Real Time Payments Network

Bank Note Money Usd Funds Bills Us-dollar DollarThe clearing house has released business principles that outline the operation of the real time payments (RTP) Network. A full set of guidelines is here.

These are important inasmuch as they set out key points, among them most importantly:

TCH runs the RTP network as a utility for the benefit of the industry and RTP fees shall continue to be flat for all participants regardless of size, and shall not include volume discounts or minimum volume requirements.

It does though, contains a super-clause, which is typical of the monopolistic “free market” here in America. In an effort to restrain competition, and limit the ability of smaller financial institutions, the clause reads:

These principles apply so long as the RTP network is the only provider of faster real-time clearing and interbank settlement.

So here we are again, with another great example of limited competition. Who would provide an alternative, well, as listed in a prior post, the big tech companies are not likely to sign-up and get locked into RTP charging. Also, the Federal Reserve is considering a Faster Payments Network.

Sigh, here we go again, more glacial progress and lack of choice. Don’t stop ordering checkbooks anytime soon.

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‘Facebook can’t be trusted’

New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner John Edwards (@jce_pc), was interviewed this morning on NPR by Rachel Martin. Edwards criticized Facebook after last month’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch were live-streamed on Facebook.

It was a refreshing interview with a politician who doesn’t have all the answers, and knows it’s not his job to come up with them. He is also not beholden to big tech financing, as a New Zealand politician. Equally Edwards was clear where the blame and responsibility lay. The whole interview is well worth listening to, but Edwards rightly pointed out

we have a platform that has displayed shocking lack of responsibility and accountability for the tools that it has enabled

He [Zuckerberg] kinda conflated that [bad actors], with the live streaming of the atrocity in New Zealand, but that person didn’t go to any lengths, there were no systems. If you are going to offer a service that is capable of such deep and profound harm, then it is incumbent on you to ensure it is safe.

In the USA you have product liability, if a manufacturer makes something, a product, which causes harm, they are liable for that. It’s time we started to look to the social media companies for that.

… the lack of responsibility the company has taken. They should be acting now. If they can’t assure us that the streaming service is safe, then it should be taken down.

I was quite disappointed when I heard Mr Zuckerberg equate the atrocities in Christchurch with childrens birthday parties. He said if you put a delay in the system it might have prevented the uploading that video, but that would have broken the experience of people who use it for childrens parties.

I don’t understand the mathematics there, how many childrens parties, Mr Zuckerberg, equals one murder, one live streamed suicide, one sexual assault live streamed? It’s really incumbent on the platform to take responsibility to make the product safe. Until they ca, to take it down.

Bravo sir, bravo. In many aspects of life we have too easily succumbed to technology allowing us to do things which are not necessary, it’s there just because it can be. Facebook isn’t alone in this, and it’s time that we take a step back.

Remember when conference calls had live moderators? When you couldn’t speak until the lines were open? That wasn’t there just so the speaking presenter/executive could just say “next slide please”, it was there to stop unwanted and unruly interruptions. No one is saying one to one video communication should be outlawed, but live streaming needs to be moderated and regulated.

If the live streaming platforms won’t do that, can’t make it profitable, then so be it, ban it.

You can’t broadcast naked bums, boobs and dicks on American broadcast TV, at any time of the day. Yet, we allow facebook, youtube, twitter and other live streaming platforms to broadcast anything to anyone, anytime. This isn’t a free speech issue, I’d prefer grown-up movies to be broadcast unedited on TV, like streaming services. At least in the UK they have the 9pm ‘watershed‘.

It’s hard to see how anything will change here, until we have more politicians like Mr. Edwards.

Residential Parking Permit Programs

This is bound to come up here in #louisvilleCO sometime, given the city wants to expand downtown, and doesn’t have a parking solution. Back in my old town, Austin Texas, it’s still a thing. I read this excellent blog post by Meghan Skornia.

I’d like to have commented on her blog directly, sadly it requires a facebook ID, which regular readers will know, I don’t have anymore.

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I tried to reply via twitter but it was typo-ridden and out of sequence. So, here it is with corrections.

