Older blog entries for cinamod (starting at number 157)

15 Feb 2008 (updated 15 Feb 2008 at 19:24 UTC) »

I'd like to second Rob's assessment of Senator Clinton's proposed "subprime" mortgage fixes.

I bought in a little bit after the bubble had started to burst. Luckily, I was smart enough to seek out a relatively low fixed-rate mortgage that was affordable (my mortgage costs me less than what I was paying in rent, before considering interest-related tax deductions).

I deeply sympathize with the people who were misled into thinking that they could afford their adjustable-rate, sub-prime mortgages. In a lot of ways, I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, and I can't stomach the thought of millions being kicked out of their homes. Especially those who were tricked into thinking that they could afford the houses they bought.

Whether these "let's bail people people out" plans might be what's best for the country, I can't say for sure. What I do know is that it hurts those people who were betting against the mortgage market. It engenders animosity in me, a fixed-rate borrower, toward people getting off easy on their sub-prime ARMs. And, simply put, plans like this one reward foolishness.

Rob's right - Mrs. Clinton's proposal is heavily biased toward borrowers. Without a doubt, borrowers acted irresponsibly, and should be made to see the error of their ways. But I can't feel bad for the originators. For over a half-decade, they handed out sub-prime loans like they were candy. No credit or proof of employment? No money down? No problem. Here's $400 grand. Enjoy your "jumbo" no-doc loan.

These originators knowingly acted irresponsibly, and shouldn't be surprised when the houses they've foreclosed on are worth less than the loans they issued. It was the originators who should've known that these people couldn't afford their loans. It was the originators who should've more accurately appraised the housing assets they were purchasing. And it was the originators who shopped around for underwriting companies to classify these untold sub-prime loans as "good debt", so that they could sell slice, dice, repackage, and re-sell them to mutual funds. Their irresponsible lending practices directly caused the bubble that's come back to bite them.

What Rob misses is that the lenders are going to get "short-changed" anyway, and rightly so. They should have had no reasonable expectation that the majority of these loans would pay out at the higher, adjustable rate. Their option isn't between getting the higher rate vs. the teaser rate, because millions of people are defaulting just as soon as they hit the higher rate. Their choice is between getting the teaser rate vs. what they'd get from selling a foreclosed property that's worth far less than the loan they originated. But maybe the market should be left to its own devices to decide what return these lenders should get on their investments.

And since we're talking about bail-out plans, it's worth mentioning that the lending institutions already got a bail-out in the form of a enormous cash injection, lowered interest rates, and new federal underwriting rules which allow the feds to buy bigger loans from these lenders, thus passing the debt and risk from the lenders onto the taxpayers.

The people who are really getting screwed are the ones who own this repackaged "good debt" in investments like mutual funds and responsible people who might legitimately need a loan to start a business or purchase a car, but can't get one at a reasonable rate due to the "credit crunch". And there's no plan out there to help us.

At the end of the day, the irresponsible originators get a big bail-out. It looks like irresponsible home-owners are about to get one too. And it looks like responsible people like me get a weakened dollar and a big drop in their mutual funds' value. Enjoy.

12 Dec 2007 (updated 12 Dec 2007 at 23:25 UTC) »

Replying to the recent /. OOXML debate, specifically to comments by core KOffice developers:

Why do I refer to your statement as a red herring? Because you are ignoring the fact that supporting OOXML doesn't just allow users to have some interaction with the propriatairy MS format it also validates it as being relevant. And you are doing not only your users but the rest of the world a disservice with that.
You assume that since its an MS standard, it will be successful, and by supporting their work you are actually helping to make that a reality.

Actually, the millions of users with documents in that format validate that it is relevant. The market demand for inter-operability with the format validates it as relevant. AbiWord or some other program supporting the format only confirms that *other people* have deemed it relevant. That's how markets work. These "other people" are your potential users.

If one grudgingly supports OOXML *the format*, in the interests of allowing users to inter-operate with Microsoft-using colleagues, one need not approve of MS' actions during the "standardization" process or their (you say) lousy "standard". We don't approve of their actions. At all. We do support Jody Goldberg's attempts to extract better documentation from Microsoft. It makes life that much more difficult for them, while making our implementation that much easier.

Because we do this, doesn't mean that we don't whole-heartedly support ODF. In your attempt to show a "red herring", you set up a false dichotomy. (In fact, AbiWord is shipping on the OLPC XO machines with ODF as the default file format, and we're pleased as punch about that.)

