Posts tagged ‘GPS’

He Who Has Two Clocks is Never Sure

I had no idea there were so many time standards

We already have way too many time standards, including:

  • TAI, time based on an atomic clock, which ignores all motion of the Earth
  • UT0 and UT1, time based on precise measurement of the Earth’s rotation
  • GPS, the time standard used by GPS satellites
  • UTC, the standard used in computing, which is like TAI but with leap seconds to keep it in sync with Earth
  • TDTTBTTCB, and TCG, which are all even worse

This leads to all kinds of little headaches, particularly for programmers. For example, the clock in your smartphone’s GPS is 16 seconds out of sync with the phone’s system clock. This is because the system clock uses Coordinated Universal Time (which has leap seconds), but GPS time doesn’t. They were in sync in January of 1980 and probably never will be again.

When Bad Things Happen to Well-Intentioned Legislation

My Forbes article is up for this week, and discusses 10 reasons why legislation frequently fails.  A buffet of Austrian economics, Bastiat, and public choice theory that I wrote for the high school economics class I teach each year.

Here is an example:

3.  Overriding Price Signals

The importance of prices is frequently underestimated.  Prices are the primary means by which literally billions of people (most of whom will never meet or even know of each others' existence) coordinate their actions, without any top-down planning.  With rising oil prices, for example, consumers around the world are telling oil companies:  "Go find more!"

For a business person, prices (of raw materials, labor, their products, and competitive products) are his or her primary navigation system, like the compass of an explorer or the GPS of a ship.  And just as disaster could well result from corrupting the readings of the explorer's compass while he is trekking across the Amazon, so too economic damage can result from government overriding price signals in the market.   Messing with the pricing mechanisms of markets turns the economy into a hall of mirrors that is almost impossible to navigate.  For example:

  • In the best case, corrupting market prices tends to result in gluts or shortages of individual products.  For example, price floors on labor (minimum wages) have created a huge glut of young and unskilled workers unable to find work.  On the other side, in the 1970s, caps on oil prices resulted in huge shortages in the US and those famous lines at gas stations.  These shortages and gas lines were repeated several times in the 1970's, but never have returned since the price caps were phased out.
  • In the worst case, overriding market price mechanisms can create enormous problems for the entire economy.   For example, it is quite likely that the artificially low interest rates promoted by the Federal Reserve over the last decade and higher housing prices driven by a myriad of US laws, organizations, and tax subsidies helped to drive the recent housing and financial bubble and subsequent crash.  Many will counter that it was the exuberance of private bankers that drove the bubble, but many bankers were like ship captains who drove their ships onto the rocks because their GPS signal had been altered

Fourth Amendment Win

Licensing Has Nothing to Do With Consumer Protection

Yeah, I know, this is volume one hundred and something in a series, but it is such a crystal clear example of government licensing working primarily to protect incumbent competitors in an industry I have to share it.

Suppose you’re the owner of a taxicab company in a largish metropolitan area. One day you notice some taxis tooling around town—and they’re not yours. They belong to an upstart competitor. His cars are newer, his drivers are nicer, and his fares are lower. Pretty soon your profits start shrinking. What are you going to do about it?

You have a couple of choices. Option A: Invest a lot of money in new vehicles, customer-service training for your drivers, GPS systems to map faster routes and so on. A lot of expense. A lot of effort.

So you go for Option B: Invest a little money in a few politicians, who adopt a medallion law: Only licensed operators with city-issued taxi medallions may operate cabs. The oldest cab companies get first dibs on the medallions, at the lowest rates. Only a few medallions are left over for the new guy, and he can’t afford them anyway. Bingo—your competition problem is solved. The customers might not like it, but what are they going to do—walk?

Apparently this is exactly what is happening in DC

Now it’s the District of Columbia’s turn. Four members of the D.C. City Council have introduced a bill that would create a medallion system for the nation’s capital. Medallion prices would start at $250 for the most established taxi companies and, for the newer entrants, run as high as $10,000. At least initially. As time wore on, it’s likely that the price of a medallion would go up for everyone. That’s what has happened in places such as New York, where a government permission slip to drive a cab costs about $600,000. In Boston, which initially capped medallions at 1,525 in the 1930s—and more than a half-century later had added only 250 more—a medallion will cost you $400,000.

