CodePrairie .NET

South Dakota .NET User Group

I Hate Linux

  • And you want me to pay my bills ACS Education?

    In these times of a difficult economy and people struggling to make ends meat and pay their bills, its refreshing to see some companies offer options to current and future customers, be it car companies that will make your payments for you for a time, or even let you return your car if you lose your job, or credit card companies that take out advertisements, asking for you to call them if you are unable to pay your bills to them.

    It seems though that at least one student loan company (ACS Education) doesn’t know how to come off so nice (sounding), today I received an email from one of the companies that owns some of my student loans which began:

    Don't Let Your Student Loan Become a Credit Nightmare!

    According to our records, you have already started repayment on your student loan. We wanted to let you know that we are always here to assist you, however possible, to successfully complete the repayment of your loan.

    Being one of the largest servicers of student loans, we see first hand what happens to borrowers who default when they do not make their loan payments, or do not make arrangements for a temporary payment suspension. Borrowers who ultimately default on their student loans, risk their financial future and their ability to purchase a car, a home or anything else on credit. Allowing your loan to default can result in a series of very serious and unfavorable events:

    • You can be sued to recover the entire amount of the loan plus collection expenses
    • Your default status will be reported to every major credit bureau having a detrimental impact on your credit rating and your ability to borrow in the future
    • Holds may be placed on your college records
    • Your federal and state income tax returns may be withheld
    • Your wages may be garnished
    • You may become ineligible to receive any additional federal student financial aid
    • You may be charged attorney fees and other collection costs

    Although we will make every attempt to contact you by both mail and telephone to inform you of your payment options, you must take action to avoid default of your loan(s). If you want to make a payment right now, click here.

    If you are having trouble paying your loan...

    Please remember, if you are having trouble, you still have options. However, you have to act quickly! Every minute you delay can have an adverse effect on your credit rating.

    <lengthy explanation of payment plans removed>

    And don't forget that you must repay your loan even if you are dissatisfied with the education that you received, are unable to find employment after your graduation, or did not complete your educational program.

    ACT NOW!

    Such a shame that in times people are struggling so, one company takes such a firm hand and sending bulk email to try to scare current loan holders into paying their bills.

    This is doubly surprising as student loan companies have something going for them that credit card companies generally do not... bankruptcy law being on their side.

    To quote the Department of Education:

    Effective October 8, 1998, your obligation to repay Title IV, HEA student loan and grant liabilities can no longer be canceled (discharged) due to bankruptcy, unless you can successfully prove that repayment of the debt would cause "undue hardship" as defined by case law in your jurisdiction.

    If you ever are bored, bring up this subject to a bankruptcy attorney and see how many times they’ve seen student loans discharged.

  • Proof of Concept: Silverlight based VNC client

    Forward: I would advise not looking for potential meanings of the below post or infer potential new features of Windows Home Server as it all involves things I was doing on my own time and for my own nefarious purposes.

    The other weekend I had a little free time on my hands and thought: “Wouldn't it be cool (and useful) if there was a Remote Desktop client that ran completely within the context of Silverlight?”

    After a quick read of the core spec behind RDP... I decided that a simpler protocol would probably be good to do as a proof of concept first of the general idea.

    Which protocol did I pick? RFB (PDF warning), the basis for VNC.

    So last weekend I sat down and began writing a proof of concept VNC client, first as a WinForms app but with frequent compilations for Silverlight (to ensure that I only used classes/methods that exist under both), and late Thursday night after writing a quick and dirty 125 line long proxy server (to work around the built in port and host address limitations), it all just worked at last.

    Behold, a ugly shot of it in action:

    VNC via Silverlight

    (Click for larger version)

    Why so ugly? To save time I only implemented a couple of the most simple video encoding methods that VNC supports which cuts me off from some of the more pretty color possibilities. Adding others won’t be very difficult, however improving some of the core services I wrote would be a better use of my time.

    Why XP? When I quit using VNC back in about 2005 it was due to my upgrading to Vista and the two of them not getting along well (due to the Vista security feature known as session 0 isolation)... and I had it handy in a VM.

    When will it be released? Certainly not in it’s present form as it is rather insecure at present as it doesn’t support any authentication (mostly because I opted not to write a DES encryption provider which Silverlight lacks). Also likely not in future because of the prototype nature of this code and my almost certainly not having enough time to take on and manage another side project (my day job keeps me plenty busy).

    I also need to say that the new improvements to the MediaStreamSource class in Silverlight 3 are pretty cool as they enable you to manually generate a video and specify the raw RGB bits of each frame.

    This while does kind of serve as a reminder to me… rather than spend time implementing things that already exist (this, DHCP4WHS, a C# based DNS server I wrote a few years back, plenty of other half completed network clients or file format parsers)... I should focus (when writing code on my own time) on building new things that do not yet exist... shame I’m not the most creative in that way.

  • What’s wrong with this picture?

    ... and the answer is not that I was using Google:

    What's wrong with this picture?

    (click for larger)

    Do note the address:


  • Weight Loss – 3 years (and 5 days) in

    With all that is going on both professionally and personally, I forgot to celebrate an important day on Sunday... the 3 year anniversary of me starting Nutrisystem!

