WGHubris on September 15th, 2014

Amendment 68 in Colorado for the 2014 election is an interesting ballot measure. It is very long, and has several sections. It offers significant tax revenue for Colorado schools. So, how do you get an impartial analysis of Amendment 68 without all the scary music on those political ads?

I’m glad you asked.

Here is a fair Amendment 68 voting guide.

Deciding how to vote on Amendment 68 is actually pretty easy. Obviously, if you oppose expanding gambling in Colorado, then you should vote no. But, what if you like the idea of expanded gambling, or if you like the idea of more money for schools from casinos?

There is only one downside, it’s buried in Section 7 (a)

…Gaming may take place only in the counties of Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo. Only one horse racetrack in each of the specified three counties may be licensed…

And, there you go folks.

One, exactly ONE, casino will be allowed near Denver. Two other casinos will be allowed far away.

Deciding how to vote on Amendment 68 is a single question. Do you think that it is fair, and ethical to allow a single casino near metro Denver? Is it fair to have casinos near Grand Junction and Pueblo, but not any casino up north, say near Ft. Collins / Loveland, or one out east? Why not near Colorado Springs? What makes these three counties so special? Is it fair that all other counties are excluded? Is it fair that the people of Arapahoe county (and the surrounding cities) have no say, other than a statewide vote?

If you care about school funding, wouldn’t allowing more casinos raise more money? It doesn’t need to be unlimited, but what about one casino for every county? What two casinos in each of those three counties? It’s a little bit greedy to want the only Front Range casino, isn’t it?

Frankly, I don’t mind the idea of expanding gambling a little bit more in Colorado, but I’m not about to give a single company a monopoly on Denver area gambling. Even if you like gambling, wouldn’t you want to be able to choose your favorite casino, not just have one, take it or leave it, choice?

Don’t take my word for it. Here is the official ballot document filed with the Secretary of State. This is the exact text that will become law if voters pass Amendment 68. Just scroll down to section 7 (a). It’s right there in black and white.

Amendment 68 ballot guide

True, official Amendment 68 Colorado ballot text

 

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WGHubris on August 22nd, 2014

Twitter has come under some scrutiny lately after people started noticing that Twitter was essentially turning some of your favorites into retweets. Most people instantly reacted that this was a terrible idea and that Twitter should be ashamed of itself. While it’s true that Twitter should be ashamed of the half-hearted way they handle abuse on the system, this move may not be as diabolical as people are making it out to be.

twitter favorite retweetFirst, let’s clear up some confusion. Twitter is not turning your favorites into retweets. What it does is say, ArcticLlama favorited this tweet into the streams of other users that follow you. Previously, the only way to notice what someone favorited was to go and click onto their actual user profile.

The issue, of course, is the difference between a favorite and a retweet. The problem is that users make different use of the favorite depending upon who they are.

Some people use the favorite to give a thumbs up, or kudos to a tweet without publicly promoting it through the timeline. There are a lot of reasons to do this, including, but not limited to, the tweet being potentially embarrassing, or even not just something that fits. It is these people that are having the biggest problem with Twitter’s new Favorites are retweets, because something they don’t necessarily want to be showing to other is now popping up in their timelines.

The Good About Twitter Favorites

The upside of this move is that many people don’t retweet at all. There are a lot of reasons for it. I didn’t retweet much when I first started on Twitter out of fear of retweeting the “wrong” kinds of things, that is, something that the few people who followed me wouldn’t actually want to see.

What this update may be aimed at is that a certain number of Twitter users have begun to view retweets like they view links. They don’t want to give out any “credit” to others for fear of bumping up any sort of ranking above their own. These people will favorite tweets, but not retweet them. By forcing at least some of these tweets out into the Twitter stream, maybe this encourages them to just share in the first place.

