Archive for the 'Thoughts' Category

Oct 06 2010

Hello Again world!

Published by under Thoughts

Well, after a few weeks of being down I’ve finally gotten my blog back up (although the website isn’t back up yet).  I’ve moved the site over to BlueHost since I got tired of PEPCO power outages taking my network down.  All in all I have to say that I do like BlueHost – it just takes a bit of getting used to and to letting some control go.

I still have a few things to fix (restoring screenshots to certain posts, restoring plugins to WordPress, etc) but I’ll get those ironed out over the next couple of weeks.

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Mar 05 2009

Favorite Net Things

Published by under Thoughts

I stumbled across this on YouTube and remembered when I first heard this back around 2000. It’s a funny and enjoyable little take on the “Favorite things” from the Sound of Music.

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Feb 06 2009

Nerd, Geek or Dork test

Published by under Thoughts

OkCupid.com has a Nerd, Geek or Dork test. I came out as: 87% Nerd, 70% Geek, 52% Dork – which translates to being an “Outcast Genius” according to them:

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in all three, earning you the title of: Outcast Genius.

Outcast geniuses usually are bright enough to understand what society wants of them, and they just don’t care! They are highly intelligent and passionate about the things they know are *truly* important in the world. Typically, this does not include sports, cars or make-up, but it can on occassion (and if it does then they know more than all of their friends combined in that subject).

Outcast geniuses can be very lonely, due to their being outcast from most normal groups and too smart for the room among many other types of dorks and geeks, but they can also be the types to eventually rule the world, ala Bill Gates, the prototypical Outcast Genius.

Congratulations!

That’s good to know since I do work for Microsoft.

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Jan 01 2009

Return of the Zune

Published by under Thoughts

Well, last night Microsoft released it’s analysis of the bug that brought 30GB Zune’s to a standstill. The bug, as it turns out, is in a third party clock driver for the Zune. The solution — don’t turn your 30GB Zune on the last day of a leap year (yes, this bug will come back in 4 years if we don’t fix it — which we will but it may take some time). If you have turned on your Zune and it’s locked up then let the battery drain completely before recharging it in the morning. There’s more information on the FAQ over at the zune.net site

I woke up this morning, plugged the 30GB Zune in to the AC charger in the wall to recharge, went and took a shower and by the time I was ready to take the dog for a walk this morning it had recharged and booted up fully. So, I was able to enjoy the morning walk with the dog while listening to NPR. Sweet.

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Jan 01 2009

Another Zune Bites the Dust!

Published by under Thoughts

Well this morning started on a sour note…I put the leash on the dog, picked up the pooper scooper and grabbed a travel mug of coffee. I was all ready to head out the door to take the dog for his morning walk. I picked up my 30GB Zune (Microsoft now calls it the Zune 30 but for me it’s always the original Zune). I pressed the on right button to turn it on, watched the Zune start booting and put it in my jacket pocket. About halfway up the street I decided to listen to NPR while walking the dog. I took the Zune out of my pocket and looked at it. It was still stuck on the boot screen with the progress bar almost all the way to the right. Another Zune bites the dust…or did it?

When I returned home I just left it alone and let it drain the battery. I figured that since we (yes, I work for Microsoft — although not in the Zune product group) didn’t include a hard reset button or a way to remove the battery that the only thing I can do to reboot it was to try and do the restore sequence or let the battery drain. I tried the restore sequence first…no joy there. So I left it alone and let the battery drain. Once the battery was drained I plugged it in and let it charge for a little bit and then tried to restart it. Guess what? It didn’t work.

So, I think, should I take it apart and unplug the battery? It’s out of warranty…what could I lose? I’ve already lost my 8GB Zune (little did I know that when it died it had 3 days left on it’s warranty and I could have had it fixed for nothing…grrrrr) so… Before going down that route I decided I’d e-mail the internal Zune discussion list within Microsoft. Lo’ and behold I got an almost immediate reply that this is a problem being faced by all Zune 30GB owners and is considered a major issue (good thing I didn’t get the tools out yet). So, I decide to just get to work and keep an eye on the Zune discussion list.

Now I see that not only has MSN picked up on this story, but also CNN as well. This is not looking good as far as publicity. The good news is that I do know that the Zune team is hard at work identifying the problem and providing a solution. What that is I don’t know and even if I did I couldn’t say at this time. I’m very hopeful as I love this thing (good thing I also have a Zune 80 as a backup…but you never really forget your first Zune 🙂 ).

