Friday, September 29, 2006

Demand Credit-Freeze Rights!

Are you aware that 22 states in this "United" States of America have laws that offer a much greater level of protection from credit identity-theft scams for their citizens than the other 28 states do? Yes, if you happen to be lucky enough to live in California or one of the other 21 states with consumer-friendly legislation that allows you to "freeze" your credit files at the major credit-authorization/scoring firms (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax), you have an extra layer of protection against the rampant identity-theft scams than persons in other States.

But, perhaps not for long! Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-OH), is trying his darndest at a Federal level not to offer this extra protection to all of us, but instead to remove that extra layer of protection certain States offer. He has introduced legislation that, if enacted, would reverse the efforts of over 22 State Attorney Generals who have sided with consumers in the battle against the massive problem of identity theft.

In congressman LaTourette’s bill, consumers would only be allowed to freeze access to their credit information if they had filed a police report indicating they had already become an identity theft victim. That's right, he wants to make a Federal law that says only after being victimized could you freeze access to your credit, and not before. Why lock your door -- let someone steal everything and then lock it It sounds insane because it is insane!
And what the heck are the banks getting out of your deal anyhow? Is obviously-fake / stolen-credit business still "OK" to banks, just so they can show extra "business" on their bottom lines or what? I can't understand this one bit -- it SEEMS so insane that banks would want this law either (perhaps someone can explain this to me).

Anyone with even half a brain can see the obvious ignorance and insanity of such lock-the-door-after-theft-occurs logic. Oh, but wait, we forgot the powerful lobby group of the American Banker’s Association - the most vocal supporter of LaTourette’s bill! Ignore what every average citizen wants... just do what the lobby (read: money) wants. This kind of thing is a sick abuse of power, and nothing short of the typical audacity of our elected leaders that supposedly work for "us, the people", but seem to constantly ignore the overwhelming voice of the populace in favor of the voice of power and money exhibited by lobbyists in our nation's capital. This blatant disregard of our rights to information security and protection must be dealt with. Voice your opinion, and if/when the opportunity arises, vote this turncoat out of office! (hopefully the next elected "representative of the people" will actually listen to the people!).

You know what Mr. LaTourette: if your bill becomes law, and I am not able to freeze my credit information when I otherwise would, and someone takes advantage of your open-credit-door policy for crooks, I and everyone else affected by your obvious disregard of our privacy wishes may just ban together and sue you for neglecting your fiduciary responsibility to uphold the will of the people. Something needs to change: start listening to the people at large, and not just the lobbyists. Only an idiot could argue that your approach to "privacy" is at all effective in identity and credit-theft protections.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Identifying mega-consumers by their garbage volume

I am pretty much the "anti-consumer"; the type of person most companies should not even try wasting time selling to or advertising to. I generally do not find myself wanting very many things, no matter how much advertisers push them on TV or elsewhere (in fact, that usually just makes me want them less). And, I really try to minimize my use of anything that is a "consumable", since by nature it implies repeatedly purchasing the same items over and over (ah yes, the holy-grail for any company is the "consumable"). And, what I noticed is that this lack of purchasing is readily apparent in my curbside waste (or lack thereof).

When I look up and down our street on trash day, or notice trash out in other areas I drive through, I am absolutely astonished by the sheer volume of trash people produce. (on a side note, which I will later blog about, I am even more upset by how little is recycled!). The only way people can produce the amount of waste I witness is by being mega-consumers in my opinion. And, there is a pattern of regularity to the waste-stream I witness around me.

I dare not mention which neighbors produce what level of trash weekly (though it is darn tempting), but I find it amazing how our 3-person household consistently puts out a single bag of trash per week, and yet multiple 2-person households near us will have 2 large garbage cans plus a half-dozen garbage bags out every darn week. And, worse yet, there are a few within a block or two where it is nearly always a dozen or more swollen bags of trash! Wow! What do they do to fill those things!?

I am convinced that there is a direct correlation between people's average weekly trash volume and their overall consumption level (i.e., the more the consumption, the closer they are to the "mega-consumer" level). Aside from being a certain indicator of waste produced (which just magically disappears every week with little concern as to where it ultimately ends up), it just has to tie to the consumption of so many throw-away type products.

The final step in the implications trail, from my viewpoint, is that this trash volume must also serve as a rather reasonable indication of outbound cash-flow (the constant sucking-sound of money being spent on products). No wonder the savings rate is zero (or negative) in this country -- much of the money earned is quite literally ending up in the garbage.

