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Google and Facebook: Unelected Superpowers?

Mark_in_Brazil Why concerned about only one side of Keystone XL? (243 comments)

Interesting that the OP is so deeply concerned with tech companies' lobbying against Keystone XL, but not concerned with the Koch brothers, whose organizations have spent a nine-digit amount of dollars on campaigns and advertisements (often misleading or just plain false) to influence campaigns, with an eye toward issues of interest to the Koch brothers themselves, like getting limits on campaign donations removed and, just to pick a random example, getting the Keystone XL pipeline approved.

about 4 months ago

The Math Formula That Lead To the Financial Crash

Mark_in_Brazil Ridiculous (371 comments)

It's ridiculous to blame the Black-Scholes model, the Black-Scholes equation, or the Black-Scholes formulas. There are two groups of individuals responsible for the crash, even if the corporate press refuses to acknowledge it: bank executives who knowingly did ridiculously risky things and the ratings agencies that gave them the cover to do it. It's also ridiculous to refer to the crash as the "subprime crisis," because the problem most definitely was not subprime mortgages. The sum total of all the subprime mortgages was on the order of a few hundred million dollars, but the damage done by the crash was in the tens of trillions of dollars. The bailout of 2008 amounted to over one-and-a-half trrillion dollars, which was enough to pay off all the subprime mortgages several times over, and yet it didn't solve the problem.

Let's start with the ratings agencies. With winks and nudges to their friends running the banks, the people at the ratings agencies gave ratings of AAA, which means "as close to risk-free as you can get," to packages of mortgages in which they knew many were "subprime" and many, many more had been given by unethical lenders (who later sold them off in packages) who did not check the ability of their customers to pay. In some cases, the AAA rating was even extended to complex derivatives based on the mortgage packages, despite the fact that the people at the ratings agencies didn't understand those derivatives well enough to give a rating at all. It's worth mentioning that among those customers were many middle-class and wealthy individuals counting on the obviously unsustainable growth of real estate prices in the US market so they could take out mortgages to buy properties, hold on to them for 6-18 months, and then "flip" them for a huge profit. Also among them were many companies. So don't go blaming the lower-middle-class and poor holders of "subprime" mortgages, who only represented a small fraction of the number of bad mortgages. Anyway, a rating like AAA should only be given to things that are as risk-free as a government bond. Since wealthy people and economists love to talk about there being "no such thing as a free lunch," it's worth pointing out that that idea is a basic principle used in things like pricing assets. In that context, it's called the "no-arbitrage principle." Arbitrage basically means "risk-free profit." The idea behind the no-arbitrage principle is that if there were an opportunity for risk-free profit, somebody would have already taken advantage of it and driven prices to the point where the opportunity no longer existed. In today's world of high-frequency trading, the no-arbitrage principle actually works pretty well. A classic example of arbitrage would be a stock that's sold in two different exchanges. If the price is lower in one and you can buy it quickly enough, then sell it quickly enough in the other exchange, where it's worth more, then you can make a profit with basically no risk. The thing is that if anyone notices and tries to do that, it drives up the price (buy increasing demand) in the exchange where the price was lower and brings the price down (by increasing supply) in the exchange where the price was higher. The prices are thus driven rapidly toward equilibrium. And in fact a crucial step in the derivation of the Black-Scholes equation is an application of the no-arbitrage principle, equating a risk-free return to the rate paid by government bonds.