At present the District has more than 10,000 licensed taxi drivers; the proposed legislation would establish only 4,000 medallions. Needless to say, such artificially imposed scarcity also drives up prices. A study by Natwar Gandhi, the District’s chief financial officer, found that fares in cities with medallion systems are 25 percent higher than in cities with open taxi markets.

By the way, for extra points, here is a lawsuit right out of Atlas Shrugged

That story has played out in many cities across the United States, with sometimes amusing variations. A decade or so ago, Minneapolis (population 300,000-plus) allowed a grand total of 343 taxis to operate until Luis Paucar, an immigrant, filed suit. The city council decided to allow another 45 cabs. Then the existing cab companies sued, using the creative legal theory that they had a constitutional right not to face competition. (They lost.)

Sure-Fire Science Fair Project

In 8th grade, my son won his science fair with this easy and fun project to measure the urban heat island effect around our city.  I know parents and kids alike can struggle to find a good project.  This is one that not only is interesting, but helps to prove the existence of a phenomenon that many climate alarmists work hard to deny.  Imagine a temperature measurement point in downtown Phoenix, which we found to be 7-10F hotter than the outlying areas just 30 miles away.

What did that thermometer read 100 years ago?  How much of measured global warming is due to this effect, particularly since our airport, the typical place where temperature records are based for large cities, is right in the center of town?

Anyway, we had to kluge together some stuff to make this work, but the Weather Shop now offers a simple kit. The site suggests keeping track of position in a log vs. time, which is what we did the first time and works just fine.  However, the second time through, we got fancy and also had a GPS logger.

Peak Pricing for Parking

From my point of view, the NY Times buried the lede in this story about installation of parking sensors on San Francisco streets.  The article focuses mainly on the ability of drivers at some time in the future to get locations of empty parking spots on the streets via smartphone or possibly their GPS.  But I thought the pricing changes they were facilitating were more interesting:

SFpark, part of a nearly two-year $95.5 million program intended to
clear the city's arteries, will also make it possible for the city to
adjust parking times and prices. For example, parking times could be
lengthened in the evening to allow for longer visits to restaurants.

The
city's planners want to ensure that at any time, on-street parking is
no more than 85 percent occupied. This strategy is based on research by
Mr. Shoup, who has estimated that drivers searching for curbside
parking are responsible for as much of 30 percent of the traffic in
central business districts.

In one small Los Angeles business
district that he studied over the course of a year, cars cruising for
parking created the equivalent of 38 trips around the world, burning
47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

To
install the market-priced parking system, San Francisco has used a
system devised by Streetline, a small technology company that has
adapted a wireless sensor technology known as "smart dust" that was
pioneered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

It
gives city parking officials up-to-date information on whether parking
spots are occupied or vacant. The embedded sensors will also be used to
relay congestion information to city planners by monitoring the speed
of traffic flowing on city streets. The heart of the system is a
wirelessly connected sensor embedded in a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of
plastic glued to the pavement adjacent to each parking space.

The
device, called a "bump," is battery operated and intended to last for
five and 10 years without service. From the street the bumps form a
mesh of wireless Internet signals that funnel data to parking meters on
to a central management office near the San Francisco city hall.

This is actually really cool, but my guess is that politicians will not have the will to charge the level of peak prices the system may demand.

Postscript:  As many of you know, there is a new wave of urban planners who want to impose dense urban living on all of us, whether we like it or not.  I have no problem with folks who want to fight the masses and live in downtown SF or Manhattan, but the world should also have a place for the majority of us who like to have an acre of land and a bit less congestion. 

Anyway, in singing the praises of the urban lifestyle (which often is as much an aesthetic preference vs. suburbia as anything else), you seldom hear much about this type of thing:

Solving the parking mess takes on special significance in San Francisco
because two years ago a 19-year-old, Boris Albinder, was stabbed to
death during a fight over a parking space....

The study also said that drivers searching for metered parking in just
a 15-block area of Columbus Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side drove
366,000 miles[!!] a year.

And here we suburbanites are complaining when we have to park more than 5 spaces from the door of the supermarket.

Contributing to Science, Follow-up

My photo survey of the Tucson USHCN climate station is still creating a lot of discussion.  Discussion, for example, is here, here, and here.

And you too can have the satisfaction of contributing to science.  All
you need is a camera (a GPS of some sort is also helpful).  I wrote a
post with instructions on how to find temperature stations near you and how to document them for science here.  Believe it or not, for all the work and money spent on global warming,
this is something that no one had done -- actually go document these
sites to check their quality and potential biases.