When a Favorite Isn’t a Favorite

Then, there’s me. I use the Favorite function on Twitter as a bookmark, because, you know, Twitter doesn’t actually innovate or add useful features that its users WANT anymore. There are numerous ways to bookmark something or set it read later. My phone has a share button, then I can click Google Keep, or Evernote, or even Pocket, but that’s a lot of clicks for a quick scroll through.

The problem for me, then is that my name is now associated favorably with something that I haven’t even read yet. That’s why I favorited/bookmarked it for later; I didn’t have the time to read it just now. So, there is an implicit endorsement of things that might turn out to be utter garbage.

In the end, Twitter is deservedly taking some abuse because, a) it rolled this new “feature” out silently, and b) because while it may server TWITTER’S ends to have more things shared into timelines, it doesn’t necessarily server the USER’s ends. When a company starts neglecting its user’s needs for its own, it’s time to watch out below. Let’s hope this is a one time thing, and that Twitter goes back to caring more about its users than its metrics.

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WGHubris on July 19th, 2014

Once upon a time, I was a super-techie. I knew pretty much everything about any piece of technology I used. Partly, it was my job, as a high-level systems administrator, but it was also a love of gadgets, computers, and electronics.

cyanogenmod logoHowever, my Samsung Galaxy S4 is officially driving me crazy. I have Sprint. Yes, I know their network is garbage, but I have a deal that gives me and my wife 500 minutes, plus unlimited data and texting, and we pay like $119, all-in, and that’s for both phones. So, you can see why I’m willing to put up with some junk and try other things rather than double my monthly bill. One of my big issues lately is that Sprint has kind-of, sort-of, it still isn’t very reliable, upgraded some of the Denver area to 4G after a very, very, long delay. That being said, as I move about, I still get kicked to 3G, and when that happens, the phone isn’t very good about making the switch. Even worse, sometimes my WiFi turns on and tries to connect to something I don’t/can’t use and then when I turn the wifi off, it loses the data connection, until I do an on/off of Airplane Mode. Sometimes, it takes a whole reset of the phone.

Check out my Capital One Rewards Catalog Review for 2014.

Root to Google Android Instead of Samsung Junk Android

Samsung Android phones, and the Galaxy S4  in general, are well known for being filled with junkware, and other non-removable apps that Samsung installs. The worst part, is that in many cases, these junky versions are installed IN PLACE of the better, more robust, Google Android versions. You can run them both together, but who knows what trouble that causes.

Error Installing Cyanogen Windows

Oh, goodie.

Recently, I read that the network connecting, and disconnecting thing is actually an Android issue. I’m sure the Samsung implementation doesn’t help matters. Since Samsung, and Sprint, will take their sweet time in pushing out an update, I’d like to see what might work better and faster with a more Android specific build. In this case, the Cyanogen Mod is well respected and considered “close” to being a stock Android build. Even better, they have a one-click installer that is supposed to make this whole rooting, and flashing a new ROM easier than ever.

Unfortunately, when I try to download the Windows part of this system, I get an installation error that says the package is not valid.

I guess I’ll be learning a little bit more in-depth about Android, Cyanogen, and the Galaxy S4, after all.

Update: Apparently, there was an issue with the download servers. Was able to download and install without incident a few days latter. Full write up on installing Cyanogenmod on Sprint Galaxy S4 phone coming soon.

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WGHubris on July 8th, 2014

So, I tried Fiverr for the first time. (I never remember which letter to double Fivver? Fiveer? or Fiverr? Inevitably, I have to Google it.)

The gig was supposed to be delivered in 7 days. The guy marked the gig as “delivered” on day 7 and said that it would actually take 2 or 3 more days but it was running and he promised it would happen. Then, he went on to essentially beg me not to leave any bad feedback during this two to three day period. Of course, if that wasn’t OK, we could cancel my order and he would refund my money.

fiverr-scam-trickThis all sounds legit, except here is the scam:

  • If I wait 2 or 3 days to give him the benefit of the doubt, then it is too late for me to leave feedback or cancel the order. (72 hour Fiverr limit)
  • If I decide I’m not a sucker and mutually cancel the order, then any feedback I leave is erased from the seller profile.
  • The only way for this seller to get a back review then is for me to let him keep the money, and then give him a bad review. In other words, it costs me five bucks to leave a bad review.

