The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Networks of contracts waste a lot of money

Via Bruce Schneier's recent essay on complexity, I found a blog post on the work of Ronald Coase, which really resonated:

Ronald Coase observed that an organisation could be considered as a collection of contracts, and asked why, in that case, did organisations even exist. His answer was that contractual relationships have transactions costs. When these transactions costs outweighed the expense of organisation, organisation would predominate. Also, there were limits to transaction; it might be actually impossible to specify what was wanted in a contract, or equivalently, it might cost too much to write it.

As often happens, the first half of this insight was more successful than the second. Since the 1980s, there has been a global trend towards replacing organisations with networks of contracts. The idea that a firm could be considered as a network of contracts was taken up by the management consulting industry, and strengthened from a positive observation to a normative statement that firms should become more so. In as much as anyone bothered with Coase’s corollary, it was simply to say that there was some sort of “core business” in there – presumably it was thought to be the zone in which transactions costs got high enough to demand organisation – and everything else must be contracted out.

In many ways, we’ve lived through a giant experiment in proving Ronald Coase wrong, which has now failed.

Healthcare in the United States is an especially egregious example of this. Americans, notoriously, spend much more than any other nation, have worse results, and leave lots of people uncovered. People blame, variously, insurance companies, doctors, drug companies, intermediary organisations, public policy, and patients themselves for getting ill. But none of this has ever solved anything. Everyone who has tried to nail down exactly what costs so much money has ended up concluding that the whole system is weirdly expensive and wasteful. That is, of course, the point. Its awfulness is an aspect of the system, not any one component or group of components.

I will have to read more about his work, or even (gasp!) read his work.

The good and the bad of east light in the morning

My home office has an unobstructed eastern view, and it sits in a loft above my bedroom. That means my bedroom gets indirect eastern light. The blinds in my office don't block all that light, however, so for three months of the year my bedroom gets awfully bright before 6am. Today, for whatever reason, I didn't sleep through it.

Fortunately the sun rises before 6am only from late April to mid August, so I will get to sleep later eventually. And I do like that the sun sets after 7:30pm from early April to the end of August, so summer has its advantages.

Also, since I got to the office at 7:30 this morning, I won't feel too bad about leaving before 5pm and finding a patio to sit on with Cassie. We don't get this kind of weather all the time.

Another boring release

Every other Tuesday we release software, so that's what I just did. It was so boring we even pushed the bits yesterday evening. In theory we always have a code-freeze the night before a release, but in fact we sometimes have just one more thing to do before we commit this last bit of code...

And yet, the world outside keeps becoming less boring:

Finally, one of Chicago's oldest and most popular Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, Angelic Organics, announced this season would be their last. I used to have a subscription, which resulted in a lot more kale than I ever wanted, but also some of the freshest produce I've ever had. They'll be missed.

Lovely Sunday, pretty warm Monday

The last three days—i.e., the first three days of Summer—have shown us most of the weather we can expect this season. It rained most of Saturday, yesterday we had cool, sunny, and eminently walkable weather, and today it's hot and sticky with thunderstorms on the way. At least Cassie and I got to spend most of yesterday outside.

In other news:

Finally, a really fun video from Berlin setting an old German tongue-twister to a beat has garnered more TikTok views than Beyoncé. Apparently Germans, especially those named Barbara, really love their rhubarb pies.

Two historic elections

Over the weekend, Mexico and South Africa made history.

In South Africa, voters turfed out the African National Congress Party, which had held a majority of seats since the end of Apartheid in 1994:

Final results from Wednesday’s seismic South Africa elections have confirmed that the African National Congress (ANC) party has lost its majority for the first time in 30 years of full democracy, firing the starting gun on unprecedented coalition talks.

The ANC, which led the fight to free South Africa from apartheid, won just 159 seats in the 400-member national assembly on a vote share of just over 40%. High unemployment, power cuts, violent crime and crumbling infrastructure have contributed to a haemorrhaging of support for the former liberation movement.

The pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) won 87 seats, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) – a new party led by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s bitter rival, the former president Jacob Zuma – took 58, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a Marxist-Leninist party led by the ousted ANC youth leader Julius Malema, took 39.

Voters cited corruption and a need for new leadership as reasons for voting against the party of Nelson Mandela.

And yesterday, Mexicans elected their first female president:

Claudia Sheinbaum was elected Mexico’s first female president in a landslide on Sunday, an official quick count of votes showed, cementing the dominance of the left-leaning Morena movement that over the past six years has upended the country’s political establishment.

Her victory stunned an opposition that’s accused Morena of weakening the country’s democratic institutions.

The former Mexico City mayor led with more than 58 percent of the vote, according to the count released by the National Electoral Institute. Her triumph ensures another six years in power for Morena, founded 13 years ago by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a charismatic leader who has emphasized helping the poor.

Women in this traditionally macho country didn’t win the right to vote until 1953, three decades after their American counterparts. But with the adoption of gender quotas and a gender-parity law during Mexico’s transition from a one-party state to democracy, women now hold half of the seats in Congress and nearly one-third of the governorships.

The US eliminated race as a bar to voting in 1868, and elected its first Black president in 2008. At that rate we should elect our first female president in 2060, years after every other OECD country has done so. And somehow we think ourselves more politically sophisticated than our neighbor to the south. Fascinating.

Piping plover egg spotted at Montrose Beach

Piping plovers Imani and Searocket, the former an offspring of the famous pair Monty and Rose, are expecting:

A piping plover nest has been spotted at Montrose Beach.

The nest, which has one egg, is the result of a recent pairing between the beloved Imani, a male plover born at Montrose Beach in summer 2021, and Searocket, a female chick released at the beach last summer, according to a Friday news release from the Park District.

The egg is expected to hatch “within a month,” according to the Park District. The nest is “a win for conservation efforts citywide,” Matthew Freer, Park District assistant director of Landscape, Natural Resources and Cultural Resources, said in the news release.

Piping plovers are a federally protected species. In 2019, Monty and Rose landed in Chicago, making it the first time piping plovers chose to nest in the city in five decades. Their arrival was a local sensation, even causing a beachfront music fest to be canceled that year.

Many things could go wrong, of course, and most of the things that could go wrong have legs and mouths. But we're all hoping for a baby piping plover in July!

Welcome to Summer

Summer officially begins today. We tied for 3rd-warmest spring in history, the second top-3 finish this century and the 3rd in my lifetime. And it turns out that we tied for the most sun in May as well. The CPC predicts June will start cool, but with the lake 2°C above normal already we could be in for a very warm summer.

Cassie and I started the season with a 5.6-kilometer walk through Lincoln Square and North Center (and a little bit of Lakeview), so we're both feeling pretty relaxed. And now we're off to run errands before the rain starts. So, a pleasant first few hours of summer.

What a lovely day to end Spring

Despite a high, thin broken cloud layer, it's 23°C with a light breeze and comfortable humidity at Inner Drive Technology World HQ. Cassie and I had a half-hour walk at a nice pace (we covered just over 3 km), and I've just finished my turkey sandwich. And yet, there's something else that has me feeling OK, if only for a little while...

Perhaps it's this? Maybe this? How about this? Or maybe it's Alexandra Petri?

In other news:

Finally, another solar storm, another cloudy night in Chicago: the Aurora Borealis may be visible as far south as Chicago overnight, just not in Chicago. As long as I can get Cassie on her daily long walk before the rain hits...

What news?

Oh, so many things:

Finally, after it took the Ogilvie Transportation Center Starbucks over 30 minutes to make my iced tea this morning (and I ordered it from 15 minutes away on my inbound train), it turns out the Starbucks staffing algorithm might be to blame. This is why I only get that one drink from Starbucks: it's really hard to screw up and usually takes them half a minute. Fortunately, I got my morning coffee at the cute local bagel shop on my walk to Cassie's day camp (and they gave Cassie a dog treat to boot), so I wasn't feeling homicidal.