Four More Years of Half Assing Everything

We now have four more years of half assing everything. Seeing how I had plenty of time to ruminate on this topic sitting in the dark in the storm battered northeast, this has been rattling around in my head for quite a bit. Like many voters, I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Both candidates fit (and didn’t fit) my bias in wholly opposite but mostly related ways. There’s very few differences between Romney and Obama. The problem, I think, is that the average American voter just didn’t give a shit about either one. What pushed me to Romney wasn’t so much encouragement from him, but rather that I feel Obama does everything half assed. If he’s thinking more than a year out, I would be surprised. More on the point Obama frames everything in us-against-them, whereas Romney frames most of his stuff in “common sense math”. Obama and his base tend to turn me off with the divisiveness, so I expect this to be a lame duck four years. No-one is really interested in working across the aisle with a guy who says “Voting is the best revenge” instead of “we can compromise”. I was somewhat surprised at the election results, but it was narrow enough with each candidate getting 50%-ish of the vote that I think I probably am in tune with the majority of America. The problem which no-one is pointing out at the moment is that each candidate also received only 25%-ish of the possible votes. That means 50% of America simply doesn’t care. This is bad. That idea alone should really raise your hackles, that means 75% of America doesn’t want what the other guy is doing (or said he would do). If “your guy” won, it does not mean you’re in a majority. There is no mandate here.

What is the mandate for then? Since neither party has 2/3rds majority required to force things through, the mandate is for Obama to actually work across the aisle. If you’re someone who feels like he does this and does it well, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re someone who noticed nothing has been happening (judging from the blame game of “obstructionist Republicans”, “yes”), I expect at least two more years of lame ducking, if not an entire term of it.

Cries of the “culture war” being over and other such nonsense will be laughed off the blog.

Lets take a look at what we can expect:

Obamacare Raising Taxes – This went from being “interesting” to “WTF” when the Supreme Court decided the election for us. Romney stumped on Obamacare rather than other issues, but the elephant in the room was that Romney couldn’t implement Romneycare as he did in his home state because of the Supreme Court ruling that you can’t fine people for not buying something. The individual mandate we upheld as a tax penalty. Obama therefore did raise taxes on us, and Romney really couldn’t run against Obamacare aside of it being way too complicated.

Obamacare on employement – This is one of two places I wish it was repealed and didn’t get brought up in the debates. The IRS counts “part time” as 39 hours a week. Obamacare counts “part time” as 30 hours a week. Obviously this doesn’t quite add up nicely, so businesses are running split shifts now where people are being cut to 20 hours a week to make the scheduling line up nicely. One of my buddies commented that more businesses are hiring more people for less hours. This isn’t actually how that works. More businesses are hiring the same people to work the finite amount of hours. If there’s 40 hours worth of work to do something, and your business doesn’t want to pay the health insurance fees, you just cut those 40 hours a week in half. Really the net result here is that people who were comfortable with their earnings now have the headache of balancing split shift schedules for their two (or three) jobs who hardly give them any hours. The implementation in Obamacare sucks and could be solved by…

Obamacare single payer – This was never actually on the table, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit. If we had single payer (something I strongly object to if Medicare/Medicade services are any indication of how it works), then people working 60 hours a week at their now 20 hours a week jobs would have healthcare. This would have been an expansion of medicare/medicade but since Obama is some sort of egoistic toolbox he had to come up with a separate government body to administer this stuff. It just doesn’t make sense.

Obamacare on Gay Marriage – or just gay marriage in general. Obamacare still has strong gender typing in the language (“bride and groom” language). Obama is in a particularly weird position where he now has to run against his own legislation in order to legalize gay marriage if this is even on his bill. The terribly irony here is that Romney’s position of states-rights is actually whats happening for both legalizing marijuana and gay marriage. Again, this is a place where Romney might actually have done better making this a states-rights issue and repealing Obamacare versus having a guy in office who has to defend his own train wreck. I suspect Obama’s ego is way too huge to fix this. Romney’s own position on it was actually the most flexible – if we define “marriage” as “between a man and a woman” and “gay marriage” as “domestic partnership”, then we can simply amend Obamacare to include domestic partnership if Romney failed to repeal Obamacare. This is roughly how Joe Biden deals with abortion, which he is “100% opposed to” and the whole Catholic Social Doctrine comment.

