Archive for November 2004

Criminalizing the Fast Forward Button

Wow, the concept of fair use is sure taking a beating.  Politicians are sure carrying a lot of water lately for media companies.  Check out this article at Incite.  This is not that far-fetched.  A couple of years ago, ReplayTV added a jump ahead 30 seconds button on their machine that would instantly skip a standard commercial.  TIVO, the industry leader, has held off matching this function due to industry pressure.

By the way, I don't know if it works but this is posted as a hack to get a 30 second skip on TIVO machines. (more here and lots more sites via google search)

Harvard MBA Indicator for Wall Street

Roy Soifer recently suggested, as reported in Photon Courier, that the percentage of Harvard Business School graduates going to Wall Street jobs can be used as a reverse indicator of the market (i.e. lots of graduates going to Wall Street means the market is peaking and due for a fall).

As a graduate of that HBS in 1989, I have a few thoughts.  First, the vast majority of HBS graduates go into Wall Street, consulting, or the corporate world.  The relative popularity of these three destinations tends to vary over time.  To some extent this variation is due to what's "hot", and to some extent its due to simply to what jobs are available and what recruiters are showing up on campus. 

Second, though pride urges me to agree with this statement from Photon Courier, I really can't:

But one would hope that MBAs from a leading school--who have certainly studied business cycles--would reflect more on the principle of "buy low, sell high" before deciding among their various offers.

When I graduated from HBS, I don't remember having a clue what I wanted to do.  Its all fine and good to talk about trying to get in early on a growth sector, but that implies I am taking a job to maximize NPV of future incomes.  If that were the case, I would have gone to Wall Street, or remained a consultant.  But I also would have probably hated it.

A more interesting HBS graduate job indicator for me has been "how has the jobs people have evolved since they graduated".  When I graduated, everyone seemed to be investment bankers and consultants.  At our fifth year reunion, everyone was posturing as to how successful they had been, how far they had risen, etc.  Most people were still in the same type jobs, with only a few outliers who had switched careers already.  Our tenth reunion was totally different.  At our tenth, no one talked about their job - everyone talked about their kids.  The contrast was dramatic.  Many people were in different careers, including a number who were testing the dot-com waters. 

At the fifteenth reunion, everyone seemed much more relaxed.  Job performance stress at from the fifth and family starting stress at the tenth were mostly gone.  Many, many people (including me) had their own businesses, and few of these were ones anyone would have predicted;  I don't think anyone was a consultant anymore.  Here are a few examples just from our 90-person section of businesses graduates are running now:

My observation - very few were the types of businesses that come recruiting at HBS.

My parting observation about career choices through life comes from Dan Simmons' great Hyperion series, where the prophet Aenea gives here famously concise advice to humanity:

Choose Again.

Certainly true with careers.

Carnival of the Capitalists

Yes, Marxists run and hide, the Capitalists are back in town at Lachlan Gemmell.  Look around the site, its pretty interesting - he's posting a diary of his day to day experience bringing a new software product to market, and letting his readers comment on key decisions.

Should We Take Another Shot at Nuclear Power?

An article I saw on a new process for creating hydrogen via nuclear power (courtesy of the Commons) got me to thinking about what a screw-up our first (and really only) generation of nuclear power plant building was.  Learning curve problems with a new technology, combined with an insane regulatory regime and uninformed panicky public response to nuclear power issues led to a shut down in the construction of nuclear power plants, and made the last ones built into memorable financial disasters

Coming from the aerospace industry, I am used to a strong regime of government safety regulation.  The differences in how aircraft construction and nuclear power construction are regulated are very informative, so I want to focus on them in this post.

