December 2013
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Month December 2013

Phone data: Tracking them tracking me

Daniel Thomas:

But how much information is potentially available on the average smartphone user? As an experiment, I decided to access my own data files from third parties to find out.
 
 The results were surprisingly revealing, showing my favourite lunch locations, sporting preferences and even the methods I use to get our newborn son to sleep at night.
 
 All companies in the EU will now give users data held on them on request, but the telecoms groups have come under particular scrutiny given how much information they hold is shared with government departments.
 
 Even a relatively superficial trawl of the data they hold can be used to compile an accurate log of movements and communications.
 
 A request to my mobile operator resulted in hundreds of pages of information, which would also be accessible to public sector bodies and civil servants under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in the UK. The information included who I called, texted or emailed, as well as when and where I was when messages were received, but did not stretch to the content of these communications. The telecoms groups need to keep records for up to a year and will hand over details if requested by a government body with sufficient authority. Last year, public authorities submitted 570,135 requests for communications data.

Mortgage Data Decoupled From Other Housing Metrics

Teresa Rivas:

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported mortgage application data for the week ending December 20, and purchase applications were down 3.5% week-over-week, following last week’s 6.1% drop, the lowest level since February 2012. The index is down about 11.5% year-over-year so far.
 
 Raymond James analyst Buck Horne expect that the disconnect between these figures and other more positive housing indicators are only likely to widen as time goes on, thanks in large part to the high prevalence of cash buyers in the market. Cash buyers are more active in the existing home market than the new home market, they write, a situation created in part by stringent underwriting standards, higher interest rates and price increases earlier this year, among other factors. Last month, 32% of existing home sales were all cash purchases.

U.S. home prices are climbing again, but at more measured rates than during the last boom. Why the housing cycle still has room to run.

Jonathan Laing:

It’s no secret that U.S. home prices have enjoyed a healthy rebound in 2013 after the nightmarish 33% drop over the previous five years that triggered an orgy of mortgage defaults and wealth destruction. These days, monthly home-price reports regularly show double-digit percentage jumps over the year-earlier period, whether it’s the 13.3% annual increase for September of the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index or the 12.2% annual rise for October logged by CoreLogic’s home-price index.
 
 Yet, at least some observers question how much longer the home-price recovery can continue. A jump in mortgage rates along with the torrid increases in home prices have hurt transaction volume some. The market has been overly dependent on all-cash buyers such as vulture funds, which earlier this year accounted for about a third of all sales. What will happen when they have eaten their fill? Increasingly, the home-price growth will depend on conventional buyers, who must borrow from a mortgage-lending industry that is still imposing stringent lending standards on new mortgages.
 
 
 William Waitzman for Barron’s
 Still, after talking to various industry experts and analyzing disparate data, Barron’s thinks that home-price appreciation should continue for the next three years, albeit at a slower pace than the double-digit increases seen this year.

Ethnographic research: Facebook is basically dead and buried with UK teenagers

Experientia:

“What we’ve learned from working with 16-18 year olds in the UK is that Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.
 
 Instead, four new contenders for the crown have emerged: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. This teaches us a number of important lessons about winning the app war.”

The Two Cultures of Computing User Culture Versus Programmer Culture

Philip Guo:

There are now two main cultures in computing: Most computer users treat software as a tool for getting tasks done, while programmers hold conversations with their software. One big challenge when teaching programming, no matter in what language, is getting students used to a conversation-oriented programmer culture, which is very different than a tool-oriented user culture.
 
 The Two Cultures originally referred to the schism between the sciences and humanities. However, I’ve noticed a similar schism in computing between users and programmers, which makes it hard to teach programming to beginners.
 
 User Culture
 
 In computer user culture, each piece of software is a tool for getting something done, like a virtual notepad or paintbrush. For example, Microsoft Word is for writing reports, Excel is for managing budgets, Spotify is for listening to music, and the iPhone Camera App is for taking selfies.

How to Overhaul the Gas Tax

Michael Webber:

The Highway Trust Fund depends on federal fuel taxes for its finances. And those taxes have remained stuck for two decades at 18.4 and 24.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel, respectively. State taxes tack on another 31.1 cents per gallon on average.
 
 Keep this fact in mind: There were about 260 million Americans in 1993 when the tax was last raised. Today there are over 315 million. And we travel more miles than we did two decades ago. That means the transportation infrastructure has to do more with less per-mile spending, adjusted for inflation. That’s why we see crumbling bridges on the news, outdated traffic-light patterns and clogged roads.
 
 And, as we move into cities and use mass transit we will drive less. As cars become more fuel efficient they require less gasoline. At the same time, alternatively fueled cars such as electric vehicles don’t pay gasoline taxes at all, and others, such as natural gas vehicles, pay a lower rate on average, so the current system subsidizes their use. That means our gasoline purchases — and our gas taxes — are declining, putting a strain on our trust fund.

Norway is starting to have more electric cars than it can handle

Leo Mirani:

When Hilde Charlotte Blomberg reached the University of Oslo last Friday, the first thing she did was to send a mass email to the Department of Informatics:
 
 I arrived at work now and all the spaces for electric cars are taken. If you think your car is charged, I would appreciate if you could park somewhere else. I won’t get home if I can’t charge my car. I am standing downstairs and waiting and hoping that someone will come

Millennials move away from car ownership

Miranda Green:

High costs and a constantly expanding array of other options are spurring more Americans – especially young ones – to kick the long-running American car habit.
 
 Cars, long a status symbol for American youth, are increasingly being passed-over by millennials the New York Times reports. According to a study released Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the driving boom of the past sx decades is over. Even though the U.S. population increases every year, 2013 marked the eighth year of declining driving. In aggregate, America’s vehicle owners are driving fewer miles than they used to. As federal data shows, total vehicle mileage driven in the U.S. is essentially back where it was in 2005. And many millennials aren’t even picking up the habit.

The Internet Of Cars Draws Nigh

:

The Internet of Cars could be coming sooner than you think.
 
 In August 2012, the University of Michigan launched a massive project to get 3,000 cars in Ann Arbor, Mich., to speak to one another via Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). That project was partly designed to inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration whether or not it will mandate the use of DSRC modules as a critical safety device in all future vehicles on U.S. roads.
 
 The clock is ticking on the mandate decision, which is expected by the end of 2013. The decision is potentially the biggest development for auto safety since the seat belt, and the biggest thing ever for the Internet of Cars.

Tablets facilitate impulse shopping for many

Megan Woolhouse:

But it might be even harder for shoppers to stop themselves if they happen to use their iPad to peruse the wares of online retailers. New research out of Boston College indicates that consumers feel a deeper affinity for products they touch on a screen than those selected using a laptop touchpad or a mouse.
 
 When consumers participating in the study reached out and touched an image on a touchscreen, the experience nearly rivaled their feelings of touching merchandise in a brick-and-mortar store, according to the measure of satisfaction used in the study.
 
 “It’s kind of surprising how strong the effect is,” said S.Adam Brasel, a Boston College business professor and lead author of the study. “And we’re not necessarily aware it’s taking place.”
 
 This holiday season, shoppers appear more connected to their iPads and touchscreen phones than ever, helping to drive online sales to more than one-third of all holiday purchases, according to retail analysis firm NPD Group Inc.