Thursday, April 30, 2009

The ideological roots of climate change nihilism

For many Americans, climate nihilism has become a core ideology ...
Anti-green economics - Paul Krugman Blog - 
... I don’t especially mean to pick on Samuelson, but this column exemplifies a strange thing about the climate change debate. Opponents of a policy change generally believe that market economies are wonderful things, able to adapt to just about anything — anything, that is, except a government policy that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Limits on the world supply of oil, land, water — no problem. Limits on the amount of CO2 we can emit — total disaster. 

Funny how that is.
No matter the question, the answer is always 'do nothing'. So 'do nothing' if the earth is cooling, 'do nothing' if the earth is warming, 'do nothing' if CO2 is warming the earth, 'do nothing' if it's all due to cosmic rays.

I'm trying to think of similar nihilism on the left. When did the right push for change, and the left irrationally deny the need for change?

Education comes to mind, but even there the left is not counseling nihilism.

The catalog of cell lines - as a book

This morning I arrived early for a student exam, and I found myself in a medical library for the first time in many years.

I strolled the neglected aisles. There's not much cause now to pull these old books out. There I found the "catalog of cell lines" ...

They appear to be bound dot matrix printouts; even in the early 1980s this was not really the stuff of books. It went on for a few years, then we come to a softcover, then a few desultory binders. Today there are many databases of cell lines; you can order any one of 3,400 for home delivery.

Once these were bound books that scholars pulled from shelves.

No, religion does not make you a better person

It's commonly claimed that religious belief is associated with good behavior.

That may be so, depending on how you define "good" ...
Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful -
More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did...
In many allegedly Christian religions the chief deity tortures sinners not for an hour, nor for a month, but for all eternity. So if "good" is as "God does", then torture is good, indeed, godly.

Given the astounding amount of evangelical Protestant support for torture, I'm impressed that McCain came out against torture (though he later retreated into ambiguity).

I wonder what the comparable numbers are for Buddhists.

If I'm ever a prisoner of war, I'll take the secular humanist guard please.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More proof of Google's mere humantity

We have evidence Googlers are imperfect ...
Gordon's Notes: Proof that Google is mortal - Gmail Contacts: "The proof of Google's banality is the current version of Google Contacts, and particularly Google Contact Groups."
Here's more. Picasa Web Uploader for Mac has been around for at least a year.

The latest version still won't install in a non-admin account (hint - request privilege escalation!), and it still doesn't give a meaningful error message if you try.

Not just feet of clay. Google has clay to the knobby knees and more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interesting data on pandemic flu mortality

Interesting summary (but caveat below) ...

A Century of Flu Pandemics - Health Blog - WSJ

... There was the Spanish Flu of 1918, which this historical overview from the feds calls “the catastrophe against which all modern pandemics are measured.” Some 30% of the world’s inhabitants fell ill; there were an estimated 500,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

The other major pandemics of the century were less severe. In the Asian Flu of 1957, some 70,000 people in the U.S. died. In the Hong Kong Flu outbreak of 1967, about 33,800 people died in this country.

Yes, those numbers are high. But consider this: In a typical year, some 36,000 Americans die of regular, garden-variety flu, and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized. Those are useful figures to keep in mind for a sense of context as the confirmed cases of swine flu continue to rise...

That's a reassuring number, but slightly misleading for several reasons.

  1. The US population in 1967 was 200 million, now we're at 300 million.
  2. We have immunizations and vastly better medical care than 1967, so our death rates should be much lower.
  3. Routine flu most often kills elderly frail people with a very limited lifespan. The big pandemics take the young.

It's worth remembering that influenza does kill a lot of people every year, but that shouldn't make us think that Hong Kong outbreak of 1967 was nothing special.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Terrific set of bicycle commuting tips

Via Ride Boldly: Alan Snel's: Let's Bust The Bike-Commuting Myths. The title is a bit misleading, it's a set of tips to mitigate common issues with bicycle commuting. Here are just a few of my favorites:

...3. It's too far
-- Try riding to work and taking mass transit home, then alternating the next day
-- Ride to a coworker's house and carpool to work...

...7. I have to dress up
-- Keep multiple sets of clothing at work; rotate them on days you drive
-- Have work clothes cleaned at nearby laundromats or dry cleaners
-- Pack clothes with you and change at work; try rolling clothes instead of folding...

8. It's raining
-- If you are at work, take transit or carpool to get home; ride home the next day...

There were a few silly ones however ...

9. The roads aren't safe
-- You are at no greater risk than driving a car


...Trips of 5 to 7 miles in urban areas take the same or less by car...

There is absolutely no way riding a bicycle on unsafe roads is as safe as driving in a car on the same roads. That's just nuts.  Also, the 5-7 miles claim is only true in highly congested urban areas; where I live a 7 mile car trip is about 1/4 the time required to transit from door to desk (Ok, so Lance Armstrong results may vary).

All Swine Flu all the time -- the WSJ page

Can't get enough news about the latest pandemic wannabe? The Wall Street Journal has your number: Swine Flu -

I'm surprised it doesn't have a feed and tweeter. Maybe tomorrow.

You'd think after the SARS experience we'd have spent more money trying to figure out why the "same" virus [1] can be so lethal in some places (Hong Kong, Toronto) and so relatively benign everywhere else.

[1] One might debate if the word "same" is meaningful when applied to something as mutable as a virus (or a river, for fans of Zen).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

And now for the health care wars … compensation, round one

Them’s fighting words …

Doctor Shortage Proves Obstacle to Obama Goals -

… Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee, said Medicare payments were skewed against primary care doctors…

“Primary care physicians are grossly underpaid compared with many specialists,” said Mr. Baucus, who vowed to increase primary care payments as part of legislation to overhaul the health care system…

“Grossly underpaid” is rather strong, especially from the chairman of the Finance Committee.

There is an elephant in the room of physician compensation. The primary care physician supply can be increased by paying these physicians substantially more, but it can also be increased by paying specialists substantially less.

There are plenty of applications for medical school, and plenty of physicians entering practice. If we really want a different mix, we can do that fairly cheaply.

Android netbook – things start to get interesting again

The Netbook news has been boring lately. Lots of junky $500 machines running XP – viral fodder basically. Heck, that’s in range of a used MacBook. No news there, except that $25/machine XP licensing has torn a hole in Microsoft’s profit. Instead of making an insane profit they’re only making an obscene profit.

Things only get interesting when the crummy little buggers fall below $150. Anything else, short of a $250 5” diagonal iTouch from Apple, is boring.

So this report is interestingly only because it’s a marker of the drive to $150 …

Report: First Android Netbook to cost $250 | Crave - CNET

The Alpha 680, as the laptop is known as, is going through final testing at Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies, Skytone co-founder Nixon White told the site.

The Netbook uses a 533MHz ARM 11 CPU and sports a 7-inch LCD screen, keyboard, touchpad, and built-in Wi-Fi, according to the report. However, the Alpha 680's 2-cell battery will last only two to four hours while surfing the Internet, much lower than the expected 12 hours.

… manufacturers attempt to drive the price of Netbooks to around $200 or less…

The Alpha 680 will be quickly forgotten of course. The big one will be the Google branded netbook debuting at $180.