Additionally, when heads had to roll at the banks for, y'know, breaking the world economy, you know the execs wanted to protect themselves and their own and put all the blame on their quantitative analysts, but they couldn't because the quants had done a good job of covering their own asses by sending e-mails to their superiors warning that there were all kinds of risks not being controlled or managed, and that there were even new risks introduced by modeling that could lead to problems. So the execs were fully aware that they were trading in assets that were giving returns as high as tens of percent per month while pretending they actually believed those investments were as risk-free as buying government bonds. If you believe that the execs didn't know, I have a prospectus on some excellent investments I'd like to show you. The thing is that when some banks are giving their investors these enormous returns, under the cover of ratings that say there's almost no risk involved, the execs in other banks have two choices: protect the bank and its investors and clients by sticking to legitimate risk management practices or pretend along with their peers that the packaged mortgages and the derivatives based on them were nearly risk-free and thus get huge returns while not setting off any alarms among people looking for risk on the banks' balance sheets. Since the execs' bonuses in a given quarter only depend on the result for that quarter, they basically didn't give a rat's ass if the bank or the world economy was going to break at some point in the near future, because all they wanted to know was how much they'd be getting in bonus that quarter.

Summarizing, the following parties were not responsible for breaking the world economy: poor people getting home loans, quantitative analysts doing the analysis their bosses told them to do, or Merton, Black, and Scholes. The following parties were responsible for breaking the world economy: bank executives and ratings agencies.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: How Do You Deal With Priorities Inflation In IT Projects?

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Get a project manager. (304 comments)

The important thing is not to get a project manager, but to give the project manager the power to actually do things like manage priorities. I worked at a software start-up in 1999. At the first company meeting after I got there, I tried to get an idea of what were the highest priorities among the tasks facing the company at that point, not necessarily in order, but just putting a priority from "1" to "3" (I had originally suggested 1 to 5) on each item. Out of 20-odd items, one got a "2" and the rest were "1." I tried to explain that I understood that everything was important and urgent, but that in order to get anywhere, we'd have to give some things higher priorities than others. I explained that "3" didn't mean "unimportant," just "less of a priority than a 1 or a 2." They all looked at me like I had 9 heads and outvoted me 3-1 to keep the utterly useless priority list as it was.

about 2 years ago

Copyright Industry Calls For Broad Search Engine Controls

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Free literature (421 comments)

Look at my /. username, Mr. Reading Comprehension.

more than 2 years ago

Copyright Industry Calls For Broad Search Engine Controls

Mark_in_Brazil Free literature (421 comments)

For free literature, most classics are already in the public domain. You can get many of the greatest works of literature in English free (and without violating even today's ridiculous copyright laws) at places like Project Gutenberg. Some things, like the later Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, are in the public domain in Australia, but not in the USA. In any case, there are a few Project Gutenberg sites. I got the first few Barsoom novels from the Project Gutenberg site for the USA (linked above), and the rest of them from the one for Australia.

more than 2 years ago

IOKIYAR, part the nth.

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Duh (3 comments)

After Citizens United, I don't think it makes a difference anyway. As Colbert has so brilliantly shown, a SuperPAC can be "not at all coordinating with" a candidate and still help him. I expect something on the order of 10^9 dollars to be spent on ads attacking Obama. And as the "debate" over health care reform and the 2000, 2004, and 2010 election cycles showed (even before Citizens United and SuperPACs) facts simply don't matter. How many people voted for "Tea Party" candidates in 2010 because Obama is a Kenyan socialist who's trying to impose Sharia and kill Grandma?

I think my favorite anti-Obama lie is the one that says the proof he's a socialist is the mandate in the "Obamacare" health care system. The mandate is something that's only necessary in a market-based (i.e. capitalist) attempt at similar-to-universal health care system, especially one with no public option. If the new health care system were single-payer or actual UK-style socialized medicine, there would be no need for a mandate, because everyone would simply have health care. Nobody would be forced to buy health insurance. And that's why Republicans (and not just Romney) are the ones who originally came up with the mandate in previous health care reform proposals.

Because of Citizens United, the RNC can be completely rebuffed in this latest affront to democracy, and it won't make a bit of difference. I know that wasn't your point. Your point is a good one, but I'm used to it. Did you see all the hypocrite Rs giving Newt a standing ovation for his evasion of the question about his personal life, with an attack on CNN for even asking such "appalling" and "despicable" questions? Do you have any doubt those same people thought it was great when the media, pushed by Newt himself, dogged Clinton with similar questions? Anyway, back to my point, there will still be several months of corporate-funded ads attacking Obama before the RNC has to spend a dime. Obama won in 2008 when the whole country was really pissed off at Bush and Obama set all kinds of records for fundraising from small donors. Even if Obama doubles the amount he gets from each donor and doubles the number of donors, individuals' contributions simply won't be even noticeable next to unlimited C.U.-enabled corporate donations to SuperPACs. While a lot of people are happy to see that Obama's campaign strategy appears to be somewhat populist, focusing on income disparty as (gasp!) a problem, I think that's just going to stimulate the flow of even more corporate (and wealthy individuals') money to R-friendly SuperPACS.

I really believe C.U. is the end of anything resembling democracy in the USA. I'd love to be wrong, and my bets are hedged (look at my /. username), but I really think very bad things are going to happen in the USA starting this year.

more than 2 years ago

IOKIYAR, part the nth.

Mark_in_Brazil Duh (3 comments)

Owning the media has its perks.

Your "liberal media:" still not liberal.

more than 2 years ago

The Passion of the Atheist: Reflections on the death of Christopher Hitchens

Mark_in_Brazil Torture apologist (6 comments)

Not only was he an ardent supporter of the stupidest war ever, he was also an apologist for the Bush Administration's use of torture. I won't miss him at all.

Disclosure: I suspect my position on the theistic questions is similar to yours. I reject the questions themselves as ill-defined and don't waste time trying to answer them. I certainly don't have the (donning asbestos underwear) faith an individual has to have to declare that the answer to those questions is "no."

more than 2 years ago

Million Dollar Crowdturfing Industry Dupes Social Networks

Mark_in_Brazil Duh (170 comments)

"Windows Vista was really bad, but Windows 7 is great!"

more than 2 years ago

Drunkeness and Sexual Harassment Alleged At Microsoft UK

Mark_in_Brazil At Microsoft in Brazil... (159 comments)

A woman I knew who worked at Microsoft in Brazil was told that her husband couldn't be covered on her health insurance, even though male employees' wives were all covered by their husbands' Microsoft-provided policies. When she started to say that was unfair, she was told to back off. I guess sexism at Microsoft is a worldwide thing.

about 3 years ago

Hope he has a good data plan :^)

Mark_in_Brazil Two technical questions (4 comments)

I have two technical questions:

1. Can you identify his cell phone, maybe from usage patterns, and know when it's his Blackberry that's trying to access a page?

2. Does work on cell phones?

more than 3 years ago

Motorola CEO Blames Open Android Store For Phone Performance Ills

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Android fragmentation, closed source, open mark (384 comments)

It's not hard to develop apps for Android. And do you know what happens to apps that affect performance, crash or whatever? They get downvoted into oblivion and ignored.

The Skype app, which mangles performance, and the Facebook app, which voraciously wolfs down battery charge, haven't been downvoted into oblivion and ignored yet. How long should we expect to wait for this to happen?

more than 3 years ago

Android Copy of Danish Man Unveiled

Mark_in_Brazil Re:After watching the video (147 comments)

I wonder, if they made one of Christopher Walken, could you tell the difference?


more than 3 years ago

Sony Reveals the Next Generation Portable Console

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Meh (244 comments)

I was looking forward to the Atari Flashback Portable that sadly never materialized. I really don't have a need or desire for a high-powered latest-generation portable console, but retro portable gaming I would pay for.

What about the Pandora?

What can you do with it?

Pandora's app site


Loads more apps, including emulators and games

FWIW, I'm going to give Sony a chance to sell me a PSP2/NGP/whatever, but I'm already looking at alternatives. I don't really need all the gyros and accelerometers and multitouch surfaces and GPS and whatnot, and I think those things will jack up the price a lot. What I really want is a portable system on which I can watch videos (the PSP was good enough at that for me) and play sports games (especially soccer) and shooters. And I want two thumbsticks for the shooters so the controls can be consistent. I hate switching between PSP shooters, because each one has its own control scheme with its own ways of getting around the lack of a second thumbstick, and I get confused.

more than 3 years ago

Pot Grower's Privacy Challenged

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Stop with the "Just a plant" nonsense (477 comments)

but every adult I have met who smoked pot back in the 60's and 70's are not what I call intelligent or well off anymore.

