Category Archive: Uncategorized

Ah, the old Apple vs. the World argument rages again

From a Facebook thread I started to troll some of my friends in the Apple ecosystem, which started out by comparing the features of the new iPhone X to the Samsung Galaxy Note s6 (the Samsung won):

Maybe I live a charmed life, but I just don’t have the problems y’all talk about with Microsoft products.

I’ve had Windows machines blow up on me that were the fault of the hardware and sketchy drivers provided by the hardware manufacturers, but rarely if ever could the fault be traced to the operating system software itself. Never, ever use Intel’s software-based RAID for anything. Learned that the hard way.

Is Microsoft software bloated? Yes. But so is everyone else’s. Check out how big your Facebook app is on your iPhone or iPad sometime. For me, it’s the largest app I have on my iPad, and it runs like a pig because Facebook’s programmers don’t know how to bum code the way we used to do it in the Paleolithic.

Do Windows computers slow down as they age? Yes. But you can get rid of the cruft in a number of ways, starting with the built-in Disk Cleanup application that will let you clean up a lot of old junk (like Windows Updates), and ranging to commercial applications that will clean up and compact your registry (just be sure you run a full backup first). Modern versions of Windows run a disk defragmenting process automatically, instead of making you do it manually like XP and earlier. And you can speed things up physically by replacing certain hardware items, like replacing your old-tech spinning disk drives with fast SSDs (which is kind of like replacing incandescents with LEDs, except not). You can generally add RAM, if you didn’t max the machine out when you bought it, which will prevent the machine from swapping memory to disk as often. (I bought my current Dell laptop three years ago with 8GB RAM, and recently upgraded it to 32GB RAM, for instance. It’s also had the boot drive upgraded to SSD. It’s my daily driver and I don’t have any trouble with it.)

And finally (because I need to get back to work), don’t buy cheap sh*t to start with. I keep trying to explain to my lady wife that the cheap laptops you see at the warehouse clubs that run $400 are not what she needs. If it has an i3 processor, avoid it. If it has an i5 processor and you just use a computer for email and web browsing, eh, OK. Personally, I won’t buy anything new anymore that doesn’t have at least an i7 processor. i3 and i5 processors are not future-proof to the extent that a good i7 is. We saw a Dell on sale at Costco last weekend for $799 that had an i7, 1TB drive, and 16GB RAM — which would be my minimum specifications for Windows 10, which it was running. But she balked at the $799 price tag and wanted to know why I didn’t recommend the $499 HP sitting next to it. And I said, because HP’s consumer line is junk now. And she still argued. And I said, fine, you can keep using your five-year-old i3 that I’ve upgraded with more RAM and an SSD and you still complain is too slow.

(I’ve been running Dell computers — mostly laptops — since at least 2002, and I have no complaints. My Inspiron 600m is still running; it’s my last surviving XP machine. My Precision M4300 is in its second incarnation only because I spilled a soda on it and killed the first one dead; I replaced it with a nearly-identical machine off of eBay and it’s still alive and kicking, with the same disk drive off of the old one. I’ve specified Dell for other people and organizations and have never once been disappointed. The only use case where I would specify something else would be for server machines, where I am solidly an HP advocate — their server products are still the best in the business, and the few times I’ve actually had hands on Dell servers, I haven’t been very impressed. They struck me as flimsy compared to the HPs.)

She also keeps talking about just switching to a tablet computer, and I keep telling her that she can’t run a business like the one she keeps saying she wants to start from a tablet (and, Office 365 running on a tablet to the contrary, you really can’t). Maybe a Surface, but a new Surface is more expensive than a new laptop these days — and I don’t do refurbished for a “main” computer.

The fact is, I don’t actually care what you run for a phone, or a tablet, or a main computer — you have to run what you are comfortable with. Hell, I own an iPad Air 2 myself, and like it quite a bit. But I’ll defend to the death my contention that the open hardware architecture in the Microsoft/Android ecosystem beats the closed one in the Apple ecosystem hands down in terms of innovation, and that’s what the image I posted is really all about. In the Microsoft/Android ecosystem, we simply get the newer stuff faster — and contrary to popular belief, it works just fine if the user doesn’t eff things up. In my business, problems are usually a combination of PEBCAK and a refusal to RTFM — not the software or the OS it’s running on.

 

RIP Jerry Pournelle

An active and engaged thinker to the very end.  Always one of my favorite reads, although his volume had slowed markedly in the last couple of years after his stroke.

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of his last blog post was its last line:

“Bye for now.”

Ave atque vale…requiescat in pace.  In the sure and certain hope that we shall all meet again.

Blessings and condolences to Roberta and his family.

Story is that Bannon is out.

And, yep — True.

Now if General Kelly would take the President’s Twitter account away from him, maybe something substantive could get done.

