Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Hmm. It appears the FreeRealms web site's... kind of bogged down. I think someone forgot to feed the hamsters last night and they're all off scrounging food instead of turning the wheels.

Flu pandemic

The WHO's saying a flu pandemic is "imminent". Here's a quick perspective on this. The flu pandemic of 1918 was probably the deadliest outbreak on record. The highest estimated mortality rate for it is 5%. That doesn't mean 5% of the population died, it means 5% of the people who caught the flu died. In the US only 28% of the population caught the flu. That means that, if you were around during the epidemic, you had a 98.5% chance of living through it and a 72% chance of never even coming down with it. And those were the odds in the days before rapid communication made tracking outbreaks easy, and before we had a lot of modern treatments for the primary killers (pneumonia and the like).

The SEC and naked short-selling

The SEC's currently accepting comments on various rules intended to curb naked short-selling. I know a number of people who have a knee-jerk reaction, going "Why should the SEC tell someone they can't make a particular type of deal?". Well, it has to do with the nature of the deal. In a legitimate short sale, the seller has arranged to be able to cover the position and deliver the stocks. They may have an options contract to buy those shares before the delivery date, or they may be borrowing actual shares from someone. In the latter case if the stock price goes down far enough the seller can buy cheap shares on the market, deliver those to the buyer and never touch the borrowed shares. If the stock price doesn't go down the seller delivers the borrowed shares to the buyer and pays off the lender according to his agreement with them. In all cases actual shares exist to cover the position.

Naked short-selling doesn't work that way. When shorting naked, the seller sells shares that don't exist, that he doesn't have. If the stock price goes down far enough, he buys cheap and delivers to the buyer. If the stock price doesn't go down, he shrugs and walks away from the deal. He never delivers the shares to the buyer, and the buyer's broker unwinds the transaction leaving the buyer with his money back and no shares. If you think this is harmless, think about this: you've sold a put option to someone and made a purchase of shares to cover that option because the price is good and you'll make a profit. The guy you bought the shares from was naked-shorting the stock, and since the market price isn't below what he sold for he walks away from the deal. You don't lose your purchase price, but you also don't have the shares you need to have to cover your option contract. Now you're faced with two bad choices: buy at the now-higher market price and see your profit on the options contract turn into a loss, or default on that contract yourself. Your wallet or your reputation, one or the other takes a major hit. Still think the naked short sale was harmless? I don't. Just because you got your money back doesn't mean you avoided all the costs of a failed purchase.

IMO naked short-selling should be banned entirely. If you want to short, you should be required to make arrangements to guarantee delivery at the time you initiate the sale. You can purchase the shares, you can purchase an options contract, you can borrow from a willing lender, but one way or another you have to have something in hand to guarantee delivery before you can sell. Along with that I'd put in a rule saying that if you default on any sale your broker is then required for 1 year to refuse to initiate any sale for you unless you own actual shares to cover it. No borrowing, no options contracts, if you fail to deliver you're on shares-on-the-barrelhead until you prove you're reliable again. Now the whole problem's eliminated.

I'm sure certain traders who like to gamble won't like that, but I fail to see why they should be allowed to gamble in ways that leave other people unwittingly holding the bag.


Cripes, the MegaMillions lottery jackpot's over $200 million for the next draw. Yeah, I've got a few tickets. Sure it's a long-shot, but when the pay-off (taking the annuity option and allowing for worst-case taxes) tops $2 million a year for close to the rest of my life it's worth a couple-three dollars.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Oh boy, this should be fun. FreeRealms was supposed to launch this afternoon. The web site (that you need to use to log in and launch the game client, it's not a stand-alone installation) says it's still down for maintenance. I know a couple of friends who were into the really nasty withdrawal symptoms after only 12 hours without the game. At 36 and counting I'm expecting things to be seriously ugly. :)

Arlin Specter, Democrat

I see Arlin Specter's changed parties and become a Democrat. And I see the Republicans are again screaming in outrage. They blithely ignore something Arlin noticed: his district was voting more and more Democrat, and less and less Republican. If he'd continued as a Republican, he'd've lost the next primary to a radical conservative opponent who would've gone on to lose that district's Senate seat to a Democrat who'd be much more liberal than Arlin is. Combine that with his statement that he finds more and more that the Republican party has no place for his views (the ones his constituents elected him for, BTW), and it's no wonder he's changing parties.

If the Republicans don't soon start grokking the concept of "Pyrrhic victory", they're going to render themselves a non-player in the political arena. Their shift towards the radical right cost them control of the House in 2006, it cost them control of the Oval Office and very nearly the Senate in 2008, and it's going to cost them the last shreds of control (the filibuster) they have in the Senate in 2010 if they don't change course soon.

Their basic problem is that the majority of conservatives are not religious conservatives, nor "corporate interests above all else" neocons. They aren't opposed, for instance, to unemployment and welfare and the whole "safety net for people in trouble" thing. They look at it as a benefit for themselves too if they happen to get caught in somebody else's mess, say being laid off because the people who run the company they work at were greedy, unprincipled and/or stupid bastards who bankrupted their companies, an assurance that while things will be tight they won't have to worry about putting basic food on the table while they scramble to find a new job. They don't want the government to over-do it to the point where people are better off on the dole than working, but they don't want the government to completely remove the net. And they're getting increasingly fed up with ranting that sounds more and more like that annoying street preacher who won't leave you alone.

