Thursday, December 18, 2014

Interview with John Hunter - on Meet the Blogger Series

I was interviewed for the Meet the Blogger Series, read my interview: Meet John Hunter of
At that time (2004) I had my Curious Cat Management Improvement website. I decided to start with a science and engineering blog (I worked for an engineering association) and one for management improvement. I wasn’t really sure I would have that much to say about science and engineering so I wanted to give both a try to see if blogging would be a good fit for me. I started on blogger to get a quick and easy feel for how it would go and if I wanted to continue.

After a few months I decided I liked it and launched self hosted blogs using WordPress: Curious Cat Management blog and Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog.

As part of the launch of the self hosted blogs I also decided to also launch a 3rd blog: Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog. I have been active with those blogs for 10 years now.
Over time the topics of those first 3 blogs, and one new one topic (travel), have remained the main topics that I have an interest in blogging about; still I have launched several new blogs in niches under those topics, and a couple outside them. The Curious Cat Blog Network has grown to 18 blogs.
I started this blog a bit after those first 3 self-hosted blogs; to post stuff that didn't fit well in another blog. And as you can see I am still publishing it 10 years later. I left all the old blogs in place - I believe strongly in the concept that web pages should live forever. I repurposed my blogger management blog to post some of the management improvement related comments I make on other blogs.

John Hunter at Candi Sewu in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. See more on my travels in my newest blog: Curious Cat Travel Destinations.

Read the entire interview.

Related: Interviews with John Hunter related to blogging, digital nomad life - Escaping to Greener Pastures - Living Abroad - Quick Thoughts on the Risks of Violence while Traveling

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Deleting Apps on iOS When the "x" is Missing

I recently bought an iPad mini. Unlike many people that say they interface is wonderful I find it to be annoying and lacking and not up to what I expected from computer applications 15 years ago, forget what I expect today. But I guess I am in the minority.

Well I couldn't delete an app. I followed the instructions

  1. "click" an icon and keep holding it down until all the icons "vibrate"
  2. "click" the x to delete what you want (note Apple doesn't let you delete the apps they don't want deleted - their default apps - I guess the same idea as them forcing some music streaming junk in the next version of extremely bloated iTunes, that seems to be verging on becoming unremovable crap-ware)
Anyway not only Apple's favorites but all apps didn't have the x. I couldn't find anything online explaining what to do.

I went to a Apple reseller store and they were able to figure out that in settings there were restrictions set. Why the Ux doesn't have the x and then when you use it gives a challenge to prove you can override the restriction is beyond me. But lots of the Ux decisions they make in iOS are beyond me.

Anyway what you have to do is go into settings and then restrictions then type in your passcode then you can delete it. You also then can see the restrictions and turn some off if you want. I am sure I got some advice on making things more secure (the security setup seems horrible to me - the Ux makes being secure a real pain so encourages bad security). And stuff like fingerprint "password" is lame. "fingerprint" is username not password. But whatever, that should let you delete stuff.

Related: Bad iTunes Ux and How to Submit a Podcast to iTunes - Use Urls – Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z Instructions - Poor Web Site User Experience (Ux) for Stock Market Data (post is from over a year ago but the problem remains) - Gobbledygook (bad password usability)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

How to Turn Off Google Hangouts on iPad Mini?

How do I turn off Google Hangouts on my iPad Mini?

I don't understand how smart phone and tablet apps seem to miss super basic functions and that people actually find using such apps acceptable. Either there is some UI feature that lets you deal with super basic stuff (like turning off something you don't want bothering you) that I can't see or I think people are crazy to accept such broken software as acceptable.

As far as I can see the only way to turn Hangouts off is to uninstall it. So their model seems to be, if I wanted to turn my car off I had to sell it. Then when I want to use it again I have to buy it, reregister it, reset… What kind of idiocy is this? I would say this is impossibly stupid and I must be missing some setting somewhere, but there are not that many buttons to push, it seems like I have tried looking everywhere numerous times and uninstalling is the only way to turn it off. But maybe I am wrong, please tell me how to do so, if I am?

Also having used several apps now for awhile, missing super basic things seems common. It seems like apps have reverted to failing to do super basic stuff that even bad software has done for a couple decades so having to un-install in order to turn something off, while amazingly lame, may actually the true level of service provided by the app.

Also how the bleep to you stop nagware idiocy on items you purchase asking you to do their marketing for them by posting app reviews? It is extremely common in the few apps I use to have this nagware that hasn't been seen in a decade in the software I use (I used to get nagware for freeware software over a decade ago).

Related: Complicating Simplicity - If Tech Companies Made Sudoku - Bad Visual Controls in Software

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Talking Out Decisions

I am someone who is much more comfortable working, thinking, deciding, traveling etc. alone. I rarely feel lonely or the need to talk things out with someone or get advice. But, that still doesn't mean, never. And some of those times when I seem to have trouble just acting don't seem very complicated or something that logically I need assistance to decide. I think it is just an emotional reaction that occasionally hits me (and I guess hits others much more). I am getting ready to start a nomadic existence (I am talking about such an existence at BarCampJB this weekend). I am delaying buying my tickets for no good reason I can think of. The people I would talk to are not going to give me any insight that is going to change my choices. Yet, I feel that lack of talking it out with others is contributing to my delay. I am sure glad I don't have this indecisiveness often. That would really be annoying. People are weird. There is also a somewhat related situation of motivation on a trip. I enjoy traveling alone. There are advantages to traveling with friends or by yourself. For me the advantages of being alone are far greater, most of the time. There are some times when I wish someone were with me when I don't feel motivated to get up and go do what I wanted to do when I planned on the trip. But that is fairly rare. I find meeting up with people for a bit, lets me get the advantages of traveling together, but lets me retain the freedom to spend most of time and energy the way that I want. Actually part of the reason I am going into nomadic mode is my plans to travel from my base in Malaysia ended up resulting in less travel than I wanted. So this is my new strategy to get in more travel. We will see how it works.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Letting Mom Enjoy the Results of Her Work

I wasn't the easiest child to raise. I was pretty good as far as avoiding any real trouble. But I was quite a stubborn and argumentative kid. I still am really, but when in control of my own life, I can avoid much of what would annoy me (which sometimes wasn't so easy as a kid) - thus I am able to avoid situations where my behavior might not be so enjoyable for others.

I think I turned out pretty well. Most of that credit goes to my Mother and Father. Once parents can no longer stick drawing and report cards (I don't think my parents ever did the report card one - that would be too crass I think) on the refrigerator they don't have many options to get good feedback on their kids. I guess if you lived in the same town that might be a bit different, but for me that isn't the case.

I suppose there are some instance where parents can bask in the glow of their efforts: at their child's wedding, if they design the iPhone, become a doctor, etc.. That is fine, but nothing that really works for me, sadly. Having grandkids is the gift that keeps on giving in this realm, but again I am lacking.

One of the things I do is forward some emails to my Mom that I know she would appreciate. I feel a bit funny about it because what she is going to appreciate is people saying good things about me. And sharing people saying good things about you is considered a bit gauche isn't it (it sure feels that way). Still I know it really does make her happy to read such things.

I have had several such instances recently, which is what made me think of writing this. It is a bit funny, and can feel a bit odd, reverting to behavior that seems reminiscent of when you were about 8 years old. But I really do think it is a way that can make parents appreciate all the effort they put into making you successful.