That's my initial take on this. I could rant for a while on this blog about the financial and economic and environmental aspects of all this, but I will save the for a future blog entry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bank Terms that Exploit Consumers

I just finished going through a term-deposit account setup process with a bank, whose name will go unmentioned, where I could not believe the "agreement" that I had to accept in order to deposit funds with this bank. A term-deposit account is basically a CD, whereby you agree to lend the bank your money for a particular term (e.g., 12 months) and in return they agree to give you back your funds at the end of that term, along with an agreed amount of interest for having borrowed your money for that period.

Rather simple concept. But, it seems the bank has lost site of who is important in this deal. The term deposit agreement, which I found utterly detestable, has a passage in it that simply states that in the event the bank goes under, that you (i.e., the depositor, the true creditor of the bank) take the absolute last-seat when it comes to making any claims against the assets of the bank. So, who comes first? Well, that would be others who have much larger interests in the bank than the lowly individual who was nice enough to deposit month with the bank. This group of entities that is more privileged to your money than you yourself are included: other creditors of the bank (i.e., other banks, corporate-bond holders, and so on). Gotta love it!

So, if the bank goes under because some high level managers get their fingers too deep into the corporate honey pot through excess expenses like a private plane too many, over compensation gone crazy, acquisitions that go awry, and many other issues, you the depositor are just screwed since you don't have the influence necessary (as an individual depositor) to demand that you have equal rights to any assets that remain in the event a bank goes under. Instead, other banks that should very well have professionals on staff to evaluate credit issues and the likes prior to even loaning money to your bank will have more rights to your money than you do. And, do not forget those guaranteed golden-parachutes for high ranking company officers that would certainly still be OK'd by any bankruptcy judge, giving the group that led the bank into default more right to your money than you also.

To me, this is just one of many many examples of how corporations and large influential entities like wall street investment houses and banks in general have engineered contracts to best protect their money. So what if the individual term-depositor loses their money? This just seems so utterly backwards to me. And, it could change, but it would take organized protest from all depositors to accomplish -- but, where would anyone deposit money while they protest?? Aha! There is the problem. Since, all banks implement the same basic rules, you can not protest one by moving elsewhere since it is the same everywhere.

In the mean time, I guess we lowly customers of the bank are just to hope they do not go under for any reason.

And, I picked on just banks today. There are many more cases of this type of insane consumer agreement that you must "agree" to in order to use a given service, when companies know you have no option or power to negotiate any of the terms of the agreement due to the fact that wherever you go, the rules are going to be roughly the same.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why don't PCs have built in battery backup?

I poked around the web looking for a PC (not a notebook) case or power supply that comes with its own "built in UPS" or "built in batter backup" of sorts. I own various UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) devices, and I find myself looking at them thinking - why?

Yes, I know the obvious reasons why you should use an UPS (in case power goes out, or a surge or brownout occurs), but the "why" that I asked myself was why don't the PCs include a *small* battery unit internally to at least handle a few minutes of uptime and protect against surges/brownouts without the need for an external device sitting there taking up floor space. It seems to me it would be much more efficient if a rechargeable batter was placed inline with the PC's power-supply (on the outgoing, DC side of things) where if AC power was dropped, it would provide the necessary 12V and 5v (or whatever other low voltage requirements) power to the computer. In addition, a built-in unit like that could easily interact with the motherboard and "inform" the computer (and/or OS) that A/C power was compromised.

With today's Lithium-Ion batteries (like notebooks use) the battery unit could be quite small and easily power the computer for a while. Or, even less expensive lead-acid batteries (like UPS's mainly use) could be incorporated.

I'd also go as far as to say that PC manufacturers could then get together with external component makers (like Flat-Panel LCD makers), to work on a "standard" for low-voltage external device connection that could also make short-term use of the PC's proposed internal battery. Have you ever noticed all those AC-to-DC adapters for your LCDs, some external hard-drives and CD/DVD-ROMS, etc? Seems ridiculous to me. I know that USB allows for some very low-current connections, but there is probably a good case to be made for higher-powered external devices to have a way to plug into my (theoretical) PC with built-in-backup-power.

The main thing would be to just have enough time for the system to perform an orderly shutdown if needed. I think there have been manufacturers of the PC power supply that I envision, though I could not find such a thing on the web.

Just thinking as I write my technology blog entries again, and hoping for improvements in the PC/computer world.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tons of Linux and Open Source Software News!

This is shaping up to be a very busy week in the world of Linux and Open Source Software!

