Friday, April 11, 2014

GM

So GM has put two engineers on paid leave, and then named them publicly, because that's what a classy joint does to people who have little to no responsibility for the screwed up nature of their organization.


A little back story first though.  I work for a company that has at times been a third tier (in terms of position, not quality) supplier to the automotive industry.  It's something we generally don't do because the buyer (or I should say, the buying committee) will want everything under the sun; generally yearly price cuts and the ability to shove warranty claims down the chain in a 'guilty until proven innocent' agreement.  Some people were surprised by the word that GM wanted Delphi to eat warranty claims even if the issue was because of GM's design.  However, this is par for the course for the big three especially. 


More to the point however, the rot of government ownership is showing through in GM's production.  Sure they aren't technically owned by the government anymore, but I'm sure there's a feeling that another bailout will be in the offing for when they screw up again.  What would one expect of a government owned car company?  Perhaps dangerous design defects?  That are then covered up?  That are then scapegoated out to a few employees that drew the short straws?  And then without fixing any of the issues that led to the problems to begin with?  It's very difficult to overstate how huge and incompetent the bureaucracies are at these organizations even when they're not involved with the government.


Put a fork in that beast.  A real bankruptcy with a real clearing of the air may (may) have set GM on the road to future success, but there's no where to go but down for a government manufacturing business.  It won't be long before GM cars are (completely) manufactured elsewhere and rebadged under their old brands like the French and British government car makers of old.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spot the Spam

"It looks odd, but I'm desperate for business so..."

Fober LTR is the most famous manufacturer of paints and wall hung gas boilers from Romanian market.More about us you can find visiting our website"www.fober.ro "
We are interested in purchasing some barrel type commutators for electric forklift's motor.
i'd like to send you a drawing with dimensions of that item, so please send me your email's adress., to contact you directly .
Hopping in your early reply,
Kind Regards,
Purchasing Dept.
eng.Cristina Butnar
FOBER LTD ROMANIA
"Paints and 'wall hung gas boilers'?  What could possibly go wrong?"


[Update: I changed the name of the company, but this message actually turned out to be legit.]

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Full Bluff

ZH notes a Russian advisor who said:
"We hold a decent amount of treasury bonds – more than $200 billion – and if the United States dares to freeze accounts of Russian businesses and citizens, we can no longer view America as a reliable partner,” he said. “We will encourage everybody to dump US Treasury bonds, get rid of dollars as an unreliable currency and leave the US market.”
Sooo, you sell your US Treasuries in your quest to destroy the dollar and in doing so you now no longer have ~$200 billion in Treasuries but ~$200 billion in US dollars.  Now Mr. Ruskie, what are you going to by with all those greenbacks since the whole reason that you bought Treasuries to begin with wasn't out of kindness but because you did not want to buy anything else.

The hope on his part, I guess, is to drive up interest rates to the point that America would have to fully monetize it's debt and radically devalue, if not destroy, the dollar.  This could only happen if they were to cause a panic since the Federal Reserve, as ZH notes, would have those Treasuries sponged from the marketplace in three months tops.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NetFlunx

There have been reports of speed issues with the Netflix streaming service (a service which consumes more bandwidth than even the hog-rific bittorrent).  Supposedly some ISPs are throttling the service and of course Netflix has the opinion that this is out of spite.

However, professional ass Karl Denninger has what is probably the best take on the situation.  Mulling it over I figured that his point could be simplified even more.

One can imagine their local city streets and what would happen if, say, their neighbors got addicted to furniture.  Every day big box trucks are clogging the streets to deliver another furniture fix.  Of course it wouldn't be long before the city would slap down time and/or axle restrictions; throttling the deliveries if you would.  This isn't out of spite, but a self defense mechanism since streets are expensive and not everyone wants to pay outrageous sums so that their neighbors can get a weekly batch of sofas.

Some have come back at Denninger with the, not outrageous come-back, of "well myself and my neighbors all love furniture and we pay a proper amount for streets sufficient for the trucks so they shouldn't throttle deliveries".  In his point though, Denniger carries this analogy out to the Netflix business model: what about the next town over, do they want to pay for roads so that neighboring towns can feed their furniture addiction?  What about the state?  Do they want to extract extreme taxes from the populace in order to supersize the highways to accommodate an ocean of box trucks?  Highways all the way back to whatever far-off warehouse that the furniture originates from?  Or perhaps, should the furniture factory shoulder some of that cost?

In the real world trucks pay a ton of taxes to cover their size and weight so that (hopefully) the roads that they're on can be properly maintained.  Netflix, though, wants to play the crooked property developer where they build a giant mall and pawn all the infrastructure costs off onto others.

