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What I Do Here

If you are here for genealogy, try this:

I write about whatever I am thinking about. It helps me think about it and remember it later. Because I live far away from many of my longest term friends, we don't always get to participate in each other's daily life; sharing my blog is a second-best.

My interests change over time, but at any given time, I am usually very intensely interested in a few things. This might look more organized and logical than it really is. I have two children with autism spectrum diagnoses, and they seem completely normal for my extended family; if I were a kid growing up today, I'd have a diagnosis, too. Try to keep that in mind, if you're trying to figure out what kind of person would write the kinds of things I write.

BATNA, ultimata, and negotiations

My husband used to get kind of upset with me, before we were even dating, because I would sometimes sort of negotiate with an employer (DEC) or whatever (first husband) that I wasn't happy with, but mostly I'd go look for a better alternative (Spry, other people) and just leave. While I didn't know it at the time, what I was doing was improving my BATNA, my "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement". I found out about BATNA not while I was at Amazon, reading multiple books about negotiation while I contemplated my departure from there, because I was real unhappy about one of my coworkers (among other things), but when I was reading parenting books.

BATNA is great. If you have a great BATNA, you barely have to talk to someone you are working with. You can just say, See Ya, and walk out the door.

The easiest way to understand what happened with AEDE and Google News Spain is that Google had a great BATNA (See ya!) and AEDE hasn't actually contemplated what its BATNA even is.

The reason my husband got kind of upset with me is because I didn't actually bother to tell people I was about to leave. HE was also upset with our employer (DEC -- this was a long while back), so he got a great BATNA, came back to the employer, and required them to match it for him to stick around. Fair's fair. He compares this to Dr. Strangelove, where one side developed a doomsday weapon but didn't tell the other side about the doomsday weapon, so the whole MAD thing stopped working and everyone died. Apparently, you are supposed to tell people before you implement an ultimatum. Who knew?

So after that job, I actually did in fact work pretty closely with my subsequent employers (or at least my immediate bosses, not necessarily the big bosses) when I was unhappy and thinking about leaving. This did, indeed, work out better all around. I didn't really ultimatum them -- I just let them know I was unhappy and they did what they could to help with what they could and I stuck around a little longer, until I was just like, fuck it. Bye. See ya.

But even at my very best from a behavior perspective, I don't actually let other people have much say over my decision making (this is actually the part of the story where you should be thinking, Wow, I really feel sorry for your husband. And he _married_ you knowing this? Yeah, yeah he did. I feel sorry for him, too.). Any given human being is going to fall at different points on a spectrum of how much they let other people influence their decisions.

And there is this thing that the Spanish participants in the Google Tax probably didn't think through completely. While Steve Jobs was pretty happy to participate as the hub of a hub and spoke setup to preserve something like a publishing status quo in the US, and while Steve Jobs was a huge influence on Brin and Page, Brin and Page, ESPECIALLY Brin isn't really that much like Steve Jobs, especially not much like Jobs at the end of Jobs life. And Google was being run on the daily by Schmidt at the time of the French Google Tax negotiation. But Google is being run on the daily by Brin, now. And Brin is a whole lot closer to me on the How Much Do I Let People Influence Me decision scale than Schmidt.

Negotiations are fundamentally about people talking to each other, and letting other people influence your decisions. If you don't let people influence you -- if you decide ahead of time what you are going to do, and then you just do it -- then negotiating with you is not going to last very long, and it is going to be relatively predictable. You will get your BATNA, or the other side will decide to generously give you more than your BATNA. If you attempt a negotiation with a person of this nature, you should know this going into it. I'm thinking that maybe that wasn't clearly understood in this case.