    History thus far:

    Start (5/3/2006): 415.2 lbs

    End of Year 1 (5/3/2007): 291.2 (down 124)

    End of Year 2 (5/3/2008): 224.2 (down 191)

    8/10/2008: 215 lbs (down 200.2)

    End of Year 3 (5/3/2009): 252.8

    Your eyes do not deceive you, despite having lost ~205 over 30 month period... I've since gained ~40 of that back... to explain some of how that happened, it's important to tell the story of how the weight first got started so many years ago.

    History of the weight

    Due to food allergies from a very young age (pre-kindergarten), I was put on a diet that avoided not only certain foods I was known to react poorly to (behaviorally, not so much physically), as well as so many of those pesky pesticides and herbicides that some worry about.

    Each day I went to school with a lunchbox of foods that didn't quite look the same as what everyone else was having (rather than Cheerios I had Oat-e-oos, rather than chocolate cookies I had carob ones (the list goes on)) and all was well in the world... except for that I'd already had issues making friends and having such a difference made things even harder.

    Eventually one day in 4th grade I had enough, I said I was done with the whole diet thing and began to eat normal cafeteria food.

    On the surface this wouldn't seem like a bad thing... only because of always eating out of a box at school... I'd never fully learned proper portion control. That... coupled with the fact that all of the cafeteria food was just so delicious (compared to what I had been having for lunch) that I'd when I'd get done with the food on my tray and I'd go back for seconds, sometimes even thirds, all the while almost never going out to recess afterwards.

    At this point two things happened... 1) my behavior changed radically and eventually lead to my parents deciding that this the school wasn't the right place for me (something I'd been advocating since the first day of kindergarten in fact), 2) I began to gain weight.

    Prior to quitting the diet, I was a fairly scrawny kid, not super short, but not at all on the taller side of things, pretty average in fact (except for when you'd turn me on my side I'd virtually disappear), but after quitting the weight just began to grow and I never really took steps to prevent it.

    What about the recent 40?

    All was going well last fall where I'd largely plateaued ~210 lbs, was going to the gym 2-3x a week and doing both strength and cardio training to try to eliminate some of the remaining fat pockets (which were leading to awful muffin top issues and requiring me to wear slightly baggy shirts) and generally boost my metabolism, something I'd really not tried through much working out previously... then things got busy.

    In November I was sent to PDC & WinHEC in LA, and due to what I knew was going to be a tight schedule that would also likely involve me having a difficult time doing the additional grocery shopping I would need to do, I opted not to bring my food with.

    I figured that a week or two of mostly eating out wasn't going to kill me or set me to far back.

    Then came a 2+ week long vacation spread between South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota and involved plenty of good home-style cooking, a pair of Thanksgiving dinners (in the same day no less) and more eating out, most of which to precluded my being able to bring my own food with.

    Come December I was trying to get things back on track... only to have some family visit and again... more eating out and even a big ole Christmas dinner.

    Somewhere along the way... I had a glimpse into something I'd long forgotten... a semblance of being 'normal' and not having to obsess over what I eat.

    This bout with normalcy was only a half-assed one really as while I still mostly stuck with my Nutrisystem foods... but would also sometimes forget to bring lunch and have something (almost certainly bad for me) from Café 43 on campus (the cafeteria a short walk down a few flights of stairs and out a door from my office), however this level of cheating was enough to negate much of the goodness from the parts of the diet I was following.

    Then... the fire came, completely throwing my personal life into a bit of chaos which created a bit of a sense of 'awe *(&$-it', at which point I did a little more fast food and other bad things I shouldn't have.

    On the plus side though, all the while I stayed at least semi-regular with the gym, even to the point that I decided at one point that walking to work on most days I wasn't going to the gym was probably wearing my legs out a bit so I should pick one (the gym won out).

    A couple of times since the 'awe *(&$-it' I've tried to restart the diet, usually going a couple of weeks before straying to various levels of badness... though I am hopeful that the last restart sticks.

    Unfortunately though, hitting 210 again is likely going to be more difficult the second time than it was the first... partially because this time around my body knows what I'm trying to do (and likely doesn't like it)... but also because in the ~9 months I've regularly been going to the gym (except for most of November) I've built of a fair bit of strength in certain areas:


    (Entertaining sidebar: Unfortunately a few months ago I had to buy a new arm band for my Zune as the old one seemed to be getting smaller and smaller as time went on and kept falling off when at the gym, go fig?)

    And we all know that muscle mass is still mass, so even if I am replacing 1 lb of fat with 1 lb of muscle, while I may trim/firm up a bit, the scale will still report me as the same weight.

    So... that's my report on the last year, major successes during the first half... and major setbacks during the second, with any luck by the time year 4 rolls around I'll be in a far better place physically than I am today.

    Although the recent 'awe *(&$-it' stage also reminds me that at one point I am going to need to figure out what I'm going to do when I eventually reach and can maintain a weight/build I am happy with and move away from the Nutrisystem foods... as my cooking skills are largely non-existent (which is another reason for the initial weight gain).