Four Yorkshiremen – The Monty Python Poor skit

I’ve been looking for this one for a while, but turns out it was right in front of me, one of the first releases on my YouTube Monty Python feed ..


… "Oooooh, we used to dream of living in a corridor. It would have been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish [heap]. We got woken up every morning to having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us. House? Uh!"
"Oh, when I said house I meant a hole in the ground covered by a piece of twig. It was a house to us."
"We were evicted from our hole in the ground. We had to go and live in the lake!"
"You were lucky to have a lake! There were a hundred and fifty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road."
"Cardboard box?" …

Interesting lesson on memory. I remembered one of the four lived in a river, but it was a lake. I also remembered someone brushing their teeth with barbed wire, but that’s a complete miss.


Update: There are references to other versions of the skit in the YouTube comments. So maybe there was a river and barbed wire somewhere ...

When social conservatives can be helpful …

I’m not a fan of American pseudo-Christian marketarian fundamentalism. I do, however, sympathize with many of the priorities of parents who would call themselves social conservatives.

For example, we use their home schooling materials when our usually good but occasionally whacky public school fads fail our kids. We also appreciate their media reviews.

Consider Common Sense Media. They come across as pretty neutral, but I still suspect a social conservative undercurrent there. Where else, however, could I get a review like this one …

Hotel for Dogs Rating and Review For Kids and Families | Common Sense Media

… I work as an advocate for children who are coming from homes of Domestic Violence and I often take children to the movies when there is no school. After viewing the trailer the children decided it would be a fun movie to see (ages 8 & 12). I took them thinking it would be a silly pointless movie, only to find it was full of things that are all to real in my line of work. The children I had taken to the movies were recently removed from their mother and placed with grandparents, but have easily been those kids on the screen. I think the movie would have been great for "normal" happy children, but I wish somewhere in the previews I would have known the I know to check this site…

Exactly. By some miraculous intervention our #3 child (adopted) missed seeing this movie today. So, chances are, she won’t need emergency counseling. #2 (also adopted) was delighted by the film and appeared unfazed by a high-intensity emotional stress test for children with a history of personal tragedy. #1 is harder to read, I’ll have to watch how he does with it.

It’s not a bad film, even though they sure do yank the old adoption/abandonment levers that movie makers live for. It’s just a very tricky film for children with certain histories.

You don’t get that from typical movie review sites, but CSM has the key information.

Next time we’ll check CSM before we go.

Contrarian opinion – the bailout is working, and it’s relatively cheap

My iPhone Wall Street Journal app means I read the WSJ for free.

The “free” is important. The WSJ editorial pages are blithering madness assaulting civilization and reason. If I were to pay for the WSJ’s excellent news pages, I’d be funding WSJ editorial attacks on my children’s future. If I’m not paying for the editorials though, I can get the excellent journalism guilt-free.

So I came across a moderately contrarian opinion on the usual descriptions of the Geithner bailout (emphases mine):

Why the Wall Street Bailout is Working - David Weidner -

Anyone who takes tea with friends will tell you: The parties are painless. It's the gossip that hurts.

In the same way, today's antitax, antispending movements aren't the problem, it's the dangerous misconceptions they spread about the government response to the financial crisis.

Their argument -- that huge tax hikes are coming or have been implemented to pay off bailouts for banking fat cats -- betrays a lack of understanding of the government's approach to solving the financial crisis. When protesters or critics complain about the $10 trillion-plus spent on the Wall Street bailout, you can understand how their estimates of the number of protesters in the streets last week were slightly, well, inflated.

The truth: No one's paying new taxes directly related to the bailout. And most of the government rescue packages offered to the banks have gone untapped or are being repaid…

… Make no mistake, U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for a lot of money. The government has spent or expects to spend about $2.4 trillion in the next few months to keep the financial gears moving. It's a stunning amount of money made worse by rage-inducing missteps such as the bonus debacle at American International Group Inc. and the initial lack of direction for the Troubled Asset Relief Program…

… If the economy does recover within a year, we'll have spent a lot to rescue the financial system, but nowhere close to the 14-digit figure flogged by tea party protesters.

In fact, there's no way the government will spend that much, because many of the 26 bailout programs aren't being used much, according to Federal Reserve and Treasury Department statistics. For instance:

Banks have tapped the FDIC's Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program for $297 billion so far. That's about 20% of the total $1.5 trillion allocated. This is the biggest of the government programs, and banks pay 0.5% to 1% interest for the right to borrow the money depending on how long they keep it.
During its first month, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, has only financed $4.7 billion in consumer debt, far below the $1 trillion allocated. In addition, participation is declining with each new funding cycle.

The Money Market Guarantee Program, aimed at insuring money-market funds against losses, hasn't spent a dime. It covers up to $3.8 trillion in money-market debt. This program is actually making a small profit, because participating funds are required to pay a fee.

Other than the stimulus bill, the program with the biggest outlay so far is the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. More than $570 billion has been committed, but less than $400 billion has actually left the Treasury Department. Like most of these programs, it's unclear how much of this money will be repaid, but most banks say they're either ready or capable of giving it back. If not, they have to pay a 5% annual dividend to the government. In just the first three months of this year, the government has collected $2.52 billion in TARP interest.

You get the idea. Most of these programs were designed as backstops and as proof that the government stands behind the country's private financial system. The government is extending its own credit line to banks until the private sector can repair its own.

Recovery, when and if it occurs, will render many of these programs obsolete. The actual cost to taxpayers will be either negligible or drastically less than the most dire forecasts suggest.

Of course, taxpayers stand to lose more if the economy worsens and the financial system losses deepen further. It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which high unemployment leads to bigger loan defaults, setting off a domino effect of lower home prices and bank failures. Americans have $2 trillion in credit-card debt, and banks are holding that, too.

If that scenario comes to pass, financial companies could tap every dollar of the government's massive credit line.

The International Monetary Fund on Monday projected banks world-wide will need an additional $875 billion in capital by next year to get reserves to precrisis levels. That means most banks will need to raise cash through the public and private markets -- or, failing that, from the government.

But potential losses aren't the same as real ones.

Our national debt already stands at $11 trillion. Most of that debt was run up in the last eight years, when government spending outpaced declining tax revenues. The Iraq war is close to costing the nation $1 trillion. Hurricane Katrina cost us about $110 billion.

We ran up a huge tab for our kids well before the bailout, but it's unlikely that such an inconvenient fact will be the talk of the next tea party.

This is in line with the DeLong line, and somewhat opposed to Krugman (though his concern is not so much that money is being tossed out, as that it is not being spent where it should be).

I’ve seen comparison made elsewhere to the vastly smaller S&L bailout. It cost much more than was imagined early on, but much less than feared. My hope, prayer and hunch is that we’re in the same ballpark.

The vast deficits our children will inherit will not be the result of government bailouts, they will instead be driven by bad policies (Bush/GOP) and demographics (aging population).

