Sunday, February 3, 2008

Put your money where your mouth is

I'm not sure how it happened, but the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I overheard some people who had money riding on the game.

I'm not a sports fan, but even if I was, it's a bad thing to bet on. Betting on the stock market is one thing; long term, it goes up, and short term, there are lots of indicators you can look at. In sports, there are too many variables (injuries, weather, "momentum"), too high standard deviations on outcomes, and bets aren't just one one team, they're on two.

If you want to make money, stick to the stock market. Yes, your returns for a day trade might be a modest +/- 10%, but betting on sports is just gambling.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Symbolic action

It's nice to have separation in life--work vs. home, friends vs. family, etc. In trying to spend less time in front of a computer and more with other people, and, shit, for once, my thoughts, I found a simple, but nifty thing I can do to change my focus: close my laptop.

Monday, January 28, 2008

On a personal note: cheap has a cost

After too many hours on the phone today with Sprint (not a Consumerist-style rant, I promise), I realized two things (one's relevant).

Irrelevant: when mad at a company, calm down and think things over. Doing business elsewhere can be a pain; consider keeping your current business, but think twice about future business.

Relevant: after I reached a dead end, I spent too much time frustrated and mad. I wasn't productive; I wasn't even being entertained. My dad recently started taking blood pressure medication. He's always stressed, worries easily, eats too much salt, and isn't the yoga type, so it wasn't a surprise. When I heard about the pills (and his fancy BP graph over time), I started watching stress levels and trying to relax more. Call centers don't help, and it's time my cheapskatery comes to and end. Not that my live is extravagant, but I'm going to aim for a tad more modest life instead of dealing with stress, be it from work or call centers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The stock options scam

Back in the good times of the 90's, all it took was holding onto stock options for a few years to be rich. Options have become so ingrained in the culture that they've come to be expected. Companies promote them as a way to reward hard work and give you a vested interest in the company, while employees see them as a means to get rich quick, or so they did back in the 90's.

Once companies transition from growth to blue chip, there's no longer the chance to get rich, but employees don't know this, and enjoy the prospect of compensation once reserved for only upper management. Here's the cool part: employees think options are good--an increase in their "total compensation." Companies know that they have to expense the options, but the only time they get exercised is in a good market; options are a way for employers to vary employee pay by market conditions without explicitly stating that goal, while encouraging corporate loyalty.

And what does the employee get? A lottery ticket and a fluctuating, delayed paycheck. Golden handcuffs my ass.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Call it like it is: dems are bigots, and the polls prove it

In recent polls, blacks seem to be supporting Obama while women support Clinton. The only reasonable explanation I can see for this is that Democratic women and blacks are, as a whole, sexist and racist. On the outside, they like to create an aura of equality, but when when put to a vote, bigotry makes an appearance.

Certainly not all Democrats are bigots, and there are certainly Republican bigots, too. The difference is that Republicans aren't in a position where it's so apparent. Alan Keyes is the only non-white candidate, but he has a general lack of support--Condoleezza Rice would likely get more support.

The underlying problem is that the Democratic party, like the GOP (Ron Paul and John McCain are very different candidates), consists of separate groups and interests loosely joined by a single platform. The feminist interest is very sexist, and the minority "chocolate city" interest is very racist, but in appealing to the broader group, the party platform has to reconcile these differences and put on a face for the public do see. Meanwhile, Republicans can have WASPs run (Keyes and Romney for flavor) without alienating groups within the party. At least Republicans are discrimating on the basis of supposed morals (Huckabee vs. Giuliani) and government styles (McCain vs. Paul) instead of race and gender.

Double-standard, reverse discrimination, hypocrisy, call it what you will, but the last party that should have a holier-than-thou attitude towards minority and women's equality is the Democrats.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Clinton wins Nevada... sorta

Bloomberg and other media outlets are reporting that Clinton won the Nevada primary.  When I actually read the article, it said that Clinton won the poplular vote, but Obama won one more delegete.  This wasn't even visible on the the initial view on my browser; I had to scroll down.

In the Democratic National Convention,  elected delegates (like the electoral college, only at a state level) account for 80% of the delegates.  The remainder are free to choose whichever candidate they want.  They could favor the candidate who got more popular votes, but with the number of people who won't vote for Clinton, and especially if McCain gets the GOP nomination, that would almost be a recipe for failure.

At the very least, I think it's inaccurate of media outlets to claim Clinton won without explaining the context of the victory, especially when it's almost their duty to inform.  At worst, they could be promoting an agenda, but I'll leave that to the conservatives pundits to speculate.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Protecting YOU from Uncle Arnold

Word around the bogo-blogo-sphere and conservative talk radio is that California wants to regulate thermostats over the air waves. I'm a fan of lazes faire economics and libertarian ideals, so there's no need for me to rant about what you already know.