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Dec 29 2008

The world is crazy!

Published by under Israel,Opinion,Thoughts

Israel has been striking back at Hamas institutions in the Gaza strip in retaliation for continual rocket fire on Israeli communities that border the Gaza strip. And yet in Europe there are loud and vociferous protests against Isreal. It wasn’t Israel that started this…Hamas is directly to blame for this exchange and yet the rest of the world immediately goes and condemns Israel. Why?

I mean, I expect the Arab street to rally behind the Gazans and Hamas as they see this is “naked Israeli agression” and the Muslim religious leaders are calling for vengence against Israel and Israeli targets worldwide, but what I can’t understand is how the world can say that it’s ok for rockets to fall, day-in and day-out, on Israeli communities — where people live their daily lives in terror — and when Israel tries to put an end to these attacks that it is the aggressor. Typically the words thrown out by the left wing groups are that Israel is committing “crimes against humanity” and that it’s violating International law. But let’s look at the law.

First off, the shelling of Israeli civilian population centers near Gaza has been going on for well over 8 years. Hamas, a terrorist organization, started the latest round of their aggression through the initial use of armed force against Israeli civilians and non-combatant Jews once the “truce” ended in November. This is a clear violation of the United Nations charter and is evidence of agression which, by International Law, is defined as the “the most serious and dangerous form of illegal use of force” (UN Resolution 3314 (XXIX). Definition of Aggression). The UN further demands that states combat the use of terrorism and reaffirm “unequivocal condemnation of all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, in all their forms and manifestations, wherever and by whomever committed.” (UNSC resolutions 1269, 1368,1373, 1377).

Israel’s response is further supported by statements made by the former President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Stephen Schwebel, who noted that

[i]n the case of conduct adopted for punitive purposes…it is self-evident that the punitive action and the wrong should be commensurate with each other, but in the case of action taken for the specific purpose of halting and repelling an armed attack (emphasis added), this does not mean that the action should be more or less commensurate with the attack. Its lawfulness cannot be measured except by its capacity for achieving the desired result.

(Schwebel, Judge Stephen, Nicaragua vs. U.S., 1986 I.C.J. 14, 259 (June 27), quoted in “Draft Articles on State Responsibility – Comments of the Government of the United States of America”, U.S. State Department, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/28993.pdf, March 1, 2001)

Israel is responding to continuous provocation by Hamas from Gaza and it is responding appropriately in order to end the rocket attacks of the past 8 years. It never ceases to amaze me that the European public is so willing to cry out in outrage over the fact that Israel is doing the very thing that they would demand if it was, say, Russia lobbing missles over it’s border into Europe. When will the world see that the Palestinian Arabs (and Arabs elsewhere in the region) are not interested in a true and just peace with Isreal? They are only interested in the eradication of Israel and probably Jews worldwide!

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Dec 25 2008

The shame of Bernie Madoff

Published by under Judaism,Opinion,Thoughts

As a Jew (and a Modern Orthodox Jew at that) I am deeply saddened and shamed by Bernie Madoff. Of course I realize that what he did was not my fault. But what I am particularly disgusted and ashamed of was who he stole money from. Of course stealing money in his Ponzi scheme was bad enough (and $50 billion dollars at that!) but what makes it that much more egregious is that he stole it from charities and other organizations that rely on their endowments and investments to help fund their work to help other people. He’s sort of a perverted Robin Hood — he stole from everyone to spend on…?

I recently read a good letter from Rabbi Marc Gellman in the latest issue of Newsweek. Rabbi Gellman does an excellent job in summing up the betrayal that Bernie Madoff has wreaked everyone. However, what I really feel he quantified best was the damage that Mr. Madoff has done to Jews everywhere. As Rabbi Gellman notes

You are responsible for reviving the “Jew game.” I heard of the Jew game from a boy who became a man last Saturday. I asked him once if he had ever experienced anti-Semitism in school. That is when he looked at the floor and told me about the Jew game. The game, played by anti-Semitic kids in school, was one in which they would hide around a corner, throw a quarter down the hall, and then when somebody picked up the quarter, they’d run at the person, shouting, “You’re the Jew!”

You did not cause the anti-Semitic insults about Jews and money, but you caused them to be revived.

