Archive for the 'Business, Management, Capitalism' Category


Local Unlicensed Radio Station Fined $10,000 by FCC

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009


Last summer I was driving down MoPac when I noticed a hand made sign that said something like ‘Radio Liberty 90.1 FM’.

I tuned it in and found a station that was interesting in a train wreck sort of way.  Besides the insane ravings of a local demagogue they  had a lot of shows offering legal advice that seemed to consist of providing magic words that would deflect civil and criminal convictions.

There was never a station identification.

Via a ham radio mailing list I learned that the FCC has fined Raymond Frank, the alleged operator of this station, $10,000.  Specifically

In this Forfeiture Order (“Order”), we issue a monetary forfeiture in the amount of ten
thousand dollars ($10,000) to Raymond Frank for willful and repeated violation of Section 301 of the
Communications Act of 1934, as amended (“Act”).1 The noted violations involve Mr. Frank’s operation
of an unlicensed radio transmitter on the frequency 90.1 MHz in Austin, Texas.

I have no idea if this Mr Frank is related to the former Travis County Sheriff.

According to the FCC

Mr. Frank asserts that, as a citizen of the Republic of Texas, he is not subject to the laws of the United States or the Commission’s Rules. Specifically, Mr. Frank asserts that the Commission lacks jurisdiction over his actions, because he operated a radio station solely within the boundaries of the state of Texas. Finally, Mr. Frank justifies violating Section 301 of the Act, because he claims the Commission’s licensing policies violate the First Amendment.

I’m mainly a software developer, but I’m also what’s called an ‘Enrolled Agent’ and own part of an income tax service.  We sometimes see people who tried to evade taxes with magic words and silly arguments propagated by snake oil salesman. These poor folks sometimes lose everything and face jail time thanks to their misplaced faith in a slick talking guy selling books and dvds.

Good people with highly legitimate concerns about the size and power of the government buy into these ridiculous ideas sold by snake oil salesmen.  In the process they harm themselves and their families, and they discredit real conservatives in the process. 

This kind of thing makes me sad.


Help Wanted: LAMP programmer needed for small but mighty Austin software company

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Help Wanted Poster

UPDATE: This position has been filled, BUT, we anticipate hiring more developers, both client and server side, over the next few months. If you have professional Mac or Windows client development or professional LAMP development experience, and want to work at a really good startup, drop me a note with your resume.

I work for a small but well established software company here in Austin. We are five years old this month and have an established base of great corporate customers. Our principle product has been a Windows desktop program, but over the last year or so we’ve developed a server side counterpart that has proved a great success in the market place.

So far our server product has been been written in house with the help of some friends. We need a great LAMPhp developer to take charge of this server product and take it to the next level. The person who takes this job and runs with it will be in a position to make a significant direct contribution to our bottom line. This is a very high visibility position, you won’t be just a code monkey in the back room.

This is a great place to work. I was the first employee five years ago. This is my fifth or sixth Austin startup since I moved back to Austin in 1992. It is by far the best. We have good benefits, great leadership, and a friendly team of strong professionals. I’ve never been anywhere that had better employee relations or less office politics than my present employer.

The requirements are pretty simple:

1) Professional experience writing LAMPhp software. Expect a detailed technical interview.

2) The right to work in the United States.

3) No Jerks need apply, because this is a fun place to work and we want to keep it that way!

Principals only please!

Nice to have but not required would be some C++ background so you could help on the client side from time to time. Macintosh experience would be really nice icing to have on your cake.

If you are interested or know someone who might be interested, please contact me.


Jim Howard
grayraven42 [at] gmail [dot] com


Austin Electronics Retailer Misleads Customers

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

Sorry for the poor quality, but I took this picture to show what in my opinion is a typical unethical display practice that I often see at a big local electronics retailer in Austin.

The display offers a DVD/RW Pioneer drive for $39 after rebates. Fair enough, that’s not a bad deal.

But be careful! See the gold colored boxes at the front of the display. Those are Pioneer DVD/RW drives. But if you compare their stock number to the one on the sign, you find the numbers differ by 2. The gold drives are $59 with no rebate. Besides the color of the box and a slightly different stock number and model number there appear to be no other differences between the gray box DVDs and the more prominent gold box dvds.

The drives with the rebate are in the gray boxes, located behind and under the gold non-rebate drives.

This isn’t an isolated case in my opinion. I see this tactic almost every time I visit their Austin store.

This national retailer could make plenty of money using honest signage. Walmart, Best Buy, CompUsa, even Circuit City manage to make money without this kind of blatant dishonesty. It’s really sad that this particular store makes this ‘mistake’ far too frequently.

In my opinion this display constitutes a ‘bait and switch’ scam, and if it’s not illegal it should be.


Does Twitter Violate Gresham’s Law?

