In process moving to a new wordpress install. (4/25/19)
The most expensive iPhone is now $1449, for the 512 GB iPhone XS Max. That is crazy … right?
I looked around and found some other interesting numbers.
- The average replacement cycle for cell phones in the US in 2017 was 32 months.
- The average cell phone bill in the US is now over $80/month.
I dusted off my multiplication skilz: 32 times 80 is $2560. $1449 divided by 32 is $45.
So who is making money on phones? The answer is Verizon, ATT, T-Mobile, Sprint…
iPhones are expensive compared to many perfectly serviceable phones, but they are not expensive compared to the service providers.
Phones are a competitive market. I’ve owned both Apple and Android phones They are fine. If you think iPhones are too expensive, don’t buy them.
My own solution to the “Apple products are too expensive” was to buy some Apple stock. It has worked out well.
The democrats, if I may paraphrase, are saying they don’t think a drunken rapist should be on the court. Or a conservative, but let’s set that aside. The republicans are saying, well it isn’t true, and anyway, it was a long time ago, and boys will be boys. Besides, it is unfair that these issues weren’t raised 30 years ago or at least two months ago.
There’s a movement to save the environment by having people stop using straws.
It is true that non-biodegradable straws will hurt the environment, but probably a lot less than those newspaper plastic bags.
A boba straw weighs about 2 grams. A drinking straw is less. As far as I know you need about a gram of oil to make a gram of plastic, so a gallon of oil or gasoline will make about 1700 straws.
According to the Be Straw Free Campaign, https://www.nps.gov/commercialservices/greenline_straw_free.htm
Americans use about 500 million straws a day (I’m not using my share!). This takes about a quarter million gallons of fuel. That is less than 0.1% of fuel usage for cars and trucks.
Let’s work on this, after we cut down on poor insulation and excessive driving, after we put up solar panels and wind farms. After we restore the EPA and stop using coal.
Work on the big stuff first. We have limited mind share for silly stuff.
Something called during dinner yesterday. I hung up almost immediately, but commented to the family that it is getting harder to quickly identify recorded calls.
My 16 year old Andrew remarked that I should ask for the answer to 1 plus 1.
He’s invented telephone captchas! When you get a call and you can’t quite tell if it is a person, ask them a math question. If you don’t get an immediate correct answer, hang up.
There’s a subset of robo callers with a recording that pauses in almost human places, and makes small talk about your expected answers. I find this trend alarming and suspect it takes in lonely seniors pretty well.
Personally, I’ve gotten to where I don’t bother talking any more, if there is any sort of a pause after my hello, or anything recorded or that I can’t interrupt, I just hang up. As they get better though, I’m going to use telephone captchas.
The technically inclined can read the papers at Meltdown and Spectre but I will try for a less technical explanation.
Processor chips are supposed to be able to run multiple programs at once, while keeping the data of each program secret from the others. There is a special privileged program, called the operating system kernel, that coordinates all the activity. The kernel is necessarily allowed to read the data of any user program.
This isolation between the data of different programs, and between the secret data of the kernel and that of all user programs, is done by something called virtual memory. VM gives each program the illusion of a private memory space while in fact all the programs are using bits of the underlying real memory in a way coordinated by the kernel.
A user program simply does not have any way to ask for the contents of arbitrary real memory (and thus be able to read secrets of other program.) The memory of other programs is not present at all in the virtual memory of the attacker.
The relation between the user programs and the OS is a little different. For convenience, the kernel ususally has the entire physical memory “mapped” in its own virtual address space, and the kernel’s virtual space is also present in the virtual space of every user program. This is not supposed to be a problem because the kernel part of the memory is marked “kernel use only” and that restriction is enforced by the hardware. If a user program tries to read kernel memory, the hardware says “nope!”.
All this is just background.
Meltdown is a way for user programs to read kernel virtual memory, even though they are not supposed to be able to do it.
Spectre is a way for user programs to read the virtual memory of other user programs, even though they are not supposed to be able to do it.
Virtual memory is only one of the ways in which processors present a view that is different from the underlying reality. Another is the so called “architecture”. Most PC’s have an architecture called x86, due to Intel. AMD also makes chips with an x86 architecture. The architecture is the stuff that is visible to a program: instructions, registers, memory, and so forth. The general outline of a computer architecture is that of a central processing unit, containing registers and instructions, which talk to a memory unit, containing data. Neither thing is true, and hasn’t been true for 30 years.