Dynamic DNS

Time for me to poke at dynamic DNS services. I run an SSH server for remote access to my home box. Usually my IP address stays fixed, but every now and then it changes when I reboot the gateway box. Just often enough to be annoying, not often enough to force me to fix it. I need to research dynamic DNS services and find one that'll provide me a cheap single name, and see if there's any that'll provide me with multiple names in a domain I own. That way I can tie the dynamic-DNS update software into my network scripts and get instant updates when things change.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Well, SOE's FreeRealms goes live Tuesday. Having been in the beta, I can say it's definitely not geared for the hard-core gamer. If you live for 24-man raids that require absolutely perfect gearing, exact raid composition and wipe upon wipe upon wipe to perfect your strats, this is not the game for you. But for everybody else, it'll be a fun game to drop in on, spend an hour or two and head off to other things. If you're a kid, you'll love it. One big draw is the jobs system. No more picking a class for a character. Any character can have any number of jobs, each with their own set of equipment and skills, and can level each up independently. Combat is all instanced, so there'll be no competition for mobs. And there's no more waiting for everyone to assemble, you can teleport to any of your friends just by clicking on their marker on the map. A basic account is free, a membership runs only $5/month and gives access to higher-end content.

It does have a few problems, though. One is the lack of a true world-wide chat channel. You can speak locally, and you can send messages to your friends, but there's no generic chat channels as in other games where everyone in the world can speak and be heard. That'll make it a bit harder to get like-minded people together if they aren't already friends. Of course it also limits the amount of asshattery in chat, so the lack isn't all bad. The other major thing you'll notice is that a significant portion of the content, particularly at the higher levels, is either members-only or purchaseable only with Station Cash. Certain jobs are also members-only. The membership is cheap so that's not IMO a major problem, but more stuff requires Station Cash than you might expect from the advertising. And like all SOE games the game and the Station Wallet are tied together through the Station account. If you have kids and want to give them accounts, DO NOT do the obvious and give them their own independent account. Set up your own account first, even if you don't intend to play. Then create their accounts as "child" accounts linked to your parent account, and use the parental controls to lock them down. That way you can use your credit card to pay their membership without giving them an unlimited ability to tap that credit card for Station Cash.

The game hasn't really caught my interest so far. It's fun, though, and a good change of pace. It's perfect for casual futzing around with a few of your friends, and it'll probably be much more interesting for the younger crowd than an old fogey like me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

RIP Geocities

Remember GeoCities? The free web hosting service from the 90s that featured organizing it's cites into virtual cities?

Yeah, I know, the cobwebs are thick back in that corner, but it's really still around. Well, until summer at least. Yahoo is shutting it down. It lasted for 15 years, and if you were one of the ones who created pages there you might want to retrieve anything still useful from it before it all gets trucked to the curb along with the servers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GM financial woes

According to MarketWatch, GM's going to fail to make a $1 billion debt payment due in June. If that pans out, expect things to get very ugly. That may very well be the final nail in their coffin as an intact business.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Republican outrage at the "bailout"

I think I see why the Republicans are outraged at Obama's bailout plans. They aren't outraged that the government's bailing out corporations. They're perfectly happy to have the government simply buy up and write off bad loans, for instance, leaving the banks and borrowers who dug the hole financially undamaged by it and the taxpayers holding the bag. And they'd be perfectly fine with the government letting those corporations go bankrupt, leaving their executives to walk away with their bonuses and payouts and leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab for unemployment and welfare for all the employees put out of work by it.

No, what outrages the Republicans is that Obama has the temerity, the audacity to put conditions on the bailout. To say "We'll loan you the money to keep you in business, but you're expected to pay it back with market-rate interest just like any other loan.". To say "We'll help you out, but we won't let you use the money to give rewards and bonuses to the executives whose fuck-uppery got you into this mess.".

They're outraged because Obama is expecting business to man up, admit that they screwed up by the numbers and accept the consequences instead of playing Uncle Sugar and shovelling money at them no strings attached like they want.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

EQ2 shard mission quests

Note to self: when looking at shard mission quests, remember how clickies work. If you've got a kill quest and after the rollover the new quest is a clicky, DO NOT collect any of the clickies from the instance. Not even if you're bringing in a character who's got the new quest. Clear the instance completely, then bring in all the characters with the new quest before collecting any of the clickies. Do this promptly after finishing the instance, so the clickies don't despawn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's as a schedule date

Observation: if I ever become the Evil Overlord, I'll schedule my take-over of all governments on Earth for April 1st. That way, when the reports of the White House being stormed and occupied hit the news, everybody'll dismiss it as Yet Another Prank Story. By the time the flood of real pranks subsides and people realized that those stories were serious, it'll be too late.

April Fool's

Note to all the people posting prank stories on Slashdot: subtlety is the key. One or two pranks is amusing. After the first dozen, it gets boring. And the last thing you want your pranks to be is boring.