First, however, its instructive to list some of the reasons why nuclear power is attractive:

  • Excepting the radioactive waste issue, which we will discuss below, nuclear power is essentially emissions free, and is totally devoid of any greenhouse gas emissions that may contribute to global warming.  There are also no particulate emissions or sulfur dioxide emissions, which are blamed for various woes.
  • Nuclear fuel, ie uranium and potentially thorium, is incredibly abundant and currently inexpensive.  Also, much of the world's reserves are located in free democracies rather than Islamic dictatorships

Nuclear Plant Regulation

Nuclear plants in the U.S. were mainly designed as one-offs.  In other words, each one was a relatively unique design.  Each design therefore required regulatory review and approval in depth, processes that could take years.  Since the process took so long, changes in personnel or public attitudes often resulted in revisiting certain already approved design decisions, sometimes even after that part of the plant was built, resulting in expensive modifications.

In addition, uninformed public hysteria was allowed to take precedence in the permitting process ahead of fact-based scientific analysis. That is not to say that there are not potential dangers - Chernobyl proved that, but one can pretty easily argue that Chernobyl was more consistent with Soviet era mega-industrial disasters that occurred in many industries than the general experience with nuclear power. 

In most cases, the public has no real idea of the risks of nuclear plants, especially vs. other risks they might face.  People who might never live in the vicinity of a nuclear plant live downwind of plants using hydrogen cyanide or hydrogen sulfide as process gasses; or near plants with the potential for runaway exothermic reactions, leading to explosions and/or toxic gas releases (Bhopal anyone?)  Far more people were killed by the explosion of a shipful of fertilizer in Texas City than have been injured by nuclear power in the United States.

Aircraft Regulation

If aircraft construction was regulated like nuclear power plants, there would be no aviation industry.  In the aircraft industry, aircraft makers go through an extensive approval and testing process to get a basic design (e.g. the 737-300) approved by the government as safe.  Then, as long as they keep producing to this design, they can keep making copies with minimal additional design scrutiny.  Instead, the manufacturing process is carefully checked to make sure that it is reliably producing aircraft to the design already deemed safe.  If aircraft makers want to make a change to the aircraft, that change must be approved with a fairly in-depth process.

Beyond the reduction in design cost for the 2nd airplane of a series (and 3rd, etc.), this approach also yields strong regulatory benefits.  For example, if the actuation screw for the horizontal stabilizer is deemed to be of poor or unsafe design in a particular aircraft, then the government can issue a bulletin to require a new approved design be retrofitted in all other aircraft of this series.  This happens all the time in commercial aviation.

One can see how this might make nuclear power plant construction viable again.  Urging major construction companies to come up with a design that could be reused would greatly reduce the cost of design and construction of plants.  There might still be several designs, since competing companies would likely have their own designs, but this same is true in aerospace with Boeing, Airbus and smaller jet manufacturers Embraer and Bombardier.

Nuclear Waste

The nuclear waste disposal problem is still not fully solved, but technology is making inroads, as in here and here and here.

I would argue that the issue of nuclear waste is a red herring anyway -- waste from nuclear power is not necesarily worse than from other processes, its just more visible and scary sounding.  Current power plants generate millions of tons of waste a year.  However, since they spread this waste evenly throughout the atmosphere, it doesn't always call attention to itself.  Radioactive waste, though small in volume, tends to be concentrated and admittedly tricky to handle.  It can't be just dumped in the air or in the water and forgotten about - it has to be actively tended for years.

Other Reading

Increasingly, many environmentalists are starting to revisit their opposition to nuclear power as the environmental costs are better understood (even technologies formally much-loved by environmentalists are coming under scrutiny for their costs -- do we really want all of our wilderness to look like this and this?)  Such articles include this and this.  Other roundups about the benefits of revisiting nuclear power are here and here.

UPDATE

My gut feel is that nuclear power, if intelligently regulated, could be economically competitive with many other energy sources today, but I don't know for sure.  Jerry Taylor and Co. at Cato think otherwise, and they have certainly put a lot more research into it than I have.  I am certainly loathe to start US energy policy, complete with massive subsidies, down yet another uneconomic blind alley.

