Pattern recognition

I was not particularly surprised to read this article about Google keeps track of things you buy. It’s ostensibly so that you can “easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place.”

Thanks, Google, but I don’t need your tracker to know exactly what I spend my money on:



Is this thing on?!?


My first successful new year's resolution

In the abstract I’m not a big believer in new year’s resolutions. But last year I resolved to work out 300 times in 2015. And I did. 301 times, actually. That’s just about 6 days per week, every week of the year. I’m sure there are people who worked out more than that, but it was a lot for me. Here are some things I learned:

- This is obvious: having a goal makes a huge difference. Just as important is tracking your progress. There were a lot of days when there was no way I would have worked out if my progress tracker was not published on the internet.

- The best kind of goals are those you have direct control over. There’s a big difference between “I will work out 300 times” and “I will be able to do a handstand by the end of the year.” (Which, by the way, I also resolved to do this year and did not achieve.) Stick to inputs, not outputs.  

- Find a frictionless way to keep track of your progress. For me, it involved sending a text to IFTTT, which updated a google spreadsheet. (It actually got much more complicated than this, to the point that I’m embarrassed to explain the tracking system I set up. Feel free to ask.)   
- This is the most important thing: you can always work out. Always. You don’t even need clothes or shoes. You definitely don’t need a gym. Just do some pushups. 

Some notes on my year of 301 workouts: 

- Favorite workout: running stadium stairs at the University of California’s football stadium
- Most consecutive days with a workout: twenty, from August 24 to September 12
- Most consecutive days off: five, right after the bar exam
- Next most consecutive days off: two (eleven times)
- Most workouts in a day: two (twenty-four times)
- Most frequent workout: basketball (sixty-seven times)
- Least frequent workout: [solidcore], (once)
- Number of yoga classes: twenty
- Number of runs: nine (I figured there would be more)



why I have a website

Someone teased me the other day for having this website, which I think is fair, since it does seem like a fairly vainglorious thing to spend time on. So I thought about it for a bit, and there are basically two reasons why I'm going to keep it up. 

First is control. It's 2015. The first thing I do when I meet someone is google them, and I assume other people operate the same way. I'm not fully comfortable with having our personal histories fully indexed and searchable (for another time). In the US we don't have a "right to be forgotten," which may or may not be a good idea (also for another time), but I don't think I'd be cool exercising the right even if it existed here. So that leaves a proactive approach: making sure that the top hits when someone googles me are things that I have control over. When you type "joe vladeck" into google's search bar, this website is the second hit -- after my linkedin profile, and before my twitter profile (which... is pretty useless). 

The second is that I like writing, and writing takes practice. Fred Wilson, venture capitalist, explained this better than I care to here.

It's also worth mentioning the value of sending ideas out into the e-wilderness. I know exactly how many people read this (not very many at all!), but there's always a chance that an idea will gain some traction. For example, my explanation of why the New America Foundation's  allegations about Georgetown Law's student loan repayment scheme were wrong got picked up by Equal Justice Works & US News & World Reports. (Who found that New America Foundation's conclusions were "not justified by their analysis.") Obviously not a huge deal, but cool nonetheless. 



a ride will be the new search

A lot of people have been writing recently about how disruptive driverless cars will be. (There are so many takes I'm not going to bother linking to them, but as a starting point consider this one by a prominent Andreessen Horowitz analyst.)

I generally agree with the view that, sometime in the next 5-15 years, on-demand self-driving cars are going to change everything. So I don't have much to add to the conversation, except this prediction: at some point (soon), getting a ride will be the real-world equivalent of using google for search. 

Here's my rationale, which is based on the parallels between a search and a ride. The marginal cost of providing search is negligible. Google (and Microsoft, and specialized search engines like Yelp) are able to monetize search in other ways -- primarily by selling ads against search results, and by using the information derived from searches in other ways. The same pattern goes for most of the other "free" services we get online: a product is provided for free to an end user, and then the provider advertises against it, or finds other ways to monetize it (eg, "freemium"). 

Providing a ride will (eventually) follow the same dynamic.

The first key trend is that the marginal cost of a ride is dropping, dramatically: per Evans' back-of-the-envelope math, above, an electric self-driving car today costs roughly between $.15 and $.20 per mile. (See Note 1, below.) As solar energy gets cheaper and cars get more efficient, we can expect the cost of driverless car trips to keep dropping .

The second key trend is that there are fantastic opportunities for driverless car networks to monetize the rides that they provide, including: (a) in-car advertisements; (b) in-car entertainment; (c) "premium" services like "upgrades" to bigger or fancier cars, or cars with, say, booze or food; (d) "finders' fees" for directing riders to certain stores / restaurants / entertainment venues; (e) delivery or logistics services; (f) metadata regarding who is going where, when, with who else; and so forth. Rides are an even richer opportunity for monetization than searches or email ever were. 