Related: Kittens Reminding You to Thank Your Mother - Mother Polar Bear Giving Her Cub a Helping Paw - Encouraging Curiosity in Kids

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Hootsuite Scheduled Posts Fails When urls include /@

When adding Tweet via Hootsuite schedule posts the Tweet was schedule without the url. I was trying to add a Medium url (Twitter also used to have /@ in some urls). I guessed the @ symbol was likely the cause of the failure. I did just tiny bit of experimenting and it seems as though Hootsuite removes the link if /@ are included in that order (but more experimenting - or looking at the code used by Hootsuite should be done - I spent less than a minute on it).

Given how popular Medium is I am amazed Hootsuite allows this problem to slip through software testing and use. Maybe Medium recently switched the url or Hootsuite just pushed some new code that broke it.

Luckily you can just remove the @ from the url and then it works (Medium just redirects to the url with the @ in front of the username).

But this is a lame error by Hootsuite. I would imagine it will be fixed quickly - so this post won't make sense anymore (but occasionally big sites fail to do obvious stuff - for example Google still fails to use human readable urls or have even mildly acceptable help).

Related: Coping With Bad Web Page Layouts - Use Urls Not "Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z" Instructions - Bad iTunes Ux and How to Submit a Podcast to iTunes - Poor Web Site User Experience (Ux)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Banks Continue to Push for Insane Special Favors (and Sadly Get Them)

The lack of rules that allowed the banks to gamble and go bankrupt but for the taxpayer (and saver) bailout and created the great recession was a huge failure. Caused mainly by our electing people that don't comprehend the issues they need to make decisions about. And also those same politicians selling out to those giving them lots of cash, investment banks for example.

The banks have been extremely successful at having government tilt the economy to push billions into the banks pockets every year (also deducting billions from savers with artificially low interest rates). The banks have also managed to buy or trick those we elect into doing very little to stop bankers from doing exactly what they did in the first place.

Of course if you are those bankers, why would you change. Get billions in bonus with government granted welfare. Then gamble and take billions in profits for winning gambles. Go get a bailout again when your gambles eventually fail.

They fight against each tiny step to return to a more capitalist economy (which these enormous banks are the antithesis of). They argue with every attempt to have banks be safe and split of speculation to entities that won't get taxpayer bailouts as soon as their gambles fail.

Banks say funding rules will make key equities trades more expensive
The banks are making a last-ditch effort to modify the Net Stable Funding Ratio, seen as the final plank of the "Basel III" banking reforms that seek to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. … "By unnecessarily increasing the funding cost for banking organisations' equity market intermediation activities, the revised NSFR would also potentially force such activities into the largely unregulated shadow banking system, increasing systemic risk."
They have already won so many efforts to eliminate any meaningful reform. But they keep pushing for even more. Look you immoral cretins, you don't have the right to ruin tens of millions of people's economic life and get even more favors. Granted it is hard for you to believe that when you just pay the politicians a few tens of millions in cash to get billions showered upon you while others pay. But you don't. Now will you manage to buy the right to do so and have your cronies (politicians or their co-opted regulators) sell out country? Probably. We will re-elect those that you bought? Probably.

Just because you can do these things, doesn't mean it isn't immoral. We learned that a century ago, when the robber barons attempted to convince people business didn't related to morality. As if somehow actions people took to ruin an economy so a few cronies can split of the proceeds are any less immoral than some small time crook stealing cash directly from windows and orphans.

Unless you pay those we elect to sellout the country to allow an "unregulated shadow banking system, increasing systemic risk" it won't happen. Having banks have to be banks is what should happen. Those funding speculation have to have adequate resources and be willing to lose what they loan speculators. They obviously should not be allowed to come anywhere close to actions that "increase systemic risk." If that means speculators can't leverage themselves as much and banks can't gamble as much (knowing any big losses will be covered by the government) too bad.

If the cost of speculation without socialized failure and individualized gains that has been the hallmark of the crony investment banks the last 30-40 years then too bad. Less speculation will have to happen. I don't think speculation is bad. It is part of the market. But speculation doesn't have to be subsidized by society as you bankers seem to think is your right.

Stop trying to increase the amount you can gamble and leverage with threats that not allowing you to gamble the global economy means others will be allowed to do so. The idea is not to continue to allow the cronyism you all use to create massive speculation and leverage that threatens the global economy.

Related: Continuing to Nurture the Too-Big-To-Fail Eco-system - Lobbyists Keep Tax Off Billion Dollar Private Equities Deals and On For Our Grandchildren - Financial Transactions Tax to Pay Off Wall Street Welfare Debt

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Research by Princeton and Northwestern Professors Shows USA Political System Very Focused on Doing What Rich Want Done

I have become (over the last 10 to 15 years) very frustrated with how corrupt the USA political system is. Petty corruption exists in the USA and is annoying but doesn't do much harm and is not that troublesome (it is lower than most places - other than in Scandinavia and a few other places). But the extent to which we elect people who then do the bidding of those giving them lots of cash (directly to their campaign, indirectly, in post career cushy high paying gigs if you do them favors while in office and in cushy high paying gigs for staff) the corruption is endemic and does great damage to the USA.

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens Princeton University and Benjamin Page Northwestern University.
The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Bolding added by me.

In some ways politicians make it even worse than just direct bribery that at least ends when the briber gets what they paid for. The current system encourages legislators to maintain a state of constant threat to economic interests in order to bleed them for more donations. Rather than address issues that are important for the country they leave open wounds festering in order to get interested parties to pay more cash to get the needed changes made.

In legislation there are going to have to choices made and interested parties will win or lose. That people who don't get what they want will be frustrated I understand. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that
  1. politicians create legislation (or pressure for regulation and enforcement) that is clearly against the interests of the country (no matter what political frame you have in mind). This is a subset of what is done but this is horrible and widespread and only supported by corrupt parties.
  2. that we elect these corrupt people and parties after decades of clear evidence they are corrupt.
Given that we continue to elect them the blame falls heavily on the voters, in my view. Yes, the corrupt people selling out the country and their fellow citizens for their personal well being are unethical, unpatriotic and despicable. But we could throw out the corrupt people and parties if we chose to, and we don't.

More quotes from the paper:
Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.

By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy. This does not mean that theories of Economic Elite Domination are wholly upheld, since our results indicate that individual elites must share their policy influence with organized interest groups. Still, economic elites stand out as quite influential – more so than any other set of actors studied here – in the making of U.S. public policy.

Similarly, organized interest groups (all taken together, for now) are found to have substantial independent influence on policy. Again, the predictions of pure theories of interest group pluralism are not wholly upheld, since organized interest groups must share influence with economically elite individuals. But interest group alignments are estimated to have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy.

These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.
As with most economic research there is plenty of room to argue with their conclusion (the data is often somewhat subjective and appropriateness of proxy measures can be argued). But I agree with some of the big conclusions they draw. They don't then tie the cash payments to politicians as the reason for why the most wealthy and most organized interest groups get their way but it lays out part of the story that exposes the corrupt system in place now.

