Later On

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

Archive for July 2012

Educational game for iPad

leave a comment »

For those who have the combination of a tablet computer and a small child, this educational game sounds intriguing and worthwhile. It sounds as though it would develop the “feel” for equation solving, which provides a solid support for rules learned later. Rules alone are inadequate, since rules require memorization and rote application, whereas having a feel for the process allows one to approach with confidence the task of solving the problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2012 at 7:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Games

Windows workhorse laptop computer choice

leave a comment »

Wirecutter has a detailed and favorable review of the Lenovo T430 as a good choice for a solid Windows laptop at $830. Read here for full particulars.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2012 at 7:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Tabula Rasa, Rod Neep, and the Red-Tipped Super Speed

with 7 comments

Today saw another excellent shave. Tabula Rasa is a German shaving cream and the Dark Lavender fragrance is extremely nice. With the Rod Neep (Pens of the Forest) brush shown, I immediately worked up a fine lather, and the red-tipped Super Speed with a Schick Plus Platinum blade delivered a smooth shave. The acoustics today seemed excellent, and the sound of the stubble’s being cut was distinct. A splash of Mr. Taylor’s aftershave, and I’m ready for the weekend.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2012 at 7:30 am

Posted in Shaving

Nice dinner, feeling better

with 3 comments

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

with one comment

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.

leave a comment »

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?

leave a comment »

PriceWaterhouseCoopers seems to rewarded regardless of performance, a phenomenon we’ve also seen in the banking industry. WallStreetOnParade.com 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

leave a comment »

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 shouldichangemypassword.com 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

with 2 comments

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

Sending mail to your future self

leave a comment »

I had sort of forgotten FutureMe.org. It’s an interesting idea: writing a letter to your future self about your worries, dreams, hopes, and plans, and then—when you’ve forgotten about it—the letter is delivered. Of course, even better would be letters in the other direction, but that is not in the current release. Still, it’s worth a look—give it a go.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2012 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

Should you change your password?

leave a comment »

Find out: shouldichangemypassword.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2012 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Daily life

Microwave ovens and nutrient value of foods

leave a comment »

I’ve always avoided use of a microwave oven—to no purpose, it seems:

The effect of microwaves on nutrient value of foods.

Cross GAFung DY.

Abstract
Microwave cooking has gained considerable importance as an energy-saving, convenient, and time-saving cooking method. This article reviews the state of the art of microwave cooking and the existing publishing data on the effects of microwave cooking on nutritive values of moisture, protein, carbohydrate, lipid, minerals, and vitamins. Most reports indicated that microwave cooking resulted in higher moisture losses compared with conventional methods. Overall, the nutritional effects of microwaves on protein, lipid, and minerals appear minimal. There is no report on the effects of microwaves on carbohydrate fraction in foods. A large amount of data is available on the effects of microwaves on vitamins. It is concluded that there are only slight differences between microwave and conventional cooking on vitamin retention in foods. In conclusion, no significant nutritional differences exist between foods prepared by conventional and microwave methods. Any differences reported in the literature are minimal.

PMID: 7047080 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2012 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

Possessions and passwords

with 3 comments

It’s pretty well known that accumulations of stuff are a pain to dispose of, and it turns out that accumulations in general are not very desirable. I have accumulated a lot of passwords, and recently I found that my Twitter account had been hacked and used to tell people of wonderful at-home income opportunities. I immediately changed the password—but I had used the much-warned-against but easy-to-remember idea of a common password. So today I am devoting to going through my LastPass vault and changing passwords and, in general, canceling accounts I never use. The number of sites, accumulated over several years, is WAY too many. I should have been pruning that regularly, but…  Live and learn.

So: if you have a bunch of dormant accounts, go and cancel them. And go ahead and bite the bullet and change all those common passwords to unique passwords. (All my financial accounts, of course, already had unique passwords, but Twitter? I was careless.)

Accumulations are unsustainable, long run. And, long run, that’s a place at which we all arrive, eventually.