I lived on the 600-block of W Johanna St for 10-years. The block west of S 1St Street. Although I was asked twice, and S 2nd at the end of my block was RPP, We never had RPP while I lived there. I wouldn’t sign, and the guy next door was the manager of Polvos Restaurant and he wouldn’t sign for obvious reasons, so didn’t happen.

  1. If all houses on either, or both sides of a block have kerb cuts or alley access, that’s a disqualifying condition for RPP. You already have nearly 8ft of public road reserved by your kerb cut. It’s not the cities problem if you use your garage for storage or park a trailer or old klunker on your drive. Nor is it the cities problem if you have 3-cars in your house, park parallel to the kerb cut and work it out. You can’t have RPP if people block your drive. That’s already an offence, call the cops, get the cars towed.
  2. Minimum price for RPP is the cities price per Sq yard for road maintenance and rebuilding. One side is 1/3 of the total price of the block length, want 2-sides then that’s 2/3 of the total price of the block. If your block is 270ft long, minus 20ft at each end for turning, that’s 240ft by 29ft giving, 773.33 sq/yds. Typical paving cost, is circa $31.40 per sq/yd for residential streets. 773.33 x $31.40 = $24,178. Divide by 1/3, or 2/3 depending on what RPP you want. That’s the upfront cost, in this case for both sides circa $18,600. Obviously streets are assets, otherwise you wouldn’t want to reserve space on them. Now you have to maintain the asset on yearly book value. You’d need to estimate how many years the RPP would run for, 25-years would likely be a good road lifespan. You then pay into ROF (road owners fund) that the city maintains for you to rebuild the road. Annualized, maybe $5k per year?
  3. If 2. above seems too complicated, you have to pay the TXDOT Road User Costs Per Vehicle Hour, it’s currently $29.35 per hour. Want ten hours per day on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s $587 per week, but for that you get a side of a block rather than a single space.
  4. No kerb cut? No problem. Since you bought the house at market price knowing it had no off street parking you can have the frontage of your house reserved, put a kerb cut in and use your yard. Doesn’t work for you? Ruins the neighborhood character? Sorry, not sorry.
  5. You are not entitled to park on a city street just because you live there, anymore than everyone else. Unless you moved in 80 years ago, you only EXPECTED to be able to park there, there was no legal agreement. Times change, so does need. Move on, literally.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. There is a quid per quo. Especially in Austin where they still have parking minimums. A Business may not expand either the size of the building, or add outdoor seating, if afterwards the total space occupied doesn’t have the correct parking minimums. No wavers. No fees. This is a deliberate constraint on the business. It gives residents the ability to limit commercial expansion, in exchange for not having RPP. This is why Polvos never expanded between 2006 and 2016, everytime they tried, I stopped it. They wanted to add more and more outdoor seating, they didn’t have the parking minimum spaces. Don’t like it? Get rid of parking minimums. Enough said

Finally, Meghan, was a little disingenuous when she mocked residents about the trash issue. In my 10 years I had people walking across the front yard, stopping and urinating against the fence, including a woman hiking up her skirt and peeing standing up. I found condoms and tissues on my drive a few times, and once a syringe/needle. Really. I also had people park on my driveway while one ran out to get takeout. It’s more of a problem  than simply trash.

I was able to get a discount on my property taxes for all this commercial blight. Everyone else should do the same.

Paranoimia

No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a blatant attempt to launch myself into the ring tone provider market(not!)

As I continue to ramble, sometimes alphabetically, through my 2000+ vinyl album collection, this had been sitting staring at me.

MaxheadroomMpegMan[1]It cleaned up nicely, and after editing, the tonality seemed pretty good. I’ve done a few personal ringtones before, it’s not complicated. This begged for one and here it is, wrappered at both ends by the iconic triangle. At 23-seconds its a bit on the long side, but still in “fair use” scope.

AI straight at you from 1985.

What I want to know is why are the only funny lines on this show, are the ones behind me?

Here’s MAX!