Incidentally, the solution to the American demographic problem is just north of Minnesota. Canada has pioneered the exchange of Canadian citizenship privileges for the economic output of the world’s top producers. The US could do the same; we just need Obama to keep making America a more appealing place to live. Health care reform will help.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Google Latitude, Profiles, and “friends”

Google Latitude inherits ideas from Google’s abandoned “Dodgeball” product. It lets you use your cell phone or computer to track people who’ve agreed to share location information. It plays some sort of role in Google’s chaotic/emergent/incoherent/diabolical social networking anti-twitter anti-facebook strategy.

Like Gmail SMS and Google Voice SMS and Google Talk messaging SMS it includes some … SMS, this time bundled with iGoogle (which I thought was iDying).

Ohh, and Google Profiles are in there too … somewhere ( Profiles no longer have only numeric IDs like 113810027503326386174 [1], they can have vanity IDs too, like


Anyway, with Google Mobile | Latitude you can …

  • See where your friends are and what they are up to
  • Quickly contact them with SMS, IM, or a phone call
  • Control your location and who gets to see it

It’s designed for use on a mobile phone, but it can also work with an iGoogle gadget. I’m pretty sure it can be added to Gmail as well (where I’m more likely to use it) given the Gmail Lab widget insertion option.

On the computer I can manually specify my location ( the new IE Google toolbar will compute location for sites that have Wifi based on large databases of Wifi network locations [2]). On supported phones the location is dynamically update.

Emily and I share location now. Handy if her phone gets stolen! Her Blackberry Pearl doesn’t support GPS so it’s all cell tower triangulation.

On the other hand the iPhone still doesn’t support Latitude – months after we were told it was “coming soon”. Looks like the problem is a big one …

… Steve Lee, Product Manager for Google Latitude explained, "We have an iPhone version, working on that to make it available. One thing to note about iPhone version: The magical part of Latitude, even when it's in your pocket, it can report your location…It's not typical user behavior to pull out your phone out of your pocket and check in."

Lee continued, "On all those four platforms I mentioned, they allow applications from the background and multitask and report the location; and iPhone, that's not the case, and Apple just announced their 3.0 software and it appears that's still not the case. It's unfortunate for applications like Latitude…

I’ve no idea how this will all turn out. By the way, my money is on “incoherent” over “diabolical” for Google’s social strategy.

[1] Amazing how much stuff Google is breaking lately btw. The ID is still mine, but the original “sharing” URL is broken without even a polite error message. The current correct URL is vs. Now that I’ve enabled the latter option searches on my true name (not John Gordon) include a link to my profile at the bottom of the results page.

[2] If that doesn’t unnerve you then either you have no imagination or you’ve already accepted the transparent society.

The lessons of 2002 - humility and expertise

The torture memos remind us of the terrible failure of American character in 2002. Krugman learned something then (emphases mine) ...
The defining moment - Paul Krugman Blog -

...The Bush administration was obviously — yes, obviously — telling tall tales in order to promote the war it wanted: the constant insinuations of an Iraq-9/11 link, the hyping of discredited claims about a nuclear program, etc.. And the question was, should you stand up against that? Not many did — and those who did were treated as if they were crazy.

For me and many others that was a radicalizing experience; I’ll never trust “sensible” opinion again.
My personal lesson was a little different. I now have far less respect for confident experts and expert consensus. There's an empirical basis for this skepticism - a confident famous expert is less reliable than a random choice. (Technically, this rule applies to Mr. Krugman, who is both confident and famous.)

After 2002 I put my faith in quiet experts who admit ambiguity and uncertainty.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Proof that Google is mortal - Gmail Contacts

When you read about Google's entrance exams, you're left with the impression the place is full of prodigies.

This is wrong.

The proof of Google's banality is the current version of Google Contacts, and particularly Google Contact Groups.

I swear that years ago Google's Gmail had a very simple UI for working with contacts. You could paste in a set of well formed email addresses and POOF you'd added Contacts into a Group.

Now you create the contacts one at time and then, one at a time, add them to a Group. Oh, unless you want to try Google's ultra-finicky CSV formatted import option.

This isn't just average software stupidity, this is Modern-Microsoft level stupidity (excluding, as always, the Windows Live Writer team). Stupidity infesting Google's flagship software product, a strategic product.

Google is made up of flawed mortals, just like Microsoft and everyone else. (Yes, including Apple. Remember MobileMe?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Obama and Chavez - I like him better now than ever

I like The World's Greatest President (WGP) more now than when I voted for (and, more importantly, donated to) him.

Back then he was merely smart, a political prodigy who could use pigment to obscure his inner geekiness. Above all, he wasn't a member of the Torture Party of Limbaugh.

Now though ...
Cuddlin' With Evil / Obama shakes hands with people we're supposed to hate. Are we all going to die? (Morford)

... Obama was the leader to watch because he did that most rare of things among major world leaders: He listened. More than that, he heard. More than that, he did not insult, demean, degrade, patronize, scold. He shook hands and spoke cordially with everyone in the room, including supposed 'enemies' like Hugo Chavez, a clever pipsqueak of an America-hating media slut who is zero threat to the U.S. but who normally dominates the TV cameras anyway, but who was so disarmed by Obama's effortless, high-road calm that he suddenly had no footing, no audience, no stage from which to bluster and spit. Go figure.

As reported by the Miami Herald:

"[Obama] listened with an extraordinary patience, and he was intellectually elegant in his responses." - Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez

"I can't recall a U.S. president who has sustained such an open-minded dialogue with the region." - Argentinean Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana

Naturally, all this articulate, respectful diplomacy means one of two things.

One: We are blindly kowtowing to all sorts of scummy, evil forces of the underworld and undermining America's godlike supremacy, and soon will be overrun by drug lords and baby rapists and fat, sweaty, cigar-chomping socialists who love to coddle baby-raping drug lords. This is known as the "Fox News angle." Also known as the "Hysteria Special," and also, simply, "The Limbaugh."

Option two: We are about to make extraordinary progress in the world, as we set a new tone of intelligent cooperation in our foreign policy, restoring much of the respect and international goodwill Bush so grossly destroyed, as we finally step back up to the adult's table, not as the domineering father figure everyone fears for his drunken, violent tirades, but as the kind of elegant intellect and influential peacemaker everyone wants to emulate.

That last thing? About emulation? I think that's the most potentially transformative thing of all.

See, we all know the idea of how Obama's raising everyone's game. It's barely 100 days in and already people speak glowingly of the Age of Obama, how the calm, constructive vibe he exudes like a beacon is actually changing people's everyday behaviors, redirecting our attention from violence and rancor and overconsumption toward something a little bit lighter, smarter, less fear obsessed, more respectful or even just simply nicer. The bastard...

I know that anyone who attains the presidency must, by historical precedent, be at least half-mad.

Even so ... even so. We are far, far more fortunate than we deserve.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nimbophobia: Why you should fear the cloud - Google's performance problems

Another reason to fear the cloud.

Google Calendar is getting slower ... and slower ... and slowweeerrrr.

It's barely useable on the web. Fortunately the slowdown doesn't affect my iPhone Calendar. It syncs via Google's exchange services, so any delays occur in the background.

Now I have a lot more events and calendars than most people, so hardly anyone will share my experience. Even so, this is important. The air is getting bad and the canary is going down. You may be next.

