Random Thoughts – Randocity!

iOS7: Lightning Cables vs Consumer — Who Wins?

Posted in Apple, botch, corruption by commorancy on September 25, 2013

There’s this really annoying error message that you might see if you’ve bought a third party Lightning cable and you try to use it on your iPhone under iOS7.  The error message reads “This cable or accessory is not certified and may not work reliably with this iPod” (or iPhone or iPad or whatever).  Let’s explore what this means.

Consumer Penalized

Lightning ErrorLet’s start simple.  You bought a Lightning cable and expected it to work. Within each Lightning cable there’s a unique identifier that an Apple device can read.  It then compares the identifier to some kind of database within the iDevice to see if Apple ‘blessed’ the cable. Basically, any company producing Lightning connector cables must license the technology from Apple.

I’m fine with licensing. But, that’s a legal distinction between the cable manufacturer and Apple. The consumer should not be involved in this fight.  Yet, here we are.  This battle is being waged on you, the Apple consumer.  You’re penalized for having bought an ‘unlicensed’ cable. Unfortunately, unlicensed cables don’t specifically come with a warning stating that they are not licensed.  So, the consumer is buying blind when buying cables. There is no way to know if a cable is licensed or not.  At least, not without an Apple device that tells us so.

Apple’s missteps

With the old big dock connectors, the devices were able to recognize unsupported accessories or cables and warn. And, they did. Those cables also had a method to do validation checks similar to this Lightning validation error message.  Again, I’m fine with that as long is tells me immediately after I purchase a cable and plug it in. If it doesn’t work immediately after purchase, I can return cable immediately. No money lost.

Unfortunately, Apple waited all through iOS6 and the iPhone 5 allowing use of the Lightning connector without ANY warning. Instead, they waited until iOS7’s release to warn the consumer and even prevent some cables from working AT ALL. Yes, that’s what this error message actually means.  It means that Apple has detected an unlicensed cable and in some cases will warn that it either cannot use it or warns you that it may not work.  Apparently, that warning message may warn for a number of times before permanently disabling the cable’s use.

While these cables worked perfectly fine with iOS6, some of them don’t work at all to either charge the device or for data transfer under iOS7.  Some of the cables do work, but possibly for only a short time.  But, this isn’t the point.  If the cables worked perfectly fine under iOS6, they will also work perfectly fine under iOS7.  This means that Apple is deliberately and intentionally preventing these cables from working.

Waited Too Long

Error 2

The huge misstep is that Apple waited over a year to warn consumers.  And when something is finally given to us, it’s not a friendly notice.  The device simply prevents some cables from outright working. Keep in mind that that’s a year of time that many people spent money buying many of these cables. Cables that can no longer be returned and can no longer be used.  Apple has waged war on you, the consumer. They are not waging war on the manufacturer who produced ‘unlicensed’ cables.  This action is actually causing monetary damages to the consumer for the lost money spent to purchase the cables. Some cables that previously worked no longer work and the consumer cannot return them nor can these cables be used.

Apple has effectively just slapped its very user base in the face and said, ‘F-you’.  I can’t imagine any other company doing this in this way.  At least give your users  some advance warning this is coming.  Don’t just do it, tell no one and expect us all to sit here all nice and happy.  It’s not my problem that manufacturers are making ‘uncertified’ cables. That’s your problem, Apple.  You need to take those manufacturers to court. Don’t penalize your paying consumers because you don’t think the cables should work.

And note, the cable I purchased is a retractable cable.  I only bought it because there was no other retractable Lightning cable on the market when I purchased. If Apple had produced one, I’d have bought it from Apple.

Class Action Lawsuit

I can easily see this turn into a class action lawsuit against Apple.  As a consumer, we had no way to know the cable wasn’t licensed until the warning message, a warning message that showed up over a year late. And, in fact, iOS7 doesn’t even state the cable is unlicensed, it states that it’s not certified. As a consumer, that’s not my problem.  I bought the cable, it worked.  iOS6 didn’t warn me of this problem and it continued to work.  Now, Apple is telling me that that cable can no longer work with my device even though it worked perfectly fine with the same exact device for many months prior to iOS7.

Plain and simple, consumers have now lost money paid for these cables. Apple is to blame. If they had enforced this policy from the beginning, this wouldn’t be an issue. Because they didn’t, consumers are now literally paying the price as Apple intentionally stops these cables from working even though they are perfectly usable cables.

I’d really like to see an attorney sue the crap out of Apple for this behavior and force Apple to redress all of us consumers’ for our money that we’ve lost because Apple sat on its fat butt not saying anything. Apple just sat there letting consumers buy more and more unlicensed cables. Then, after letting consumers buy these cables for a year, they lay the whammy down and stop the cables from working right now.