Stock buybacks rule – Tax breaks enable

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Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
As predicted, not by the tweeter in chief, but by almost anyone who understands big companies and executive, stock buybacks hit an all time high in 2018 and are likely to be higher again in 2019.

This is a big deal, companies that buyback their stock, are reducing the number of shares available on the market. That generally means the share price goes up. Share prices are often one of the main ways executives are measured, their bonuses are usually dependant on the share price. Also, because the price of each share goes up, it makes it harder for lower and middle class people to get in on the action.

buying your own shares is like eating your own young, a glorified share manipulation gamble

The other reason share buybacks are import to watch, is they effectively use the companies cash to “eat themselves”. That cash is then no longer available for Capital investment, new building, equipment and other necessary expansion expenditure. Citigroup reports that companies buying back their own stock, spent more money doing that, than at any time since 2008.

Home Depot announced a $15-billion buyback in February, as a way to artificially hedge their share price, after they announced they’d miss expectation on revenue. Cynical share price manipulation. I have no idea if they used repatriated tax money, but if they miss earnings again this year, the share price will drop. Of course the executives and board will be ok, they’ll have sold their shares at the newly inflated share price, which is down on it’s 2018 high(212.39), but not nearly as low as it would have been if they’d not bought their own shares.

Next time a big business closes an office near you, and jobs are lost, don’t take their reason at face value. When did they last do a stock buyback, and how much cash was repatriated under the Trump/GOP tax break for 2018?

It’s Friday: The Soul Jazz Funk of Kudu

Hey, it’s Friday, I’m going to post a mix every Friday now of music that I like. At least for now, I’ll be posting link to other peoples mixes, but my aim is start putting together my own.

As I continue through my “Vinyl to Digital” project, I’ve be listening to some great jazz. So my mix for this week.

Cyclists and Pedestrians generate more income for a town

forbesThis Forbes article came up again recently. My hometown, Louisville CO, is still struggling with how to incentivise redevelopment downtown, following the “collapse” of their parking garage initiative run for the city by the Louisville Revitalization Commission (LRC).

I even applied for a vacant seat on the LRC, which I didn’t get. Better that than being one of those people who just complain at every opportunity.

I’ve encouraged the Mayor and Councillors to do more to make it easy for people that could get downtown without using private cars, to do so. Disappointingly, nothing has happened in the 3-years I’ve been here. The trail connection underpass long promised for 2018, which doesn’t really help get people downtown, has even been delayed. It’s even allegedly in the mix for the cities new Transportation Master Plan prioritization. Which assumes it might not get priority?

Car drivers often operate under a car “driven” mindset/false dichotomy that they can drive somewhere else for “free”

Car drivers often operate under a car “driven” mindset/false dichotomy that they can drive somewhere else for “free” to get a cheaper deal, a different meal, a better choice etc. When the opposite is true, not only are they using their car, fuel, wear and tear, but they are also doing the same to the roads. Ten of thousands of journeys quickly add up.

Cyclists & pedestrians don’t have the same mindset. Even with good, frequent, easily accessible transport options, they are much less likely to think, “oh, I’ll pop to xyz to see what they have.”. I should be obvious that non-car drivers value their time more, and instead of spending it travelling to the mall, to the next city over, they take advantage of what’s close by.

There is though a symbiotic relationship between how people travel, and the what is there when they arrive. This is why a city believes they have to provide parking, otherwise people won’t arrive by car. In a small city like Louisville, with close-in neighborhoods that’s not the way it has to be.

Just because people don’t drive a car, doesn’t mean the place they are travelling to can be a take-it-or-leave-it, subpar destination. Start by prioritizing non-car travel. Make it easy, convenient, and safe to get to by foot, by bike, e-bike and yes. scooters, and then re-develop the properties to provide a first class destination.

That makes a ton more sense than building an expensive parking garage, that causes years of disruption during construction and then incentivise developers to re-develop. The more people you can get out of cars now, the less space for them you will need in the future and the less people will demand it.

Vinyl the perfect archive medium?

