, but maybe that's what they were going for.  This could blow up for them in a good way or a bad way.  And hey, maybe its an attempt to hold up a mirror to our culture and its whishy washy sentiments.  Today there are plenty of boycott calls on Groupon, but we'll see if they last until the next great deal comes along.

Budweiser and Bud Light need to stop.  We get it, at this point its just a prestige thing to have 8 different commercials during the broadcast, even though you only have ideas for 1 or 2 at the most.  The best one I can remember was the "product placement" one. 

Chevy's "Lassie" commercial was funny. 

All the movie commercials: meh to very meh.  Except for "Cowboys & Aliens".  Its got cowboys, aliens, Olivia Wilde, James Bond and Indiana Jones in it.  You just sold a ticket.

Goodbye football.  Goodbye NFL.  Go take some time for yourself, straighten out your demons, and come back to us real soon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Buzzkill

Today is the Super Bowl.  Perhaps the last one for 2 or more years.  Maybe my last in New York.   Possibly the last one ever (hey, you never know).

I think I'm staring to feel about the Super Bowl the way Luther felt about the Church.  Really this applies to all of sports in general, but I think the Super Bowl is the best, all-encompassing example of this phenomenon.   I'm not the first to say it, but the game has become weighed down with a double thick layer of pomp and crass commercialism.  I appreciate some of this, since this is a big cultural event.  Its only natural that we should try to impart onto in a certain gravity greater than that of a mere football game, that we should try to "make sacred" this seemingly ordinary yet clearly important event.  Its a holiday, a feast, a celebration, and one which I love and embrace with gusto.

Sadly, every year our celebration gets weighed down a little bit more with the superfluous and distracting trappings of our age.  Take this example:  According to TV guide, the Super Bowl is slotted for 4 hours.  The official pregame show on Fox is slotted for... 4 hours.  And the only reason they even out is that 30 minutes of pregame activity prior to kickoff has been added to the game broadcast in the listings.  If additional comment is necessary then you probably don't see the problem.

Most of this damage was done long ago.  The Simpsons had jokes about this 20 years ago (which I can remember watching for the first time.  Damn, I'm old).  But even now there are incremental incursions into the game itself.  More commercial time, more tie ins, more pregame shows, more hype.  More of everything, except the thing I love: the actual game.   That's set in stone.  60 minutes, 100 yards, winner take all.

I'm here for the game.  I can appreciate some of the commercials and such, to a point, since many are creative, but even that has become weighed down by committee thinking and lowest common denominator crassness.  But most of the rest can go and I would be happier for it.  And that goes for coverage of all sports nowadays. 

There is a good article in The Awl this week about this, in which the writer is privileged to see long lost footage of Super Bowl I and compares the experience to the modern sporting event.  Definitely worth a read and some reflection, even if the post itself is a bit overwritten and tries a bit too hard to be intellectual.  Its only football, after all.

I don't know what the answer is, or even if there is an answer.  I have no illusions about nailing some pamphlet of theses to the doors of ESPN and starting a sporting reformation.  Nor would I give up the game I love, despite its many flaws.  Perhaps my sustaining hope should be that the game itself has reached a saturation point, and that there just aren't any more empty boughs on the tree on which to hang ornamentation.

More than anything, though, I hope its a good game, and I hope its not our last.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Collective Drama

{Scene: We open on the well appointed office of a successful business owner.  The owner is sitting at his large, elaborate desk in a very nice chair.  His employee enters and takes a seat in front of him}

Employee: "Hi boss, you wanted to meet with me?"

Boss: "Yes, sit down.  Its time to go over your contract for the next year"

Employee: "Well boss, I think we had a pretty good year.  The business seems to be doing well, and this job give me a lot of satisfaction.  I'd be happy to re-up my current contract, if that's alright with you"

Boss: "Hold it there, son.  I've got big plans!  We're expanding!  We need to up production!"

Employee: "Wow, really?  I mean, we are kinda at maximum production as it is, but I suppose we could add some extra workers to increase output."

Boss: "Extra workers?  We aren't that flush.  Maybe a temp for some light filing work on Fridays, but otherwise its all on you.  I need you to up your workload from 8 hours a day to 9!  Its the only way!"

Employee: "Well, honestly boss, that would be tougher to handle.  This job is pretty demanding, and I worry that quality could slip.  But I suppose I could try, for the good of the business.  I would get overtime pay for my efforts, right?"

Boss: "Actually, I'm cutting your salary."

Employee: "WHAT! Why?  I thought things were going well."