*Full disclosure: The Sandmich household subscribes to Netflix and other video streaming services; give me truckload of furniture dammit!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kokopelli Gun

I never put this together until this trip to Colorado, but not too infrequently I see little lawn ornaments, stickers, etc. of what turns out to be something called kokopelli:

However over at one of the plants, someone put their metal working skills to good work improving the model:

The rifle is mightier than the flute.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Monday, January 06, 2014

Notable Quotables

While plowing through e-books I'll regularly highlight portions that I find clever.  Below are a few quotes that I'm pulling from my various e-readers.

In the book The Forever War a space marine recounts his first encounter with the extraterrestrials that he's tasked with fighting:
I didn't want to see them dead, but I'd just as soon not have seen them in any condition.
An interesting metaphor to be sure; I'm sure troops sent to Africa carry a similar train of thought!

In a passage in Martian Time Slip PKD predicts the dawn of academic "paper chasing" wherein people become more and more educated for more and more menial work (keep in mind the book was written in 1964):
He himself had emigrated due to his having only a B.A.  Every door had been shut to him, and then he had come to Mars as nothing but a union plumber, and within a few short years, look at him.  On Earth, a plumber with only a B.A. would be raking up dead locusts in Africa as part of a U.S. foreign aid work gang.
Only those with their PhDs in plumbing will be accepted!

In Metro 2033 the protagonist who lives in a post-apocalyptic Moscow metro system, comes to the realization that mankind will never reach the heights that he once had:
Only now did he start to sense how far man now was from his former achievements and conquests.  Like a proud soaring bird, mortally wounded and dropping to the ground in order to hide in a crevice and, having concealed itself there, dies quietly....
Now, when Artyom himself was able to evaluate from what heights mankind had fallen into the precipice, his faith in a beautiful future evaporated once and for all.
One does not have to survive a nuclear war to have that opinion.  I'm sure inhabitants of Europe during the dark ages didn't have that different of an attitude.
Within the Metro system in the book are various factions which adhere to every ideology under the sun. The most successful and enviable clan is the one that controls the ring and when the protagonist, who had survived fascists, cultists, communists and other near-do-wells comes in contact with this clan it turns out to be controlled by a clan which espouses free markets and individual success.  This clan is careful to keep its success close to the vest and is leery of letting anyone in, to which the protagonist remarks in regard to immigration:
The number of places in paradise is limited; only in hell is entry open to all.
In the book Roadside Picnic a comment is made in regards to the inevitability of the types of "trades" that some men fall into:
Pigs can always find mud.
Elsewhere in the book a comment is made in regards to the deviation to ignorance (or more kindly, "normalcy bias") that the vast majority of people default to:
He knew that billions and billions didn't know a thing and didn't want to know and, even if they did find out, would act horrified for ten minutes and immediately forget all about it.
At the back of the book, the author makes some comments in regards to getting his book published.
On commie control freaks who kept the book from being published for many years:
I don't even want to mention them here-let them be swallowed up by the past, like evil spirits, and disappear...
A statement on small minded control freaks (PC zealots, I'm looking at you):
The only people who boggle at what is perfectly natural are those who are the worst swine and the finest experts in filth.  In their utterly contemptible pseudo-morality they ignore the contents and madly attack individual words.

In Starship Troopers, the character played in the movie by Michael Ironside goes on a pages long rant against communism, all of which is very good but too much to quote in full.  However, along the way he also makes some social commentary; on the failure of criminal justice, specifically in regards to juveniles:
As for 'unusual', punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose.
On social workers:
...except that the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to the pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves 'social workers' or sometimes 'child psychologists.'  It was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy.
What inspired this post was an excellent line from the PKD novel Counter-Clock World:
I mean, we all lie to ourselves; we tell our own selves more lies than we ever do other people. 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

(Not) At the Game

The Doctor sends me a link about the NFL blacking out local games if they're not sold out.  I know out-of-towners are always amazed by the fact that for the entire time that I've lived in Cleveland and watching the expansion Browns these past 15 (15?) years there has never been a locally blacked out game.  In this case it's interesting because even though the games are not blacked-out, the Browns have no issue selling tickets to fans who don't mind paying exorbitant fees to go freeze while watching a mediocre team.

A few weeks ago I almost sucked it up to go see the Bengals throttle Minnesota but I called off when Mrs. Sandmich said that she wasn't interested.  And why should she be?  The best and least expensive tickets I could find were on the NFL's resale service for $80 a piece (original price closed in on $100).  Add in parking, beer, driving to and from Cincy and the total toll would be closing in on $300.  My fallback plan illustrates the issue that the NFL faces as instead I went to BW3 and got to watch every game in HD and racked up only ('only') an $80 tab after tip for myself and Mrs. Sandmich.