(Gellman, Marc, “A Letter To Madoff,” Newsweek, December 23, 2008 )

Yes, Mr. Madoff…you have revived not just anti-semitic insults but you, personally, have revived the ancient bigotry and accusations that Jews are untrustworthy and greedy (Gellman, Marc, “A Letter To Madoff,” Newsweek, December 23, 2008 )…you have given new life to the slur “dirty Jew” that flows from the mouths of the bigots and hate-mongers who despise us. You, Sir, have done this single-handedly. The Aryan Nation couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present than you and you will assuredly be cursed for what you have done.

I am reminded of a story a friend of mine told me one time about a Professor at Yeshiva University who taught accounting. It seems that some time after he taught a particular class a few of his students were arrested for embezzlement. When asked why they did it (especially since they studied at Yeshiva University) they said that they were never told not to steal. So, in response, this professor would make sure that every semester he would tell his students “oh, by the way, don’t steal!” Now, as to how accurate this story is, I cannot say but it seems to sum Bernie Madoff pretty well. “Do not steal” is one of the Ten Commandments given to us at Mt. Sinai…it’s not like this was some obscure commandment…this was one of the Ten that were on the tablets Moses brought down! How could you not know this one Bernie?

I find it interesting that Yeshiva University professors are now trying to find a lesson in what Bernie Madoff has done. In a New York Times article is a story of how the students of Yeshiva University struggle to find lessons in this and to understand the short and long term implications for the Jewish community. We are all sullied by the actions of this man and many within our own communities and our own institutions were impacted by the thievery of Mr. Madoff…some will never recover.

I am ashamed of Mr. Madoff…but he doesn’t represent Jews worldwide. What he has done, though, has awakened and reinforced the old stereotypes that we had hoped would die away with the Nazis and the communists. For that, Bernie, there has to be a special place in Hell for you. May your name be blotted out from memory.

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Dec 22 2008

And what did you do with that money?

A recent op-ed by Frank Rich of the New York Times made me do a little digging this morning into just where our taxpayer money being used to bailout institutions like Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs (to name a few) is going. Unfortunately the picture is not looking too good at the moment.

It seems that along with throwing $700 billion of taxpayer money (Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asked for the other half of the $700 billion to be released back on Friday, December 19th after originally indicating that he would leave it available for the incoming administration) at these institutions the government (that would be both the current administration and Congress) has failed to conduct the appropriate oversight necessary to ensure that this money was not being used to pay for bonuses and other compensation. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report, GAO-09-161 detailing a lack of specific, enforceable methods of ensuring that the money given to banks is used according to the original intent of the Toxic Asset Relief Program (TARP). Specificially, the GAO report notes

We spoke with representatives of the eight large institutions that initially received funds under CPP [Capital Purchase Program — clarification added, ID], and they told us that their institutions intended to use the funds in a manner consistent with the goals of CPP. Generally, the institutions stated that CPP capital would not be viewed any differently from their other capital—that is, the additional capital would be used to strengthen their capital bases, make business investments and acquisitions, and lend to individuals and businesses. With the exception of two institutions, institution officials noted that money is fungible and that they did not intend to track or report CPP capital separately.

(Government Accountablility Office, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM Additional Actions Needed to Better Ensure Integrity, Accountability, and Transparency, December 2008, p. 25)

By the way, the definition of the word “fungible” is interchangeable (see dictionary.com). As amazing as it may seem the indications are that the money which the U.S. taxpayer has given these institutions to help right themselves after nearly collapsing last September/October can well be used to pay bonuses to managers and executives. How is this possible? Weren’t we assured that this would not happen?

As originally written the bailout bill would have provided for limitations to the compensation given to Wall Street executives who took money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and provided a framework for reviewing and penalizing those institutions that broke the rules in the program. It seems, however, that as the bailout bill was winding its way through the White House a small, one-sentence change was made to the wording in the bill by the Bush administration. According to the Washington Post

The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.