Fixing the Libertarian Party

I have written several times as to why the libertarian party, while philosophically sound, falls far short as a political force.  Arizona Watch has a nice article and several links with suggestions to make the party a more viable political force.  You can find some of my problems with the party here.

Holiday Pork

Via Scrappleface, here is an AP report of some of the special interest spending items in the most recent budget.  Ughh.

"”Alabama: $4 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center in Muscle Shoals.

"”Alaska: $443,000 to develop salmon-fortified baby food.

Oh, just read them all.  Not sure any branch of government needs to do most of these things, but certainly if they need to be done, they should be funded by local taxpayers who get the benefit, not the rest of us.

Good Stuff at Scrappleface

First, Scrappleface reports:

After a week of tough negotiating by France, Germany and Britain, the Islamic Republic of Iran has conceded to reduce the size of nuclear warheads it will use in the eventual bombing of Paris, Berlin and London.

I might have thought this was humor until I read this line, which seems all too real:

Iran has pledged to stop enriching uranium, while retaining 20 operating centrifuges, and continuing to process plutonium

LOL.  Even better, Scrappleface also reports that CBS is considering emulating recent moves by the Ukraine press to abandon bias:

Inspired by a public pledge from Ukrainian TV journalists to provide unbiased reporting from now on, CBS News has launched an internal investigation to assess the potential impact of such a move.

Go read it all.

Overlawyered is on a Roll

Overlawyered.com is on a roll lately, with a number of articles that want to make you beat your head on the wall:

I give up - too many good ones to link.  Just go and keep scrolling - you don't want to miss the "breastaurant" suit, do you?

Incredibles and Atlas Shrugged

Cool article in Reason about the similarities between the Incredibles and Any Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Now I definitely have to see this movie.  As a side note, I actually met Mr. Incredible today at Disney World (OK, I "met" a twenty-something underpaid college student in an uncomfortable costume today).  Disney World trip roundup coming soon...

Democracy Bloc at the UN

This is a great idea, and one I missed the first time it came around.  It seems that the US has finally gotten tired of the U.N. being a big dictators club (the membership of the U.N. human rights committee is particularly appalling) and is doing something about returning the U.N. to some sort of sane and moral mission.  More here about the newly forming democracy bloc at the U.N. in a Reason article by Jonathan Rauch.

The idea has been given new currency with the growing movement to draft Vaclav Havel to replace the reprehensible and corrupt Kofi Annan, a movement currently being cheerled by Glenn Reynolds

Help Choose Dan Rather's Replacement!

Dan Rather will be leaving his anchor position at CBS Evening News.  I haven't really gloated about this online, despite my dislike for what CBS News has become, mainly because I don't see any evidence that CBS is really going to fix anything.  I mean, one clue that they are not really serious about change is that Dan Rather will be refocusing his time on 60 Minutes, the very forum that caused many of his most recent troubles in the first place.

Anyway, who should replace Dan?  My gut feel is that they will choose some stiff who has put in his time for decades at CBS, but I don't think that will do much to improve ratings.  What would?  How about these suggestions:

Improve ratings approach #1:  Finally get rid of the pretense that anchors are journalists rather than pretty talking heads.  Hire Nicollette Sheridan, or maybe Terri Hatcher.  Or, if you feel CBS News deserves more gravitas, in the Murrow tradition, how about Meryl Streep?

Improve ratings approach #2:  Go with comedy.  Bring in David Letterman from the Late Show to anchor the evening news.  "Tonight, we start with the growing UN oil for food scandal.  Uma - Anann.  Anann - Uma."  Or, if you want to segment the market differently, how about Tim Allen and the CBS News for Guys.  Or, if CBS wants to keep hitting the older demographic - what about Chevy Chase - certainly he already has anchor experience from SNL.