(GM) Bailouts – GM is insolvent again. While it’s Just Wrong to bailout a company, this is what Bain Capitol was doing to a T. Instead of Chapter 11, they would loan the company money and be the co-signer. Either people like the bailout and then should accept Bain or people object to Bain and should see the bailout as a trap. As it stands, GM didn’t produce anything that anyone was interested in buying, so they’re insolvent again. Could there have been another way? Yes. Obama should have put import tariffs on cars and paid for the bailout with that while increasing competition. One of my coworkers I was discussing this with said that “But cars are made from all over!” Well that’s sort of the point. We’re not tariffing parts (people have to maintain their crapmobiles in this economy, after all), we’re tariffing where the cars are assembled. All the Japanese made Toyotas would become more expensive. All the American made Toyotas wouldn’t get hit with it. Either Toyota creates more jobs here by expanding it’s plant or it has to pay the price. GM’s bailout gets offset by the tariff until they catch up. Companies like Mitsubishi making their cars in Mexico pay the tariff on 100% of all their stuff. And what about GM making cars in Mexico? They probably should expand their local plant and make some jobs. It’s a win-win.

Four more years of half assed status quo. The upside is that with re-election, Obama can’t blame the last term’s policy.

Robotrading

We’ve entered a new age of trading: Perception based high frequency trading.

It used to be some trader somewhere would try to get their hands on a new press release, or make a guess using out-of-band information about what a company or person was going to do. Based on that, they could figure out if a company was going to make money or have a killer product or continue to sort of plod along. These realities are still important and drive the majority of insider trading law, but whats a market to do when there’s a vacuum of information and innovation because the economy still sucks?

We trade on perception.

However it gets even more interesting than that. When the trade happens on perception, and not on actual fact, it generates much less movement than a stock going public or some company announcing a new contract. What we used to have were bots looking for stock trends and then buying a few hundred thousand shares to generate money on the resale. While this requires high speed access to the markets to both see the trend and execute the buy and sell, this is relatively simple. The stock would rise, the machines would buy, they would immediately sell, and make a few cents on the shares as the stock continued to rise.

Someone, somewhere realized the risk was proportional to how long the stock was held and by the volume of stock purchased. How do we get around that idea?

The machines got faster and the market started doing something new. The machines would buy less stock, sell it faster, and then wash, rinse, repeat. Big companies can do it because they pay for a subscription to the market rather than per trade. Suddenly, the trading volume skyrocketed at open, lunch, and closing. Why? Because thats when humans tend to trade. They go to home, they watch the evening news, they make up orders for the next day. Before going to lunch they move some stocks around figuring less people are watching, and before they go home they buy (or sell) based on lunchtime discussions and news. It’s all hunky dory until we realize it’s one big circle-jerk. Buying any volume of stock and then immediately selling it results in profit now because of all the bots hanging around trying to get a piece of the action. Suddenly, instead of buying things based on actual worth, they’re buying things based on perception when they perceive the stock might rise.

This is a recipe for disaster. Not only are we buying things which have no worth (and actually aren’t strictly property), but we’re not buying because they might have worth (a part of a company) but we’re buying because we see others doing the same thing. More on the point when no-ones watching what actually is going on, the opposite can be true also. A stock might have “bottomed out” but then when people start purchasing them, the robots get in on it. If the people then immediately sell, it’s very very likely a massive order could simply tank the automated process if one person is holding all the options. It’s generally non-optimal.

It’s also the plot of the latest Batman film! Go see it!

The Dark Knight Rises Review

Contains spoilers.

How do we kill the batman? With nuclear weapons!

The new batman is worth a see, in theatres. The worst of it’s sins is the voice acting. Bane is just dreadful and sounds like Alfred on Steroids. Seriously, he’s voiced by a genteel old man. Batman himself spends almost the entire movie in threatening mode and his voice also gets in the way of the dialogue.

The plot itself is tight (except for Bruce Wayne in the cave prison – how did he get there and how did he get back?). Bane gets hold of a nuclear bomb and threatens to destroy gotham with it. Recurring themes throughout the movie are that police officers are trapped underground, Bruce Wayne is trapped under ground, Bane is trapped under ground. See where this is going? Fox? Trapped underground! It would have been nicer to have this theme explored more but it doesn’t quite happen.

Thematic elements are tightly presented although the social analogy doesn’t quite go as deep as the other movies have previously. The theme is clearly socialism – Bane starts off the movie by claiming he will free Gotham for the people in an Abraham Lincolnesque speech as he blows the doors to the prison open wide. Inmates are given weapons. Predictably, instead of actually freeing Gotham, they invite a second holocaust.

First of course the government itself is disposed of through violence. People then commit theft to “the rich” and then when nothing is left, they start to commit wanton murder and destruction. People are executed. When they run out of political prisoners to execute (the rich) they turn on each other. It’s an obvious allegory to the holocaust and pretty much the rise of Nazi Germany. The parallel to America today is obvious but the movie manages not to be preachy about it.