Now many of us have dead cables that we can’t use, can’t sell and that we spent good money on.  And many of these cables were not cheap and were not marked as not licensed.  At minimum, Apple should be required to cable swap all consumer purchased now non-working unlicensed Lightning cables for an Apple licensed cable so we’re not out any money.  It’s not the consumer’s fault Apple didn’t warn the consumer properly. It’s also not the consumer’s fault the manufacturer sold us an unlicensed cable. That fight is clearly between Apple and the cable manufacturer. Apple, take your fight to where it belongs.. between you and the manufacturer. Don’t take it out on the very customer that you depend upon to keep you in business. Not a smart move.

As a consumer, I simply want a fully working retractable cable without stupid warning messages or I want my money back. Apple, you clearly owe me a replacement cable for waiting a year to warn me thus losing my ability to return the cable.

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Is Obama hostile towards big business?

To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper. Note, I am neither condoning nor praising Obama’s handling of his regulatory efforts. However, I would like to point out certain corrections that do need to be made.

“The truth is that not even the Franklin Roosevelt administration was as hostile to and ignorant about free enterprise as this [Obama’s] administration is.”
–Steve Forbes.

But, is Obama really hostile towards business? Or, is he making needed corrections? There is a fine line here. This issue also points out a serious problem in politics today. That problem is, you guessed it, money. Without money, the world doesn’t work. Without money, candidates don’t get elected. Without money, businesses don’t sell things and make money. Back up the train.. Businesses make plenty of money without governmental help. The trouble is that businesses want to be able to make laws that enable their businesses to make more money and then have the government be lenient with them when issues arise.

The reality, though, is that like the separation of church and state, the government now needs separation of business and state. The two are oil and water, they don’t mix. Government needs to be able to make law without interference from any party. But, businesses have deep pockets and hefty lawyers. These two elements help elect officials and help sway these same officials into making good on promises they made towards these businesses during the election.

Obama’s corrections

While I don’t agree with every single thing Obama has done, I do agree that change is necessary. The change that he is making is intended to correct the issues that led to the economic downturn. The trouble comes with statements from people like Steve Forbes. Mr. Forbes believes that he is the end-all-be-all-know-it-all when it comes to all-things-business. The trouble is, he doesn’t. Yes, he runs a successful magazine, but that doesn’t make him an authority. That makes him a successful business owner.

Obama is walking that fine line. A fine line that shouldn’t even be necessary. But, there it is. The line that’s there to help Obama help the economy, help spur business and growth and reduce the chances of a repeated failure. At the same time, the line is there to show that government values business, but isn’t there to socialize it. The trouble is, this economic downturn was of our own making. By our, I mean Wall Street. The housing bubble was just that, a bubble. Bubbles eventually burst and this bubble was no exception. It’s not as if analysts and intelligent minded people couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. When the mortgage interest rates got down to 1% and all of those ARM and specialty loans were being issued like water flowing down the Mississippi, trouble was inevitable. We just didn’t know that banks and insurance companies were tying their financial soundness to these extremely risky loans using credit default swaps.

Until the bubble burst, no one really knew just how deep the rabbit hole went. Then, everything came crashing down and all of the nasty subprime mortgage and credit default swap issues came into view in their all fugly detailed glory. The first evidence of that was Bear Stearns followed by AIG (and the subsequent governmental bailout). I still think they should have let AIG fold, I digress.

Government and Business

It’s high time that government distanced itself from corporate businesses. It’s high time congress made laws to separate government from business (including political support). It’s high time that government stopped being a pawn for corporate businesses. Forbes clearly seems to think that Free Enterprise requires socialism to function. Free Enterprise is not part of and does not need socialism. Free Enterprise means that businesses can do whatever they need to do (within the limits of the laws) to make their business succeed. Clearly, there have not been laws enabled that have dramatically impacted Free Enterprise. The laws that have been enacted have been placed there to prevent corporations from producing risky investment vehicles with a high likelyhood of crashing down again. If businesses are now floundering, it’s not because of laws. It’s because corporations have lost their way and are still expecting handouts. Well, you can keep your hand out, but don’t expect the government to be dropping any coin in it.

Corporations have relied, no… depended on the US Government for handouts. That time needs to end. Subsidies for business need to go away. Businesses need to fend for themselves just like Free Enterprise mandates. If a business can’t make it on its own, then let it fail. I’ll repeat, LET IT FAIL. Failure is also part of Free Enterprise. Businesses that will succeed, will succeed because they produce a good product or service. Businesses that fail, will fail because they don’t produce good products or services.

Lost our way

America, and specifically corporate enterprises, have lost their way. For far too long have big corporations depended on favorable governmental conditions (sounds like a weather report) to help them stay in business. Well, that train has left (and must leave). It should be solely up to you and your business practices alone to make or break your company. It is the quality of your products, services and support that makes people want to buy your products or invest in your company. Nothing has changed about this aspect of Free Enterprise.

We need to go back to a time when quality was the key. When providing a superior product was the answer to getting people to buy things. If that also means deflation, then so be it. Businesses need to find their way by learning how to do more with less. How to manage their staff better and stop over-hiring. At the same time, many of them need to stop under-hiring and also value the employees that they have right now.