Boss: "Sorry, but it can't be helped.  We need to stay competitive.  I need you to work longer hours for less money, or else we're in trouble."

Employee: "My goodness!  I thought we were doing so well.  Are things really that bad?  Is the company in trouble?  Are we really losing money?"

Boss: "Heavens no!  Things have never been better.  Revenues grow every year, and we are swimming in profits.  This was our best year yet!  And every year the value of the company goes up, and my net worth with it."

Employee: (puzzled) "Oh... well then you must be worried about the economy"

Boss: "Hardly.  We weathered the worst recession in generations with barely a hiccup.  In fact, we've weathered every downturn, including the Great Depression, and we've never been stronger.  We are largely recession proof."

Employee: (even more puzzled) "Um... ok.  Well then why?  Are we worried about competitors?"

Boss: "No, not really.  We don't really have any.  Oh sure, there's some other similar companies, but they tend to operate mostly at other times of the year, and there's enough of the pie to go around.  Besides, we smash them in both popularity and revenues.  We're cock of the walk!"

Employee: (just really puzzled)

Boss: "We also have a special law from Congress which helps us edge out any competition before it starts.  And if any fool is dumb enough to actually try and compete directly, we just crush them like bugs.  They all end up going bust and losing their shirts.  In fact, only one guy ever posed a real threat to us, and so I did what anyone would do: brought him in and made him a partner!  Now we're both richer than ever!"

Employee: "Well, boss, I still don't get why you want to change things.  Are you worried about foreign competitors?"

Boss: "HA!  We are the only business like this in the world!  Oh sure, they have similar things in a few other nations, but they are all small potatoes.  No, that's too generous.  They are one half of one tiny potato.  And even with that, we are more popular in those countries than their native businesses!"

Employee: "I just don't get it.  Are you worried about capital costs?  I mean, we did do all those big projects in recent years.  Do we have a cash flow problem?"

Boss: "Not at all.  Hell, we duped a lot of local cities to chip in and pay for a good chunk of those projects, and now they are paying off nicely. The bucks are rolling in, and we are making more money than ever!"

Employee: (frantic): "Customers!  You're worried that we'll lose customers!  That's it!... right?"

Boss: "Not in the slightest.  Every year we generate more and more interest.  Every year we raise prices, and those suckers still shell out their hard earned bucks for our product.  They can't help themselves, they love it so much.  Its like one step above dealing drugs, and its totally legal!"

Employee: "Well then why?  Why must you make me work more and pay me less at the same time?"

Boss: "Well, um... competitiveness.  We need to stay competitive!  And after all, I'm the owner.  Don't I deserve some profit for my hard work?"

Employee: "Well yes, of course, but honestly I'm having trouble believing all this.  Would you mind showing me the books? Maybe that would help me understand?"

Boss: (indignant): "What! Never!  Those books are mine, and I can't show them to you!"
Boss:  "Now are you going to sign my new contract, or not?"

Employee: "Well I suppose I have no choice.  I mean, if I didn't, you would just replace me with some other worker who has my skill set.'

Boss: (slightly flustered) "Well, um... sure.  That's it".

Employee: "Well wouldn't you do that?"

Boss: "Well I suppose... in theory.  But there aren't actually any other workers with your skills.  So I'd probably have to shut things down entirely.  Or maybe I could hire some less skilled workers to replace you, but my customers would be unhappy.  Either way I'd probably lose a ton of money and customer loyalty."

Employee: "Oh.  So without me you're basically screwed?"

Boss "Well, yes. I mean, it would be very bad for business."

Employee "And with me, as a result of my skills and efforts, you make more money than God?"

Boss: "Well I mean... yes. But then again, God doesn't have to pay alimony.  So its not really a fair comparison".

Employee: "I sympathize.  But really, do I at least get something out of this?  More health benefits?  More pension? Some equity in the company?"

Boss: " No, not really.  Its just more work for less pay.  Now hurry up and sign or I'll fire you!"

Employee: "Sorry sir.  I like working here, but I just don't see how this is a fair deal for me.  We have a great thing going.  I'd just like to keep things the way they are." 

Boss: "What!  How can you be such a greedy bastard!  Get out!!!!  And don't come back until you realize how lucky you are to slave away to make me even richer!"


Badvertising: Dark Side of the Passat

This commercial has everything good: Star Wars, dogs, ladies dutifully making sammiches, and kids ignoring their loving families in order to be both cute and obnoixous.

Except Darth Vader never turned on a car!  He uses his force power to kill things.  Nerd fail!