Friday, June 30, 2006

Liability insurance?

How would the courts deal with this? According to Boing Boing
a company in Sweden is offering file-sharing insurance - they'll pay your fines if you're sued by the RIAA. The /. submitter translates the link as follows: 'For a mere 140 SEK ($19 USD) per year, they will pay all your fines and give you a t-shirt if you get convicted for file sharing.'
If you are a losing defendent in a copyright violation suit, will the court assess higher damages if you are insured? How do the courts react to insurance against a loss which is planned in advance as an intentional violation of someone else's rights? It's hard to imaagine the courts looking favorably on parking ticket insurance.

Monday, June 26, 2006

This is not a complex system

Apparently it took 606 takes to get it right.

POTUS outsourced

Apparently this has been around for a few months (note the date), but I just heard it. It's too good not to reprint.
Congress today announced that the office of President of the United States (POTUS) will be outsourced to India as of January 1, 2006. The move is being made to save the President's $400,000 yearly salary, and also a record $521 billion in deficit expenditures and related overhead the office has incurred during the last 5 years.

"We believe this is a wise move financially. The cost savings should be significant," stated Congressman Thomas Reynolds (R-WA). Reynolds, with the aid of the Government Accounting Office, has studied outsourcing of American jobs extensively. "We cannot expect to remain competitive on the world stage with the current level of cash outlay," Reynolds noted. Mr. Bush was informed by email this morning of his termination.

Preparations for the job move have been underway for sometime. Gurvinder Singh of Indus Teleservices, Mumbai, India will be assuming the office of President as of January 1, 2006. Mr. Singh was born in the United States while his Indian parents were vacationing at Niagara Falls, thus making him eligible for the
position. He will receive a salary of $320 (USD) a month but with no health coverage or other benefits.

It is believed that Mr. Singh will be able to handle his job responsibilities without a support staff. Due to the time difference between the US and India, he will be working primarily at night, when few
offices of the US Government will be open. "Working nights will allow me to keep my day job at the American Express call center," stated Mr. Singh in an exclusive interview. "I am excited about this position. I always hoped I would be President."

A Congressional spokesperson noted that while Mr. Singh may not be fully aware of all the issues involved in the office of President, this should not be a problem because Bush was not familiar with the issues either. Mr. Singh will rely upon a script tree that will enable him to respond effectively to most topics of concern. Using these canned responses, he can address common concerns without having to understand the underlying issues at all. We know these scripting tools work," stated the spokesperson. "President Bush has used them successfully for years."

Mr. Singh may have problems with the Texas drawl, but lately Mr. Bush has abandoned the "down home" persona in his effort to appear intelligent and on top of the Katrina situation. Mr. Bush will receive health coverage, expenses, and salary until his final day of employment. Following a two week waiting period, he will be eligible for $240 a week unemployment for 13 weeks. Unfortunately he will not be eligible for Medicaid, as his unemployment benefits will exceed the allowed limit.

Mr. Bush has been provided the outplacement services of Manpower, Inc. to help him write a résumé and prepare for his upcoming job transition. According to Manpower, Mr. Bush may have difficulties in securing a new position due to limited practical work experience. A Greeter position at Wal-Mart was suggested due to Bush's extensive experience shaking hands and phony smile.

Another possibility is Bush's re-enlistment in the Texas Air National Guard. His prior records are conspicuously vague but, should he choose this option, he would likely be stationed in Waco, TX for a month before being sent to Iraq, a country he has visited. "I've been there, I know all about Iraq," stated Mr. Bush, who gained invaluable knowledge of the country in a visit he once made to the Baghdad Airport's terminal and gift shop.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Almost unbelievable

It's almost unbelievable how poorly the so-called "Golden Eagle Territory" class registration and class schedule system is at California State University, Los Angeles. This system was one of those for which the CSU system spent about $700,000,000. The system is so terrible that the developer doesn't even associate itself with it. (It was made by PeopleSoft. They tell you that after logging you out after a few minutes of inaction.) The front page has the following proud statement from James M. Rosser, President of the University.
California State University, Los Angeles strives to ensure a competitive edge by incorporating state-of-the-art technology in the educational process. This includes technology that affords us remote access enrollment, satellite learning centers and rapid access to the wealth of information available on the World Wide Web.