The key to keeping your business flowing is by keeping your employees active, productive and happy. Morale is a big problem in companies during any downturn. Once fear sets in over the next reduction in force (RIF), then morale falls to all-time-lows. No, taking the employees on an outing doesn’t boost morale. The way to boost morale is to stop RIFing the staff out the door. Yes, I know it gives a temporary boost to the stock price and makes the shareholders happy, but that’s a temporary fix with limited effects. Once the dust settles, the employees who are left become disgruntled, unhappy and produce less. This is completely backwards thinking. Which is why business has lost its way.

Shareholder value vs quality products

I know, someone’s going to say that it is all about ‘shareholder value’. That may be the way things seem now, but it is wrong. Currently accepted actions that lead to improved shareholder value tend to undercut production, stifle innovation, reduce profit margins and lower productivity. Why would you intentionally do this to your business? So, while these measures may seem to help the stock price, it does nothing to help the company improve its quality of products and services. In fact, in the long run, these actions almost always negatively impact the bottom line. So, the fundamental question is, are you in business to make the shareholders happy or are you in business to sell quality products and services? This fundamental question must be answered.

The true answer to this question also shows that Free Enterprise priorities today are all wrong. It used to be that the customer is #1. Now, shareholders are #1 and customers are #2. This is both wrong and stupid. Until businesses go back to the idea that the customer is #1, corporations will continue to fail and need governmental subsidies. While shareholders are considered #1, there is really no such thing as Free Enterprise when it comes to multi-million dollar corporations… which is why they always need a handout from the government.

Newest Scam: Law enforcement agencies target unsuspecting motorists with bogus citations

Posted in bankruptcy, corruption, ponzi schemes, scam, scams by commorancy on March 2, 2010

I’ve long suspected that this is happening, but now I’ve been a victim of this exact situation.  In the state of the economy, especially here in California, local law enforcement agencies are apparently under the budgetary microscope. As a result, it now appears that law enforcement agencies have now joined the ranks of the scam artists… with one exception, they are legally sanctioned entities.  In my case, my car was stated to have been located near an expired parking meter and cited for this parking infraction when it was no where near the location on that date.  I do drive near that parking structure.  Near yes, but almost never closer than 2-3 miles near it.  Close enough that a local cop could have written down my plate number, seen the make, model and color and then used that information to create the scam citation.  Yes, I could have contested the ticket, but the main issue is that the citation had nearly every bit of information about my vehicle correct except the body style (which was conveniently absent from the notice to pay).  On top of that, the citation was issued so late in the contest process, I basically didn’t have time to contest it.  However, the license plate number was correct, plate expiration year correct, make correct, color correct.  The only thing that wasn’t correct and, of course, wasn’t written on the notice to pay the citation was the body style… how convenient.  The other two things that were conveniently missing from their ‘system’.. the VIN and the month of the plate expiration.  Two bits of information that would have conclusively proven my vehicle wasn’t there, but this information was conveniently absent.

Worse, law enforcement agencies can dig through the state’s plate database and simply choose license plates at random, write a citation based on some random vehicle incident, throw the ticket away and collect the money. That is assuming you don’t contest.  The issue, though, is that if the officer is thorough enough about the make, color and license specifics, then they have you regardless of what the body style says to be or where you claim to have been at the time.  Of course, if you happen to have conclusive proof that your vehicle wasn’t where the officer claims it was on the citation.. like a date stamped photograph of your vehicle at that moment in time (and how likely is that to happen) or some other proof your vehicle was locked up, then you’re likely going to end up paying the scam citation.  Even contesting it, you may still end up paying. As long as the vehicle is in your name and the citation is tied to your plate, you’re liable period.

Honestly though, would you actually be able to successfully contest this?  I mean, you can, yes.  But, is it worth the effort?  Sure, you could retain a lawyer, but that would cost you much more than the $45-$90 just to pay the citation.  You could do it yourself and go to court.  Again, they know this is a hassle and they are apparently exploiting this fact.  They know you’ll pay because the amount is too small for all that hassle.

Incidents like these are exactly what government and law enforcement don’t need or want right now.  Setting up scams to bring in cash isn’t the answer.  But yet, it is happening.. likely every day.  Note that in my case and because my car actually wasn’t where the officer claimed it was, I never received an initial citation.  The only notice I received was from the collection agency.  One officer stated to me when I called about this issue. “It might have just blown away”.  Uh-huh.. riiiight.  Maybe I didn’t receive it because my vehicle wasn’t actually there.  But, that doesn’t matter.  As long as the officer is thorough enough to go through the license database or write down your vehicle as you drive around town, they can easily set up scam citations to collect between $45 and $90 for the city, county (or the University in this case).  And worse, as long as it’s in your name and the majority of the information is correct, even a judge may still find you liable for the fine.

Government problems just beginning

These issues are the beginning of the end of the government as we know it.  When cops are now involved in state legalized racketeering, then there’s really no hope that this government can continue to exist.  We are about to head back to the old west of lawlessness.  If the police can no longer be trusted not to scam individuals out of their hard earned money, the no one can be trusted.  This is the era in which the US and local governments will collapse.  It will collapse under its own weight and ungainly methodologies.  By unscrupulously taking advantage of its own infrastructure for illicit monetary gain, the end of this government draws near.  It’s only a matter of time.

