Monday, January 28, 2008

Money From Helicopters

The title of the post of course refers to Fred Thompson's quip that the government sending checks out to taxpayers was about as effective as dumping money out of a helicopter. The whole thing reminds of how a medieval potentate might go through the city dumping out coins from the back of his carriage in order to increase his appeal with the rubes (from whom he had taken the coins from to begin with).

Anyway, on to stories of hilarious economic ineptitude!

From the 'be careful what you wish for' file:
IBM in recent months has been hit with lawsuits filed on behalf of thousands of U.S. employees who claim the company illegally classified them as exempt from federal and state overtime statutes in order to avoid paying them extra whenever they worked more than 40 hours per week.
The good news for those workers is that IBM now plans to grant them so-called "non-exempt" status so they can collect overtime pay. The bad news: IBM will cut their base salaries by 15% to make up the difference, InformationWeek has learned.
A while ago I worked for a consulting firm and they would occasionally have 'off-hours' work, the type of which you knew the firm was charging an astronomical one and a half times our already high per hour consulting fee (which we rarely, if ever, knew). They would ask us if we wanted to come in and work on a Saturday or something to which we would ask "Payin' us overtime?". At this point our illustrious employer would say "you're exempt so we don't have to pay you overtime". And of course it was at this point we plainly stated "then we're not showing up, good luck gouging your customer with no employees".

I guess IBM's previous solution was to pay a premium for their consultants, consultants who apparently forgot that, excepting law firms, there's hardly a less ethical business than a technical consulting firm.

Meanwhile on ABC's newscast Thursday night a reporterette lamented the lack of extended unemployment benefits in the economic stimulus package because 'economists' said that every dollar sent out for unemployment benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity. The obvious solution then is to have us all be unemployed! Idiots like this are a walking case study as to why American colleges are completely worthless in turning out educated Americans.

More points on the stimulus pacakge from here:
But critics say rebates didn't fix the last eight recessions.

"Giving money to people in exchange for doing nothing, the rebate issue, is the worst part of the plan," said Bill Niskanen Chairman of CATO Institute. "They provide no incentive for increased output, work savings, productivity."
During the ABC newscast I mentioned above, Mrs. Sandmich said quipped that it might be worth shoving that cash into a CD, at which point the newscaster said that you'd be letting your country down if you didn't blow that money on needless frivolity; nice*.

Another part of the stimulus package is bogus tax cuts to businesses to encourage them to purchase equipment. My boss said that the main motivation is probably to have factories order manufacturing machines, and we all had a good laugh at that since only Germany and Japan have the mad skillz to turn that type of equipment out. Then I figured that businesses would just purchase machines that reduce their human headcount, eliminating one more idiot who will injure themselves so that they can go on disability for life. However, the big boss pointed out that a big reason for the tax break is so that businesses will buy equipment now that they planned on buying a year or two down the road anyway; thus punting the issue to a different congress.

Elsewhere Bill Gates, previous president of the world's largest technical consulting firm, was making an idiot of himself:
Mr. Gates isn't abandoning his belief in capitalism as the best economic system. But in an interview with the Journal last week at his Microsoft office in Redmond, Wash., Mr. Gates said that he has grown impatient with the shortcomings of capitalism. He said he has seen those failings first-hand on trips for Microsoft to places like the South African slum of Soweto, and discussed them with dozens of experts on disease and poverty.
This grates me all the more since Mr. Gates has personally improved the worth of untold millions of people, myself included, with his capitalistic abilities. If he's really looking to improve the lot of the worlds poor, they need more of what works and less of what doesn't; and it would seem that what he's pitching "doesn't", like Vista...

More here:
Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism, figured this out more than 200 years ago when he wrote: "By pursuing his own interest, (a businessman) frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."

*I own a disk of an anime that depicted a dystopian future where the leaders stress consumerism above all else and people walking home were subjected to frequent appeals to purchase something, or anything.

Lead in the Water

Okay, for the last friggin' time, pencil "leads" were never made from actual lead, from here:
Some time prior to 1565 (some sources say as early as 1500), an enormous deposit of graphite was discovered at the site of Seathwaite Fell near Borrowdale, Cumbria, England. The locals found that it was very useful for marking sheep. This particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and it could easily be sawn into sticks. This was and remains the only deposit of graphite ever found in this solid form. Chemistry was in its infancy and the substance was thought to be a form of lead. Consequently, it was called plumbago (Latin for "lead ore")*. The black core of pencils is still sometimes referred to as "lead," even though it never contained the element lead.
This too:
In 1795, when good pencils weren't available in France because of the English blockade, a French scientist named Nicholas-Jacques Conté invented a new process to make good quality pencil leads from poor quality graphite. Conté's process is still used today for making almost all pencil leads, with only minor changes since his time. First the graphite is ground to a fine dust, washed in water, and thoroughly mixed with high quality washed clay and water. The mixture is then shaped, dried and fired in a kiln at around 1000º C. The entire process can take several weeks, but the resulting ceramic lead is far superior to the earlier sulfur-and-graphite lead. The best ceramic leads are generally held to approach the quality of the best native graphite leads, but at much lower cost. Good thing--since the best mines (Borrowdale in the Lake District and the Alibert mine in Siberia) have been worked out, top quality native graphite is pretty much unavailable.
Sorry, but I've recently had just too many people who should know better rip off the ol' "pencils used to be made of lead" bit. That's something that's easy to let slip off the mind (i.e., "who cares anyway"), but it would seem to me that speaking it would make the mind puzzle over A) why anyone would use a fairly valuable medal as a disposable writing device and B) How can one draw with a medal not much softer than cheap fork.