61

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Happy birthday.  I love you.

Fire and fury

Honestly, I do not understand why so many people have their panties in a wad over Trump’s statement regarding what the US would do if Li’l Kimmy fired a nuke at us.  (Or more likely, at Guam, or even more likely, at the little fishies in the sea since his missiles aren’t always successful.  But I digress.)

As has been reported elsewhere, such statements have clear precedent in US history.  It’s not as if measured, diplomatic statements have had any particular affect on the fat boy, in any case.  Let me tell a story in that wise.

Years ago, when I was but a tad, I used to go with my dad up to my granddad’s place in a tiny-ass, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town up between Peru and Wabash, Indiana.  Granddad had about a quarter-acre lot on which he’d parked an old 40′ travel trailer next to a fair-sized shed.  (Or maybe he bought the lot with the trailer already on it; I don’t honestly remember, that was damn near 50 years ago.)  I could go on and on about this little pied-à-terre of his, but suffice it to say that it was not a place where I would have wanted to live, or even spend the night.  For the first year he was there, all he had was an outhouse, and as I recall, no running water at all in the trailer.  And this was in either 1969 or 1970.

Granddad also had about 14 little yap dogs, and I am not bullshitting about the number.  They were all miniature terriers of some sort and technically I think he was breeding them for sale.  In the winter, we’d get there and all the dogs would be in the trailer with him.  This was sub-optimal because Granddad had big-time emphysema and could barely breathe when the air was clean, let alone stunk up to high heaven and full of hair from all those dogs.  So Dad and my uncles would give Granddad hell and take the dogs out to the shed — which had a little oil heater, so it wasn’t like they’d freeze to death — and the dogs could run around in the little fenced yard next to the shed and come back in when they got cold.

We’d go up the next weekend and all the fucking dogs would be back in the trailer.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Finally, my dad — who had a bit of a temper — unloaded on Granddad, and used some fairly shocking language (remember, I was only about 10 at the time) in the process of doing so.  I don’t recall him escalating to the “F” word, but there was a lot of “goddamnit” and “hell” in there.

On the way home, I asked my dad why he had talked to his dad that way.  He was quiet for a moment, then he said, “Because sometimes, that’s the only language he understands.”

It’s the same thing with diplomacy, which is, after all, the art of saying “Nice doggy” while you hunt around behind you for a big stick.  Kim Jong Un doesn’t understand that when we talk nicely but firmly about how he needs to back the fuck down, we mean that if he doesn’t, we’ll eventually get around to doing something about it.

Donald Trump has decided that after 25 years of saying “Nice doggy” to Kim and his daddy, it’s time to drive home the point that the US has a very large stick with which we’re going to start beating him if he doesn’t back the hell off, and that soon.  In this, he is operating very much in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman, and I don’t really understand why any real American would have a problem with that.

Of course, I’m still not sure why we aren’t actively shooting down his missile tests, since we have THAAD.  But there is that whole thing about allowing him enough rope to hang himself.  And he’s certainly got the South Koreans and the Japanese upset enough at this point to let us start talking about kicking the chair out from under him without causing much more than a few raised eyebrows in the affected nations.  Raised eyebrows signifying, in this case, “Well, it’s about goddamned time; we didn’t think the Americans had it in them anymore.”

MAGA, baby.  MAGA.

 

Frankly, if you’re King Abdullah, I kinda pity you.

A friend reposted a photo of Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah yukking it up after Abdullah apparently made the usual representation to Abbas that East Jerusalem would be the capital of an independent Palestinian state, eventually.  Which of course had Jewish friends up in arms.

But really, this goes on all the time, and it happens because Abdullah has a serious problem, and it’s not his buddy-buddy, hail-fellow-well-met approach to Abbas, either. That’s more than likely an act for the peasantry. Think about it.

He has more Palestinians living in his country than any other Arab country. Jordan’s total population is about 9.5 million, and UNRWA says there are “more than” 2 million Palestinians living there, most but not all with full Jordanian citizenship. There are 10 recognized refugee camps in Jordan containing 370,000 Palestinians, again, according to UNRWA.

If you are the King of Jordan, and more than 20% of your population might just rise up against you if you treat their relatives in Gaza wrong — or, shoot, even if you just look at them funny — wouldn’t you temporize a lot, make supportive mouth noises, and hope the Israelis, whom you know are your only real friends, will keep the Gazans and the West Bankers busy for you while you keep an uneasy eye to the north and east watching the Iraqis and the Syrians?

That’s what Abdullah’s dad did. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Abdullah avails himself of a long hot shower after any meeting with Abbas, just to wash the stink off. The King knows the Israelis are never going to agree to give up sovereignty over Jerusalem, and that probably suits him just fine, since that means he doesn’t have to beat up on the Waqf when they get out of hand.

