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Can Computers Be Used To Optimize the US Tax Code?

ptbarnett Re:Save yourself the trouble.... (730 comments)

Give me $1,000,000 per year and I will *happily* pay 50% of it in taxes. At my current meager salary, I can't *afford* to pay 50% of it in taxes and remain a functional member of society.

Unfortunately, you are probably paying close to 50% in taxes already, even at your "meager" salary. It depends on where you live, and your income level.

By the time you account for all federal, state, and local taxes that you pay directly, plus the taxes you pay indirectly (i.e. through your employer, and the businesses from which you buy goods and services), plus the licenses and permits and regulatory costs you pay directly and indirectly, it can easily add up to 50% or more.

But, the data I cited is for federal taxes only (individual income, social insurance, corporate, excise). The average rate for all taxpayers is about 20%:

Total US Federal Tax Rate by Income Level, 1979-2007

more than 3 years ago
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Can Computers Be Used To Optimize the US Tax Code?

ptbarnett Re:Save yourself the trouble.... (730 comments)

I see how the charts indicate a strong trend of the devaluation of employed persons in America. It only proves my point: The wealthy have persisted in devaluing the average worker, and overvaluing themselves.

Apparently, you are viewing the data through the lens of your own bitterness.

I see the share of income for the top 1% (and to a lesser extent, the top 20% -- but you'll have to look at the raw data to see it) increasing over time, but it's wildly variable. The dates where the increase peaked or fell back correspond with the boom and bust periods in the US economy. That's because the top brackets income get a large proportion of their income from capital gains.

To realize a capital gain, one has to invest (and risk losing) capital. That capital funds new business ventures and expansion of existing businesses, It's what grows a company faster, and creates jobs. If the capital sits on the sidelines, the economy stagnates or even declines.

Nobody wants to pay taxes; you're right. But that doesn't make my point mute. Maybe you're bitter because you couldn't buy both a boat and a benz last month.

I think you mean "moot".

But, since you seem to think I'm one of the wealthy, I'll have to disappoint you. My car is 6 years old, and I'll probably drive it another 4 years until I can save the cash to buy a new one. I paid off the mortgage on a modest house last year, so I don't have any long-term debt. The only significant investments I have are in an IRA and 401(k), because I've been contributing as much as I can for the past 20 years. With a bit of luck, it will be enough to retire on, without depending on Social Security.

However, the period 1979-2007 almost exactly mirrors my path from the bottom 20% to the top 20%. And that's what detailed studies have found: the population of the various quintiles are not static. People generally move upward, with new people filling in at the bottom (as they enter the workforce as young adults or immigrate to the US). Furthermore, the average income for all quintiles has been increasing over the past 30 years, albeit at different rates.

You've got a choice: either start valuing people fairly yourself, or get ready for the government to do it for you.

You've got a choice, too. Either get off your butt and work to improve your own financial position, or wait for the government to bail you out. Which strategy do you think is more likely to succeed?

more than 3 years ago
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Capturing Solar Power With Antennae

ptbarnett Re:The problem with solar power (190 comments)

Hello 1978, welcome to 2011 where panels pay for themselves within 4 years, have a lifespan of 20+ years, and are significantly cheaper to produce and use less-rare components.

Maybe where you live. But, where I live, I'm paying 9.5 cents per kWh, and averaging about 1000 kWh per month. The present value (at a 4.5% discount rate) of my electric bill over 20 years at that price and consumption rate is about $15,000. Of course, I can't count on my electric rate remaining at 9.5 cents per kWh. I was paying almost twice that a few years ago.

A quick search of the net finds a calculator that says the average sun-hours per day in my area is 5.43, and I'd need 7.4 kW of solar panels to generate enough electricity for a zero net consumption (presuming net metering, rather than storing it locally). I'm not aware of any solar panel systems that sell for $2.00 per watt, installed

To break even in 4 years as you claim, the cost would have to drop to a bit more than $4,000, or about 57 cents/watt, installed. Where do I find these solar panels?

more than 3 years ago
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Can Computers Be Used To Optimize the US Tax Code?

ptbarnett Re:My version (730 comments)

50%?!? I don't understand how anyone can justify giving up half of your income to the government.

If you live in the US and are "middle-income" or above, you may already be doing so. It depends on your income level and where you live.