*Just for the record melting point of lead: 327.6 °C, melting point of graphite: 3,675 °C

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Decline of Japanese Game Development?

Kid Sandmich is a fan of the Metroid series of games put out by Nintendo, and before the first Metroid Prime game came out I had heard that it was being developed by an American company which turned out to be true. This isn't too far removed from Nintendo having an American developer work on a Mario game. What's up with that? How could the country renown for video game development farm out one of their key projects?

In an interview I first picked up in Game Developer and later caught on the net, game producer and composer Akira Yamaoka brings up some of the issues with game development in Japan:

What is it like working with an American team for Silent Hill 5? Is it different from having a team in-house with you?

AY: It's completely different working with an American team. There are of course advantages and disadvantages, but overall, I'm really impressed with the American staff and their technology. Their graphical and technical ability is amazing. There's a huge gap, actually. They're very advanced. I'm Japanese, and I think this is not just with Silent Hill but with the whole of the industry -- I look at what American developers are doing and I think wow... Japan is in trouble.
There are two reasons I think. One is that the development environment in Japan is divided into developers and publishers. Publishers have to create a game in a short amount of time at low cost, and it's a lot of pressure on them in that respect, and they pass that on to the developers. So basically it has to be done as quickly and cheaply as possible. And the people doing this are getting old like me. And tired! And the salary isn't that great.

So you've got pressure on these people to perform like they did when they were 20, and it's just not possible. I look at a game magazine, and I see interviews with the "important creators," like Mr. Sakaguchi. He's a great game creator, but he's not young. And I don't see many young game creators in Japan. Then I look at the west, and I see all these young guys coming up so fast, it's just amazing.

This jives with something 'Greggman' said about game development in Japan:
It sounds counterintuitive, Japan makes great games, unfortunately they do it by paying almost nothing.
Although I can't find it at the moment I could have sworn it was him who said that in the trench developers top out at $45k a year in Japan, which is 'almost nothing' for a trained professional in such an expensive place. (This article would appear to back up that claim, though the truth is a bit more depressing for Japanese game developers.)

It would seem that an aging population along with poor capital investment may doom Japan to also-ran in video game development.

So, do I buy Japan's PS3 or the American Xbox360? Hmm...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sanity Check #34

Now, one day after Wednesday is like, not Friday, right?

Guess Microsoft hates Thursdays.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Network Solutions = Slime

I know I can't help commenting on the company since they were a key player at the beginning of the modern Internet; and unfortunately until October 2008 I'm stuck as a paying customer (well the place I work for is). The latest controversy surrounds something we all suspect: domain front running. This is where, in Network Solutions case, you do a search to see if a domain name is available using Network Soltuons 'whois' tool, and then Network Solutions kindly reserves it...for themselves. From Larry Seltzer (emphasis mine):
Now, to prevent the bad guys from front-running your domain after you search for it on, NetSol beats them to the punch and registers it. At that point you can buy it from Network Solutions for one year at the low, low rate of $34.99.

If you'd like to buy it from another registrar with lower prices, the set of which includes just about everyone else in the industry, you'll have to wait four days. If no suckers have turned up to buy it from NetSol, it'll release the domain.
As an FYI, my current registrar of choice Godaddy runs domains at $10 a year. I don't know if they're still doing it or not but Microsoft at one point was registering them for free if you used their service. You can get a $10 a year domain from Network Solutions, if you register it with them for a hundred friggin years.

Adding insult on injury, even though they charge a huge amount, the service at Network Solutions sucks. My latest pet peeve is that although you can host the domain names on their servers they don't support the sender verify SPF records that are all but required for sending email on the Internet these days. Godaddy of course supports SPF so Network Solutions can shove off.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I Hate Symantec

SBC used to give users of their Internet service a virus scanner by Computer Associates to protect their computer. Although I've never been that big of a fan of CA's products, their free scanner was sufficient and didn't put a dent in the old computer resources. For whatever reason though, SBC's last update included removing the CA product and putting on a version of the dreaded Symantec Norton System Protector.

Every couple of years when I am forced to deal with a Symantec product anew, I always hold out hope that they fixed the crap that has dogged their products for lthe past fifteen years. Alas, I am always disappointed.

  • Unstable? Don't try stopping something called "Symantec IS Password Validation", that will just piss it off and bring your system to it's knees until you're forced to reboot.