(Paley, Amit R., “Executive Pay Limits May Prove Toothless,” The Washington Post, December 15, 2008 )

Now it appears that this little change has provided a huge loophole. Barely a month after the TARP was put in place Treasury Secretary Paulson indicated that the Treasure would not be using the TARP money to buy the toxic assets off the balance sheets of the banks but rather would invest the money in the banks directly. This about face has left the issue of oversight as to how the money is used in a bit of a limbo. As the GAO report notes

it is unclear whether Treasury plans to leverage bank regulators, which in the case of the largest institutions have bank examiners on site, to conduct any oversight or monitoring related to CPP requirements. However, unless Treasury does additional monitoring and regular reporting, Treasury’s ability to help ensure an appropriate level of accountability and transparency will be limited.(emphasis added)

(Government Accountablility Office, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM Additional Actions Needed to Better Ensure Integrity, Accountability, and Transparency, December 2008, pp. 25-26)

Without transparency there will be no way to know how these banks are using this money and whether it is being used appropriately or not. As the GAO report notes the initial eight institutions that took the CPP money intended to use the funds in “a manner consistent with the goals of CPP” (Government Accountablility Office, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM Additional Actions Needed to Better Ensure Integrity, Accountability, and Transparency, December 2008, pp. 25). In other words, at this point we are taking them at their word that they’re doing the right thing. However, when asked many of these institutions remain quiet about the specifics of where the money is going (Herman, Charles, Dan Arnall, Lauren Pearle, Zunaira Zaki, “Morgan Stanley Is One Bank That Cites a Loan From TARP Money,” ABC News, December 17 2008 ). It appears that the American taxpayer could well be taken to the cleaners once again. Paul Krugman of the New York Times had it write…it is truly a “Madoff Economy.”

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Dec 22 2008

Great Hannukah Video on YouTube

Published by under Judaism,Thoughts

A friend of mine pointed me to the following YouTube video…very funny…and very reminiscent of the JibJab videos.

Enjoy!

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Dec 12 2008

There's just something wrong with this statement

Published by under Economy,Thoughts

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the bill’s collapse “a loss for the country,” adding: “I dread looking at Wall Street tomorrow. It’s not going to be a pleasant sight.”

(“Auto industry bailout plan dies in the Senate,” MSNBC, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28166218, December 12, 2008 )

Am I wrong to wonder why Harry Reid — a Democrat and one of the more liberal ones at that — is dreading having to look at Wall Street today? Ok…I understand what he really means — he knows that Wall Street will take a dive today (500, 600, 700 points?) because of the failure of the Senate to pass the Auto Industry bailout bill. But what about the people on Main Street? I would think that as a Senator (well, as a legislator in general) he should be more concerned about having to look people out on Main Street in the eye rather than worry about how far Wall Street is going to plunge.

I for one am not particularly in favor of the auto bailout — the “Big 3” got themselves into this mess and now they want a handout to get out. I understand that if GM and Chrysler collapse (or, more likely, go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy) then the impact on the economy will be severe and, who knows, may well set us up for another Depression similar to the one of the 1930s. But I also realize we cannot continue to prop up these companies if they won’t make drastic reforms to become more competitive in the global marketplace.

I see the role of the government in this situation as providing a “soft cushion” to an otherwise hard landing. The government should help facilitate either the merger GM and Chrysler with another company or they should provide some assistance in an effort that will result in these two automakers (and possibly Ford as well) becoming smaller, more agile and producing higher quality vehicles at lower cost. This assistance should be done with the idea that, in the long run, this will help Main Street America and that is good for Wall Street.

If the Big 3 want to survive this mess they’re going to have to do some major restructuring internally. We’re not talking about a surgical cut here or there but rather some amputations and they will need to start with executive management and go all the way down. On the flip side, the UAW needs to also make concessions. Their choice is simple — stick to the negotiated contract terms and not yield at all or make concessions that will help the companies weather this storm. I realize that Republicans tend to claim that UAW members make $73 per hour but there’s more to this story than just a number. Well, yes that is the bottom number, however, a good breakdown of that number shows that there’s more to it than that:

  • $40 per hour is cash (wages/overtime/vacation pay)
  • $15 per hour is health insurance/pension related
  • $15 per hour is retiree benefits and represents fixed costs

So in reality the UAW workers are making $55 per hour (compared to the average $45 per hour of the non-unionized workers at the Japanese auto plants) (Leonhardt, David, “$73 an hour: adding it up“, The New York Times, December 9, 2008 ). The UAW fought hard to get the wages and benefits that it has in this current contract. What the UAW now needs to realize is that they must make concessions soon if they want to see Ford, GM, and Chrysler survive this economic crisis (in one form or another) — otherwise they might all be left holding the paper of their contract while standing outside of the shuttered plants.

Both sides must come to an agreement on deep, long-lasting and substantive changes if they are to survive. But Harry Reid should be more concerned about seeing the impact on Main Street rather than on Wall Street by the failure of the Senate to help provide soft landing to these companies.

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