Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: May 2013


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 05 May 13

This week, the podcast is 1:07, but, really, the last fifteen minutes or so is such an arcane discussion of GDP calculations that it’s probably unlistenable. But, first we discuss Benghazi and the recent poll that shows 29% of Americans think they may need to grab a rifle and head off into the hills to raise an in the next few years.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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The obvious question

I find something really interesting. In my previous post on creating the 2 Quickscript fonts, no one asked what I’d think was an obvious question, which is, "Wait. You made fonts? How the hell do you make a font?"

I find it fascinating that, especially today, when we have daily access to electronic typography, there’s so little interest in what fonts are, or how to make make them. Especially when literally anyone with a computer can make their own fonts. There’s even a free, online bitmap font creation program called Fonstruct. We spend our lives surrounded by typography and almost no one cares about it at all.

Which brings me to a trilogy of fantastic documentaries about design by a film-maker named Gary Hustwit: Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. All three of them are enormously interesting, and one of them is about a font, Helvetica, which every single person in the Western world sees every single day of their lives. You should watch all three of them.

Also you should go read my latest auto review at Medium: Doctor Hoon: 2013 Mini John Cooper Works GP. And you should "recommend" it after reading, to make my Medium stats shoot up really high.

~
Dale Franks
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Top ten newspapers and their circulation–a six month update

Six months ago, I did some numbers and commentary on declining newspaper circulation.* By chance, I noticed a couple of web articles that give some more current numbers, so I decided to revisit the older article and see how things are proceeding.**

Here is a table I created with print numbers from 2004, mid 2012, and late 2012-early 2013 for the current (2013) top ten newspapers. The current top ten list is taken from an AP article on Huffington Post, and is ranked by their current circulation.

 

Newspaper

2004

2012

Early 2013

6 mo +/-%

Total +/-% since 2004

WSJ

2101017

1499204

1480725

-1.23

-29.52

USA Today

2192098

1627526

1424406

-12.48

-35.02

NYT

1119027

717513

731395

1.9

-34.64

LA Times

983727

489792

476148

-2.79

-51.60

Wash Post

760034

434693

432454

-0.52

-43.10

Chicago Sun-Times

453757

361523

392889

8.68

-13.41

Chicago Tribune

603315

388848

368145

-5.32

-38.98

NY Daily News

712671

389270

360459

-7.40

-49.42

NY Post

642844

344755

299950

-13.00

-53.34

Denver Post

340169

236223

223871

-5.23

-34.19

 

Back in November, I said

USA Today looks vulnerable to me, because it looks like the easiest national newspaper to replace with a web-based aggregation app. They do very little original reporting except for the sports section. They have not yet ramped up a decent web presence, and it’s pretty late in that game.

In the latest numbers, USA Today’s print circulation is down a staggering 12% in just six months. I’d like to say I was prescient, but that’s so much, I suspect that the data isn’t comparable. I suppose it could be correct, especially if they lost a major hotel chain or two as a distribution channel. It does seem indisputable that they they are on a long term trend of losing circulation fairly rapidly.

It appears that USA Today did ramp up their web presence somewhat. The reported number of “web subscribers” went from about 86,000 to 250,000. I suspect they’ve started counting the numbers differently; that much increase out of the blue, with no special reason for more eyes on their site, looks unlikely. Since they have no paid web subscribers, it almost doesn’t matter anyway because the revenue from web advertising isn’t going to support their current business model. (The uncertainty about web numbers is one of the reasons I think the methodology might have changed enough to make the print comparisons suspect.)

I also noted circulation alarms for the Washington Post last time:

The Washington Post looks vulnerable too. It also has limited web presence, and print circulation is down a staggering 40%+ in eight years.

The six month circulation change isn’t too bad for them, but Ed Driscoll noted yesterday that their financials have taken a big hit in that time period. Their earnings are down 85%. 

There are a couple of reasons I don’t pay much attention to the web numbers. First, it’s hard to compare the numbers or get any idea of trends without details on their methodology for counting “subscribers”. For example, they could take the count of people who have gone through a silly registration process where they ask for an email. Someone might register that way for one article and never come back. Or it might be based on visits, but there are lots of ways to fudge those, depending on how you count and define things.