I should note that some sites totally hid your account profile information. You log into the site, and that information is simply not to be found: no link to it at all.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2012 at 8:03 am

Posted in Daily life

Avocado and the DLC

leave a comment »

A very pleasant shave this morning, using a New Forest brush (handmade by Fido in the UK), which got a good lather from TOBS Avocado. The shaving cream is fairly firm, so I used a sort of short soap-loading effort, which got enough shaving cream to make a fine lather. Three passes with the DLC Arc holding an Astra Superior Platinum blade: smooth and pleasant result. Then a splash of Vetiver and ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2012 at 7:56 am

Posted in Shaving

Who knew? Toothpowder still around and well-liked

with 3 comments

I had no idea. I think I have to try some. When I was a kid, we used Py-Co-Pay toothpowder. But that’s been gone for years.

pycopay

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2012 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Daily life

Good example of a law that’s needed: EMV credit-card security

leave a comment »

Kevin Hall reports for McClatchy:

At a bustling H&M clothing store in Toronto’s chic downtown area, Canadian shoppers rack up purchases on their debit and credit cards, unaware that they’re getting a level of protection that U.S. consumers lack.

Canadian consumers are issued credit and debit cards that have embedded chip technology, shorthanded as EMV, which provides them a greater layer of security. The chips make it difficult for criminal rings to fabricate counterfeit cards or traffic in stolen cards.

“There’s no question that chip-and-PIN is a much safer technology than signature-based cards, which are a lot easier to replicate,” said Diane Brisebois, the president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, the national trade group for retailers.

Canada’s consumer protection is all the more striking given that the United States generated about 27 percent of payment-card purchases yet accounted for 47 percent of global payment-card fraud, the industry newsletter The Nilson Report said last November.

Why is fraud in the United States, which amounted to more than $3.56 billion in losses in 2010, so high? The report and retailers point to the relatively sparse use of the EMV technology, named for the big companies Europay, MasterCard and Visa.

EMV’s embedded chips foil counterfeiters because the chips transmit different unique numbers to the payment processors each time the cards are used rather than customers’ name and signatures. In Canada, the chips are paired with personal identification numbers to add another level of security

The chip cards also aren’t as exposed to data breaches since names aren’t transmitted and thus aren’t in the pool of data that computer hackers often seek. Armed with names and card numbers, organized crime rings can create counterfeit credit and debit cards for use anywhere in the world.

When Americans travel to Toronto or other Canadian cities, their cards still work. But Canadian retailers . . .

Continue reading.

Congress could easily pass a law requiring this protection. Why doesn’t it? I would imagine because banks simply don’t want them to, and (as you’ve doubtless noticed) Congress pretty much toes the line on what banks demand.

Still: it would be interesting if we all emailed our Representative and asked that this credit-card technology be mandated for implementation within a few years. I’m going to, along with a link to the McClatchy story.

You can get your Representative’s email address by entering your ZIP code here. Then click the little “envelope” icon, and there you have it.

UPDATE: Here’s the note I sent Congressman Sam Farr:

See the story at the link below, reported in McClatchy newspapers, on how Canadian credit cards are protected by EMV chips:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/07/25/157721/us-slow-to-embrace-anti-fraud.html

The story reports that the US, with 27% of credit card purchases globally, has 47% of credit-card fraud—because in the US credit cards are not protected.

I ask that you pass legislation to require US credit cards to carry EMV chips.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2012 at 5:43 pm

Shaving soaps question

with 14 comments

I’m curious about whether my stash of shaving soaps is of any value to anyone. I have an enormous amount, many of them barely-used, purchased so I could test them in order to know from my own direct experience what I was writing in the shaving book. But I’m in the process of dispossessing my apartment of its clutter in preparation for an eventual move.

But there’s a problem with shaving soaps: individual sale of slightly-used soaps is too difficult, yet simply discarding them seems horribly wasteful. I’m thinking I might fill a Priority Mail flat-rate box with a selection of soaps at some low price—$3/tub or puck—and sell that as a “sight-unseen” deal. But would anyone be interested? The shipping would be $10.85 for the box. (I recently shipped a package Parcel Post and it came out to just over $11: it would have been money ahead to go with the Priority Mail flat rate. Thus the shipping choice here.)

