Archive for October, 2011

Politics – My Take on Things Pt. 1

October 17, 2011

I rarely look at the political stage with high regard. It is showmanship and theater and beauty contest, and to the casual observer, it is filled with nothing but soundbites. I have a great many friends who are prone to listening for the soundbite, and critical thinking simply does not enter into the picture. I find this highly troubling.

Here are a few thoughts from my brain. Let’s see what the Republican debaters say tomorrow! Probably not much of any substance.

Tax Reform –

The current fallacy of modern taxation – the fairness pitfall is that money working for money (an investment) currently has a lower tax rate (15% capital gains rate) than labor or intellect working for money (up to 35% marginal tax rate). Money Talks – heck, the Supreme Court has ruled on more than one occasion that money is a protected vehicle of Free Speech. Corporations are afforded many of the same rights as people, and in some instances more rights and new rights that people don’t get to tap. My fear is that corporate influence will easily defeat meaningful tax reform.

Tax policy can drive significant elements of our economy. Want to encourage domestic investment? Lower the capital gains tax rate below the personal income tax rate. I bet that was the rationale for creating a lower capital gains tax rate in the first place – to keep investment dollars here in the US rather than see them go to Europe or Japan, though I have never seen that thought in print. I wonder what Congress’ actual rationale for establishing the lower gains rate was?

My view of personal income taxation is that all taxes – social security, medicare and internal revenue taxes should start to be assessed on the first dollar in excess of the annualized minimum wage plus some amount related to the number of dependents. A minimum wage worker, a welfare recipient or someone living in poverty should not be burdened by any taxes. Internal Revenue taxation is not too far from this principle. What is the justification, though, for the ceiling on Social Security wages  – why excuse the wealthy from this particular tax burden? Why excuse realized investment gains from social security and medicare taxes? I am genuinely asking the question – why was it done this way?

Market Volatility and the Occupy Wall Street Movement –

I am amazed that the “masses” who have lost relatively large portions of their 401K plan values and home value are complacent to “sit and take it” as they contemplate disappointing retirement prospects. They are still hopeful, I guess… One day, their losses will drive them to pick up signs and step beside the Occupy Wall Street protesters nationwide. There could be a ground swell of protest as the markets continue to dance around until dipping sharply with the next European financial calamity. My bet is that the Occupy Wall Street movement will grow dramatically next year.

Want to make the securities markets rational and suck the volatility from programmed trading out of the markets? Charge a Federal sales tax on every securities transaction whether at the market, an option or a future! I wonder how much tax revenue a 1% Federal financial transaction tax would generate? Hmmm… It won’t return the losses to the invested middle class, though.

Budget Deficits and Jobs

President Obama knows that troubled finances demand reform on the inflow and the outflow – on both ends. He “gets it”. I like President Obama, but he has a tendency to begin negotiations with an intransigent opponent with a meager appeal from the middle ground, and not something dramatic from the edge – you can’t move someone who is uncompromising towards the middle by starting from the middle – you can’t make radical change happen with baby steps. The President said that cutting the Federal Government’s mission and scope cuts jobs – he’s right. Cutting the Federal budget by 10% would potentially cut almost a half million Government jobs by my estimate at the very time when the President has challenged Congress to expand employment. The real challenge is to spend money smarter. I like President Obama, but I have to admit that I am disappointed by his small ambition to fix big problems.

I wish Robert Reich, President Clinton’s Secretary of Labour would run for President. He understands a thing or two about the “jobs economy”. He “get’s it” like few others do. I like Dr. Reich.

If Congress forms an “Infrastructure Bank” to rebuild roads and bridges and FAA systems and waterway systems to spur employment, it will only employ a small fraction of the unemployed. And it is unlikely to be sustained into the long term. A good idea with a small employment impact… But borrowing the money to rebuild infrastructures right now is cheap – a bargain! The newly reemployed in these programs would be dominantly manual laborers. There are vast numbers of highly skilled unemployed and underemployed who represent a huge untapped potential if employed and working hard – the “tails” are significantly unemployed – the least experienced and the most experienced face enormous hurdles in the labor market, and these programs do not address these highly (and narrowly) skilled workers very aggressively.

Speaking of unemployment, it is laughable that the official rate and the generally acknowledged actual rates are different by between a factor a half or a third…  The Government is wasting money to count a statistic that is simply and utterly wrong, and openly acknowledged as such. It’s a waste of my taxes for the Government to determine the unemployment rate. CNN can do better (and does). 14M unemployed; 11M underemployed; and how many uncounted?

My real concern for the future state of unemployment, in all candor, is that I’m not wealthy enough to employ security people to insulate me from the hardship of the unemployed. I don’t want indigents camping in our city parks or in my front yard or knocking on my door for food and other handouts. And they are already starting to knock on my door… This is one likely kind of societal impact from unemployment if it grows by a few more percent amidst Federal and State budget cuts that whack “survival” benefits.