Second, I’m guessing they are using a methodology that’s favorable to their numbers, and they still lag. For example, the largest reported number of web subscribers by any of the majors is about half of what the Drudge Report gets in unique daily visits. Drudge’s monthly unique visits would make that ratio fifteen to one instead of two to one. I mentioned last time that Huffington Post has passed NYT in daily visits.

The overall story means steadily decreasing revenues for everyone except possibly the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and I wouldn’t be too sure about the Times. Occasionally a regional paper will have a good run and make up some ground, as the Chicago Sun-Times has done recently (passing the Tribune on circulation in fact), and I called out the San Jose Mercury News for impressive growth in the last post. But those cases are rare, and don’t seem to be long lasting effects.

Way less money to spend is convenient in some respects, though. It’s easy for an editor to rationalize ignoring a complex story such as Benghazi. Unconsciously, he may not want to cover it because of the danger to his precious historic president, but he can tell himself he just doesn’t have the resources.

One of the messages the right needs to communicate and make part of the popular understanding is how declining revenues have constrained the reporting at major newspapers. That would be one way to explain to people, without getting partisan about it, that those newspapers shouldn’t be regarded with the authority most everyone gave them thirty years ago.

 

* The Washington Post link in that blog post, showing 2012 circulation figures, is dead now. It was apparently based on an AP story, and got removed after a while. I found the original AP story on Yahoo, with all the numbers from the original cite. It’s here.

** I should repeat the same caveat as last time: I am looking primarily at print circulation declines, and so I have to do some arithmetic because the newer numbers combine web and print. Those numbers also give the web number, so I subtract to get the presumed print circulation. It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding what the web numbers mean. Some of the “web subscribers” might also receive a print edition. In that case, the print numbers would be higher. But since I think the industry would want those numbers to look as high as possible, I don’t think they’re defining things that way.


Economic Statistics for 3 May 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The BLS reports that 165,000 net new jobs were created in April. The unemployment rate declined 0.1% to 7.5%. Average hourly earnings rose by 0.2%, but the average workweek declined to 34.4 hours. Overall, another lackluster report, but the internals of the Household survey are little better than they have been. 210,000 people entered the labor force, and 293,000 more people were employed than last month. Meanwhile, the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at a historically low 63.3%, while the employment-population ratio rose a single tick to 58.6. Even using the historical labor force participation rate, the real rate of unemployment declined slightly to 11.54% in April from 11.65% in March. Overall, a weak report, but with some small signs of improvement from last month.

Factory orders declined by -4.0% in March, showing weakness in all categories. Moreover, February’s orders were revised downwards to 1.9% from 3.0%.

The ISM Non-Mfg Index fell 1.3 points to 53.1 in April.

~
Dale Franks
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Don’t like the GDP numbers? Change the rules …

Seems easy enough.  That way you can claim to be improving it even while nothing is actually improving in reality:

The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced last week it would be changing the guidelines with which it calculates Gross Domestic Product, more familiarly known as the GDP, the standard by which the size and growth of the economy is measured.

The change comes after more than five years of economic stagnation that, despite frequent claims of a strengthening recovery, have seen high unemployment and extremely slight growth in the size of the economy.

GDP is calculated by adding up the total amount of private consumption, investment, government spending, and net exports. The new changes, which will include definitional changes to expand what is counted in GDP, are expected to add 3 percent to the GDP report, while not changing the actual output of the economy.

The agency claims the changes in calculation “more accurately portray the evolving U.S. economy and to provide for consistent comparisons with data for the economies of other nations.”

Note the emphasized text.  Realize that the addition of 3% to future GDP reports will be made without any explanation that a) there have been changes in the way it was calculate and b) in reality, the actual output of the economy has not changed at all.

But the administration will claim victory and the low information voters will buy it while the “no” information voters (those on the left who refuse to challenge anything put out by this administration) will crow about the “improvements” that the administration has brought to the economy.

Meanwhile the unemployment picture will remain the same (about 7.5%) until they can find a new way to calculate that and take about 3% off .  Then we’ll be officially “fixed”.

Amazing.

~McQ


I made some Quickscript fonts. Yay!