ETA: In case it isn't clear, I think Google News did exactly the right thing. But I also recognize that I accept my husband's assertion that this style of negotiation is basically wrong, in some human way that I only barely understand. And I feel like anyone who sides with Google News, but thinks that walking out on a negotiation without sticking around to deliver an ultimatum before implementing it is wrong, is probably being -- unintentionally -- somewhat hypocritical.
Not too long ago, Germany passed a law regarding snippets such as those included by Google News below headlines. The new law indicated that publishers could charge for those snippets. Google News indicated that they would no longer link to publishers who so charged. German publishers, who had gone to all the trouble to have that law passed, thought better.

So the Spanish publisher association, which had itself embedded (sort of) in their version of a similar law as the setter of fees and/or collector of same, made the charging for snippets "inalienable". Publishers could no longer back down in the face of pressure from Google. So now, Google Must Pay! Yay!

Google announced that they would be shutting down Google News in Spain, and, further, that Google News around the world would no longer link to any Spanish (not language -- country) publishers.

The Spanish publishers association went, wait! You can't do that! We'll make you stay!

"The Spanish Newspaper Publishers’ Association (AEDE) issued a statement last night saying that Google News was “not just the closure of another service given its dominant market position”, recognising that Google’s decision: “will undoubtedly have a negative impact on citizens and Spanish businesses”.

“Given the dominant position of Google (which in Spain controls almost all of the searches in the market and is an authentic gateway to the Internet), AEDE requires the intervention of Spanish and community authorities, and competition authorities, to effectively protect the rights of citizens and companies”."

What is happening?

Well, Google News says, we don't have ads on Google News so, lacking revenues, we can't exactly pay for these links. Sorry! Bye. The response to this argument has been interesting, because back in 2008, Marissa Mayer was asked what the value of Google News was to Google, for _exactly this reason_, and her answer (remember, this would be pre-crash, and the Eurozone hasn't exactly recovered from that crash yet) was about $100 million in search referral value. But that wasn't for Google News Spain -- that was for Google News worldwide. Also, pre-crash.

Here is a more recent Fortune commenter on the topic, which includes a link to the 2008 Marissa Mayer valuation:

I recognize that Google seems monolithic and ubiquitous, and therefore that it will be always and ever present. Coverage of the perks available to google programmers makes google seem fantastically, even infinitely wealthy. And that can make it very easy for groups such as AEDE to miscalculate when picking the host they intend to parasitically suckle on. If AEDE had contemplated the matter from Google's perspective, they would have anticipated this response -- even tho from all indications, Google has been relentlessly insistent on its position, they have not been passionate or aggressive rhetorically about that position. Because Google was calm, their commitment to their position was misunderstood by AEDE, and now AEDE has lost its host.


But maybe not!

Maybe AEDE would rather preside over a shrinking backwater of publishers in Spain. A dominant position over a small group is desirable to many.

ETA: I'm still trying to understand this article.

Apparently, google was expected to do its complaining at length in Euro courts NOT just up and walk away.

"Esto puede provocar problemas legales para su puesta en marcha, y fuentes del PP han explicado a Periodista Digital que es previsible que Google (principal, pero no único, afectado) acuda a los tribunales y empiece un largo proceso judicial que retrase su aplicación."

And the quasigovernmental organization wasn't there to stiffen publisher resolve post-Germany, it was there to preserve the status quo among newspapers pre-google news by limiting the ability of newspaper publishers to negotiate with google to improve their indexing position. If I understand this correctly, the establishment _really really really_ did not envision google walking away. I'm thinking there was a massive cultural communication breakdown, because the google side stayed way too calm and didn't issue ultimatums and used non-violent language. I'm real unimpressed with political rhetoric in Spain's newspapers, at least the online ones.

WSJ summary of the law and the current state of affairs:

So this is one of the major dailies, not some New Media crowd. And they are quoting people like Wert, who were important in passing the law. Wert seems to be arguing that altho the law goes into effect start of 2015, it won't _really_ do anything until the regulatory components are done, which would have involved a negotiating component including google. So Google left the game too early. I think this is a fair summation of what the Spanish (country, not language) side thinks happened. Which is really different from how the US tech community is thinking about things, in turn different from what some of the commenters on the US side who don't much like the tech giants are thinking about things.

