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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Odd things I believed when I was a kid

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has an interesting thread going concerning odd things people used to believe when they were kids.

Here's some of mine:

That firemen started fires; after all, they were always wherever fires happened to be. And why else would they be called firemen?

That there was nothing on the eastern side of "the Mountains" (ie, the Sierra Nevada) since I had never seen them. I figured it was some sort of Communist plot, since that was what my uncle said about anything unexplainable.

That there was some cool place called "the West" where John Wayne lived and you could see those interesting mesas. It took me awhile to deal with the idea that "the West" was east of us.

That Texas was to the west of California, where I lived, since Texas had lots and lots of cows (as well as my aunt and numerous other relatives). We only had a few cows that I smelled when we drove down I-5 to Disneyland. And since there was nothing to the east of California, and Texas had no excess of Communists, I figured it had to be to the west.

That "In Saigon" meant "Inside a Gun". There were always guns involved whenever the TV guys talked about "In Saigon" when I was a little kid in the early 1970s.

That Red Chinese were literally red. I actually drew pictures of red-faced Asians as a kid...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Biz Broker marketing...

Biz Broker Wife has several methods for marketing her services. After trying cold-calling, she realized she doesn't have the elephant-skin that one must have to make it work; besides, we despise telemarketing and she felt awful trying to be a telemarketer. Lots of the grizzled veterans in her office swear by cold-calling, but few of them actually do much of it anymore. The world has changed and emphatically moved against cold calling.

So, she found that direct mail flyers work well; she gets a free quota of 100 mailers per week at her brokerage. These have about a 0.5% "lead generation rate", which is pretty good.

Her best lead-generation rate comes from nightly drop flyers that are put on or under doors of businesses after working hours. Her lead generation rate on these is something like 2-3%, and since we can usually do about 50 flyers per night, this is by far our best marketing effort.

Last night, we had our most productive night, walking two big business streets in our area around midnight; we dropped over 100 flyers. This will likely produce 2-3 leads over the next few months if our past observations hold. We do this a couple times per month.

The key to her business is staying in the biz long enough to get a critical mass of referrals; she's been in this field for four years now, and gets about 1/3 of her deals from referrals. The old timers in her office do basically all referrals. But it's hard to start; her field is commission-only, and the first couple of years is very hard. But once referrals start happening, things get easier.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Servin' up subpoenas...

Today Biz Broker Wife and I went to serve a subpoena on a guy who stiffed her out of her fee. He already lost the lawsuit, but disappeared into the void, only to be found by the brokerage's lawyer. Since my wife is the only person to have seen this guy - he didn't bother to show up in court - she had to ID him for the server. Figuring this may be a bit dangerous, I went too.

The lawyer had hired a private investigator who tracked the guy down; he was working in his relative's restaurant; his brother is actually running the restaurant he bought.
We met the process server near the restaurant, walked in, and found him working in the kitchen, which was open to the front of the restaurant. He accepted the papers, and then one of the other cooks ran out and chased down our server, and tried to return the subpoena. The server walked back in and handed it to them again, and said the "service" is now complete; he handed the paper to the guy and had witnesses (us).

I'm not entirely clear as to what the subpoena is for, but it had to be done quickly. It's done now, and this stuff is part of the reason why my wife's job generates far more interesting table talk and blog entries than my programming work :)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Factions in the American conservative universe

When you read some posts in more left-oriented blogs, one notices that conservatives are generally lumped together in a rather unpleasant mass: they're basically European fascists who are somehow joined-at-the-hip with Karl Rove and Bushco, beholden to the Christian Right and Big Business. Even more centrist and supposedly right-leaning outfits like The Economist do this on occasion.

For my part as something of a conservative, I've always thought this was odd, and definitely wrong - there are numerous factions in the conservative world, with vast diversity of thought and opinion. Here's some I can think of, in no particular order:

1. Libertarians. They're generally socially liberal and are usually economic Classical Liberals. Non-extremist libertarians tend to come in two political flavors, defined more by their fears than anything else: those who are more afraid of big-government welfare-statists, or those who are more afraid of religious conservatives; few libertarians are religious. The former are the libertarians of the Right, while the latter are libertarians of the Left. There are lots of libertarians, especially in Silicon Valley and California generally, and as far as I can tell, whether they are left-libs or right-libs is driven by whether they see religious conservatives as a big threat or not.