The Golden Eagle Territory (GET) is a further extension of our student self-service offering and makes it possible to handle registration, student account information such as address changes, credit card payments, and view grades and other on-line services. We are very excited about the efficiency and time saving features of GET and continually seek ways to enhance this student service.

"GET represents one of the major initiatives by the campus to significantly improve the quality of the student experience at CSULA. When we lessen the transaction time for the mundane, but necessary, aspects of higher education, we free students and faculty to spend more time in the critical learning and teaching processes."

I encourage each of you to embrace the convenience that our campus technology makes available and enjoy the time savings it provides to you. Best wishes for every success in your academic career.


James M. Rosser
The system has been in place for over a year. It is famous for its terrible user interface. Yet nothing has been done. I am pushed to writing this blog entry because I just attempted to look up the classes I will be teaching this quarter. Here's what happened.

I made my way to the Schedule of Classes web page. As you can see the Institution drop-down menu has already selected Cal State University, LA. (There aren't any other choices in the menu. Why is it there?)

The Term is a blank field. How do you suppose one should fill it in? No matter what I tried, I got an error message telling me that I had not guessed the right code. Of course the error message didn't tell me what the possible code values were. It did suggest that I press the "the Prompt button or the Hyperlink." But none of the buttons or links on the page was any help.

I finally pressed the Help link and found out that the right code was 1066, which meant the 21st century, the 06th year, and the 6th quarter. Fall quarter of this year is 1069. For some reason this system thinks that the Fall quarter is the ninth quarter of the year. (See Help page.) I was then able to look up my classes.

UPDATE: My wife points out that the text lines above the Institution box tell you that Summer 2006 is 1066. (She reads those things. She teaches English.) I hadn't noticed. But why not a pull-down menu instead of an obscure code?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Faith, belief, and knowing

Stephen Batchelor makes the point about faith and belief that I made a while ago.
The moment you declare that you believe in God or the law of karma, you are acknowledging that you do not know whether they exist or not. For if you did know, you would have no need to believe.
Tricycle has initiated a blog service that include Batchelor and a few others.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Could the market set short term rates better than the Fed?

An article in today's Business Week online includes this paragraph.
Wall Street will ultimately continue drifting until the Fed gives a definitive stance on the economy, inflation, and its rate tightening.
Because the Fed sets short term interest rates, we often have paragraphs like this, wondering what the Fed will do. I wonder what would happen if the market were allowed to set its own rates. Suppose there were some means (see below for one suggestion) whereby the market could "vote" on short term interest rates. Since low rates are good for the economy (and hence the stock market), one might suppose that the market would "vote" for low rates. But since rates that are too low lead to an overheated economy and inflation, which is bad for the market and the economy, the market won't want rates that produce that effect. It's currently the Fed's job to get it right: sustain the economy but keep inflation in check. We now know that market mechanisms are often better than expert opinion about this sort of decision. If given a chance would the market be a better rate setter than the Fed?

Of course even if the market were allowed to set its own rates, we would not have any better idea of where rates were going than we do now. Just as we don't know what the stock market will do tomorrow, we also wouldn't know what the market's decision about short term rates will be tomorrow.

Here's a neat way to let the market set its own rates. Establish futures and option markets for short term interest rates. Then the public could "bet" on what rates the Fed will set. Let the Fed retain the authority to set rates, but let it also (perhaps in secret) establish a policy of setting the rate at whatever the future and option markets predict! As long as the market believes that the Fed will act to set the best or most appropriate rate given the current state of the economy, it will "predict" whatever rate it thinks is best!

What would happen if the policy of setting the rate according to the market were made explicit? One danger would be market manipulation. People betting on a particular rate would attempt to make the rate conform to their guesses. A possible way to blunt that risk is to let the payoff depend on a smoothed average of the predicted rate. It is much harder to significantly manipulate a smoothed average than an instantaneous price.

This deserves more thought. It would be fascinating if we could create a mechanism that allowed the market to set the rate it thought was best that at the same time was protected from being gamed for personal gain.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

David Addington is the most powerful man you've never heard of.

My friend Bob Weber points out this article on David Addington, the man who fashioned the signing statement into an historic shift in power to the executive. In looking for a picture of Addington, I came upon—clearly not the same as, which has this profile of Addington.