A Trip to Zion National Park

Mary and I visited Zion National Park a couple of weeks ago. It was stunning because you can go right into the rock formations rather than viewing them from across a canyon. Someday we’ll return to St. George, Utah and visit Bryce Canyon, too.










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Startups Solving Trivial Problems

In a recent survey asking people to identify the biggest problems in Silicon Valley, Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director, Code for America, replied:

New York magazine recently reported that there are no fewer than a dozen venture-funded start-ups trying to make doing your laundry easier. That’s the problem the ‘innovators’ in our country feel is most important to solve? Try to solve overcrowding in jails or climate change—or avoiding the next HealthCare.gov—and I think those minds will find themselves pushing for more-innovative solutions.

Pahlka says in her talk, “Government is about doing together what we can’t do alone.” This is true in a utopian state but not in the real world. Unfortunately, she is wrong because mostly government is about “redistribution” and “transfer” payments, stealing money from one group of people to benefit another. Government can only be fixed after citizens renounce theft as a means to increase wealth. People aren’t angels so I don’t expect government to be fixed.

It would be better to abolish areas of government and replace them with private businesses. PayPal and Bitcoin were started to abolish the dollar. Uber’s business plan includes abolishing municipal taxi regulations. Maybe other businesses will attack government.

Jennifer Pahlka believes that many new profitable technology businesses could be created that serve governments. The problem is that government employees aren’t as responsive to fear and greed as the rest of society. Government employees usually can’t get rich by doing a good job so greed doesn’t work, and they hardly ever get fired no matter how badly they do their job, so fear of being fired doesn’t work, either. Governments can never work well but they can sometimes defeat other governments in wars. Governments are best at perpetuating power, preventing Scots and others from separating from existing countries.

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Peter Thiel’s Flawed Analysis of Hewlett-Packard

Stanford computer science students aren’t very bright. Famed investor Peter Thiel taught a course there, CS183, Startup Engineering, where he explained his theory of how to create a successful business. Unfortunately, not a single one of the many students in the class decided to check Thiel’s work when he claimed one side of a boardroom dispute was to blame for the crash of a Silicon Valley icon.

In the class and in his book based on the class, Zero to One, Peter Thiel argues that Hewlett-Packard (HP) was grossly mismanaged from late 1999 until late 2012 under the leadership of chairwoman of the board Patricia Dunn. However, from 11/1/99 until the day that Patricia Dunn resigned, 9/26/2006, HP stock fell 3%, decisively outperforming the NASDAQ index, which fell 25%. HP continued to outperform the index for 4 years during the period 11/1/99-9/26/2010, by a 25% margin. HP stock crashed in 2011, long after Patricia Dunn had left the HP board.

Stanford students should take nothing for granted; everything should be verified, even the assertions of a prominent successful investor.

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A Day in Estes Park, Colorado

I rode my bike and visited a few shops in Estes Park last week. I haven’t been there in a few years so it was a pleasant diversion. Someday I’ll visit Rocky Mountain National Park again.

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Animals on Bike Paths

It pays to be alert when biking or walking on bike trails. This week I encountered a bull elk in Estes Park on the Lake Estes trail and a 5 foot snake on the Spring Creek Trail in Fort Collins. I thought at first that the elk was a statue because it wasn’t moving.

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Black Child Beatings in the South and North

Former professional basketball player Charles Barkley grew up in the southern USA.

The Minnesota Vikings football team suspended a player because he beat his child, so former professional basketball player Charles Barkley defended the father, stating that most black parents in the southern USA beat their children, and that it is impractical to incarcerate all of them. This raises the question of whether most black parents in the northern half of the country beat their children, too. I haven’t seen this discussed but the speech below of President Obama, given to the NAACP on the 100th anniversary of the group, suggests that northern blacks raise their children similarly to southern blacks. In the middle of the video, President Obama, discussing being a good parent with a smile on his face, describes how much fun it would be to beat neighborhood children, and the black audience responds with thunderous applause.