Here are some of the significant software updates and upgrades with recent announcements:
  • Subversion - upgraded to version 1.4. Adds some significant optimization improvements and other enhancements.
  • KDE (K Destop Environment) for Linux - The first development snapshot of KDE 4, codenamed Krash, has been released and packages are available for Kubuntu Edgy already. This version of KDE is supposed to implement their "Plasma" GUI and widgets / tools, which are to demonstrate some wonderful graphics capabilities under Linux, and much more.
  • a major new version of GParted LiveCD was released last week. The most exciting thing is how the live-CD is now based on GParted 0.3 (disk partitioner) that just added full support for moving partitions! This FREE partitioning utility makes it possible to move all supported file systems (even NTFS) around as you wish on your disks, even to the beginning of a hard drive. How cool is that?!
  • Debian GNU/Linux 4.0, codename "etch" is really coming along. Some of the things that I have been waiting for a long time from Linux are now to be included in the base distribution. Like, a pre-configured scroll wheel on a USB mouse, instant recognition of external USB drives and mounting thereof, and more. I think these things will put Linux distros based on Debian at a level most average home users could handle. And, it is FREE.
  • OpenSuse 10.2 is soon moving out of Alpha. This is a distribution I really like for my desktop use, especially because of how easy it connects to my Windows Domain network, and works wonderfully with my ATI and NVidia graphics cards.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gluten Free Blog - dedicated celiac blog created

Since I had so many topics going on this main blog of mine (everything from finance to technology to investing, to Celiac / Wheat-Free / Gluten-Free stuff) I created another blog where I will put (most) of the Gluten Free Blog items.

Here's a direct link to my new Gluten Free Blog for anyone looking for the most up to date news and discussion about topics of concern to the GF / Celiac Disease (Sprue) / Gluten Intolerant / and Wheat Allergic crowd.

I will try to place those gluten-free blog items I consider to be "crossover items" here in my primary blog, like when I discuss stock plays like Whole Foods because of their embrace of the whole Gluten Free foods thing in their stores. (I do like Whole Foods stock for a variety of reasons, GF foods just being one. They also have a great corporate culture and unique management compensation structure that should make for a company that is not abusing stock options and executive compensation - more to come on this).

I was reading recently how the gluten free market has grown from something like $200 million to $700 million just in the past 5 years, and it is expected to keep up something like a 25+% annual compound growth rate for quite a while as GF / celiac awareness rises. Thus, Celiac / GF discussions are bound to enter into both my financial / investing discussion as well as my gluten free blog articles.

Well, either way, I am still committed to my gluten free blog for celiacs; I have just tried to organize my various blog items in a way that make more sense for all my readers. Hope it works out best for everyone. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

VMware for Apple Intel Mac OS-X coming!

VMware for Apple OSX has been announced! This is great news for anyone that has an Intel-based Apple Mac machine that wants to run Apple OS-X as their host operating system and still have the ability to run other operating system like Microsoft Windows, Linux, Netware, Solaris, and any other supported OS's.

I have been contemplating the Mac OS-X platform for sometime, but I need Windows for some of my software development activities (Borland Delphi in particular, and MS SQL Server enterprise manager). This opens a new world of possibility to me. I have had the ability to run Windows under Linux already (using VMware Workstation and/or Player products), but the Apple system prospects were not so clear. I didn't want an Apple just to "play" with it, though I'd consider it much more with the ability to run VMware on it.

So, the product announcement says that beta versions will be out later this year. I'll keep an eye on it, and see what OS-X 10.5 has to offer as well. The only detractor left is the whole pricing of Apple boxes (a premium over commoditized PCs to say the least).

What I still did not notice (perhaps I am just not seeing it anywhere) is the ability to do the reverse -- run OS-X virtual machine on my PC! Now, THAT would entice me into buying a copy of OS-X 10.5 as soon as it was available - just for kicks.

Ford Motors CEO replacement - good or not?

From the world of finance and investing: Ford Motor companies has chosen Alan Mulally to replace Bill Ford Jr. as CEO of the ailing automaker. Mulally is a former senior executive from Boeing Co. (Boeing being the large airplane manufacturer).

Well, that all sounds just wonderful -- at least to all the "analysts" at major banks and brokerage houses, who were instantly jumping on the bandwagon and upping their ratings on Ford stock (typically from "sell" to "hold"). They all expect some sort of miracle perhaps. I personally do not see the fit with Mulally. Sure, he has seen similar competitive issues, been through similar restructuring efforts, and all sorts of mumbo jumbo; but, then again who at this level of senior management wouldn't have?? And, this guy has been with Boeing for 37 years. I would hope he has seen some significant challenges and worked through them.