Related: Why Congress Won’t Investigate Wall Street - Lobbyists Keep Tax Off Billion Dollar Private Equities Deals and On For Our Grandchildren - TPP Transparency Confirms the Worst Fears: USA Government Still Trying to Strip Away Rights of Citizens in USA and Elsewhere - Monopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make - Society is being shaped for us while we are busy making other plans - Good Journalism Aids Society by Shining the Light on Corruption - Failure to Regulate Financial Markets Leads to Predictable Consequences - Bad Behavior Shining the light on the actions of those in power
An important feature of interest group influence is that it is often deployed against proposed policy changes. On the 1,357 proposed policy changes for which at least one interest group was coded as favoring or opposing change, in only 36% of the cases did most groups favor change, while in 55% of the cases most groups opposed change. (The remaining cases involved equal numbers for and against.)
The Cash for Votes subreddit collects links to examples of political corruption in the USA and elsewhere.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Moz Page Authority for Various Sites - Updated August 2014

Google used to update published page rank every 3 months. Now they have only updated it 2 times in 18 months. I am glad Moz stepped up with a frequently updated page link ranking measure (Moz Page Authority). I just find it interesting to watch what happens over time as I have done in previous posts here.

Since Google no longer finds it in their interest to share the even very old data with us (the current data is over 8 months old), I demote Google Page Rank to the lessor measure - and don't include it for Aug 2014 since it hasn't been updated).
SiteAug 2014 (MozRank)Dec 2013
Feb 2013Oct 2011 Dec 2010
MozPA > 5
Curious Cat Management Blog5.9 (6.0)6.1 [5]6.3 [5] 5.5 [5] [4]
@CuriousCat_com5.8 (4.6)
My Kiva page5.6 (4.7)5.8 [-]6.2 [-]4.0 [-][3]
Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog5.5 (6.1)4 [5.7]5.9 [4]5.3 [4][3]
Curious Cat Engineering and Science Blog5.5 (6.0)5.8 [5]6.1 55.3 [6]4
The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog5.2 (6.0)5.5 [5]5.2 [4]--
Curiouscat.com5.0 (6.0)**5.4 [4]5.6 [4][3]
Curious Cat Travel Photo Blog5.0 (5.9)4 [5.0]4 [5.1]3 [4.9]-

MozPA > 4
John Hunter4.8 (6.1)5.0 [5]5.3 [5]5.4 [4][4]
Public Sector Continuous Improvement Site*4.8 (5.4)5.0 [**]5.1 [4]5.0 [5][4]
Six Sigma Management Resources*4.7 (5.6)4.9 [**]5.0 [4][4]
Deming's Management Method*4.7 (5.3)4.9 [**]5.0 [3]4.5 [4][4]
Investment Dictionary*4.6 (5.9)4.8 [**]5.0 [4]5.2 [4]
Curious Cat Management Improvement Connections*4.6 (5.6)3.3 [**]5.4 [4]5.5 [5][4]
CSS 4 Free4.4 (5.4)4.7 [5]4.9 [4]5.4 [4][4]
The Future is Engineering*4.3 (5.7)4.3 [4]4.6 [4]
Good Process Improvement Practices*4.2 (5.2)4.0 [3]4.1 [3]4.1 [3]
Economic Strength Through Technology Leadership4.1 [5.8]4.2 [-]4.5 [-]4.7 [4][4]
Management Articles*4.1 (5.5)3.9 [3]4.3 [4]
Curious Cat Management Comments4.1 (5.0)3.9 [3]4.3 [4]4.5 [3]
Multi Site PageRank Checker4.1 (4.9)4.1 [4]4.1 [3]4.7 [3][2]
Living in Singapore4.0 (5.7)4 [4.1]4 [4.3]3 [4.0]
Management Dictionary*4.0 (5.4)2.6 [**]5.2 [5]5.4 [5][4]
SiteAug 2014 (MozRank)Dec 2013
Feb 2013Oct 2011 Dec 2010

MozPA > 3.5
Living in Malaysia3.9 (5.8)4.0 [4]4.2 [4]4.1 [3]
The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer*3.9 (5.7)4.1 [3]4.4 [4]4.7 [4][4]
Curious Cat Gadgets3.9 (5.5)4.1 [4]4 [4.3]
Architecture and home design inspiration3.9 (5.5)4.0 [3]4.2 [4]--
Curious Cat Code (programming)3.8 (5.5)4.1 [4]4.3 [4]4.2 [4]--
Management Matters (my book)*3.8 (5.4)3.8 [4]3.5 [4]---
Curious Cat Comments (this blog)3.8 (5.1)3.9 [3]4.0 [3]3.8 [-][3]
Statistics for Experimenters3.7 (5.7)3.9 [4]3.9 [4]4.5 [3][3]
Life and Legacy of William Hunter3.7 (5.5)4.0 [4]4.1 [4]4.5 [4][4] - internship directory3.7 (5.3)4.0 [4]4.4 [4]5.2 [4][4]
Management and Leadership Quotes3.6 (5.7)3.7 [4]4.0 [4]5.2 [2][2]
Hexawise Software Testing Blog3.6 (4.9)3.8 [4]4.0 [3]

MozRank > 3
Curious Cat Travel Destinations3.4 (5.7)3.4 [3]3.2 [3]-
CuriousCat Wordpress3.4 (3.8)3.5 [1]3.6 [-][-]
Justin Hunter (my brother)3.3 (4.8)3.4 [-]3.4 [-]2.9 [2][2]
Curious Cat Web Directory3.1 (5.0)3.3 [2]3.6 [4]4.7 [4][3]
Improving Your Search Engine Ranking Blog3.1 (5.0) New
Management Improvement Resources3.0 (4.7)3.1 [3]3.4 [3]3.8 [3][3]

MozRank < 3
Curious Cat Travel Destinations: Marina Bay Sands (Singapore)2.9 (5.3)2.9 [2]3.0 [2]--
Johor Bahru Real Estate2.8 (5.3)3.0 [2]3.2 [2]-
Hexawise.tv2.8 (4.9)2.8 [2]2.9 [2]-
Curious Cat Travel Destinations: Australia1.5 (4.9)1.3 [-]1.8 [-][-]
Curious Cat Travel Destinations: France1.4 (5.1)1.3 [-]1.9 [-][-]
Curious Cat Travel BlogNew

* internal pages
** new url or old url forwarded (so Google losses track of the page rank for awhile)
- didn't exist yet or google didn't rank it for some reason
[blank] I don't know what the pagerank was, sometimes the site didn't exist yet.

Moz Page Authority is the measure that is equivalent to Google PageRank. So in the chart below the MozRank is shown inside ( ) for Aug 2014. [] indicate Google PageRank measures. Those without parenthesis are Moz Page Authority divided by 10 (because SEO Moz also decided to scale MozPA up to 100 while Google PageRank caps out at ten and I already been listing the data listed in the 10 scale the last few years). Related:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Around Bad Web Page Layouts

The page layouts of some sites seem to be designed by people only viewing sites on huge monitors. Google also seems to test some of their stuff only with super fast and super low latency connections. It isn't so surprising companies that don't have much customer focus just do what looks good in their office (which often isn't what the customer experiences).

Zillow and Trulia offer real estate information and provide maps. Unfortunately they don't bother to design the page layouts for the needs of people without huge monitors. For example, Zillow has 20% of the top of my screen used and then 50% of the right of the screen taken so you have this pretty small window for the content I want to see - the map.

I super easy design that would be done if customer focus was a concern is just allow the right column to be closed by users that don't want that waster their screen. But Zillow doesn't do that.

Given this I found another way to get back your view even if the page is designed to prevent it. Make the browser window very large (much more than your screen). Have the useless right column that you don't have any use for moved off the screen. This is obviously awkward but it works.

Sadly they then center the content for specific housing result so you have a huge amount of white space on the left and the page results scroll off the screen on the right. If they just didn't center it, things would be fine. If you right-click open the link in a new window it works (because the window opens as a normal sized window instead of the super large window created to cope with the badly designed web page).