I think it is also worth noting that when France was talking about a google tax/aggregator snippet tax, Schmidt and Hollande put together a 60 million Euro development fund (unclear what if anything has happened with this thing since, given that Hollande is out of office and Schmidt is no longer running things on the daily at the Goog), which was intended to help French publishers sort of enter the modern age. That headed off the French version of the tax. The German one went through under Brin's return to power, and under that setup, the publishers could and did concede, albeit unhappily. The Spanish solution was designed in a way to prevent publishers caving, and El Pais at least keeps emphasizing the French solution. I think maybe the Spanish crowd hasn't figured out they aren't dealing with Schmidt any more.

Ah, Syncing Problems

I am not sure what happened. However, using Apple Notes, I have three accounts linked -- icloud, google and my ISP. Occasionally, there will be a little hiccup and something won't sync and then I can't convince Apple Notes to start syncing again so I copy the most current version into a new note, that one syncs and I roll my eyes, remember how horrible Evernote was to me and try not to get too mad.

Today, however, I realized that iCloud wasn't syncing on my phone (or, for that matter, on my sister's phone, and there are some relationships between those phones, like, they are on the same wireless provider account, and we have some stuff on a shared AppleID, some stuff through Family Sharing and some stuff not shared) and ISP wasn't syncing on my Mac. I _could_ in theory move all the notes to Google, but I was feeling like that was ridiculous.

So I unhooked the ISP notes across the board and focused on getting iCloud to sync. Which I did, altho at this point, I could not tell you which thing that I tried actually worked. Then I had to do the note restart trick and all seems well at the moment. But I am now back to not trusting it, which is the feeling that tends to cause me to resort to paper, and paper notes have never worked really well for me, not the way notes on my phone and similar has been working for the last year.

I am chagrined.

Predicting the Fed

Mostly, people understand that this is really sort of a pointless activity. However, people engage in it anyway. I've been ignoring it all for, wow, years now, because the Fed has been super easy to predict: ain't gonna raise rates, can't lower them any further, and if you can work out what to do based on knowledge of quantitative easing and twisting, well, you are a lot more knowledgeable than I am.

Here are some people participating in the current round of nonsense:

"The Fed definitely seems to be gearing up for monetary tightening, even though inflation remains below target."

The balance of the post fails to mention that the current debate is about the language, which, if it parallels what happened in the 2003-2004 time frame, implies a significant delay (9 months). Krugman instead chooses to focus on the idea that there are asymmetrical risks for waiting too long vs raising rates too soon, and speculating about the Fed doing this to get some of the pressure off them. Economic policy as soap opera.

Two courtesy Calculated Risk:

Goldman expects a language change, but with core vs. headline inflation predictions mixed and that change likely to increase, liftoff guidance is where the attention will be.

Again, focus on the language, with inflation vs. employment numbers being noted (that is, employment is recovering, but with headline inflation dropping so fast from oil . . .) AND Krugman's complaint about asymmetric risk fully covered.

I do not understand why Blodget and Krugman see tightening. No one in the financial community is predicting tightening, at least not for another few quarters.

You could go out, get knocked up this weekend, and have the baby full term before we are likely to see a rise in rates. For reals. And if you have been paying attention to McBride's The Future's So Bright demographic analysis, that's not as irrelevant as it might seem.

Chicken Little is at it again

I waste time on the internet. One of my preferred (there is a list) locations for wasting time on the internet is Business Insider, which is a Henry Blodget operation. I've benefited, over the years, from Henry Blodget, when he gets it right and when it gets it wrong, so I have a soft spot in my heart for him. However, I feel compelled to jeer at him right now.

In this outing, he describes how markets crash. It is (hey, it's a blog, what do you expect!) unsourced and qualitative. Alas, it suffers from its unsourcedness and qualitativeness. Here's how.

"Soon, we're down 20%-30%. ... Soon, we're down 30%-40%. ... Then, we're down 40%-50%."