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Twitter, we hardly knew ye.

I joined Twitter about a week before SXSW, and have been using it a few times a day. It’s fun, and nice when you want to share a thought or make a note in a simple, easy way.

Post SXSW Twitter is getting a lot of press attention. I’ve been wondering when spammers would take it over. I just checked out the public timeline, and this is what I saw. ‘Bargainist’ posting dozens of spam entries. I don’t see anything in Twitter’s current architecture that would preclude a tragedy of the commons.

Particular self-selected groups will be able to use twitter, but it will probably soon cease to be place to find new, interesting people. I strongly suspect that Twitter will be destroyed by spammers in exactly the same way that Yahoo Chat has been destroyed by literally tens of thousands of porn spambots. By having such ease of entry both Yahoo Chat and Twitter violate the network version of Gresham’s Law. The bad twitters well may drive away good twitters by taking over the public area and eating all the bandwidth.


A Good Shopping Experience

Friday, March 9th, 2007

The other day I complained about the (non) service I received from Dell.  In fairness to capitalism, I ought to mention a good shopping experience I had just the other day.

To give you the back story, our tax offices have a lots of printers, no less than one for each two tax preparers. 

At one time we had a bunch of Lexmark printers as a result of a package deal arranged by our franchisor. Over time we’ve  found the Lexmarks to be less reliable than corresponding HP models.  And to crown all, latter Lexmark models have highly protected toner carts that can’t be reliably recycled. So as the Lexmarks wear out (which they do quickly) we replace them with HPs.

One of our very last Lexmark printers gave up the ghost the other day, by jamming huge quantities of paper on every attempt to print to it.

I stopped by the Office Depot at 620 and 183 to pick up an HP 1020 printer as a replacement. We’ve found these small HP printers to be very reliable and they are cheap enough that we can afford one for each tax preparer in our seasonal store.  I also bought a new toner cart for the HP for around $50, so my purchase with tax ate up $250.

The old Lexmark used a parallel cable, the new printer needed a USB A-B cable. 

I like Office Depot, but like so many retail stores, their prices for printer and other cables are insane.  They charge over $20 for a cable that goes for less than a dollar on EBay, or five bucks at Fry’s.

So I’m checking out, and the checkout clerk asks if I need a USB cable.  “Yes I do, but I’m going to Fry’s to get it, I can’t afford yours.” 

“How much are they at Fry’s?” he asked me. 

“I’m not sure exactly, but around five bucks, certainly less than ten” I told him. 

On his checkstand is the cable I need, priced at $23, packaged in a blister pack that probably cost more than the cable. 

He hands me this cable and says “I can sell this for six dollars. Oh, and I almost forgot, you get a free ream of paper with a new printer”.


The thing that really impressed me was that the checkout guy didn’t have to call a manager or keep other customers waiting while he called Fry’s to find out their price.   This was a young guy, I don’t think he was management. He was just allowed by Office Depot to use his own judgement.  He judged that it was better get my six dollars on top of a major purchase than to have me drive across town and spend money with his competitor, and leave a little unhappy with Office Depot. 

He was correct.

My hat is off to the Office Depot management for empowering a line checkout clerk to do the right thing for a customer.


Nightmare: Ordering from Dell

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

In our retail tax office we have several Dell Optiplex 270 computers, bought a few years ago. These are large, heavy computers. they are kind of figure eight shaped and are really meant to sit horizontally on a flat surface. There is a secret extended warranty on these models for reliability problems, but ours continue to work fine.

We have two of them that we’d like to move off the literal desktop and stand them up vertically next to our desks. Dell makes a ‘foot’ that screws into the side of the case to facilitate standing the computer on the floor.

Dell charges around $20 for this little piece of plastic. It seems like a lot to pay for something so simple, so I’d put off ordering some for months, but at last I ran out of excuses to my employees and decided to order two of them.

It was then that the nightmare started.

We are ‘Premier’ customers, so I called my Premier Customer telephone number. Sorry, it’s 7pm, and ‘Premier’ is only available eight to five.

No problem, I’ll just call the regular number. So I call the regular number. The robot starts its game of fifty questions. After a while It asks if “this order is for a business?”. Yes. “Is this order for a business with less than 400 employees?”. Yes. “You will hear two tones, don’t hang up” says the robot. I hear two tones. Then silence. After about five minutes I get a dial tone.

Try again. Game of fifty questions with the robot. “you will hear two tones, don’t hang up”. This time after about ten minutes a human. Even better, a human who speaks clear and understandable English! Yeah!!!!!!!!!

I start to tell him what I want. He stops me, he knows what I want, but I have to answer some questions. What’s my phone number? My email? My address? “I’m sorry, but I have to transfer you to another agent, I don’t handle your type of business”. I hear the two tone again. Then I get a dial tone.