Government was initially designed to serve the people.  Unfortunately, now it’s just the opposite.  It now looks like people are now forced to serve the government.  As long as these scams continue unabated, there is no hope for law enforcement agencies to gain any respect or trust from the people, let alone the government.  And then they wonder why people no longer trust cops.  Hello?  Looks like the lights are on but no one’s home.

Our governments were designed to help us (the people).  Unfortunately, now government appears to be helping itself more than the people.  Of course, this issue is not the beginning.  In reality, we can consider sales tax, use taxes, income tax all forms of legalized monetary scams.  Ways to part you from your money.   Sure, it’s supposed to help us through programs, but the only thing it really does is help government remain in power.  If the American people stood up and finally said no to paying government fees, taxes and assessments in mass, it would be all over for government agencies.  They simply would not be able to function.  But, that’s not going to happen.  Too many Americans believe that government is still necessary.  But, do we need a government like this?  A government that is no better than your average street thug dealing dope?

I’m not saying that government deals in dope, but don’t they?  Just look at the FDA.  It’s supposed to help protect us.  But then, big pharma companies just use the FDA to put their expensive and hazardous drugs onto the market.  Some of these drugs make us highly addicted or, worse, the drugs become lethal.  Again, it’s another ‘legalized’ form of controlled chaos.  I guess it’s all really a point of view at this point.  It can only be called protection, though, if people don’t die.  When people begin to die because big pharma decides to push the latest pill, then that isn’t any better than the drugs being shipped in from outside the US.  So, how is the FDA really any better than a big drug cartel?

Government rethink

I think it’s time to rethink our governmental system.  It is now time to realize that what our forefathers put in place is now collapsing under its own weight.  Is there a governmental system that could work?  Good question. We already know that other governmental forms like socialism and communism don’t really work.   A democracy could work, but I think we’ve put so many laws into place that it’s now simply collapsing.  I think there’s a point at which there are too many laws and I think we’ve already reached and exceeded that number.  Worse, our governments have bastardized the bill of rights to fit the criteria of their point of view instead of what they actually mean.  So, for example, you can claim the right to bear arms as long as you’re in a state where it’s legal to do so.  Huh?  How is that possible?  The right to bear arms is a given right and cannot be revoked by any state.   Again, as for the fourth amendment, what’s actually considered an ‘unreasonable search and seizure’?   Because our forefathers weren’t more specific on this aspect, it is left open to interpretation.  Interpretation leads to modification.  Modification leads to the law only being valid under specific conditions.  These modifications were not sanctioned by the bill of rights.  Of course, so when it comes down to whether or not it violates the Bill of Rights, then it has to go in front of the Supreme Court.  And, oh yes, this court is appointed by the President.  If that is not conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.

Yes, it’s time to consider a new government.  One that goes back to our roots.  One that doesn’t try to save every business in the US.  One that focuses on the people as people, not as a business.  Free enterprise and entrepreneurship will survive no matter what.  Businesses can fend for themselves.  We no longer need businesses putting politicians in their back pockets simply to help keep the revenue flowing.  This isn’t a nanny state, yet I believe that’s where we are fast heading, if not already there.  Businesses don’t need any government officials ‘on their team’.  But, big business will always argue that it does.  That’s only because they want laws passed that benefit their ability to continue to make money.  Truth is, no one looks out for an individual.  Why should any third party look out for a company?

Government has sewn the seeds of its own destruction with situations such as all of the above.  It’s now time for us to find another fundamental way to continue our society (and the human species).  In the grand scheme of things, the government is probably the least important thing we have today.  What’s most important is Earth and ours, the human species.  Clearly, where we are today isn’t the answer.

Windows 7: Should I upgrade / install?

Posted in botch, corruption, microsoft, redmond, Uncategorized, windows by commorancy on December 6, 2009

After having used Windows 7 for at least a month now regularly, I’ve come to realize one thing… Windows 7 is not stable!  Things that had been fixed in Vista are now clearly broken again.  For example, I could run Vista for probably a month or longer without the need to reboot.  If I’m lucky, I can get away with running Windows 7 for about a week or two before its innards get flakey.  For example, there are now processes that hang and cannot be killed by Task Manager.  This forces the need to reboot.  Once the apps hang, it’s impossible to reboot cleanly.  So, I have yet to be able to reboot Windows 7 without having to force power off the system.  Just today, I once again tried to use the ‘Restart’ function which did absolutely nothing.  Windows 7 appeared to start the shutdown process and then clearly hung and did not finish.

I have also had a problem with Windows 7 drivers.  For example, the ATI driver I now have installed on Windows 7 is clearly bugged.  When I run Daz Studio 3, I can load a specific 3D model set and crash the system with a BSOD.  Worse, Windows 7 knows that it crashed, but it doesn’t have any clue what crashed it.  It knows it was a driver crash, but not the specific driver.  When I click the troubleshoot panel that appears after the system reboots, the panel goes away and offers no advice.