Why is Google's Calendar performance tanking?

I'm guessing they've cut back on their infrastructure spend. A reasonable choice in current economic conditions. Problem is, when a cloud company does this everyone is affected. There's no way to opt out.

So if I were a profitable company, for example, I'd be sharing the same pain as Google and other less profitable companies.

The Cloud makes everyone equal. Too equal.

Fear the Cloud.

Update 9/24/09: Blogger has an undocumented 5000 post limit. Prior posts cannot be searched or edited. Google has no fix four months after copping to the bug. Fear the Cloud.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


We need a truth commission.
183 - Paul Krugman -

... now no way to view the people who ruled us these past 8 years as anything but monsters. We had all these rationalizations of torture over the “ticking clock” and all that — then we learn, for example, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month...

WGP Obama

It's true. He's moving so fast the spinning heads are airborne...
Sluts & Salvation / Also: Mysterious chicken, drooling Facebook, maniac presidents. Can you help? (Morford)

Obama Resolves Riemann Hypothesis

... In which the World's Greatest President (WGP) continues to infuriate and confound his GOP critics by taking on -- and checking off -- so many impossibly ambitious projects and issues so quickly, so calmly, so impressively, that not only can't they keep track, but they can't write snarling, simpleminded, wrong-headed on-air commentaries and blog posts fast enough to string together a cohesive narrative of fear and outrage before Obama's already moved on and announced he's going to colonize the moon and cure oak blight and teach the world to communicate with dolphins.

Upshot: Total frothing extremist gibberish. Secession! Guns! Teabagging! Tears! Fascism! Limbaugh! The right-wing punditry frying itself to a panicky crisp like a giant KFC Family Bucket of frustration! Absolute genius, Mr. President....

It's like those X-Men comics where they blow up the bad guy power sponge by overloading him with way too much of the good stuff.

WGP. Like it.

The best about Twitter essay

Farhad Manjoo has written the best "what is twitter good for?" essay to date.

I say that because I agree with him. For example ...
The reluctant Twitterer's dilemma. - By Farhad Manjoo - Slate Magazine

... But if you're not into that, Twitter doesn't seem to offer much that you can't already get elsewhere—for instance, at Facebook. A few months ago, I urged readers to join the social network because you could no longer mistake it for a passing craze; Facebook, I argued, is now a permanent part of the culture, as critical to modern society as e-mail and the cell phone. Since then, to much annoyance, Facebook has redesigned its site to be more Twitter-like. These changes diminish Twitter's attractiveness: Are you just looking for a way to occasionally send a mass message to your friends? Facebook, where you've already established a circle of followers, can be a much faster way of doing so—especially now that it looks so much like Twitter...
I like the comment on how FB's redesign wounds Twitter. Personally, I've found Twitter most useful as a convenient way to post status updates to FB (using the FB Twitter app) -- and to one friend (that's you M.) who prefers Twitter to FB.

Oh, what's FB good for? Well, past about forty or so, it's pleasant to just know one's friends are up and about. FB is a severe "data lock" play -- I don't put anything there I'm attached to.

Farhad's essay a Twitter cheat sheet that explains, among other things, the # convention for tweet tagging.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Time to sign petition for a public insurer option

Ground zero in the health care wars is whether there will be the option of a quasi-governmental insurer with national rates and a large risk pool.

I believe this entity could provide good-enough care that most people would bitterly resent.

Therefore I'm strongly in favor of exploring this option.

If you agree, join me in signing Howard Dean's petition ...

Howard Dean Pushes Public Health-Insurance Option - Health Blog - WSJ

... Through, the group is collecting signatures for a petition that pushes the idea of patients having the choice of “either a universally available public health-care option like Medicare” — an idea that Obama supported during his presidential campaign but that industry is resisting — “or for-profit private insurance.”...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Google's mobile app search recognition is working ...

Five months ago this was a toy...
Official Google Mobile Blog: Google Mobile App for iPhone now with Voice Search and My Location

... The new Google Mobile App for iPhone makes it possible for you to do a Google web search using only your voice. Just hold the phone to your ear, wait for the beep, and say what you're looking for. That's it. Just talk. Once the App is on, you don't have to push any buttons to search....
Now, it works -- at least in a quiet room.

I have the Google app configured so kb entry is the default. That gives me more control over the voice app initiation. I hold the phone about 8 inches in front of me -- not against my face.

With this approach, in a quiet room, the results are quite good. Good enough that the speech driven search UI is now an improvement over typing in the query.

Submit your Google Data Liberation requests

Google Data Liberation Suggestions - Google Moderator is open for requests.

Let the noble liberation front know what Google data and metadata you'd like to be able to import and export.

My choice - Picasa album transfer.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Leading indicators - Harvard's finance grads

Frank Rich - Awake and Sing! -

...The Harvard Crimson reported that in the class of 2007, 58 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women entering the work force took jobs in the finance and consulting industries...
Maybe we should be tracking where Harvard grads go. Whenever something exceeds 40% of the graduates we go to yellow alert, and when it hits 50% of the men we go to red alert ...

Google's confusing social graph strategy: Google reader friends via Google Chat

I can easily share my Google Reader shared items by publishing the Reader generated web page or Reader generated feed, but it's been very unclear to me how Google decides that someone is a "Friend" who's shared items I can see.

I think that's partly because Google has been flailing about trying to figure out what they mean by this (versus, for example, the "follower" feature in Blogger). Google's social graph strategy is a ruddy mess, but of course we knew that when they dumped their original Google profile shared items.

Looks like the latest incarnation is leveraging Google's new core products: Gmail, Google video chat, and Google Voice/SMS services:
Managing Friends via Gmail Chat or Google Talk - Google Reader Help

... To add a friend to Reader, you must invite them to chat with you in Gmail or Google Talk. Once your friend accepts the chat invitation, you will become friends in Reader. If you invite a friend who doesn't use Gmail or Google Talk, an invitation will be sent to your friend to sign up. Here's how to invite someone to chat with you...
I don't think it's going to work. The set of people I chat with is not the same set as those I want to follow via Google Reader shared items, nor the set I want to have on my "Friend Shared" list.

There will be more iterations and confusion to come ...

Update: There's also something buggy going on. Jacob R is seeing my shares, we have a chat relationship, but I'm not seeing his shares. I added his share stream as a distinct feed for now. (See below, turns out when Google switched to their even more befuddled social strategy I wasn't in Jacob's "Friends" group, so his sharing feed went away. He added me in and it reappeared.)

Update: Wow, this is really screwy. Google has things set up so you do the feed stream share thingie with ONE of (not both of)
  • Your chat contacts
  • "Friends" as defined by Gmail - "Friends, Family, and Coworkers are groups to help you organize your contacts. You can move contacts in and out of these groups at any time. Various Google products let you share information with people in these groups.
    In addition, you can create a Google profile to help people in these groups keep in touch with you. They will be able to easily find your profile from various Google products."
In both cases of course the Chat contact or Gmail Friend must have as an email address the Gmail address associated with their Google Reader shares. (BTW, just imagine what happens when you try to synchronize the Graph of persons who are members of one or more of Friends, Famiily and Coworkers with, say, your iPhone Contacts.)