How often do you think this actually happens?

How many people do you think just go, “It’s only five bucks, let’s just see what happens? Then, when the review and cancel period end, he pockets the money and does nothing. Anyone who files any sort of complaint gets a “Oh, I’m so sorry, here’s a refund.” and then their review gets wiped off of the seller’s profile.

Result, a scammy seller with perfect reviews, because every negative review gets taken off, automatically, by the system.

I’m waiting 24 hours (still within the window) and see if he is legitimately delivering. If not, I’m going to leave the negative feedback and eat the five bucks. Not that it will matter, I’m sure this scam involves a lot of Fiverr accounts all setup and ready to step in when and if an account either gets suspended, or a bad review actually sticks.

Has anyone ever used Fiverr with better results? Anyone use it consistently, or is Fiverr sort of a one and done when you need something a little weird or unusual and have no other real way to make it happen cost effectively?

Check out my Colorado 529 plan online enrollment guide.

I know that many “SEOs” who build garbage links and profiles love to use Fiverr gigs to get that all done quickly and cheaply. Is Fiverr just the low-rent, gray area, task rabbit-like service area of the internet?

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WGHubris on June 30th, 2014

The last two years have seen a big change in minimum wage laws in America. However, like everything in the U.S. these days, none of the changes came at the federal level from a gridlocked Washington. Instead, various states and cities have tinkered with minimum wage laws. This results in a nation where the rules for low wage workers are very different, depending upon where you live. While that may not be ideal for some, it makes for a great opportunity for economists and data analysts to finally see what actually happens when you raise minimum wage laws.

Higher Minimum Wages in Some States

minimum wage rising graphicWhile opinions and projections abound, real scientific, and economic, conclusions require data. More specifically, such conclusions require definable data sets that include a control set. A control set is the data set that represents the status quo, or unchanged data. In this case, these are cities and states where the minimum wage laws are not increasing. The new data set will come from the states where the minimum wage is increasing. Additionally, the increases are not uniform, so we may get data suggesting what the optimum increase or minimum wage level is.

In reality, these data sets won’t be so clean. The trouble with economics is that it is impossible to isolate all other factors from influencing your economic data. For example, there have been plenty of news stories about how North Dakota has the fastest growing economy in the United States. Despite the efforts of political leaders there to take credit for the increase, the fact is that policy had nothing to do with it. Rather, North Dakota sits on large oil fields that were previously inaccessible until cheaper fracking methods were developed by the oil industry. If the politicians in North Dakota had sponsored such research, then they could maybe claim some of the credit.

As one of the state not increasing the minimum wage, one could use the growth there as “proof” that such increases are not optimal. Fortunately, it is possible to compare across several states and then extrapolate for various differences.

The questions that economists and researchers will be looking at include, do higher minimum wage laws actually drive away businesses? This question will be more likely to have an effect where a city has raised wages. Relocating a business to another state is more difficult than to move to the next suburb over. In these cases we can see if otherwise similar municipalities experience different economies with different wage laws. Will Seattle experience a boom or bust based on its high minimum wage versus its surrounding cities? A lesser economy would be a warning against higher minimum wage laws. A better would would be an endorsement of them. The same economy could provide ammo to either side.

The long-term affects will actually be more noticeable not in the areas that just bumped up the minimum wage number, but rather from those that set their minimum wage to grow automatically based on inflation. In Colorado, for example, the minimum wage grew in 2014 to $8 per hour. While far below other areas, that number will continue to increase based on inflation. Assuming things remained the same into the future, there would come a day where the minimum wage in some states would be $20 per hour, while it remained $7-ish per hour in other states, would the fortunes of the citizens of each state diverge noticeably? Or, are minimum wage workers simply too unimportant, statistically speaking, to actually affect the economies around them?