Like Willie Nelson, for instance?

Or Jack Herer?

Or Willie Nelson?

Could it be that the people you know simply weren't that bright or motivated to begin with?

How 'bout Richard Feynman? He talks about some of his experiences smoking pot in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, and he was pretty well off and considered quite intelligent right up until his death.

more than 3 years ago

If there's one thing even more useless than failbook ...

Mark_in_Brazil I have a profile, but... (2 comments)

At some point LinkedIn started charging to use what they claimed were useful features. Or something. I really don't remember or care. I didn't see much use for the whole thing anyway, even if everything were (or is) free. I still have a profile there, but I really don't use it. I've got a backlog of a bunch of contact requests, most of them from people I actually know, but I don't want to accept them and in that way encourage people to keep using this thing, especially to reach me.

more than 3 years ago

Just Where Is The Lincoln Memorial, Anyhow?

Mark_in_Brazil Re:If you cant tell the difference.... (650 comments)

[If you can't tell the difference] between the Lincoln memorial and the FDR memorial you have no business going to Washington DC.

It sounds like the PP is saying that anyone who doesn't know enough about DC shouldn't go to DC and learn about it. That strikes me as weird.

However if you decide to go anyway, they do have still pre-printed maps checked for accuracy that sell at any gas station or book store.

Bingo. Yet another hissy-fit over nothing. Nobody is going to miss the Beck anti-Democrat rally. The two sites are less than half a mile apart. Glenn Beck fans and other people in DC speak the same language, so they could, y'know, ask for directions. Additionally, as the PP noted, it's not hard to find maps.

However, "teh Googlz iz in on teh conspiracy" is a convenient excuse if the turnout doesn't meet their expectations.

It doesn't help that Glenn Beck has his fans terrified, convinced that Obama and Democrats are enemies of the US and that Obama is just like Hitler. Conspiracy theories like "Google Maps doesn't want us to find the Lincoln Memorial and save America because Obama and Pelosi are controlling Google" are easier to believe when somebody on a channel called FOX News has been trying to convince them for years that Obama is destroying the USA and is about to put the white man down because he's an angry black radical, impose Sharia law because he's a Muslim, send people to Gulags and turn the USA into the Soviet Union because he's just like Stalin, or maybe he'll just turn into a genocidal expansionist dictator because he's just like Hitler.

On Tuesday, I checked to find the names of the streets that meet at the corner where I wanted a friend to meet me near the Berrini station of the São Paulo metropolitan train. Google Maps showed the station out in the middle of the Pinheiros River. I wonder if Obama and Pelosi were trying to drown me or poison me with the pollution in the Pinheiros...

about 4 years ago

The Great Operating System Games

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Startrek (145 comments)

Some friends and I (and lots of other 6th through 12th grade students) played that on terminals connected to our school's computer in 1980. I think the computer was a PDP-8/some letter, but I don't remember which letter. It was kept in the administrative building, while the student terminal room, which had a noisy teletype-style terminal, a newer and quieter terminal whose display was dot matrix printing, and three or four monocrome CRT terminals, was in a building with classrooms and the school library.

Trek was so popular at one point that I remember all the terminals surrounded by kids, and even the teletype-ish terminal pounding out the quadrant and sector maps. My friends and I figured out a few different ways of aiming photon torpedoes perfectly. One obvious one was a calculator with trig functions (and inverse trig functions), but at least we understood the trigonometry well enough to figure out how to use the calculator to help us kill Klingons. But I also remember three of us with protractors, rulers, and graph paper, getting the angle without using a calculator. The cool thing was when other kids saw us picking off the Klingons easily (and us celebrating each perfect shot), watched us for a while to understand how we did it, and then went off and did it themselves on other terminals. Some didn't care much about math like my friends and I did, but they cared enough about destroying Klingon ships represented by the letter K that they were willing to learn the math to do it.

more than 4 years ago

Peepel iz dum !