These are the kind of solutions that only make sense for badly designed sites that are worth your time working around their bad designs. Most of the time I just abandoned such sites. But in those rare cases I actually find the site worth dealing with even with the poor design choices you can sometimes find work arounds in case you are not sitting in the exact conditions of their office (no large monitor, perhaps less awesome eyesight - which goes as people age…).

Another common failing of sites is thinking they can (or should even try) to treat web pages like magazines. So when you use larger fonts (very common for older users - very uncommon for web designers) the display falls apart - Trulia has this failing in the vary bad way of having content fall behind other content so you can't even see it).

Zillow and Trulia are actually pretty useful sites if you are interested in USA real estate. Supposedly Zillow is trying to buy Trulia. In a capitalist society this wouldn't be allowed. I hope it is not. But in a corrupt political society where cash buys votes and regulatory decisions it would be allowed. My guess is it will be allowed.

Related: Poor Web Site User Experience (Ux) for stock market data - Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search - Political and Corporate Cronyism are not Capitalism - 6 years Later Goolge Acts To Let Me Block Sites I don't want to see - snd then Google re-polluted the results :-(

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blocking Bad Actor Web sites

I followed a link to a site that forced download of 2 files before Chrome finally stopped it and opened up 2 extra tabs and put a blocking popup that wouldn't even allow Chrome to shut down without saying ok to their crap (force shutdown via Apple was the only option).

I wish I could subscribe to a curated list of such sites to block my browser from going there. And I had the ability to submit my candidates (like the jack ass site today). I also wish browsers didn't allow that type of crap (the popup window, files and extra tabs) to get by and mess with me. Popups should not be allowed without my explicit approval. Downloads shouldn't be either (at least for most files - .jpg etc probably should). I wish the curated list would also deal with this and block more from bad actor sites and allow more from good actor sites…

Are there solutions that are addressing this now? What are they?

Trip Advisor is the only legitimate site I know that frequently abuses popup tabs etc.. Other sites I guess do it in a standard way that honors browser preferences. In my experience on bad actors, spammers, etc. and Trip Advisor (who I guess many would put in the bad actor category but I excuse or at least see as a useful actor that behaves badly so I see a bit differently than all the other bad actors that offer nothing of value to offset their bad behavior) - the only site that I use which abuses users but is useful otherwise is Trip Advisor. There are probably a couple other sites in the Trip Advisor bad actor category but I just don't bother using them. Well actually Google can come close sometimes but really I rarely see them do this type of thing (notification icon is one example of such bad behavior by Google).

Related: Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple - AT&T's Attempt to Take Away Consumer's Rights Denied - Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card - More Bad Customer Service Examples :-(

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Homicides by Gun Have Declined a Great Deal in the USA the last 20 Years - Still Over 11,000 People Killed with Guns in the USA Every Year

Homicides using guns in the USA have seen a big decline in the last 20 years. In 2010, CDC data counted 11,078 gun homicide deaths, compared with 18,253 in 1993 which is a rate of 3.6 gun homicides per 100,000 people, compared with 7.0 in 1993. This is great news. But this leaves the USA with 11,078 gun homicides in 2010 which is horrible.

From 1993 to 2000, the death rate dropped 45%. From 2000 to 2010, the death rate declined only 7% more.

The Pew Research report provides a large amount of detail on this aspect of our safety and health.

Deaths from mass shootings are a relatively small share of firearm homicides. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report (Congressional Research Service, 2013), 78 public mass shootings occurred in the United States from 1983 through 2012, claiming 547 lives and injuring 476 people.

... The United Nations Global Study on Homicide (UNODC, 2011) estimated that 199,000 homicides, or 42% of the 468,000 worldwide total in 2010, were committed by firearm.

According to U.N. statistics, the U.S. firearm homicide rate and overall homicide rate are higher than those in Canada and in Western European and Scandinavian nations, but lower than those in many Caribbean and Latin American countries for which data are available.

Where does the U.S. rank internationally in terms of gun crime of all types? A report that compared 2003-2004 victimization survey data for 30 countries, including most developed nations, found that the U.S. ranked about average in an overall index of common crimes (Van Dijk et al., 2007).

However, the report placed the U.S. among the top countries for attacks involving firearms. “Mexico, the USA and Northern Ireland stand out with the highest percentages gun-related attacks (16%, 6% and 6% respectively).” The U.S. had the highest share of sexual assault involving guns.
If the USA had the rates of gun homicides as Western European countries over 9,000 people would spared every year. At the Japan rate nearly 11,000 people would be spared every year.

USA rate for 2011 4 per 100,000 (homicide 3.6 + accident .3 + undetermined .1)
France = .68
Canada = .59
Italy = .47
Germany = .3
Spain = .2
UK = .07
Japan = .02

The improvement in the USA is good, but we shouldn't ignore the 9,000 people killed every year that other societies have shown is not necessary. That is 90,000 people every decade. That is a huge number, even based on the lower rate of gun homicides we have today compared to 20 years ago.

Related: Militarized Police Culture Creates Long Term Large Scale SWAT Raid Failure for Society - Using Deming’s Management Ideas to Reduce Violence in Prison - Police Failing to Enforce Law If Lawbreaker is a Police Officer - Police State

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Amazon Needs to Provide Assurance That Reviews Are Not Subject to Legal Harassment

I realize it is a tricky situation for Amazon. But if Amazon doesn't strongly and openly attack companies and lawyers trying to silence honest reviews on Amazon then we can't trust Amazon's reviews which have been a great source of information for customers.

Here is an example of a law firm trying to rid Amazon of honest reviews. The lawyers at Amazon probably want Amazon to just ignore things and let the intimidation take place. Legally it is likely the easiest thing for Amazon to do.

But if Amazon puts customer service first (which I think they try to do more than most companies) they have to take a strong stand against lawyers trying to suppress information about bad products of the companies they represent. The strong steps they could take include putting a note on every product by that company leading to details about evidence the company attempts to suppress negative reviews. They could also suspend offending companies for a period of time. They could raise their margins on such companies (thus making those companies products more costly). They could require companies to disclose any legal actions taken against Amazon review. Amazon could take legal action (or provide lawyers to those with standing to take legal action if lawyers trying to undermine Amazon's reviews isn't seen as something Amazon is allowed to protect against) against those lawyers trying to undermine the integrity of Amazon reviews.

There are all sorts of things Amazon could do to give customers access to better reviews that if lawyers are allied to intimidate and suppress honest negative reviews. They require effort and expense by Amazon so I doubt they will do much more than token action when the attention is so strong as to make inaction cause people question the integrity of Amazon reviews. It is certainly easier to sit by and ignore attempts to suppress negative reviews. I hope Amazon decides to take strong and public action to stop the abuse of the legal system to suppress negative reviews.

Related: HP Leaders Once Again Caught in Corruption Scandal - Action Is More Important Than Sympathy - Poor Service from Amazon (2008) - Jeff Bezos: Innovation, Experiments and Long Term Thinking - Links about Customer Hostility by Companies Update: Amazon revoked the offending company's right to sell on Amazon. Good move.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Exploratory and Scripted Software Testing

My response to, The Software Tester’s Easter Egg Hunt
I also whole-heartedly agree with his overall point that skill-based testing is much more valuable than the ability to mindlessly create and run hundreds of scripted tests. The only issue here is that, in order to make Holland’s point a bit more realistic, you really need to add a few layers to this hunt:
  • The eggs aren’t always visible at first glance.
  • Each hunt lasts a finite amount of time.
  • After each hunt, someone else renovates the building and hides new Easter eggs.
When you include these factors in the equation, scripted tests can become an extremely valuable asset.
Also each bug may only appear when certain other conditions are in specific states and when they are not in those states everything works fine (pairwise and combinatorial bugs). Like I can't use your comment system with Chrome ("Disqus seems to be taking longer than usual. Reload?" - just forever, reloading...) but I can with Firefox.