One of my personal little personality quirks is a deep sense of privacy, bordering on misanthropy*. I mean, I’m civil enough, I suppose, but deep down, I don’t really trust people very much, and I don’t what them to know much about what I’m thinking or doing. For instance, because I have to attend meetings and take lots of notes, I don’t want people to see what I’m writing. But, I also don’t want to be the wierdo whose obviously guarding his notes from the prying eyes of the other meeting attendees.

So, I taught myself the Cyrillic alphabet, and for years I was able to take all my meeting notes in it. Sadly, last year, our team was joined by a perfectly nice Polish woman who is highly educated and speaks several languages, one of which is Russian. So, she can read everything I write in Cyrillic.

I thought about learning something like Teeline shorthand, which no one anywhere in the world uses but British journalists, who were taught it in journalism school. But shorthand is hard to learn, and I am lazy. Oh, and you have to transcribe it into English pretty quickly or you’ll forget what it actually says. Which seems like a lot of work that I wouldn’t want to do being, as I said, lazy.

Then I learned about Quickscript.  Quickscript, also called the Read Alphabet, was invented several decades ago by a Brit named Kingsley Read. He was really into English-language spelling and writing reform. Over the course of several years, he created the Quickscript phonetic alphabet which uses 40 letters that correspond to the 40 phonemes of spoken English. You can learn all about it here, because I am, if you’ll remember, too lazy to take the time to explain it in any more detail. Anyway, I learned it, and now I use it all the time, and no one has clue what I’m writing about them at meetings.

But, because I also like to play around with techy things, I’ve also created two OpenType fonts for Quickscript. Quickscript Regular is a sans-serif font that more or less is a tidier version of the handwritten alphabet they have at the Wikipedia page I linked above. But I thought there should be a classier, formal version of it, so I deconstructed the universal screen font known as Georgia, and made a type ready book font called Quickscript Georgian. I’ve uploaded them to QandO in a zip file here.

Some Quickscript letters are very similar, like the letters for "f" and "b", but they are placed differently on the baseline, like the English letters w and y. Also, English phonemes like "TH" or "OW" that are represented by two letters in English are represented by a single letter in Quickscript. And there’s a different letter for the "TH" in "thick" and the "TH" in "that", or the "OO" sound in "book" and "boot". So, most of the time, you write significantly less text in Quickscript than you do in English, a boon for the lazy.

Here are some English/Quickscript samples of words that have a letter-to-letter correspondence with English. Note the b and f letter placements in Quickscript:

quickscriptsample2

Here’s a longer piece of text, showing a phrase in English, Quickscript Regular and Quickscript Georgian. After that are the keys I had to type to write in the Quickscript fonts.

quickscriptsample

The "As Typed" bit is weird, I know. Because Quickscript uses 40 letters instead of 26, and some English letters like c and q aren’t used at all, the keyboard mapping is a bit odd. The numbers and punctuation and everything are the same, except for the Tilde (~), which I have replaced with the little dot that signifies proper nouns in Quickscript, in lieu of capital letters, of which, Quickscript has none.

Also, notice what I did with the word "the" in the sample above? We pronounce it two different ways, "thuh" and "thee", and we do it in the same sentence. SO, the same word can be spelled two different ways in Quickscript, because it’s phonetic, and pronunciation, not spelling, rules. Unlike English, when you try to "sound it out" in Quickscript, the way grammar school teachers used to tell us, you really do sound it out.

Here is the keyboard mapping, which is the same for both fonts:

QuickscriptMapping

Basically, I’ve used the lower case for all the regular letters, and capitals for the odd phonemes or long vowel sounds. I’ve tried to make the mappings as logical as possible. For instance, the two TH phonemes are mapped to the T and t keys, SH is mapped to S, and so on. Though, admittedly, I just couldn’t figure out what to do with the OO as in "book".

There are actually Quickscript users other than me, so I thought I’d contribute the fonts to the Quickscript community by making them publicly available here.

—————————-

* "Bordering on"? Who am I kidding? I’ve invaded misanthropy, sacked the capitol, and set myself up as President For Life.

~
Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 2 May 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index reached a five-year high this week, hitting -28.9.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows 38,121 layoffs in April, which is signifigantly less than the previous two months.

Falling imports shrank the US trade deficit to -38.8 billion in March. Imports fell -2.8%, while exports fell -0.9%.

Jobless claims fell 18,000 last week to 324,000. The 4-week average fell 16,000 to 342,250, a recovery low. The 4-week average for continuing claims also fell 18,000 to a new recovery low of 3.056 million.