As I continue to digitize my entire 2,000+ album collection, I’m constantly amazed by the quality and durability of Vinyl recordings.IMG_20190308_100641

It’s true that I have the really poor quality stuff yet to come, as part of a dj lot of 90’s trance/techno 12-inch singles, some without covers, and many that were sat in damp or wet conditions. The general usability of vinyl is amazing. Have a listen to this sample from Quincy Jones first album, the track is called: A Sleepin’ Bee

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Quincy Jones, recorded in 1956, probably pressed 1957.

The album is “This is how I feel about jazz“. It was recorded in 1956 exactly 1-year before I was born. It’s a mono recording, and this sample was taken from the album I own, a first pressing. admittedly I’ve cleaned and digitally enhanced the recording I made of the album. You can see pictures of the album and the actual vinyl on the entry in discogs via the link above.

I have working players and readers for most media that I’ve ever worked with and owned. I don’t have working computer tape drives, the sort that we used on mainframes from the 60’s to the early 2000s, or the modern versions. Nor do I have an IBM Mass Storage System for a couple of the cartridges I own. Also missing from my collection is a Videocassette Player(VCR). Although I could get one, I have no interest in collecting video tapes. “Videos” as they became known are perhap the worst example of home tape use(more on this later).

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Reel-to-Reel Tape

I do have two working reel-to-reel tape decks; a working dual cassette recorder/player; an 8-track player/recorder; a diskette drive: numerous CD, DVD drives and players; heck I even have a videodisc. All those formats though have their problems. Anything based on magnetic media, which would include tapes, cassettes and 8-tracks, as well as diskettes, can easily be ruined by putting them near or on top of something with a strong motor which destroys the magnetic encoding.

They also suffer from read errors. Almost anything that uses tape, uses a rubber or silicone wheel to move the tape. They often usually need a form of tension to hold them in the right place to pass over the head in order to be read. The wheels are destined to either attract dirt, or worse, cleaning with the incorrect fluid, which causes the material on the wheel to become “sticky” or decompose, which causes the tape to stick to it and jam. Tape itself is also prone to decomposition, and wear. It’s not unusual to pick up old cassette or reel-to-reel tapes that have the magnetic material flaking off.

Early “floppy” discs if stored correctly, are still useable, but since they have such small amounts of digital storage, really have no practical use. Yes, you can still get 3.5-inch diskettes and a drive, and the drivers are still embedded in Windows 10. The same can’t be said for 5 1/4-inch and 8-inch floppy discs. Again, these have so little space they are of no practical use today.

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CD, DVD, Laserdisc

Once we moved to laser based read/write heads and optical discs, a whole new era of problems opened-up. CD’s sold as the perfect solution and virtually indestructible, but in practise, they were so convenient they are used everywhere, and the surface quickly became scratched. While they can be re-polished and even re-surfaced, the problem with anything digital is that you depend on the error recovery built into the drive, and if it cannot read the data, and as explained in this video, be error corrected, the optical disc data just can’t be read. If the drive won’t read it, you can’t get at the data in order to correct it.

I have a eight professionally produced and manufactured DVD’s from the early 2000’s that are on triathlon training. I decided it was time to see if they could be sold on ebay. Before listing them, I decided to play each one and ensure it was OK. The oldest of the DVD’s wouldn’t read on the external drive I use for my laptop, no matter what I tried, including simple repairs. It does play in a dedicated blu-ray DVD player. Frustrating.

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The rough end of my collection – 90’s DJ vinyl

However, vinyl records always play, even if only poorly. Records suffer from four types of problems, each of which can be corrected, either digitally, or physically.

The first is surface noise and clicks. Basic surface noise is easily removed provided you can find a section of the record that has noise and no music or sound. You simply sample the noise and tell the software, in my case, the excellent open source Audacity, to remove all noise as sampled. Clicks can also be removed, sometime just by software, other times by digitally editing the wave form, for the very small time period, reducing the amplification to the point where the click isn’t heard.

Second, jumps. Where a record is scratched, if the scratch is deep enough, instead of the stylus gliding along the track, the scratch causes the stylus to jump one more more tracks. You can’t physically correct these, but given a digital copy, you can replace the bits. Small, identical sections, for example a few seconds from a chorus and can be cut and pasted over the original jump section. If that’s not possible, again, you can adjust the amplification to make the jump almost unnoticeable.

