Monday, December 29, 2008

Letter to the president-elect

Dear President-elect Obama,

Its the end of a challenging year for the United States and the world.
And like many, I am writing to you with a wish list for the new administration.
Let me suggest something a little different...

1)  Encourage Americans to save their money rather than spend it.

The recent expansion of the economy was fueled by spending on credit.  And many of those gains are now being lost, homeowners literaly losing their homes, in part because of an excess of credit.
We have heard some people talk about spending to boost the economy, but what we realy need to do is to encourage the development of a nation of savers.

More than that, we need to encourage investment in small business.  To a degree, the downward pressure on real wages has been caused by massive consolidation of retail, banking and service industries.  Small business is the backbone of the American economy.  We need to do whatever we can to encourage small business.  And we need to stop relying on big business as the partner of government to the disadvantage of small businesses.

2)  Stop using the tax code as a political instrument.

The Federal tax code is too complicated and inefficient.  Congress continues to use the tax code as a policy instrument to suit political fashion.  Others have said that tax breaks have become the political equivalent of crack cocaine.  So in the interest of transparency, and efficient government, have the GAO estimate what people really pay today (with all the breaks); and change the system so there is a graduated tax and no deductions.  Eliminate all tax breaks and remove tax policy from the political spectrum.  Much as it will hurt my own family, stop providing a tax incentive to families with children.

If you want to implement a policy change, just do it directly instead of manipulating the tax code.
For example, if you want to continue to subsidize families with children, write them checks.
Or, set up a discount program to promote alternative energy, like the current program with TV converter boxes.

3)  Simplify health care.

Simplify health care and ensure that everyone has access to it.
Don't enact a system like we have here in Massachusetts, which attempts to cover everyone while protecting private insurers.  HMO's and health insurers exist to deny coverage, not to provide it.  We pay a greatly inflated price for health care because of the burden of insurance and inefficient billing practises.  If we intend to provide health coverage for everyone, then what is the point of playing the averages from one pool of subscribers against another?  Business will be much better off without the burden of providing and complying with increasingly out of control health coverage costs.  More than that, people should have the ability to control their coverage, rather than employers and there should be no price difference for an individual outside of a pool to receive coverage.

4)  Do something simple about immigration.

Create an expanded program for migrant farm workers. Eliminate the competition for H1-B visas between the tech sector and the agricultural sector by creating a seperate program for farm workers.  Find a policy that can normalize the number of immigrants over the long term, recognizing that we all share some responsibility for the current situation, and protecting the families that have grown here.

That's my wish list for the new administration.
Good luck!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tell Me is telling me something

How many prompts does it take to get to a sales person at Verizon?
The nice sounding voice sounds like the voice of Tell Me, the same automated system
that is behind the free toll free directory.

She isn't much help when the menu requires 6 prompts to get a human.
I give up and try "agent" and end up in the tech support queue.
At last, they transfer me to the right department.

The website doesn't have the details I need...  Have to talk to a person, who is
hidden behind the great wall of automation.

The actual people are nice, when you get to talk to them.

Comcast has more humans.  Maybe I shouldn't switch after all...

Friday, September 26, 2008

How to reduce spam?

Roger Grimes wrote an interesting article in InfoWorld today, regarding how the domain registration system and large ISPs are not doing enough to fight spam.

Article here:

Helping spammers do a better job

One reader brought back the idea that we should charge for email to reduce spam. I wrote a response on one scenario to make it happen:

ICANN was set up to prevent overly harsh or biased regulation of domain registration. That does mean than anyone with a credit card can become a domain squatter, or a porn star. That is the price of free speech.
We all wanted domain registration to be managed by a non governmental, non-partisan entity. That means ICANN has very little recourse to fight bad behavior. 
So lets say that we should place a fee on sending email. Make it much smaller, like 1/2 cent, or .1 cent per message.  Who would collect the fee? Would the message be a 'bonded' message? 
I could envision national post offices offering a 'bonded' email service. And then spam filters would be engineered to whitelist the 'bonded sender' messages. The messages don't need to run through postal service machines, they just need to be authenticated against postal service machines. 
Probably we would end up with traditional email running alongside 'bonded' email as the market for it develops. 
This is entirely technically feasible. It is a business case to develop and deploy.
AOL offers 'bonded' email, Microsoft enhances Outlook to offer 'bonded' email, gmail offers 'bonded email', etc.
It replaces revenue the postal service is losing, the messages do not transit the postal service (i.e. they are not exposed to added snooping by the government), and it helps to ensure the sender is legitimate. (Or at least paid to spam us all)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Computers scanned at Customs? Boycott the studios...

I wrote this in response to a discussion on TechRepublic.
The original video on TechRepublic
The Comments Thread
Customs Issues (Boycott the studios!)
I think its a stretch to hire, train and equip overloaded customs agents with the ability to inspect computer files. I don't agree with the direction of this law, but I believe the point of it is that there is no requirement for a court order to search files. In the current environment it would be used to inspect computers when the agent saw a need.

Its downfall lies in the future when some neanderthal politician declares that a port scanner is an illegal tool.

The modern day equivalent of bringing someone in for having a carpenter's toolbox in the car.