If you understood all of that you need to drink more.

Train wreck.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Confessions of a real estate agent | Salon Life

Great story: Pinched: Confessions of a real estate agent | Salon Life.

It was one hell of a ride in a hot real estate market.

Cutting your communication costs

Our monthly communications bill, including landline, mobile and net, is a good percentage of our food or mortgage bills.

Pretty impressive, unfortunately. I'm constantly looking for ways to drop the cost. The main things we've done and not done are:
  • We don't do SMS. That saves us about $35 a month, even after we pay the fees for the messages we do get.
  • I signed up for an AT&T Canadian calling plan to reduce the costs of the frequent mobile phone calls I make to aged parents. That saved some money, but then ...
  • I started using Google GrandCentral (now Google Voice) to call Canada. That has saved about $1,000 a year (!)
  • We do Netflix rather than cable TV. That saves us about $25/month and is a much better experience (save that Netflix has too many broken DVDs for children).
  • Rather than pay $10/month to add a phone to the family plan, we signed up for a T-Mobile pay-go plan. Estimated savings of $80 a year, so it may not have been worth the hassle.
  • We do pay for a higher quality/performance ISDN service, but that's been worth it in terms of reliability.
  • When iPhone 3.0 comes out with Push support for instant messaging, we'll use that and see if our phone minutes drop enough to justify switching to AT&T's smallest iPhone family plan.
  • We dropped long distance services from our landline -- it's local only. We haven't dropped our landline yet and, with 3 kids without mobile phones, we probably won't. However when Google Voice comes out for everyone each child and my wife will get GV numbers.
  • We get a 15% discount on our AT&T mobile services through John's employer
  • Rather than pay for fax line we use maxemail, a pay-as-you go fax send and receive service. They're bare bones primitive, but excellent service, low cost, and much more reliable than even high end office fax machines. We scan documents to the server from our ancient brother printer and then upload. (It's a safe market niche btw, Google is never going to get into something as messy as fax receipt and fax seems eternal.)
All in all we've hacked off about $2,000 a year. Today's NYT suggests some other options, though many don't apply to us. Some of the best tips come when you're dissatisfied enough about your current pricing to consider switching services (or willing to bluff). I'm going to take a look at the cable alternatives to my current ISP and decide if I want to threaten a switch. 
Basics - How to Cut the Beastly Cost of Digital Services -
... Cable, satellite and telephone companies can only be overjoyed that millions of their customers take no action to lower their bills, and instead routinely pay much too much for overpriced plans they purchased a decade ago.
Faced with increased competition, they will gladly tell you about better package prices if you ask, but they won’t be calling you up to tell you how you can save money.
Pull out your bills and then call all your providers. Tell them you’re paying too much and you want to lower your bill. They can only say no.
... The regular customer service representative won’t be as empowered as someone in the cancellation department to cut you a better deal.
“We will work with our customers to find a package that suits them,” said Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman.
At their discretion, Verizon sales reps can cut the price of DSL service, offer free months of Internet access, increase the discount on voice service or give a $50 American Express gift card to customers returning to Verizon’s television service.
AT&T gives its employees similar powers to make deals. Reps are known to offer enhanced services for a basic price, and to lower the cost of one service to its bundled price even if you’re not buying the bundle. “If it’s a matter of keeping the customer, we’ll do the best we can,” said Fletcher Cook, an AT&T spokesman.
... AT&T, for example, offers local and unlimited long distance for $40.
That price drops to $35 if you also get wireless (but you must tell the company to combine your bills). A $99 package includes unlimited landline service, a DSL connection and wireless service for $10 less than those services would cost if priced separately. The company will also pay new customers $100 to sign up.
ASK FOR CORPORATE DISCOUNTS Many corporations have discounts with the major wireless phone carriers. Bring your corporate business card to a wireless carrier’s store or check your company’s intranet site for particulars. Depending on the company, you can typically knock $10 off the monthly cost for a smartphone’s voice and data plans.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Identity theft on social networks - nobody is who they say they are

Just the start - Schneier on Security: Social Networking Identity Theft Scams. It's well worth reading, not so much because of the details of the attack but because it's a marker for a new front in 21st century fraud.

I know it seems like a private obsession, but please trust me on this one. In forty years this will be seen as the golden age of fraud - enabled by new escalations in complexity powered by computation and communication technology.

I'm sure there are analogies in the history of clay tablets, papyrus, paper, printing, the telegraph and so on.

Fraud and deception are as old as biology -- in fact they may define what it means to be alive. Almost certainly deception detection and response have powered the evolution of the nervous system over the last billion years or so, and the evolution of sentience over the last few thousand years.

Interesting times.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Oath Keepers - the dank smell of fear on the right

From Charles Blow's hate mail I followed a reference to a web site in the old tradition of the John Birch society and the KKK.

It targets veterans who are frightened (emphases mine) ...
Oath Keepers

.... the 'enemy' is a shadow ... one that neither knows or respects geographical or political boundaries, one who flies no flag nor wears a uniform, and is one who hides in the dark behind front-men and paid puppets with important titles. What could define a “terrorist” more clearly?

We are told that our "enemies" are in caves in the middle east, or they are behind every corner here at home. None of whom ever seem to surface!

Those “enemies” who have surfaced, however, are clearly visible if our eyes are open.

Our real enemies are in the news each day posing as those who are our betters and saviors (according to them.) ...
Ok, not much doubt about who they're talking about. Presumably the secret service keeps tabs on these guys.

The list of things they won't do illuminates the breadth and depth of their fear ...
1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.
4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.
6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”
9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.
10.We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.
So they're afraid of a 1984 movie scenario?

The Oath Keepers may be a retread of the Birchers and the Klan, but we have reasons to treat them as a warning sign. These people were angry and dangerous during the Clinton years when times were good, so imagine what they're like now.

We need to think of ways to diminish their fear.

Update 4/14/09: The Department of Homeland Security has profiled the resurrection of right wing terrorist groups. Gingrich and other GOP extremists are deeply offended that right wing whackos are considered dangerous.

If the Segway hype had come true

Back in the days of the net bubble, which may turn out to have been just a hint of things to come, the Segway rolled in on a carpet of hype.

I was never sure how many of those tech CEOs were serious, and how many just wanted a distraction from impending doom.

The reality was more modest, but if you remember the original you'll enjoy the Onion's retrospective: In The Know: Do You Remember Life Before The Segway?

I've been on one by the way. I enjoyed it, but I much prefer my bicycle.

Microsoft's holds Netbook ground - at a cost

I've been predicting that the Netbook would be very bad news for Microsoft. So what should one make of this story ...
Microsoft: 96% Of Netbooks Run Windows -- InformationWeek:
'It's hard to believe it's been a year since we first started to see netbook PCs running Windows come to market,' said Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft's in-house Windows blogger, in a post Friday.
Citing figures from market research firm NPD, LeBlanc said Windows' share of the U.S. netbook market has ballooned from less than 10% in the first half of 2008 to 96% as of February. 'The growth of Windows on netbook PCs over the last year has been phenomenal,' wrote LeBlanc. NPD defines netbooks as devices that feature a screen that is 10.2 inches or smaller and sell for less than $500."
Should I admit defeat?