Markets in which broad indexes drop 20-30% are actually not all that uncommon. If you've been in the market for a decade or more, you've seen at least one. Broad indexes that drop more than 40% are not that common, and this description (even with all the stuff I left out) does not convey that material point. At all. You could live your entire adult life -- decades of investing -- and not experience one. During that time period, some market, somewhere in the world will probably have that kind of drop, but it probably won't touch you. You could in fact be fully invested in stocks in a country that has this kind of drop in one index (say, the NASDAQ) and because of your investing preferences, barely notice.

Broad drops in the 50% range are incredibly rare, and it's dead easy to see these coming years in advance, because the evidence of economic dislocation on the way _up_ will be visible outside the markets (converting from horses to cars, type of thing, or everyone who never could ever afford a house suddenly having one forced upon them and a half dozen shows on cable TV explain flipping).

I get what Blodget is trying to do here, and I _suspect_ I know why he feels like a 40-50% drop is potentially in the offing. Most significantly, Blodget himself did a bad miscall on a really big drop a decade and a half ago. Recency of the most recent severe drop is a factor as well, in causing everyone to think that another is about to happen Real Soon Now (which is silly, because that is not how these cycles work). What he's trying to do here is counteract other people who are arguing various forms of Blue Skies Forever/Future's So Bright/This Time It's Different. He sang the future song just before a crash once before and doesn't want to be doing it again.

We really could have a huge drop broadly affecting the markets. I can tell you how to make it happen: have the Fed say they're going to raise rates by 5%. Boom. End of economy. Every financial institution in sight would go under, because look at all those 30 year mortgages issued at lower rates than that. But here's the thing: that isn't going to happen. The Fed governors are irritating people, but they do not suffer from _that_ kind and degree of stupidity. Blodget says:

"the Fed is now tightening"

Now, if you define tightening as, winding down putatively stimulative open market operations, sure. But that's not how anyone sane defines tightening. Tightening = raising rates. The expectation for the next meeting is that there will be a language change away from weswearwewon'traiseratesforyearsYEARSItellyou to wearenolongerswearingwewon'traiseratesforyears however wedon'texpecttoraisethemsoon. NOT actually raising rates.

Here, I am not making this up. Read on:

Okay, too lazy? Here's the money quote:

"Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart ... “I am not in a rush to drop the ‘considerable time’ phrase if it would in any way convey an imminent liftoff decision,” he told reporters after a speech in Atlanta in which he highlighted the perils of raising rates too soon. “I am comfortable with continuing with that language.”

Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer last week said that while minutes of the October FOMC gathering showed “we’re closer to getting rid of that,” officials wouldn’t simply remove the commitment without replacing it with something else.

“You may assume we’re not going to suddenly stop that and not say anything, just take it out and leave no guidance” on interest rates, he said at an event in Washington on Dec. 2."

Saying "The Fed is Tightening" in the middle of this language change process is a bunch of foolishness. We will all know when rates are actually about to rise, because we'll see all the financial channels filled with talking heads explaining why the quarter point rise is too little and the Fed should be raising it more. That's how this thing is going to happen, when it does, and not any time soon.

Henry Blodget is climbing the wall of worry. And he's going to keep climbing it. We know this from the same post:

"crashes create the opportunity to buy stocks with much higher likely future returns."

Which is also how we know that an unusually large crash is pretty much Not Going to Happen Any Time Soon in the US. Because the few people who are gnawing on their dried lower lips worrying about a crash are still talking like Blodget.

In Blodget's defense, I completely agree with his rationale for staying invested through crashes. And in defense of me calling him Chicken Little, hey, he started it.

"So far, these concerns have just made me sound like Chicken Little."

ETA: I have a technical complaint about Blodget's average PE claims. Here is what WSJ says they are as of yesterday:

Those look okay to me, and I don't understand what Blodget means by this:

"As you can see, today's PE ratio of 26X is miles above the long-term average of 15X."