These are clearly the problems of yet another immature and sad operating system attempt by Microsoft.  Windows 7 should be more stable than Vista (which was, according to a lot of people, very unstable).  Well, I’m here to say that Vista is a ton more stable than Windows 7 is.  Yes, Vista is quirky and odd in places, but the underlying OS is pretty much rock steady.  I rarely had crashes or BSODs.  I could leave the system running for long periods of time without instability.  Windows 7, on the other hand, is just completely unstable.  This thing should never have made it out of Beta, let alone to the store shelves.

Should you install?

To answer this question is… no, do not install this disaster of an OS.  Wait until at least Service Pack 1.  When that arrives, Microsoft might actually be able to make this disaster workable.  Right now, it’s an unmitigated unstable mess.  In fact, this OS is far worse than Vista in a lot of respects at this point.  If you are on XP, stay there.  Since there is no upgrade path from XP, you probably don’t want to try an upgrade anyway.. let alone to something that’s much more unstable than XP.  Not to mention, Windows 7 has a far bigger disk usage footprint than XP.

If you are running Vista, carefully examine if you really need this OS.  Frankly, the bells and whistles that Microsoft added aren’t enough to justify an upgrade or the expense.  If you happen to buy a new computer with Windows 7 loaded, then take it.  If you want to upgrade an existing system, don’t do it.

Side by Side installs no longer available

Since the release of Vista, Microsoft has done away with side by side installs.  You used to be able to install a new operating system on the same disk drive as an existing other Windows version.  As of Vista, Microsoft stopped that.  Instead, you are now required to buy a new disk and install it on that fresh drive.  You cannot install it on the same partition as an existing other Windows install.  Windows 7 will rename the old installation to Windows.old and make it no longer bootable.  You might be able to get away with a side-by-side install on a separate partition, but I’ve never tested this.   So, if you’re thinking of taking Windows 7 for a test spin first, you should buy a new disk and install it on that blank disk.  Then, decide if you want to upgrade your Vista partition based on that test drive.  Alternatively, I’d recommend using something like Ghost to clone your existing partition for a test drive upgrade onto that blank new drive.  If you don’t like it, put your old disk back in and boot your system back into Vista (or whatever).

If you really must have Windows 7 on your machine, go for it.  But, be warned that it is not stable by any stretch.  Perhaps Service Pack 1 will fix these issues, but right now be warned that you will likely experience the same issues I have.  If you are an IT professional thinking of upgrading an employee’s computer, you should wait until Windows 7 is far more stable than it is today.

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73 AIG Execs get over $160 million in Bonus Payouts: Oversight?

Posted in bailout, bankruptcy, botch, corruption, economy, insurance, scam, scams by commorancy on March 18, 2009

Ok, so I know this story has been covered ad nauseaum in the press, but I also have some comments about this issue.  My question isn’t that they received these bonuses, it’s about the contracts they cling to that they MUST fulfill.

Contracts and Bonuses

As far as I know, unless AIG is just completely stupid at writing contracts, most bonuses written into contracts and, later, given to employees are issued based on performance.  That means, as long as you perform your duties properly, then the company will pay you at least part of the bonus.   And note that ‘properly’ could be intentionally left vague or it could be specifically defined through a set of criteria.    The criteria is the unknown factor in these employment contracts.  If it was intentionally left vague, though, even my argument still applies.  Further, to get paid the entire bonus, the employee and the company both have to perform in an outstanding way.  I don’t exactly consider bankruptcy outstanding.  Next in this debacle, why would you pay out 11 ex-employees?  Contracts usually terminate once employment ceases and this should include bonus clauses.  Again, stupidly written contract?  I don’t think so.  Clearly, there are flaws in AIG’s contract arguments.

Why would you pay out ANY performance bonuses to any executives in a company that came within millimeters of (and is still within) the brink of destruction?  Clearly, not one single executive performed properly.  Not one.  Based on the fact that the company is clearly bankrupt, that the government now owns an 80% stake in it and that it as been bailed out with Government (come Taxpayer) money, it is crystal clear that there is not one single executive in AIG who deserves a performance bonus.  Not one.

Check those contracts over

Since the government now owns an 80% stake in AIG, someone in the government needs to sequester their contracts and read them closely.  Seriously, why would checking the contracts over not have been the FIRST thing that was done when these bonuses were announced?  Someone needs to obtain a copy of each of these 73 employees’ contracts and read through the bonus section.  I cannot even fathom that AIG crafted the bonus contractual obligations as 100% payout no matter what happens.  If this is true, then AIG deserves to go out of business.  If they can’t even write employee contracts correctly, how can they POSSIBLY write insurance policies correctly?

AIG executives need to return the money

I am almost 98% sure that these bonuses were based on performance.   Someone would have to read their employment agreements to know for sure.. but, based on the assumption of a performance clause, these execs need to return this money.  AIG is clearly stepping beyond the bounds and this issue proves that the executives currently operating AIG need to be terminated.  Yes, every last one of them.  If nationalization is the key, then that’s what needs to happen.  Perhaps it needs temporary nationalization just long enough to clean house and then rehire the positions with executives who can actually run AIG properly.