I'm purposely ignoring "radical libertarians" of the abolish-the-State type from this discussion since they aren't terribly numerous or politically all that interesting, but want to point out that those they'd likely call "weak libertarians" are quite numerous.

2. Paleo-conservatives. These are the group most like European "Right-Wing" Blood&Soil parties in their thinking; they're more friendly to "rooted conservatism" and "tradition" arguments. In American politics, Pat Buchanan is the best example of this type. Their hot-button issue is immigration.

3. Religious conservatives. These come in many flavors, but are generally politically driven by their religious convictions. They aren't particularly opposed to government approaches to social questions as long as these approaches are in line with their principles, but they're quite hostile to government actions that go against their principles. They were the group most attracted to Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" ideas.

Paleos and Religious Conservatives and Libertarians are generally mutually hostile ideologically, although they can make common cause on occasional issues such as opposition to gun control.

4. Big Business. I don't regard big businesses as particularly conservative; they're actually politically agnostic, as long as they make money. Contrary to the beliefs of many lefties, corporations aren't devotees of Adam Smith, unless it suits their rhetorical purposes; they're just as likely to ask for competition-stifling regulation, protection from foreign competition, or out and out handouts from government in the form of corporate welfare as they are to champion free markets and open competition. But more Lefties than Righties are hostile to Big Business, so many people regard Big Business as part of the "conservative universe".

5. Neocons. These people are often 1960s activists who shifted the focus of their activism from leftist causes to more right-aligned causes as they grew aware of the intellectual bankruptcy of many of the leftist ideas.

6. The "Old Wise Ones". These are people who are deeply suspicious of government activism of all sorts, having seen it be worse than useless over and over, and they have a healthy respect for tradition. These are probably the most "pure" conservatives.

Libertarians and Old Wise Ones are most mutually sympathetic, but they are distinct groups in that Old Wise Ones are typically less socially liberal than libertarians and are more sympathetic to the social concerns of religious conservatives.

There are doubtless groups I've missed, but my point is there is vast complexity in the conservative universe, and many liberals, in particular, misunderstand it.

Personally, I'm probably a "right libertarian", with a weak streak of neocon and strong streak of "old wise one". Most others in the conservative universe have other "streaks" in their personalities as well, so there's large overlap in the above "factions".

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Amazing Race" Game Theory

One of our guilty night-owl pleasures is watching Amazing Race reruns on the Game Show Network. They're currently running Amazing Race 5, and an interesting situation developed in a recent episode.

The situation is that there are five teams left; it's fairly late in the race to win $1M. The teams are in India, and the first task involves making mud bricks at a brick yard. There is also a "fast forward" task that allows the first team to accomplish it to skip the rest of the race tasks and go directly to the "pit-stop" finish-line for that heat of the race.

All five teams are at the brick yard, so it's clear that nobody has gone for the Fast Forward. One team decides to use it as they're not having much luck making mud bricks (it's harder than it sounds): a man and woman team that are models. They go to the fast forward site and realize that the task is to have their heads shaved!

Now, they have one of those "net gain" choices that economists love. If they shave their heads, they complete the fast-forward task and likely win this heat. If they don't, they have to go back to the brickyard and finish the bricks, and likely finish last and be eliminated. Also, since they're models, and their hair is clearly part of their "professional appearance", they could win the heat, but lose the overall race, and be unemployable as models for several months while they grow their hair back.

If they win the heat, their "expected gain" for each of them is $125K ($1M split in half, with 4 teams left). It is probably higher than that; they'd also be in first place and likely with a several hour lead over the next team. OTOH, since they'd lose precious time in their modeling careers, they also have nontrivial actual loss.

At the end of the day, they actually bailed on the Fast Forward and lost the heat. Also, it happened that it was a "non-elimination heat" so they weren't eliminated, but they are significantly behind the other teams.

Since I'm conservative on such things, I probably would have bailed as well; losing my livelihood for several months, especially in a career as ephemeral as modeling, wouldn't be worth it.

So, what would you do?

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