Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 27th, 2012

Nice dinner, feeling better

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I’ve been feeling a little down, but tonight feeling better. I bought a small (one-glass) bottle of sake and a small fillet of salmon. I sautéed some minced onion, Serrano pepper (one pepper), 3 cloves of garlic, about 1/4 cup celery in olive oil with some saffron threads (to be clear: all those were minced) for a while, then removed them from the (small, non-stick) skillet and added the salmon, skin side down. I put the veg back in on either side of salmon and over low heat cooked the salmon, covered, for 5 minute, turned it over and covered it again for 5 more minutes, then ate it with the sake: very nice. A bowl of grub provided the veg and starch. And I’m watching a movie.

Made fairly good progress through LastPass. Simply using it a lot helps to understand it. I will have a little cleaning up to do when I get through, but I’m now using it correctly without really understanding why: the old adaptive unconscious at work. The same thing happened when I started learning Forth (a very nifty programming language): I initially encountered all sorts of weird and difficult-to-understand errors, but then as I kept using it, those errors stopped happening, and I never (consciously) knew what was causing them: they just went away as I became more experienced—i.e., as my adaptive unconscious absorbed the lessons from what I was doing. The same sort of thing seems to be happening with Last Pass. Still, it’s a damned slow process, and I advise one not to set up too many Last Pass accounts, and when one is set up, to check it immediately to be sure that the URL it goes to is, for example, the actual log-in URL and not something in the shopping-cart area.

Nice to end the week feeling somewhat more upbeat.

I’ve decided what to do with the shaving soap surprise boxes. I’ll pack each box with a good mix of shaving stuff and seal the box, figure out a reasonable (i.e., heavily discounted) price for the boxes, and put them up for purchase. If someone orders a box, I take the box from the top of the stack and ship it, without really knowing what’s inside. — I just had a thought: perhaps a few boxes might include a razor (though not an expensive razor): like a Cracker Jack prize. It becomes the luck of the draw. You buy the box, and you might get a prize: all boxes go for the same price, which I’ll figure out when I see how many items the medium flat-rate boxes will hold. I’m sort of intrigued by the idea now: a true surprise box.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2012 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Shaving

Evidence-based economics

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The seeming unimportance of performance in determining rewards that I referred to in an earlier post today (and also in the post in which Goldman Sachs asserts that their performance, in giving advice that cost a couple everything, to the tune of of $586 million, was really excellent) seems to infect also economics, in which the total failure of an approach seems almost irrelevant to those advocating the approach. Paul Krugman has more in the NY Times today:

For years, allegedly serious people have been issuing dire warnings about the consequences of large budget deficits — deficits that are overwhelmingly the result of our ongoing economic crisis. In May 2009, Niall Ferguson of Harvard declared that the “tidal wave of debt issuance” would cause U.S. interest rates to soar. In March 2011, Erskine Bowles, the co-chairman of President Obama’s ill-fated deficit commission, warned that unless action was taken on the deficit soon, “the markets will devastate us,” probably within two years. And so on.

Well, I guess Mr. Bowles has a few months left. But a funny thing happened on the way to the predicted fiscal crisis: instead of soaring, U.S. borrowing costs have fallen to their lowest level in the nation’s history. And it’s not just America. At this point, every advanced country that borrows in its own currency is able to borrow very cheaply.

The failure of deficits to produce the predicted rise in interest rates is telling us something important about the nature of our economic troubles (and the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the self-appointed guardians of our fiscal virtue). Before I get there, however, let’s talk about those low, low borrowing costs — so low that, in some cases, investors are actually paying governments to hold their money.

For the most part, this is happening with “inflation-protected securities” — bonds whose future repayments are linked to consumer prices so that investors need not fear that their investment will be eroded by inflation. Even with this protection, investors used to demand substantial additional payment. Before the crisis, U.S. 10-year inflation-protected bonds generally paid around 2 percent. Recently, however, the rate on those bonds has been minus-0.6 percent. Investors are willing to pay more to buy these bonds than the amount, adjusted for inflation, that the government will eventually pay in interest and principal.

So investors are, in a sense, offering governments free money for the next 10 years; in fact, they’re willing to pay governments a modest fee for keeping their wealth safe.

Now, those with a vested interest in the fiscal crisis story have made various attempts to explain away the failure of that crisis to materialize. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2012 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Two articles that complement each other, re: climate change.

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You can draw your own conclusions. One is Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone, the other a column by Chris Hedges, who’s nothing if not outspoken. Warning: Depressing reading. And I certainly have no solutions to offer—I’m having a hard time getting organized for a move, so I am obviously not up to tackling global problems.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2012 at 12:31 pm

At what level does accountability vanish?

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PriceWaterhouseCoopers seems to rewarded regardless of performance, a phenomenon we’ve also seen in the banking industry. points out that poor performance is no hindrance:

The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIG-TARP) which provides oversight of the TARP bailout program put in place during the financial crisis of 2008, released a report this week on AIG.  The report indicated that AIG still has no Federal regulator and that “PricewaterhouseCoopers has been AIG’s auditor for decades and continues to serve in that role.”