If AIG did actually write employment contracts with mandatory bonus payouts, then this company is far beyond the help of a bailout.  This company has serious internal problems where the only resolution is termination of everyone involved.

Closing AIG and starting over…

 At this point, the only real hope is to force other solvent insurers to take exisiting insurance contracts away from AIG.   Move as many as possible.  For the ones that cannot be moved, force the closure of the contracts by a certain date.  For the credit default swaps, too bad.  These don’t need to be insured.  These are the things that cost AIG its livelyhood.  If another insurer is solvent enough and willing to take the risk to support the credit default swaps, those contracts can go there.

Once all of the insurance contracts have been moved, this company needs to be quietly wound down and closed so we can be done with AIG.  There have to be other insurance firms that can take the existing insurance contracts from AIG and honor them.  In fact, I’m quite sure there are plenty of other insurance groups that would be grateful to have the cash flow.  The American public needs to be done with AIG once and for all.

Bank executives still in power after meltdown

Posted in bailout, banking, bankruptcy, corruption, economy by commorancy on January 27, 2009

What’s wrong with corporate America?  This article discusses the exact reason why America’s corporations are and continue to be both problematic and emblematic of serious fundamental problems with free enterprise.

Free Enterprise

On the surface, this phrase embodies entrepreneur-ism, freedom to go into business and freedom to make money in the way you choose.   But, to each silver lining, there is also a dark cloud.  The dark cloud of free enterprise, then, is what’s rarely discussed but is always present in any business once it reaches a certain income level.  This black cloud tends to overreach any good that a company may do and, in many cases, stifles the business into oblivion through stupid decisions, inaction and through senior executive selfish actions.

Banks

We all know the story.  Banks doled out risky loans to individuals without checking credit histories and the whole banking industry nearly self-imploded.  But, what’s not widely known about this event is what happened to the bank’s senior executives.  The Associated Press did some research and found that the majority of the banks that doled out these risky loans, and nearly single-handedly killed the banking system, have the SAME senior exectives still in power today.  These are the same executives who presided over and actually ALLOWED their banks to issue (and continue to issue) risky loans until the meltdown.

As the banks continue to lay off thousands workers and, in some cases, shutter branches… incidentally, the layoffs likely include workers not responsible for the meltdown, the senior bank executives (CEO, CFO, CTO, etc) remain safely and comfortably employed (and likely making the same salary pre-meltdown). 

Car vs Bank Bailout

With the automotive industry bailout, very stringent conditions were placed on when and how these car companies could get and use the money.  Some of the conditions discussed even included ousting executives who couldn’t manage their businesses properly.  Not so with the banks.  There were no such executive conditions placed onto the bailout monies for the banks.  This leaves, in most cases, the same executives who presided over issuing of risky loans and the economic meltdown the task of trying to clean up this mess.  Can they?  Do we trust them?

Trust

Do we trust these executives to do the right thing?  That dark cloud I was speaking of, what is it? That dark cloud includes executive compensation, bonuses and other executive cash shuttling programs.  Once large companies get into the position of billions in revenue, the executives in power do not want to give up that cash cow no matter what.  Yet, here we are.  The banks (and their executives) have failed us and our economy and yet they remain in power?  Do we continue to trust that they know what they are doing?  Can they properly get not only their company, but our economy jump started?  Where is the accountability here?

Let’s hope that Congress wakes up to this issue and ultimately takes these bank executives to task for their inaction and inability to police their own companies during the meltdown times.  Surely, they can’t say, “We had no idea it would get that bad!”.  Sha-right.  The handwriting was on the wall when the risky loans began over 2 years ago.  Anyone in their right mind would know that handing out a loan to someone who hasn’t had their credit checked is a tremendous risk.  For executives to make that claim ensures they do not deserve to stay employed.

Shareholders: The other dark cloud

Once a company goes public, the shareholders become the ownership and power of the company… or so we are told.  So, whenever executives make decisions, it’s easy for them to claim it was ‘for the shareholders’.  That’s a catchall phrase to allow the executives to do things they ordinarily could not or should not do.  But, when is it good for the shareholders?  Who makes that decision?  Apparently, this decision is supposed to be the board of directors.  However, in many cases, the CEO is also the Board Chairman.  But, again, part of that same dark cloud.  The board of directors are supposed to steer the company into the right direction.  Again, when large sums of income become involved, people’s eyes get glazed over by $ signs.

When something is done for the good of the shareholders, you can pretty well guarantee they mean there is money involved (either obtaining, but usually spending it).  When and how that money is used is anyone’s guess.  The accounting books are supposed to tell the tale, but we know how that goes with all of the recent accounting scandals.

Corporate executives

Why is it then ok for these corporate executives to preside over and allow detrimental business practices, yet they continue to remain employed?  Why do they get reprieve from the unemployment line?  When are we supposed to hold executives accountable for their actions (or inactions) that lead to dire negative consequences?  These are questions that must be answered.

