Monthly Archives: April 2014

Dead man seeks place to fall

or: The End of the Free Lunch

or: The Gravy Train Stops Here

For years, I have been using LogMeIn to provide remote support to family and friends. The free service allowed me to log into up to ten different computers all over the world. I have used it to remote into my Mother’s computer in London (that’s “London, England”, if you failed Geography) and fix problems/perform upgrades/answer questions, etc. It was a thoroughly useful tool.

blog.logmein.com/it-management/important-changes-to-logmein-free

So I was somewhat miffed, a few months ago, to find that the good folks at LogMeIn had decided that the free ride was over, and that I would have to use a paid account to continue using the service.

If that were all there was to it, it would not have been a  problem – I would happily have paid them $50 a year to keep that service, but at the same time they massively increased their prices to an utterly-insane $100/year for TWO computers. Talk about adding insult to injury…

Oh, and professional users of their “Central” service found out their rates had doubled when they got their credit-card statements.

Charge me more, offer me less. Riiiight

The timing was also awfully suspicious. There was no month’s notice, just “we’re done”, followed by a *CLICK* as the lights go out. It was hardly surprising that their phone lines were jammed for the next week with people calling up to cancel their accounts.

You have got to  be kidding me… pissing off your customers — freeloaders or otherwise — is bad enough, but jacking the prices skywards has all the hallmarks of a company that is in financial trouble and is about to go under. To me, this is a huge marketing blunder that will cost them millions which – exactly what they don’t need right now.

That’s all water under the bridge now, What is noteworthy is that DynDNS is pulling a similar stunt.

I have been using Dyn’s free DynDNS service for many years now. It allowed me to easily connect to my home network by associating its ever-changing IP address with an easy-to-remember hostname.

In November 2011, Dyn reduced the number of hostnames per account from 5 to 1. This did not inconvenience me, as I only had one hostname.

Then, last year, they made a monthly login a requirement of keeping a free account. Those who forgot to do so lost their free accounts and had to upgrade to a paid one. This inconvenienced me, but only a little. Looking back, it is obvious that they were trying to clear out inactive “freeloader” accounts and/or make a little money from the inattentive.

A few weeks ago, Dyn announced that they were dropping the free service. Unlike LogMeIn, however, they actually gave a month’s notice, so kudos for that. Also unlike LogMeIn, there are many free alternatives for their service.

Looks like another Dead-man-looking-for-a-place-to-fall

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The Poor and the Rest of us

I recently read “The rich and the rest of us” by Tavis and Smiley, which was recommended to me by a friend. I have just finished reading it, and while I agree with their findings, I heartily disagree with their conclusions.

Let me explain: The book begins by tracking poverty over time, since records of such things were kept, in the last century. It looks at the rates of poverty, particularly in regards to the political winds of the time.

It goes on to point out that there is more than one type of “poor”. They make the valid distinction between “the homeless poor”, “the old poor” (the classical view of the lazy, work-shy git who does not want to work, and wants to be kept by the state), and “the new poor”, those who have lost jobs, mostly in manufacturing and production. To quote Steve Jobs: “Those jobs have gone overseas, and are not coming back”.

One thread that I see interwoven throughout the book is that for most of us, our lifestyles are not “sustainable”, they are dependent on our continuing to earn a salary without interruption. Most of us do not save enough; financial pundits advise a three- to six-month emergency fund to live on in the event of unemployment or illness. Yes most of us have less than one month’s savings – we are, in effect, one pink slip from a long slow slide into poverty.

There is a Chinese Proverb: “Lazy people have no spare time”, and I have found this to be true. I have personally observed many families who are “gadget-rich/cash-poor” (Big-screen TV, Kitchen full of appliances, all the latest toys, videogames and diversions… but no money). Some are members of my extended family.

Every Christmas, I see good folks running around like idiots after the latest must-have gadget for their children, whether they can afford them or not; they are unable to tell their children “No” — but this is hardly surprising; they are often unable to tell themselves “No”, either. They are ruled by impulse, and easily manipulated by shrewd marketers.

  • They have time to watch TV but not time to look for a job.
  • They watch the news, and believe everything that they see, and as a result are horribly depressed. Not surprisingly, they adopt a “victim” mentality, and expect the Government to fix their problems.

I find it very hard to have sympathy for people who are stupid with their money and stupider with their time.

I remember a story from a few years back when a man lost his job. He went home and shot his wife, his children and himself. He and his wife worked in the same place, and both lost their jobs around the same time. They had no savings; they has a house full of stuff, and no money. And yet that root cause was casually disregarded by a media obsessed with the gory details.

Most of us – myself included – have forgotten the meaning of frugality. The last generation that had to learn that the hard way is almost gone. Today’s grandparents grew up on easy credit and “live-today-pay-later”.