Mark_in_Brazil Re:Excuse my ignorance... (8 comments)

I wonder if the VCs have gotten any smarter. I respect John Doerr greatly. In the late '90s, everyone "respected" him, but most of his "fans" didn't even understand what had made him so successful. Doerr invested in high-tech and internet businesses that made Kleiner Perkins a lot of money. But then all the VCs, instead of seeing that the businesses that made Doerr and KPCB a lot of money had viable revenue models and at least plausible paths to profitability, some by creating new niches. Instead of learning from how Doerr analyzes business plans to choose the ones he thinks will succeed, moron VCs simply thought "Doerr made assloads of money investing in web companies, so the way to make assloads of money is to invest in web companies." The result was the ridiculously large numbers of businesses that were just "[insert business here], only on teh intarwebz!," but received millions or even tens of millions in VC financing. I used to love to read and see the final result of these investments.

I remember when I was at a software startup in '99. We had done serious studies with multi-billion-dollar retailers, showing that our software could increase their profitability tremendously while giving them control over their overall pricing strategy and "image." I remember meetings with arrogant VCs. We'd show the proof that this software was tremendously valuable to retailers and that realistic revenue models showed the company making lots and lots of money and creating huge amounts of wealth for its shareholders. The arrogant and stupid VCs' eyes would glaze over. They'd sometimes wait for us to finish before dismissively saying "Uh huh... what's your internet story?" I suggested to the founder that we change the name of the company to "e-[orignal company name].com" and we'd be swimming in VC money. The saddest thing is that even though I was joking, I was probably right.

One of the reasons I so enjoyed was that I liked imagining the faces of these arrogant pricks in meetings with their bosses, trying to explain a portfolio of duds and why they thought investing $8MM on and was such a good idea.

more than 4 years ago



Federal Government CIO Kundra Returns to Work

Mark_in_Brazil Mark_in_Brazil writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Mark_in_Brazil (537925) writes "Vivek Kundra, who was on leave from his new appointment by President Obama as the federal government's chief information officer, has been reinstated. The reinstatement comes a few days after F.B.I. agents had raided his former office at the District of Columbia's technology department. The raid was discussed on Slashdot last week. Mr. Kundra was not a target of the raid. A former employee of his, Yusuf Acar, has been charged with bribery. The F.B.I. said that Mr. Kundra was not implicated in the bribery case, but he took a leave from his new federal job anyway."
Link to Original Source

Warner and Fox Reach "Watchmen" Deal

Mark_in_Brazil Mark_in_Brazil writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Mark_in_Brazil (537925) writes "The Watchmen film will be watched by audiences after all, and on time. Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox settled their nearly yearlong dispute over the movie on Thursday, the studios announced in a joint statement. The movie will open in theaters as planned on March 6, the statement said. The exact terms of the agreement were not disclosed and will remain confidential."
Link to Original Source

ACLU: Patenting Abstract Ideas Is Unconstitutional

Mark_in_Brazil Mark_in_Brazil writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Mark_in_Brazil (537925) writes "The ACLU has argued in an amicus brief that patenting abstract ideas is unconstitutional. Bernard L. Bilski's patent on a method for reducing weather-related risk in commodity transactions was denied. Mr. Bilski appealed, and the ACLU issued a "friend of the court" brief arguing that Bilski is trying to patent an abstract idea, which is a violation of the First Amendment. Christopher Hansen, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said "Patent law prohibits the patenting of abstract ideas, but recently the courts and the patent office have been granting patents that consist essentially of speech or thought. If the government continues to allow patents of speech or thought it risks violating the First Amendment. No one can have a monopoly on an idea or prohibit speech on a particular subject." The brief is available here."
Link to Original Source


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