This isn’t too organized a rant. Sorry about that. More later – maybe next Monday.

Odds and Ends Monday

October 10, 2011

This is a bit of a ramble.  See what interests you!

MACOSX LION – I installed MacOSX Lion over the weekend. Lion Server, actually… I am not overly impressed – a bit “doggy” – “pokey”. There are spinning beach balls now and then – haven’t seen them for years – they need to go away…

Often, a new OSX installation is slow for the first few days as the OS updates pre bindings, locate databases, Spotlight and other metadata. Lots of stuff can go on in the background processes for a while. I think performance has improved 10% or so since Saturday.

I have the server implementation. Server services and processes are prioritized even though there are none running. Find and uncheck the box to prioritize server services, and “Presto-Chango” – much better.

The Server applications did not launch initially – a server daemon did not launch. Thanks to Apple Enterprise Tech Support for spotting this quickly and defining a plist file to launch the process whenever it was required.

Some permissions bugs – files on an external HD were not viewable until I adjusted permissions. The Sandbox is quirky – jpg’s in an unzipped file downloaded from the Internet are treated as applications with each demanding an approval to open with Preview. Opening any file the first time that launches an Apple application, for that matter, has a noticeable delay – as the Sandbox process is run, I presume. Using the embedded MacOSX archiving utility and the native Preview applications work in tandem to manifest this awkward problem. Use Stuffit , and no problem for Preview. Use the MacOSX unzipped and no problem for a media cataloger viewer such as the old Microsoft Expression Media. This is a “must fix” bug.

Lots of memory paging, spell checking everywhere… Apple is going to make IOS an exclusive subset MacOSX, and they are changing MacOSX to coincide precisely with IOS features. Look at LaunchPad to see for yourself. Speaking of which, I simply don’t see the justification for Lion’s new LaunchPad or MissionControl banner features. I don’t “grok” it.

And (Apple – are you listening?), why hasn’t the IOS e-book reader app been ported to Lion, yet. I would like to buy an e-book in iTunes and read it at the desktop.

BEER – made a new batch with a good friend – did good – a nice British style ale – very drinkable! After two weeks fermenting and another two weeks getting fizzy in bottles – that’s four long weeks of waiting, it proved to be a good brew.

The Samuel Adams Harvest Collection box is outstanding!

THE EVENT – an NBC SiFi show available for Uverse customers on Hulu.com – the entire season. Maybe you can watch it if you aren’t a Uverse customer… Very clever and dynamic show – the Aliens are among us – some were captured in Alaska in the 1940’s and detained in a secret prison until the President stumbled upon it. Lots of conflicts, diverging priorities, intrigue. I never heard of this show when it aired last fall/winter. This is worth watching for a scifi buff like me!

IMMIGRATION – An employee on an OPT extension of an F1 visa needs a Green Card or an Hi visa that my company sponsors. This is a big problem. It is expensive for my employee, and it is expensive for my company. It is really, really complicated. A priority 2 Green Card application is taking four years for processing, and a priority 1 Green Card application is taking between six months and a year to process. An Hi visa also takes about 6 months to process. A lot happens in six months. Business staffing decisions need to happen much faster than this.

This is my employee – she needs this job and the subsequent opportunity, and I need precisely her and no one else – she has a year of experience with my company and several years invested refining the technology and techniques we employ. There are so many DOL and INS forms and so many rules and so many quotas and limits and the like that it is almost impossible to understand the boundaries of the problem and potential solutions. Congress needs to fix this.

An immigrant scientist who was educated here, stays here and works here pays taxes and helps build a bigger opportunity – those benefits evaporate if the employee must stop work, and worse, if the employee leaves the USA to take the opportunity to a different country’s economy. What was Congress thinking? Gotta fix this…

BANKING FEES – Why is it that services provided by expensive employees from plush “brick and mortar” banking facilities are free, and services performed on-line or by robot ATM machines cost money. I would think that anytime you walk into a bank to conduct conventional business with a teller, you should have to pay a fee.  Anytime you avoid the costly trappings of a bank office, it should be fee-free. The current fee structure prompts me to use high cost bank resources for low-value services because the cost to me is $0 when the alternative service resources cost me a fee. One of the big banks will catch onto this…

When I was a child, my bank charged me $1 per withdrawal after one free every quarter. This made me rather angry for an 8 year-old. A dollar was a lot of money. I would simply close my account after my one free withdrawal per quarter, and then walk over to the New Accounts desk to open a new account if I needed to raid my savings account. After more than three years of this (and countless new accounts), the bank President stopped me in the lobby and kindly asked me to close my account and take my business elsewhere. He explained that it cost the bank more than $20 each time I closed my account and opened another one. I simply said that he could have “saved a bunch of money if he hadn’t started charging a fee.” He called the guard and asked that I be escorted off the property. I returned a few days later with a permit to protest, with a sign, and with determination to show the bank manager a thing or two. The local TV stations interviewed me, and I could see the bank President pacing nervously behind the cameras… There was no graceful way for him to recover.