So here at the Corporate Rant, we have all the information you need to beat this system.

All you need is the defense of nutjobs everywhere: aluminum foil. Just wrap your house, thermostat, or anything in between in the stuff, and you have a shield that radio can't penetrate. If you want to test it, put your cell phone in a foil pouch and try calling it, or wrap up the electronics you're trying to steal in it.

Stock tip: DBB is a metals ETF. Whether it's an overzealous government or inflation that worries you, commodities are a good investment.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Immunity

I don't put much effort into my job (but that's another post). My manager talked to me about this (I've been looking for a new job, so this isn't a big deal). One thing he mentioned from my last evaluation was that people thought I needed to work on my turnaround time when dealing with others. Fair enough. My manager went on to say that they have more expectations out of people with more seniority, and that as low-level employees start to beat deadlines, they get promoted.

Later that day, we had a meeting. A few people were especially late. One of them is well respected. He works on lots of projects, is always busy, and would probably be a manager by now if not for his vocal threat to quit if he gets promoted. Here's the thing: as good as his reputation is, he turnaround times suck. He delayed a meeting 5 minutes for 20+ people (almost 2 man-hours), he follows up slowly on things he initiates, and he generally is slow to respond. The best part: he can keep promoting a busy, hard working image, while hurting productivity of others. Genius.

But looking back, he's doing the same thing I am. Granted, he's getting more work done (he's overextended and I'm slacking), but we're both higher levels than we should be, and in the level-adjusted ranking system we have, all that matters is the work-level relationship, not how hard one works.

I'm in no position to tell my manager this. He has immunity, and I'm in a position where what I have to say will come off as a desperate and critical, regardless of whether it's true.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Who got screwed by Blu-Ray

Warner Brothers just picked Blu-Ray over HD-DVD for their HD movie distribution. They claim they were picking the winner, but while Blu-Ray has a lead, it wasn't a clear winner. The real reason for Warner's decision was probably money from Sony.

Here's where Sony screwed themselves: they must have lost so many format wars (Beta, MiniDisc, MemoryStick) that they were willing to win at all costs. They delayed PS3 in part over Blu-ray, releasing only on their own format, and probably buying titles for their format. They saw what VHS did for the industry, and were looking at the war as an investment.

The mistake was putting all their eggs in one basket (they aren't currently a successful company from an investing perspective). It was a risk, but the alternative was becoming a minor player.

Meanwhile, writers go on strike. Without content for their new format, the only reason to buy a Blu-ray player is a few years' worth of movies--no new TV shows, no no movies. I don't expect the strike to last more than a year, but there also won't new films for a year after that. That's a long time for Microsoft and the cable companies to get on-demand in homes.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Inside Outsourcing

My employer is making some moves into China. Luckily, the days of moving entire groups to Bangalore, US teams might see one or new people added (if their team even has anyone). There were a few interesting things I learned about the process:

There is a glut of applicants. My employer saw around 200 résumés, interviewed around 20 candidates and made around 10 offers (all of which were accepted). A test was used to help decide who's worth interviewing.

The problems are more interesting than that basic story.

This is the Corporate Rant, so it's a fair assumption that I work for a large company. I'll say that in the US, the company is a bit of a has-been. The Chinese didn't feel that way. For whatever reason (a fascination with the West, eagerness to industrialize, or behind the times), a large, stable US company is prestigious for Chinese.

There is a history of cheating on the exams. In the time I spent as a TA, I noticed this, too; foreign students were more likely to cheat and more brazen in it than their domestic counterparts.

Not surprisingly, there is concern about revealing our code base to our Chinese workers. Apple-style black box coding is common due to security concerns. Outsourcing facilitators are even aware of this and provide fine grained access control to their client companies.

Their English is bad, even by Chinese American standards, though a few are good at it. Contrast this to India, a former British colony with a language distantly related to English.

Workers are assigned to cubicle corners, 4 workers per cube.

Long term, China's only chance of surpassing the US as a global power is through their population. There are too many accidents waiting to happen there for it to maintain such a position for long.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Smallest Computers (That You Can Actually Use)

What constitutes a computer that you can actually use? Basically, you need to be able to use it without any special experience or hardware, so microcontrollers are out, but so are cell phones (for now, anyway).

1. Digi Connect ME

55 mhz CPU
8mb RAM
4mb flash
$145

The company that makes this has other models, but this one wins on ridiculous factor; it's like a pack of gum with a 2.4ghz antenna coming out of it.

The family of products has support for Linux, Windows CE, and something I've never heard of.