At some point, the two trends are going to intersect: the opportunity to monetize a ride is going to exceed the cost of providing that ride, and driverless car networks will offer rides for free. It's going to happen, it's just a matter of when. Just like Google's search engine is the default starting-point for navigating the internet, pulling out your phone and requesting a free ride from a driverless car network (operated by, say, Google or Tesla or Uber) will be the default starting point for navigating the physical world. Incidentally, this would be a great service for a small- or medium-sized city that lacks a good public-transit infrastructure to offer, but that's a separate post. 

I've thought a lot about the privacy implications of this; at first, it seemed pretty frightening. But then it occurred to me that our cell phone providers are already tracking us basically 24-7. It's not much different to have a Google car drive me to the porn store (or ACLU meeting) than to just bring my cell phone with me while I drive myself. I do think it will present an opportunity for a driving car network-equivalent of DuckDuckGo (the search engine that doesn't track its users). 

More concerning, I think, are the questions about how law enforcement will interact with self-driving cars. If there's a warrant for your arrest, and the police know you're in a self-driving Uber, can the police order that Uber to take a detour to the police station?  

Note 1: To illustrate how cheap $.15-$.20/mile is, even today, consider that the average American drives 37 miles a day, or about $6/day in Evans' self-driving car. According to FiveThirtyEight, the average US household currently spends between $4 and $5 per car trip, and makes more than 5 trips per day. Assuming two drivers per household, self-driving cars would lead to a 50% reduction in car cost, and that's before before factoring in network effects, carpooling opportunities, decreasing solar costs, decreasing car costs, ands forth.



my law school note is now online

…it’s pretty boring, but if you’re interested in reading about how we should make decisions in the present when we’ll have flexibility in the future, you can find it here on the Georgetown Law Journal’s website. Here’s the first section, which gives a medium-length summary.

My “statement of originality,” which I actually think is the best, shortest description of the note, is below the fold.

Statement of Originality | Valuing Regulatory Real Options

This note is about uncertainty, and how people who will have flexibility in the future should make present-day decisions. Specifically, this note addresses the process regulators use in determining whether to issue a regulation. Regulators act in the face considerable uncertainty; that is, they don’t really know for certain whether a given regulation will turn out to be successful. Fortunately, regulations that have been issued can be retracted later on (via a process called “regulatory lookback”). In other words, regulators have flexibility.

This note argues that the way regulators decide whether a regulation is worthwhile (called “cost-benefit analysis,” or CBA) does not adequately account for this flexibility, and that a different framework, called “Real Options Valuation,” would be a better approach. The note includes a case study explaining how real options valuation could be applied, using the same information regulators already have.

Real options valuation is relatively recent innovation, but it has gained a foothold in legal scholarship. This note is novel insofar as it applies an emerging valuation methodology to a longstanding legal problem in a way that ameliorates some critics’ concerns. (CBA has always been controversial; Georgetown Law’s Lisa Heinzerling is perhaps CBA’s most cogent critic.)

Moreover, this note is timely for two reasons. First, the Obama administration has dramatically expanded “regulatory lookback,” the formal avenue under which regulators can use empirical information to re-assess existing regulations. Second, regulatory agencies (particularly the SEC) have been attacked with increasing frequency for inadequate efforts to quantify the uncertain costs and benefits of regulations.1 The approach suggested by this note provides an alternative strategy for regulators seeking to ameliorate uncertain and poorly understood risks.



Emerging Companies & Regulatory Risk

Last week I gave a talk at InSITE Connect about this topic. The slides and my talking points are posted online here, and via the InSITE tab above. I’d love any feedback or thoughts.

Also, this happened:

In relevant news, Coinbase announced today that it raised a  $75 million round, which is a record for companies in the bitcoin space. Lots of interesting legal and regulatory questions to overcome here; my money would be on bitcoin as a protocol, not a currency.



The culture that is Silicon Valley

This is not a parody:

Later, Guvench and I took an Uber to his next destination: a barbecue for alumni of Y Combinator. The barbecue was in a warehouse owned by the startup Move Loot. It was full of forklifts and plastic-wrapped couches, and youthful entrepreneurs milled around tables displaying trays of smoked meat. I took out my notebook and noticed that two young programmers were staring at me. Finally, one of them came over and introduced himself. His name was Paul Cretu, and he and his partner were working on transcription software that records everything you say, leaving you with a searchable record of your thoughts and conversations. He wanted to hear all about my reporter’s notebook and how I was using it. “We’ve never seen anyone taking notes in the wild,” he said.



I guess this is the propaganda version of “game recognize game.”

I guess this is the propaganda version of “game recognize game.”



Japanese briefcase arbitrage, edition

This briefcase costs about $950 USD:

Artphere Entrepreneur Briefcase

This briefcase costs 33,600 Yen, which is about $318:

ニューダレスバッグ I Pad入り

They are, obviously, the same briefcase.