“Ok, they don’t want to take orders from small business” I tell myself. I’ll just pretend to not be a business. I call the main number again. This time I don’t admit I am calling for a business.

The robot then ASKS FOR MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!!!!!!!!!!! WTF????!!!!!! Do people really call Dell and just give up their social in exchange for the privilege of giving their money to Michael Dell??!!!!???? I say ‘zero zero zero’ into the phone. “That’s not a valid social security number!” accuses the robot. After I continue to argue, eventually the robot gives up and transfers my call to an ‘agent’. This agent is at the end of a very noisy phone line, and speaks with a thick foreign accent.

She doesn’t know what a GX 270 is. The only thing she can find in a monitor stand. “It’s not a monitor stand!”, I protest, “its a plastic thing that screws into the side of the case so it can stand vertically!” “We have a monitor stand” repeats the agent. We go around like this a while. This non-order has now taken 40 minutes of time I will never get back.

All this time, while my blood pressure is hitting the stops, she-who-may-not-be-named is becoming highly amused. “I found them on ebay” she tells me. My mistake is apparent. I kept calling them ‘stands’. The correct name is ‘foot’.

I ask the agent for a supervisor. She hangs up on me.

I order my feet from Ebay, and get three of them for five bucks each.

The management at Dell seems to have grabbed an idea that they need to sort their callers into bins based on some kind of status before they will deign to take the callers money. In the process they’ve erected a series of walls and hurdles the potential customer must negotiate before they are allowed the great privilege of ordering from Dell. Throw in their international phone system, which is very prone to disconnects, and you have a frustrating nightmare.

I’m sure Michael Dell didn’t really need my forty bucks for my ‘feet’. He certainly made that clear. The thing that Dell doesn’t seem to understand is that while I’m only ordering feet today, I will probably need to replace these Optiplex 270s sometime soon.

When I do, I will NOT be buying from Dell. Their hardware is fine, but I just don’t need the aggravation. HP gets my business from now on.


I’m Surprised It Took This Long

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Blu-ray, HD DVD DRM Reportedly Bypassed

After posters at the Doom9 Forums unveiled title keys for Blu-ray and HD DVD discs — which was confirmed by AACS LA on Jan. 24 — members have now claimed to find the processing keys for all HD DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Doom9 poster arnezami, who found the HD DVD processing key, explains that no real “hacking” was involved — just recording the processes that happen when the software boots…

AVS Forums

Digital Rights Management are a chimera. They reduce the value of entertainment media for honest people, and do nothing to deter anyone determinded to copy the content.


Vista Security

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

I’ve been doing some work converting client side applications to run on Vista. I can tell that this commerical hits the nail right on the head!

Vista is an endless parade of modal dialogs asking for persmission to do things, then asking again, one after the other.

One example is removing a USB memory dongle. In Windows 2000 when you selected remove from the tray icon menu you had to click ‘ok’ on a modal dialog. In Windows XP MS greatly improved this use case by just putting up a tray icon ‘flag’ that didn’t require the user to stop and click something.

Vista leapt backwards 7 years and brought back a modal dialog to click after you remove a memory stick.

In Vista these dialogs pop up all the time, and all are modal. It’s easy to get a bunch of them stacked one on the other, especially with a laptop.

Geeze, what were they thinking in Redmond?


A Reason for GM to Live?

Monday, January 15th, 2007

In an earlier post I discussed some reasons why GM Must Die.

At last week’s Detroit auto show GM showed a flicker of its old self, the GM that used to innovate and lead the auto industry. They showed a concept car called the Chevy Volt.

The Volt is a very exciting car. It really is a much more sensible concept than existing hybrids like the Ford Escape and Toyota Prius. Those cars must have gas to run, they save a little bit by recovering brake energy and storing it in batteries. This helps with local driving, but hurts their mileage on longer trips because they have to carry the heavy battery and electric motor which contribute nothing to going down the road. No gas, no driving with today’s hybrids.

The Volt is always driven by its electric motor. It has a gas motor that drives a generator. The generator can power the car and charge the battery. This isn’t a new idea, it’s how most locomotives work.

The great thing about a generator/electric motor setup is that the gas motor can be optimized to work at a single speed and torque. It doesn’t need to work over a large range of speeds, it doesn’t need fast throttle response, it has no worries about being loaded to detonation. These sorts of engines can be made to run on almost anything that will burn. Chevy says the Volt’s gas motor will run on E85 ethanol. A diesel version would be better, but E85 would be great. Emissions would be dramatically lower. The Volt is said to use LiOn batteries, which are unproven in auto applications but are generally believed to be the batteries of the future.

