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Archive for November, 2012

Do Not Call Graphic

Repeat After Me: “Do Not Track is NOT Do Not Call”

I’ve got to give it to the privacy advocates—for all their complaints about advertising, they are some of the world’s best marketers. Consider the success of an idea like “Privacy by Design” which is a feel-good buzzword, but is virtually meaningless as practical policy. But the biggest marketing success among privacy advocates has got to be “Do Not Track”, a fundamentally flawed concept which has proved itself resilient mostly because of its passing resemblance to the incredibly popular, but wholly unrelated, “Do Not Call” list. The notion that “Do Not Track” is related to “Do Not Call” is an idea that simply refuses to die. I saw this most recently in an article in The New York Times about Peter Swire who was just named the new co-chair of the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group, the group working to create a “Do Not Track” standard. ... Read the rest
Bill Day

5 Q’s on Data Innovation with Bill Day

Bill Day is the platform evangelist for RunKeeper, a Boston-based start-up that helps users track and obtain their fitness goals. I asked Bill to share with me his thoughts on how data is changing how people exercise, work towards fitness goals, and monitor their health. Castro: As a runner myself, I am a huge fan of RunKeeper. Can you tell me how RunKeeper got started? Day: One of our founders, Jason Jacobs, was training for a marathon and realized that there had to be a better way to track and understand his training and performance than the very limited options available at the time. He pulled together a small team to build an iPhone app to solve that problem, and the timing was great as we were able to launch in the very early days of the App Store. Castro: RunKeeper recently launched the Health Graph platform. Can you explain what that is? ... Read the rest

Linking Energy Production to Energy Innovation

“With pencils being sharpened on a debt deal,” Politico reports (subscription article), “all eyes are on the gas tax as a possible savior for transportation spending. But another option that may cause lawmakers less heartburn is being obscured by the gas tax dust: linking energy production with infrastructure spending…includ[ing] instituting a fee on oil production, or expanding oil and natural gas drilling availability.” Without a doubt, leveraging expanded energy production for revenue is a welcome idea. But linking this revenue to transportation infrastructure spending is misguided because it breaks a very useful policy connection: consumption and infrastructure use.

The thinking goes that new fees on oil and natural gas extraction are more politically feasible than a gas tax, as the cost to consumers would be relatively hidden. While industry would ultimately try to pass costs on to consumers, as the Politico article put it, “the pain of a new fee “upstream” has the advantage of not being immediately obvious to an electorate jittery about the economy — certainly nothing as in your face as a tax increase at the pump.” The problem is that tying energy production to transportation infrastructure-spending

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mark whitehorn

Five Q’s on Data Innovation with Mark Whitehorn

Mark Whitehorn is s the professor of analytics at the University of Dundee’s School of Computing in Scotland and the author of ten books on business intelligence. I spoke to Mark about how higher-ed programs are adapting to new demands in the era of Big Data. Castro: What kinds of skills do data scientists need? Whitehorn: They need to be intelligent! Oh, I see, you want specifics! They need to be good at designing new analytical techniques and be able to code them. The job also includes general skills (e.g., excellent analytical capabilities, machine learning, data mining, statistics, math, algorithm development, writing coding, data visualisation, and understanding multi-dimensional database design and implementation) and specific skills such as technologies to handle big data (e.g., Hadoop and related technologies, MapReduce and its implementation on differing software platforms, and NoSQl databases) and knowledge of languages (e.g., SQL, MDX, R, and functional and OOP languages such as Erlang and Java). ... Read the rest

Lies, Damned Lies, and KPMG’s Corporate Tax Reform Statistics

Percentage of business executives willing to give up specific tax incentives (n=682) (source: KPMG)


Last Friday, Reuters reported on a recent KPMG survey of 682 business executives that finds that, (to paraphrase KPMG’s website) in exchange for a lower statutory corporate tax rate, 68 percent of respondents would be willing to give up accelerated depreciation of capital equipment, 66 percent would be willing to give up the domestic production deduction for manufacturing, and a “surprising” 52 percent would be willing to give up the research and experimentation (R&E) tax credit.

This is untrue, and here’s why. The survey question (Question 4a) that asks which tax incentives the executives would be willing to give up is limited to only those executives who answered “yes” on a previous question (Question 4) about whether or not they’d be willing to support reform that repeals tax incentives in exchange for a lower rate. This means that, while the previous question had 682 respondents, the subsequent question on the specific tax incentives they’d be willing to give up had only 322 respondents.