    So now without further ado... the requisite photo montage:

    Before start:

    Before - FrontBefore Side

    Year 1:

    Year 1 - FrontYear 1 - Side

    Year 2:

    2 Years In - 192 down2 Years In - 192 down - side

    Year 3 (on Wednesday):


    While it may not look like there is much of a difference between year 2 and 3... take my word for it, it's there. While the shirt(s) in year 2 and 3 look the same, while both are labeled XLT, the one worn in year 3 fits far better than the one in year 2 I'm sad to say.

    One upshot

    Before closing, I do need to point out one strange benefit of what has happened in the last 6 months... arguments have been easier to win.

    A few months back while disagreeing with a co-worker over the correct implementation for something during a meeting and rather than finish things there, someone suggested (rightly) that we meet later to discuss the issue or just arm wrestle over it... to which I agreed and without thinking said "lets just do a quick arm wrestle now to save time"... to which the co-worker said "I don't know... let me see your arms" at which point I pulled up the sleeve of my shirt and the co-worker jumped back and decided not to proceed with the match.

  • Guess who I’m not buying?

    This Saturday night I’m sitting here watching some Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban, I was writing an email to a former co-worker when a commercial break (which I normally ignore) caught my ear when I heard the following line and suddenly had to pay attention:

    ...and a 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty backed by GM and the US Government

    … um no… it’s backed by US taxpayers!

    As it turned out, the ad was for a local car lot.

    At present I’m driving a 2002 Pontiac Aztek with ~140,000 miles on it and have, in the last few months been thinking “maybe it’s time to look at what’s new on the market”

    Thankfully… or unfortunately, seeing this ad reminded me of who I should not be considering in such considerations… any GM vehicles.

    Don’t get me wrong… I’ve been nothing but happy with my Aztek… the very fact that the US government has involved itself so with the company, altering the standard bankruptcy system and algidity threatened creditors of a competitor… it’s safe to say that if I do end up buying something new... it wont be a GM.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Crazy People

    Since moving to the Seattle area I've encountered many new different sorts of people (more on that another day)... unfortunately I've also seem to have found a few… seemingly insane people, the most recent case involved a person who kept insisting that I stop IMing them... even when it was she who was IMIng me repeatedly.

    Yes... I could have just blocked her and ended things... though I was curious just how much she intended to harass me so I kept watching and even warned her that if she continued this that I would report the general incident and the threats made during it to the police. Unfortunately she was undeterred and continued the previous shenanigans, even including IMs demanding that I stop IMing her... take this portion of the chat log (edited to remove names of offending party and expletives but not for actual order or content or messages, what you see below is what we both said during the interval in question, do note the time stamps):

    5/1/2009  11:18:46 AM  Them: STOP MESSAGING ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    5/1/2009  11:18:57 AM  Them: STOP
    5/1/2009  11:19:07 AM  Them: DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND STOP
    5/1/2009  11:19:17 AM  Them: STOP MESSAGING ME
    5/1/2009  11:21:57 AM  Them: please
    5/1/2009  11:21:57 AM  Them: stop
    5/1/2009  11:23:27 AM  Them: k?
    5/1/2009  11:25:17 AM  Them: OKAY <expletive>ER????????????????
    5/1/2009  11:37:52 AM  Them: ...
    5/1/2009  11:38:33 AM  Them: <expletive> face?
    5/1/2009  11:39:24 AM  Me: last pages printed... off to the cop shop!
    5/1/2009  11:39:49 AM  Them: STOP <expletive>ING MESSAGING ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    5/1/2009  11:40:01 AM  Me: says the woman who keeps IMing me out of the blue
    5/1/2009  11:40:41 AM  Them: STOP <expletive>ING IM'ING ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    5/1/2009  11:47:38 AM  Them: ./quit
    5/1/2009  11:53:31 AM  Them: ./quit
    5/1/2009  11:55:16 AM  Them: ./quit
    5/1/2009  12:00:24 PM  Them: ./quit
    5/1/2009  1:23:16 PM  Them: stop messaging me bakka

    Is what you see above enough to report to the police? No... but some threats that I won't be repeating here were made, threats that she's not likely to make good on... but in case she does, I felt it important to have official documentation of them to establish a history of this kind of behavior.

    The interesting thing (to me) is that even while at the police station reporting this (arrived there 11:55, left ~1:00 (they made me wait a bit it being lunch hour and all))... she continued to attempt to harass me.

    At present... I have her blocked on Messenger, at some point in the future I will probably remove the block just to see if she's still trying to get my goat or worse.

  • Drop baby drop! ... or 2TB becoming price competitive?

    Even before joining the Windows Home Server team I could just never have enough hard drive space and was always thrilled as new and bigger drives came out and prices across the board eventually came down due to competition.

    This morning I got an email from Fry’s with their weekly specials and the one that caught my eye... an internal 2.0 TB HD for $229, something that completely blew my mind as largely the same drive is sold on NewEgg (and elsewhere) in an OEM configuration for $300 and the lowest price on Live Cashback is being reported as ~$280.