Just the taxes alone are about 40%: Your real tax rate: 40%

But, by the time you figure in:

  • Federal income and excise taxes
  • State income, excise, sales, and property taxes
  • Local income, excise, sales, and property taxes
  • Taxes paid on your behalf by your employer, or yourself if you are self-employed.
  • Your share of federal, state, and local corporate taxes (they are passed along to you)
  • Direct licenses and permit fees of all kinds
  • Indirect licenses and permit fees (passed along to you by businesses and individuals you pay)

It all adds up, and can easily approach 50%.

And that's without considering the things that various governments require you to purchase. federal, state, and local taxes (income, excise, sales, property), plus your share of corporate income taxes (which inflates the price you pay), plus all the different fees for licenses, permits, etc. that you pay over your lifetime --- either directly or indirectly (don't forget those corporations, small businesses, or even individuals that you've paid for a product or service... they have to pass on their fees, too), you'll

more than 3 years ago
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Can Computers Be Used To Optimize the US Tax Code?

ptbarnett Re:Save yourself the trouble.... (730 comments)

Thanks for your amazing math skills, Rush.

Sorry, I can't take credit for it. I knew about the source data from the Congressional Budget Office:

http://cbo.gov/publications/collections/tax/2010/all_tables.pdf

But, I only recently discovered that someone had plotted the data and posted it on Wikimedia.

One person in the U.S. earns a few trillion dollars a year. Everyone else earns a few thousand. The government taxes anyone earning over a million at %60. Who's paying most of the taxes? That one guy. Oh... but who SHOULD be paying most of the taxes? That one guy.

Compare this graph:

Share of US Pre-Tax Income by Income Level, 1979-2007

To this graph:

Share of Total US Federal Taxes by Income Level, 1979-2007

Even you should be able to see the difference. I certainly understand your desire for the "wealthy" to pay more, but you can't claim they aren't paying their share.

Yes, the wealthy are paying for the bulk of government operations, but they should, because nobody else can.

No, the wealthy are paying for the bulk of government operations because you don't want to.

more than 3 years ago
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Can Computers Be Used To Optimize the US Tax Code?

ptbarnett Re:Save yourself the trouble.... (730 comments)

Then those that make the most will finally pull their own weight.

Those that make the most are already paying most of the taxes, and the proportion is increasing:

Share of Total Federal Taxes by Income Level, 1979-2007

If you limit it to income taxes, the proportion is even higher:

Share of Individual Federal Taxes by Income Level, 1979-2007

Note that the proportion of individual income taxes paid by the lowest quintile is near or at zero through this period, and the second quintile has dropped to zero. The average income tax rates for these groups is effectively negative, due to the effective of various transfer payments like the Earned Income Tax Credit:

Average Individual US Income Tax Rate by Income Level, 1979-2007

more than 3 years ago
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Syrians Using Donkeys Instead of DSL After Gov't Shuts Down Internet

ptbarnett Re:Bandwidth of an motorcycle (207 comments)

"Never underestimate the bandwidth of a beat up old station wagon speeding down the highway with a back seat full of backup tapes."

The quote (or a variation thereof) was first cited on USENET in 1985, back before ISP's were a viable business model:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sneakernet#Non-fiction

more than 3 years ago
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Crashed Helicopter Sparks Concern Over Stealth Secrets

ptbarnett Re:That makes sense (484 comments)

That leaves a few possibilities :

You overlooked a fourth alternative: The US government has known exactly where Osama was for some time, and chose instead to watch the building to see who came and went. Of course, that says nothing about where the Pakistani government knew.

So, why did they go in last weekend? A UK paper has speculated it was because enough information was in the Guantanamo Bay files distributed by WikiLeaks to tip off Osama that his hideout had been compromised. They had to act before Osama disappeared again.

more than 3 years ago
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EFF Advocates Leaving Wireless Routers Open

ptbarnett Re:A solution looking for a problem (686 comments)

This allows your guests to sniff each other's traffic.

It's an open network. The guest should be responsible for securing his traffic with end-to-end encryption with SSL or SSH if he/she is worried about disclosure.

more than 3 years ago
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EFF Advocates Leaving Wireless Routers Open

ptbarnett A solution looking for a problem (686 comments)

[From the article:] There is currently no WiFi protocol that allows anybody to join the network, while using link-layer encryption to prevent each network member from eavesdropping on the others. But such a protocol should exist.

