Horseshoe Lake

I recently made the move to a Nikon D7000. I’d been on the fence for a while, but didn’t think twice about upgrading after a friend offered to buy my D90. I took it out for the first time this morning, and went on a short hike at Horseshoe Lake along Skyline Ridge. So far, I love it. It’s actually quite similar to the D90, with minor (but noticeable) improvements to the matrix focusing, image processing, and menu layout. It also has improved processing at high ISOs, which significantly reduces noise, and a new dynamic ISO feature.

Here are a few highlights from this morning:

Some Thoughts on Debt

The debt debacle has obviously been well covered in the news and on the blogosphere. James Fallows puts the impact of policies into perspective:

The point is that governments can respond to but not control external shocks. That’s why we call them “shocks.” Governments can control their policies. And the policy that did the most to magnify future deficits is the Bush-era tax cuts. You could argue that the stimulative effect of those cuts is worth it (“deficits don’t matter” etc). But you cannot logically argue that we absolutely must reduce deficits, but that we absolutely must also preserve every penny of those tax cuts. Which I believe precisely describes the House Republican position.

He also includes “the chart that should accompany all discussions on the debt ceiling”:

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Tyler Cowen offers a few different ways to view the fact that the US government issued 59% of outstanding AAA soverign debt:

Of the world’s share of AAA sovereign debt, we issue 59 percent of it. (Next is Germany with ten percent and then France with nine percent of the total.) You can read this a few ways:

1. Wow, we really abuse that AAA privilege.

2. Losing the AAA rating would spell disaster for repo markets and the like.

3. The world trusts us enormously, isn’t that wonderful?

4. All of the above.

Building on point number two, losing that rating would also spell disaster for money market mutual funds. Investors treat these funds as cash, and in the few historical cases when funds have “broken the buck” — or dropped in value below $1/share — the markets have panicked and the “broken” funds have generally subsequently failed.

Only this time would be much, much, worse. Money market funds currently hold $301 billion in US debt, which represents about 11% of total money market fund assets. Since the SEC mandates that these funds must hold only AAA assets, they would likely be required to flood the market with treasuries, desperately trying to replace them with AAA rated securities. It would be a bloodbath. And I’d bet that quite a few money market funds would fail in the process, undermining an important class of investments that help provide stability in our financial system.

I seriously doubt it will come to that. I seriously doubt the US debt rating will be downgraded. But it’s absurd that we’re even having these discussions.

And on a lighter note, here’s a time lapse video of an acorn turning into an oak tree:

Back It Up Back It Up Back It Up

I have terrible backup habits. Most of my important documents are synced using dropbox. But for the past few years, my photography strategy has been to back everything up every few months on an external hard drive, then put it in my desk drawer. If I were ever robbed, or if my house were to burn down, I’m pretty much screwed.

Being on the other coast for the Summer, I’ve recently been more aware of the fact that I could easily lose quite a bit if something happens to my computer (my backup drive is still in Boston). So I decided to try backing up everything online. I gave the Backblaze free trial a shot and hated it. I didn’t like the layout, and it was slow to sync. Then earlier this week I gave Mozy a go. And it’s great. For $6/month, I’ve got all of my photography backed up and set to sync every night while I sleep.

What I’d really like is a Dropbox-like solution with unlimited storage and cloud access to files for a reasonable price. But until then, Mozy gets it done.

The New Standard?

Could Twitter become irrelevant? Ezra wouldn’t lose any sleep:

Farhad Manjoo thinks that Twitter should allow 280-character tweets rather than 140-character tweets. I think everyone should just move to Google+.

The 140-character limit is Twitter’s most obvious feature, and so it’s understandably assumed to be a major part of its success. And maybe it has been. But I think it’s at least as likely that Twitter improved on Facebook by realizing that the circle of people you want to follow and the circle of people who want to follow you are not necessarily the same but has been hindered by the 140-character limit, which makes most tweets uninteresting and renders it impossible to have real conversations.

I was optimistic about Google+ from the beginning, but mostly because I thought it would offer a chance to create the sort of private social network that Facebook originally was, but eventually evolved away from. But it turns out that Google+ retains Twitter’s appreciation of asymmetrical social networks: people can follow you without you following them, and you can choose to broadcast messages to them, and they can reply, and so on. I’ve been experimenting with this over the last few days and have been really surprised and impressed by how rich the resulting discussions are. It’s really highlighted the drawbacks of the 140-character limit and made Twitter a lot less appealing to me.

I agree. Google+ fixes Facebook’s key flaw, that a connection needs to be mutual and symmetric. Unfortunately, having two dominant social networking sites isn’t a good equilibrium for any of us. I embrace the heated competition, but hope it leads to a clear winner, or at least more differentiated uses. Xkcd pretty much sums up my concern:

Standards

On the Twitter side – I never fully embraced Twitter. I find that clicking on a link per post to read the related substantive content can be needlessly time consuming. But different people use Twitter in a lot of different ways. In fact, a friend I’ve discussed this with makes a good argument for its continued relevance: Twitter will probably continue to be superior in reporting real time events. Time will tell.