Let's say customs implements automated scanning software to find 'illegal' files, the customs agent has no knowledge what the files are, she just runs a scan. "Ahem. Sir, please stand over there..." And your teenager gets stopped for Beyonce videos...

Then they will let her in, but make a record of all the potentially illegal media on her PC. The studios fight to gain access to that. Someone stores the log file in perpetuity.

In response, average people will start running installations that have a 'vanilla' Windows installation - leaving the rest of the disk encrypted with the real juice hidden from a casual scan. There is lots of software already heading in this direction. People want it so that they can hide their internet porn from family members and law enforcement.

Keyloggers are being sold today for spouses to spy on each other online. And of course the studios are the porn industry. "Give 'em what they want."

Not too far a stretch to see this having the effect that the government is encouraging individuals to learn how to be espionage agents.

There really are three choices.
1) Give up all your electronics.
2) Live with arbitrary laws that exist only to make big companies money. (But at the end of the day you know cancer is a bigger worry than Disney and even Microsoft...)
3) Become Ted Kazinsky (without the bombs, please).

Myself, I am heading towards #1 from #2. I would rather stop listening to music than jump through hoops to get it onto my MP3 player without copy protection.

I am reluctant to fund the studios that are lobbying for these restrictive laws.

Besides, that leaves us a few bucks to send to our local college radio stations. College radio plays what they like - not controlled by the studios 'idea' of what will sell...

2008 Write-in candidtate!

Dear Socks,

Al Gore has left us for the Ozone layer...
Would you consider the presidency for 2008?

The electorate is polarized, Hillary (R-e-member Hillary?);
Huckabee, McCain, Obama. Ron Paul - another guy with two first names!

Socks! Come back to us!
We recall the economic prosperity of the Socks era...

Pre- 9/11... Pre 01/20/2009

Come back to us, all is forgiven! (Even that spot on the carpet...)

A PV on every porch!

Today we face an 'economic slowdown' due to the lack of regulation in the mortgage industry.

Recent news stories have discussed the cost of phantom power drain on the US electrical grid.

So - here's a proposal for everyone: get a cash bonus for installing enough PV electrical generation capacity on your roof to offset the power drain from the average house.

The idea is not without ecological detractors... Here is my post on the metafilter:

Oh!, The pain, the pain...

Dr. Smith from the old "Lost in Space" had a tagline "Oh, the pain... The pain!"

The ultimate whiner. But this is what comes to mind when I think of Office 2007 installations. Its enough to consider early retirement! The main thing I _thought_ would be difficult with the new Office was the redesigned user interface. I work on a campus - we have people at all levels of skill. I was worried about training them up - because everyone in the software universe seems to think that training is not an issue. (Everyone I talk to who has Office 2007 says that they don't know where anything is!)

Guess what? The user interface is not a problem. We will get through this. I think. Training is next week...

What concerns me now is deployment. Leaving aside the fact that security concerns have broken any of the built in deployment stuff in Active Directory...

Annoyance #1 Office Professional Plus takes 1/2 hour to install! What a pig! The setup routine claims that it will uninstall previous versions. Not true. It doesn't uninstall Office 97. Ugly mess it makes. Oh well, time to go. Wife over shoulder, New Year's eve. And don't suggest Open Office. Talk about a pig. Almost as bad...

Office 2007 Install Pain

More tips n' tricks here... We've been running Office 2007 since the spring now...

Training: Our on-site office training was - awesome!
I was learning tricks I had never used before from previous versions. Well worth the effort.
Train people the same day as their installation. A great suggestion from our training partners. They get back to their desk and have to use the training right away.
Customized classes for different levels of students. All day MS Office overview for the 'information workers'. Half day classes for the folks who drive trucks around, prune trees, grow things in our greenhouse.
A few high end trainings sessions for the remainder.
In total we trained 55 users over the course of four days, leaving Friday for in depth training sessions that were optional.
Mandatory Training. Excellent idea. We're paying to have someone come on site. To get the greatest value out of the training we need to insist that employees attend.
Expectations: Don't expect the 'troubled trainees' to learn anything more than the basics...
Training got them up to speed, but can't help them remember what a style is, or to use tables instead of spaces to line up text.
We spent a lot of money to get the pricey 'corporate' version of Office 2007, because it includes the "administrative" install feature that Office 97 included at no charge in the OEM release of the software. The customization utility is buggy and the results are pretty messy. The customization utility crashes when selecting certain settings.
(Save frequently!) And then the transforms don't seem to take effect anyway.
Were I to do this again, I might go with shrinkwrap or OEM software.
We couldn't seriously consider Software Assurance (aka highway robbery).
The savings could easily pay for a KBOX to do the roll-out...
At the end of the project, I discovered that the Office 2003 Resource Kit has a tool that properly removes Office 97. Office 97 never seems to uninstall cleanly otherwise.
We have many buggy machines as a result of incomplete removal of Office 97.
Removing Office '97 when the installer can't find the source...
Also, in case you're trying to update the installation source for an administrative install of Office 97 - so you can run the uninstall later once the administrative share has changed location... Look for a file ending in ".STM" on the C drive, there's a line in there that seems to do the trick.