The authors express their disgust at the number of poor living from hand to mouth, and they say “something must be done”. I agree. Where we part company, however, is that they place their faith in the Government – particularly the Federal Government – as the source of all planned political solutions. I have looked through the Constitution, and I cannot find anywhere that empowers the Feds to take responsibility poverty – or drugs, or health, or food, for that matter. Helping the poor is a noble goal, but it is my contention that Governments are incapable of nobility —  it is simply not their job.

So whose job is it?

  • The States? Possibly.
  • The Counties and Cities? Maybe.
  • The towns and villages? You’re getting warmer…
  • The communities and churches? Getting warmer still.
  • You and me? YES.

When we look out for our neighbors, we enrich the community. When we buy American instead of Chinese, we keep jobs in the USA, instead of sending them away to the other side of the world. And yes, it costs more than buying foreign; nothing worth doing is ever easy.

The authors spend much wordage expressing their slack-jawed admiration of the Occupy Wall Street mob, who seem obsessed with the fact that the richest 1% of the population own 90% of the wealth, while conveniently ignoring the fact that this has been the norm through history and the world.

1% equates to three million people. But somehow the protest slogan “three million people control 90% of the wealth!” does not sound quite so impressive. Historically speaking, 1% is actually quite egalitarian.

  • Medieval England, with a population of about 4 million, was controlled by the king and a handful of Earls.
  • The Roman Empire, which at its peak stretched from Northern England to what is Eastern Turkey, was ruled by thirty families who founded Rome, collectively known as the Patricians.
  • As a general rule, nations and empires throughout history have been ruled by roughly 1% of 1% of 1%. Compared to those examples, the modern “1%” is the essence of equity, particularly when you consider that while the wealthy 1% may own most of the stuff, they do not own the populace as was often the case in olden times.
  • A wise man once said that “The haves and the have-nots can often be traced back to the dids and the did-nots.” (D. O. Flynn).

The Federal Government has a rather silly habit of declaring war on things that cannot surrender. We have a war on drugs that has been going on for thirty years, a war on poverty that has been going on for even longer. Neither has worked. You would have thought that after spectacularly losing the “War on Alcohol” eighty years ago, we would have avoided all attempts at social engineering, but the precise opposite has happened.

“Quitters never win and winners never quit… but those who never win and never quit are called idiots.”

The best thing that we can do for the future is to teach our children how not to be poor. Every parent wants their child to have a better lifestyle than they did; we all want our kids not to struggle. And so we try to steer them into safe jobs that pay well; jobs that do not involve sweat of brow or physical labor. But the safest jobs are rarely the most comfortable ones; I know several people who “graduated” from Computer programming to management or marketing, and went on to become unemployed when their employers had a bad quarter. I also know some folks who work in less glamorous jobs, such as plumbing, electrics, construction and HVAC, who have more work than they know what to do with. When our chimney needed to be rebuilt, we waited for several months for “our guy” to become available. This is also why some construction guys are never on time; they are always doing side-jobs.

Perhaps we are giving our kids the wrong advice. Rather than telling them to do what they love (which, for a teenager is usually “watching TV/playing games/chasing girls/chasing boys/hanging out”), perhaps we should advise them to figure out what they enjoy doing that can be used to serve others well. For some that will be healing or building, or helping.

Above all, we should advise them to avoid the mistakes that lead to poverty. Dropping out of school, getting pregnant, getting a criminal record… there are so many ways to make yourself unemployable or impoverished for life.

Where I disagree with the authors is where the solution lies; like classical socialists, they believe that the problem can be solved by central government, using the time-honored tool of redistribution of wealth.

I don’t know about you, but I have not had a problem that Washington D.C. has solved.

OK Stupid

or:  Truth, Lies, Politics and Web Browsers.

Brendan Eich is a smart guy. He co-founded Mozilla, who created Firefox and many other software products. Over ten days in May 1995, he created JavaScript, the programming language that lives in all of our web browsers.

Back in 2008, he donated some money in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure that sought to ban gay marriage in the state, which was subsequently shot down by the Supreme Court. It was his own money, privately donated to a cause he believes in passionately enough to put his money where his mouth is.

As it happens, I share his beliefs on this particular subject: It is not politically correct, and it probably isn’t even a popular stance, but if you define marriage as a sacred covenant between a man, a woman and God, it is hard to believe otherwise.In spite of the hysterical yammering from certain sectors of the press. Given that definition, “Marriage Equality” if effectively an oxymoron in the context it is being used here. This is not a “Gay Rights” issue or even an “Equal Rights” issue – Gays have the same rights as everyone else – no more, no less. It is a “Marriage” issue. That is my privately-held belief, and like all such beliefs, it is not for others to decide or negotiate. You don’t get to tell me what to think, and I won’t try to tell you how to live – capisce?

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Eich said his political beliefs were “personal” and that he had “kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we’ve been going… there’s a difference here between the company, the foundation, as an employer and an entity, versus the project and community at large, which is not under any constraints to agree on LGBT equality or any other thing that is not central to the mission or the Mozilla manifesto,”

Apparently that is not enough for some, including the match-making web site “OKCupid”, which singles out Firefox users for special attention – as if the browser was in some way at fault. After the resulting sturm aund drang, he resigned as CEO of Mozilla, a post he had held for only sixteen days, and has left the company entirely after fifteen years there.

Who won? Who lost? I wonder…

Mr. Eich’s decision to take an unpopular stand and deal with the consequences has my respect and admiration. It is Mozilla’s loss; those who hounded him from office have not gained anything, and Mr. Eich will not starve; he’s a smart guy, and there are most likely dozens of companies out there – presumably there are some as yet un-infested with the disease of political correctness – who will snap him up in a heartbeat. He is most likely independently wealthy anyway. But the shameful treatment of Mr Eich does the Gay Rights Movement no credit; they who talk about loudest about tolerance have none to spare for those who do not share their beliefs and philosophies.

Practice what you preach, folks.

Andrew Sullivan says it best: “If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.”

Equal Pay Day

Or: Lies, damned lies and statistics.

It is a well-known fact that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make. The president even mentioned it in his recent State of the Union address.

Close, but no cigar. The first part of president’s statement (“women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns...”) and the second part (“That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.“) are not congruent with each other.

It is true that the “average” woman earns substantially less than the “average” man, but the use of “Averages” can be dangerously misleading when not comparing like with like. For instance: The Average Oil Rig worker, Plumber, Farmer or Engineer is male, while the Average Primary School Teacher, Nurse, Cheerleader or Human-Resources Paper-shuffler is female. Which jobs are more hazardous? Which are more valuable? Which should be paid more?

Another factor is personal priorities: Women generally choose jobs that revolve around their lifestyles and family commitments. Man generally arrange their lifestyles and family commitments around their work. “Many working mothers seek jobs that provide greater flexibility, such as telecommuting or flexible hours. Not all jobs can be flexible, and all other things being equal, those which are will pay less than those that do not”. This means that men are more valuable to their employers than women. A man who will travel on business at a moment’s notice is more useful to a company than a women who, quite reasonably, puts her family first. The conclusion is obvious: more useful => more valuable => higher pay.

According to recent government statistics, salaried men and salaried women doing the same job generally get paid within 5% of each other (“Single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings in 2012.”). Sometimes the women earn more (particularly in big cities), sometimes the men. (example: Female pharmacists made $1,871 per week, males made $1,879).

Salaried men work longer hours than salaried women. “Men were almost twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week, and women almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week.” This leads to an alarming thought: If women work shorter hours and get the same pay, who is really being shortchanged?

It is easy to hear a sympathetic-sounding soundbite and perceive an inequality, but the fact is that women in America already enjoy more protections and privilege than do women anywhere in the world throughout the course of recorded history. But the final nail in the coffin of this dangerous misconception is the straight-face test: If women really did the same work as men for less pay, why haven’t the “greedy” corporations fired all the men, replaced them with a cheaper all-female workforce, and profited off the difference? The answer is obvious: men must bring something to the workforce that women generally don’t.

Happy Equal Pay Day. If you believe that sort of thing.

Statistics taken from The Bureau of Labor Statistics report “Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2012“.

Quotes taken from “The ’77 Cents on the Dollar’ Myth About Women’s Pay” (Wall Street Journal)

Microsoft as Chicken Little

I just got this notification from Microsoft on one of my Windows XP machines:

Microsoft Evil

Naturally I installed it, only to find out that now Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) never goes green. It goes orange – the color that it uses to alert the user of a problem. What’s worse, on every boot, it nags me about XP going out of support on April 8th – even though MSE will be supported until July 2015.

Given that Microsoft last month released an “urgent-but-pointless” update to XP to remind users that Windows XP is about to be “End-Of-Lifed”, this update is completely unnecessary. To make matters worse, they made this “update” impossible to install by itself.

Sickening

The only good news is that it is fairly simple to uninstall and reinstall MSE, which does not (yet) include this update.

As the go-to- guy for my friends and family, I am sick and tired of having to deal with Microsoft’s fearmongering. While Windows 7 is reputedly more secure than XP (though most exploits are common to all versions of Windows), the fact is that most ten-year-old computers are not man enough to run Windows, and until users can afford a machine that is, my advice is simple:

  • Keep your system patched
  • Don’t install anything you didn’t go looking for.
  • Don’t go surfing for porn, warez, illicit MP3s or stuff like that.
  • Keep good backups and fear no evil.

Now I have to add “Don’t install KB2949787” to the list.

Microsoft, you have crossed the line with this one.You have scared users without needing to – and worse, you have pissed me off.

I view this as a mean-spirited, cynical, dishonest and borderline evil move by Microsoft to scare people into upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. Apparently I am not the only person who feels this way.

Just Say No.