2. Jack PC

500 mhz
128mb RAM
$400

Don't lie; you've had dreams of thin clients around your house. If keeping that small box bothered you, this PC is for you. It runs Windows CE, and they're looking into making a Linux distro (advanced users can probably make one, already). It has support for a few thin client standards (Citrix's and Microsoft's), though I'm sure Linux hackers could get LTSP and X going on it. The HDMI version even supports dual monitors.

3. RouterBOARD

175MHz MIPS CPU
32MB RAM
64MB flash
$150

Looking to borrow all your neighbors' WiFi at once? RouterBOARD has the board for you (and many others). They offer boards of varying size, CPU architecture (some are PPC), with different slots (mini PCI, PCI, compact flash), and price. Some even have daughterboards that add even more slots.

Some boards support Linux, and all support their proprietary RouterOS. Basically, you're getting a general purpose version of what Linksys and Netgear sell. You're paying a bit more, but getting a few more features, too.

4. http://www.soekris.com

266 mhz CPU
256 mb RAM
Compact flash slot for storage

My first dedicated router was a Soekris box. It's biggest selling point is a 586CPU, so any i586 is supported. I've heard stories of Windows being loaded, but no recent versions (i586, remember?), and the PCI slot doesn't supply enough power for a fancy video card.

It doesn't officially support OSes, but it runs most Linux/Unix variants.

6. Mini ITX

~800 mhz
RAM supplied by user
IDE/SATA storage provided by user
$150

These days, Mini ITX is hardly new, but if you need an almost full featured computer in a small form, and you don't want things to get complicated, this is where you look. VIA is the primary manufacturer, and their EPIA product line has almost any feature you're looking for. This is also the smallest board that has video, and the smallest aimed at consumers.

5. SBCs

Consumers, be damned! Single board compters have been around forever, but not for consumers. They're as big as a full length (remember those?) PCI card, and come with slots for RAM, a CPU, IDE/SATA, and connect to a PCI bus and backplane. Backplanes can give you just a few PCI slots or a whole army of them. There are even backplanes designed for multiple SBCs, so a single rackmount case can hold 4 standard computers.

It's a standard motherboard in an unusual form, so any AMD64/x86 (there are probably IA64 SBCs, too) OS is supported.








Honorable mention:
3Com IntelliJack

$125

After adding the wall jack computer, I felt bad for leaving this little guy out. Granted, it isn't really a computer, but if you need a few more ports in your wall and want it to look clean, it's perfect. It gets power with power over ethernet. Other than that, it's a simple 10/100mbps switch. Since it replaces a jack with keystone modules, they left space for two phone jacks (or other pass through connectors).

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Writers strike, but fail to prove point

The studios are probably right; there is no money in internet content. They're just doing it because if they don't, they'll be living the nightmare the music industry is in when it failed to recognize how the internet would change their industry.

But the writers don't know this; they've been separated from the quality of their work for too long. They don't realize that most of what they produce is crap, and that a commission based pay would leave a handful of writers well off, and the remainder in the same state as their print brethren.

What they do know is that there's some value to online distribution, and they want to get paid for it. Here's the problem: why aren't they, along with the actors who support them, writing for a writer/actor owned internet video site? Startup costs are low, and they're already not getting paid, so what do they have to lose?

I didn't get cable in my new apartment because the strike. This is your chance; entertain me, people.

Forget the hybrid, fix mass transit

I live less than half a mile from a light rail station, I work on a street that the train goes right by, and my employer gives employees free service, so yesterday, I decided to take it into work.

I missed the train by about 5 minutes, and the next one was in 25 minutes. Once on, it takes about 20 minutes to go to the transfer station. In a planning flaw, I can walk a mile from the transfer station to work faster than waiting and catching the connecting train.

Over an hour after I left, I was at work... 10 miles away by car.

Granted, I'd save money, about $140 per month in gas, though honestly, with only 5,000 miles per year from commuting, light rail would cost me in a lot in depreciation, and it isn't like you can live without a car in California.

Here's the problem: instead of expanding mass transit and improving its infrastructure, we're giving money to people who buy hybrids. Hybrids aren't even a fix; the technologies needed to switch to electric cars haven't materialized in years of research, and the advancements that have been made, e.g. lithium ion batteries are near their theoretical limits. Making matters worse, hybrids encourage road usage. As the population increases, new roads create an induced demand on roads, leading to worse traffic.

The problem with mass transit is that it has and was designed for 1.5% market share. Now, while the system powered by oil is still running smoothly, is the time for urban planners and civil engineers to address problems, not when $500 / barrel oil makes it a necessity.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Feature request: advanced digging

When it comes to Digg and friends, interesting stories and comments can end up buried, not because they're bad, but because most readers disagree. Permitting voting on opinions creates de facto censorship; voting is great for representing quality, but another measure is needed for stating agreement. I'd rather read a good comment I disagree with an a lousy one I agree with.