When I get around to razors and brushes, those seem suitable for eBay, but approach doesn’t make sense for the soaps.

So: what do you think/advise?

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2012 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Shaving

What is the word for when police departments secretly spy and build dossiers on citizens who have done nothing wrong?

leave a comment »

Haven’t we seen this movie in other countries? The Associated Press has an article by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo:

He saw something. He said something. And he inadvertently uncovered a secret spying operation that the New York Police Department was running outside its jurisdiction.

In June 2009, a building superintendent at an apartment complex near the Rutgers University campus opened the door to unit 1076 to conduct an inspection. Tenants had been notified of the inspection weeks ago and the notice was still stuck to the door.

He turned his key, walked in and immediately knew something was wrong. A colleague called 911.

“What’s suspicious?” a New Brunswick police dispatcher asked.

“Suspicious in the sense that the apartment has about – has no furniture except two beds, has no clothing, has New York City Police Department radios,” he replied.

“Really?” the dispatcher asked, her voice rising with surprise.

The caller, Salil Sheth, and his colleagues had stumbled upon one of the NYPD’s biggest secrets: a safe house, a place where undercover officers working well outside the department’s jurisdiction could lie low and coordinate surveillance.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD, with training and guidance from the CIA, has monitored the activities of Muslims in New York and far beyond. Detectives infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and kept tabs on Muslim student groups, including at Rutgers.

The NYPD kept files on sermons, recorded the names of political organizers in police documents, and built databases of where Muslims lived and shopped, even where they were likely to gather to watch sports. Out-of-state operations, like the one in New Brunswick, were one aspect of this larger intelligence-gathering effort.

The Associated Press previously described the discovery of the NYPD inside the New Jersey apartment but, after a yearlong fight, New Brunswick police released the tape of the 911 call and other materials this week.

“There’s computer hardware, software, you know, just laying around,” Sheth continued. “There’s pictures of terrorists. There’s pictures of our neighboring building that they have.”

“In New Brunswick?” the dispatcher asked, sounding as confused as the caller.

New York authorities have encouraged people like Sheth to call 911. In its “Eight Signs of Terrorism,” people are encouraged to call the police if they see evidence of surveillance, information gathering, suspicious activities or anything that looks out of place. The Homeland Security Department has long encouraged citizens to be vigilant under its “See Something, Say Something” campaign.

The call from the building superintendent sent New Brunswick police and the FBI rushing to the apartment complex. Officers and agents were surprised at what they found. None had been told that the NYPD was in town. . .

Continue reading.

This operation and this sort of activity seems clearly illegal and unconstitutional to me. I wonder if any sanctions or punishments were applied—for example, how many lost their job over this? (My guess: zero. For one thing, note the 3-year fight to keep the entire incident a secret. And how the operations switches from a police operation (so it must be kept secret) to not a police operation (so it’s okay to do it outside their jurisdiction. The entire operation was done in bad faith.)

We have come to this: police departments deploying their own covert operations in other states (note in the rest of the story: as far away as New Orleans). I do not believe that this is a sensible use of tax dollars.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2012 at 11:14 am

Posted in Government, Law

Harry James: Don’t Be That Way

leave a comment »

A signature tune for James with Buddy Rich on drums. Via 30sJazz.com:

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2012 at 9:59 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

The Story of Change

leave a comment »

Annie Leonard, already well known for her fascinating video The Story of Stuff (21 very worthwhile minutes), has created a 6-minute video that is equally good: The Story of Change—and change we must:

I was struck by a comment on YouTube:

Great video … but I really can’t share it. It’s too long. The people whom we must convince to take action are busy, and aren’t likely to commit 6 minutes to a video. (At least the people to whom I am connected.) Perhaps we can edit these ideas into smaller videos.

This puts a serious limit on the depth of public discussion: one can go only so deep into any subject when relying purely on sound-bites. Analysis requires more, I believe. I’m not contradicting the comment, I’m just pointing out how that restriction limits what can be done.

If you like Ms. Leonard’s work, she has other videos—take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2012 at 9:35 am

%d bloggers like this: