Archive for the ‘it burns’ Category

Most annoying component ever

February 8, 2012

The other day I put a new battery in an old digital tire gauge, hoping to revive it Nope. So just for the heck of it I took it apart and found that it didn’t matter whether the batter was dead or that gauge circuitry was still working, because there was no connection between the display and the rest of the thing.

Instead of wires or flex or something sensible, the designer used a piece of rubber with a zillion embedded parallel conductors. The idea, I guess, is to carry signals from a bunch of goldplated bumps on the main circuit board to a bunch of contacts on the display. As long as those two are properly aligned, it doesn’t matter whether the rubber bit is in exactly the right place, because it conducts across the piece but not lengthwise.

Until the rubber shrinks a little. Or the ends of the embedded conductors develop an oxide coating. Or moisture condenses anywhere near it. I’ve lost count of how many cheapjack little devices I’ve taken apart that might have been working fine, except that they couldn’t display anything because of one of those stupid little rubber bits. And each time (hope springs eternal) I’m pissed off again. I should really have learned by now.

For the manufacturers I guess it makes sense. Not only do they lower parts and manufacturing costs (no fancy soldering, no super-precise alignment fixtures), but they guarantee a steady stream of replacement purchases. And sure, I’ll never buy something with that particular brand name on it again, but the factory doesn’t care.

Somewhere the ghost of Richard Whitney is laughing

November 1, 2011

What happened at MF Global | Felix Salmon

For traders, risk managers are always the enemy; Corzine was a poacher who was never going to be comfortable in a role as gamekeeper. The Goldman culture kept him in check, to some degree, before it pushed him out; on his own, he was — literally — out of control. And as a result, thousands of his employees are now out of jobs. It’s a truly ignominious end to Corzine’s career.

Better late than never

August 10, 2011

Confessions of a Financial Deregulator – J. Bradford DeLong – Project Syndicate

Depression-era restrictions on risk seemed less urgent, given the US Federal Reserve’s proven ability to build firewalls between financial distress and aggregate demand. New ways to borrow and to spread risk seemed to have little downside. More competition for investment-banking oligarchs from commercial bankers and insurance companies with deep pockets seemed likely to reduce the investment banking industry’s unconscionable profits.

It seemed worth trying. It wasn’t.

Analytically, we are still picking through the wreckage of this experiment. Why were the risk controls at highly-leveraged money-center universal banks so lousy? Why weren’t central banks and governments willing and able to step up and maintain the flow of aggregate demand as the financial crisis and its aftermath choked off private investment and consumption spending?

A certain naive charm

May 5, 2011

File-Sharers Await Official Recognition of New Religion | TorrentFreak

The church has its own set of axioms, most of which revolve around free access to knowledge and the sharing of information. They include:

# Reproduction of information is ethically right.
# The flow of information is ethically right.
# Remix Spirit is a sacred kind of copying.
# Copying or remixing information conveyed by another person is an act of respect.

This is why you test your new formulas first

March 24, 2011

The First Law of Development Stats: Whatever our Bizarre Methodology, We make Africa look Worse

The biggest change in method was that the new HDI is a geometric average rather than a normal (additive) average. Geometric average means you multiply the separate indices (each ranging between 0 and 1) for income, life expectancy, and education together and then take the cube root (I know your pulse starts to race here…)

Now, students, please notice the following: if one of these indices is zero, then the new HDI will be zero, regardless of how great the other indices are. The same mostly applies if one of the indices is close to zero. The new HDI has a “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” property, and in practice the weakest link turns out to be very low income (and guess which region has very low income).

You can see why the geometric average might have been attractive: by multiplying and then taking a root, it avoids the Bill-Gates-Walks-Into-A-Bar problem that besets arithmetic averages. But instead it makes errors in scaling or in linearity much worse. You gains on the swings, but you loses on the roundabouts.

And ultimately it’s always going to be about the scaling. $2 may make you twice as happy as $1, but $2 million is unlikely to make you twice as happy as $1 million, much less a million times as happy as $2.

It’s much, much easier, both mathematically and politically (because you get to avoid claims of subjectivity) to measure utility or development in linear terms of clear quantities like dollars or years of life or bushels of food. Too bad all you learn is ever more precisely where the house keys aren’t.