    (It’s also worth noting that Fry’s is also selling the 1.5 TB Seagate (retail boxed) for just $117)

    While I don’t know if the Fry’s price will be matched by any other companies, it does suddenly put 2TB drives into the mix in a more competitive way as it lowers the cost per gigabyte from 14-15 cents to 11.5 cents which is rapidly approaching affordability and competitiveness.

    How does that compare to other drives on the market?

    The 1.5TB drive from Seagate generally goes for around 8 cents per gig, while 1.0 TB drives generally come in around 9.5-10 cents/gig.

    While my Home Server at present *only* has 5.91 TB of storage, I certainly look forward to these prices coming down even further as time goes on and my storage requirements increase.

  • Brendan’s Brilliant Idea #244700 - Pirates

    Given the recent news of the kidnapping of Captain Phillips at the hands of Somali pirates and his eventual freeing by the US Navy and Navy Seals, there has been much talk about what can be done to prevent such kidnappings and attacks in future... things ranging from attacking the base camps of these pirates all the way up to unleashing a mass wave of Vikings against the pirates, something I am all in favor of.

    Though as an amateur constitutional scholar... it's important to note that such authority is one granted to the federal government.

    To quote Article 1, Section 8:

    To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

    US TITLE 18, PART I, CHAPTER 81, § 1651 does just that saying:

    Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.

    Chapter 81 contains other definitions... but is unfortunately limited on punishments as it assumes you've got the pirate in custody... thankfully Article 1, Section 8 goes further by granting the congress the express authority:

    To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

    Thus I call upon President Obama to push the Congress to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal to any willing private citizens and groups who are willing to take up arms against the threat piracy, and to use that authority under TITLE 33, CHAPTER 7, § 386 to take action:

    The President is authorized to instruct the commanders of the public-armed vessels of the United States, and to authorize the commanders of any other armed vessels sailing under the authority of any letters of marque and reprisal granted by Congress, or the commanders of any other suitable vessels, to subdue, seize, take, and, if on the high seas, to send into any port of the United States, any vessel or boat built, purchased, fitted out, or held as mentioned in section 385 of this title.

    In reading the law... there may actually be another option as found in TITLE 33, CHAPTER 7, § 383 (emphasis mine):

    The commander and crew of any merchant vessel of the United States, owned wholly, or in part, by a citizen thereof, may oppose and defend against any aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, which shall be attempted upon such vessel, or upon any other vessel so owned, by the commander or crew of any armed vessel whatsoever, not being a public armed vessel of some nation in amity with the United States, and may subdue and capture the same; and may also retake any vessel so owned which may have been captured by the commander or crew of any such armed vessel, and send the same into any port of the United States.

    Call me crazy... but § 383 would seem to authorize a private ship to capture a pirate vessel without an express Letter of Marque and Reprisal... at least under US law.

    This gives me an even better idea... at present as I see it we have 5 primary options:

    1. Do nothing and continue to pay ransoms
    2. Train merchant crews in armed resistance (and arm them)
    3. Escort merchant ships through dangerous areas
    4. Preemptively attack pirate bases and ships
    5. Bait the pirates

    Rather than go through some of the inherent problems with 1-4, lets think about #5... while expensive, why not take the concept behind behind the ‘bait car’... and apply it to ships at sea?

    Say what?

    Deliberately run decoy vessels through pirate waters, vessels armed with well trained and well armed personnel who would be able to capture or kill any and all pirates who might attack the vessel.

    The beauty of #5... is that under § 383... a US owned, flagged and crewed vessel, would not require special permission as they would be the ones being attacked, they are not making the attack. Though they would still need to be careful as to where they sailed and made port (while armed) as many nations do not allow (non-military) armed vessels to travel through their waters.

    Anyone up for some fishing for pirates?

    Heck... lets expand this idea even more... not only have well armed and trained people on these, they could be outfitted with audio and video surveillance gear, allowing every action of the pirates to be recorded.

    Why record everything? Not only could it be used to know just how the pirates operate, but could be used to identify the pirates in case anything bad happens, ensure that the crews are not being overly harsh (which would still be their right), serve as a documented warning to other pirates of the kind of force they might face if they continue in their trade, and most importantly... for pure entertainment.

    Imagine Chris Hanson of To Catch a Predator fame walk out a moment before the armed guards saying:

    Hey there! Why don't you have a seat?

    Why don't you have a seat right over there.

    So what are you doing here?

  • Earth Hour: What are you doing Saturday night?

    Recently I was forwarded an email about “Earth Hour”, a concept where well... to quote them:

    This year, Earth Hour has been transformed into the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming.


    For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming.

    I’m confused... you mean by turning off my lights for just an hour on one night... I can prevent global warming?

    What if... I want global warming? Or worse... think that the whole notion of ‘man-made’ ‘global warming’ is a not about ‘saving the planet’ but instead being used to fundamentally change our civilization and not for the better?

    I dunno about you... but at 8:30 on Saturday night, I will make sure that every single light in my apartment (as well as the temporary one I am staying in) will be on.

    Heck while I’m at it, I also plan to crank the heat and open my windows, turn on my oven as well as every single appliance and electrical device I can.

    And to make my own statement count for that much more... I think I may even make it a point to not be home during this hour!

    Perhaps I should look into renting a nice gas guzzling SUV while I’m at it... hrm

  • M&M Time!

    As is the custom… this morning I put 1 pound of M&M’s outside of my door to celebrate my 1 year anniversary with Microsoft:

    1 Lb of M&M's

    It’s been one heck of a year and here’s to many more, and more versions and updates to Windows Home Server.

    Btw… have you downloaded Power Pack 2 yet?

    As nifty as this tradition is (sadly not all honor it, tisk tisk!)... it can be a bit dangerous at times, take for example the bucket one co-worker left out his door for his 15 year anniversary back in January:

    15 Lbs of M&Ms

    I’m not going to admit just how many scoops I had out of that bowel, or how long it took the team to get through it.

  • AIG: Malicious Taxation and the Consent of the Governed

    Taxation in this the United States has historically had two purposes... revenue generation and social engineering.

    Any government that has the authority to compel you to give up part of your life (what is wealth but a manifestation of the time of ones life given up via physical or intellectual labor?) to it through taxation has a responsibility to make sure that it uses both that power and the funds it collects responsibly. Those who are strict constitutionalists (or 'originalists' if you prefer) recognize this authority and its necessity but only for the legitimate purposes of government, which was initially at least intended by be limited by the 10th Amendment:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people

    Historically it been held as legitimate when a local government levees a property tax in its area to pay for local services such as police and fire is as such actions are within their jurisdiction and responsibilities, just as it is when the federal government levees a tax for the funding of national defense projects. Both are reasonable and just provided the tax burden is shared and non-discriminatory.

    Some might argue that because it is in the best interest of the government to have a healthy population, and that smoking is antithetical to a healthy population, that levying a steep tax on tobacco products would be warranted help encourage people to stop smoking through advertizing and increased costs, as well as help pay for some of the increased medical bills incurred by smokers.

    Given the national security implications of our dependence on foreign oil, would not it also be within the authority of the federal government to impose steep increased fuel taxes to help encourage drivers to drive less and to buy more fuel efficient vehicles?

    It all sounds so reasonable... only where do we draw the line? More so, at what point does taxation cease to be a method to raise revenue for legitimate (or illegitimate expenditures) or social policies and become a method of punishment?

    Some would call the progressive income tax a form of punishment where the more one makes, the more they pay in taxes both in terms of raw dollar amounts and in terms of a percentage of their income in addition to higher brackets not getting the benefits of of certain write offs.

    "But they can afford it" some will argue... which while true, is ultimately a specious argument. It's like saying that the tall person in a group should always be forced to reach something on the top shelf or that the short person should always pick up ones dropped keys as both are best suited to the mentioned tasks more than the reverse.

    What is the point of all of this?

    This yesterday I ran across two interesting stories on both related to the decision by AIG to give ~$165 million in bonuses to some of its executives after receiving a $175 billion bailout/buyout from the American taxpayer. The first involved Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) saying that the executives should "do one of two things: resign or commit suicide" while the other involved senators who want to tax these bonuses at fairly significant rates.

    The first article expresses much of the populist rhetoric and emotion that the administration has been pushing, despite the fact that they, like the previous administration acted in a way that most did not approve of (ie giving huge piles of cash to failing companies).

    It is the second article though that is far more disturbing in 3 important ways:

    1) In its dealings with banks on behalf of the American taxpayer, the federal government did not establish sufficient controls/expectations/requirements on the conduct of the banks and other institutions who received the TARP funds, even in the case when the federal government now owns 80% of AIG they simply lack the sort of control a private group would have achieved had they paid AIG far less for a smaller percentage. While the Bush administration may have gotten us into this predicament, the Obama administration has done nothing to lessen the impact through increased regulation or the stopping of funding of failed ventures and both houses of congress have continued to run amok by enabling such reckless actions and then having the audacity to complain when it is revealed that they did spend to read the very act that explicitly enabled these bonuses prior to passing said enabling legislation.

    The early news through the weekend and early yesterday was the disappointment from the Whitehouse and that they would attempt to prevent these bonuses from being paid... later the news turned to how some planned to prevent further bonuses from being awarded and even take some or all of this money at pretty significant tax rates.

    This brings me to the second way that the second article was so disturbing:

    2) As codified in Article I, section 9 the US Constitution which says in part:

    No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

    Isn't imposing a tax after the fact a case of ex-post-facto and thus... illegal?

    While there are a few exceptions to the concept of ex-post-facto, it has generally been held that reducing the punishment/burden of something after the fact (pardon, retro-active tax cuts, repealing of a law) is acceptable and legal, while retroactively causing something to be a crime or increasing a punishment after the fact is generally not.

    While it may be legal for the federal government to pass a law declaring that any bonus paid after the passage of said law and from certain kinds of companies would be taxed in such a way, or even not eligible to be handed out, retroactively deciding to tax such a bonus, and to do so at such extreme levels would seem to violate this constitutional principal, furthermore it is miss-targeted.