Nonfarm business productivity rose an annualized 0.7% in the 1st Quarter, while unit labor costs rose 0.5%. Both numbers were worse than expected.

~
Dale Franks
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Is the IRS overstepping its authority in ObamaCare enforcement?

This should be interesting to watch:

A group of small business owners (and individuals) in six states today are suing the federal government over an IRS regulation imposed under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which will force them to pay exorbitant fines, cut back employees’ hours, or severely burden their businesses. Complaint can be viewed here.

The Affordable Care Act authorizes health insurance subsidies to qualifying individuals in states that created their own healthcare exchanges. Those subsidies trigger the employer mandate (a $2,000/employee penalty) and expose more people to the individual mandate.  But last spring, without authorization from Congress, the IRS vastly expanded those subsidies to cover states that refused to set up such exchanges.  Under the Act, businesses in these nonparticipating states should be free of the employer mandate, and the scope of the individual mandate should be reduced as well.  But because of the IRS rule, both mandates will be greatly enlarged in scope, depriving states of the power to protect their residents.

Michael Carvinpartner at Jones Day, who co-argued the Supreme Court Obamacare cases in March, 2012 and who represents the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, stated: “The IRS rule we are challenging is at war with the Act’s plain language and completely rewrites the deal that Congress made with the states on running these insurance exchanges.”

33 states have refused to set up these exchanges.  The IRS, per the complaint, is ignoring that ability given by the states by the law and proceeding as if it didn’t exist.  The argument is the IRS is overstepping it’s authority.

“Agencies are bound by the laws enacted by Congress,” said Sam Kazmangeneral counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).  “Obamacare is already an incredibly massive program.  For the IRS to expand it even more, without congressional authorization and in a manner aimed at undercutting state choice, is flagrantly illegal.”  CEI is coordinating the lawsuit.

We’ll see.  Given the way the law is interpreted anymore, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the IRS upheld (or the suits be dismissed out of hand).  Such is the lack of respect and confidence I hold for our “legal system” anymore.

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 1 May 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The MBA reports mortgage applications rose 1.8% last week, with purchases down -1.4% but re-fis up 3.0%.

ADP is reporting private payrolls rose by only 119,000 in April, down sharply from March’s 158,000, which seems like bad news for Friday’s Employment Situation.

The PMI Manufacturing Index fell to 52.1 in April on slowing order growth and employment.

The ISM Mfg Index fell to 50.7 in April, largely from a drop in inventories.

Construction spending fell -1.7% in March, with both public and private construction spending in decline. Spending is up 4.8% from last year.

Automakers are reporting sales today, and they look good. Ford reports an 18% increase, while GM and Chrysler report 11%.

~
Dale Franks
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Are MoDo, et al, finally figuring it out after 6 years?

Maureen Dowd must be a little slow on the uptake if she is just figuring this out:

ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked Obama if he was already out of “juice” to pass his agenda, citing the president’s inability to get a watered-down gun bill passed in the Senate, Congress swatting away Obama on the sequester cuts, and the recent passage of a cybersecurity bill in the House with 92 Democrats on board, despite a veto threat from the White House.

“Well, if you put it that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home,” President Obama said with a flash of irritation, before tossing off a Mark Twain line: “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”

Then he put on his best professorial mien to give his high-minded philosophy of governance: Reason together and do what’s right.

“But, Jonathan,” he lectured Karl, “you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”

Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.

He still thinks he’ll do his thing from the balcony and everyone else will follow along below. That’s not how it works.

That may not be how it works, but for 6 long years, that’s how he’s pretended it worked, acted like it worked and claimed it worked.  Of course he’s not ever been a leader nor has he ever lead.  Even his foreign policy has been a position of non-leadership (euphemistically called “leading from behind”).  The great sucking sound you hear in DC these days isn’t just the GOP leadership.  It’s the leadership void of this president.

Of course, it is a bit funny that the sycophants of the press are just now getting around to figuring out how ineffective the man is. And while we’ve been pointing out this lack of leadership from day 1 of his presidency, let me note that, in a meta sense, it is probably a good thing he’s such a lousy leader. Lord knows what other abominable laws we’d be stuck with right now if he had even a clue about how to lead.

~McQ

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