WSJ sez SP500 pe yesterday as 18.66. I have no idea what the cyclical adjustment is that Blodget/Shiller are talking about. *shrug*

You could argue that any time things go above 15, it's a little worrisome, however, we are in a world in which retail was starting to get some momentum and a massive drop in fuel costs was, er, helicoptered in, so it is not unreasonable to expect corporate earnings across the board (generally -- obvs not for people who make their money extracting shale oil or mucking about with deep ocean drill rigs) to benefit from that combination, in which case a few quarters worth of earnings increases will make that PE ratio come down and all will be in line once again.



Do you think it is reasonable to do a 10 year earnings smooth on the SP500 ... in 2014?

I sure as fuck don't. Not any more reasonable than it was in 2011, say. Here is a bit more description:

Entirely New Anomaly on Amazon

I've hit some real doozies in years gone by, so this isn't particularly serious. I noticed an address in my address book when I was sending presents and went, Wha??? The address is in Toronto, Canada, no less. Mystery!

I googled amazon customer service and got a phone number. I called the phone number and they concluded what I did, which is that no order from my account has ever gone out to that address. I declined the offer to change my password. They explored the possibility that perhaps I had shared me login credentials with a family member or friend (nope -- well, that's not entirely true. But my sister only uses my login credentials on her kindle). They are going to research whether this has ever happened to anyone else and send me an email.

I have two theories. The best theory is that someone in customer service modified the wrong account. The weaker theory is that there's a really weird bug somewhere deep in the layers between me and an oracle table somewhere.

My concern is that there are some minor security implications to having addresses in my Amazon address book that I don't know, especially if they are okayed for 1-click or have payment authorized.

ETA: Amazon customer service did eventually email me a followup that was a template for how to change my billing address. This is not exactly atypical of Amazon customer service with a very nonstandard problem -- close the ticket and let someone else deal with it if the customer cares enough to contact them again.

I ran across a bunch of coverage of a different Amazon scam involving getting customer service to mail replacement items to different addresses, but that doesn't appear to be directly relevant to my situation. I've deleted the mystery address, which I am not going to blog because I am almost entirely certain that the person is not a scammer and this is some really weird error. (It's a real address in Toronto, with a landline to Toronto, and I'm able to find a guy with the same, not entirely common name, who has a blog and a linked in and so forth that appears to match the address. I'm sort of tempted to contact him and ask him if he happens to know someone by my name, because my first name last name combination is common in Commonwealth/ex-Commonwealth nations.) I used google to look at the building in the address (and the windows which are on the same floor as the address, which includes "Suite 301", and the most suspicious thing about it is that at ground floor there's a Vodka bar called "Pravda". Which isn't particularly suspicious.

I've been through my digital orders for a few months back to make sure there isn't something weird going on there, but I am finding absolutely nothing suspicious. *shrug* Oh, and I started an order to the address, but was blocked on the item I had picked (3rd party didn't ship out of the country), so I switched to Amazon physical book and that got me through to the payment request page -- so the address didn't even have an authorized payment associated with it.

I guess if this is the oddest thing I ever have happen at Amazon, I should be happy. This is way less painful than when we discovered years ago that changing your default address didn't (then) automatically change your gift shipping address -- that had to be changed separately (grrr -- I believe they have fixed this since then, it was quite a while ago).

ETAYA: Hey, cool! At that address was Alacrity, Inc., and that company name appears in the LinkedIn resume for the guy I found. I now feel like I am inadvertently stalking someone.

ETA probably the last time: I've now dug through my digital orders and devices, in search of any possible leakage to a device that was registered to me but not in my possession. I am not the best person about deregistering the kindle app on devices when I pass them along, so I took this opportunity to do that for everything that I didn't have any more, and provided more informative names for what remained. I guess it was a worth while security-on-amazon/kindle apps audit, if nothing else.

Ah, the end of a weekend

I love my family, but I also look forward to the week, when, if I am lucky, my to do list shrinks instead of expanding (or, sometimes, expands, but my anxiety drops).