    To punish every executive who received one of these bonuses with a 98 or 100% tax rate for the actions of what is ultimately a far smaller number of executives/stockholders/board members who decided to go through with these bonuses is wholly irresponsible, especially when these very bonuses may have been contractually obligated and known about by the government for months in advance.

    It's like taking a birthday gift from someone because you disapprove of the way the giver conducted themselves at some point in their life or business, but when neither party acted in a criminal manner, something that brings me to my third concern:

    3) Finally, this would seem to be a case of malicious, or punitive taxation.

    Rather than funding legitimate purposes or try to gently steer people away from smoking, fuel inefficient cars, into investing for ones retirement, etc, the act of so forcibly taxing a given behavior into the ground in the hopes of punishing and ultimately destroying it.

    This goes hand in hand with calls for so called 'windfall profits tax' that were being proposed to target oil companies who have in recent years made fairly good money due to increased oil demand and high oil prices.

    Often missing in these calls is a specific level or definition at which point such an activity is wrong, immoral or should be illegal.

    There does exist the argument of the 'spirit of the law'... which is a nice theory only flawed in practice as it leads to the concept of the so called 'living and breathing constitution' which ultimately knows no limits and can be morphed into anything to justify almost any action or policy.

    In either case we end up with an interesting case where the government and it's invisible bar sets out to create failure, which reminds me of a line from Atlas Shrugged:

    "Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them."

    At least in the Atlas Shrugged universe the politicians were honest enough to pass laws they knew would be violated, rather than the contemporary method of declaring something as wrong retroactively... ultimately known as a bill of attainder, something that is also prohibited by Article I, Section 9.

    It's not unlike the vilification of cigarettes. Many believe they are a detriment to public health through both first and second hand smoke. We ban their being smoked in certain locations, impose significant taxes on them and yet all the while... keep it a largely legal activity rather than declare the whole affair a public nuisance and outlaw it on behalf of all society/the children/etc.

    In some respects it makes sense why 'obscene profits', like smoking, drinking and fossil fuels are not banned outright... they make useful political tools, but also create a dangerous division when our leaders create an Emmanuel Goldstein for this week's "Two Minutes Hate." Sure it's nice to be able to attempt to divert attention away from ones owns fault for a time by pointing to the banks, Rush Limbaugh, the former vice-president, the Republican 'cabal'... but in the end it goes only gains the user of this tactic a temporary respite, while potentially endangering their target such as employees of AIG, many of whom did not receive massive bonuses (or likely no bonuses) but have to now deal with death threats.

    If we do decide to get on the bandwagon and say that it is ok to target specific politically unpopular groups for high taxes we need to ask why this is ok.

    Some would say "oh it's just the rich they are going after"... which is true, this time at least, however a more fundamental question must be answered: since when is singling out any single group and punishing them over (or more than) all others legitimate?

    Consider it this way, how do you define rich? Under Clinton the term 'millionaire' had largely come to mean any household making over $500,000... and now the tax policies of President Obama seem to be lowering that number to only around $250,000. How soon until that number reaches $125,000, $75,000, or even $50,000?

    In 2008 the median household income in the United States was just $50,233. Does that mean that anyone making over that amount is considered 'rich'? Maybe not now, but for how long will that be the case?

    It's basic stick and carrot conditioning, punish behavior you don't want and reward behavior you do… only here it is in reverse. If you punish those making large amounts of money through higher and higher taxes while also rewarding those who do not make as much through various subsidizations and tax credits, you ultimately make it more profitable and desirable to be 'poor' than 'rich'. Eventually you reach a point that the definition of 'rich' has to be lowered more and more as fewer and fewer people are willing to work within the system, possibly due to "Going Galt", through fraud, or otherwise giving up on trying, those making over $50,000 may just find themselves being the next 'rich.'

    The very fact that we have to spend any trying to make such definitions should be offensive to all witness to it as unlike many other countries that have or had rigid class structures, the United States practically invented mobility. A man who is rich today can be destitute tomorrow through bad decisions, and someone who is living in poverty can raise themselves not only out of the gutter, but as far and as high as they want.

    The very use of these labels by our leaders exhibits not their desire for all to be rich (or content), but their desire to pit one group against another through tax policy for their own purposes.

    This is why I am such a proponent of the FairTax, under it there would be no more ability for the government to single out any industry, company, group or individual for increased (or reduced) taxation.

    Unfortunately where we find ourselves today is with a government that has the power (though not necessarily the legitimate authority) to declare and single out politically unpopular groups and punish them not for what crimes they've committed, but for being unpopular to those in power.

    This nation was founded on the principals of liberty and that:

    that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

    ...but instead of an Orwellian mantra of "but some animals are more equal than others"... we have degraded to something along the lines of "some men are less equal than others and must act to serve the masses"

    Any government that we allow to retain this level of control may say that it stands for freedom and equality... however there is only one logical outcome of this sort of power: unchecked tyranny and while today it may be the rich, the bankers, the executives they target, without their respecting the limits built into the constitution, there is no limit to who may earn their ire.

    This is nothing new, to borrow a term from Alexis de Tocqueville and recently made popular by Mark Levin, we have been living in a 'soft tyranny' for many years now, created by those who think that they know how we should live our lives better than we do.