Memory isn’t simply memory anymore! If you’ve looked inside a PC, you’ve seen those flat rulers with chips on them plugged in edgewise to the motherboard. Those are main memory. That part is true. The problem is that they are way too slow. It can take 60 to 100 nanoseconds to get data from main memory. In that time, the CPU can execute maybe 200–300 instructions. Something had to be done. Inside the CPU chip, there are smaller faster memories called cache. They automatically hold the most recently accessed and most frequently accessed data from memory. This works because programs tend to access the same stuff over and over and also to access nearby stuff.
CPUs aren’t just CPUs anymore! Executing a single instruction involves a 5–10 step process, fetching the instruction, decoding what it means, fetching the data it needs, maybe doing some complicated arithmetic, and storing the answer back where it goes. If CPUs did these things one at a time, they would be too slow, so the operation of many instructions are overlapped in a pipeline of work. It turns out that that is not nearly enough speedup, so many modern CPUs execute instructions “out of order”. They look ahead at instructions that are coming up and do as many as they can, even though earlier instructions have not finished. In order to avoid vast confusion, instructions are only allowed to finish in order, with “later” results being held in temporary storage until earlier instructions finish, even though all the work for the later instructions has already been done. Modern CPUs also engage in “speculative execution” which means they actually guess at what instructions will need to be executed sometime in the future and do them right away. Things like this happen due to IF THEN ELSE instructions in the program that could cause different instructions to execute. The CPU doesn’t really know which way the IF THEN ELSE (called a branch) will go, so it makes a very well educated guess.
Out of order and speculative execution are especially interesting due to those long memory delays. The CPU can be thinking about and running instructions several hundred instructions ahead of the “commit point”.
None of this violates the architectural rules. The program doesn’t see the results of instructions that were never supposed to execute, and can’t read memory it is not entitled to see…. Well it turns out it can.
The trick of Meltdown allows a program to read kernel virtual memory even though that is forbidden. The meltdown program, by some modest bluffing, tricks the CPU into speculatively executing a read from kernel memory and then using the result to choose which data to read from user memory.
The results of these reads are never reported to the user program, and in fact by the time the program logic gets to that point, the CPU knows the read would never have been executed anyway, so it doesn’t even produce the exception that would normally happen when a user program breaks the rules and tries to read kernel memory.
But… in the underlying physical machine, the microarchitecture, the reads from memory did happen, and that data was read into the caches we talked about earlier.
On August 7, 2015, Anita Kurmann was cycling on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston and was killed by a truck making a turn onto Beacon Street.
This week Boston Police cleared the driver of wrongdoing.
The thing is, that if Dr. Kurmann did nothing wrong, and the driver did nothing wrong, then the rules of the road are not adequate.
It seems to me very reasonable to ask for sets of rules for bicyclists and drivers, such that if both parties follow the rules, then no one is killed. Boston Police may be correct and the driver was not at fault, but if they are then the rules are wrong. Where is the effort to fix the rules? Where are the BPD recommendations for drivers and cyclists and the city?
Maybe its as simple as not driving 40′ tractor trailers on city streets without flagmen and escorts.
In view of the power imbalance between motor vehicles and bicycles, in my view, if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist while the cyclist is in a legal spot, then the driver of the motor vehicle is at fault. This is similar to the rules about rear end collisions. If you smash into the back of a car, you are at fault. Either you weren’t paying attention or you were tailgating to start with. Full stop.
I’m a little sensitive to these issues because I used to commute 36 miles a day into Cambridge and I’ve had my share of idiot drivers.
On December 29, 2017 Andrew Finch was killed by police. He was an unarmed innocent man who made the mistake of answering his front door when Witchita police surrounded his house.
Much has been made of the culpability of Tyler Bariss, who made a false police report that lead to the event, and I agree with it. Bariss is essentially guilty of murder and has to be held to account.
However, the officer who killed Finch is also guilty. He was too frightened, or too incompetent to do his job without killing an innocent man. So far, the Witchita police have disclaimed any responsibility and are trying to blame everything on Bariss and Finch himself. The officer has not been named, probably because his feelings would be hurt by being in the newspaper.
According to the Washington Post in https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2017/
police killed around 1000 civilians in 2017. 68 of them were unarmed. Noone keeps any statistics on swatting incidents.
At the same time crime is at its lowest point in decades, the police are more militarized than ever.