To appreciate the significance of the above sentence, a little background is in order.  In May 2005, AIG restated five years of financial statements, shaving $3.9 billion off its previously reported profit for those years and reducing its book value by $2.7 billion. AIG had a derivatives unit called AIG Financial Products which, by 2008, had issued $400 billion in credit default swaps, mostly to Wall Street banks, which it did not have the financial wherewithal to cover.  In 2008, first through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and later through TARP’s Systemically Significant Failing Institutions (SSFI) program, the U.S. taxpayer bailed out AIG to the tune of $161 billion.  Of that amount, $27.1 billion was paid to the big banks to get them to rip up AIG’s credit default swaps.

Now I ask you – is it time for a new auditor?

On Wednesday, July 25, 2012, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ name emerged again on Capitol Hill. Gary Gensler, Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), revealed in his testimony before the House Agriculture Committee that in 2000, PricewaterhouseCoopers had been assigned to look into matters at Peregrine Financial, recently discovered to be running a Ponzi operation with $200 million in customer funds missing.

According to Gensler: “In 2000, the CFTC brought an enforcement action against Peregrine, finding in an Order that the firm had violated net capital rules. At the time, Peregrine was much smaller than it was in 2012, with roughly $800,000 in net capital requirements and $23 million in customer segregation requirements. The firm was ordered to pay a civil penalty and to take steps to improve its financial controls, including retaining a second independent public accounting firm to perform reviews of certain financial accounts and to report its findings to the CFTC. The firm retained PricewaterhouseCoopers.”

According to Russell Wasendorf, Sr., the CEO who has admitted looting the company, the Ponzi scheme has been going on for 20 years.  Why it was not caught by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2000 has yet to be explained.

Keeping with the Wall Street business model’s enshrined principle that the more you screw up, the more you’re rewarded, Reuters is reporting that Peregrine’s bankruptcy trustee has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers as forensic accountants to “figure out what remains at the failed futures brokerage.”

In January of this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers was fined $2.2 million . . .

Continue reading. Fines are simply no deterrent. They are considered a cost of doing business, and no on suffers in the least. The check is cut through the usual channels, and it seems no one really takes much notice: a routine business expense that does not disrupt the business in any way and does not even cause clients to leave. In fact, PWC’s relaxed attitude toward fraud seems to attract new clients, who are assured that they will not be subjected to any rigorous audit. Astonishing. And note the continued looting of the public treasury, taxpayer money transferred by the trainload to private companies—more or less as a reward for bad behavior. And no one ever goes to jail. At most, bonuses may be cut, but generally not even that. (Though, to be fair, some people may serve time for insider trading, as did Martha Stewart, but that’s different from this kind of systematic fraud by a business.)

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2012 at 9:26 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

LastPass learning

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I’m working my way (slowly) through my collection of passwords, having had a password hacked. Quite a few are secure—all the financial ones—but I was careless with others (like Twitter, which tweeted in my name a “work from home” scam), so though it is painful—I registered way too many places—I have little choice but to work through the list. A few things I’ve learned:

a. Don’t check the “Auto Login” option in LastPass for any of your sites—it truly just gets in the way. Autofill is fine: LP filles in the name/email and the password, but then it stops for you to click the login. For one thing, quite a few sites on logout take you to the login screen, and if LP is set to autologin, you back in again. Don’t use that option.

b. Avoid getting duplicates in your LP list: when you change a password, for example, you are offered “Save site” as an option. Click that and you get a dialogue box with one option (bottom left) being to “Replace site”. You must click the button AND ALSO click the drop-down list (which shows blank) to select the site you’re replacing. Otherwise you end up with duplicates, a great flaming pain since you don’t know which is the “right” one.

c. At least once a week review your LP vault to check it over and make sure duplicates have not crept in, etc.

d. Many sites—more than you think—have obscure or missing directions on changing a password. VERY few allow you to close the account altogether: once you register, you always have an account there, with its password. Thus the importance of unique passwords.

e. Some sites are well set up for a password change and LP can cooperate well with those. You put the cursor in the “current password” box and LP presents at the top some buttons: click “Fill current” and it’s filled, click “Generate” and a new password is generated and presented for your inspection, click “Accept” in that drop-down box and, after a pause, the generated password is put into both “new password” fields (i.e., the first to collect the new password, the second to confirm it by a match). Click the “continue” button (or whatever it’s named) on the site, and after a pause LP offers at the top of the screen the option “Confirm”. Click that and the change is made to the original LP record. There are not enough sites like this, but they are fairly frequent.

This is slow and tedious work, but it must be done. A fair number of sites have vanished, so those I simply delete from the LP list. I’m finding a few errors in the logon name (usually my email address), but easily revised. I do recommend using LP’s notes field to comment on changes, etc., so in the future you know what’s what.

Be careful out there. And again: use to see if you, too, should be doing this.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2012 at 9:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Extremely smooth shave today

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True to its nature, J.M. Fraser shaving cream again prepped my beard perfectly. This is one of the leading “bang for the buck” shaving products, two others being Vitos Red Label Special shaving soap and the Whipped Dog silvertip brush.

Today I used my Simpson Duke 3 Best, and the lather had a great fragrance for a summer morning. Three extremely smooth passes with the ARC Weber holding an Astra Keramik Platinum blade left my face BBS, and a splash of St. John’s Bay Rum finished the job.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2012 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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