Improving Credibility Choice:  No one in the MSM really has much credibility left after the last election, but there is one man who would bring instant credibility to CBS News -- Bob Costas.  CBS should hire him away from NBC, like they did with Letterman.  Make him the evening news anchor.  Heck, if Bryant Gumbell can make the transition to the news division, certainly Costas can.

Become the acknowledged liberal counterpoint to Fox:  Hire Bill Clinton as anchor.  Nothing would generate more buzz than that hire, and he is at loose ends anyway (and think about all those wonderful business trips away from home...)  If Bill is not available, try James Carville.  I might even have to watch that.

Let the public decide:  Forget making a decision, and just create a new reality show like ESPN's Dream Job to choose the next anchor.  Each week the 12 finalists can be given a new task.  In week one, they have to pick up incriminating evidence about the President at a rodeo.  In week 2, they have to forge a believable set of documents from the early 70's, and survive criticism from about 10,000 bloggers.  They can kick one off the island each week based on the viewers votes.

Leave your own ideas in the comments section!

UPDATE #1

I want to expand on the idea in the comment below.  I think it would be a great idea to just run "best of" news broadcasts when Dan is out, like they did during Carson's frequent nights off late in his tenure.  The interesting part would be to see if anyone noticed.

UPDATE #2

Welcome Carnival of the Vanities.  If your missed our Carnival of the Capitalists posts on reverse auctions and why Priceline really succeeded, see here.  Or just browse around our most recent posts hereAnd, don't forget to vote in the 2004 Weblog Awards!

UPDATE #3

For a more serious handicapping of replacements, check out Rathergate.com and at RatherBiased.

Wizbang's 2004 Weblog Awards

Wizbang's 2004 Weblog Awards are accepting nominees.  We have been nominated in the "best of the rest" category, so come back and vote when the polls open!

The Free Market and Surgery

When was the last time you paid attention to the cost of any medical procedure (not your copay or share - but the actual cost)?  When was the last time you balanced whether to have an incremental medical procedure, such as an extra test, based on cost vs. benefits?  If you are like most Americans, the answer is "not lately" because our health care system does not give the end consumer any of the normal incentives to "shop" that they would when, say, buying a TV.

Marginal Revolution has a great post on laser eye surgery, probably one of the most popular medical procedures not covered by traditional insurance (I would normally guess "most" popular surgery, but having lived in Dallas and Scottsdale, I am all-too-aware of the popularity of breast implant surgery as well).  Guess what - it is one of the few medical procedures with high satisfaction and falling prices.

Building Capitalism in Iraq

The Knowledge Problem makes a good point:

Why has this administration said so little publicly about the development of capitalism, not merely democracy, in Iraq? Vernon [Smith] said that it's probably because we don't know how to "build" a market, and certainly Hayek and other Austrians would agree.

If the neocons are going to argue for aggressively promoting our values while toppling totalitarian regimes, they better figure out how to do it.

Reverse Auctions - and why Priceline REALLY succeeded

Business Pundit has a post today about a new auction site named jittery

One thing BusinessPundit mentions is that the new site will have a

"Buy Offer" feature, which I believe gave him the idea in the first place. Basically, instead of buyers competing over an item and raising the price, buyers specify what they want to buy, which features are important, what prices they want to pay, and sellers compete to give them the best deal.

I am extremely skeptical that this would work.  As background, I ran the marketplace portion of Mercata, that similarly tried to bring a different, more buyer focused model to table and failed fairly spectacularly.  We found that you can be as innovative as you want, but you need a lot of traffic to your site, and building such traffic takes a lot of time or a lot of money or both.  You also need to provide a value proposition for both buyers AND sellers.

A LOT of people have tried some sort of reversal of the auction process, where buyers specify the goods they want and sellers bring them to the table, bidding against each other (ie lower and lower prices) to get the business. FreeMarkets made some hay with this in the B2B world, but from the beginning the auctions were never really the money maker, but were a Trojan horse for supply chain consulting, which helps to explain why they merged with Ariba. 