The most apparent/predictable pairwise and combinatorial bugs can be caught with exloratory testing. Many may not be though.

Scripted testing is good to check specific settings for specific results. Doing a bunch of this programmatically is very useful (especially to catch unexpected bugs from minimal code updates - doing full exploratory testing of an entire application every time any code is updated would take a great deal of resources - and likely slow things down too). Doing some of it with a person looking for issues in specific test cases is wise.

Thinking this is all you have to do is very unwise. You need exploratory testing by a knowledgeable software tester (or if this isn't possible then exploratory testing by a user proxy - this is not perfect but is much better than nothing) if you care about the quality of your software.

Related: Which is Better, Orthogonal Array or Pairwise Software Testing? - Maximizing Software Tester Value by Letting Them Spend More Time Thinking - Cem Kaner: Testing Checklists = Good / Testing Scripts = Bad?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

HP Leaders Once Again Caught in Corruption Scandal

Hewlett-Packard seems destine to continue to have extremely bad behavior by those chosen to lead the company. At some point they need to appoint a board with the ethics and moral compass to take the proper actions and the competence to take effective action.

Hewlett-Packard Admits to International Bribery and Money Laundering Schemes
Hewlett-Packard has admitted to creating and using slush funds for bribes, money laundering, and clandestine “bag of cash” handoffs in order to profiteer off of lucrative government contracts in Russia, Poland, and Mexico, according to court documents.

HP’s guilty plea carries with it a $108 million penalty — a combination of SEC penalties, as well as criminal fines and forfeitures paid out to the Department of Justice. Thus far no criminal charges have been brought against American HP executives. The multi-agency investigation, which was conducted by multi-national law enforcement partners, the FBI, IRS, and SEC, has revealed kleptocracies in the three foreign governments and corruption and dishonesty among HP corporate fat cats.
I have written before about the corruption on the HP board and other bad behavior. Such a shame for a company that once was ethical and produced value for society.

Related: Geo-obsolense from anti-global HP (in addition to planned [coded-in] obsolescence HP breaks customers products based on geography - HP Poor Service – Industry Standard? (2006) - $8,000 Per Gallon Ink from HP (2007) - Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay (in 2008 HP CEO took 7.4% of corporate profits personally before being tossed due to ethical failings). - Bad Behavior at HP (2006)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What I Would Include in a Redesigned Twitter Profile

Twitter has rolled out a new profile design with heavy emphasis on photos. It is being rolled out over the next few weeks, my account doesn't have it yet. Follow me on Twitter: curiouscat_com.

The new large banner image is good and the positioning of the Twitter user's avatar in that is good. The old design had the Twitter user's avatar in the middle of the larger photo which wasn't a great design.

The changes are not that large it doesn't seem to me, just some layout tweaking for more image space and a tiny bit of change (the list of followers is not "card" like instead of old tweet stream like) but still minor.

I would provide more space for the user to explain themselves and link to their other web sites, interests etc. I would have a new profile page (in addition to the current tweet stream page) that let the user write few paragraphs about themselves. I would let them add several web links (maybe force it into specific patterns but probably not). If it was forced into a specific pattern you could say let them add, for example): I would provide interesting view of data that can be gleaned from the Twitter universe on the profile page. I would have a "tag" cloud based on their use of # in their tweet stream (I would also put this tag cloud on their tweet stream page). How about a tag cloud based on those they follow? A tag cloud based on their favorited tweets.

Provide a link to their top 20 retweeted tweets (and such like things top 20 favorites). Provide another view with a decaying over time variable (so new stuff would rise and older stuff drop - like Reddit but much more slowly).

I would let them select tags they are interested in (and based on tags selected suggest other tags and users to follow). I would show links to popular users on specific tags. I would likely and some Klout like ratings (including doing so based on topics).

I would provide interesting data mining information based on users. For example, take the list of people following me, show a list of the top 20 people followed by everyone following me. Show a list like that but tweaked to compensate for overall popularity (so lets say Bill Murray is followed by millions of people and Justin Hunter isn't 5 of my followers following Justin would put Justin ahead of the 15 following Bill). I think there are probably all sorts of cool ways to show interesting stuff based on the data Twitter has.

I would also turn off nofollow on some links (I am not that tied to how this was done, personally I would do it for all links, in tweets, profile etc.) based on algorithms determining the user was popular and should be "trusted" as not spammy. It might make sense to have a couple levels based on how good the algorithm detrained the user to be.

Twitter is stuck in this outdated model based on fear of Google penalizing sites that annoy Google and so Twitter marks all non-Twitter links as "untrusted" (nofollow).

Maybe Twitter is also using nofollow because based on the poor way Google is using nofollow Twitter's pages itself are pushed high by telling Google not to trust any links on Twitter. Google+ started off not telling its Google search people all their links were untrusted. I am not sure, but when I look now it seems like Google+ has started untrusting all links that don't directly aid Google (so internal links to a Google page - like the users Google+ profile are trusted and all other links are said to be untrustworthy). We really need the other search engines to step of their game as Google gets worse and worse about finding good content and instead is focused on finding content that don't run afoul of any Google dictate.

It is this fear of Google that results in sites marking all links not to their sites (or sites with which they have corporate allegiance - so large companies benefit greatly from the aim to provide very few links that are not marked untrusted, as they have large set of corporate sites and large corporate alliances).

There is so much more Twitter could do with profiles and customization they really should be doing much more by now.

Related: Google Falls Victim to Google’s Confusing Dictates, Punishment to Google and Google Users Likely - How Google Could Improve Results (2005, most are still needed) - posts on usability (management blog)

I would also let you delete direct messages. I have idiotic spam DMs and I can't see anyway to delete them.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Site Owner Impressed with FBIs Response to The Theft of Their Domain

My Website Was Stolen By A Hacker. And I Got It Back.
The morning after I found out about the unauthorized transfer, I also called the FBI. I felt silly and dramatic making the phone call, but the reality is that this is an international cyber crime issue, and that’s FBI territory. And this is my business. It’s how I support my family, and it may be a “small matter” in the grand scheme of things, but it is not a small matter to me.

And let me tell you: of all the surprises I’ve had over the past week or so, most surprising of all has been the FBI. They responded immediately, with follow-up phone calls and emails, an in-person interview with two special agents at my own home within 24 hours, and a follow-up visit from two agents yesterday. Beyond that, each and every agent I have interacted with over the past week has been, without fail, compassionate, thoughtful, invested, respectful, and committed to action…in addition to treating me not like a case number, but like a human.

What I expected was to leave a message with a general mailbox and at some point receive a form letter; I certainly did not expect to see an active investigation opened immediately. I’m not going to write more about the investigation because it’s still ongoing (although I did ask for and receive permission to write about this), but I think it’s important to say how absolutely blown away I have been by the FBI’s response.
This is great news. The FBI needs to do a better job of stopping online crime. It is a difficult task, but the damage done is great and the criminals don't seem very concerned with the level of law enforcement effort so far. The task is very challenging and requires international cooperation. We should be funding a great deal more of that and a great deal less spying.