This is why you test your new formulas first

December 6, 2010

The First Law of Development Stats: Whatever our Bizarre Methodology, We make Africa look Worse

The biggest change in method was that the new HDI is a geometric average rather than a normal (additive) average. Geometric average means you multiply the separate indices (each ranging between 0 and 1) for income, life expectancy, and education together and then take the cube root (I know your pulse starts to race here…)

Now, students, please notice the following: if one of these indices is zero, then the new HDI will be zero, regardless of how great the other indices are. The same mostly applies if one of the indices is close to zero. The new HDI has a “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” property, and in practice the weakest link turns out to be very low income (and guess which region has very low income).

You can see why the geometric average might have been attractive: by multiplying and then taking a root, it avoids the Bill-Gates-Walks-Into-A-Bar problem that besets arithmetic averages. But instead it makes errors in scaling or in linearity much worse. You gains on the swings, but you loses on the roundabouts.

And ultimately it’s always going to be about the scaling. $2 may make you twice as happy as $1, but $2 million is unlikely to make you twice as happy as $1 million, much less a million times as happy as $2.

It’s much, much easier, both mathematically and politically (because you get to avoid claims of subjectivity) to measure utility or development in linear terms of clear quantities like dollars or years of life or bushels of food. Too bad all you learn is ever more precisely where the house keys aren’t.

Unclear on the concept

December 6, 2010

Queens Woman Nearly Loses Home Over Bank Error – NYTimes.com

Because she had a dogged lawyer, who had the wit to get a New York Times columnist interested in her case, a terrible mistake was uncovered. As a result, an unjustified foreclosure may well be reversed.

In the column that contains these lines, Nocera documents repeated acceptance of payments under false information, repeated court filing of falsified documents, knowing dissemination of false information in financial transactions (oh, yeah, and the usual failure to perform proper service of documents in a lawsuit). This is a mistake?

Ever bleeping convicted bad-check signer and con artist in the country would be walking around with a clean record if they could just say “oops, my bad” the way Bank of America gets to do.

Self-limiting Spam

November 9, 2010

From a message I got this morning:

How happy are you with your product documention?

Felix Salmon belabors the obvious

November 3, 2010

Summers’s incentives | Analysis & Opinion |

Being captured is not some kind of intellectually dishonest overt bribe, where you truly believe A but profess to believe B because doing so makes you rich. It’s much more subtle than that, based partly in the wealth and success and sterling reputations of those (like your mentor Bob Rubin, perhaps) who believe B. And it’s a survivorship-bias thing, too: if you don’t believe B, you’ll never rise to the kind of position where your opinions matter as much as Larry’s do and did.

I’d go a little further and say that capture works best on people with both a general desire to do good and the right modicum of self-reflection. If the intellectual results you achieve appeal just a little to your sense of transgression and go (maybe more than) a little against your professed beliefs in equity and the general welfare, you can be sure that they’re really intellectually rigorous. Not like those people who let their desires for how the world should be distort their analysis of how the world actually is. Yeah, right.

I think that one of Krugman’s great successes, in part because he embraces the notion of being a liberal (even though he only barely is by last-century standards), is in calling out the cult of virtuous suffering (especially suffering by other people). That cult is composed not only of the closet and not-so-closet sadists who like the idea that others must suffer to expiate economic sins, but also of those who have been abused into internalizing the notion that a world in which (other) people don’t suffer is somehow wrong — unnatural, immoral, weak and headed for disaster or whatever. That second group can only believe that its ideas are correct and rigorous (ahem) when they involve suffering. Any solution that involves good things happening to good people is per se suspect.

Can’t trust anything any more

October 11, 2010

Grocery terminals slurped payment card data • The Register

The tampered terminals were in use from June 1 to August 31 in an undisclosed number of stores, the company disclosed in a press release (PDF) that appeared on a Friday, a favorite day of the week for releasing bad news. As many as 1,000 Aldi shoppers in Illinois and Indianapolis have already reported fraudulent charges, according to Computer World.

The breach is noteworthy for the breadth of the affected geography, which spanned from New York state to Georgia to as far west as Illinois. Presumably, those responsible would have had to travel to each store to physically plant the hardware used to siphon personal identification numbers, card numbers and names.

Unless, of course, they have an insider working in the distribution chain for POS terminals. In which case we might expect to hear of a lot of other retailers making similar discoveries. Whee. Maybe it’s time to go back to cash.