That’s good, because emotional tension runs high. The acting is absolutely top notch except for Bale in the beginning of the movie and whoever plays Bane himself. The problem is the actor doesn’t know when he’s talking  with the mask on so he doesn’t know how to express himself with his eyes. The problem continues on in the movie where there’s parts where he’s talking under the mask but nothing is coming out. It’s not particularly jarring.

You figure out fairly soon on who Robin is going to be, but the writing is well enough done that the part is engaging right until the end. About the only part which is particularly campy is when catwoman uses the bat-o-cycle or whatever it’s called to blast out the police officers and there’s a charge directly out of braveheart between the police, armed with only sidearms, and Bane’s gang which has an array of G36s and light machine guns. In real life it would have been a wildly nice gesture which lasts 10 minutes as the police are cut to ribbons. For a movie which works hard on it’s technical merit with exotic EMP and upside-down bat-o-coptors, it’s a bit jarring to get there.

The twist at the end is absolutely fantastic but again, easy to see coming if you’re familiar with as much as the animated series which was popular in the 90s. The nice part is how it handles batman canon – although the movie will appease hardcore batman fans and people who have half a clue about socialism, the movie remains accessible to even the most unprepared fan in the audience. It includes graceful flashback moments to keep viewers engaged but reminded about what happened in previous films.  Catwoman is easy on the eyes, for instance, without being overtly sexualized which means you can take the wife and not have her be completely offended. Anne Hatheway, however, is really sexy in the catsuit and plays the role extremely well. She’s sexy when the role calls for it but manages to avoid it when the role does not.

Is it perfect? No, but it’s darn good, and worth a see on the big screen.

Obama Care Part Deuce

The American Thinker has up what he thinks will happen on the July 9th(?) vote – Republicans could repeal obamacare as a de-facto tax. If the argument is that it’s not a de-facto tax, then it’s subject to the Commerce Clause, which would make it unconstitutional. If it is a defacto tax, it’s subject to recall, which is simple majority.

Anyway that aside, what has my head scratching is what the heck Romney is waiting for. Obama has obamacare, which is a huge debacle. The original draft of the bill defrayed costs to health insurance companies by having them receive the “penalty money”. In fact, it’s worth discussing Romneycare, because it’s how this sort of thing is done correctly. Under Romneycare, both individuals and businesses had to pay a penalty for not having insurance. Individuals could receive an exemption to this for earning less than $50,000. That’s not a typo, that’s the number (this is roughly twice whats in Obamacare but the value depends on the federal poverty definition among other things). Businesses would pay the fine if they didn’t make “reasonable insurance” available if they had more than 10 employees. In every way, these make better talking points than Obama even has. Weirdly enough Huffington Post either is “pro Romneycare” when talking about Obama or anti-Romneycare when going back to 2006, speaking of talking points. If I were Romney I would be pointing all this out.

Where did all these fines go?

Romney set up a fund to expand medicare in his state. If you went to the ER without insurance, it paid the hospital. If you took the fine, it went into the slush fund. If you needed help affording insurance, it was a tax credit.

I know what you’re saying “But that IS Obamacare!”

No, it’s not. It required a mandate from the federal government to expand medicare which administered the plan. While I object to the expansion of the government, the one place the money wasn’t going was the insurance companies. The fine went into social programs, the money which left the social programs went to the hospitals. Medicare has price controls built in – when they’re involved, they dictate the price of what they’re paying for. This works really well. The higher the insurance companies jack up the prices, the more people end up on Medicare, the more they dictate the cost of what they’re paying for. The insurance companies either had to play ball or they had to withdrawal from the state.

What we’re critically missing from the Obamacare plan is the authority to regulate the insurance companies. The one line item requires insurance companies to spend 80% of their take on premiums, but now we have another interesting problem: With no authority from the commerce clause per the supreme court (which is why this is a tax and administered by the IRS in the first place), there’s really no defined oversight here. The argument I would make if I were Obama would be that health insurance companies pay 100% tax on everything they make over 80% of the premiums they put out, but the traditional stance taken by the government is that diversified companies pay only what their business units take in. LOLWUT?

Take Toll Brothers, which is vertically integrated. The company doesn’t pay logging fees based on profits from the entire company, nor does the land ownership division pay capital gains based on the value of land changing. They are governed by separate bodies of law. Similarly the business as a whole make or loses money, but it’s governed by individual laws for individual business functions. To put this in perspective, a commercial driver carries insurance for his own personal vehicle, but he also carries a bond and a professional insurance policy. My wife (a nurse) carries personal insurance for her life and injury, but we also carry professional insurance for malpractice along with malpractice insurance for the hospital at large.