The only people to make this model work in the consumer area is Priceline.  However, what most people fail to realize about Priceline is that it fulfilled a real business need for SELLERS, even more than for buyers. 

Airlines have a classic fixed cost pricing problem.  They want to sell as many tickets at a high price as possible, but an incremental passenger costs them nothing, so if the plane is not full, getting even $50 for a passenger to fill an empty seat at the last minute is profitable to them.  The problem is somehow offering the $50 fare only to the passenger who would not fly otherwise, and not cannibalizing the customers who are willing to pay $300. 

The problem is, if they offer the $50 fare to anyone, they can't hide the fact very well.  The airline industry, as most know, have very transparent computer systems that let everyone know their prices on every route every minute of the day.  If an airline cuts prices on a route, everyone knows - so that competitors can match the cut immediately and customers can switch from the higher to lower fairs.  Airlines protect themselves somewhat with limited availability of certain fares and advanced purchase requirements - so that people, particularly business travelers, who need to maintain flexibility, have a reason to pay higher fares.

However, advanced purchase requirements were not providing enough protection.  What airlines really wanted was a way to cut fares for one person who might not have flown otherwise, and let no one else see them do it.   And Priceline was the answer.  Yes, airlines had to tell the Priceline computers what the lowest bid they would accept from a customer for a flight was, but this did not constitute an official price that went into the reservation systems.  So, the airlines could cut their price (via Priceline), but only the customer who got the price ever saw it.

In fact, the story is even better.  At the time Priceline came around, one airline had a particular problem they needed to solve.  When TWA got a loan from Carl Icahn, an almost unnoticed part of the deal was that a certain travel agency owned by Icahn, small at the time, would be guaranteed TWA tickets at a healthy discount off the lowest published fares.  This agency, with this boondoggle, grew to enormous size as Lowestfare.com.  TWA, beyond the reasons listed above, therefore had a second reason for not wanting to publish their lowest possible fare.  Normal limitations that most airlines could set on how many seats would be available at their lowest fare could not be enforced by TWA.  If they offered a new $100 fare, Lowestfare.com could blow out an unlimited number of tickets at $80 or less and TWA would have to accept it.  Therefore, by offering discounts unpublished via Priceline, TWA prevented the travel agency from getting inventory even cheaper.  And so, a huge portion of the early Priceline inventory was TWA.  (ironically, after the American Airlines acquisition of TWA killed the deal, the Lowestfare.com URL was bought by ... Priceline.

Anyway, I just don't see how reverse auctions can work in the consumer world, particularly if the customers are allowed to specify price and quality and features, etc.  The transaction costs for suppliers would be just too high wading through this stuff -- in fact, many companies in the B2B world, where transaction sizes are in the millions, have come to this same conclusion - for a variety of reasons, they are choosing not to participate in reverse auctions (here too).

Marketplaces must offer value to both buyer and seller.  If you don't offer honest value to sellers, then no products appear on the site and it will fail.

Basically, there are two gorilla's in the online marketplace arena - eBay and Amazon.  eBay had the head start in building a brand and community in the marketplace space, but Amazon has brought some really nifty technology to the table.

As a user of both, I welcome a new competitor, sortof.  I hope that there will be competitors who force eBay to adopt some overdue new features (e.g. auction sniping protection and better search features on past auctions) but I don't really want any to be successful enough to create a third or fourth or fifth major platform out there, because that just increases my search costs and time when I want to buy something.

UPDATE

I missed pointing out one bit of irony.  The Internet is generally attractive to consumers because it increases product information, and particularly increases knowlege about market pricing.  However, in this case, Priceline's attractiveness to airlines was that it decreased pricing transparency in the market.

UPDATE #2

Welcome Carnival of the Capitalists readers.  Have a look around, and check out our thoughts on replacements for Dan Rather.