Well, this bank fee nonsense will become a game for some, and the bankers are not smart enough to see where this could eventually lead. Where is that old picket sign???

SUMMER’S ALMOST OVER – Whew – it was a hot one. The days are still in the 80’s, though, and one day last week was 97. Before long, I will complain about the cold. Brrrrr – don’t like the cold below about 40…

MY FRIEND MIKE – I heard from my stamp collecting friend Mike in Herford. He has adopted a Quaker school class and it sounds like he is enjoying that very much. He sent me some Zimbabwean stamps to add to my collection with a nice letter. We don’t write letters anymore, and we should. It was good to hear from Mike – he’s doing fine. I need to write back!

ISHA IS A BEAUTIFUL BABY GIRL – It was a treat to visit over the weekend and see this precious little one! And her parents, too! And the proud Grandmother, too! A baby transforms the world into a better place.

SKYLER’S SLEEPING ON MY DESK THESE DAYS – ah, the life of a cat… Hard to work, though – he takes up a lot of space. In the winter, he sleeps with his nose pressed against one of the flat panel displays where the backlight is (it’s warm there). He can turn on the scanner, answer the phone – actually knock it out of the cradle when it rings, and help me grab just the right pen when I ask him to. He even types for me when I leave for the restroom. Ah, the life of a cat…

ALL FOR NOW…

Good Neighbors – the Value of Good Will

October 8, 2011

Yesterday afternoon was a big Google Earth distraction! I visited every home where I had lived since the first day of my life. GREAT FUN! Someday – sometime in the future – perhaps in the 25-year timeframe, we will be able to see a destination and see it as it appeared five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, etc. Give a reference location – and a reference time! That would be truly remarkable. Today, though, only the location, but that is still remarkable to me…

So, what does this have to do with neighbors? While “cruising” Riyadh, I had a little trouble finding my old house from the early ’80’s. I found the mosque, and the strip center I shopped at, and the major roadways nearby, but the old house was gone. But the mosque – they added onto the structure – it was much bigger. The mosque was directly across the dirt street from our home. We had some trouble with the mosque when I moved into the house. The Imam didn’t like having “infidel” neighbors – he told us so on one occasion. I remember thinking, “You don’t know me. How can you not like me? I’m a good neighbor.”

One Thursday afternoon coming home from work, I noticed that the mosque was in chaos with people in panic and water running out from the mosque onto the street – broken plumbing where the men washed before prayer… After dinner, after the chaos was over and the plumbing repaired, I walked across the the street to see a terrible mess. I grabbed a broom, and started to sweep the mud off the tile floor in the main hall. The Imam and I were the only two people in the mosque, and I knew how important it was for the mosque to be ready for Friday prayers. The Imam walked up to me, thanked me for helping him clean, and he said in Arabic, “You are the only neighbor of the mosque who is here to help me clean. None of the Moslem neighbors are here. I am so glad you are our neighbor. Please call me Abdul Aziz.” I tried to tell the Imam that a good neighbor is always around to help out when no one else can. I wasn’t sure he understood my awkward Arabic.

The next day, we had a dozen or so people stop to knock on our gate during the course of the busy prayer day. After the customary greeting, each visitor made a point to say thank you “Shukran”, and then in English, “Neighbor”. From that day forward, we were warmly greeted by everyone in the street. That Imam and I shared tea a few times a month for about three years, and we would spend some time afterward to clean the mosque together as I practiced my Arabic. I miss Abdul Aziz. I am certain that the members of the mosque would have been in my home helping me if there was ever a need. I sincerely hoped the best for Abdul Aziz and our neighbors when I left Riyadh. Our Riyadh house is the only home I have had that is no longer standing.

Today, our neighborhood is struggling a bit with unemployed homeowners and high crime – the last few years have been hard for a number of my neighbors. This week, our neighborhood participated in the City’s National Night Out Against Crime. Less than 15% of our homeowners participated. Our neighborhood is very diverse – there are 27 languages I know of that are spoken in the home here in our neighborhood. As the HOA President over the past 8 years or so (and fanatical engineer), I have generated a few “culture maps” of the neighborhood. I can clearly see that the cultural differences here have become barriers between neighbors during difficult times – particularly between the different Asian cultures here. I think I need to inspire a few homeowners to be better neighbors. If I am just a little bit lucky, that effort will snowball.

We need a “broken pipe” to fix and clean up afterward together.  I need to find a way to draw a few unwilling homeowners strategically into our Crime Watch team. They have to all want to do this together. I’ll “think on that”… There is high value in good will when neighbors are “good neighbors”!

Thank You, Steve

October 6, 2011

Thank you for inspiring.

Thank you for entertaining.

Thank you for delivering.

Thank you for taking me along on a technological journey with you!