Sunday, September 20, 2015

Where All the Drivers Are Above Average

I remember, back when I rented cars regularly, I would get enormous pressure from the rental agents to say that I was “completely satisfied.” I was pressured to give them fives on a one to five scale. They hinted, probably honestly, that their management penalized them if a customer gave them less than those ratings.

I hated it. I despise pressure to give complements. On top of which, what would I say when someone did an unexpectedly good job, or an extraordinary one? There was no space on the scale.

And then, it got worse. Firms like Uber fire drivers who get ratings less than 4.5 stars. Customers all know it, and drivers know what the customer ratings are, so if you want to do business with these firms, you are under enormous pressure to give five-star ratings.

Thanks to this, five stars is a C. There is no way to give A’s and B’s. Maybe the drivers were all born in Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Brief Look At Travel Sites

(As of May 3, 2015)

It seems that Google has bought ITA, which is now Google Flights, and Microsoft has bought a bunch of other travel sites, whch are now all Expedia.  The remaining player in the market is Priceline’s  Google will send you to a single airline site to book all of your flights, Microsoft’s Expedia acts as a travel agency, Kayak sends you to airline sites.

For really cheap travel, uses an auction system, but you never know if you’re going to be routed through New York on your way from Seattle to Walla Walla.

Me, I travel as the crow flies.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Problems with Affordable Care Act Tax Forms

At the end of the year, the various exchanges are required to send 1095-A forms to people who took advantage of the ACA tax credit. Unfortunately, there are conflicts between the exchange databases of tax credit data and the insurance company tax credit data and a large number of incorrect forms have been sent by two of the largest exchanges: the Federal and Covered California.

  • At the Federal level, some 20% of users, about 800,000 people, have been sent invalid 1095-A forms. Statement from the Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Corrected forms will be sent. People who filed based on the invalid forms will be contacted by "the Treasury," likely the IRS. If you have a account, log in to it to find out if you have been affected.

  • California has not yet issued a statement. The LA Times reports that 100,000 incorrect forms have been sent. According to that report, corrected forms will be sent out soon.
The CMS reminds us that only 50,000 tax forms have been filed so far, so relatively few people have been affected. On the other hand, people who get the ACA tax credit are not making good money, so they may have filed early so that they get their tax refunds early.

The best practical coverage I have seen so far (but what do I do?) comes from Kelly Philips—"taxgirl" (girl?)—at the anti-Obamacare Forbes. She promises updates.

Myself, I think that the miserly nature and complexity of the ACA made some screw-up likely. It's not the liberals who want a bureaucratic state. It's the conservatives and the libertarians, who want each penny accounted for, for fear that some undeserving person might have picked one up.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Android Market rassafras grumble

The reviewing system in the Android Market is next to useless, making good apps hard to find.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Levels of health care in the USA

For people between 18 and 65

  1. You're rich. You can afford the care you need
  2. You're well-to-do. Insurance companies are required to sell you a policy and you can afford it.
  3. You're on the edge of well-to-do. Insurance companies are required to sell you a policy, but it's going to hurt, and it's going to hurt some more if you're over 50 or get really sick.
  4. You're doing OK. Insurance companies are required to see you a policy and there will be a subsidy to help out. Getting sick will hurt your wallet. If you're unlucky and have a modest windfall, the IRS will demand the subsidy back.
  5. You're squeaking along. Insurance companies are required to sell you a policy but the subsidy won't be enough.
  6. Your family savings are circling the drain. (a) In Medicaid expansion states, the government pays your health care, but you may have difficulty getting the subcontracted care-managment companies to pay. (b) In Medicaid-limited states, you are SOL, and will have to rely on charity. Don't get sick.
  7. Your family savings are gone, or never existed. The government pays your health care, but you may have difficulty getting the subcontracted care-managment companies to pay. You have many other problems, and time spent working the health care system makes them worse. Don't get sick.

This is an improvement over the pre-ACA situation.