The Volt can be a nuclear/wind/solar/coal powered car. For example, I have a 6 to 7 mile commute, depending on if I stop at Jack-In-the-Box for a Supreme Croissant. I could drive a volt for a year with no gas just by plugging it in at night. Chevy says the Volt will run 40 miles on the battery. I assume that if you’re running the air conditioner and/or lights then the range will be much less, but I suspect you could still go most of 20 miles on the battery. Just enough for me.

If, and it is a big if, GM can build this car and sell it then they will have one-upped all their competitors. Their spokespeople are saying that they don’t yet have the batteries they need at the price they want to pay.

I’d say get it out there, as soon as possible. Wrap it in the sporty concept car body and give it a decent interior. Sell it for $40,000. Rich people would line up at the dealers to get it. It would generate massive goodwill for GM.

Make a chicken, the eggs will follow.

Oh, one other kudo to GM. I started to download picture from their website to upload to flick, to use with this post. It turns out that GM has its own Flickr account with lots of pictures of this and other cars. I’m pleasently surprised that someone there understands.

Lots of information on the Volt at Autoblog Green.

Oh, and for heaven’s sake GM, make sure it has NO SQUEAKS!


Dueling Keynotes

Friday, January 12th, 2007

This week we in the great unwashed have been gifted with Keynote speeches from the two titans of the microcomputer world, Steve Jobs at MacWorld, and Bill Gates at the Consumer Electronics Show.

I admire both these men, say what you will about them they both changed the world.

Jobs seemed very fired up.  He had lots of genuine good news, especially in the area of iTunes and iPod market shares.  He got two digs in at Microsoft.  He quoted Windows Architect Jim Allchin as saying “If I didn’t work for Microsoft, I’d get a Mac”, and he ridiculed the Microsoft Zune for its tiny market share.

Strangely, he had very little to say about Mac computers.

The meat of the Jobs keynote was a masterful sales pitch for his new iPhone.  The details of this device are available all over the net, it seems like a real top of the line smart phone.  Jobs’ presentation was enthusiastic and compelling.  Steve’s famous ‘ reality distortion field’ had me trying to make excuses for Cingular’s lack of of the high speed network that the iPhone clearly needs to have.

I came away from Steve’s keynote thinking that ‘Apple Corporation’ as he is now calling it has a very bright future, and that Jobs himself is still at the top of his game.

Gates CES keynote started poorly I thought.  He broke one of the cardinal rules we learn in Toastmasters.  He started with something close to an apology, saying if he spoke next year he’d probably talk about ‘infectious diseases’.  It was a very negative message to send.

It was kind of sad to see Bill and some of his managers still demonstrating Vista.  Vista is going to be a good operating system, but its not quite out yet, and how many years has this been going on? 

The XBox seems like a real success story.  They had solid numbers showing its dominance of the console market, and a strong argument that the XBox can be very useful for purposes well beyond just playing games.

Bill brightened up when talked about the new ‘home server’ product (note: I could find no link to this product using Microsoft’s search engine, that was sad). 

At first I asked myself “why would I need a server in my home?”  Bill made a good case that his product would be very useful. I particularly liked the idea that it would do a full backup of all my computers every night.  And I could see why Gates liked it, the server is another OS sale, and to get the full benefit the user needs one of the higher levels of Vista.  The MS home server seemed like it might do everything that Apple’s Apple TV box does, plus giving you whole house backups and remote access.

Bill kind of lost me when he demoed the ‘kitchen of the future’.  The idea of saving recipes in a home computer was really radical back in 1976, but its not what you call a killer app these days. 

The ‘ bedroom of the future’ had a video wall.  I’ve heard that Bill’s house has video walls, but I really think it’ll be many years before many other people get such things.  And while Bill may put the aquarium screensaver on his wall, I bet most video wall early adopters will use it for porn.

Bill kept talking about the ‘digital decade’, and I kept wondering if he was talking about the 80s, or the 90s.

The Gates keynote was workmanlike, but it seemed to lack the passion of previous years.  I came away thinking that maybe Vista was so stressful on Bill that he’s mentally moving away from computers.  I think his heart is elsewhere these days.

My gut feel is that Apple is a company still on the ascent, still striving to be insanely great.  Apple has figured out that they can’t beat Microsoft in a head on battle of personal computers. Instead they clearly plan to keep the pressure on Microsoft’s computer business, while surrounding the home PC with Apple streaming media and consumer electronics devices.  There could come a tipping point where a critical mass of people are getting their media from iTunes, talking on iPhones, and playing their media on Apple TVs.  This mass of people may just decide that having a Microsoft powered PC in the middle of all this Apple equipment no longer makes sense.

The high prices Microsoft intends to charge for Vista will further erase the price difference between PCs and Macs.

Microsoft is more like an old line manufacturing company, content to stay in its comfort zone, developing incremental improvements in the familiar old products.  In their heart of hearts, I don’t think that Microsoft really believes that anyone could compete with them.

I think Microsoft is wrong about that.