Hah! The key is the $500 pricepoint (BTW, the NYT claims the penetration is closer to 80% for XP). The NYTimes tells us that Microsoft is now charging $25 for XP, or about 5% of the unit cost (vs $73 for Vista). For that amount XP is a bargain, and it makes sense that Microsoft would take the market.

$500 is not the price point where things get interesting. That price point is $150 and below, at which point a $25 OS would be 16% of the unit cost.

Microsoft can still compete, by lowering the cost of XP or Windows 7 Lite to $15 a copy or less. The problem is they won't be making much money that far down, so they're going to have to build other companion businesses even as they pretty much give away their OS.

Not good news for revenues, but things could get nastier if the truly low end machines can't run XP or Windows 7 ...
Thin and Inexpensive Netbooks Affect PC Industry -
The industry is buzzing this week about these devices at a telecommunications conference in Las Vegas, and consumers will see the first machines on shelves as early as June, probably from the netbook pioneers Acer and Asustek.
“The era of a perfect Internet computer for $99 is coming this year,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, the chief executive of Nvidia, a maker of PC graphics chips that is trying to adapt to the new technological order. “The primary computer that we know of today is the basic PC, and it’s dying to be reinvented.”...
... “A broad shift in the consumer market toward low-cost PCs would clearly put pressure on the revenues of nearly every player in the value chain, from component suppliers to retailers,” wrote A. M. Sacconaghi, a securities analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, in a report last month. “However, we believe the impact would be especially negative for Intel and Microsoft, who today enjoy near monopoly positions in their respective markets.”
... Some of the devices feel more like toys or overgrown phones than full-featured computers. Still, they are the big success story in the PC industry, with sales predicted to double this year, even as overall PC sales fall 12 percent, according to the research firm Gartner. By the end of 2009, netbooks could account for close to 10 percent of the PC market, an astonishing rise in a short span.
Netbooks have trouble running demanding software like games and photo-editing programs. They cater instead to people who spend most of their time dealing with online services and want a cheap, light device they can use on the go. Most of the netbooks sold today run on an Intel chip called Atom, which is a lower-cost, lower-power version of the company’s standard laptop chips. And about 80 percent of netbooks run Windows XP, the older version of Microsoft’s flagship software.
The new breed of netbooks, built on cellphone innards, threatens to disrupt that oligopoly.
Based on an architecture called ARM, from ARM Holdings in Britain, cellphone chips consume far less power than Atom chips, and they combine many functions onto a single piece of silicon. At around $20, they cost computer makers less than an Atom chip with its associated components.
But the ARM chips come with a severe trade-off — they cannot run the major versions of Windows or its popular complementary software.
Netbook makers have turned to Linux, an open-source operating system that costs $3 instead of the $25 that Microsoft typically charges for Windows XP. They are also exploring the possibility of using the Android operating system from Google, originally designed for cellphones....
... Mr. Burchers said a number of companies already making netbooks would show a new round of machines using cellphone chips at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan, this June.
Qualcomm, the San Diego company that built an empire on chips for cellphones, recently introduced Snapdragon, a chip created for smartphones and ultralight computers. Already, the company has announced deals to sell the chip to 15 major device manufacturers, including LG, Acer, Samsung and Asustek. Qualcomm said some Snapdragon devices appearing this year would have screens of 10 to 12 inches.
.... In its last quarter, Microsoft posted the first sales decline in its history for the PC version of Windows. It blamed netbooks for the drop. On average, Microsoft charges computer makers $73 for Windows Vista, the version of Windows used in desktop and high-powered laptop PCs...
One caveat. When Mr. Huang talks about $99 Internet computers this year he's dissembling. He's referring to machines that cost $99 when purchases with a two year data services contract. In other words, they're real cost is $300 or so -- not yet revolutionary.

The revolution comes when the real price of the netbook hits $150. That will come when the GoogleBook powered by Android and pre-loaded with Google software is sold in a Target near you in 2010.

That's when Microsoft shareholders will really feel the Netbook pain.

Update 4/10/09: Interesting footnote - Microsoft protects their laptop market by restricting Netbooks using XP to only 1GB of memory.

Microsoft security: Adobe is the problem

Adobe Flash is buggy and ubiquitous, and Adobe's PDF product also has plenty of issues. On the other hand Microsoft invests heavily in security, and Vista is much more secure than XP.

So it's not surprising Microsoft's biggest headaches come from Adobe ...

MS blames non-Redmond apps for security woes • The Register

... Which flaws feature in attacks, and their severity, are a much better guide to risk than simply counting the number of vulnerabilities. Microsoft-related problems were held responsible for six of the top 10 browser-based vulnerabilities attacked on machines running Windows XP in the second half of 2008, compared to none on PCs running Windows Vista. The most attacked vulnerabilities involved a flaw in Windows graphics rendering engine (MS06-01) and a RealPlayer console vulnerability. An Adobe Flash vulnerability was the single most common way of attacking Vista machines, with the RealPlayer console flaw cropping up at number three...

... evidence from Microsoft suggests that Vista is more resistant to malware. The infection rate of Windows Vista SP1 is 60.6 percent less than that of Windows XP SP3, the software giant reports....

Does the 60% number adjust for OS prevalence?

Flash is a problem for OS X too, but in practice crooks don't bother with OS X. It's the old story. When being chased by a bear, you don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun your friend.

With IE 8 and Vista/Windows 7 new Windows boxes will be much more secure - if Flash is out of the picture. Now if Microsoft can just kill Adobe ...

PS. The problems with Flash security are another reason we don't want Adobe writing a Flash client for the iPhone.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

AT&T is a partner to phone scams that target the vulnerable elderly

Just because we’re sorting through the wreckage of cosmic financial frauds doesn’t mean the everyday kind has taken a vacation.

Eleven years ago “Webtel” and “Netfill” were two billing entities used in one of the first worldwide large scale small transaction credit card scams. It’s worth noting that the secret of that con was the crooks created a legitimate bank, and used banking authority to pilfer credit card numbers.

The old scam has a companion set of scams that run against phone customers. Once phone companies moved into the financial transaction business, they’re also got in bed with the lice that prey on the elderly (probably using the dial-a-victim services sold by Wachovia Bank and Info-USA). Like MasterCard and Visa, AT&T, of course, makes its dime whether the transaction is legit or criminal.

These phone service scams are known as “cramming”, and the FCC has a resource on how to respond.

In this case two of my elderly relatives are victims of a company that calls itself “OAN Services”. They're not the only victims …
My vigilant aunt noticed a $14.95/month “OAN Services” charge appearing on her AT&T residential phone bill. She was told it was requested by “John Beale on the internet” (unknown to my relatives).

At the same time she found a charge for “Enhanced Services Billing Inc”, also for $14.95. That was supposedly requested by my non-computer-using uncle via email.

Enhanced Services Billing has its share of victims:
AT&T was no help. They claim they're not responsible for these charges, and my aunt should deal with them herself. It’s the same response they give every victim of these scams.