A fundamental principle of economics is the “law of one price,” which basically states that you can’t make a profit simply by buying something in one place, moving it somewhere else, and then selling it. Or, at least, you won’t be able to make money doing that for long. Other people will notice, decide to do the same thing, and eventually drive your profits down to zero. Arbitrage opportunities, to the extent that they exist, are fleeting.

So it doesn’t really make sense that a briefcase that retails for a little over $300 in Japan sells for 3x that price in the U.S. (It actually might make a little tiny bit of sense: some company bought exclusive U.S. distribution rights, for an unknown price. Whatever.)

Enter, a genius Japanese company. Tenso lets you order online products that are sold exclusively in Japan, and have them shipped to Tenso’s warehouse. (Alternatively you can ask them to purchase the stuff for you, for a nominal fee.) Then, for a small fee and the cost of shipping, Tenso forwards your item(s) to you in the U.S. Voilà!

I recently had Tenso purchase and send me the briefcase. Total cost: about 38,000 yen for the briefcase and 5,730 yen for the shipping. (That’s including Tenso’s fees.) All told I paid about $415, or about 40% of what it would cost in the U.S. 

Thanks to Tenso for proving that the law of one price is a real thing: in the long run, these guys can’t make money simply by buying stuff in Japan and selling it in the U.S.A.



Why Icihiro speaks Español

Mostly he just curses:

“I feel a bond with [Latin-American players],” he said. “We’re all foreigners in a strange land. We’ve come over here and had to cope with some of the same trials and tribulations. When I throw a little Spanish out at them, they really seem to appreciate it and it seems to strengthen that bond. And besides, we don’t really have curse words in Japanese, so I like the fact that the Western languages allow me to say things that I otherwise can’t.”

The whole WSJ article is great. Also totally agree with this sentiment:



New Hero

This guy (who runs Showtime Lounge, as quoted in this WCP article about dive bars):

“I still can’t believe they opened a bar in Marvin Gaye’s hometown where he lived his entire life, he’s a hero here, and they open a restaurant and dedicate it to the year he lived in Belgium. So they could sell $9 Belgian beer, and, like, steak frites,” he says. “That’s insulting to everyone. They keep having to explain it. ‘Oh, did you know he lived in Belgium for a year? That’s why we’re selling Duvel for $12.’” (Vivari adds that he has DJed for three Hilton brothers establishments, including Marvin, and he was fired from all three. A call to Ian Hilton seeking confirmation of this was not returned.)

Also this:

“I think people in D.C. are just sick of the same fucking place every week,” Vivari says. “All those places on 14th Street. Six Italian places and three tapas places? You just opened up a business on a street where there are six other businesses exactly like yours.“

(Also, this:)

“A bar like this is such a simple, basic business model,” Vivari says. “It honestly doesn’t make sense why there isn’t one in every neighborhood. Everything that is opening is essentially the same place. It’s the same model: ‘We’re going to have a kitchen, we’re going to specialize in this, but we also do all this other shit. Like, we’re going to do American, but we’re also going to do tacos, too. And have, like, soufflés…’ They’re all trying to build on that Thievery model.”

That’s as in D.C. electronic group Thievery Corporation, and its member Eric Hilton, who with his brother Ian is behind Marvin, the Brixton, Den of Thieves, American Ice Company, Satellite Room, the Gibson, and others.



Come and Take It

The latest addition to the décor:

Though the symbolism has evolved into a generic symbol of defiance, the phrase + flag has a cool history. It’s often referred to as a “Gonzales Battle Flag,” but the phrase dates back to (at least) the Revolutionary War:

The American contingent at Fort Morris was led by Colonel John McIntosh… The Americans numbered only 127 Continental soldiers plus a few militiamen and local citizens. The fort itself was crudely constructed and could not have withstood any concerted attack.

The British Col. Fuser demanded Fort Morris’ surrender through a written note to the American rebels. He had 500 men plus artillery. Though clearly outnumbered, Col. McIntosh’s defiant written response to the British demand included the following line: “As to surrendering the fort, receive this laconic reply: COME AND TAKE IT!” The British declined to attack".

In Texas, the symbolism is similar, and dates back to the Texas Revolution, which began with the Battle of Gonzales (really more of a skirmish). The Mexican government had given the town of Gonzales a small cannon to defend against Comanche raids. Due to growing tension between the Mexican authorities and local Texians, the Mexicans sent Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda to ask the Texians for the cannon back.

As the fog lifted, Castañeda…request[ed] a meeting between the two commanders…. [Colonel John Henry] Moore explained that his followers no longer recognized the centralist government of Santa Anna…

As Moore returned to camp, the Texians raised a homemade white banner with an image of the cannon painted in black in the center, over the words “Come and Take It”.… The Texians then fired their cannon at the Mexican camp. Realizing that he was outnumbered and outgunned, Castañeda led his troops back to San Antonio de Béxar.



Check out Hessismore, featuring cousin-in-law Matt Parker on saxophone. Hessismore defies characterization, but my best attempt would be “modern dance orchestra.”