The companies she relied on did not do as well in your review of the situation

And once I reached people who could help me – who could literally make a single phone call or push a single button and return my property to me (or simply freeze it so that it could not be sold or destroyed) – they would not. They hid behind their legal departments and refused to do anything, knowing full well that their inaction would force me to either interact with and pay off a criminal, or lose an essential component of my business.

And hackers know that these companies will do this.

They rely on it.

There is a serious problem when a criminal enterprise not only exists “despite” a company’s policies, but actually thrives as a direct result of that company’s prioritization of their own interests over the security of the clients they allegedly “protect”. Do I understand why companies like HostMonster and GoDaddy are focused on protecting themselves against lawsuits? Of course I do. But the fact is that they not only do not “help” their customers, but actively contribute to creating situations that threaten small businesses and the families that they support.
The solution for this is that we need to support companies that prioritize doing right over those that decide to follow lawyers that could care less about illegal activity and the customers of their companies being defrauded. We need to move our sites to those companies with a history of doing what is right. To this we need to learn about what companies do so, which I am not sure of (Gandi might be a good registrar). Also, of course, use strong password, and use 2 factor-authentication if possible (with all your email account and other accounts - such as your registrar). The person that had their domain stolen believes the initial theft occurred due to a stolen email account (without 2 factor authentication).

Related: It is Refreshing to See Our Government Protecting Us - Bad Security on Government Required RFID e-passports - We Should Build Secure Software Systems

Friday, March 07, 2014

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS (with release date and feature history)

Update: The Canon PowerShot SX-60 HS has been announced. It will be available 24 October, 2014. Features
  • 65x Optical Zoom (21mm–1365mm)
  • Shoot realistic 1080p Full HD video recorded at 60p
  • Wi-Fi and NFC-enabled
  • f-stop: 3.4 to 6.5 aperture range
  • Bright 3.0-inch adjustable screen LCD (the previous versions have all had this, I don't think many other camera do, but I could be wrong)
  • suggest retail price of $550
One thing I didn't think of until reading about the new camera, is that it might be possible to view the photos on your iPad min (or other table or phone) immediately (the camera even lets you control it with a smart phone/camera - set up a shot etc.). That can help see the photo and details more clearly that the small screen (even the larger [that I currently have] 3" size).

Amazon won't ship it out of the USA due to unspecified "regulations." Of course it is produced by a Japanese company and shipped into the USA, but that just means outside the USA get it from another source.

====== original post ======

The Canon PowerShot SX looks like a pretty awesome camera for someone like me. Basically I want something easy and good with the ability to zoom well and take photos well in low light with a nice LCD (viewfinder alternative - this is probably the weakest part of the SX) and . Another thing I don't like about the SX is they have a special battery now instead of just using standard AA which my older version uses.

The killer feature for me is a 50 times optical zoom with 1 lens (4.3-215 mm) which translates to in the old film camera comparison of focal lengths: 24–1200mm.

I think this is not classified a dSLR, for some reason (maybe it doesn't use a mirror?)? For me the dSLR don't come close to meeting the killer feature (or I can't find those that do). I also had trouble finding it because I figured dSLRs were "better" so I thought I wanted a dSLR. The dSLRs costs more and I believe have greater quality when using the large zoom (maybe they auto focus a bit better at large zoom settings too) - but the quality is pretty awesome on this for most everyone as far as I can tell - not if you are going to print posters or such things. The camera has a dSLR look/form-factor.

The current version is Canon PowerShot SX50 and was released in Nov 2012.

Since I am looking at buying I though I would look at release patterns (maybe I'll wait a few months).

  • Canon PowerShot SX 60 - ?
  • Canon PowerShot SX 50 HS - Oct 2012 (50x optical zoon [24-1200mm], 2.8 inch LCD [double the resolution of previous LCD screens, I think])
  • Canon PowerShot SX 40 HS - Oct 2011 (35x optical zoom - 24mm to 840mm, Full HD 1080p, 2.7 inch LCD)
  • Canon PowerShot SX 30 IS - Oct 2010 (35x optical zoom - 24mm to 840mm, HD[1280 x 720] movie recording, 2.7 inch LCD)
  • Canon PowerShot SX 20 IS - Sep 2009 (20x optical zoom, HD movie mode [720p], 2.5inch LCD)
I think the list price has stayed pretty much around $500 for all of these (with prices from $325 or so, possible from stores providing discounts).

Because I can't find these release dates officially I am making my best guess based on internet sites. So it seems they usually release in the fall and release new version 4 straight years but not in 2013 (so a wild guess of a release for a Cannon PowerShot SX 60 from now to Oct 2014 seems pretty reasonable to me).

People are posting "rumors" online about the Canon PowerShot SX 60 being release in the Spring or Summer of 2014 but I have no idea if they have any more evidence than I do (which is close to absolute 0 evidence). It seems to me these "rumors" might even fall short of the very limited requirements to be a rumor. They have pointed to a 100x zoom lens patent Cannon has with a focal range of 3.6mm to 340mm and then say it may be for the Canon PowerShot SX 60.

There were also "rumors" the Canon PowerShot SX 60 would be announce at CES in January of 2014, which is was not. Since it missed the natural October 2013 date it isn't surprising there are continued rumors, since as far as I can tell Canon is not providing guidance.

Related: Curious Cat Travel Photo Blog - Good Customer Service from Canon - Curious Cat Travel Web Shorts

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Banks Failed Management Practices Never Seem to Stop

I can't believe how constantly there are news stories about corruption and bad practices so deep that banks have to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars. To say nothing of crashing the world economies and requiring bailouts from taxpayers across the globe not just to stay in business but to limit the damage their immoral and unethical consequences of their practices. All the while the executives continue to act just as kleptocrates surrounding tinpot dictators - as everyone else is horrified by both groups behavior each dips into the treasury they have access to and takes all they can. And consumers suffer due to the failure to adopt sensible security practices in the USA for credit cards that the rest of the world has adopted.

What is the disclosure today of pointy haired boss banking behavior? 95% of ATMs rely on Windows 95 which is a poor security risk to begin with and Microsoft ends support for it on April 8th, 2014. How do we even allow these executives to remain in positions of authority (in businesses where security is so important)? And we go beyond that and allow these people to lavish cash upon themselves out of the funds held by the bank?
security experts have chastised the financial industry for putting ATMs on a PC operating system in the first place. They argue ATMs should be using software that is scaled down and less buggy, such as Linux.
No kidding, plus Linux versions are much more secure from the ground up.
Ironically, bank customers have less to worry about from those nondescript ATMs found in malls, bars and tiny convenience stores. Those 208,000 independently-run kiosks, built by Triton, Genmega and Nautilus Hyosung, make up the other half of the nation's ATMs. And nearly all of them run on an even older, simpler operating system called Windows CE -- which Microsoft still supports.
Jeez I don't know what to say about this. It is better I guess, but hardly any good, but maybe it is less horrible (I am not really sure).

Dealing with criminals attacking credit cards, ATMs, banking web sites and banking apps is a challenging business. The governments are not doing consumers any favors by lavishing funds on spying when those funds would be much better directed to stopping financial crimes (of this sort - and also the sort engaged in by banking executives - from which those continuing avalanche of fines for hundreds of millions of dollars stem). But since governments are choosing to spy while neglecting crime prevention it is even more important for banks to make credit card, ATM and online security a priority. Instead they are making a priority buying special favors from governments of straight welfare and subsidizing/allowing risk taking (and subsidizing any failed risk taking with taxpayer funds) to give lavish gifts to executives so they can build castles and the like. It is quite a sad system.