Meanwhile, black politician Jesse Jackson is lobbying Apple, Google, Facebook, and other technology companies to hire more blacks. It hasn’t occurred to him that while the kind of people that beat children, and/or were beaten as children, often excel as professional athletes in violent sports like football, they might not excel as often in developing technology products where violence isn’t as useful. People who have trouble controlling their temper and emotions when they are frustrated and angry make poor engineers and scientists. Developing software is often very frustrating.

Companies are most often motivated to earn profits rather than advance social agendas of racial or other political groups.

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Chile Increases Taxes to Fund More Government Education

Chile passed a huge tax increase to further socialize education but the National Bureau of Economic Research isn’t convinced that it will work well.

We investigate whether the inclusion of social rights in political constitutions affects social performance. More specifically, we analyze whether including the right to education in the constitution has been related to better “educational outcomes.” We rely on data for 61 countries that participated in the 2012 PISA tests. Our results are strong and robust to the estimation technique: we find that there is no evidence that including the right to education in the constitution has been associated with higher test scores. The quality of education depends on socioeconomic, structural, and policy variables, such as expenditure per student, the teacher-pupil ratio, and families’ background. When these covariates are excluded, the relation between the strength of constitutional educational rights and the quality of education is negative and statistically significant. These results are important for emerging countries that are discussing the adoption of new constitutions, such as Thailand and Chile.

Chile is falling into the middle income trap. Many countries prosper for 20-30 years but decline as the government takes more control of the economy. The Chilean government has devalued the currency by 15% relative to the dollar during the past year and there are no signs of a resurgence of capitalism. Chileans have forgotten or never learned why they prospered during the last 20 years.

Andrew Coulson summarized the disaster the Chileans are creating.

Sadly, the government seems unaware of how successful the existing system has been. It wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs without even having noticed the eggs. The Bachelet government, and the student leaders who encouraged it to adopt these reforms, want to believe that a centrally planned school system would work better than the more free enterprise approach that exists today. Camila Vallejo, for instance, once said that Venezuela’s centrally planned education system is more advanced than Chile’s. But on the famous PISA international test, Venezuela’s most developed state performs far below Chile’s national average. And the avowed mission of Venezuela’s system is to indoctrinate youth with the government’s ideology. There seems to be little appetite for that sort of system in Chile.

It is good that Chileans are unsatisfied with the status quo and eager to improve it. High standards are crucial for the advancement of nations as well as individuals. But if the desire for improvement is to be satisfied, it must be accompanied by an honest appraisal of what works and what does not—in the real world. Chile’s entrepreneurial approach to education has elevated it above its regional peers, narrowed its educational gaps, and is helping it to improve overall. Central planning, as Venezuelans are rediscovering, has a less encouraging record.

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The Highest Whole Foods Market in the USA

The highest Whole Foods Market in the USA is located in Frisco, Colorado near the Keystone, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain ski areas. Although they operate many stores in the Colorado Front Range, it is their only store in the Rocky Mountains. Their arrival a few months ago dramatically improved the food quality of the mountain grocery stores. We visited it for the first time today.

This large Forest River Rpod teardrop trailer was parked at the Whole Foods Market in Frisco.

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Can You Spot the Bear?

Can you spot the bear in the picture below? He was easily visible to the human eye but I snapped the picture at 3 PM with so much glare that I couldn’t see the bear on my 7″ Android tablet. The camera zoom is poor and I might not have been able to get a better picture even had there been no glare. The bear was napping in the trees behind the dense Riverwalk development, 10 miles west of Vail, while I took the picture from the bike path 20′ above the river. He must have walked from the mountains several miles across town in the dark while people were sleeping.

Can you see the bear where two trees nearly intersect? He is resting on both trees.

The trees above the Eagle River are about 60' tall and is the bear is 40' high.

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Hiking and Biking in Vail

Mary and I hiked and biked in Vail this week. We lived here for 3 summers so it reminded us of many fond memories.

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