Differing, redundant file formats drive market fragmentation and promote vendor lock-in, and should thus be considered evil, especially when they are proprietary formats. However, sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that Microsoft's OOXML won't get significant user uptake is (IMO) an absurd position. The pile of OOXML documents in my wife's inbox are proof enough that it already has. In this case, OOXML's success is measured by how much the community at large uses the file format, not how much you, as a potential implementer and free software enthusiast, like Microsoft, their actions during the standardization process, or their file format.

Disagree with the bad technical aspects of the OOXML format. Disagree with how Microsoft conducted themselves during the ISO standardization process. Shout it from the rooftops, all the while wholly supporting and promoting existing, open standards, such as ODF. I think that we're in total agreement on these positions.

But not (grudgingly) supporting the OOXML format hurts your potential users and your quest for openness more than it hurts Microsoft, at least at this point in time. Supporting OOXML allows your products to compete with Microsoft on ease of use, or preferred platform, or etc. It allows your would-be users to transition off of proprietary Microsoft products, platforms and "standards" and onto free-er products, platforms and standards. Like KOffice, GNU/Linux and ODF.

In your role as core KOffice developer, if you truly believed your own arguments, you'd remove the binary Excel, Word, Visio, and PowerPoint filters from KOffice. But I imagine that would be both politically impracticable and counter-productive to your cause.

We support our users and openness. If that means being able to inter-operate with proprietary formats, that's a choice that I'm comfortable making. But in no way should it be construed as our supporting Microsoft so much as supporting our users. To that end, I sincerely believe that being able to (at minimum) read OOXML files promotes those goals and is wholly consistent with software and personal freedom.

ZoomInfo is Hiring!

Do you stay up at night attacking interesting algorithmic and architectural problems? Do deep NLP, semantic search, and distributed systems get you all hot & sweaty?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions and live in the greater Boston area, you should drop me a line.

ZoomInfo is a great place to work. I've been there for 14 months, and I've had a heck of a time. The corporate culture is energetic, youthful, and above all else, smart. It's still got a start-up feel to it, even though the company's consistently been in the black for the past 8 years. And we're growing. Fast. But not recklessly so. There's a method to our madness, and it's paying great dividends.

Check out our careers page and our recruiter's blog for more info. We love hiring F/OSS people and we unofficially have about 20 open engineering positions for web, backend, and data architects. If you're unemployed, underemployed, or just looking for a career change, you should definitely give us a look.

26 Nov 2007 (updated 26 Nov 2007 at 20:31 UTC) »

Regardless of whether Murray's recent rant is accurate or polite, I'm glad that he's aired his opinion.

Most of the board's processes and meetings happen behind closed doors. From the meeting minutes (and be honest here, how many people actually read those?), who can tell if member X is being derelict in his duties or being an obstructionist? Especially since the board members have an unofficial policy of not speaking negatively of past and present members in public.

Murray has been on several GNOME Foundation boards. He's seen how the process works and has a somewhat unique insider's view of things. I'm glad that he's broken the wall of silence.

How much you choose to believe Murray is, of course, your decision to make. However, attempts to silence him by telling him to voice his opinion solely through his anonymous vote is disingenuous and does a disservice to us, the Foundation's members, who'd like to make better-informed decisions.

Attempts to silence Murray's negative comments while implicitly condoning his and others' public endorsements reeks of hypocrisy. Disagree with Murray's language if you'd like to. Disagree with his diagnosis if you'd like to. But Murray's content (and any response from Jeff) is the "chocolate" that all of us should be considering when we vote for the next board. Jeff has the capacity to respond to Murray's critique if he'd like to. Let's let them speak.

Dear Red Sox,

Please start treating Eric Gagne as a sunk cost. Just because you paid $6,000,000 for his contract this season doesn't mean that you have to play him unless, say, a meteorite hits your bullpen. Even then, consider letting Manny pitch a few innings instead. It'll be better for all of us.

Gagne's proven on enough occasions this season (including 2 consecutive nights in the playoffs!) that he's not worth it. Boston area pharmacies don't have enough antacid to go around.


A fan with increasingly shorter fingernails

8 Aug 2007 (updated 8 Aug 2007 at 17:31 UTC) »
Alternately, "America" is a popular nickname for the only country with "America" in its name :)

After all, lots of countries have political subdivisions called "states". A bunch even advertise the fact that they're made up of states in their official name. Some even go so far as to throw the word "united" in there. So in some bizarro-universe, the abbreviation "U.S." or colloquialism "the States" could refer equally well, to say, the United Mexican States as it does to the United States of America.