An easier solution would be for a WiFi access point to offer two networks: an open one and a secured one. The owner/operator of the AP could use the encrypted network, and enable the open network for public use.

The open network could also have a lower priority than the encrypted one, be subject to bandwidth restrictions, and limited to certain times of the day.

I'm not saying that any of this is a good idea. I just think there's no need for a new protocol.

more than 3 years ago
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Apple Updating iOS To Address Privacy Concerns

ptbarnett Re:It's NOT tracking your location... Geez. (318 comments)

If I track the spot 3 feet directly north of you, I AM tracking your location.

Not unless the tracking information says that the spot is 3 feet directly in front of you.

It doesn't. The iPhone cache simply says: I last heard this transmitter at this time. The location is retrieved from elsewhere.

The local cache doesn't say anything about where you were in relationship to that transmitter.

more than 3 years ago
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iPhone Tracking Ruckus Ongoing

ptbarnett Re:It's a GPS! (353 comments)

Why does the cache need to exist save the last access of tower location?

So that it doesn't have to ask for it again, repeatedly. It's a network optimization.

I agree there's no reason to keep the location of a tower your phone heard 8 months ago, and that's where I think Apple messed up. Google's methodology of limiting the size of the cache to the newest 50 cell towers and 200 WiFi APs is a better solution, although I can think of a case where the WiFi cache needs to be bigger.

Microsoft claims their phone isn't caching the transmitter locations at all. I think that's the worst of all possibilities, because that means that the phone is querying their server every time (and with a random, but unique ID). They also admit to retaining it for an unspecified period of time. That basically puts more than the information currently on the iPhone in Microsoft's server, completely out of your control.

Additionally, acquisition from a cold start should take less than 30 seconds (unless you have a really poor chipset); with a single, quick hit on the cell tower server

30 seconds is a long time for people that are using an app that needs location services, and aren't aware of the limitations. And you're right: a single network request is enough, but Apple uses/maintains their own location database (as does Google and Microsoft). However, it requires network access, which may not work at the moment -- and the cache will probably have enough information to approximate the phone's position.

There's one location service that you WANT to work under the worst conditions: 911. However, I'm not sure if the "enhanced 911" required for the cell phone companies uses the phone's GPS or if they rely on their own system that is independent of the phone.

more than 3 years ago
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iPhone Tracking Ruckus Ongoing

ptbarnett Re:It's a GPS! (353 comments)

NO it's not GPS. If this was GPS then the results would be far more accurate.

It's Assisted GPS. The WiFi and cell tower transmitter location data is used to assist the GPS.

From a cold start, GPS takes a long time and a lot of power to determine an accurate position. If the GPS knows approximately where it is (and what time it is), it knows what satellites are above the horizon and can "lock" much faster than if it has to figure it out on its own.

The assistance for GPS is necessary for it to work as you expect: turn on Google Maps (or any other app that uses the location services), and it determines your position within a few seconds.

The cache is nothing but an optimization: if the phone didn't keep it, it would have to query Apple's online database every time location services were requested to get the positions of the transmitters the phone can hear. That would increase the time to solution, and use more of your monthly allotment of data.

more than 3 years ago
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Comcast Hounded By Collections Agency

ptbarnett Re:As much as I hate... (142 comments)

The problem with that is that I am not the debtor so I have no standing to insist they only contact the person through a lawyer or that they send evidence of the debt. Meanwhile, they don't believe me and are by nature asses so they keep calling from different numbers claiming to be different companies, but all with the same script.

I had the same problem. I sent them a certified letter, noting exactly what you said: since I wasn't the debtor, I couldn't demand they stop calling me under the Fair Debut Collection Practices Act

But, if they continued to contact me after being informed that I wasn't their target and didn't know their target, I would consider it harassment. I cited the specific state law that described the offense of harassment. And I stated flatly that the next time they called me, I would be calling the police in their jurisdiction and filing a complaint.

I also sent copies of my letter to the Attorney General's office in my state and in their state.

I never heard from them again, and the case was never sold to anyone else, either.

more than 3 years ago
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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users

ptbarnett Re:Populist nonsense (591 comments)

It sounds like this is the data it uses for location-based apps between the time it takes to switch on the GPS radio and get a lock on enough satellites for a real location.

