Average US vehicle age continues to rise — up to 11½ years

Ruff Boy with a spool of kindling
21 tears old and counting

The combined average age of all light vehicles on the road in the U.S. has climbed slightly to 11.5 years, based on a snapshot of vehicles in operation taken Jan. 1 of this year, according to IHS Automotive, a global provider of critical information and insight to the automotive industry…

Registrations for light VIO in the U.S. also reached a record level of 257,900,000. That’s an increase of more than 5.3 million (2.1 percent) since last year and the highest annual increase the auto industry has seen in the U.S. since IHS began tracking VIO growth. New vehicle registrations also outpaced scrappage by more than 42 percent – the highest rate seen since the statistic has been tracked, according to the analysis…

Helping age the fleet is the fact that consumers are holding on to their vehicles longer than ever before.

Looking ahead, IHS forecasts that average age is likely to hit 11.6 years in 2016 but not reach 11.7 until 2018. The rate of growth is slowing as compared to 2008-2013 due to the recovery in new vehicle sales. IHS Automotive has expected this and has been preparing customers and industry leaders in the aftermarket to respond to this slowdown in growth…

Because of improved quality and consumers holding their cars and light trucks longer, vehicles 12-plus years old continue to grow and will increase 15 percent by 2020.

And that – after all – is the point. The critters are built better and last longer. Recalls aside. Between lawyers, insurance companies and politicians running for re-election, recalls are way up. Some of that is from increased complexity. Some from special areas of lousy QC – like airbags.

But, most families are probably like mine. My wife got her first shiny new car ever a year-and-a-half ago. Part of preparation for early retirement. She only drives about 2000 miles per year since retiring.

My 21-year-old pickup had over 200K miles on it when I retired but [1] it didn’t seem likely to self-destruct from wear – now driving about 800 miles per year and [2] only driving about 800 miles per year, it didn’t make sense to buy a new or newish used truck. Ruff Boy, keep on rolling!

The Grand Illusion — choosing excellent American Universities

To understand the failures of the modern American college system — from admissions marketing to graduation rates — you can begin with a notorious university football scandal.

In November 2006, Butch Davis, a high-profile coach with jobs in the N.F.L. and the University of Miami on his résumé, was hired to coach football at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The job offered Mr. Davis a rare opportunity to work for a university that had won dozens of championships in multiple sports while avoiding the scandals and corruption that seemed commonplace at Miami and elsewhere.

But it didn’t take long for Mr. Davis to realize that Chapel Hill’s reputation for sports excellence without compromise was a myth. From 1991 to 2009, the university’s department of African and Afro-American studies ran a huge academic fraud operation. Thousands of students, including regular undergraduates and athletes trying to maintain playing eligibility, enrolled in fake courses in which they didn’t have to attend classes, meet with professors or produce any legitimate academic work.

After the fraud was exposed and both the university chancellor and Mr. Davis lost their jobs, outside investigators discovered that U.N.C. had essentially no system for upholding the academic integrity of courses. “So long as a department was offering a course,” one distinguished professor told the investigators, “it was a legitimate course.”…

Most colleges, presumably, aren’t harboring in-house credit mills. Yet in its underlying design, organizational values and daily operations, North Carolina is no different from most other colleges and universities. These organizations are not coherent academic enterprises with consistent standards of classroom excellence. When it comes to exerting influence over teaching and learning, they’re Easter eggs. They barely exist.

This goes a long way toward explaining why colleges spend so much time and effort creating a sense of tribal solidarity among students and alumni. Think of the chant that Joe Paterno and students cried out together at the height of their university’s pedophilia scandal: “We are! Penn State!” The costumes, rituals and gladiatorial contests with rival colleges are all designed to portray the university as united and indivisible. Newer colleges that lack such deeply rooted identities spend millions of dollars on branding consultants in order to create them.

They do this to paper over uncomfortable truths revealed by their own researchers.

RTFA. Understand “How College Affects Students” concludes – after 848 pages – “The great majority of postsecondary institutions appear to have surprisingly similar net impacts on student growth,” the authors write.