Make no mistake: This is no apologia for the King of Jordan for looking like an ass, but sometimes a King must do things in his public life that he abhors in private. My money says that Bibi knew all about this meeting and what Abdullah was going to say before it occurred.

I could be entirely wrong.  But Jordan has never really been a place where Palestinians were welcome; the problem was that they didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter of letting them in, unlike the rest of the Middle Eastern Arab countries.

An appropriate way to commemorate Tisha B’Av?

Not to put too fine a point on it, bulldoze that fucking abomination currently occupying the Temple Mount, shove both it and the Waqf mullahs off the Eastern side, and start rebuilding the Temple.

Shoot every Muslim who gets in the way.  Nuke Tehran and Qom if the Iranians get uppity.  Remember what God commanded in Deuteronomy 25:

 

יז זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם. 17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt;
יח אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ–וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹהִים. 18 how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.
יט וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה-אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ–תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח. {פ} 19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget. {P}

Want tax reform? Exempt “deferred tax liability” retirement accounts.

I keep reading about the tax reform Congress and the President keep talking about, but all I really seem to see is proposals to ease business tax and increase tariffs, which may or may not put the economic blender on puree (as PJ O’Rourke once famously wrote).  Tariffs generally are a bad idea, but if judiciously applied in areas where other countries (cough, CHINA, cough) are dumping goods into our market below cost, then I’m cautiously for them.  Overall, though, tariffs are usually idiotic, as is taxing the income of expatrirate American corporations and individuals.  Repatriating dollars honestly earned and already taxed by foreign governments should not initiate further taxation by the FedGov.

But this has nothing to do with you and me in the middle class, groaning under the weight of income taxes free American citizens never had to pay until 1913.

I read yesterday that Social Security is now on track to run out of money by 2028.  Which is significantly sooner than what we were being told a few years ago, variously 2034 or 2045 depending on what politician was making mouth noises.  Not that anyone can actually live on a Social Security check, but I digress.

This got me to thinking about retirement accounts.  You know, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Roth IRAs, etc.  All of these accounts are funded by pre-tax deductions from your earnings.  In the case of 401(k)s and 403(b)s, generally this is involuntary on your part — if you work for a company that offers one, you’re in the program, whether you contribute or not, because the company will contribute some minimum amount even if you don’t.  Generally it’s considered stupid not to contribute to these funds, at least up to the company’s “match”, which might be 3% or 5%, or might be some weird construction like “company matches to 3%, then matches half to 5%”, meaning that if you contribute 5%, the company will contribute 4%.  Whatever.

The point is that these are tax-deferred accounts.  That means you have to pay tax on them eventually — just not right now, so there is actually incentive to participate (same with a company insurance plan, if you’re lucky enough to have one in the era of Obamacare, since anything you pay for insurance comes out pre-tax).  So, OK, when do you pay that tax?

Why, at the point when you can least afford it — when you retire and start taking distributions from your retirement account.  And possibly worse, you pay the then-prevailing tax rate for such things, which might be higher than it was when you first started throwing money into the account.  So if between now and several years from now when I hope to retire, if Congress suddenly decides to start taxing retiree accounts at 50%, I’m screwed.  (And so are you.)

In the meantime, your retirement “savings” (generally, investments in mutual funds, which in turn are made up of shares of corporate stock) are subject to the vagaries of the market.  I had a tidy sum in my 401(k) in 2008.  After the crash, I had lost half the dollar value of the account.  Which, at first blush, sounds awful, but as my investment advisor reminded me, I still had all of the fund shares I’d purchased, and with stock prices then in the toilet, it was time to buy.  And historically, the market has always come back.  Which of course it has, and since I was buying 401(k) shares every two weeks (and increased my contribution to the maximum the company would match), the value of my 401(k) has more than doubled since then (particularly since the election, of course).

More than fixing the individual income tax, fucked up as it is, what would really make me sit up and take notice would be if Mr. Trump would come out for permanently exempting post-retirement distributions from any market-based retirement account that contains less than (say, for the point of argument) $5 million from being taxed.

That said, there should be the following restrictions:

  • If you take money out before you retire minimum retirement age, you pay income tax on what you take out.  [Edited a bit to better indicate what I meant.]
  • If you borrow money from your retirement account that you have to pay back, you can’t deduct the interest (and if you don’t pay it back, you pay income tax on it).
  • If you take more than the maximum allowable distribution in any given tax year, you pay income tax on the overage.  That said, the maximum allowable distribution should be generous, probably on the order of $50,000/year per person in today’s dollars.*  That means that a couple like my wife and myself, IF we had that kind of money in our 401(k)s (we don’t), could get along pretty well after retirement.