The 2005 ESBI report has the most details on one front of this operation. From that we learn ..
… Enhanced Services Billing, Inc. (“ESBI” or “Company”), a Delaware corporation, whose principal address and telephone number are 7411 John Smith Drive, Suite 200, San Antonio, Texas 78229-4898, (210) 949-7000…

… Enhanced Services Billing, Inc., 10500 Heritage Blvd Ste 200, San Antonio, TX 78216-3631, (210) 949-7000

this site [jf: FCC cramming page] about cramming to be helpful. It even led me to this pdf file here. While I was there, I could read all about Enhanced Services Billing Inc, and the settlement agreement they signed. More specifically, I might note that it was a "Stipulated Final Judgment and Order For Permanent Injunction and Other Equitable Relief." This enjoins the defendants (including Enhanced Services Billing Inc.) from "violating Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. … 45(a)." Where all the relevant parties have signed, I can see that a man named Joseph W. Webb, at the "John Smith" address above, is the president of the company. The agreement was likely signed by him either May 9th or May 10th of 2001, a date which also seems to fit with the "John Smith" address. You'll see his signature on Page 34 of the pdf. So thanks, FTC, I feel my tax dollars were put to good use.

The FTC comes through again with this article, also from 2001, about how the scam works. Turns out Enhanced Services Billing Inc is a billing aggregator. I'll let the FTC tell you what that is:
ESBI and BCI each served as "billing aggregators." Billing aggregators open the gate to the telephone billing and collection system for vendors, and act as intermediaries between the vendors and the local phone companies, contracting with the local phone companies to have charges on behalf of their client vendors placed on consumers' telephone bills and to have the local telephone companies collect those charges from consumers. Once the charges are collected by the phone companies, the billing aggregators, after taking their fee, pass the revenues back to their client vendors.
Referencing the pdf noted above, to which Enhanced Services Billing Inc stipulated, the FTC asserts the following:
-that ESBI falsely represented that consumers were legally obligated to pay charges on their telephone bills for web sites and other items they had not ordered or authorized others to order for them;

-that ESBI unfairly attempted to collect - or arranged for local phone companies to collect - payment of charges from consumers for web sites and other items they had not ordered and that consumers were unable to prevent ESBI from causing such unauthorized charges to appear on their phone bills;
… Just ask Dr. Leonard Saltzman, whose eight year odyssey against Enhanced Services Billing Inc ended with an October 2005 settlement agreement from the company. To summarize, the fraudulent billings began in 1997. Enhanced Services Billing Inc got a claim for restitution dropped in August 2000. In October 2001, summary judgment was granted in favor of the company, because "knowingly receiving benefits from someone else's fraud was not covered under section 2 of the Consumer Fraud Act." Dr Saltzman appealed, leading to a reversal in June 2004. A fairness hearing for the proposed settlement was held on October 21, 2005.
So this company has been running these scams for 12 years.
12 years.

If you Google on the number “210-949-7000” you find it was also used by “Billing Concepts, Inc” located at “John Smith drive” (recall that the summary judgment above was signed by “John Smith”, a search on “ABRY Partners” and “fraud” is illuminating. I also suggest a search on “Parris Holmes” and “Fraud” which reveals a 1996 SEC civil action against him.
7411 John Smith Drive, Suite 200
San Antonio, Texas 78229-4898
Telephone: (210) 949-7000
Fax: (210) 696-0270

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of ABRY Partners LLC
Incorporated: 1985 as U.S. Long Distance Corporation
Employees: 115
Sales: $10 million (2004 est.)
… Utilizing state-of-the-art systems technology, Billing Concepts built a platform enabling the future of billing, clearing and settlement services including authentication and authorization, mediation, invoicing, collection and settlements. Billing Concepts, Inc. (BCI) offers outsourced billing solutions through a wide range of proprietary LEC processing products and wireless Internet clearing and settlement services.
Key Dates:
1985: U.S. Long Distance Corporation founded; Billing Concepts is a subsidiary.
1988: Billing Concepts Corporation is launched as separate company.
1998: Company acquires CommSoft.
1999: Company spins off three divisions as Aptis.
2000: Company acquired by Platinum Equity Holdings; becomes Billing Concepts, Inc.
2003: ABRY Partners acquires company.
2004: Company is merged with ACI Billing Services, Inc., under the ABRY umbrella.
… Billing Concepts, Inc. (BCI) bills itself as the "authentic, proven, trusted" billing clearinghouse for the telecommunications industry. Together with ACI Billing Services Inc., Billing Concepts forms the Billing Services Group of parent ABRY Partners LLC, providing a comprehensive billing system that collects long distance charges from telephone users on behalf of more than 1,300 local telephone companies.
The company also provides these services to wireless carriers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). One of the fastest growing and most profitable companies of its kind in the late 1990s, Billing Concepts was streamlined and restructured in the early 2000s when its software businesses were divested and the billing operations and company moniker were acquired by the investment firm of ABRY Partners.
While the telecommunications industry was taking shape, in 1985 Parris H. Holmes, Jr., invested $50,000 to start a small pay-phone business in his Houston garage…
… From 1993 to 1995 the company offered enhanced clearinghouse billing and information management services to other businesses, including providers of telecommunications equipment and information, as well as other providers of nonregulated communication services and products (for example, 900 access pay-per-call transactions, cellular long distance services, paging services, voicemail services, and equipment for Caller ID and other telecommunications applications). The billing of nonregulated telecommunication products and services became a significant factor in the successful evolution of USLD's business. Revenues grew steadily reaching $33.16 million in 1992, $46.46 million in 1993, $57.75 million in 1994, and $80.85 million in 1995.
… Holmes remained Chairman/CEO of USLD until June 1997. "I felt like the separation process had been completed," said Holmes in a December 1997 interview with Diane Mayoros in the Wall Street Corporate Reporter. "It was a natural progression to move on to focus my time and energy" as chairman and CEO of Billing Concepts Corporation…
.. On January 30, 1998, BCC distributed a one-for-one stock dividend to its shareholders of record. During the third quarter, actions by the FCC and the Regional Bell Operating Companies on "slamming and cramming" issues led to a temporary interruption in the revenue growth of BCC's business…
… BCI remained the leading force in LEC billing. In August 2004, BCI integrated traffic from its sister company, ACI Billing Services, to a common platform. The result meant that the two companies were capturing about 85 percent of the LEC billing market…
Of course AT&T gets revenue from these companies. They’re not incented to shut them down, and they don’t have the corporate spine to resist. AT&T doesn’t have to actually break the law, they can just sit back and let small fry do their dirty work.

Between SMS spam marketing and rebate scams and this foul business AT&T is very much in the spirit of our age.

Which brings us back to the Depression of 2009, and my 128 posts on fraud.

We have far too much fraud in our world. Big fraud, small fraud and every size between. We know we can’t eliminate fraud – it’s as old as biology! We can’t eliminate it, but somehow, some way, we have to beat it back.

It’s out of control.