  • Resource usage? I had to make a batch file to stop the services so that my PC will be usable every now and then. But don't try running Outlook with them stopped! I don't know what orifice Symantec put it's fist in, but Outlook hangs horrid when it tries to run without the Symantec spyware running.

  • Live Update? Holy hell, this is one of the worst pieces of software ever written. I swear this is just an ongoing co-op project for Symantec interns. I refuse to believe that real developers could have anything to do with it. An unstable, talky and incompetent POS.

I'll probably revert to the bootleg thin client that McAfee puts out for their corporate clients. It's not as all encompassing as that Symantec bloat, but at least my PC won't just exist to run the anti-virus package.

This is what my Norton looks like ALL THE TIME.

Nope, not a big Symantec fan. Microsoft can always rest easy about their coding quality while boobs like Symantec are around.

Six White Teens Beat Black Man

Oops, had it backwards, it's actually six black teens beat a white man to within an inch of his life. Of course you would have heard of the fake one by now while the real one barely registers a footnote (I over exaggerate slightly since the story did have some legs up here). Local curmudgeon Dick Feagler calls it like it is while the editors of the paper try to blow sunshine up people's cabooses. The area in question (Shaker Heights) is much like other areas that butt up to a university campus on one side, a tony neighborhood on the other, and slums for much else; so the area may stay integrated, if no other reason than to protect the rich that live just east of that city.

After thinking about the headline though, I thought of one other that would probably rank lower: six black teens beat black man to within an inch of his life. Now THAT would definitely not rate a shrug by any media that I know of.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Software Side of Spyware

Big news in tech circles is the distribution of a spyware package by Sears, and since I don't know if it's made it outside of the tech nerd circles I'd figure I'd note it since I hate Sears with a fiery passion*:
The scariest part of this incident is what Sears continues to say on its "My SHC Community" page. In a very prominent part of the page—surrounded by lots of white space—is this proud claim: "My SHC Community does NOT sell personal information." That's true. It doesn't sell it. It steals it and uses it for its own purposes.
At least in my experience this is pretty typical of Sears customer service, I always suspected that my poor experiences at that place were rooted in the Sears corporate culture.

As usual Benjamin Edelman has an excellent analysis.

*The only thing I’ll give Sears is there Craftsman line of hand tools which I grew to trust while repairing bikes at Toys R Us. The Chinese tools always fell apart while I could physically stand on a Craftsman socket driver to loosen a tight nut.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Medical Feedback Loop

A little while ago there was a story in WSJ on dead tree about a guy with a blood borne bacterial infection that was repeatedly misdiagnosed*; and when it finally got bad enough to (almost) kill him he needed several heart valves replaced, mucho rehab, and a long recovery time. The story then got into the high hospital bills as the guys coverage 'only' went up to like a 1.5 million dollar lifetime max while his bills were like 2.5 million. When his wife decided to comb the bill (which they couldn't afford) she noticed stuff like this:

For instance, CPMC charged Mr. Dawson $791 for stockings designed to improve blood circulation. The same pair can be purchased on the Internet for as little as $12.
Why were they charging so much? So they could cover the cost of people who can't pay. Of course once the costs increase there will be that fewer people who can still afford it and those with money or insurance are left shouldering even more of the burden.

Today a related story from Ohio:
The Ohio Hospital Association reports that between 2003 and 2006, the overall number of ER visits in the state rose by about 9.5%, while visits by the uninsured grew almost 20%.
Hospital association spokeswoman Tiffany Himmelreich says hospitals must find ways to take care of those bills. So, she says unpaid care could result in higher costs for people with insurance.
No 'could' about it Tiffany.
It goes without saying that when insurance has to pay more out the costs for insurance will go up, meaning there will be fewer individuals and companies that can afford decent benefits or any benefits or all. Feeding into this is the unlimited demand for very finite high tech medical services, driving the prices for those already scarce resources even higher.

Solutions? Dunno. There's something to be said for the Taxachusetts idea of forcing everyone to carry health insurance, but that exposed further gaps in the system when the newly insured discovered there weren't enough primary care physicians to cover them, especially at the low ball governmental insurance payout rates.

On top of all that there's the stories I here from my buddy about how his doctor wife has to deal with so many low income Medicare recipients that are either looking for a lawsuit payout, an drug fix to treat vague symptoms, or ideally both.

It's sad to say, but I think some heartless bastard might be the only one able to tune the system.
Hillary for president!

* Too many doctors seem to think they're a TV doctor or something. I had to do Internet searches three times today to diagnose different computer issues and I doubt my doctor will search the net three times this week. This despite the fact that, despite Microsoft's best efforts, the human body is much more complicated than any PC.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


From an article that comes so close to seeing the 'forest' because of the presence of trees that I'm amazed it was published:
But within the space of a decade, most black suburban movers will find that the social distress they sought to escape has migrated to them.
Odd how that works, but please don't draw any conclusions on your own!

On a different topic, SA publishes an energy drink review with this bitty that I loved:
...the act of buying organic serves only one purpose, and that is to trick your body into believing you actually give a shit about it.