“If there is one thing that characterizes the research on between-college effects on the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and academic skills, it is that in the most internally valid studies, even the statistically significant effects tend to be quite small and often trivial in magnitude.”

Prestigious colleges are those with the most bucks, which, in and of itself, is the driving force in ranking. You get to select the best students then you crank out the slightly better resulting graduates. The rest is sound and fury signifying nothing more than the usual mind-candy-level advertising.

Pick out a college you can afford. Make certain it meets adequate standards – and do the work. Ignore the time wasted on sports rivalries and other gladiatorade pursuits. Graduate and carry on.

Barriers at home send students from India to the United States


Nikita Sachdeva – from Delhi – now a student at University of Chicago

Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools…

Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed…

“The problem is clear,” said Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education in India, who studied law at Harvard. “There is a demand and supply issue. You don’t have enough quality institutions, and there are enough quality young people who want to go to only quality institutions.”

American universities and colleges have been more than happy to pick up the slack. Faced with shrinking returns from endowment funds, a decline in the number of high school graduates in the United States and growing economic hardship among American families, they have stepped up their efforts to woo Indian students thousands of miles away…

Indians are now the second-largest foreign student population in America, after the Chinese, with almost 105,000 students in the United States in the 2009-10 academic year, the last for which comprehensive figures were available. Student visa applications from India increased 20 percent in the past year, according to the American Embassy here.

RTFA. A multipliplex of incompetence, political foolishness, unwillingness to see beyond your nose.

India and the United States maintain differing allocations to the concept of an intellectual elite. The easier transition from country to country in an educational culture becoming globalized helps students otherwise marginalized, denied by inequity. But, responsibility still remains unanswered in both India and the United States.

Young people capable of learning, acquiring skills and knowledge, of contributing to the betterment of society lose the opportunity. The barriers in either nation may differ. The result is the same.

Apple killing App Store growth by numbers, focus on app quality

Apple has expanded its efforts to curtail the unchecked expansion of shovelware and scamware in the iOS App Store, focusing on keeping the store’s library attractive rather than simply aiming to maintain the biggest store in terms of raw numbers.

The company’s latest effort at curation has banned the practice of “incentivized app installs,” a gimmick used by some game makers to induce players to install specific other apps in order to continue playing. The practice is similar to “offer walls” promoted by free web games that ask players to participate in offers (such as buying a product or signing up for a trial service subscription) in order to obtain in-game currency required to continue game play.

Apple has banned the practice to prevent companies from artificially distorting the popularity of apps that are only being downloaded because of the incentives…With incentivized installs, one developer pays another an install fee (usually through a middleman pay-per-install network) to induce its users to download other apps. This is used to rapidly promote a new title into iTunes’ App Store rankings, a coveted position that results in exceptional visibility and exponentially higher sales…

While Apple initially advertised downloads and library size milestones for the App Store to note how fast it was growing and how far it was ahead of competing app markets, the company has already begun talking about other competitive metrics, particularly the billions of dollars it has paid out to developers…

Actual performance figures of mobile software stores demonstrate that the revenues earned by developers are not necessarily tied to the overall quantity of the devices running a platform (the installed base or market share), nor the raw number of downloads or library size…

Not only does this make sound business sense – it fits in well with Apple’s overall marketing style. If I was selling apps, it’s the way I would approach consumers. Short-term and in the long run.

Buy a book about flies for $23,698,655.93 — plus shipping?

Lots of normal people would pay $23 for a book. But $23.7 million (plus $3.99 shipping) for a scientific book about flies!?

This unthinkable sticker price for “The Making of a Fly” on Amazon.com was spotted on April 18 by Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist and blogger.

The market-blind book listing was not the result of uncontrollable demand for Peter Lawrence’s “classic work in developmental biology,” Eisen writes. Instead, it appears it was sparked by a robot price war…

Eisen watched the robot price war from April 8 to 18 and calculated that two booksellers were automatically adjusting their prices against each other.