The article at the link though points out the fact that the NFL derives some government favors in the fact that they can selectively blackout their games (point probably being that the NFL can choose not to broadcast the game at all, but ordinarily wouldn't be able to selectively blackout individual markets).  The question hanging in the air though is whether there is even direct correlation between blackouts and sellouts.  

In Ohio the two teams suggests that there may not be.  Cleveland fans seem to show up no matter what.  On the other side of the coin is Cincinnati which has fielded a respectable team for the past ten or so years but regularly doesn't sell out games.  Some of this might be political (many years of intentionally poor PR by Bengals owner Mike Brown has turned many potential fans into enemies) or the janus style* of play and coaching of the Bengals; but the point stands: blackouts do not help the Cincinnati Bengals sellout games any more than the threat of blackouts hurt the Browns chance of selling out games.  The point could easily be made that blackouts hurt ticket sales since a game that's not on doesn't exist to the casual fan.

Of course the game that shocked a lot of people this week was the Green Bay game which also needed corporate saviors to sell-out.  This is a team that has no issue selling out regular season games but couldn't get their fans to show up in horrible weather for a playoff game.  Many a commentator pointed out that in December, even "sold out" stadiums would be half empty (I know the Browns always suffer from this late in the season when "sold out" games are embarrassingly empty), so the actual interest in attending may be overstated.

What's the fix?  This seems to be one of those sports conundrums like the 'designated hitter' or 'all-star games' for which there isn't a very good answer.  Ideas that I've heard include more TV screens so that those at the games can watch other games or angles of the current game, more personalized service, official support for more vibrant tailgating (most munis seem to discourage tailgating), more manageable prices (riiight), and more indoor venues (because despite the love of "real football weather", no one actually likes to sit in it).  

I must confess that I'm probably not the best person to help with this since none of these ideas get rid of what I hate most about attending sports games in general and pro events in particular.  Whenever I get free tickets (typically from a vendor) my mind despairs at the crowds, traffic, parking, etc. that make even lightly attended Indians games a painful maze to navigate**.  Homebodies, alas, are probably not the target audience for sports game attendance.

*Marvin Lewis has been a great coach for the Bengals compared to what they had previously and is far preferable to what other teams, and especially the Browns, find themselves going through year after year.  That being said, it seems like he can never get his team to show up when it really matters.

**It's interesting that when it comes to parking and traffic, Cincinnati has, in my experience, been pretty good in this regard.  The number of highways and parking garages make getting in and out for games rather effortless, but that fact doesn't seem to help Bengals ticket sales either.


Friday, January 03, 2014

Year End Notes

Video Gaming 2013

Running a year late as usual, my favorite video game of the year was Far Cry 3, many a critic's game of the year for last year (2012).  The gameplay is so solid that I played this game through several times on every difficulty despite my issues with its story.  I even picked up the O-K Blood Dragon version which is a re-do of the game with a somewhat 80s theme (as visualized by people who were born in 1985).  All good fun.

I also played through the Bioshock series and got to the end without seeing what all the hype was about.  Sure they had a deeper story than most video games, but lets face it, that's not saying much.  Beyond that the combat is clumsy and crowded (a lot of fights felt like I was dropped into my bathroom with a dozen Al Qaeda dudes) and the well done artwork seems to go nowhere, like an end unto itself.

Running up for my game-of-the-year-that-I-played was Infamous 2.  A minor tweak to the "evil" (and/or "good) ending would have made it one of the greatest games ever, but the fact that it took an easy way out turned the game into a bit of a retread.

A closer runner-up is the latest iteration of Deus Ex.  Yeah all the endings were dumb, but this game felt like one of those great PC games from the late nineties/early singles.  It has that rare combination of linear gameplay and freedom of movement that makes a game completely engaging.

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Death by Lethargy

Unfortunately at the moment I'm suffering from rather painful lower back pain.  I know that you're thinking that I pulled a muscle while moving a dresser full of clothes or hauling orphans out of a burning building, but it's actually more mundane.  I get a week and a half off for Christmas and this year we decided to be lazy homebodies.  Not that I'm usually a model of overactivity, but I guess my non-stop video gaming/football watching couch potatoism (with occasional trips to the liquor store gym) took a toll and my back got bent out of shape from sitting on the couch too much.  Oof, a lesson that I should travel during my break to be sure!
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Another Year, Another Dollar

How about that Obamacare?  How about that (lack of) global warming?  How about that knockout game?  It seems like the media occasionally, and begrudgingly gets off their duff when issues get too big to ignore.  Still in the "ignore" bin is the poor state of the economy and the overhang of worldwide debt.  My workplace is going to match even more 401K money.  I'm torn on this since it's free money from work but every government on the planet has telegraphed the fact that they plan on destroying these plans in some way, shape, or form.  I dunno, I guess I'm stuck with the status quo for now since alternative options aren't all that great either (ironic!).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Head Cold

