Monthly Archives: August 2002

The “529″ Rip-Off

The “529″ Rip-Off – Those new college savings plans aren’t so great. By Austan Goolsbee

The federal government will forgo billions of dollars in tax revenue to subsidize 529s. The goal of this subsidy was to encourage education, not to have the federal government provide a windfall to states and financial firms in the form of high fees.

U.S. Military Uses the Force

U.S. Military Uses the Force

Against enemy tanks, however, electric defenses won’t do much good. And “any armored warfare guy would tell you that the biggest threat to light armored vehicles are heavy armored vehicles” like tanks, said Clark Murdock, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an e-mail interview.

Talk about your disruptive technologies.

I am not a military expert, but this guy seems to miss the point. Rocket propelled grenades, which “electric armour” is effective against, are cheap and available in large numbers. There is a good chance that any adversary with access to anything beyond 50 year old bolt-action rifles, will be armed with lots of them. They are easy to conceal and carry, so they will be hard to knock out.

Tanks, on the other hand, are expensive, as are, I’d guess, the tungsten and depleated uranium rounds they fire. They will then be relatively scarce, compaired to portable arms. Those that do exist will need to be maintained and fueled, and, perhaps most importantly, they will stick out like a sore thumb, making it easier to mitigate the threat they pose.

RPGs, on the other hand will be difficult to control and difficult to spot until it is too late. It seems to make sense to worry at least as much about protecting a $100k (I’d guess) troop carrier with a dozen or so men in it against a lethal and effective $20 dollar weapon as it does to protect it against a slightly more lethal multi-million dollar weapon.

Broadcast TV is Resembling Cable TV More and More

More TV – One thing I have noticed
is that broadcast TV is resembling cable TV more and more. More reruns,
more re-use.

The local NBC affiliate has a second station that reshows the
nightly news broadcasts on a different schedule, as well as re-showing other
of their locally produced content along side of various syndicated and paid
programming (including what amount to Today show re-runs form decades past).

The local FOX station shows reruns of Seahawks football games on a second
chanel (or was it the WB, which they also own) .

Now, I thought consumers were supposed to see some benefit from allowing companies to own more than
station in a given market (maybe no such promises were made), but I’m not
sure I see what the benefits are and how they justify using scarce RF spectrum
to save people the trouble of learning how to program their VCRs.

Slashdot | How Could TV Survive Without Commercials?

Slashdot | How Could TV Survive Without Commercials?

I was happy to run across this post on Slashdot. Wondering about what the future might hold for TV if technology like Tivo kills commercial television. It has sparked a major discussion, with more than 500 posts.

I have only started skimming them, but people make some good points and raise some intersting issues.

A few weeks ago, after this year’s emmy nominations were announced, I was thinking about what similarities their might be between HBO today, with its substantial slate of original programming, and the BBC (especially in their golden age, whenever that was). One of the comments on Slashdot got me thinking about it again

Both HBO and the BBC have the benefit of not having their revenue tied directly to their programming. HBO gets money from their subscribers, no matter what the subscribers actually watch. The BBC are major benificiaries of britan’s TV set tax, paid by TV set owners every year, regardless of what they watch.

HBO has to worry, in aggregate, about providing programming that attracts new subscribers and keeps existing subscribers, but they have considerable latitude in achieving this goal. In theory, one or two strong programs could satisfy most of their customers, leaving them with ample room to develop new shows.

What I thought was most striking is that HBO seems to be producing programming in a similar pattern to the BBC. Or rather, I should say, that some of HBOs programming patterns resemble the BBCs. Rather than booking 20-30 shows/ year (a very rough estimate) for a successful series like the Sopranos, HBO only books a dozen shows or so, allowing them to put more money into each episode. Beyond that a “season” of a show may not be produced every year. HBO, I think, is averaging over 14 months between each new season of the Sopranos. Then, rather than fill their schedule with first run programming, they repeat espisodes more often. In a given year, I would guess that a given episode of the Sopranos is probably shown 5-10 times, vs 1 or two times for a typical network drama like ER. This seems like a smart bet to me. I don’t have cable, or HBO, but I have been buying the Sopranos on DVD. I am quite happy to watch the episodes 2-3 times, which is more than I can say about most any network dramas.

I don’t know exactly what the BBC does, but it seems that many of the shows that make it to the US are on a similar model. This also creates the opportunity to create mini-series, a genere that has all but died on American TV.