One equation kept setting the price of the first book at 1.27059 times the price of the second book, according to Eisen’s analysis, which is posted in detail on his blog.

The other equation automatically set its price at 0.9983 times the price of the other book. So the prices of the two books escalated in tandem into the millions, with the second book always selling for slightly less than the first.

The incident highlights a little-known fact about e-commerce sites such as Amazon: Often, people don’t create and update prices; computer algorithms do.

Individual booksellers on Amazon and other sites pay third-party companies for algorithm services that automatically update prices. Some of these computer programs purportedly work very well, getting sellers up to 60% more sales because they underbid the competition automatically and repeatedly…

It’s pretty much like the stock exchange. What you see there is the prices changing all the time — but they never change drastically. Sometimes it’s a dollar here a dollar there — maybe $10. For a book, it probably would be pennies.”

Often producing as much useless “value” as many of the computer trades made for hedge funds and mutual funds. All you can hope for as a retail investor is to focus on what you calculate is the real value of equity over time – and let the rest of the market spin wheels in artificial endless loops.

Our stock markets will not do anything about it. I doubt Amazon will do anything about the same absurdity in their own mosh pit.

Google’s locked-down Honeycomb confronts Open Source ideology

There have always been two Androids. Lazy journalists – including myself – have called Google’s smartphone OS free and open source, but that’s never been the whole story. Google’s apparent decision last week to strictly control access to its Honeycomb tablet software puts a quiet division front and center, and it throws down a gauntlet that I would love to see open-source advocates finally meet.

Let’s get this “open Android” thing out of the way first. There are really two Androids. The first – let’s call it Android-O – is an open-source project that Google contributes a lot to. The second – Android-G – is a proprietary Google project that happens to frequently ingest and excrete open-source code.

At any given moment, the latest, hottest Android phones and devices are running the closed Android-G, not the open Android-O. That’s always been the case. Every new version of Android is introduced with Android-G devices, and eventually, once Google’s mind has moved on to other things, that code gets dumped out into the Android-O repository…

Google’s become unusually strict with Honeycomb, though, and that’s because the tablet market is very different from the phone market. The phone market has a shifting cast of minority players with different strengths. The tablet market, on the other hand, is dominated by one big gorilla: Apple.

The world is littered with the corpses of open-source mobile projects. Nokia’s Maemo, Intel and Nokia’s MeeGo, LiMo, OpenMoko, and TuxPhone have all failed in the market so far. Back in 2009, I said that “open source phones still fail” because wireless carriers don’t like the unexpected, dynamic nature of open-source projects.

But this time, I think the problem is different. Going up against Apple, the tablet leader, Google realized it needs an industry-leading UI and a consistent brand experience for Android on tablets.

And open-source projects, as is well known, have serious problems creating industry leading UIs. For one thing, open-source projects tend to attract hard-core programmers who love adding features, not visual visionaries. But possibly more importantly, a great end-user experience is often about editing – about making things fit to a consistent vision, which is much easier when there’s one consistent vision driving the project…

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China will be #1 publisher of scientific research in a few years

China could overtake the United States as the world’s dominant publisher of scientific research by 2013, according to an analysis of global trends in science by the Royal Society. The report highlighted the increasing challenge to the traditional superpowers of science from the world’s emerging economies and also identified emerging talent in countries not traditionally associated with a strong science base, including Iran, Tunisia and Turkey…

“The scientific world is changing and new players are fast appearing. Beyond the emergence of China, we see the rise of South-East Asian, Middle Eastern, North African and other nations,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, director of energy research at Oxford University and chair of the Royal Society’s study.

The increase in scientific research and collaboration, which can help us to find solutions to the global challenges we now face, is very welcome. However, no historically dominant nation can afford to rest on its laurels if it wants to retain the competitive economic advantage that being a scientific leader brings…”

Projecting beyond 2011, the Royal Society said that the landscape would change “dramatically”. “China has already overtaken the UK as the second leading producer of research publications, but some time before 2020 it is expected to surpass the US.” It said this could happen as soon as 2013.