What is certain is that in the next five to ten years, we’ll have a whole different set of data to argue over :)

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WGHubris on May 12th, 2014

During the 2012 election, someone decided that Colorado was a so-called battleground state. That meant that for months we endured endless political ads and commercials. We also got several visits from both President Obama and Mitt Romney.

There were some in other states who complained that they felt ignored. Trust me, if you had been living in a battleground state, you would have rather been ignored. For starters, it’s not as if any distinctly Colorado issues were given any extra attention by either candidate. Neither candidate offered any more specific plans for anything Colorado related. Instead, we got month after month of commercials, mostly from out of state groups, parroting what you heard a hundred times on whatever talk show you happen to listen to. In the end, none of that extra “attention” resulted in any better treatment or understanding of either candidate.

Colorado Senate Race 2014

If we hadn’t endured enough in 2012, it seems that, yet again, Colorado has been targeted as a battleground state, this time for the 2014 Colorado Senate race.

Last time around, Senator Michael Bennet, who had been appointed by Governor Bill Ritter to finish the term of Senator Ken Salazar, who left to become Secretary of the Interior, ran against Tea-Party candidate Ken Buck. The race seemed relatively close, but in the end, Buck did the Tea-Party implosion thing when he forgot the proper political phrasing of reasons to be against gay marriage, and ended up comparing it to a disease or mental condition of some sort. This time, Senator Mark Udall is up against Congressman Cory Gardner.

And, here we go again.

Outside special interest groups have been financing campaign ads on behalf of both candidates, or against both candidates, as the case may be. These ads started earlier this year, but picked up the pace in April.

There are many similarities to the ads from the Presidential campaign. None of these ads have anything really to do with Colorado. Ads against Gardner portray him as “extreme” and ads against Udall portray him as an ally of President Obama. Ads for both say that they are the candidate who will stand up to “Washington” and create jobs. It’s hard to say if Coloradans are dense enough to by that line. Both men are pretty party-line, so there isn’t going to be any standing up to anyone by either man.

There are two reasons that all of these commercials will likely end up being a waste of time and money. First, Colorado almost always re-elects statewide political officials. The last sitting governor to lose reelection in Colorado was in 1975. The last Colorado U.S. Senator to lose reelection was 1975 as well. In other words, it’s been about 40 years since Colorado booted a sitting Senator. There is a reason this state loves term limits. (All statewide officials are limited to a set number of terms by constitutional amendment.)

Second, Colorado might seem like a battleground state, or purple state, from outside, but it really isn’t like that. Colorado has a mix of city dwellers and rural areas. The cities, for the most part, run in a line along I-25 down the middle of Colorado. Denver, Colorado’s most populated city, is so liberal that Republicans don’t even run candidates for office. The Mayor is essentially elected by winning the Democratic Primary in May. Two of the next biggest cities are Boulder and Colorado Springs, the former is highly liberal, the latter is highly conservative.

Everything east of I-25 is just as conservative as Kansas. The mountains, to the west, are mixture with some areas being more conservative and some areas being more liberal, usually for environmental reasons.

In other words, Colorado isn’t a purple state because its voters are moderates who are easily swayed to another party candidate, it’s because there are about half who are Democrat voters and about half who are Republican voters.

In the end, elections in Colorado are decided by how many voters in Denver bother to turn out, and how many low-awareness voters turn out and vote for the name they recognize (the incumbent).

So, Super-PACs, and 527 organizations, and whoever else, you’re wasting your money and bugging us citizens. Mark Udall is already reelected, some people just don’t know it yet.