Police face almost no accountability for violations of civil rights and under current law are almost impossible to sue for damages.
It seems fairly clear that changes are needed.
- Swatting needs to be a serious crime in all 50 states
- The “Reasonably scared cop” rule of Graham v Connor must be changed so that officers are held accountable
- Qualified Immunity must be changed, so that Police, departments, and towns can be sued when people are harmed by their actions.
I don’t care if an individual policeman can’t be sued due to qualified immunity, they can’t afford to pay damages anyway. Departments and towns however can, and it may be that repeated large settlements in court may be the only way to keep cities and towns from giving guns to the sort of officers who kill the people they are supposed to protect.
It also wouldn’t hurt for congress to actually do their job and write laws that correct bad judicial results like Graham and qualified immunity.
I’ve sent the following to my representative and senators. They are all democrats so who knows how much good it will do.
I am outraged to learn about the secret fund, paid for by taxpayers, that is used to settle sexual harassment claims against members of congress.
I would like you to publicly commit to ending this practice. It is shameful.
Further. I would like legislation that makes a non-disclosure agreement as part of a sexual harassment settlement non-enforceable with regard to illegal conduct revealed to law enforcement.
I think it should be clear to everyone how evil it is for congress to settle claims against members, and make us foot the bill. Congress has a habit of exempting itself from laws and the practice should stop everywhere, but it should certainly not extend to free settlements. (And don’t get me started about tax returns. Members should be required to do their own taxes and every one should be audited every year.)
Regarding non-disclosure agreements, frankly I don’t know what to do about these quiet settlements. It may be the only recourse people have, given the typical reluctance of law enforcement to pursue predators, but if those attacked are successfully silenced, then the powerful and entitled predators are free to attack others.
At present, the federal estate tax maxes out at 40% of the amount of an estate over 10 million dollars. Almost no one pays it, because of the large exemption.
The best argument I’ve heard against the estate tax is that if the bulk of the estate is something that is not liquid, like a farm or a business, there may be no way to raise the money to pay the tax without selling the family farm or the family business.
For those with more liquid assets like stocks and bonds and a dozen houses, well the estate tax isn’t that big a deal. Heres why.
Estates change hands about every 25 years, which arguably is the length of a generation.
The long term average appreciation in the stock market is around 7%. In 25 years, a stock market investment might grow by 5x. If you start with 20 million, in 25 years you will have about 100 million.
With the estate tax, your notional 20 million drops to only 16 millions, because 10 million is exempted and you pay 40% of the rest.
After 25 years, that 16 million would only increase to 86 million.
In this case, the estate tax cost the equivalent of about 4 years of growth.
Even if the exemption were zero, the estate tax would represent about 8 years of growth every 25 years. The fortune just keeps growing.
Of course this analysis is true only if you just leave the money in the market. Historically, fortunes last about three generations before being diluted and generally squandered. However, once you get into serious money, it is kind of hard to spend enough to keep the rest from growing to infinity.
If the policy objective of the estate tax is to prevent self sustaining multigenerational fortunes, it doesn’t accomplish its purpose. However it does kill those family farms and family businesses. What might be done?
Idea 1: Make the estate tax payable over a generation, rather than as a lump sum. In effect, this is a wealth tax, rather than an estate tax. If my figuring is right, the 40% estate tax applied every 25 years is very close to a 1.3% wealth tax applied annually. This has the same effect on cash estates, but might be managable for those family farms and businesses. Like the estate tax, this would apply only to wealth over 10 million.
Idea 2: Bump the tax rate on income for the 1% to raise the same amount of money. Evidently, the estate tax raises about 20 billion per year. In 2014, an income of 465,000 put you in the 1% and the average income of the 1 percenters was 1.2 million, and there were about a million 1% households – that is 1.2 trillion in income, and the income tax surcharge to replace the estate tax would be . . . 1.6%
These two ideas are not that far apart. On the whole a 1.6% income tax surcharge is easier, because income is reported, and wealth is (a) not reported and (b) often consists of unrealized gains.
All this leaves unresolved the question about the policy goal. Is the estate tax or a possible replacement just a way to pay for government? Or is it really intended to reduce income or wealth inequality? If the latter, we need a much larger discussion about how to accomplish the goal, because the estate tax doesn’t do it. Repealing the estate tax will surely make inequality worse, but keeping it only slows down increases in inequality, and not by that much.