Florida Attraction Recommendation

We never go to DisneyWorld without Bob Sehlinger's book "the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World".  I don't know if he does a lot of unofficial guides or just concentrates on Disney, but from reading it you would swear he spends every waking moment here.  Totally recommended over every other guide out there.

Anyway, as we were reading our guide the other day in our hotel room, planning the next day, my wife happened on the Q&A section where a reader asked him "What is your favorite Florida attraction?"  His answer:

What attracts me most (as opposed to my favorite attraction) is Juniper Springs, a stunningly beautiful stream about one and a half hours north of Orlando in the Ocala National Forest....Winding through palm, cypress, and live oak, the stream is more exotic that the Jungle Cruise and alive with birds, animals, turtles, and alligators.

This was really cool, since my company runs the Juniper Springs recreation area and the Juniper Springs canoe run.  Yeah for us!

New Carnival of the Vanities

Just in time for your Thanksgiving holiday reading, find the new Carnival at Interested Participant.

Employee Privacy

As with any labor law or legal liability issue, there are probably more ways to trip up than you ever imagined.  This article at Faegre.com, which I found via George's Employment Blawg, has a nice summary of key issues in five categories.

Because the vast majority of our employees are over 70, and a number of them have disabilities, we have to be very careful in hiring.  Many of our jobs can be physically challenging, and dangerous to perform with some disabilities, so we have to take care to make sure an employee understands the work and that we mutually agree they can do it safely. 

One related area that I am not sure has been tested regards our corporate insurers.  Increasingly, insurers, particularly for our corporate vehicle policies, are refusing to insure over-70 drivers without some kind of letter from a doctor that they are capable of driving safely.  As you can imagine, doctors face liability if they put in writing the employee can drive safely (so the doctor might be liable if there is an accident) or if they write that the employee can't drive safely (so the doctor might be liable for effectively denying the employee insurance, or even a job).  As a  result, doctors are reluctant to produce such letters. 

It has not come up yet, but what happens if one of my employees is uninsurable for driving, and driving the company vehicle is an essential part of their job?  Do I face an ADA case for discharging them?  What choice would I have in that case?

We also have very severe challenges with off-duty behavior.  Most all of our employees live on the job site (i.e. the campground managers live in the campground).  So, off-duty behavior occurs on the job site.  Until I had this company, I always said that I did not care what an employee did on her own hours at home - but now, what happens on the employee's own time occurs in front of my customers.

We continue to walk a fine line on this.  To date, we have told employees that even if they are not on the clock, if they are wearing our uniform or verbally representing themself as a company employee, they are subject to on-the-job behavior rules.  Once the uniform is off and they are just "Joe", and not "the manager", they are free to do as they please, though they are still bound both by federal and state laws as well as campground rules. 

Carnival of the Capitalists is Up

Find the link here at Social Twister.

ACME Featured Product XI

This series explained here. We get many of our featured products here.  You can find all of our past featured products here.

Our ACME product this week was chosen to help me walk all over Disney World chasing my two kids.

Triplef

PR and the Web

A comment I got on one of my posts on Friday got me to thinking about corporate PR departments and whether they are really keeping up with the web.  In this post I mentioned that I would be heading for Disney World for our traditional family reunion, but that growing crowds on Thanksgiving week would probably force us to try a different week next time.  I got a comment from someone who sounded like a Disney employee, recommending a better week.

Now, I don't know if they were an employee, or whether they found the post by accident or through an active search program.  But it got me to thinking.  Are corporate PR departments keeping up with the web?

Back when I worked for a large corporation, we had PR people, either in or out of house, who would provide us with weekly news summaries of where the corporation was in the press.  This was particularly helpful to those of us in marketing, who wanted to make sure we saw all the reviews of our product (so we could use the good ones and refute the bad ones).

In the world of the Internet, this approach seems hopelessly dated.  Every day employees may be talking about the company in a chat room, customers may be commenting on the company in some place like epinions.com, blogs may be posting on the company, and authorized or unauthorized vendors may have set up shop to sell the company's products online.

How does  a company keep up with all this?  If I was a large company, I would be actively searching the web for key words associated with my company, looking for new posts or entries or even whole websites.   Employees spilling secrets in a chat room?  Need to tell legal.  New web site selling our product? Send it to marketing to make sure they are authorized.  Blogs posting on us?  We might want to add our own comment to the post.

So I got to thinking - was that Disney that found my site?  If so, is this what they are doing to manage their online PR?  And if not, why aren't they doing it?  You wouldn't even have to build your own search engine - just take a full snapshot of the Google results one day and compare those results to a search the next week, and look for changes.

Or, why doesn't Google provide this service to corporate accounts itself?  They need something to justify their sky-high PE ratio, maybe this would help.  Wouldn't Exxon pay $50,000 a year for this service?  Heck I pay D&B several hundred dollars a year for a credit watch service on my credit rating, I would certainly pay some hundreds a year for a PR watch.

UPDATE #1

See comments below - the original commenter apparently not a Disney employee.  Never-the-less, the idea still excites me.  A company like Disney rests almost completely on its reputation - why isn't someone out on the web every day monitoring what is happening vis a vis their company?

New American Nomads

Every year, between November and January, tens of thousands of modern nomads descend on the lower Colorado River.Spread out from Yuma to Lake Havasu City, but with their center in the normally small town of Quartzite Arizona, RVers will join together for a month or two in the Arizona desert.  Barren fields alont Interstate 10, totally desolate and empty for 9 months of the year, suddenly become a huge encampment.

One of the little talked about trends within the larger story of the aging of America and the growing population of retired people is the substantial number of people who have given up the traditional notion of a fixed home and neighborhood and headed for the open road. While some still own a home, and travel for many months of the year, an increasing number have sold their home, bought an RV, and live on the road -- with absolutely no attachment to any fixed location. They may spend a day or several months in any one location, but most tend to drift north during the summer and back south for the winter.  These are not people who take their RV out on vacation -- these are people who live on the road 365 days a year.

For reasons of weather and tradition, while you can find RVers in the summer months in every state, in the winter months a large number will converge on Quartzite. Friendships will be renewed. Business will be transacted. Jobs for the summer months will be solicited. A thousand and one vendors will pitch a tent in the desert to sell their wares. These gatherings remind me of how the old western trading posts may have looked during the winter, surrounded by wintering Indians and trappers. The only difference today is that most of the nomads are Caucasian, and many of the trading posts, in the form of Casinos, are run by the Indians.

Some of these new nomads are able to completely retire and live off their savings. Others need to work to bring in a bit of cash, or at least to pay for a place to park and hook up their RV to utilities. In our business, we hire over 400 of these folks a year, usually working the summer months in exchange for a free site for the RV and some money for relaxing in the winter. RVers are generally comfortable with fairly modest pay, but they won't stand still for very long if they don't like the job or their boss or their co-workers. After all, they all have wheels on their houses and can leave with little notice.

As you might imagine, in this Federalist country we live in where most government services occur at the state level, this nomadic lifestyle can lead to confusion. If you spend the entire year traveling around the country, where is your voting precinct? Where do friends send you mail? How do you get bills? Where is your bank? In which state do you pay taxes? If you think you have trouble getting W-2's out to your employees, trying tracking down 400 nomads with no permanent address!

To a large extent, technology has helped solve a number of these problems over the last decade. Cell phones provide telephone service nearly everywhere in the country. DirecTV does the same for television. With a national ISP like EarthLink or AOL, email doesn't care where you RV is parked "“ it will get to you.