Yes! I think it's just a cache of WiFi access points and cell base stations that were "heard" by the iPhone at some point. The phone got the location from an on-line database and stored the data for future use.

more than 3 years ago
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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users

ptbarnett Re:Populist nonsense (591 comments)

The WiFi one also has some locations in Taiwan too.

Mine has a location next to UC Berkelely. But, that's the only out-of-the-ordinary location I found. I suspect that the database was seeded with it.

more than 3 years ago
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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users

ptbarnett Re:The data is crap (591 comments)

Maybe it is logging the locations of cell towers.

I believe you are correct: known locations of cell towers and WiFi access points -- depending on which table you look at.

I posted a longer explanation above. But, you are the first posting I've found that seems to be on the right track.

more than 3 years ago
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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users

ptbarnett Re:So my phone tracks itself, big deal (591 comments)

I managed to find the data on my Windows laptop, thanks to a suggestion from another poster. By searching for the string "WifiLocation", I was able to identify the SQLite database that contains the data. That DB also has a CellLocation table.

The WifiLocation table has a entry for every MAC address, presumably of the WiFi access point that it found. And there's also a timestamp, latitude, and longitude. The timestamps are bunched, so I'm not sure how accurate it may be.

I already had a script that built a Google map with markers at designated points (by lat/long). I modified that to dump the contents of either the cell or wifi location tables. Both provide a map of where I've been in the past year or so. The cell location map is actually a better representation, although it has fewer data points. I presume it's because the iPhone only logs WiFi access points when it tries to use the WiFi location-assist. By filtering the WiFi datapoints to ones that were only at least 1 mile from the others, I reduced about 15,000 rows to about 400 rows.

Here's the interesting part: it's logging both cell phone tower locations and WiFi locations that are NEAR where I have been, but up to a block or two away (in the case of Wifi) or several miles (in the case of cell towers). I suspect that the iPhone is not recording YOUR location, but is instead recording the known location of the MAC or cell phone tower. Where would it get this? In the past, Apple used Skyhook wireless to derive location from WiFi MAC addresses. I don't know if they still use it.

I suspect that this SQLite database is nothing more than a localized cache, to be used for assisted GPS. When you first launch the Google Maps app, you'll notice it start with an accuracy radius that is about the size of a cell phone tower's footprint. Then the circle gets smaller, as it first uses WiFi to refine the position, and then finally lock on to multiple GPS satellites.

The location of these WiFi access points and cell base stations are in an online database. Apple is probably just storing the location on your phone the first time that you happen to "hear" that particular transmitter, after querying the database over your 'Net connection. Then, the next time your phone needs to use that MAC address or cell station ID to determine your location, it already has it in your local cache.

The WiFi location cache must be seeded with one location: The corner of Berkley Way and Oxford St, on the edge of the UC Berkeley campus. I've never been there, but it's in my WifiLocation table.

more than 3 years ago
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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users

ptbarnett Re:Gotta love it... (591 comments)

Which has a handy link to get the source and see what it does to be sure that its not doing anything fishy.

If one has a Mac. I can't read the interesting parts of the downloaded package, so I tried to back-track to the referenced Python script. It looks like similar data is stored on Windows in \Documents and Settings\User\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup, but the filenames have different suffixes and aren't in the same format.

more than 3 years ago

Submissions

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Obama delegates authority to create Internet ID

ptbarnett ptbarnett writes  |  more than 3 years ago

ptbarnett (159784) writes "Declan McCullagh at CNET reports that President Obama is planning to hand the U.S. Commerce Department authority over a forthcoming cybersecurity effort to create an Internet ID for Americans, according to White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt . The Obama administration is currently drafting what it's calling the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, which U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said will be released by the president in the next few months. An earlier version was publicly released last summer."
Link to Original Source
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Jobs: The news of my death is greatly exaggerated

ptbarnett ptbarnett writes  |  about 6 years ago

ptbarnett (159784) writes "An obituary of very-much-alive Apple founder Steve Jobs has been accidentally published by the respected Bloomberg business news wire. A Bloomberg spokeswoman said: "This was a routine update of a biography by the obits department, meant for the internal system and not meant for publication. It was momentarily posted on the external wire, in error, and immediately deleted.""

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