For people 65 and over

  1. You're rich. You can afford the care you need.
  2. You have retired well, were able to purchase supplemental insurance early, or have a retirement medical benefit. You will get most of the care you need, but may run out of money for long-term care, in which case, see "You're poor."
  3. You can afford Medicare parts B and D (A is automatic, and there is no C), but not much supplemental coverage. Your doctor visits are not covered. Some of your medications are covered.
  4. You cannot afford Medicare parts B and D. Hospitalization is covered, but not the ambulance in emergencies.
  5. You're poor. You are required to spend most of your savings on care and then Medicaid steps in.
Don't retire poor.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Websites: there oughta be a law

A list of web practices that I wish were outlawed:
  1. Data mining. There are far too many abuses possible when large dossiers are compiled on individuals. Easy marks for con games, blackmail victims, people with unpopular political views—you name it, they can find you. And everyone is vulnerable in some way, when the dossier is large enough; if they can't get you, they can get your friends. For the sake of individual freedom, I want to see the compilation of large numbers of dossiers by anyone outlawed.
  2. Internet stalking. This is what the big social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, and  does, whenever you visit a site that has their button on it, unguarded, it records your presence there. Ever had a scary ex? Suppose they worked for Google. Scared now? Likewise, I want to see this outlawed.
  3. Abuse of social media access by monopolists. The condition for socializing ought not be the rights to use what you say or your images in any way, or stalk you.
If a web site or, especially, a smartphone app asks you to accept a big long “agreement,” odds are it's a ripoff, either of your intellectual property or your personal data. This is most major corporate sites, alas. But it may also be your doctor's office.

A medical center I work with employs a major third-party service provider as their "secure" e-mail service. In its terms of service, it claims that data passed through it is not covered by HIPPA, the US medical privacy law. It claims the right to use your correspondence and records data in any way, though it does promise to conceal your name. Medical records are as individual as fingerprints, so one is no more anonymous than one is if one gives a photograph of oneself. And, finally, it uses web bugs to track your web activity. So this medical e-mail provider is compiling a dossier on you which it can sell in any way, it stalks you, and abuses social media access. I do not advise accepting the Terms of Service.

[Added] UPS now requires one to agree to a 79-page ToS document in order to track packages. Hmmm, guess I'll just wait for the packages to arrive. [Update 2014.03.09] This turns out not to be correct; you are shown the "agreement" when their web site gets confused. However, their subscription services require that you accept that agreement.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thoughts about Paul Krugman's remarks on the information economy

(Cross-posted from my comments at Paul Krugman's blog. These were approved, and you can read them, and perhaps see some followups.)

Paul Krugman:
What do I mean by the role of rents? Consider the changing identity of the most valuable company in America. For a long time, it was GM, then Exxon, then IBM. These were companies with huge visible production activities: GM had more than 400,000 employees, which was amazing when you consider that the overall national work force was much smaller than the one we have today, Exxon had oil refineries. IBM was an information technology company, but it still had many of the attributes of an old-style manufacturing giant, with many factories and a large, well-paid work force.
But now it’s Apple, which has hardly any employees and does hardly any manufacturing. The company tries, through fairly desperate PR efforts, to claim that it is indirectly responsible for lots of US jobs, but never mind. The reality is that the company is basically built around technology, design, and a brand identity.—
I am delighted to see you considering these issues. These are very important questions, and of great interest to writers, musicians, illustrators, publishers, and so on, as well as to media device manufacturers like Apple and Amazon.

Kraw… It is a half-truth to say that "Apple has hardly any employees and does hardly any manufacturing." Their subcontractors have many employees in China. In the long run, it doesn't seem likely that the brand will survive; touch-screen computing devices are becoming commodities and other firms can also hire good designers and marketers.

Apple stands in the relation to the various content producers—publishers, recording firms, television and movie producers, and so on—as NBC used to stand to RCA. NBC was founded by RCA as a way to sell radios and transmission equipment. Apple instead licenses content. Amazon, on the other hand, is following the Sarnoff model; it is becoming a publisher. It is also following the Walton model, and pressing hard on the price of its "suppliers;" if the Amazon model of publishing becomes the standard, very few professional writers will be able to make a living at it.

One especially significant area of products: applications, especially games. By and large, apps are not portable between platforms without considerable effort. It is apps that make the platform brands like iPad, PSP, and X-Box so strong.


No economic thoughts here, but perhaps some grist for the mill.