So, while it is indeed true that, for example, 52

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The Misguided Neoclassical Economic Thinking Behind a Carbon Tax

This week, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Brookings Institution, the International Monetary Fund, and Resources for the Future co-hosted a daylong conference on designing a U.S. carbon tax. The event came on the heels of closed-door discussions of the topic at AEI and “a cascade of carbon-tax advocacy in recent days from the chattering classes and a slate of academic work over the summer,” as The Wall Street Journal noted, lending credence to the newspaper’s article title: “Carbon Tax Idea Gains Wonkish Energy.” Nevertheless, talk of a U.S. carbon tax – while a positive step forward – is not enough to address climate change if such a tax is not structured to support innovation. Ultimately, much of the enthusiasm over the idea of a carbon tax can be attributed to the misconception that it is a sort of climate change-silver bullet, as driven by neoclassical economics thinking.

According to the neoclassical economics doctrine, as detailed in the ITIF paper Economic Doctrines and Approaches to Climate Change Policy, the economy is a “large market of goods and services that is generally in equilibrium and usually best left to

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5 Q’s on Data Innovation with Tim Callan

Cross-posted on Data Innovation Day

Tim Callan is the Chief Marketing Officer of RetailNext, one of the leading provider of in-store retail analytics. I asked Tim to talk with me about how companies like RetailNext are bringing the type of data analytics traditionally used by online retailers to brick-and-mortar stores.

Castro: How are retailers using in-store analytics today?

Callan: Think of in-store analytics as the equivalent on online analytics offerings like Google Analytics or Omniture, but for brick-and-mortar stores. Some of the common uses of in-store analytics are floor layout optimization, staffing optimization, theft reduction, measurement of marketing and merchandising programs, testing display and fixture effectiveness, optimizing checkout queues, and monitoring for stock-out situations. The bottom line improvements have been quite dramatic. For example, Montblanc and American Apparel have reported that they used the RetailNext platform to improve same-store sales 20% and more than 30%, respectively.  Brookstone used the platform to reduce shrinkage by about a million dollars a year. And Family Dollar remodeled more than 1300 stores in nine months based on the insights it learned from RetailNext.

Castro: What kind of data is used for in-store analytics

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Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Summit, New Jersey. Broken utility pole.

Restoring Networks After Sandy

One of the unfortunate consequences of events like the Northeast “Frankenstorm” is the speed with which they’re exploited for various kinds of gain. When food and water are short, vendors show up on street corners selling goods at exorbitant prices, looters rob stores of computers and that sort of thing. After the fact, many people with a policy ax of some sort will point to various things that happened as examples of tragedies and inconveniences that could have been avoided if only they’d had their way in the policy process. The National Association of Broadcasters jumped on Frankenstorm with a rather thin argument to the effect that the storm proves their networks are great for communication, despite their one-way nature. Another example of this phenomenon that struck me as particularly odd was a blog post written by Harold Feld on Wetmachine before the storm had even hit: If your cell tower loses power, be sure to thank CTIA and the D.C. Circuit. Feld argues that the FCC needs broad Title I authority over Title III cellular networks to keep them running after hurricanes strike:

As we hunker down to

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PM David Cameron

Cameron Calls for “Modern Industrial Strategy” to Help Britain Win Race for Global Innovation Advantage

In his November 12th Lord Mayor’s Banquet Speech, Conservative Party leader David Cameron—acknowledging that “Britain is in a global race that is a moment of reckoning for every country” (as ITIF argues in Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage)—called on Britain to unabashedly articulate a “modern industrial strategy” to help Britain “compete and win” in the intense global race “for high-knowledge, high-value goods and jobs.” Cameron’s phenomenal speech is in fact revolutionary in its call―coming from the heart of the conservative movement―for a far more proactive role for government in stimulating an economy’s ability to compete in global competition.

Cameron observes that government’s first role is to get the framework (or factor) conditions right, and he notes that, even facing budget deficits, Britain has “cut corporate tax rates to the lowest in the G20,” introduced generous tax breaks for early stage investment in start-ups, and launched a patent box whereby firms and individuals only pay 10 percent tax on profits made from intellectual property. There are two key things about this. First, Cameron recognizes that these tax expenditures are an investment that will grow the UK economy,

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Facilities-Based Competition is Working

Readers of this blog are aware that the telephone network is a relic of the past that will someday join the telegraph terminal and the buggy whip in the dustbin of history; the only question is when. For telephone network operators, sooner is better than later because the costs of supporting an archaic network with a dwindling number of users are an unsustainable drag on investment in the up-to-date broadband networks, both mobile and fixed, that have taken its place. The Investment AT&T shows what's at stake in a blog post on two very closely related initiatives, one on the investment side and the other in the regulatory sphere, Building a Network for the 21st Century | AT&T Public Policy Blog. ... Read the rest