Why is this important? The insurance companies already offer consulting services for things like minimizing workplace injury, passing OSHA exams, legal consulting, etc. If the insurance companies suddenly decide the take from premiums goes into the individual business units, it’s really not that hard to spend 100% (or more) of the funds which go into the “medical care” pot versus something like consulting which is obviously not a medical function and then not governed by the law. Remember, no commerce clause means this is virtually unenforceable and the IRS already exempts businesses which operate at a loss. The whole thing is hollywood accounting at it’s finest and the IRS has been giving it a pass for years in the movie and music industry. Why not the insurance industry now? Its one of the things that really pisses me off come tax time – people who are consultants and operate their own company (on paper) claim a loss on their taxes from a consulting company which doesn’t reimburse them for computers and such and taxpayers foot the itemized deductions.

All this being said, I don’t see there being a mass of insurance companies dumping people for two reasons: rescission has been illegal since 1996 in almost every state and without the expansion of medicare per romneycare, obamacare has nowhere to put people. I do see our healthcare generally going to shit – Europe has had a serious problem with complex, long term care like cancer and I expect the US going over to this sort of system will encourage this.

On Disc DLC is OK to Me

Gamers are getting their panties in a bunch because of on disc DLC.

One word: Modchip.

This nominally goes back to the “protected content only screws legit consumers” vibe that the PC market has had since forever. In a lot of ways, the vibe has been PC only. The most recent example is the Diablo 3 news. Quite simply put: you can’t play diablo 3 except online. It’s not like it authenticates and disconnects, it wants you to always play online 100% of the time. Cracks are already out there to “fix” the game, but of course they’re illegal. More on the point the people who want to stay legit get screwed. I can’t play the game in the 45 minutes I’m on the train. I can’t play the game at the office when I’m in weird hours. I can’t play the game at the local burger joint while my kids terrorise the playground.

How does this relate to DLC?

Well it’s sort of an interesting thing, capcom is re-evaluating the on-disc DLC policy. Why?

Is it because they want to pay microsoft $10k to get a download posted? No…

Is it because they’re pulling a DICE and putting out their patches in DLC to avoid certification? No…

It’s because they realized if the pirates have the DLC on the disk, they can play the content. Yup, you read that article right. A fighting game with the content (key) not even released yet saw people using the content on xbox live.

It has nothing to do with consumer outrage and everything to do with squeezing every last dollar out of your wallet.

The View from the Top

I quit ebay (GSI) last week. It was a tough decision. The whole problem was largely due to how they handled the merger. They reset everyone’s time off and basically screwed people who had been with the company far longer than me out of quite a bit of money by doing that. When the company (GSI) started, people were given guaranteed options and vesting. Ebay reset that when they bought us. They also rolled out a new policy where you don’t get paid for time off you don’t use. Basically, it looked like they were setting us up for layoffs. From a technical perspective, it started out with “We’ll make you our east coast datacenter!” Then it became “We’ll make you a colo with a back-haul!” Finally it turned into “We’ve given you a laughably small budget to do this, so just make sure your oracle stuff makes it over here”.

The writing was on the wall. It sucked. I loved the people, I thought the acquisition was going to be my ticket into ebay, and frankly after putting in a crapton of time over and above 40 hours a week, I really felt like we were getting dumped on. More on the point I had only been there a brief amount of time. What if I was one of the guys who was there eight years?

Well, turns out they quit too. In fact, everyone who really knew anything about the system quit. Theres still good people there, but the problem is they’re a scarce commodity. The bigger problem is that the backfill sucks. People know ebay didn’t give the remaining people a very good deal, so the talent isn’t coming along. Finally the worst problem is the customers themselves are packing up for greener pastures. Customers were with GSI because they weren’t ebay/amazon. I won’t go into details but suffice the say putting GSIs review on glassdoor.com on the front page of slashdot the day we were featured was the nail in the backfill coffin. For me personally, the nail came when – after working with the teams for several weeks to upgrade a core product failed – they announced “POP THE CORK, IT WORKS!”

We know it doesn’t work. I would have been happier if they just punched me in the dick. At some point you just have to say, “Help isn’t on the way”.

Needless to say I’m much happier at Comcast. They gave me a top end macbook pro (solid state 128GB drives are fucking fast) and while the commute sucks (although part of it is my inexperience in riding the trains), the facilities are much nicer and the people seem pretty solid. Have some highrez pics of philly from the cafeteria.