In addition, a whole cottage industry has arisen to serve the needs of full-time RVers. Despite advances in technology, most people still need an address for the mail to go, and the IRS still is kindof fussy about having a mailing address for folks. So, entrepreneurs, mainly in Texas and Florida, have created huge PO box operations to serve RVers, with flexible options for holding or forwarding mail. Full-time RVers, living 365 days in their vehicle, have demanded and gotten larger and more elaborate RV's from manufacturers, up to and including RV's built on bus frames. And, new, more elaborate and upscale RV parks are being built to accommodate the more affluent new RVers.

Other people, including, predictably, the government, have not caught up with this trend. For example, many RVers are living on retirement and social security payments. Most state revenue departments have laws in place that if you are a resident of that state for some number of days, then you have to pay income taxes on earnings, even retirement pay or investment earnings, in proportion to the time spent in the state. These laws are mainly put in place to snare some incremental taxes from wealthy athletes and traveling sales people, but they can can hurt RVers.

An RVer who is totally honest about the states they were a resident in during a year might end up having to fill out five, six, or more state income tax returns. No one wants to do that, especially for small sums, so very very few people observe these tax laws. In fact, that is why PO Box drops are in Texas and Florida, because neither have state income taxes. Their pension and investment and social security checks go to those states, and no one has to be any the wiser about what other states they may have parked their RV in for a while.

There are a number of places to get more information about full-time RVing. Web sites and magazines line the Roaming Times and Trailer Life cater to full-time RVers. Working RVers can find information about work camping jobs and camp hosting as well as the whole workamping lifestyle.  Finally, look for good places to camp at goRVing.com, at ReserveUSA, or of course at my company's directory of forest service campgrounds.

A Close Brush with Death

I won't bore you by being overly dramatic, but my family came within a hair of dying on US27 between Orlando and Ft. Meyers.  A car that had slowed to about 10 miles an hour in the left had turn lane changed their mind and pulled back, still going 10 miles an hour, into the main traffic lane.  Right in front of my car.  While I was going 60.  At night.  I jammed the breaks on my unfamiliar rent car and managed to slow just enough to have time to slide into the other lane, just ticking the back bumper.  Fortunately, there was no one in the right lane, because I was sure as hell going over there whether it was occupied or not. 

So we live, and I had the shakes for a while.  My daughter, who had already gone for the bad-traveler trifecta, barfing twice on the plane and once in the car, didn't even stir.  My son never really realized how close things were. Good.

Pretty sure my life did not pass before my eyes, and I didn't really reach any lifetime epiphanies or anything so dramatic.  Maybe I am just shallow, or maybe I am so optimistic I cannot in my heart accept the closeness of death.  Anyway, I had an unbelievably relaxed day today.  The one lasting effect of the near-mishap was that 4 or 5 things that were bothering me and stressing me a bit were quickly flushed down the mental drain as trivial.

So much for shortcuts.  Tomorrow, we take the longer way back to Orlando on the Interstate.

Headed for Florida

Headed for our once every two years (is biennial twice a year or once every two years?) family reunion at Disney World.  Years and years ago, when we first started this tradition, Disney World was deserted on Thanksgiving week - no one wanted to be away from their families.  Now, its a total zoo and about the busiest week of the year.  Though I am a sucker for tradition, I am going to petition the family for a date change before the next one.

Every time I go to Disney World, I think of this exchange from National Lampoon's Thats Not Funny, Thats Sick:

(fake) Mr. Rodgers: "would you like to go to the magic kingdon?"

Stoned-out Bassist (Bill Murray): "no thanks man ... I gotta drive." 

Slimy Mollusk Higher than a Crusty Crustacean?

Over the couple of months I have been blogging, I have been moving steadily up the TTLB Ecosystem.  Today, when I looked at the site, I thought that I had surely fallen a notch.  Yesterday I was a crusty crustacean, but today I am a slimy mollusc.  That felt like a drop, but, as it turns out, I actually moved up.  I guess squids are pretty cool, but my anti-mollusk bias probably comes from living in Seattle for a while and finding my patio covered in giant banana slugs.  Ugghh.

UPDATE:

Now I am a lowly insect.  This is progress?