This weekend, we got the tree and it is up with lights and decorations. It is a little shorter than last year's, so less on it. A. was sad to not have the colored lights on it, so those are up in the hall. We have not yet put out the fake candles. Maybe that'll happen when the kids are asleep.

I'm well into the holiday letter addressing project (maybe a quarter done). I also finally sat down in front of a computer and did some gift shopping on Amazon, in conjunction with sending nagging messages to people to update their lists or at least tell me what I should buy them.

Charitable checks are mostly taken care of (I think I wrote the last of mine today). Two people who are very important to me have been having a very difficult few days (for various and different reasons), but today they have both found resolution and peace, which makes me happy as well.

We have a plan for moving the old van along to its new owners next Saturday. I have the plate receipt to turn over to my insurance agent tomorrow for my old car. My son got a haircut. Both kids had baths. We've got a playdate lined up for tomorrow. I feel like things are taking a turn for the better all around.

I hope you are having an enjoyable holiday season.

A Kind Word to the Wise

Feeling depressed, grumpy and unable to enjoy your life? Is everyone being totes unreasonable and overly excited about stuff you don't care about? Or, conversely, do you find everyone out of tune with the things that are important to you?

It is December 6, and for much of the country recently, it has been dark and dreary. It's going to stay dark and dreary for a while yet. If you have a friend, mentor or counselor who you trust and who has good perspective, this is a good time of year to reach out to them for a little emotional support and, if that is appropriate for you, a medication checkup.

Your friends and family really do love you, even if they are being annoying or seem distant at the moment. I know this all is true, and I write this to remind me, and the people I care about, which, if you are reading this, includes you.
I gave my previous car to my mother-in-law, as her car was reaching the end of its reliability. She recently sent the plates back up to us, which I foolishly believed had to be physically returned to RMV.


I drove down to Framingham AAA, which provides RMV services on Saturday, and they said, nope, go online and do it there, print the receipt and give it to your insurance. As near as I can tell, you don't actually turn over the plates to anyone any more? Really? *shrug* I still need to communicate with my insurance agent (also AAA), but they are closed at the moment. I'll try calling on Monday and see if I can email them the .pdf receipt. Because then I could do the whole thing without leaving the house (honestly, I don't know why I had my mother-in-law send me the plates, but perhaps we'll need them at some point in this process).

About that carry on rumor that NPR started

I blogged about a very irresponsible, shoddy piece of reporting that NPR put out a few days ago:

It really pushed me over the edge on my Hey, I Should Ignore the News From T-Weekend through New Year's addendum to the avoid the news July 4-Labor Day. I figured that TSA was going to have a lot of trouble crushing this rumor, given that NPR (NPR!) put it out and at least as near as I can tell, NPR has not seen fit to retract it.

As you will note in my original post, the original journo used a misleading summary of UK reporting along with anonymous/unnamed sources in the US to start a rumor that TSA might ban carry on bags and/or electronics in the cabin, with no time frame or likelihood attached, nor whether it would be domestic or international or wtf. With no details, no names, and a future "maybe", the only sensible way to interpret the report is to eye roll and say, yeah, sure, somebody did some contingency planning. But the surface reading of the piece is that TSA is about to ban carry on bags and/or electronics in the cabin on all domestic flights in the US. Soonish. Because chatter.

The rumor has enough legs that Jeh Johnson -- head of Homeland -- has felt compelled to squash it, because the TSA head quote wasn't enough.

"Johnson responded: "There's no ban on carry-on luggage at this time.""

Conspiracy minded folk will of course interpret this as further support for the original paranoid ramblings. Gah.

Slightly different wording here:

This thing has developed some real legs, where the failure to outright deny that there is such a ban under consideration right now for application in the next few days is treated as evidence that it's about to happen. I feel like whoever is in charge of messaging over at DHS/TSA is on vacation or something, however, it is possible that I have underestimated their sophistication in managing the Republican threat to their funding. I do that. Frequently.