Also said, the government would have the following responsibilities:

  • If a retirement account contains more than the suggested $5 million maximum when its owner retires, income tax is paid on distributions taken only until the account drops below the $5 million threshold.
  • The baseline threshold at inception would be subject to increase or decrease annually, based on inflation/deflation as reported by the CPI.
  • The exemption from taxation of retirement accounts would be permanent, all future Congresses would be bound by it, and there would be a provision to shoot or hang any Congressman or Senator who proposed or voted for the re-institution of income tax on retirement account distributions.  And yes, I am serious about the last bit.

In other words, because you risked your money on a gamble that the stock market would continue to rise, and because you thereby contributed to the growth of the economy, you should get a pass on paying taxes on that money if you follow the rules and use it properly for your retirement.

Come on, Mr. Trump.  Be bold.  Throw this out there and dare Congress to ignore it.

_______________

* I believe this differs from the current program, where after you’re 59-1/2, there is no limit on distributions, you just have to pay income tax on whatever you take.

“We see that you’re using an ad-blocker.”

Fuck all sites that say this.  If your fucking ads weren’t so annoying, maybe I wouldn’t feel like blocking them.

Most so-called “ads” today are nothing more than click-bait to enrich someone who isn’t giving you value for your clicks. The ones that aren’t click-bait are, by and large, malicious sites trying to botify your machine. No thanks.

So again: Fuck you if you don’t like my ad-blocker. I’ll just go somewhere else.

Here’s a non-political rant, for a change.

Spam callers.

Otherwise known as assholes.

Being on the do-not-call list (either at the state or federal level) is a joke.  It’s a lot like gun control (OK, sorry, I did say this wouldn’t be political, but it is actually relevant), in that the do-not-call lists place restrictions only on the law-abiding.  Anyone who wants to run an illegal boiler-room call center that uses spoofed numbers to get around “unknown number” call blocks and so forth is not going to be stopped by a silly list of people who don’t want them calling.

Lately it seems that a lot of spoofed calls are coming “from” numbers in our own area code.  On our cell phones, the usual approach seems to be even more granular, with the numbers matching both area code and exchange (as if I would pick up a call simply because it came from the same exchange; I got my cell number from a vendor in Noblesville, many years and two carriers ago, and I can’t think of anyone I know who has a cell number in that exchange.

It seems to me that there are two things that need to happen.

First, phone companies have a duty to ensure that the information coming through CallerID is not spoofed and is accurate.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take a modern phone system and program whatever number you like into it.  This actually has a legitimate purpose — it is done to provide for direct-inward-dial systems where it is preferred to broadcast the main switchboard number of the company rather than the individual’s extension, and that makes sense.  But in turn, the phone company should be vetting the CallerID information being sent against a list of numbers registered to the phone “line” in question.  And yeah, with VOIP not using physical copper like the old POTS systems, that may be difficult to do, but I’ll bet it’s not insurmountable.  If a phone company can determine that the CallerID being sent by one of its customers is not on the list of authorized numbers for that line, it can either substitute the known main switchboard number for the line, or simply refuse to place the call at all.  I’m sure this is all a SMOP*, but nothing is impossible if you throw enough money at the problem.  And if the phone companies courteously excuse themselves from fixing their broken systems, then the Feds should step in and force them to do it.  There is no point in creating law and having a regulatory system if you’re not going to use it.  That is hardly the libertarian point of view that I would prefer, but since I’m enjoined from going after these spamming bastards with a shotgun, the gummint needs to get on the ball.

Second, the FTC needs to start actively cracking down on boiler-room operations.  Which is like asking the FCC to start actively cracking down on bad hams.  It happens once in a while for some of the more egregious violators, but even then, the regulatory agencies have no law-enforcement authority and for anything more than a proposed liability (otherwise known as a fine), they have to get the DOJ involved.  So, OK, do that.  Or call on local law enforcement.  But stop pretending to enforce the law by having people send in complaints that (so far as it seems) rarely end up with spammers in hot water.  (That goes for junk fax laws and the CAN-SPAM act for email, too.)

There is simply no sense in having these laws if they aren’t enforced.

_____________

*SMOP [Simple (or Small) Matter of Programming] 1. A piece of code, not yet written, whose anticipated length is significantly greater than its complexity. Used to refer to a program that could obviously be written, but is not worth the trouble. Also used ironically to imply that a difficult problem can be easily solved because a program can be written to do it; the irony is that it is very clear that writing such a program will be a great deal of work. “It’s easy to enhance a FORTRAN compiler to compile COBOL as well; it’s just a SMOP.” 2. Often used ironically by the intended victim when a suggestion for a program is made which seems easy to the suggester, but is obviously (to the victim) a lot of work. Compare minor detail.

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