Related: CEOs Plundering Corporate Coffers for Personal Gain - Losses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses - Obscene CEO Pay - The Best Way to Rob a Bank is as An Executive at One

Monday, February 24, 2014

Escaping to Greener Pastures

Too many people think they can escape to some "greener" pastures by going to live in another country. While that may be true, most everyplace has plenty of positives and negatives. It is easy to take the positives of where you are for granted and ignore the negatives you don't face (until you move).

Getting out is great. But don't expect greener pastures to make everything wonderful. There are certain traits of you and the place that can make getting out the best idea - I don't like cold, other than that I think I would enjoy Banff (mentioned in the post) a great deal.

While there are conflicts between you as a person and where you are not that make people want out - I think often it is a frustration with those negatives you have been dealing with. Some people love the new experiences - so getting out is often close to ideal. But if you don't really figure out what will make you happy wherever you are getting out often just changes one set of frustrations for another.

Political frustrations I think are this time a whole bunch. While your government is likely doing tons of totally annoying and lame stuff. Finding a government anywhere that isn't doing tons of that is very hard (there are a couple, from my perspective, that I find better than most but they tend to be in very cold places - which I don't like). Often you don't care about the lame things done elsewhere until you are stuck directly inside of the consequences. I think getting out with this as a big reason is fine, it just seems lots of these people are frustrated with the new location after a fairly short time.

Thoughts after reading: How to Love Where You Live – Treat it Like a Travel Destination

Related: Living Abroad - Living in Malaysia - Quick Thoughts on the Risks of Violence while Traveling

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Government Intruding Where it Doesn't Belong

This seems like a matter the government should not be involved in, U.S. Targets Buyers of China-Bound Luxury Cars:
The domestic divisions of Mercedes-Benz and BMW say the clampdown by federal authorities is a legitimate attempt to regulate trade and to ensure that American consumers who want to own a car for personal use are not deprived of a chance to buy one. “The BMW Group has been working closely with federal authorities for almost two years to stop illegal exports of our vehicles from the U.S.,” said Kenn Sparks, a spokesman for BMW of North America. “Illegal exports deny legitimate customers here in the U.S. the popular vehicles, which are in high demand.”
I can imagine legitimate reasons for government to be involved (avoiding taxes…). But the inability of companies to match supply to demand is an absolutely stupid reason for the government to be involved. I can see it as the right of companies to make life difficult for customers if they want. So if HP wants to break their products based on where someone tries to use them maybe that should be allowed. If BMW wanted to make getting service on a car purchased and shipped elsewhere maybe that should be allowed. And if China wanted to prevent import for some sensible reasons (maybe imported cars don't meet some safety standards, or they are attempting to avoid taxes). And I would even support government having visibility of transportation across boarders if crime prevention was an issue (lots of stolen cars…). But the heavy handed insertion of government into enforcing silly demands of companies shouldn't be tolerated - even if those companies have purchased the legislators we elect. Related: Protect Yourself from 11 Car Dealer Tricks - Customer Service is Important - Customer Un-service by Automakers - If You Create a System That Includes The Perfect Conditions for Scandals, Expect Scandals to Happen - Bad Customer Service - Leading Economic Freedom: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

USA Encouraging Governments Worldwide to Spy and Hack Globally is Very Dangerous

I think as bad as just the USA governments global spying and actions shredding the US constitution are the even greater damage is the encouragement the USA government policy gives for every other country to spy on every person, business and government across the globe.

I do believe the USA government is unlikely to have a huge amount of criminal information security spun off their massive spying efforts. But you can just look at all the examples of TSA agents (and others - that have been cleared by the TSA to work jobs inside the "security bubble") stealing from people forced to go through security theatre to see it is certainly possible for the USA governments actions are aid criminal enterprises including those by USA government employees.

Those risks are real. They will lead to damage to USA citizens. But they are small, I believe, compared to the damage USA citizens will suffer due to the mass increase in the global surveillance culture the USA has spearheaded the last 10+ years. Granted few countries have government so rich that they can afford to spend so much money on global internet surveillance and hacking (as the USA has done).

But there are at least 10 that have money and or resources that can do a huge amount of damage if they follow the USA's lead (lets just list a few China, UK, Germany, Japan, Korea, Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey, Taiwan). Some countries have more cash, some have large hacking (not just criminal hacking or government sponsored hacking but just software hacking talent in general wether for good, questionable good and/or questionably legal or downright bad definitely illegal) talent pools, some have large experience with large scale surveillance operations. and/or Certainly the USA has no justification to argue that any country can't do what the USA claims it not wrong for it to do. And the number of countries that could do a huge amount of damage with focused global surveillance and hacking is very large indeed and will grow going forward.

The result of the risks to everyone globally, including those in the USA, to the practice of massive government intrusion into private communications, internet activity, etc. of everyone is extremely damaging.

Related: Watching the Watchmen - Disregard for the Rule of Law by Government - NSA Spying on Apps Shows Perils of Google+, ‘Candy Crush’ - Little Watchmen - Freedom Increasingly at Risk

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Politicians Playing Special Interests and Visa Versa

President Obama gave his State of the Union speech today (I didn't watch it but saw lots of tweets about it).

Politicians attempt to use speeches to show as many special interests as they can that they politicians cares about them and will help them.

Special interest professionals know what matters is results, not talk. Getting results from politicians is much harder.

Certain special interests care about mentions because they use those mentions as political pressure. If you don't mention NRA issues they will take action. If you mention your support of the NRA they then hold you to that in every word on every piece of legislation they seek to bend to their special interest. They are extremely effective at getting politicians to do what they want.

If you are a special interest you would love to have the same power the NRA (National Rifle Association) does to dictate to politicians the wording of bills and regulations and political appointments and demands to be publicly recognized.

Many special interests are much better at getting public support from politicians but don't get results. This is a sign of a weak lobby. These are often less well off groups - poor kids, for example. But the NRA, while it has developed lots a rich infrastructure for cash really has not natural leaning toward having lots of cash to but political action (they really were an effective special interest lobby that realized they needed cash and then built that aspect of their organization).

There are also special interests that don't care what politicians say, they care about results. This is normally an interest that knows they have no political leg to stand on, they just want cash to buy what they need in the back rooms. They are perfectly happy for politicians to say all sorts of stuff about how they are against too-big-too-fail banks for example as long as they pass legislation, write regulation and appoint regulators that all advance all the interests too-big-too-fail banks want. Other example of this type of special interest is trust fund babies, hedge fund "managers" (or non-managers) that get ludicrous tax advantages... Those knowing there is no rational or political support for the benefits their special interest takes they are perfectly happy for politicians to feign dislike of the benefits the government heaps on them as long as the government keeps piling on the cash to their special interest.

You can see what type of special interest is involved based on whether politicians get away with just meaningless mentions (poor kids, small business, education, punishment of crime [strong words required, safer communities not required], environment), wether there is a some combination of mentions and delivering that is required (farmers - must use words about family farmers but instead of crafting legislation that protects them without heaping benefits on corporate farming they mainly give lip service to family farms and gear benefits to reward factory farms), wether the politicians have to say the words the special interests demand (unions, different sides of abortion/choice), wether the politicians have to do what the special interests demand (too big to fail banks, big business - often with words about small business and policies suited to big business pushed by the likes of the Chamber of Commerce) or whether the politicians have to say the words and do what the special interests demand (NRA, copyright cartel).