Does this imply more governmental regulation over corporations?  Perhaps.  It does imply that free enterprise is broken at a fundamental level.  It also implies that something must be done to fix it.  Whether that’s more regulation over businesses or more accountability, I don’t know.  Perhaps we just need stiffer laws that define corporate practices so that executives can be brought up on charges when these situations occur.  If there are legal statutes that prevent such problematic operations, then perhaps executives will think twice about their roles within large dollar companies.  After all, high dollar salaries shouldn’t come with little oversight and no strings attached.

iTunes can corrupt your iPod’s iTunes library

Posted in Apple, computers, corruption, ipod, itunes, music by commorancy on January 19, 2009

As a follow up to this Randosity article, this article will focus on a specific condition when iTunes will corrupt your iPod’s music database… over and over and over.

How it all starts

About a week ago, my iPod became unrecognized by iTunes.  Because iTunes cannot ‘recognize’ the iPod, it requests that you restore the iPod using the restore feature.  As a result of a domino effect issue, this problem became more and more compounded.  Compounded to the point that I was ready to sell the iPod to someone else and get a different solution.

What is the issue exactly?

This issue started right after the first unrecognized error.  After the iPod becomes unrecognizable (we’ll get to what that means shortly), I had to restore the iPod to actually use it again.  From that point forward, I kept having to restore it about once a day.  Mind you, this is the 8GB iPod Touch and not a 60GB iPod.  If it had been a 60GB device, I would have sold it no questions asked.  I digress.  Anyway, the restores kept getting more and more frequent.

  • So, I plug the iPod Touch into the computer’s USB port and let iTunes synchronize the touch.  The synchronize progresses normally and then ends correctly.
  • I unplug the iPod and check it out.  Yep, everything is all there.
  • I plug it in again and iTunes then syncs again.  Except, this time I noticed (or thought I noticed) iTunes synchronizing some music that was already on the iPod.  I thought it was weird, but I discounted it.
  • I unplug the iPod and check the ‘Music’ app.  I see a “There is no music loaded” message…frustrating (note this was the first time it had happened).
  • I plug the iPod back into the computer.   iTunes says, “This iPod is unrecognized, please restore it”.
  • Note that the Touch’s Apps are all still loaded and the iPod works even though iTunes won’t recognize it (and the music is missing).

What does ‘unrecognizable‘ mean exactly in the iTunes?

After poking around on the Internet about any similar type issues, I’ve found others who’ve had similar behavior on their iPods.  The base problem that prevents iTunes from ‘recognizing’ the iPod is that the iPod’s music database (iTunesDB) file has become corrupted.  Basically, when the iPod’s iTunesDB file becomes corrupted internally, iTunes refuses to recognize the device or work with it forcing the user to do complete restore (even when the unit is STILL functioning).

Restore Process

There are so many problems with this restore process, suffice it to say that Apple is in desperate need of help.  Apple has designed the iPod to work under ideal conditions (i.e., never need to restore).  However, when it comes time to restore your iPod and because they didn’t really work this all out properly, the restore process is where iTunes fails miserably.

When iTunes needs to restore the unit, it places the iPod into a special restore mode.  A mode that appears to make the unit receptive to installation of firmware (a special icon appears).  After iTunes extracts and transfers the firmware over to the iPod, the iPod reboots and installs the firmware (all the while iTunes is watching the progress).  After the unit has restored the firmware to factory defaults, iTunes allows you to try to restore from a previous backup or set it up as a new iPod.  This factory reset process can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes.

iPod Backups

iTunes only allows for one (1) stored backup of your iPod at a time.  So, if that one (1) backup that iTunes has is corrupted, you’ll waste a ton of time trying to restore only to find that the iPod is still corrupted.  So, you’ll have to start the restore completely over again and then set the iPod up as a new device (wasting even more time).  This happened to me.  I also quickly realized it was simpler (and faster) to avoid using an existing backup and just setting it up from scratch again.  Apple really needs to allow iTunes to take multiple backups in dated slots and allow these backups to be stored outside of iTunes in files.

Note, if you choose to set the iPod up from scratch, you will have to completely set up your apps again.  For example, settings like your WiFi settings, your email settings and your VPN settings will all have to be manually reconfigured.  Any apps that require login and passwords will need to be re-entered.

Restoring your settings and media

If you’ve chosen to restore your iPod’s customization settings from a backup, this process will take between 10-15 minutes to complete.  And no, as slow as this process is, it doesn’t restore music, videos or any other media.  That still has yet to be done (and comes last).  After the settings have been restored, you now have a workable (and very blank) iPod again.  So, the next thing iTunes does is sync up the applications, then the music, then everything else.   The applications will take anywhere from a few minutes to over ten minutes depending on how many apps you have downloaded.  The music restore will take whatever it takes to copy the size of your unit (about 6 gigs takes at least 15-25 minutes).  So, an 8GB iPod Touch, it takes probably 15-45 minutes depending.  If you’re restoring a fully loaded 32 or 60GB iPod, your rebuild will take a whole lot longer.