Someone thoughtfully shared their head cold with me and I've now felt continuously hung over for a week, without ever having abided in any spirits (which was rough for that Bengals game; seriously Marvin, can't you get that friggin' team to show up and be ready to play for at least one important game?).
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I saw some blurb about ABBA getting back together, and I know that I've waxed post-nostalgic about them before (they were slightly before my time).  I should point out though that a couple years ago the act Goldfrapp put out an album that's (intentionally) very reminiscent of that sound:

For fans of videos made in the early eighties, be sure to check out the videos that they made out of other tracks off the same album, somewhat amusing:
Alive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buKDrllsGAc
Rocket: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJppnG1tflU
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So "if you like your health insurance you can keep it"...
I'm surprised the Big Zero didn't state the obvious in defense of his lie: "who really liked their health insurance to begin with?"  No doubt these would be the same people who enjoy trips to the dentist. 

No one, I think, likes health insurance but the American health care system is so goofed that people are trapped and unable to escape the system.  It goes without saying that ObamaNotCare makes all this worse and makes health insurance even more unlikeable, so maybe that defense wouldn't work in the end. 

Now the financial mess of this is all fun and a further (giant) nail in the coffin for inevitable day of reckoning when there is a smoking crater where the U.S. Federal Reserve notes used to be; however, the true fun for me is the brutal, unholy, IT project failure that this has worked out to be.

Being in IT I've developed a bit of a fetish of reading up on IT project failures, which would include almost any large business project initiative since it would undoubtedly include IT components.  For instance here's a well known bungle where Lumber Liquidators took a big earnings hit because of an SAP implementation:
Lumber Liquidators problems arose because, apparently, the company did not anticipate the difficulty employees would have transitioning from the old system to SAP. Poor training is a common obstacle on enterprise implementations of this type.

That's ripe.  I've seen enough of this from the inside out to know that poor "training" is always a good scape goat ("last on the project, first to get cut" as I'd read elsewhere), but a failure of this magnitude will no doubt run the whole gambit of poor management, poor software, and (especially) wretchedly poor and no doubt corrupt consulting services.  As another example, here's a fun story about a jewelry retailer that went out of business due to an ERP implementation (SAP again).

As it turns out I'm a party to an IT project imbroglio of mega proportions at this very moment.  One of my company's larger customers wants to consolidate all of their accounting functions across their disparate divisions, plants, etc. from around the world and have their vendors use an electronic method to integrate in with the system in order to save everyone time and money.  This customer is very late in paying invoices and part of the problem is that they will fax POs from Europe to our plant in America for a product that's to be shipped to Mexico.  We send the invoice to Europe, and how they square that up with Mexico is anyone's guess; and judging from how our customer operates, they apparently didn't know either.

Sooooo anyway, this customer sits on us and says that we have to go live with this back in February.  So we dutifully go through the motions, but it turns out that Flex...er, the customer, wasn't even ready to trade data over the system until July.  It was at this point that the customer discovered that their method for implementing the package was goofed (for reasons I actually foresaw, but won't get into right now).  Point being, this is an organization that:
  • has on hand, in disparate systems, all the inputs and outputs that they need for the new system.  The integration is sure to be rough but all the 'buckets' already exist.
  • is affiliated with at least one, and probably several other, large tech companies (and is in many ways regarded as a tech company itself).
  • has a real, solid economic incentive to get this project up and running and into the review process.
  • still hasn't gone live with the implementation by the middle of November when the goal was to have people on it in February!
So to look at healthcare.gov none of those first three bullet points are true for that project; yet, they said that it would be fixed by the end of November?!?  They then make the same idiotic mistakes of throwing people at the project (which has the ironic effect of slowing a doomed project down further) and setting arbitrary deadlines that have nothing to do with what the project has to get done. Then there's the army of contractors, and sub-contractors (sub-sub-contractors), and government non-busy bodies and this thing has devolved from a project with an actual completion date to an industry all unto it's own.
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Just came by a story that the city of Desert Hot Springs in California is contemplating bankruptcy.  This story is interesting because the city is working off bonds from a bankruptcy back in 2001.  That bankruptcy was the result of a court decision against the city to the tune of $3,000,000 (population ~26,000) for violating the so called 'fair housing act'.  It turns out the developer had gotten government goodies aplenty to build low income housing in Desert Hot Springs, but the city council had (understandably) voted it down.  When did this situation first start out?  1990.  Uncle Sam has been sick in the head a long time.