When listening to music tracks, unlike processing digital data, or watching digital TV, at least in my experience, the faint sound of a jump is often missed as you are immediately processing/hearing the sound that follows.

Third are warps. A significant warp or bend in a record requires careful heat treatment. I’ve had hit and miss with this, but on the couple of albums I’ve tried, I was able to heat and flatten the vinyl to the point where it was playable, and then required time to digitally correct the sound defects. Given the availability of cheap vinyl records on @discogs and ebay, it’s often worth just buying another copy.

If you do decide to go down this route, you’ll need to carefully heat with a hairdryer, and then be prepared to weight in down with a heavy weight that is totally flat, like gym weights. Also it requires only very little heat and a lot of weight and, and time. I’ve taken two plus hours and yes, I’ve ruined a few by overheating, which causes the grooves to collapse. The warp will be gone, but so is the groove.

The final form of damage is a crack in the vinyl. Success here depends on the original type of record. Shellac 78’s are easily glueable these days. It requires care and any seepage above the surface must be removed. It’s common the hear a loud pop as the needle passes over the crack on each revolution. The pops can be removed digitally. And, yes, I do have a number of 78’s.

Repairing singles/45’s if they have one crack, is often not necessary. 45’s tend to be thinner vinyl, you can place the record on the turntable, and assuming you have a felt or cork matt, gently push down on both sides of the crack and then play it and remove the pops digitally. Albums and singles can be glued. It’s better if you can, to glue just the edges and allow the capillary effect to get some of the glue into the actual crack.

And that’s it. Apart from a couple of records that I failed to fix the warp on, I’ve never had a vinyl record I couldn’t make a passable digital copy of. If you are interested in some ideas of how to physically recover, restore, rescue vinyl records, John Manship from the UK has some great tips.

I have no plan to sell my vinyl when finished. They’ll just sit there in the corner of the living room, looking great, and a perfect archive. You can follow my vinyl to digital journey here, on twitter.

Oh, one more thing. The ease of use and creation of CD’s also lead to massive counterfeit operations, and so while you might have thought that all the piracy action was online in digital files, it wasn’t. This case from 2018 year shows, one of the top sellers of CD’s on Amazon, was in fact selling fakes. You can read about it here or watch the news report here. So CD’s are easy to use, perhaps a little too easy!

And yes, there was a period where bootleg vinyl records were common, less so today but still worth taking great care if you are buying rare records.

El Chapo’s Downfall? It’s really not that important.

Review of Don Winslow @donwinslow article in the current issue of Vanity Fair.

I know next to nothing about Mexican Drug cartels, so this was a fascinating read.

Among the things I learnt was

Unlike the Mafia, the Mexican cartels encourage their members who have been arrested to tell everything they know if they can cut a deal for a shorter sentence—all they are obliged to do is relay what they’ve given up to defense attorneys, who then pass the information on so the cartels can make the necessary adjustments.

For more on the operation of the Sinaloa cartel; and how relatively unimportant El Chapo’s bust was; and how little difference it will makes to drugs coming into the US, this is a great read.

It ends with a great summary and question.

What is the corruption of the American soul that makes us want the drugs in the first place? Opioids—which are killing more Americans now than either car crashes or guns—are a response to pain. We have to ask the question: what is the pain?

Until we ask and answer that question, the drug problem will always be with us.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/02/the-dirty-secret-of-el-chapo-downfall

‘Why does a check take as long to clear today as it did in 1982?’

The latest American Banker Podcast mirrors my recent post about Tech taking over the banks. Aaron Klein, a Brookings Institute fellow, makes a compelling argument for why the American banking system needs to be updated, unlike my general frustration, knowing that better is perfectly possible.

Among other reasons, Klein points out that people who are unfortunate enough to have their bank account balance at or near zero, deserve better. They need to know how long a check will take to process, how long before the deposit is final, and when they can plan payments for bills based on availability of funds. It’s well worth a listen. You can hear it below, or take the link over to the American Banker.