Update: Based on what my aunt told me and this article I think one scam may work like this ...
  • Crooks set up a web site that offers "free" shopping coupons in return for signing up with the service by providing a phone number
  • Other crooks (accomplices and freelancers) sign up for the (worthless) coupons and provide a legitimate phone number (in this case, my relatives) and information including fraudulent email addresses, etc.
  • The charges appear on phone bills.
  • If the fraud is not detected, ESBI and other accomplices pocket the money.
It also appears from comments on the 2007 post that you can request a "password" on your AT&T account that will prevent anonymous cramming.

Update 4/10/09: reveals an important detail; when calling the semi-legit crooks processing the transactions created by other crooks/accomplices and demanding a refund for fraudulent purchases, you request a confirmation number that you then provide to AT&T. AT&T will then recommend filing a police report of identity theft.

Again, AT&T is the corporation we should be going after. They have the power to change this scam.

Update 5/30/09: My aunt has sent on some f/u notes, which I've attached as comments to this post under my name. AT&T continues to point their finger at the FCC.

I'm guessing that's a convenient out for them. I'd be much more impressed if they'd actually lobbied one of their pet Senators to change the law. If they haven't done that they're complicit.

AT&T simply discards any complaint letters they received, so I recommend letters to your state District Attorney and to your state Senator and/or Representative. I also recommend switching away from AT&T if you can. Maybe if Verizon gets the iPhone...

AT&T also tells my aunt that the third party blocks have no effect and they don't are about confirmation numbers provided by the crammers.

Meanwhile the 2007 My Little Corner post continues to receive comments.

What we really need is for a US Senator to start getting cramming charges through AT&T. That tends to get some action...

The Obama difference

It's good to have a leader who's not universally despised ...
Op-Ed Contributor - No Hurt Feelings in Germany - 
... I can’t remember ever seeing Angela Merkel smile at anyone the way she smiled at him in the photographs from the dinner at 10 Downing Street. Likewise, the images coming out of Baden-Baden on Friday evening make clear that whether she and the president are reviewing the parade together, meeting selected citizens or fielding questions from the press, the chancellor, too, has come down with an unequivocal case of Obama fever...

What stands between us and GD II

If not for what we've learned, we'd now be reliving the Great Depression ...
It’s 1930 time - Paul Krugman Blog -

.... What Eichengreen-O’Rourke show, it seems to me, is that knowledge is the only thing standing between us and Great Depression 2.0. It’s only to the extent that we understand these things a bit better than our grandfathers — and that we act on that knowledge — that we have any real reason to think this time will be better...
Except it would much worse today. The world population in 1930 was 2 billion, now we're about 6.8 billion. Our resources are more depleted, we're more dependent on agricultural trade. The cost of Havoc, of weapons of mass destruction, is far lower than in 1930.

We're not smarter than the leadership of 1930. We have the advantage of their mistakes, and the fortune that the GOP is out of power.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The twilight of voice mail

Kudos to the NYT for identifying a dying technology ahead of the commentariat. Voice mail is joining the telegram: For Some, Voice Mail Is Losing Its Allure.

I've always disliked voice mail, but I hadn't realized I had so much company.

Like these people I give corporate voice mail low priority. It's rare to have anything useful there -- typically recruiters. The best messages are from our front desk, reminding me to pick up a package. (Home voice mail/answering machines are still important, but that's where Google Voice comes in.)

Between instant messaging, email, mobile phones, Google Voice, and automated transcription corporate voice mail is obsolete.

Corporate voice mail's passing was preceded by the telegram, is accompanied by the expiration of postal mail and newsprint, and is survived, to the bemusement of horror of geekdom, by the immortal fax machine.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The danger of the right, and the Canadian solution

Start by understanding that the American right is overwhelmingly driven by white men who see their gender and pigment privileges disappearing. Then remember that violence is as American as apple pie.

Add in 20+ years of economic regression for white men without a college education. Then add loss of home value, collapse of retirement funds, decreasing access to health care, increasing unemployment ...

Now see why we need to be genuinely concerned ...
Pitchforks and Pistols - Charles Blow -

... At first, it was entertaining — just harmless, hotheaded expostulation. Of course, there were the garbled facts, twisted logic and veiled hate speech. But what did I expect, fair and balanced? It was like walking through an ideological house of mirrors. The distortions can be mildly amusing at first, but if I stay too long it makes me sick.

But, it’s not all just harmless talk. For some, their disaffection has hardened into something more dark and dangerous. They’re talking about a revolution.

Some simply lace their unscrupulous screeds with loaded language about the fall of the Republic. We have to “rise up” and “take back our country.” Others have been much more explicit.

For example, Chuck Norris, the preeminent black belt and prospective Red Shirt, wrote earlier this month on the conservative blog WorldNetDaily: “How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution?”...
We need a way to divert or reduce the violent potential of the American right. We should examine the record of aggrieved tribes in other settings. It's easy to come up with example of things going very badly (talk radio was very big there), but are there examples of the alternative?

I'd suggest a close look at Canada.

Whenever Canada has a rage problem, the government appoints a Royal Commission of worthies to tour the nation. They don't wear powdered wigs any more, but they might as well. They're all trained to speak in boring drones, and they can speak and sit endlessly. After months of wandering about, by which time even the most deranged can't keep their eyes open, the Commission drops off a thirty pound document which nobody will ever read. (In fact it's always the same document, but no-one's noticed.)

We need a Commission on the tribal rage of the American right. Let the droning begin.

Update: Other ideas? Rupert Murdoch probably doesn't favor widespread violence. Will he ask his newspapers (including Limbaugh's Wall Street Journal) to provide style refutation of right wing rumors?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Best of the day - The Tweeting Guardian

One of the very best of the day's efforts, from the Guardian ...
Twitter switch for Guardian, after 188 years of ink | Media | The Guardian

... A unique collaboration between The Guardian and Twitter will also see the launch of Gutter, an experimental service designed to filter noteworthy liberal opinion from the cacophony of Twitter updates. Gutter members will be able to use the service to comment on liberal blogs around the web via a new tool, specially developed with the blogging platform WordPress, entitled GutterPress.

Currently, 17.8% of all Twitter traffic in the United Kingdom consists of status updates from Stephen Fry, whose reliably jolly tone, whether trapped in a lift or eating a scrumptious tart, has won him thousands of fans. A further 11% is made up of his 363,000 followers replying "@stephenfry LOL!", "@stephenfry EXACTLY the same thing happened to me", and "@stephenfry Meanwhile, I am making myself an omelette! Delicious!"...

Earlier Steven Fry is compared to Madonna.

This one wins for the blend of British humor, topical news (death of newspapers, inane twitter) and good writing. The Guardian is great.

Gmail Autopilot powered by CADIE

Gmail autopilot is one of the half-dozen or so Google CADIE themed jokes today.

They're all very good, including CADIE's 3 post blog (from Panda's to post-singular in 4-5 hours - were the blog comments machine generated?).  Part of what makes them good is they're more credible than I would prefer. On the one tentacle they're obvious jokes, not "are they serious?" teasing. On the other tentacle they're written by people who are thinking about how one would create CADIE.

Gmail autopilot is particularly believable. It's not hard to imagine something very much like it before 2020. Indeed, it may be inevitable. Look for auto-generated Tweets later this year ...