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WGHubris on March 25th, 2014

I have a bank account online. Actually, I have several bank accounts, and pretty much all of them are accessible online. It’s taken a decade or more, but, I’m pretty sure that these days, it’s a given that you can access your bank account online. And, like most other online accounts, bank accounts are secured by a lock and key system that is becoming increasingly unreliable every day.

The username and password combination has been the cornerstone of computer security almost from the beginning. The idea, quite simply, is that by having to enter a password, you ensure that only the authorized person gets the access.

Quality of Password Security

Believe it or not, this can actually provide very good security in most non-online applications. Your ATM card is a great example. Nothing secures your ATM card from being used to empty your bank account except for a four-digit PIN number. Assuming your PIN number isn’t something stupid like your birthday (or your wife’s birthday, or kid’s birthday… really, anyone’s birthday at all), it is highly unlikely that your ATM card will ever be compromised, even though there are only 9999 combinations. This is because you only get something like three or four wrong entries before the ATM just takes your card, and alerts your bank. It takes someone really lucky to beat 3 in 9999 odds.

For most websites, password security is also actually sufficient to guard most data. My online bank account follows the same protocol as the ATM machine. If you enter the wrong code more than three times, it locks my account. Since my bank password requires letters, numbers, upper case, and so on, the combinations are too many to be guessed.

The movies always show some teenager figuring out your password, or using a computer to make millions of really fast guesses, but that only works on the weakest passwords and the weakest of computer systems.

Password Hacking

The security of online passwords is why all but the least secure systems are virtually impenetrable to random guess of passwords.

What happens instead, is that hackers get into systems that have usernames and passwords. Then, they download the file containing those credentials. Those files are supposed to be encrypted, but even software industry giants like Adobe can be criminally negligent in how they handle those files.

Once hackers have those files, they can spend an eternity decrypting, them, sifting through them for information, and creating password hacking dictionaries. These dictionaries are not used to hack directly into online systems, but rather to decrypt properly encrypted databases stolen in the future.

If a hacker finds your username and password on one site, that information is useless as soon as you change your password. Unfortunately, with so many online services, and so many of them requiring complex password rules, people start to come up with one or two good passwords, and then use them everywhere. Once you’ve reused bonniesmith as your username with your password Aktiv4HClubMember! on more than one website, all the hackers need to do is find it, and then try that username and password combination on more important websites, like your bank.

Easy Additional Security

Here is where things get interesting. While the username and password is quickly becoming too easy to get past, two passwords can still be quite a roadblock.

Several of my online financial accounts require a username and password, but they also require an additional security question before allowing me to log in from a new machine or mobile device. So, you not only need bonniesmith and Aktiv4HClubMember!, you also need to know that Bonnie’s first pet was named Hawk. That last bit of information is both easy to find, and a very short, insecure password. Anyone that knows Bonnie really well could maybe guess that.

But, here’s the thing. It is incredibly rare that the person trying to hack into your bank account knows you. In fact, it’s pretty rare that they are even in the same country. It’s just as rare that they are trying to actually get into Bonnie’s account specifically and not just quickly get into as many accounts as possible before stealing money. That means that that little bit of information can stop hackers in their tracks.

If you’re thinking that eventually people will use the same information across multiple websites, you’re right, but here’s where it gets interesting. What if the websites dictated the questions?

For example, what if my bank asked me to setup a username and a password, and then asked me what color my first car was, while my other bank asked for a username and password and what my Mom’s favorite animal is? Now, even if I reuse passwords, my banks accounts are twice as hard to hack since the same three failures will lock my accounts if the hackers can’t guess that Bonnie’s first car was red and her mom’s favorite animal is camels.

The beauty of it, is when the inevitable happens and someone gets hacked, even fully compromised usernames, passwords, and security answers are half as useful on sites like that.

The problem is that this level of security is often diminished because you can “save” your answers on your own computer in the form of a check box that says remember this computer, or phone, or whatever. Maybe just adding that extra bit, without allowing a save, is all we really need to get back ahead of the hackers for another decade.

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