But Canadians would never refer to their other southern, NAFTA-loving neighbor as "The States" or the "U.S.". Every sane person just calls it "Mexico". Of course, the continents aren't named North and South Mexico. But maybe if we all had goatees... All the other cool countries get to remove "Federated States of", "Grand Duchy of", "Republic of", etc. from their common names. Why can't the USA?

8 Jul 2007 (updated 8 Jul 2007 at 22:01 UTC) »

3 weeks I spent stripping, cleaning, and sanding through 6 layers of paint, lacquer, and stain on my poor deck. Each day, an hour before work and an hour after work. 5 hours each day on the weekends. I finally finished it yesterday, and it looked beautiful.

This morning, I looked at the forecast. 30C and partly cloudy. Perfect weather to stain the deck. GWeather has no mention of rain whatsoever for the next 3 days. And it hasn't rained for 3 days. This is my window of opportunity. My summer project would finally be complete.

No sooner than I finish the last brush stroke on the stairs, the heavens open up. One gray cloud that I'd been shooing away all afternoon decided to plant itself over my house. My deck now has 1cm of water on it. It's probably ruined. I'll need to strip, clean, and sand through this layer of stain so that I can re-apply it. What else can I do but laugh :)

SoC update for Uwog

One of my SoC students is working on a grammar-checking plugin for AbiWord. Last week, he started to use ICU's sentence breaker instead of an ad-hoc one that we'd developed inside of AbiWord. The major difference is in how abbreviations (like "Mr." and "Mrs.") are handled. The results aren't perfect, but he's making headway.

Obligatory before and after screenshots, for Uwog's viewing pleasure.

Media Wars

This week, a federal appeals panel struck a blow against the FCC's ability to censor "obscene" content on television and radio. The FCC (though they may be exaggerating their case) fears that the opinion "could gut the ability of the commission to regulate any speech on television or radio".

I've never understood the FCC's prerogative when it came to regulating content for moral reasons. Nor have I understood (or agreed with) the Court's first-amendment jurisprudence when it comes to "obscenity" and "community standards".

The airwaves belong to the public. The first amendment grants us freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Case closed, as far as I'm concerned. Community standards and obscenity are noticeably absent from the Constitution - probably invented from the ether by some of those "activist judges" that today's Republicans get so up-in-arms about.

The government has already mandated that all televisions contain a V-Chip and that broadcasters rate their content according to the amount of "language", violence, sexuality, and etc. that it contains.

I am in favor of warning labels. For example, I'm quite happy that products list their ingredients and nutritional value. Whether these labels are government-mandated or come about via the "invisible hand of the market", they help make me a more informed consumer.

I am generally in favor of personal choice. True choice can only come about when you have informed choosers.

So, with these ratings (assuming that they are roughly accurate) and V-Chip-like technology, we have the ability to self-censor anything that we wouldn't want to watch (or more often, wouldn't want our progeny to watch).

So fsck community standards, and fsck the FCC. Get out of the business of fining Howard Stern and Opie and Anothony for the garbage they say on the airwaves. If FOX wants to become a hardcore pr0n channel, fine. Let them. So long as these broadcasters are required to accurately rate their content and we, their potential audience, have the ability to filter out undesirable content, I don't see the harm. (Though I also don't see the harm of a kid accidentally seeing a breast on TV our hearing a "naughty" word. But that's just me.)

The FCC should have never been permitted to police "community standards" in the first place. Maybe it was "necessary" for a while before we had V-Chip technology. But the technology has been mandated for 7 years now, and in light of this, the FCC's policing is wholly unwarranted.

The agency still does some useful things, like certifying that electronic devices don't interfere with one another. Let them do that, and get out of our radios and television sets. The government and my community have no right to legislate what I choose to see and hear, nor do they have the right to legislate what these broadcasters might wish to say (absent, perhaps, making knowingly factually inaccurate claims in order to deceive the public).

I'm headed back to the Tel Aviv area again this weekend. If any of my Israeli friends would like to meet up sometime between June 2 and June 7, email domlachowicz AT gmail DOT com.

This comes on the heels of a thoroughly enjoyable trip to Montreal this past weekend. I spent most of last Saturday lying on sunny, green Mont Royal with Ruth. On Sunday, we went to a chocolate festival in nearby Bromont. I'll have to post pictures when I get a few spare moments to myself :)

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