    To quote a 1775 letter from John Adams:

    Your Description of the Distresses of the worthy Inhabitants of Boston, and the other Sea Port Towns, is enough to melt an Heart of Stone. Our Consolation must be this, my dear, that Cities may be rebuilt, and a People reduced to Poverty, may acquire fresh Property: But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it...

    Even then it was clear to Adams how this slide works, and it is unfortunate that some 233 years later during an election where "change" was voted for, we may have ended up with the wrong sort which if left unchecked will continue the slide away from something resembling liberty, to something approaching slavery, but not to a plantation owner, business or king... but to government and our fellow citizens.

    Here's hoping that it's not to late to reverse course and remind our elected officials that they do not have the unchecked authority to punish those who make them look bad within the law, that they do not have do not have the authority to certain actions a crime, the and that ultimately... their authority only derives from the consent of the governed, a consent which can be withdraw.

  • Contributing to ‘Climate Change’ on the cheap?

    When it comes to the environment, there was a time that we were told that the world was going to end due to global cooling, then it was acid rain, later it was a giant hole in the ozone layer, followed by global warming and eventually global climate change (really just global warming renamed in the hopes no one would notice).

    The Wall Street Journal had an excellent piece on Monday discussing the Obama Administration's proposed cap and trade tax system and who would ultimately end up paying the bill in the end (spoiler alert: the answer is anyone who uses energy).

    That article and former claims of doom and gloom are not the point of this post… instead both got me thinking about the health of the plans of the earth. Even if such a carbon trading system was successful in reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (which is difficult given the amount of naturally produced CO2)... I am forced to worry about the health of the plants of 'mother' earth... which, without sufficient amounts of CO2 starve and die.

    This has me wondering... what can I do, to cheaply help counteract some of these carbon offsets being created by others. How can I release more CO2 into the atmosphere to help these soon to be starving plants survive... without paying an arm and a leg for it in taxes?

    See it's that tax thing which is the key... sure I could waste a few dollars and... keep my car idling down stairs while I'm asleep or at work... or run the window air conditioner (that I brought from South Dakota where it was needed) all summer with the my apartment windows open.

    Both would surely contribute in some way, but not enough. In the case of the air conditioner, without knowing exactly where every kWh of power was coming from, I have no way to know if the original source is emitting copious amounts of CO2... and in both cases soon I'd be likely paying an increased rate  due to higher taxes on the energy producers.

    So what other options do I have that might not be as heavily taxed (at least right away)? Here are some options I'm thinking of:

    • Gain back much of my lost weight and remain out of shape so as to use oxygen less efficiently
    • Purchase dry ice for the express purpose of letting it melt/evaporate
    • Make baked beans a required food for all Americans at least twice a day
      • OK so it doesn't result in CO2 but it does create a greenhouse gas... right?
    • Buy an old coal mine, mine the coal myself and set fire to what I extract
      • I suspect that purchased charcoal would have a tax built in
    • Purchase tanks of compressed CO2 and leave the nozzle running
    • Go on a mass plant killing rampage
      • the fewer CO2 eating plants there are, the more CO2 there will be for the survivors
    • Cut down my own firewood and burn it
    • Cause a volcanic eruption on a deserted island
      • Admittedly I'm still not sure how I'd do this
    • Boil as much water as possible to create more of the biggest green house gas of them all
    • Plant and then burn corn
      • Corn sweats late in its growth cycle, putting large amounts of moisture into the air
      • Burning of the corn would emit large amounts of CO2

    Am I missing any?

    Note I have purposelessly left off things that would clearly be illegal (various bits of arson, burning of actually hazardous materials (tires, etc)) or other things that would directly harm others or their property.

  • Fire Bad! Fire Bad!

    For most waking up on a Friday, they wake up happy that the week is nearly over and start planning for the weekend… yesterday I didn’t have that joy when around 4:30 am I awoke to the sound of the UPS in my second bedroom beeping and the loud talking and walking of individuals outside, wondering what time it was I looked over to my alarm clock to find that I had no power in my bedroom as well. A quick look through my blinds revealed some emergency vehicles outside of my building. Now being awake and not likely able to fall back asleep I opted to put on some clothes so I could go outside and see what all of the fuss was about when I heard a knock at the door... it was a Redmond Police Officer telling me that they were evacuating the building due to a fire, I told him I'd be out in just another moment as I needed to finish dressing.

    Upon returning to my bedroom I noticed that one of the wall outlets had an eerie orange glow within/behind it, I grabbed the officer and told him that I think I’d found the fire.

    Fast forward a little while as the fire department went apt to apt in the building, hunting for the fire and it's signs while wielding axes and devices capable of detecting hot spots, all the while only getting to kick down 2 doors as their occupants instinctively locked them when they'd left at the request of the police earlier.

    Not long later I heard a couple of the emergency personal mention an apartment number, 131, as it turned out they thought it had come from mine and a quick look through my bedroom window seemed to confirm that:

    Fireman looking into the hole they created

    Our first look at one of the holes:

    My first good look at the hole

    Apparently a short time after 4 am someone on the 3rd floor of the building placed a 911 call because his bedroom was filling with smoke that seemed to be coming through the floor, smoke caused by an electrical outlet in my bedroom wall 2 floors below.