Corruption

The issue I faced, however, is that something kept corrupting the iTunesDB file on the iPod.  It was either the iPod’s hardware messing up or iTunes was shuttling something over it shouldn’t have been.  I noticed that on a particular CD the artwork kept disappearing in iTunes (it would be there and then it would show the blank icon when I know that the art previously worked).  I also noticed that iTunes would randomly transfer this music over even when it already existed on the iPod and had not been changed.  I guess it thought something changed about the music file.  Anyway, after it transferred that music, I believe this is what corrupted the iPod.  Whatever was causing the artwork to disappear must have corrupted an iTunes file which was transferred to the iPod.

Fix

The fix for this issue, that I found by trial and error, was to completely delete the entire iTunes music library, podcast library and video library and reimport it.   So, I went to the ‘Music’ area and selected everything and pressed delete.  Of course, I used ‘Keep Files’ to keep them on the disk.  I also made sure to NOT use downloaded artwork on the reimported music as I believe the downloaded artwork database is what is getting corrupted.  I don’t know why the corruption happens and the guy at the Genius Bar had also never heard of this.. so much for their Genius.  He also offered to replace the iPod Touch just in case the hardware was bad, but I don’t think it is.

Arrgh.. Apple get your ACT together!

iTunes can be a hassle to deal with, as evidenced here.  Apple needs to take a long hard look at how this all works and fix these problems. One of the ways to fix this issue is to stop marking the unit as unrecognizable when the iTunesDB is corrupted.  Instead, they should simply delete the database and rebuild it.  Better yet, they should keep a copy of the iPod’s database on the computer for restoration.  Also, if Apple allowed multiple backups stored by date on the computer, it would be far simpler to roll back to a previously KNOWN working configuration.  Because of this lack of foresight of Apple and because of the simplistic backup system Apple has implemented, this leads to a complete timewaster in restoration by trial and error.

Since there is no real fix you can do to iTunes itself to manage these limitations, I recommend that you turn off automatic synchronization so you can manually sync the iPod yourself at the time of your choosing.  I should also mention that Apple decided to turn off visibility (through a drive letter) into the iTunes library files with the iPod Touch, so you can’t even use a third party utility.  I can’t imagine having to go through this restore process on a 60GB or larger iPod.  Having to go through it 5 times in 5 days because of iTunes is ludicrous and enough to make anyone want to get away from Apple as fast as possible.  Apple, you definitely need to figure out how to deal with this issue!

Ponzi Schemes and Wall Street

Posted in corruption, ponzi schemes by commorancy on December 13, 2008

I hope that everyone who invests money knows that entrusting your money to someone else is risky.  It doesn’t matter if the yield is 0%, 2% or 5%.  The act of handing your money to someone else involves risk.  So, is it then no surprise when someone like Bernard Madoff, who once the chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, is arrested for an alleged ponzi scheme that bilked people out of billions?

Hello, no!  Wake up people.  When times are good, no one delves into such corrupt Wall Street vehicles because they are self-sustaining.  It’s only when times become bad that these schemes fall apart.  The way a ponzi scheme works is by paying old investors out with new investor money.  The fund itself is not self-sustaining (and probably was never intended to be).  So, as new investors dry up, the older investers can no longer be paid.  The whole thing then falls apart.

But, the question isn’t so much that this one person did this.  It’s the loss of trust and of faith in the system.  It’s the question of how many more people are doing it?  When respected people of the invesment community end up operating such scam vehicles, what does that say of Wall Street as a whole?  Clearly, this is not and will not be the only ponzi scheme to turn up.  It’s the first major case of it recently, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Is investing a bad idea?  Not necessarily.  But, it is risky.   This is why diversification is part of the answer.  Do not put your money into one fund or even two or three funds.  Spread the money out into many funds.  Granted, it’s harder to keep track of, but the chances that every single investment fund being corrupt is unlikely.  However, we all know that money corrupts.  So, you have to take the good with the bad when you give someone your cash to manage.

These are the kinds of problems that shake the foundations of investing to the core.  These are the kinds of trust issues that the investment community needs to avoid like the plague.  Yet, here we are.  These are also the kinds of problems that America itself has been fostering for the last 10-15 years.  Why is greed, power and corruption such a big part of the American dream today?  Only a historian will be able to look back and fully answer this question.  Today, these problems appear to be unrelated.  But, is this problem systemic?  Is it only likely to get worse?  When well respected Wall Street investment professionals, such as Madoff, can bilk so many out of their money, this is much more than isolated and, indeed, does appear to be systemic and a symptom of a much bigger issue.

At this point, America needs an overhaul and perhaps this downturn and the financial sector upheaval  is the beginning of that overhaul.  The corporate and financial system on which this country is based is near completely broken.  When 20 year veterans of Wall Street can turn to Ponzi schemes to keep their lifestyle afloat, anything can happen.  So, watch your money closely when you invest.  But, even doing so is no guarantee that you aren’t investing in a sham.  One quote is more salient now than ever… “Caveat Emptor”  (Buyer Beware).

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