China’s rise is the most impressive, but Brazil, India and South Korea are following fast behind and are set to surpass the output of France and Japan by the start of the next decade.

The quality of research is harder to measure, so the Royal Society used the number of times a research paper had been cited by other scientists in the years after publication as a proxy. By this yardstick, the US again stayed in the lead between the two periods 1999-2003 and 2004-2008, with 36% and 30% of citations respectively. The UK stayed in second place with 9% and 8% in the same periods. China’s citation count went from virtually nil to a 4% share.

The overall spread of scientific subjects under investigation has remained the same. “We had expected to see a shift to bio from engineering and physics [but] overall, the balance has remained remarkably stable,” said Llewellyn Smith. “In China, [the rise] seems to be in engineering subjects whereas, in Brazil, they’re getting into bio and agriculture…”

Llewellyn Smith welcomed the internationalisation of science. “Global issues, such as climate change, potential pandemics, bio-diversity, and food, water and energy security, need global approaches. These challenges are interdependent and interrelated, with complicated dynamics that are often overlooked by policies and programmes put in place to address them,” he said.

Of course, another significant difference in the rate of growth in science around the world will be how the home nation, people and politicians, accept the science as a national treasure – and allot a portion of direction and leadership to the scientific community.

The processes we witnessed in the growth of the Age of Reason in the UK and Europe will very likely serve as models parallel to this new age. Except in the United States.

GlaxoSmithKline whistleblower wins record payout


Cheryl Eckard, center – N.Y.TIMES photo by Gunther

A former quality control manager at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has received £61million, believed to be the largest ever reward for a whistleblower, after exposing a series of contamination problems at a drugs factory in Puerto Rico, and a subsequent cover-up by company bosses.

Cheryl Eckard, 51, will pocket the $96m share of a $750m criminal and civil settlement between US regulators and the British pharmaceuticals group. The case showed that the company repeatedly ignored serious failings, including allegations that staff were “skimming” drugs to sell them on the Latin American black market and that its factory had mixed drug types and doses in the same bottle.

Eckard first warned of the numerous violations after being sent by GSK to investigate problems in the group’s huge factory in Cidra, Puerto Rico, in July 2002, following a warning letter to the company from US health officials.

Over the next 10 months, she repeatedly alerted a string of GSK executives to a catalogue of breaches, only to be blocked and eventually sacked in 2003. In July of that year, Eckard phoned JP Garnier, the then chief executive, who declined to take the call to speak to her about the findings and the cover-up. Eckard, who is from North Carolina and is married with children, now works as a freelance consultant for the pharmaceutical industry…

Court documents show how Eckard was gradually sidelined, despite increasing complaints to a growing number of senior bosses.

I’m hard-pressed to comprehend companies that display this kind of pigheadedness. I’ve been peripherally involved with a few similar cases in major American firms – one of which resulted in an arrest – and time and again the fault lies with management that [a] refuses to believe that one of their peers could possibly be stupid, criminal or incompetent; and [b] they can’t believe that an ordinary mortal down in the bowels of the firm has turned up this foolishness – even with evidence staring them in the face.

If you pretend to care about the quality of your business, you had better listen to everyone up and down that ladder of command.

I’m pleased as Punch to see a whistleblower rewarded. Especially after being harassed and fired for her efforts.

McNeil recalls kids’ cold remedies

tylenol-for-kids

McNeil Consumer Healthcare has announced a recall of several popular over-the-counter remedies formulated for children and infants.

They include Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and Zyrtec, the company said. The recall applies only to liquid formulations designed for babies and children.

Uh, that’s scary enough.

McNeil said the voluntary recall is being done in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of quality problems at a plant in the Dominican Republic. Some of the products may have too much of their active ingredients, some may have inactive ingredients that do not meet standards and some may contain tiny particles…

Consumers who have bought them are advised to stop using them.

No kidding!

Consumers with questions should call 1-888-222-6036 or visit the Web site www.mcneilproductrecall.com.