    Luckily for all involved the damage was minor with the fire only burning inside of my wall, through the firewall and into the wall of the neighboring apartment and with only smoke which made it to the higher floors, though to verify this the fire department tore out large chunk of the wall in 6 different apartments and poked holes in the ceilings of two of them.

    While similar removal of sheetrock was seen in all 6 affected units, mine and the neighbor (who you can see through my (now) half missing firewall):

    My dresser on the left and my bed on the right

    Yes that is the other apartment you see over there.

    Where it all began

    Only smoke went up

    After the fire was out and the smoke cleared the Deputy Fire Marshal and a few inspectors went in to survey the damage. The consensus seemed to be that the fire was caused by an apparent fault in a 10-15 year old wall socket and actually occurred inside of the wall, likely unrelated to what I had plugged into it at the time (a cell phone and cordless phone base station, only one the plugs of which showed ANY sign of heat damage, and even then minimal)).

    All is well though, no one was injured, no one (except for the building owners) suffered any property damage other than some limited smoke damage, personally my renters insurance will be paying for the time I spend outside of my apartment as well as cleaning of those items that now stink.

    A big thank you needs to go out to the Redmond Police and Fire Departments for their prompt actions yesterday morning which helped make the whole thing happen pretty smoothly... or as smoothly as a fire can be.

    I am fortunate to live in a good neighborhood as the Fire Department is a straight shot down a single road, less than a mile away and the Police Station is even closer which is why both were able to arrive while the original caller was still on the phone with 911... and because of their closeness (and the hour) they did not turn on their sirens, just their lights which was why the police had to wake most people up by banging on their doors... which to some was a mixed blessing.

    The local FD also deserves major props for their amazing parking job. The apartment I live at is on a rather large hill and the local FD drove 4 large trucks down the hill and successfully parked:

    An amazing parking job

    Even more impressive (if we ignore their professionalism, stamina, willingness to serve, ability to wake up and perform at any hour of the day and more)… was seeing these trucks back up this hill successfully!

    This event has raised some interesting questions in my mind in different areas: technically, personally and socially, all things I will discuss at a later time, but they are for another time, as right now I am enjoying the free breakfast at a local hotel… though Care Bears is on the TV down here, so maybe it’s not all good… mmm, seasoned potatoes.

  • Accosted by airport security... over a T-shirt

    By now we’ve all seen the new Microsoft marketing campaign known as “I’m a PC” (aka Life Without Walls)... and as part of that shirts and other wares can be found quite easily, I am not only an owner of one, but an wearer of it as well:

    2009-02-15 19-02-13.027

    Back in October I had the pleasure of attending PDC 2008 in LA and had a great time talking to existing users of Windows Home Server, educating and evangelizing Windows Home Server to users who know little/anything about it as well attending sessions... and being harassed a little by airport security.

    On the Sunday beforehand when walking through airport security at the Seattle airport I had the TSA official at the metal detector read my shirt and say “You’re a PC eh?” and take a step towards me and pretend to kick me in the shins a few times and ask “You probably get that a lot don’t you?”

    Me: “Nope, first time”

    Him: “You know, I actually like my PC, I’ve had it since... 2002 and it still works great”

    Me: “That’s great to hear...”

    Him: “... only it is getting a little old and I’m thinking of replacing it with a Mac”

    Me: “That’s OK, Mac’s run Windows pretty good”

    We had a nice chat, but he had work he needed to do so it didn’t go much further.

    Fast forward a few months... week before last my mother was traveling through Minneapolis airport, wearing a slightly different “I’m a PC” shirt I gave her for Christmas (sure I’m cheap, but at least it’s not cheap crap).

    After making it through airport security she immediately called me to tell of the following exchange:

    TSA Officer: “Um... what’s a PC? Are you a personal companion?”

    My Mom: “You know... a personal computer?”

    TSA Officer: “A what?”

    My Mom: “Not a Mac”

    TSA Officer: “Oh!”

    So not only do have TSA officers pretending to commit acts of violence against passengers (and yet we can’t tell a bad joke involving knives, bombs, or pastries of mass destruction)... we have some who are apparently oblivious to major marketing campaigns from both Microsoft and Apple... this is not good.

  • Brendan’s Brilliant Idea #242525

    Screen protectors are nothing new. They exist for PDAs, mp3 players and even computers. Most exist to protect the screen from scratches, others from prying eyes, I want one that protects it from the fingers of other people.

    Call me crazy, but little bothers me more than to see the finger printed smudge of someone who has touched my monitor, and it’s even more bothersome when I’m sitting there as they touch my monitor to point at something.

    What I wouldn’t give for a small, electrified field that would zap the finger of unsuspecting persons who dared to put their finger too close to my monitor.

    I’m not asking for a lethal shock… just something that’d make them say “yea… I’m never doing that again”… because my verbal reminders don’t seem to be enough.

    I tell ya, it’s a million dollar idea.

More Posts « Previous page - Next page »
Powered by Community Server (Commercial Edition), by Telligent Systems