Most special interests fall into the the first group - they get words and some token action (usually whatever doesn't interfere in any significant way with a special interest that actual has power). But most of the lobbying that matters, that takes hundreds of billions of dollars a year and redistributes it to specific special interests (or provides non-monetary rewards) and that is where special interest politics really matters. That is where we lose and special interests gain.

And occasionally that is where we will and special interests win against other special interests (but that is rare). An example is when the special interest in support of air bags finally pushed through rules to require them against the objections of car manufacturers. This has been a big benefit to society. But those types of special interest wins that happen to aid society are not the norm.

One of the structural weaknesses is benefits to special interests are often large (for manipulating the system in their favor) the costs to society are often large but spread out in such a way it isn't very painful for most people. So the special interest can pay or cajole politicians to give them a benefit that helps them a lot (they can pay the politician a portion of their benefit and still have a huge gain) while society loses no one loses enough to care enough to try and pay or cajole politicians to save society from a big loss.

When two (and really it will often been numerous) special interests are facing off on issues the loss to society is often limited (because those facing losses are going to be pained enough that it is worth their will to object to sweetheart deals to other special interests). Sometimes these conflicting issues are actually resolved fairly sensible as you have competing interests fighting to limit damage (while it might be possible for the groups to figure out how to have them share a big gain at the expense of society this often isn't so easy - the reason this issue ended up in this pile is that the costs were concentrated in a way that a special interest was motivated to protect itself).

Sadly there is little evidence politicians in the USA today play a role that would be natural/good: seeking to optimize the benefits to the society by listening to special interests and having as their primary mission benefiting the county. Instead they seek to maximize the cash they are given, the cash they and their staffs will be given (jobs and speaking engagements) and perks (private plane trips to exotic vacation sports with some transparent excuse to claim as legitimate, seats in the luxury box at sporting events, etc.). And they also seek not angering any special interest that has power enough (cash and/or political influence) in their constituency to throw them out of office.

Related: Fed Continues Wall Street Welfare - Estate Tax Repeal (basically a kickback to the 1% for cash payments to politicians) - General Air Travel Taxes Subsidizing Private Plane Airports

Update, this article posted the day after I made this blog post provides an example of what good lobbyists get you versus nearly no lobbyists (the poor), food stamps for the poor cut, subsidies to famers increased (as usually they hide to the maximum extent they can how large the benefits to rich (often absent "farmers") farmers and corporate farms. Congress axes $8.6bn from food stamps in farm bill adds $5.7bn government handouts to farmers

The cuts to federal food stamps come on top of a $5bn cut in November and will reduce payments to 1.7 million of the poorest Americans by an estimated $90 a month.

Republicans had sought even higher cuts but a two-year tussle with Democrats was brought to an end after a compromise was agreed that also included increasing a cap for the maximum subsidy payments that can be awarded to individual farmers from $50,000 to $125,000.

The measures will also add $5.7bn to the cost of a 50% subsidy on premiums for crop insurance and extend a loophole allowing multiple people to claim government subsidies for one farm.

Though helping many poorer farmers too, critics of the bill claimed it disproportionately benefited those with large farms, including several dozen unnamed landowners who are thought to receive more than $1m a year in total support.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Principles Does the USA Government Still Honor?

When government's hide policy behind secrecy how are we to know what they will do. The SUA seems pretty clear that they will break international law intentionally and in secret (spying on private communications of heads of allied countries, hacking devices of others…). The extent to which the USA has chosen to secretly and very intrusively spy on billions of private communications is shocking.

The hypocrisy of that same government denouncing other governments for doing the same thing (supposedly spying on the USA, spying on businesses communications, hacking business and government computers) makes the actions by the USA government even more unacceptable. Blaming others for behaving unethically, immorally and illegally while you do the exact same thing is pitiful behavior.

In the past I felt it was reasonable to assume mainly the USA government attempted to do things like uphold the constitution, support liberty, support privacy, etc.. While knowing there were plenty of examples of this behavior being violated it was largely confined to extremes that could hide their actions from view (and so the bad behavior was not so much accepted but allowed because the huge government has weaknesses and those allowed bad actors to take bad actions). Now even beyond that there has always been lots of corruption and malfeasance by extremely powerful actors (Watergate, J. Edgar Hoover, …).

So while far from perfect I figured when crazy stuff like Iran-Contra debacle went on it was a sign of bad government not a sign that the government no longer cared about the rule of law if it was inconvenient. But the disaster of the last 15 years where the constitution seems to have been thrown away for the convince of those with power I no longer have confidence I have a clue about what the core principles of the USA government are.

The last 2 administration have responded to the shredding of the constitution in the same way the Nixon Administration did to Watergate. They have put the force of their administrations behind hiding their actions and in defending the governments behavior. None made more than token comments about addressing the rot at the core of government. Instead they seek to silence those exposing the bad behavior of their government.

While industrial sabotage (at least of allies - which for the USA really means puppet states of the USA - UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, etc.) would certainly be something beyond crazy in my expectations of how badly the USA government would behave. I don't have nearly as much confidence for that belief. While I still think that idea is crazy I no longer think the government would avoid such behavior because it is just clearly wrong. They are doing so much now that is clearly wrong (and trying to hide that behavior from the public view) without any sensible explanation that how are we to know what else they no longer feel obligated to do?

Those destroying the idea of the rule of law for the USA government are not complete idiots. They have done well to make classify their actions as "classified" in order to prevent the public from knowing what they are doing. They have a crop of talking heads on TV that are able to spout talking points and fail to address the issues that should be addressed. I find it hard to believe these people would think they could use industrial sabotage and industrial spying to directly benefit specific companies, in coordination with those companies without that leaking and doing enormously more damage than has already been done. I suppose their hubris could be greater than my estimate. I sure hope not.

This article doesn't support the tile (as far as I can see) but does raise the question of what seem to be one of the few remaining lines that have not yet for the USA government to consciously and intentionally dismantle the idea of the rule of law, German TV: Edward Snowden says NSA is involved in industrial sabotage. It is very dangerous for the USA to act as though what matters if might makes right and the rule of law is only enforced on those without enough might.

It seems to be the principle the USA government cares about is might makes right. After that it is hard to see what principles the government values enough to actually follow itself.

Related: Liberty and Support or Control and Hate - I Can Spy on You, But You Can't Spy on Me - Disregard for the Rule of Law by Government - Living Through Your Society Becoming a Police State

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Investment Risk at the Portfolio Level Trumps That at the Individual Position Level

The risk related investment mistake that I think costs people the most money is thinking of risk as an isolated quality of an individual investment. What should matter to investors is the risk of their portfolio, not individual investment risk.

I don't accept that the sensible way to look at USA treasury bill risk is the same if I have 90% invested in treasury bills and am looking at what to do with the last 10% of my portfolio (or if I have 60% in USA index funds, 20% in REITs and 10% in global index fund). Putting that 10% in treasury bills in the first example is likely riskier than putting it in USA index fund, while in the 2nd example is likely a very good move to reduce risk.

Comment on: Risk doesn't get as much attention as it deserves in investing

Related: Looking for Dividend Stocks in the Current Extremely Low Interest Rate Environment - 401(k) Options, Seek Low Expenses - Disability Insurance is Very Important