My primary reason for questioning this move is simply that I see marketing airplanes to an very limited audience (airlines, military) where there are but a handful of models to be sold and where there are as few as 100's of airplanes sold per year for the industry, is a completely different ball game than marketing a commoditized retail product like an automobile. And, how about styling? Colors? Amenities? Sure, airplanes have some variation in amenities, but it is not the person sitting in the seats that goes to Boeing and says "I want a TV and a place to plug my laptop in" - it is the airlines. What I am getting at is that automobile marketing, especially successful marketing, is entirely a function of getting the consumer to buy into your product. There is an entirely new set of criteria at play that gets a consumer excited about your cars then there is about an airline or the military wanting to buy a few multi-million-dollar planes.

So, I am doubtful of the depth of synergies that Mulally will bring to the table at Ford. From the few quotes I have seen, I just see yet another senior manager spouting the usual buzz phrases and things like "they have a great management team" and so forth. If the management team is so great, why is Ford on the edge of bankruptcy? A CNBC interview had him also saying his aim is to build "a portfolio of automobiles that is world class and customers really want to have," which to me just sounds like a darned obvious thing any CEO of an auto company should want to do.

In the end, I would have been more excited to hear that Bill Ford Jr. chose someone from a successful consumer goods company who had shown they could take market share from their competition with goods that were innovative, well designed, and beautifully styled. And, someone that really could show return on investment for marketing campaign dollars would have been wonderful too - since I question the efficacy and value of nearly all marketing and advertising campaigns (especially all these lame automotive commercials on TV that will show you 29 seconds of nothing to do with the car, and one second of the car itself, in a 30-second spot)... I'm only sure the marketing firms are great at marketing one thing: themselves, since how else would auto companies buy into this approach!

Show me the great cars you have (Mr. Mulally)! That is what it is going to come down to (oh, that and overcoming the prevailing opinion that your products and company have gone down the toilet, so why should anyone even consider buying from you when your firm and products are in such lousy shape?) Show me that you have more than a "great management team" or whatever -- I am the consumer, I do not care about your management team, I care about your vehicles, their prices, their gas mileage, features, styling, etc. And, until you make the consumers happy and meet their needs better than your competition, Wall Street is not going to get much out of you either. Good luck.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Windows Vista versions and pricing announced

For any of you that are eagerly awaiting Microsoft's next generation operating system, and follow-on to Windows XP, Microsoft Vista Release Candidate 1 (RC1) is out, and Microsoft just announced pricing for the myriad of versions:

All those versions to keep track of! And, I thought it was complicated explaining the difference between the "home" and "professional" (oh, and "media center") versions of Windows XP to people. Now I am going to have to study a textbook of features and differences to understand what all these versions offer people! Arghhh!

I think Microsoft is moving down the wrong direction with all these versions. Confusion is certain to set in, and they may well dilute the Vista brand in general. One of my businesses is a technology consulting and software firm, and I am already dreading all the calls from clients wanting me to explain what all these Vista differences are, and worse yet, figuring out whether their machines will be able to run the various versions, and so on.

This may well be a good time to look at Apple OS-X 10.5!
I need to do some playing around with the Vista Beta first I guess, but I personally see no compelling reason to upgrade from Windows XP at the moment. And, I am quite happy with Suse Linux 10.1 for many of my daily activities. I have a feeling others are going to be hard-pressed to upgrade as well.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Super capacity Blu-ray DVD - 200GB!

WOW! 200GB on a single DVD!
I just read the release news about the 200GB Blu-Ray DVD here.

TDK is the company that has purportedly pulled this off, demonstrating the scalability of the Blu-ray DVD format. Sure sounds like it has potential. They claim we could see some of these high-capacity discs in the next few months (I am not holding my breath, since they will likely cost a ton even if they do make it out in this timeframe - not to mention the burner costs).

Either way, 200GB on a single DVD is one awesome feat, considering I am still using single-layer 4.7GB DVD's for backing up files in a hurry. That used to sound like a large amount of storage to me, until I started backing up my absolutely massive PDFs from my upcoming recipe book (with all the high-resolution color photos, the PDF is 3.5GB for a 240 page book!) Oh, I could sure use that new TDK device :)

It quite seriously could offer an awesome backup solution compared to the option of Tape devices like Ultrium, LTO, Super AIT, Super DLT, and other high-capacity formats. I would love to get a 300GB SDLT or AIT, etc., but the drives are a few thousand apiece, and the tapes can easily run $80-100 each. So, if this new Blu-ray hits the streets at a price point that is competitive, I may give it a go. Time will tell.